SCREEN-L Archives

September 1998, Week 2


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 5 Sep 1998 13:18:26 -0700
text/plain; charset=us-ascii
"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (83 lines)
Mike Frank quite helpfully recalls last year's
(interminable?) discussion about objectivity and cinema.  In
the cases Frank cites, the image seems *more* reliable than
other elements, but one could probably think of numerous
examples in which the image is *less* reliable than we're
inclined to remember--even without going to the extreme of
'lying' flashbacks of the _Stage Fright_ and _Mortal
Thoughts_ variety.
One small bit of evidence against the visual image always
being highly reliable (tantamount to 'objective reality')
would be those films in which, for instance, a shift in time
takes place not during a cut between shots but actually
during a shot.  This can be aided and abetted with sound
E.g., there was an _X Files_ episode a couple of years ago
in which the flashbacks were handled in such a way that a
character would relay events in the past, and the
shot-reverse shot of the narrating character in the past
would suddenly and without warning become the shot of the
character relating the events in the present.  Thus a single
shot would change temporal status--retrospectively.
I know there are theatrical films in which this happens,
too--I was just reading about an example--but I can't think
of any right off, and I can't recall the example I just read
In such cases the shot itself does not yeild up all the
characteristics of the denoted situation, and thus the image
becomes a poor or misleading indicator.
I watched Tarkovsky's _Nostalgia_ recently, and he does
something similarly misleading.  The film is shot in color,
but it is punctuated with sequences in black-and-white or
perhaps merely a more reduced color palette.  Some of these
can be interpreted as flashbacks; others may be events
taking place far away (in Russia, as opposed to Italy, where
most of the film is set); still others are dreams.  By the
end of the film one can no longer tell.
Thus in the case of _Nostalgia_ the image seems to be
visually differentiated in such a way as to allow us to
understand its epistemological status, but then the marking
system breaks down or becomes too vague to be reliable.
Perhaps these examples would allow us to imagine a continuum
between strong and weak semantic saturation of the image.
I.e., some images seem to register quite fully all of the
detail which is relevant to our decoding the fictional
denotation:  we can see in the image the time period during
which it takes place, the social status of the character,
the time of day, etc.
In other films individual shots are less densely packed with
information which allows us to decode their narrative status
and relationships to adjoining shots.  Again Tarkovsky comes
to mind:  his characters often address unseen, offscreen
characters, and we are often in doubt about whether there's
anyone there or not.  (Woody Allen steals this trick for the
ending of _Interiors_:  is the daughter speaking to the
mother or to herself?)  With Tarkovsky we often cannot even
tell if two subsequent shots are in the same place and
Mike Frank's discussion of various kinds and degrees of
contradiction between the image and the voiceover also
suggests an interesting perspective on film, one in which we
examine the degree to which contradiction amongst cinematic
elements becomes meaningful or disruptive.  (Sometimes in a
poorly made film, one thinks:  is this a clue?  or a
Edward R. O'Neill
General Education Program
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.