Sunday, March 8, 2009

Group Post #2- Bladi, Sean, Stassia

This past week we saw both an example of a Classical Hollywood text, Gilda, and one which ran as an example of a “counter-cinema,” in Godard’s Weekend. The theoretical texts we read all served as critiques of the Classical form and offering both a theorization and conceptualization of a form that could stand as a reaction or “counter.”

Metz and Mulvey discuss, at large, the importance of the spectator's identification through the three modes offered by film. Mulvey claims that watching a movie implies "identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator's fascination with and recognition of his like". Godard's Weekend is an example of a film that maintains attack against the ease of spectator identification. How does a film, such as this, influence the spectator's perception of the film?

Mulvey goes on to say that the woman, "[Either she] must gracefully give way to the word, the Name of the Father and the Law, or else struggle to keep her child down with her in the half-light of the imaginary." How does this quote parallel a character like Norman in Psycho as child and a casualty of the imaginary Mulvey addresses? In regards to Mulvey's argument of "woman as bearer of meaning, man as maker of meaning", is the ending of a film like Taxi Driver (where Betsy's gaze and string of questions engage Travis) some kind of flaw in the argument that sees gradient of meaning to be lop-sided?

Brian Henderson seems to believe that Godard’s use of a tracking shot, which serves as a “species of long take,” “repudiates ‘the individualist conception of the bourgeois hero.” He goes on to say that “his camera serves no individual and prefers none to another.” Can this be attributed to Godard’s avoidance of “depth,” and the resulting “flatness” of the film? Why is this flatness privileged by Henderson as Godard extends beyond this within the film? On page 60 Henderson seems to celebrate that like “the method of montage,” Godard’s sequences offer points where “what is done in one shot may be undone, or complemented, by another.” Is this reading of Godard’s text contradictory or do you believe Godard’s camera-style to be at work within “the method of montage”?

In films considered Classical Hollywood Cinema, such as Gilda and Vertigo, theorists like Mulvey find that women function from a position of objectification, whereas, men are given a privileged subject positioning. Do these films target the male spectator as their audience in order to reinforce male identification with the narrative protagonists? What about the already constituted subjectivity of the individual spectator? Do individuals other than heterosexual males (women, gay men, etc.) problematize the systems and codes of classical Hollywood visual pleasure?

Finally, Mulvey, Wollen, and Henderson (who emphasizes that “the flatness of Weekend must not be analyzed only in itself but in regard to the previous modes of bourgeois self-presentment”) seem to seek but constrain their arguments for a different mode of cinema that serves as a “counter” or reaction to the dominant mode. What are the implications of revolutionary filmmaking as serving in relation to the dominant mode of representation? Can these reactionary methods actually work to subvert the hegemonic values of classical narrative cinema, or as reactions can they only serve to legitimize and strengthen the dominant form?


  1. I'd like to expand upon what I said in section last week about Godard's weekend. The main issues that I have with Godard’s form of cinema are the conflicts between identification and estrangement and between narrative transitivity and narrative intransitivity. First, let’s deal with the narrative aspect of Godard’’s cinema. Wollen writes, “There are a number of reasons why Godard has broken with narrative transitivity. Perhaps the most important is that he can disrupt the emotional spell of the narrative and thus force the spectator, by interrupting the narrative flow, to re-concentrate and refocus his attention,” (75). The problem I have with this is that it is highly counter-intuitive and, frankly, illogical. Why would you want to force your audience to have to refocus their attention when you, as a filmmaker, already posses it? The risk doesn't seem worth the reward. In Weekend, Godard begins with what has the potential to be a captivating, provocative tale of deceit, murder, and sexual exploration. Yet, right after the first two scenes Godard completely breaks from this line of storytelling. He had my attention, he had my focus, but, for some reason, he decided to betray it by launching into this fragmented form of filmmaking. Wollen even stipulates that “of course (the spectator’s) attention may get lost altogether,” (75). I just find it hard to comprehend why Godard would intentionally try to lose his viewers in the first place just to try to gain their attention back right after.

    This brings me to the idea of identification versus estrangement. My problem with estrangement is very similar to my problem with narrative intransitivity. In my opinion, a major part of watching a film is to identify with the characters in said film. Films and art as a whole are meant to expose the masses to certain human truths, to enlighten them through some semblance of representation of human life. Thus, we get the phrase art imitates life. However, when one can no longer identify with the characters, with their emotions and challenges, one ceases to be able to learn lessons from their actions. Furthermore, one ceases to be captivated by the film. And if the spectators are not captivated, there is no way in hell that a filmmaker is going to be able to get his message across, especially if it is as skewed as Godard’s message in Weekend. Sure, it’s fine to experiment and to push the limits of what an audience can handle and what one can do as a filmmaker but, in my mind, the audience is inextricably linked to the characters in a film, and if you can no longer connect your audience to your characters because of this estrangement, you have lost the essence of filmmaking, of storytelling.

    And sure, one might argue that art is not meant to be easy. Great works of art don't always lend themselves to instant gratification. Not every movie is or should be a popcorn flick. However, art needs to be able to speak to its audience and by destroying that communicatory vehicle in Weekend (the presence of relatable characters) Godard has lost his ability to make his "art" meaningful.

  2. When applying psychoanalysis the figure of ‘woman’ represents the castration threat. Applied cinematically the woman is objectified, and she is both seductive and scary. Women are objectified by fetishistic scopophilia, as the spectator derives pleasure from looking at an object. The female character is exploited in this manner to be objectified by the audience. This point can be well explained when considering examples of diagetic spectatorship: the look of a male spectator to the look of a diagetic male character at a diagetic objectified female character.

    In her introductory scene in the bedroom, Gilda is not apparent until a man is in the room with her; thus no spectator sees Gilda unless a diagetic male is seeing her. When she performs the long dance scene in a white dress that gradually gets more suggestive as her dance moves make it spin up higher and higher, a male diagetic spectator is shown watching her. Therefore, the spectator is given a male subject to which ‘he’ can identify with. This serves a dual purpose:

    1. As I’ve discussed above, the male diagetic spectator serves as a point of narcissistic identification. The male spectator watching the film will come to subjectively identify with the male diagetic spectator and derive pleasure from the closeness that he will then share with Gilda’s performance. This is a guilty pleasure, however, and the second purpose of shots of diagetic spectators serves to mediate this guilt complex.

    2. The spectator is shown male viewers while Gilda is performing so he or she is not being voyeuristic, rather he or she is watching someone else being voyeuristic to protect from the guilt associated or sense of inappropriate voyeurism. This technique takes advantage of the spectator’s scopophilia while letting one feel more secure and safe. The spectator is watching someone watch someone else. This is indirect voyeurism and such these shots of diagetic spectators serve as mediators, which secure the spectator’s sense of morality or respect.

    Such it seems apparent that Classical Cinema does not necessarily strive to impress men only, but create sympathy towards male characters. The female characters of Classic Hollywood Cinema may have served as an objectified model of female beauty. This style of objectivity in females and identification of males have certainly created issues of identification, body image, female status, etc. through idealized female characters. These characters often serve as symbols while the men serve as the sympathetic doers. Within the last few generations, Hollywood Cinema has moved towards creating more sympathetic subjective female characters, and this trend has branched into TV shows, movies, and a lot of media that focuses on female subjectivity and spectatorship.

  3. Identification in Weekend
    I think that, despite Godard's attempt to shirk identification and produce estrangement in Weekend, the spectator is inevitably left with something to identify with. Like in documentaries and similar types of film, we know the spectator can identify, at the very least, with what Metz calls the "all-perceiving" position. If we apply this to Weekend, there is a great deal to be perceived, and so long as we are talking about film in general, I don't see how this can be avoided. We might even say we identify with the subject Godard had in mind when he was making the film, the person he thought would be thrown off by the various techniques used for estrangement. As such, I think Godard's attempts to stray from "classical cinema" are in vain, though even Wollen notes that his films are not the revolutionary counter-cinema Godard is aiming for, but merely a starting point.

    Flatness & Lack of Montage
    I also think Godard's flatness of shooting and his long-takes that undo or complement each other work well together. Godard may be trying to get a flatness in the entirety of his film, but I don't think strict flatness is possible. The mere fact that more than one scene has been placed in the same film means that there is a contemplation by the spectator about their relation to one another, and montage thereby takes root. As such, long takes may be his best shot at deflating the power of montage. Fewer shots yield fewer opportunities to make meaning out of the combination of shots. Of course, what classical cinema values is the depth of a movie, so Godard is doing as he should to counter the norm. He can only get so far, however. I'm excited to find out if any future filmmakers come across a means of presenting truly "counter-cinema."

  4. I'm gonna have to start out by arguing with Adam and defending Godard (and Wollen). I believe that Wollen's argument about Godard's breaking of the "emotional spell" to refocus the audience's attention is highly intuitive. The classical model thrives on that "emotional spell" to catch hold of the audience (without them knowing) and to then play around with them through that. Godard, on the other hand, is interested in disrupting this spell, by calling attention to it and playing around with it (instead of with the audience). He's not trying to lose the attention of the audience only to gain it back, but is instead attempting to get the audience to not fall under that "spell," to get them to become more cognizant of the whole situation, and to experiment with new and different ways in which movies and audience can interact. I believe that this decenterizing of the focus works quite well, and gets the viewer to step outside the model of "look straight in a dark room; we'll tell you everything." It gets them to think more, and explore the diegesis; it breaks the stranglehold that classical film wants on the spectator. Naturally, not everyone enjoys this. Many people prefer to be led around and given precise instructions and boundaries. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with this, but that Godard wants to create a new breed of cinema, one that frees the viewer from the classical stranglehold. For one thing, he definitely does not pander to the audience like most filmmakers do. He is at the same time freeing them, challenging them, and pretty much saying "i don't give a damn." In response to Adam's insistence that the filmmaker's goal should be to grab the audience's attention, give them someone to identify with, and teach them some human moral, i believe this "i don't give a damn" sentiment reflects Godard's goal quite accurately. To me, Week End is a carnival ride. Anyone looking for a "message" is on a wild goose chase. True, there is a lot of satire, but there's also a lot of everything else, and even the satire almost seems to be undercut, as if the film is itself a satire of serious morality-driven satires. In truth, everything is undercut, and that is the best one could do at describing the film. It is counter-cinema at its finest; its only goal is to do the opposite of that which it is countering. It's an experiment to see how else film can work. But of course it is not a completely "new" or "different" form of film, just an attempt at the negation of the dominant classical style; it only exists as a counterpoint, and without the original it cannot exist. In terms of identification, i have always thought that that's a step in the wrong direction. I've never felt that the audience is trying to identify with the onscreen personas, but rather projecting their own personas onto the onscreen characters. For example, when watching Casablanca, i've never felt that i want to be just like Bogart, but rather that i want me to be in that place (sometimes in his place, but usually in a place more beside him, not in him). It's not the characters that matter, but the situation. I'm only identifying with myself in the end. I'm just putting myself into a certain situation; it doesn't matter whether or not i can identify with the people, so long as i can with the situation (which is pretty much impossible for me to not be able to do). Again, i believe that Week End elaborates on this very well, as it virtually forces the audience to take themselves out of the identifying trend and be themselves. It breaks the "emotional spell" and lets the audience enjoy it simply as the intellectual carnival ride that it is. And frankly, for Godard, i feel this was a great decision. I've seen Breathless and Alphaville - films that attempt to be the kind of classical, exciting, plotty movies that Adam seems to be in favor of - and i was bored to tears after about 2 minutes. Week End and Pierrot le Fou, on the other hand, had me wishing for more and more and more. And for a quick shout-out, i watched Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad over the weekend and found it to be absolutely amazing, coming out of the same New Wave that Godard did (though different from Godard it definitely is), its pure audacity and radicalism and the spell it casts being so impressive, it makes me lament that so few films (even fewer good ones) differing from the standard model have come out over the years, particularly when there seems to be limitless potential and creativity out there.

  5. While I follow the arguments put forth by our various theoreticians of the woman as representing lack in classical cinema, I could not help but be struck by the dramatic overcompensation of the male protagonist in GIlda. Throughout the film, Ballen requires something or someone else to complete him. Initially he finds this in his cane/knife "little friend," and later Gilda fills this void. However, I am confused as to what lack she is filling and the paradox of a representation of lack, compensating for another lack. This problem seemed central to the film and yet, has not really been discussed. Is this relationship between Gilda and Ballen an example of Mulvey's discussion of man as maker of meaning and woman as bearer of meaning? Does it only further the existing patriarchical system of dominance, intended to emphasize Ballen's power? While I can definitely appreciate this argument, I am overcome by the extent to which it illustrates Ballen's own lack and thus works to delegitimize his power position, as "maker of meaning" or otherwise. Ballen's overcompensation is, in my mind, foregrounded through Gilda's character. I was reminded throughout the film, of more contemporary films such as Old Boy, where the male protagonist's hypermasculinity is his form of overcompensation for earlier castration. There is a point of convergence, i think between these examples. However, one could argue too that Ballen's lack is connected to our own lack as spectators; a lack we disavow as he disavows his own lack. Both the spectator and Ballen acquire controlling gazes and false senses of power. Is cinema our own overcompensating mechanism?

    I think that the question as to whether a "counter" cinema can truly subvert the hegemonic values of classical cinema or whether by being reactionary it can only legitimize them further, is extremely potent. As Wollen notes, Godard's cinema is only a starting point; and even Godard called for a more revolutionary cinema that he could not achieve because of his inherently bourgeois background. Godard suggested looking to the Third World and indeed we can find many points of convergence between Third Cinema and Godard's own films. However, even the post-colonial Third Cinema was working largely within the dialectics of its colonial oppressors, working within the established frameworks and reacting against them. Thus, in Godard's films and in Third Cinema we find similar limitations that raise the same question, are these truly new cinemas? Furthermore, I wonder if to undercut dominant cinema, a new cinema must become dominant and if it does, is it only being co-opted into the existing system? To what extent have Godard's films been accepted by the dominant system, even if they are accepted as counter-points? It would seem that even a film as radical as Weekend, holds some position within the dominant framework now, a niche set aside for "counter cinema." It seems then that these films somehow support the dominant framework. We can even point to the negative reactions of some dislocated and thus disaffected spectators as support for how these films legitimate dominant cinema. Sad, but true, and demanding a further exploration of how to create a new--not alternative, not counter--cinema.

  6. i have a couple of questions/comments in response to adam and tracy:

    adam, you wrote:
    "Films and art as a whole are meant to expose the masses to certain human truths, to enlighten them through some semblance of representation of human life."
    --what is this "truth"? would what you regard as "truth" amount to what Bill Nichols calls "common sense assumptions"? is there a way in which these "commonsenses" can be problematic, so that we might want to question instead of endorse them?

    tracy: at the end of your discussion of ballen as "lacking" / requiring compensation, you come to the tentative conclusion that cinema might serve as a compensatory mechanism for us, the audience. i think this is exactly what metz/mulvey etc. are trying to argue. i think you make an important point of arguing that characters don't exist in and for themselves, but only become meaningful in relation to a spectator's engagement.

  7. Hey guys, I thought I'd break out from this discussion
    a little and talk about my experience with the Close Up.
    In watching a film, a level of viewing pleasure is achieved
    when one identifies with its characters. In a documentary,
    particular one with some sort of character based narrative
    structure, the sense of identification that one experiences
    can be brought to a new and higher level given the additional
    infusion of reality. When this reality is introduced and
    acknowledged, one is able to identify with the subjects of the
    movie on a more intimate level. In a film like Close Up where
    there are levels of fiction that exist unbeknownst to the viewer,
    the director is given an even greater level control in that he is able
    to contort and twist the viewers perception of the reality in the film
    as to maximize the pleasure that audience experiences.

  8. Reading through these comments I came across the argument (I think it was Mike's) that Goddard tries to undo the power of montage in individual scenes by using the long take. While I think this is a valid point, I can't help but feel there is a lot of montage in weekend, in the movie as a whole, and within certain scenes. Although a lot of the scenes are shot using long takes, I felt a lot of the jumps between the scenes themselves were rather disjointed and disorienting. In this way, I felt that all the scenes together make the movie one giant montage, as did get sense of "conflict" (as Eisenstein would say) between each scene.

    I also felt there was lots of "conflict" within the scenes themselves, with the various wild images and objects Goddard chose to use in each scene. Bizarre scenes like the one where the bourgeosis couple meet the old-fashioned girl and man on the forest path where they are picking flowers is an example, and also the scene where the "priest" is stuffing the partially off-screen body of a dead woman with fish, etc. Although scenes like these can involve long takes and not a lot of editing per se, I feel that they ultimately come off as montage due to the "conflict" between the images they present. So can the long take, without employing editing and cutting between separate shots, actually become a form of montage by eliciting conflict between the images it presents in its continuous action?