Saturday, May 05, 2007

Deleuze on Cinema and All Things Cinematic

Fact: Gilles Deleuze acted in the 1973 French film George Qui?.

But more importantly, he has become one of the greatest influential film theorists, and it has struck other theorists that he actually has a "love of cinema". It is apparently "Bergsonian" in nature, referring to the "creative evolution" man, Henri Bergson. It appears that what Bergson's ontological ideas amount to are what Deleuze believes film amounts to.

What Deleuze calls the duree is the open whole of film, the fundamental cinematic elements of the frame, the shot, the montage. Cinematic image is a framed image-in-movement. The open whole is event more evident in the montage of images, though in the traditional cinema montage remains an indirect rather than a direct presentation of the open whole.

For film theorist Griffth, the whole is an organic unity of minimal intervals within a dilating totality, a spiraling expansion of time that unfolds in leaps and starts through the shock of contrasting images. It was observed that for pre-war theorists, the whole is a mathematical infinite comprised of quantities of movement, whereas for German expressionists such as Murnau, Lang, and Wiene, the whole is a dynamic infinite made up of clashing intensities engaged in a perpetual war of moving light and shadow.

Deleuze finds in Bergson's account three specialized images that come into existence with every living image: the perception image, whereby the living image senses the outside world; the action image, which structures the space surrounding the living image; and the affection-image, which connects the living image's outer perceptions, inner feelings, and motor-responses to other images. It is on the basis of this tripartite Bergsonian division that Deleuze builds his classification of images.

Deleuze adds his own classifications to Bergson's: the "impulse-image," the "reflection-image," and the "relation-image." These are used to construct a taxonomy of signs. And signs just means that they are images subdivided into three categories: genetic, and two compositional.

So that makes eight, right?

In modern cinema, however, the sensory-motor cinema laid out here breaks apart. The signs of the movement-image are the signs of classic cinema. Those conform to the "commonsense" world. With the collapse of that schema, new images appear, and new signs.

However, it appears that Deleuze is so obsessed with images, that he neglects the other important aspect of film: audio. In my film club, Praxis Imago, we discussed how important we thought audio was. Not only did we emphatically agree, but we said the image and the sound were equally important to the viewer.

Deleuze argues that in the modern cinema certain images and signs function as time crystals, as refracting, filtering, and reflecting surfaces in which the virtual and the actual are made visible and rendered indiscernable as they pass into one another in circuits of exchange. The interplay of the virtual and the actual may take on various configurations and its effects may be traced in individual sequences of images, whole films, or the entire oeuvre of a director.

So some films, or some directors, can be seen as a time crystal, or a gigantic time crystal.

For example, in Resnais's films, characters inhabit realms that are like planes of coexisting past events, each plane metamorphosing into another, the film establishing transverse, puzzling passages between various planes of past time. In Robbe-Grillet's films, incommensurable present moments coexist simultaneously, and the commonsense temporal order of past-present-future gives way to a paradoxical time of presents-of-the-past, presents-of-the-present, and presents-of-the-future. These are chronosigns.

Suddenly, the world of film has become so complex, and so intricate, and I have only read the introduction to "Deleuze on Cinema---Part One"! Each frame is taken into consideration. Each frame digested, deconstructed, examined from all angles. This is what I do when I watch film, and I'm not surprised that film theorists have taken this even further. After I develop my film criticism vocabulary, I will be writing more blogs applying my understanding to specific films.

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