Film Meanderings

A 15% refugee

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Poet in Destitute Times

For Furstenau and MacAvoy, Malick is the poet in destitute times that Heidegger said was necessary in the technological world. The modern world has created a deficiency between beings and Being and so it is up to the poet to employ evocative language to reveal what ‘metaphysics obscured’. Philosophy then becomes poetry.

Heidegger wanted poetry to break through the objective representations of language and bring forth ‘intuitive images brought forth from the thing itself’.  This is what Malick strives for in his films.

In The Thin Red Line, as Furstenau and MacAvoy explains, Malick is not so much interested in the realistic representations of the happenings of war (like in, say Saving Private Ryan) but invoking questions of mortality and humanity to the audience though the use of evocative imagery.

Here we see not a discernable plot or anything resembling ‘movieness’ but a series of images and sounds that performs ‘perhaps [the] most traditional philosophical function’ in proposing arguments and seeking out answers for it.

This then brings us back to Mulhall’s and Baggini’s problem of film as practising philosophy but I’ve already gone through that.

It also brings about questions of Malick himself, choosing cinema as his medium for philosophy. Furstenau and MacAvoy detail Malick’s history as a philosophy teacher prior to his filmmaking and provides an explanation for Malick’s use of film as poetry. Does he believe that cinema is the best way provide a Heideggerian argument? If so, how should The Thin Red Line’s audience, probably not consisting of many Heidegger experts, receive the film? Does it matter?

Probably not as I film the film is moving irrespective of my expertise on the ex-Nazi philosopher. Anyway this is my choice for the essay question so I’ll attempt to understand Malick (and Heidegger for that matter) as I write that.

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McGowan describes Mulholland Drive David Lynch’s ‘panegyric to the existential and political possibilities of fantasy’.

He describes how the film is split into the two worlds of fantasy and desire and how the meeting of those two worlds culminates into a traumatic experience where the absence of the impossible object becomes too much to bear.

What interested me was that he didn’t just provide a descriptive analysis of the film, where he provides accounts for the links between the fantasy and desire world in the film, but also explains how the film shows the effects of following one’s fantasy to the very end.

Something that I don’t necessarily disagree with, but am puzzled by is his distinction between male fantasy and female fantasy. He says that the relation to the real in male and female fantasies is fundamentally different. Males and females being what they are, I absolutely agree with this. McGowan however goes on to provide the differences between the two without any justification. 

For instance: ‘The male subject experiences the real as always futural while the female subject experiences it as past, an experience of loss’.

In the footnotes he describes the male experience as Kantian (<3) and the female Hegelian (ugh).  This, while interesting, still does not explain how the two genders experience the real differently

Are we supposed to just go along with it or am I just not caught up on the latest developments regarding gender fantasies (knowing me, this wouldn’t be entirely ridiculous)?

In any case McGowan’s work is fascinating and has given me new insight into Lynch’s film. I had previously thought I had the film figured out as a demonstration of how the idea of Hollywood (and Hollywood film) colours our perceptions of the world. I had no real desire (there’s that word again) to re-watch it until this unit (I was and still am a Cronenberg man) but I’m glad I did and am planning to re-watch it again with McGowanian eyes. 

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Raw Materials

Baggini finds Mulhall’s treatise on the Alien quartet an insightful look at how the film series provides a symbolic depiction of embodiment and sexuality. This, according to Baggini, falls short of Mulhall’s promise of demonstrating how the Alien films ‘philosophise’.

For Baggini a film must ‘not only mimic or enact philosophic arguments but do some real work with them’. Mulhall is just merely providing the raw materials for philosophers to build on. For a film to actually practise philosophy, it must demonstrate its truthfulness in its rigour of its arguments and consequently reveal something about the world we have not noticed before.

This is stance that I agree with.

Mulhall’s analysis of the Alien films, as Baginni points out, falls back on the standard rhetoric and methodology of film criticism. Taken out of the philosophic paradigm, Mulhall’s work is exemplary (although I do think his points on the films’ symbolic sexuality is taken too far), but has been done before.

Furthermore, Baggini does not think the Alien films themselves do not philosophise. Instead he provides Rashomon as an example of a film philosophising. Here, he demonstrates how Kurosawa’s film shows, not tells, its arguments on the role of morality of the individual’s perception of the natural world.  I have not seen Rashomon (I know, I know) but I am more convinced of Baggini’s account of a film practising philosophy than Mulhall’s.

I do love Alien though and wanted to see if I could come up with a way for the film to philosophise. It was tempting for me to say that Alien embodies Marx (workers alienated from their labour) but I fell into the raw materials trap of Mulhall.

If anything, as a person who wants to actually make films this whole how can film philosophise thing has given me something else to consider in the production process of film.  

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In the Mood for Deleuze

In my essay for Deleuze I provided an example of the time-image in Hiroshima Mon Amour’s penultimate scene. I outlined how the past, future and present coalesce due to the audience’s knowledge of the characters’ past and the character’s knowledge of each other.

Also in the essay I argued that Vivre Sa Vie was a film that consisted entirely out of time-images due to the complete subversion of the sensory motor schema.

Here I’ll attempt to argue that Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 is a film that is exemplary of the time-image.

A reason why many people didn’t like 2046 is because of their relation to Wong Kar Wai’s previous film In the Mood for Love. Already the concept of time is in play because the audience brings the past with them before the film even starts. As the film progresses they realise that it is a film so different from its predecessor that they long for the presence of Maggie Cheung’s, and by extension In the Mood For Love’s, familiarity. This is reflected in Tony Leung’s search to replace her.

Even Tony Leung’s character, although the same person, has a completely different personality to the one in In the Mood for Love. So this alien yet familiar world depicted in 2046 evokes the past of a completely different film where the audience projects their own conceptions of what the film should have been. This is due to the absence of the familiar, the audience’s sensory motor schema has been shattered because their idea of what the film they are watching was going to be turned out to be completely false.

Of course the trickiness of memory and time is the main concept explored in the film and I believe it to be Wong Kar Wai’s best however one must watch at least In the Mood for Love beforehand to fully appreciate it (I would say that one should watch his whole oeuvre before they watch it but that may be a bit extreme).

Studying Deleuze has only deepened my love for the film. 

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I refrained from using an Arnie picture.

I refrained from using an Arnie picture.

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Arnie and Bogart in the Same Sentence

Cavell makes the distinction between stage and screen performers. Stage performers yield to the role whereas a stage performer ‘takes the role onto himself’. He likens the performance of a screen actor to that of exploring an attic, ‘taking only what fits’ with his ‘physical and temperamental endowment’.

This then is when a ‘star is born’. The audience does not see the character on screen, but rather the star as the character incarnate. The star however is not a person we know but only ‘distantly a person’. What he means by this is that we only know the star because of the films he’s in. Where it not for those films, that star would not exist although the human individual would.

Cavell provides Humphrey Bogart as an example for this phenomenon, and that seems sensible since Bogart is perhaps the greatest leading man of all time.

Look I love Bogart. I wish I were Bogart (which I guess is Cavell’s whole point). I however am also a big Schwarzenegger fan, and although it may seem daft I think you can switch Bogart with Schwarzenegger on pg. 28 of The World Viewed and it would probably make just as much sense (I also want to get away with using even the word Schwarzenegger in a philosophy assignment).

When we watch a film with Schwarzenegger in it, we do not perceive the character he plays. He does not disappear and yield to the role but rather he takes what fits his Schwarzeneggerness and is an engaging screen presence because of that.

Cavell later states that ‘the stars are only to gaze at…their actions divine our projects’. Whether you’re looking at Bogart or Schwarzenegger, it’s hard to argue with Cavell’s point.

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