SLU, Dept of landscape architecture
Malmo University, School of Arts and Communication,
Today, an increasingly tense political climate raises new questions as for the referent and role of ‘urban space’. An imperative rather than a representation,1 the concept of ‘city’ evokes so much more than architectonic order; it gives rise to commercial or relational expectations, prospects of citizenship, social mobility, empowerment and change – shortly, to the concrete, yet incoherent dimension of ‘everyday life’; a large and unrestrained (urban) body of intermediation.
Therefore, an enquiry into contemporary urban space has to actualize not only the representative outcome – the physical structure – but also the mediating regimes, or power structures, upon which it depends. One such regime is film production. In this paper, I will focus on the performative rather than the representational aspects of filmic agency in urban space. I will argue that the representational mutuality between city and cinema has its performative correspondence in the reciprocity between panoptic CCTV actualizations of power aiming at a ‘closure’ of representative circuits and the counter-actualizations of, on the one hand the cinéma verité attempts to conflate cinema with ‘true’ reality, and on the other hand alternative attempts to develop a cinematic situationism of curiosity and reconfiguration. The relationship will be exemplified through an analysis of the films “I am Curious – Yellow” (1967) and “I am Curious – Blue” (1968) by Swedish director Vilgot Sjöman – films that in a provocative way examined the topology of the cinematic performance. Fuelled by a composite political and erotic desire, the films presented a blatant and self-reflective counter-actualizing of the regimes of social mobility and utterability organizing urban space.
In a sequence in the beginning of Vilgot Sjöman’s infamous movie I am Curious – Yellow (1967), the protagonist, the young and innocent girl Lena, barefacedly approaches people in the street and in their work places. She asks them a similarly direct and perhaps naïve political question: “Excuse me, may I ask you, do you think Sweden is a class society?” The answers she gets vary, most of them are undecided, wavering, affected by the situation: “Class society, what, how do you mean?”; “Well*strictly speaking* no -*as everyone*I think*sticks together*”; “Well*when you are having lunch, then yes*”; or the more directly repelling “No politics for me thank you.” As Lena goes on, her dissatisfaction grows, her questioning intensifies and expands, covering everything from moral decrees and personal prejudices to social institutions and political hypocracy.
The film is also a film-about-a-film, where Lena’s political investigations are intertwined with her sexual relationships to Vilgot, the film director, and to Börje, the young and politically irresponsible charmer and co-actor. A complex of relations and locations, the film eventually also disintegrates in two, a Yellow version and a Blue, together forming a composite Odyssey through a fragmented urban and cinematic landscape, where the attempts to locate power, in all its forms, constitute a common feature.
Yet, it was not political forthrightness that once made the movie “uniquely notorious amongst European art films.”2 It was rather its unrefined depiction of political and sexual awakening, of a mundane nudity, sullied by the injustices of the everyday. When released in Sweden, the film caused a certain debate, even though not at all on a level with the mayhem caused by Sjöman’s previous film 491 a few years earlier.3 The Curious debate was much tamer, and even though the film was brought up on the parliamentary agenda, the comments were essentially non-dramatic. If Sjöman’s aim had been the deliberate transgression of sexual taboos, time had now caught up with him, at least in Sweden and to a certain extent also in the rest of Europe.
This was not the case in the U.S. In 1968, the film was seized by the Customs, thereby guaranteeing what Gary Giddins in his Criterion Collection essay describes as “a highly lucrative, court-delayed release[*] guaranteeing not only a trial[*] but also a zealous highbrow support and palpitating pietistic outrage.”4 Called as a witness during the trial, Norman Mailer proclaimed Yellow “one of the most important pictures I have ever seen in my life,” whereas others, like Rex Reed, condemned it as being “a dirty movie” and Sjöman “a sick Swede with an overwhelming ego and a fondness for photographing pubic hair.”5
Even though the imbrication of erotic and political desire without doubt is the leading theme of the Curious films, in my interpretation I will leave the pubic aside in favour of the public, focusing instead on the fact that the colour references of the movies – yellow, blue – have less to do with heat and chill in the erotic sense than with the official insignia of the most prominent of welfare states. But if the sex scenes once blocked out or even nullified other aspects of the films, they are today much less conspicuous, thus opening for more composite interpretations. The one I will provide here focuses mainly on the first of the two films, the Yellow,6 and here, first and foremost on its problematizing of the cinematic situation as a play with utterability and social mobility, with curiosity and control, with representational power structures as well as with different forms for public address.
As mentioned above, the films are reflexive and multi-layered, not only coming in two versions, but also with several parallel narrative frameworks mirroring each other in a complex interplay. The two main plots, the story about curious Lena and the story about making the movie about her, are further complicated by the fact that all the ‘actors’, including Lena (Nyman), Vilgot (Sjöman) and Börje (Ahlstedt), also exist as historical persons outside of the movie. In the film, this ‘real’ level is only implicitly hinted at – for example by the fact that the actors are called by their proper names, or by the self-centred and not entirely ironic humming of the director while cutting the film (“I want to be a celebrity, I want to be a celebrity*”). Yet, as a potential ‘key’ to the film, this level was far from disregarded, but addressed by Sjöman in the Diary that accompanied the film’s release.7
Another level in the movie is constituted by the ‘documentary’ sequences, the interviews with ordinary or ‘real’ people. However, in the film, these documentary situations are integrated with the narrative about curious Lena, which renders to them an unclear documentary status. This ambiguity is further reinforced by mock documentary sequences, which include some interviews and some arranged street manifestations and theatrical interventions. These in turn are linked to a more agitating level of ironic sentences or slogans, either appearing within the narrative frame as billboards or written statements, or superimposed in the form of voice-over or inserted texts – including arbitrary commercial catch phrases like “Buy! Buy!”; proposed non-violence mottos like “Non-collaboration”; “Sabotage”; and “Fraternization”; or simply texts identifying the persons or events appearing on the screen.
This complexity is exemplified in the scene where Sweden´s future prime minister, Olof Palme (at the time the Minister of Transport), is interviewed. With the ambition to address the question of class and inequality, the fully equipped film team here confronts a representative of the system, a person with the power to bring about change. What we encounter, however, is not simply the young Minister outside his home, but a composite situation under construction. While tentative questions are being posed, filmic equipment is tried out, light and sound are measured, positions calculated. Concurrently, life goes on. Wife and son interfere, indifferent actors play out their desires, technicians poke around. The result is at the same time intensification and expansion: The clash of competing narrative frameworks gives rise to a strong presence, at the same time actualizing that which lies right next to or beyond the intended scene – petty family matters, jealousy, tediousness, but also cinematic ambiguity and political hesitation. In the back yard of the Minister’s row house, a non-finalized situation unfolds; a situation, where cinematic and political intentions repeatedly are being sidetracked by social and erotic tensions, and where, as a result, the representational apparatus as such appears as an apparatus in crisis. It is highly doubtful whether anything at all is being represented or recorded through the setup, and if so, the references remain unclear. Instead, the ongoing spatial production comes into view, the generative assemblage of what could be called a shameless everydayness;8 that unattractive, futile and annoying dimension, at times even “droopy” and “podgy”, messing about with intended plots.9
Even though Sjöman’s ambition was to confront the “flickering [reality] of small life that the camera ought to catch, the camera!”,10 he was at the same time hesitant as to a purely documentary cinema. Instead of simply shifting the studio dependency for a documentary dependency complete with a new technology, he wanted to engender a full format “kaleidoscope,”11 without giving up the creative potentials of the 35 mm technology.12 This was also inscribed in the initial agreement with the producer, where the manuscript was replaced by a maximum usage of 100 000 meters raw film, four times more than the normal amount.13 This would enable Sjöman to do what he wanted, to start “from scratch” with a number of places and people, including himself as a director14 – and with this as a starting point literally put something into play.
This is clearly the case in the Olof Palme sequence, where expansive frontality is set up against penetrating montage. The main stage, as it opens out, is an ironic set-up, with all the actors, including the director and the interviewee, lined up along the row-house façade, the technical staff in front, partly blocking out the centre of focus. This frontality supposedly breaks the illusion of peeking into a separate world, and makes us aware of the commonplace environment, in which we as spectators, also are inscribed. However, this frontality is from the outset broken up into a tense network of intermediary distances, of gazes and desires. And as the trivial setting unfolds, we are pulled into this inquisitive game, our distant spectatorship now a part of the situation.
In this respect, the sequence is both “over-framed and unframed”15, creating a double awareness of on the one hand the representational conditions at hand – the given circuits of meaning – and on the other of the inevitable breach, the unsafe and hesitant ‘no-go area’ in front of the image – calling into attention the arbitrariness of any possible message. Trough a self-reflective set-up where the film-in-the-film is ironically trivialized, Sjöman not only stages a classical mise-en-abyme,16 a mirroring across the abyss of meaning, but also, which is more important, demystifies this formal figure, actualizing the fact that its depth could be no more vertiginous than the repetitious twists of ordinary life.
In this way, Sjöman throughout the Curious films shamelessly exposes a kind of artistic failure, a creative insufficiency, furthermore expressed in a quite programmatic tone. This is possibly the most provocative feature of the films, clearly reflected in the reception of the movies, which generally were referred to as pretentiously unclear. On the one hand, the films repeatedly promise to satisfy an unrestrained and anti-authoritarian curiosity, not only concerning spatial, social and sexual relations, but concerning the filmic medium as such. On the other hand they reveal an annoying and disturbing hesitance, a creative impotence, which call into question the production of the directorial ego itself. Mimicking an uncensored ‘real’, Sjöman builds up the expectations of an open and public sphere, allowing for improvised performance. Yet, whenever this performance reaches dramatic pitch, he interrupts with a direction, either captious or ambiguous, reminding us and himself of the inescapable fact that the performers perform for him.17
The more or less obvious source of inspiration for the Curious films was the experiments with new documentary forms of cinema. In Paris, Sjöman had taken interest in the cinéma vérité and its claim “to penetrate beyond appearances, beyond defences, to enter the unknown world of everyday life,”18 and he was well acquainted with vérité filmmakers like Jean Rouch and Frédéric Rossif.19 In a newspaper article, he even expressed his enthusiasm over the new ethnographic approach and the use of new, mobile and immersive technology. At the same time, Sjöman gave voice to certain scepticism. Transgressing the format of the short film, Sjöman wrote, “the documentary starts intertwining threads of stories, arranging plots,” which gives most documentary film makers, including Jean Rouch, unsolvable problems. First and foremost it was the amateurism of the actors that annoyed Sjöman. Amateurs do not manage to stand up to a storyline, and “[t]he result is unease and emptiness.”20
The question Sjöman implicitly raises is the representational question inherent to any project of filmic documentation. What does it mean to be truthful in relation to a complex and elusive world? And what is the potential of the camera? To what extent can or must the filmmaker interfere in order to get hold of slippery reality, and how should we regard the final ‘result’? What would a contemporary equivalent to the early, interventionist real life kino-pravda21 look like and to what extent could it even become an instrument of change?
In the early sixties, these and similar questions had motivated the articulation of a new cinéma vérité. Jean Rouch, successful for his ambitious and groundbreaking documentaries on African life,22 teamed up with sociologist Edgar Morin, to develop what Morin in an article with the title “For a New Cinéma-Vérité” described as a cinema that would “break the membrane that isolates each of us from others in the metro, on the street, or on the stairway of the apartment building.”23 Inspired by Henri Lefebvre and his philosophical investigations of the composite concept of “everyday life,”24 Rouch and Morin set out to produce a film about their immediate surrounding, about “the authenticity of life as it is lived.”25 If earlier models of documentary had contented itself with a passive registration of the individual’s relation to socio-economic milieus and technological development, the assignment was now a more radical reinterrogation of man by means of cinema, where the ethnographic model of participatory observation would serve as the point of departure. The ideal was the closest possible contact with the subject, which required “a new type of filmmaker, the ‘filmmaker-diver,’ who ‘plunges’ into real-life situations,”26 and “navigates in a ‘non-silent’ world.”27 Equipped only with a 16 mm camera and a tape recorder slung around his shoulders, the filmmaker would be able to “infiltrate” any community like a person and not like a director, and liberated from the demands of formal aesthetics, he would then be able to discover “virgin territory, a life that possesses aesthetic secrets within itself.”28
The film that was meant to realize these ambitions was Chronique d’un été, a film that would submerge into the depths of everyday life, not only examining its sociological basis (housing, work, leisure), but more importantly also its existential rock bottom; the style of life, the attitudes, the problems and wishes of ordinary people. The aim was to make a film around the simple theme of “How do you live?”29 and in the beginning of the film we also encounter ordinary people in the street confronted with the straightforward question “Are you happy?” Yet, in order to be able to really grasp “that particular and irreducible quality that appears in real life,”30 Rouch and Morin needed to develop a certain form of “psychodrama,” a kind of improvised staging that would be “carried out collectively among authors and characters,”31 An experimental form of interrogation that would make their subjects open up, it made Rouch and Morin more of provocateurs than neutral participants, and likewise, the presence of the camera, more of a stimulating, modifying, accelerating catalyst, enabling people to respond by revealing themselves, thereby also exposing hidden meanings.32
In a recent article, American architectural theorist Tom McDonough discusses the verité claims and their spatial implications, first and foremost in relation to the documentary experiments of situationist cinema. Needless to say, the discussion concerns the distinction between a ‘cinema of truth’ and a ‘true cinema,’ but also, which might be more critical as for a discussion of power and space, the question of how to make justice to the composite dimension of everyday life. The subject of investigation in Chronique d’un été was precisely this elusive and amorphous daily existence, as well as “its imbrication with (or disjunction from) the broader world and forces of history.”33 And in a post-war Europe, this was in no way something unique: at this time, also situationist Guy Debord was engaged in the making of a film with a parallel theme, a film with the title Critique de la separation. As Rouch and Morin, he too was interested in everyday life; that alienating, numbing and tedious experience of banality, of taken-for-grantedness, opened up by modernity. And as McDonough points out, the conjunction between the two films was not coincidental; Debord was well aware of the cinéma vérité project, and it is difficult not to see his Critique as a direct comment on Rouch’s and Morin’s chronicle.34
Rouch and Morin had set out to develop a “cinema of life;” a cinema with a “relative freedom” as to conventions of genres, as to technological constraints, as to relations between author, actor and spectator,35 and in doing so they had hoped to be able to guarantee some kind of authenticity. But, as Morin himself expresses it, “in approaching thus we have also approached all the confusion of life;”36 a confusion which also included the bewilderment of representing that life. Despite sincere ambitions and programmatic declarations, the use of the camera as well as the position of the directors remained unclear. As an alleged means to conjure up the subject’s true personne or Self,37 the idea was to overtly inscribe the camera into the film as text or representation. However, during the course of the shooting, the team used ever more lightweight and unobtrusive equipment, even bringing in a prototype handheld camera originally developed for satellite and military surveillance.38 If the visible presence of the camera had a provocative effect on participants in the film, it paradoxically became, as McDonough remarks, increasingly invisible.39 As far as the directors, they occupied they same uncertain ground. In their ambition to create “the least cinema like conditions possible,”40 their authorial roles were downplayed from confrontation to “commensality.”41 Even though Rouch at some point in the editing process had the idea of making Morin the protagonist,42 this never went further than the final scenes, where we see the two colleagues walking through Le Musée de l’Homme, reflecting upon their cinematic endeavour. In this way, Rouch and Morin miniaturized and re-naturalized the cinematic procedure, as well as the directorial performance, hiding away the mechanisms of governing in an attempt to honestly capture a non-theatrical world.
While Rouch and Morin were aiming for a therapeutic documentary, Guy Debord’s Critique de la séparation was utterly argumentative.43 The film opened with three different images following directly one upon the other – a still image of a girl in bikini, a clip from a Congo newsreel, and an everyday street sequence from Boulevard Saint Michel, accompanied by a the voice of a young girl (Caroline Rittener) reciting André Martinet’s Éléments de linguistique générale: “If we reflect how natural and advantageous it is for man to identify his language with reality, we shall appreciate how high a degree of sophistication had to be reached before he could dissociate them and make of each a separate object of study.”44 Then followed an ironic trailer, a parody of cinéma indépendente, announcing “one of the best anti-films of all times!” After a panoramic shot of the Seine followed a new slogan: “Real characters! An authentic history!” The voice-over then went on to announce the credits for the film, including the producer: “Dansk-fransk experimentalfilm compagni,” to be compared with the editor behind the facsimile fanzine accompanying the Gaumont edition: “L’Institut scandinave de vandalisme compare,” or “Institute of Scandinavian Comparative Vandalism.”45
This opening was nothing but a straight right in the face of cinéma vérité and its pretensions to present a “natural” cinematic language. Instead, a more critical relation between film-text and ‘reality’ was to be developed, a relation split up in contradictory fragments, in intermediary attempts, seriously affecting both the cinematic expression, the notion of everyday life, and that of the authorial ego.
In the film of Rouch and Morin, the idea had been to establish an intimate contact between actors and directors, “to allow people to enter into relations with one another.”46 Yet, the strongest moments in the film seemed to be the moments when communication broke down, exposing disbelief and confusion, which within the revelatory narrative of the “psychodrama” always implied a hidden truth. Debord presents no such closed circuits of a common unconscious, but rather destabilizes his own directorial authority and the bearing capacity of his own voice: “We don’t know what to say.”47 This bewilderment characterizes the film, which unfolded as multilayered display of images, subtitling and voice-over, furthermore contrasted with the narrative fragments of a young and innocent girl,”48 whose function was not only to represent ‘the lost object of desire,’ but the false and isolated coherence of cinema, whether dramatic or documentary. “The relation between images, commentaries and sub-titles,” wrote Debord a propos of the film, “is neither complementary nor indifferent.”49 Instead, it was meant as a counter-actualization of cinematic coherence, which, according to Debord, was no more than “a substitute for a communication and activity that are absent.”50
However, in order to demystify documentary cinema “it is necessary to dissolve its ‘subject matter,’” which was urban everyday life. If Rouch and Morin were explorers of an unknown, yet potentially coherent urban geography, Debord would insist on an urbanity of fundamental “dissatisfaction” and “mis-communication,” which furthermore “accumulates powers and imagines itself as rational.”51 And where Rouch and Morin built their project upon the more unitary aspects of Lefebvrian everydayness, Debord would reinforce the obscuring and ambiguous dimensions – the more radical parts of Lefebvre’s thinking, earlier enthusiastically embraced by the Situationists.52 For Lefebvre, the notion of everyday life was composite, on the one hand on a cognitive level “the ground of resistance and renewal[*], of moments and flashes of unalienated presence”53 and on the other hand, on a political level “that of the subversive or revolutionary micro-society in the very heart of a society which, moreover, ignores it.”54 In his analysis, McDonough rightly describes this as a more Lukácsian Alltäglischkeit, “an anarchy of light and dark,” an confusing combination of evasive authenticity and the “concrete life” of a corrupt and reifying society.55
This everydayness of accumulated powers is a space that, according to Debord, lacks in creativity, for “no one recognizes these powers as their own returns.”56 There can be no director, no creator, no artist. In this way, Debord also questions his own role. “It must be admitted that none of this is very clear,” he states. “It is a completely typical drunken monologue, with its incomprehensible allusions and tiresome delivery,”57 its documentary value doubtful, drawing attention as it does not to an underlying reality, but to the unworkable conditions under which it is performed. If Chronique d’un été in this respect had expressed intentions to critically unlock the documentary form, Critique would rather interlock every attempt to documentary mediation. As such, it would call into question not only cinematic everydayness, but also the production of the authorial ego as such, an ego “to which both Rouch and Morin tenaciously clung, as the sole foundation for coherence and unity remaining in their film.”58
As for an understanding of the Curious movies, the comparative study of Chronique and Critique propose several important aspects. Although there is no evidence of Sjöman being aware of the Situationist experiments, it is likely that he, as an allegedly radical artist was influenced by a general, Situationist or subversive trend, problematizing the societal conditions for personal development (or, as Debord expressed it, for a decent “entry to adulthood”).59 Yet, the reception and critique of Sjöman’s project was almost exclusively related to or compared with that of cinéma vérité, at times as a situationist-like “droll, Brechtian-Pirandellian, mock-vérité exploration of the chasm between the political and the personal,”60 however only rarely discussed as a more serious attack on complex, urban regimes of representation. What is interesting in this respect is, however, the fact that, where cinéma vérité constituted a cinematic methodology, by which, as Tom McDonough puts it, “representation could be conjured away, replaced by a fantasy of immediacy and reciprocity,” the Curious movies propose another take. Staged as an ambiguous, representational power play, they have much more in common with the “mimesis of incoherence”61 that we encounter in Debords “curious anti-documentary.”62 Like Debord, Sjöman had accepted his insufficiency from the start, the impossibility of filming absolute, pure and non-dramatized life. The point then, for Sjöman as well as for Debord, would not be to passively and unsatisfactory represent the truth, but to produce something that would take part, that would occupy a place, and in this respect also make some disturbing justice in the social, cultural and political game that constituted urban life.
There is however one decisive distinction between the French cold-war situation and the environment in which the Curious movies emerged. The point of departure for the Curious movies was neither simply everyday life as such, neither its representative conditions, but more concretely the conditions under which it unfolds in the ubiquitous, yellow-blue Welfare State. Implicit in Lena’s archival recording of her sexual experiences as well as in Vilgot’s self-sufficient directing of behaviours, this caring backdrop successively emerges as a spatial mesh of more or less regulated imitations or dependencies. Vilgot wants to become a potent cinematic celebrity; Lena wants to have a leading role; Börje wants to rise in social ranks. And in this reciprocity, they are all mimicking the system, exploiting each other, self-centredly confirming themselves through the other. But, as Lena points out to the jealous Vilgot after the Palme episode, “don’t you venture to say that it is on the same terms.”
But which are the terms? Implicit throughout the Curious movies, this question opens out towards the general narrative of the social-democratic Welfare State as an ‘equalizer of terms’. And it is towards this levelling and normative force we should understand both the naïve and un-articulate curiosity, and the over-articulate re-enactments. In the beginning of Yellow, Sjöman also expresses his ambition to tell Lena about “the two heads of social-democracy; the big self-satisfied one, and the little shrunken one;” the latter symbolized by the institutionalized orphan, secure in its bed, but deprived of every potential to develop beyond its confined cage.
Quite soon, however, it turns out that it is not all that simple. The society Lena inquires is a society undergoing rapid change. People are generally reluctant to think about themselves in terms of class. They do not conceive of themselves as particularly underprivileged or controlled by the system, and most of them do not identify themselves as oppressed. Power has become neutralized, or even naturalized; and subsequently, social inequality simply a self-evident consequence of common sense. Unable to localize power to societal institutions like the military, the church, the Monarchy or the Prison Commission, Lena turns to the streets, actively provoking and intervening with ordinary life and mediating practices; and ultimately, with herself and her own incorporated regulations, hoping to call forth at least a glimpse of power’s evasive face. However, in the inner narrative of the films, power remains invisible and ungraspable, leaving Lena in violent frustration and self-disdain.
Instead, it is through a widening of the narrative that the conditioning powers are brought into consciousness. It is an expansion that takes into consideration the documentary/fictive venture as such, and its claims to coherence and meaning, claims that to a large extent coincide with those of the modern Welfare State; a socially conscious narrative with a predictably happy closure. Just as the socially conscious cinema vérité, it unfolds as a supposedly open and participatory space, with nothing but ‘collaborative’ and ‘improvised’ directions. In the Curious films, this pervasive and compassionate structure is staged as a system in constant crisis, both contested and sought for, both betrayed and hypocritical.
In this sense, the Curious films provide a concrete re-enactment of the shift that Gilles Deleuze later would describe as a shift from disciplinary societal orders to orders of control;63 a shift from defined spaces of enclosure, to ‘enclosures’ based upon emotional commitment and submission to a ‘common’ project. In the Curious movies, this bio-political shift is staged at various levels. In the inner narrative, Lena chooses not to attend an educational institution, but prefers to set up her own free-floating institute. Similarly, Börje does not work in a factory, but in a corporation, his salary replaced by a bonus system, encouraging risky performance. Nevertheless, the new conditions of continuous self-representation are nowhere as explicit as in the break with the enclosed institution of the cinematic studio in favour of a more mobile and self-corrective spatial production, which ultimately leaves everybody with a constant feeling of insufficiency.
Yet, as Deleuze points out, “[t]here is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons,”64 and it is in this perspective the Curious’ reflections of cinema and cinematic production become critical as well as productive. As a technology of observation and control, of movement and mediation, cinema is indispensably intertwined with societal modernization. A de-auratized projection, it sets up new conditions for societal reproduction, dislocating the starting point from the actualization of the ‘noble’ to the actualization of the everyday – of the city, the crowd and the little man on the street. Here, the creative curiosity of the cinematic gaze counter-actualizes the controlling curiosity of the Welfare State, and its paradoxical enforcement of personal integrity through surveillance – to the extent that the Foucauldian panoptic idea of ‘being observed’ today constitutes the basis not only for administrative personhood, but also for the experience of Self.
What is interesting here is the extent to which contemporary society is grounded upon a confidence in the documentary, cinematic gaze. The development of unobtrusive technologies for sensing and recording have enabled a massive growth in cinematic monitoring and documentation, which, as urban geographers Stephen Graham and David Wood has pointed out, has diminished the need for direct observation of groups and individuals, as well as the need for containment of people within particular spaces.65 Instead, cinematic surveillance can be used in order to sustain processes of subjectification, composing or creating personal profiles, as they are called for in a ‘societal narrative’. As Deleuze argues, individuals have become “dividuals;” figures of composite data, extracted at different layers and at different points in the societal circuits of modulation. And even though these circuits are precisely modulations, dependent upon modulating practices interfering with the technological system in order to ‘close’ or ‘secure’ the representational gap,66 we are meant to believe that they constitute a natural logic, simply reflecting reality’s “soul”.67
What comes into mind here is precisely the expanded panopticism that Foucault suggested and that Deleuze refined. The digitized control society has developed into a “Superpanopticon,”68 a monitoring device without walls, cells and central watch tower, but with an endless number of spatially distributed, potential gazes. This so called “new surveillance,” which links the cameras to different databases and combines cinematic monitoring with different forms of ‘intelligent’ software for patterning and recognition, exemplifies this contradiction even further. On the one hand conceived of as a way to eliminate the need for human interference and mediation, this new surveillance is dependent upon an enormous and no less ‘editing’ or directing effort, a programming or ‘scripting,’ embedding “normative notions of good behaviour and transgression within the complex space-time of cities.”69
What is emerging is thus a new kind of entirely authorless cinéma vérité, a totally direct cinema with no capability and no need to catch the self-critical question of Morin and Rouch: “How do we dare speak of a truth that has been chosen, edited, provoked, oriented, deformed?”70 Rouch himself had dreams of being able to answer the question through a total, circuitous cinema that would be the driving force of a revolutionary, self-corrective society. Instead of striking, the cultural workers should occupy a cinema theatre and every day project sequences from the day before. This “cinematic reflection of reality”71 would then, by virtue of its communicative and therapeutic power, be able to modify that reality. But, as Tom McDonough points out, Rouch immediately realizes the absurdity of the fantasy: You would then have to do it day after day, continuously, and it wouldn’t be possible, “because you were involved in the game.”72 And within the closed circuits of a cinéma vérité, one indeed cannot ‘edit, orient, deform,’ and at the same time participate.
As for the disclosed circuits of situational cinema, the point was precisely the development of such a composite game of directing-and-being-directed, of seeing-and-being-seen – an externalized and expanded realism, where the crisis of the authorial ego is being shamelessly exposed, in the face of a likewise authorial and crisis-ridden Welfare State. And here we can, thanks to the Curious movies of Sjöman, make Tom McDonoughs reflections a bit more precise. Even though the ambition of both Debord and Sjöman was to develop a cinema that permitted them to expose themselves, they too develop strategies of closure, modes of acquiring panoptic power, mind-over-mind, and this not so much through the counter-actualization of the filmic logic, as through the activation of an avant-garde logic, where they too a certain extent, were able to both eat their cake and keep it.73 Sjöman acts by way of his Diary, conveniently published with the release of the film. In the Diary, Sjöman developes further the cheeky or even sciolistic tone,74 by critics interpreted as political naivety and self-pitying exhibitionism.75 In this way, he self-consciously forestalls the criticism: “If the film is properly done, on the maximum 20-30 % will like it; the rest will think that it is ‘worth discussing’, bloody rubbish, astoundingly un-artistic, unnecessarily vulgar, the height of speculation, what’s the matter with Sjöman? etc.”76 As Swedish film scholar Anders Åberg has pointed out, the critics are in this way “drawn into the hall of mirrors, and their comments become nothing but yet another aspect of the Sjöman image.”77
Debord goes about in a similar way, cultivating the myth about himself not as the “badly recognized,” but as the one “recognized as the bad.”78 The film was part of a broader program, including magazines and texts like Contre le cinéma (1964), where Debord’s friend and collegue Danish artist Asger Jorn does his best to, ironically or not, monumentalize the bad boy of French sub-culture. Is it at all likely, asks Jorn, to believe that a film like Resnais’ celebrated Hiroshima mon amour could have been realized without the preceding work of Debord?79 In this respect the cinematic work of Debord cannot only be interpreted as the radical and intrusive, gesture of reproducing everyday reality “at the mouth of Plato’s cave” that McDonough suggests. It has to be seen in relation to an expanded aesthetico-political tactics, a power play, which constantly risks to cave in on itself, reducing its own disclosed utterability to a closed circuit of social codes.
It is precisely from the point of view of such a non-finalized, still spatially active utterability, I would argue, that the Sjöman movies might still activate some curiousity. Both over-articulate and un-articulate, Sjöman constantly interrogates his own focal position, mimicking his own direction, to the point where it is even ridiculed, derided, brought down to the mundane level of jealousy and self-pity. “If you are to talk about yourself,” he writes in the Diary, “then you should backbite yourself. Anything else would be un-intelligent. Make yourself a bit ridiculous. Smear yourself*A few steps more; and the self-torture shows its ugly face.”80 As opposed to Debord, Sjöman develops a realism where he puts himself at risk, exposing a more shameless and embodied self-reflection, overtly performed through the perception of the Other,81 without excluding the broader world and forces of history. The “confession of authorial impotence”82 is creatively counteracted by what in Situationist terms could be called a ludic curiosity,83 an informal play counter-actualizing the formal structures of spatial positioning. This is an idea central to Situationist praxis, yet often tragically circumscribed in Debord’s own work.
In Sjöman’s Curious movies, however, the mimesis of incoherence has expanded into a mimesis also of play, the curious Institute of Lena thereby unknowingly revitalizing the spatial tactics of what in Debord’s vocabulary happened to be Scandinavian form of “comparative vandalism”.
Åberg, Anders (2001) Tabu – filmaren Vilgot Sjöman (Taboo – the Film Maker Vilgot Sjöman). Lund: Filmhäftet.
Borch, Christian (2005) “Urban Imitations: Tarde’s Sociology Revisited,” in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22(3):81-100.
Caterall, Bob (2003). “Editorial”. City, Vol. 7, No 3, November 2003.
Debord (1964/2005) “Contre le cinéma,” facsimile in Guy Debord Oeuvre cinématographique complète, Paris: Gaumond.
Debord Guy (2005) Oeuvre cinématographique complète, Paris: Gaumond.
Deleuze, Gilles (1990/1992) “Postscript on the Societies of Control” in October 59, winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 3-7. Available at http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm. Download date 2007-11-29.
Deleuze, Gilles (1990). The Logic of Sense. New York: Columbia University Press.
Dorr, Gregory p. (2003) “Review”. In The DVD Journal, available at http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/i/iamcurious_cc.shtml. Download date 2007-11-21.
Elsaesser, Thomas (2004) “The New FilmHistory as Media Archeology”, in Cinémas, 14:2-3. Available at http://www.erudit.org/revue/cine/2004/v14/n2-3/026005ar.html. Download date 2007-09-15.
Feld, Steven (2003) “Editor’s introduction,” in Jean Rouch Cine-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Giddins, Gary (2002) “Still Curious.” Available at http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=180&eid=283§ion=essay. Criterion Collection. Download date 2007-11-20
Graham, Stephen, and David Wood (2003) “Digitizing surveillance: categorization, space, inequality,” in Critical Social Policy Ltd Vol 23(2) 227-248. London: Sage Publications.
Jorn, Asger (1964/2005) “Guy debord et le problème du maudit,” in the Contre le cinéma facsimile included in Guy Debord Ouvre cinématographique complète, Paris: Gaumond.
Levin, Thomas Y. (2002) “Dismantling the Spectacle: The Cinema of Guy Debord,” in Tom McDonough Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lukács, Georg (1910/1979) Soul and Form. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Marcus, Greil (1989) Lipstick traces. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDonough, Tom (2002) Guy Debord and the Situationist International. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McDonough, Tom (2007) “Calling from the Inside: Filmic Topologies of the Everyday”, in Grey Room 26.
Morin, Edgar (1962/2003) “Chronicle of a Film,” in Jean Rouch, Cine-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 229-265.
Robertson, Roland (1995). “Glocalization: Time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity.” In Featherstone, Mark, Scott Lash and Roland Robertson (eds.), Global Modernities. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Ross, Kristin (1997) “Henri Lefebvre on the Situationist International: Interview conducted and translated 1983 by Kristin Ross”, in October 79, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Rouch, Jean (2003) Cine-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Rouch, Jean (1962/2003) “The Cinema of the Future?” in Jean Rouch Cine-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 266-273.
Rouch, Jean (1973/2003) “On the Vicissitudes of the Self: On the Possessed Dancer, the Magician, the Sourcerer, the Filmmaker, and the Ethnographer,” in Jean Rouch Cine-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 87-101.
Sassen, Saskia (2003). “Reading the City in a Global Digital Age: Between Topographic Representation and Spatialized Power Projects.” I Global Cities: Cinema, Architecture and Urbanism in a Digital Age. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Schneider, Dan (2007) “Review of I am Curious Yellow & Blue”. Available at http://www.cosmoetica.com/B528-DES454.htm. Download date 2007-02-27.
Shields, Rob (1998) Lefebvre, Love, and Struggle : Spatial Dialectics.
Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/malmoe/Doc?id=10095061&ppg=77. Download date 2007-11-22.
1 See Caterall (2003).
2 See Dorr (2003).
3 Directed by Sjöman and produced by Ingmar Bergman, this film was at first totally banned for being “sexually exciting in a destructive way”, and only shown after heavy censoring.
4 See Giddins (2002).
5 In his dissertation on Sjöman, the Swedish film theorist Anders Åberg gives a summary of the international reception of the movie, not the least in the U.S. Here, Barney Rosset and his publishing company Grove Press, at the time deeply engaged in the publishing of earlier banned novels like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934), was pleased to promote the controversial movie. And according to plan, the Yellow film was seized by U.S. Customs early in 1968. The obscenity trial was then held on May 20-23, 1968 in New York, where Sjöman himself also appeared as a witness. The jury considered the film to be obscene, a sentence that was immediately overruled and finally dismissed, and which eventually paved the way for nudity-filled and more profitable skin flicks. See Åberg (2001:198-202) and Giddins (2002).
6 The decision of splitting the material into two films came rather late in the process, late in the summer 1967. In his diary Sjöman writes: “I have simply made a misconstruction. So what do I do? Recut, shorten, lift out – such things do not help anymore. I have reached flaws that go deeper than what you can get at by the editing table, flaws in the basic construction, in the very edifice.” (Sjöman 1967:181; Åberg 2002:182)
7 The title of the book was Jag var nyfiken. Dagbok med mig själv (I was Curious. Diary of the Making of a Film), published in Swedish 1967 and in English in the U.S. in 1968, by Grove Press. A literal translation of the title would be “I was curious. Diary with myself”.
8 Not the least did this concern the love-scenes. The shameless, however, was not the nakedness or the love making as such. “On the contrary: What we are saying are shockingly mundane[*]What is that noise when she moves her foot? It is the empty beer can on the chair” (Sjöman 1967:85).
9 Many critics return to what they saw as a general unattractiveness, embodied in the young protagonist Lena. See Giddins (2002) and Schneider (2007).
10 Sjöman (1967:16). In the Diary, Sjöman expressed a will to throw out the narrative, at least the studio dependent and restricting one: “Instead you should say: Here are the things that engage me! Confront them and film them, first of all! Then the next concern, where to put them into the frame” (Sjöman 1967:16). Translated from Swedish by the author of this article.
11 Sjöman repeatedly uses this concept. See Sjöman 1967:16, 25, 78.
12 See Sjöman 1967:46-47: “Impotent camera manufacturers”.
13 See Sjöman 1967:21.
14 Sjöman’s intention was to break with the old and in Sweden very established studio tradition. “The place tradition (på-plats-traditionen) does not exist. We have to start from scratch, both I and others” (Sjöman 1967:47).
15 Thomas Elsaesser in the Leverhulme Public Lecture “Frames and Games”. at Cambridge University Nov 14 2007.
16 La mise-en-abyme; in semiotics the mise-en-abyme describes a relation of similarity sustaining all the elements or fragments of a work with the overall structure, a principle often conceived of as mirroring effect ; a reflexive framing that also entail a self-citation – of story-in-story, image-in-image or film-in-film. See Dictionnaire International des Termes Littéraires, http://www.ditl.info/arttest/art2025.php. Download date 2007-11-25.
17 See Giddins (2002)
18 Edgar Morin in “Pour un nouveau cinéma vérité”, originally published in France-Observateur, Jan 14, 1960; as quoted in McDonough (2007:9).
19 See Åberg (2002:170).
20 Vilgot Sjöman in Dagens Nyheter, Nov 12, 1961, as quoted in Åberg (2002:171).
21 For Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, Kino-pravda, cinema-truth, “concerned the development of a cinematic realism in which the theory of realism was not confused with reality” (Feld 2003:13). For Vertov, cinematic realism was thematic and structural, constructed from observational units, sophistically organized by the filmmaker already on the level of the kino-eye. See Feld (2003:13), McDonough (2007:12); Åberg (2002:180).
22 Films of Rouch include Moi – un noir (1957) and Pyramide Humaine (1959). Sjöman had seen films of Rouch in Paris in 1959, but also in Stockholm at Moderna Museet, where films of Rouch were screened in Oct 1960 and in March 1961. Åberg (2002:170 and footnote 6, 214).
23 Edgar Morin in “Pour un nouveau cinéma vérité”, as cited in McDonough (2007:9)
24 Lefebvre, who just had published his second volume of Critique de la vie quotidienne in 1958, was at the time a colleague of Morin at the revisionist journal Argument, which Morin was a co-editor (McDonough 2007:8).
25 Morin cited in McDonough (2007:9).
26 Morin (1962/2003:230)
27 Morin (1962/2003:264, footnote 3)
28 Morin (1962/2003:231)
29 Morin (1962/2003:232)
30 Morin (1962/2003:238)
31 Morin (1962/2003:233).
32 Feld (2003:25)
33 McDonough (2007:7)
34 McDonough (2007:8)
35 Morin (1962/2003:259)
36 Morin (1962/2003:259)
37 Rouch (1973/2003:87 and 101)
38 Shooting had initially been pursued with a relatively portable 16 mm camera, which turned out to be too noisy. Rouch then managed to hire Michel Brault, a Canadian filmmaker, who got hold of an experimental piece of equipment, outfitted with synch sound. Rouch was enthralled: “Another advantage: the camera in its housing was minuscule. We could film in the middle of the street, and no one knew we were shooting except the technicians and the actors: this is how Chronicle of a Summer was technically possible” (Rouch 1962/2003:272). See also McDonough (2007:11).
39 McDonough (2007:11-12)
40 Morin (1962/2003:259)
41 While Rouch’s vision of ciné-ethnography was a Vertov-inspired “piédo-vision,” a smoothly walking way of filming, Morin’s idea was that of ‘the good dialogue:’ “The starting principle will be commensality, that is, that in the course of excellent meals washed down with good wines, we will entertain a certain number of people from different backgrounds, solicited for the film” (Morin 1962/2003:234).
42 Morin (1962/2003:)
43 Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961), in Oeuvre cinématographique complète (2005), Paris: Gaumond.
44 Almost all the citations from the film follow the translation by Ken Knabb (2003) of the voice-over soundtrack of Critique de la séparation (1961), see http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord.films/separation.htm. Download date 2007-12-03. See also McDonough (2007:15).
45 These artistic platforms were part of the Situationist movement, and show the close collaboration between Guy Debord and Asger Jorn. See Guy Debord, “Contre le cinema,” in Oeuvre cinématographique complète (2005).
46 André Martinet cited in McDonough (2007:15).
47 Opening sentence. Debord (1961).
48 McDonough (2007:17).
49 Debord in Contre le cinéma (1964/2005).
50 Debord (1961)/Knabb (2005).
51 Debord (1961)/Knabb (2005).
52 Henri Lefebvre had been very important to the Situationists, the first volume of Critique de la vie quotidienne even decisive for the founding of the group in the early fifties. The contact was close, especially in 1958-59, when Lefebvre taught in Strasbourg, with several of the Situationists counting as his students. In 1960-61, there was a break between Lefebvre and the Situationist group, due to “an extremely complicated story concerning the journal Arguments”. See Ross (1997).
53 British sociologist Rob Shields here makes an important point, actualizing the difference in Lefebvre between on the one hand la vie quotidienne, or the daily life of habitual and routine day-to-day living, and le quotidien, in the Surrealist sense the critical dimension of alienated, restrained and highly oppressive everydayness. Shields (1998:66-67).
54 Lefebvre in an interview 1975, as cited in Marcus (1989:146). See also Shields (1998:67-68)
55 Lukács cited in McDonough (2007:23).
56 Debord (1961)/Knabb (2005).
57 Debord (1961)/Knabb (2005).
58 McDonough (2007:19).
59 Debord (1961)/Knabb (2005).
60 Giddins (2002).
61 Thomas Y. Levin (2002) “Dismantling the Spectacle: The Cinema of Guy Debord”. See also McDonough (2007).
62 McDonough (2007:21).
63 Deleuze (1990/1992).
64 Deleuze (1990/1992).
65 Graham and Wood (2003:228).
66 Graham and Wood (2003:228).
67 Deleuze reminds us of the fact that “[w]e are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world” (Deleuze 1990/1994).
68 Graham and Wood (2003:230) citing media theorist Mark Poster.
69 Graham and Wood (2003:233).
70 Morin (1962/2003:271).
71 Jean Rouch as cited in McDonough (2007).
72 Jean Rouch as cited in McDonough (2007).
73 I am here referring to a discussion about cinematic realism and power provided by Thomas Elsaesser in his Leverhulme Public Lecture “Evidence, Testimony, Belief”. at Cambridge University Nov 21, 2007.
74 See Schneider (2007)
75 See Åberg (2002:194)
76 Sjöman (1967:169)
77 Åberg (2002:195). Translated from Swedish by the author of this article.
78 Asger Jorn (1964/2005)
79 Jorn was here referring to Debord’s lettrist experiment Hurlement en faveur de Sade from 1952, a film that basically presents a tattered white screen ‘animated’ through strange, bodily sounds and cries.
80 It is difficult not to see the Curious movies as somewhat of a parricide; Bergman was the Big Director, moreover Sjöman’s mentor, and his affairs with his actresses a well established cinematographic myth. In the Diary, Sjöman also describes a dialogue with Bergman, where he comments on their common male weakness and dependency on women as a source of inspiration: “We and our girls. Isn’t that curious? You know, last spring, when I lost taste for everything – the only thing that would get me going was the idea that I could do something with Bibi and Liv. The beginning, after all, is not more than that, don’t you think? You wanted to do a film with Lena Nyman, I just knew I wanted to do something with Bibi and Liv.” For Sjöman, to trivialize this ‘dependency’ was a way to critically question the authority of the ‘art film’. (Bergman cited in Sjöman 1967:10)
81 For this argument, I am indepted to Thomas Elsaesser and his Leverhulme Public Lecture “Evidence, Testimony, Belief”. at Cambridge University Nov 21, 2007.
82 McDonough (2007:19)
83 The Situationists enthusiastically adopted Johan Huizinga’s notion of Homo Ludens, developed in the 1938 book with the English subtitle A Study of the Play Element in Culture. The idea of play was furthermore directly linked to the revolutionary transformation of everyday life: “Le jeu totale et la revolution de la vie quotidienne se confondent désormais” wrote one of the most active of the Situationists, Raoul Vaneigem, in his Traité de savoir-vivre pour les jeunes générations (1967).