August 2, 2017

Patricia Pisters on the abyss

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November 29, 2014


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January 6, 2014

patricia pisters on

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Talk Soft Cinema #1 – Patricia Pisters from Talk Soft Cinema on Vimeo.

December 25, 2013

patricia pisters – the neuro-image

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December 19, 2013

on memory

Filed under: film as subversive art,patricia pisters,philosophy — ABRAXAS @ 10:47 am

“We remember in snippets of nonchronological fragments; our memories change each time we go back to them; our memories change us.”

Patricia Pisters
The Neuro-image

December 18, 2013

So where does this leave cinema?

Is cinema dead, undead, or still alive? In their book L’ecran global, Gilles Lipovetsky and Jean Serroy argue that cinema is alive and well and that we have entered a fourth phase of cinema, which they call the age of hypermodern cinema. The maxim of their book is a quote from Elia Kazan: “Films are the dialogue of the contemporary world.” Specifically, they argue that cinema has given the world its most radically modern apparatus: the screen. The hypermodern screen age (ecranosphere) is characterized by what they call image-excess, image-multiplex, and image-distance. The excessiveness of images is understood in terms of length, baroque aesthetics, speeds of editing, violence, and sexuality. The multiplex aspect they consider in respect to the hybridization of genres, multicultural and transnational exchanges in style and content, complex narration, and the multiplication of perspective and story lines. By distance-image, they refer to new combinations of immediate sensation and cognitive distance, as well as various types of self-reflexive references. They also refer to the proliferation and rising status of historical, memorial, and minority cinema that offers polemical views.

Patricia Pisters
The Neuro-Image
A Deleuzian Film-Philosophy of digital screen culture
Stanford University Press
ISBN-10: 0-8047-8136-2

April 14, 2013

alphaville – film detective – by patricia pisters

Filed under: film,patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 7:56 pm


keep reading this wonderful article here: http://www.patriciapisters.com/files/Alphaville_filmdetective_final.pdf

January 18, 2012


Filed under: film,film as subversive art,patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 3:32 pm

go there now! http://www.patriciapisters.com/

November 3, 2009

Love Streams in Data Streams? – Cassavetes, Lynch and the Spectacle in digital culture – by patricia pisters

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 12:08 am


Many things have already been said about the importance of Cassavetes films, both in the lectures today and in many writings and documentaries about his work. His DIY / Dogma avant-la-lettre style, his emphasis on human values, relationships and love, the influence he has had on filmmakers like Martin Scorcese, Abel Ferrara, John Sayles, and Sean Penn and other independent filmmakers. So, in speaking last at this seminar, I see myself presented with a challenge: what to add to the richness of this acknowledged legacy of Cassavetes in contemporary culture?

Over the last weeks I was thrilled again by the intensity of the sometimes awkward but always ultimately deep rewarding sensations of films like Gloria, A Women under the Influence and Love Streams. Online I saw many Youtube-clips on and of Cassavetes. I felt the bewilderedness and embarrassment of Dick Casset and his audience when John Cassavetes, Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara, invited guests to the famous TV show on the occasion of the release of Husbands in 1970, behave like fools: Cassavetes throwing himself on the floor every three minutes, Gazarra taking of his socks and shoes showing his hairy legs, and Falk ignoring the host of the show only addressing the audience; in another Youtube clip, a 1965 episode of the French film programme Cinemas Cinemas, Cassavetes gives a guided tour in his house while he and his team are working on Faces; and the documentary I’m Almost Not Crazy reveals (in four 10 minutes parts) insights about Cassavetes philosophy of love; In ‘Cassavetes in 60 seconds’ and other clips Cassavetes repeatedly expresses that he thinks the world is very ‘chicken’. However, slowly but surely other images started to impose themselves to me, not from the wonderful Cassavetes retrospective or the DVD-box, not from Youtube’s viral archive, but images from my memories of another film, namely David Lynch’s Inland Empire.

Many filmmakers have acknowledged their direct or indirect dept to Cassavetes, but to my knowledge Lynch never did. Moreover, Lynch’s often surreal and dark enigmatic images do not seem to connect easily with the earthly world of Cassavetes. So I wondered, was my own mind playing tricks on me, or is here actually something that is worthwhile exploring? I decided to investigate this unexpected Cassavetes-Lynch connection, the results of which I will present to you in the next 30 minutes. Let me start by proposing the thesis that Cassavetes and Lynch are indeed actually soul mates – although this becomes only perceptible now. By ‘going digital’ with Inland Empire, Lynch’s work reveals more explicitly than ever before similar concerns as expressed in Cassavetes’ films, especially in respect to the role of spectacle and madness in contemporary media culture. Let me explain this further.

Youtube aesthetics
Cassavetes’ films seem a no-budget celluloid precursor to the DIY/Dogma digital aesthetics that are currently common practice both in Independent cinema, European cinema and on Youtube. Lynch on the other hand, is much more known as a ‘celluloid fetishist’ who likes high production values who, arguably, even has set the standards for high production values of contemporary quality television series when he shot in the beginning of the 1990s Twin Peaks, the series, on 35 mm and with budgets of over 1$ million per episode.

However, with Inland Empire he has jumped into the digital with a big leap. Lynch is a fast adaptor. ‘Film is like a dinosaur in a tar pit’, he even declared in an interview recently. Inland Empire was shot on a relatively primitive Sony PD-150, a consumer-grade model that was introduced in 2001 at a retail price of less than $4000, a medium of home movies and viral video, a DIY medium indeed. As a reviewer argues, this movie is great on the big screen but its natural home is in fact the small screen: ‘Watch Inland Empire on DVD and you sense that this lurid, grubby fantasy springs from deep within the bowels of Youtube as much as from inside its heroine’s muddy unconscious. (…) And not only does Inland Empire often looks like it belongs on the Internet, it also progresses with the darting, associative logic of hyperlinks. Indeed part of the movie originated on David Lynch’s Website, davidlynch.com, itself a labyrinth of wormholes and worlds within worlds.’ Others have described the film as ‘random access cinema’, typical for the digital age, characterized by a database logic and a digital poetics.

So all of a sudden, this switch to the digital has brought Lynch’s work immediately closer to Cassavetes, if only in terms of a shared frayed aesthetics. In terms of production, with the camcorder, Lynch too, has discovered the kind of freedom it grants to allowing for a smaller crew, and no accountability to the money men. A kind of freedom and independence that have always already been dear to Cassavetes. Let’s see if there are further points that can be made about the aesthetics.

Bodies and Brains
With this suddenly shared aesthetics and production freedom, I absolutely do not wish to argue that Cassavetes and Lynch make the same films. One layer below the surface of the looks of the films that now show some similarities, there is a basic difference in the source from which the their respective films are made, namely the body or the brain. If Cassavetes is a very physical director of a cinema of the body, Lynch is a cerebral director, who makes ‘brain cinema’, so to speak.

As Gilles Deleuze has argued in his book The Time-Image, ‘body or brain is what cinema demands to be given to it, what it gives to itself, what it invents itself, to construct its work according to two directions, each one of which is simultaneously abstract and concrete, each one being equally emotional and thoughtful. But they constitute two different types of cinema: ‘either the body gives orders to the brain, which is just a part of it; or the brain gives orders to the body, which is just an outgrowth of it.’ One could argue that Cassavetes and Lynch are like body and brains of contemporary screen culture.

Cassavetes really works from the bodies of the actors, theatricalizes or ‘spectacularizes’ them – not in the sense of glamorizing them, but in the sense that the characters are brought back to their bodily attitudes that become expressive of a feeling (tiredness, boredom, despair, depression, love) and that constitutes the truth of their character. In Faces bodily attitudes are expressed in the face, in A Woman under the Influence Gena Rowlands expresses and constitutes a housewife ‘under influence’ of social norms and boredom by her bodily attitudes and gestures, in Gloria the abandoned child sticks (literally) to the body of the women who first pushes him away, which constitutes a powerful bond between the two when they are on the run in NYC. Cinema of the body. Full of intense feelings, full of unconscious thoughts.

Lynch on the other hand, has always been intrigued by mind matters. His main inspiration is in surrealism, which insists on the mental sur-reality of dreams, visions and the delirium. And his films have always been presentations of characters emotions by presenting their inner life. In Blue Velvet the passage into the inner and dark fantasies of the main character is still marked very clearly and quite literally when the camera zooms into a cut of ear – and a zoom out at the end of the adventure of the mind. But Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive are much more ambiguous about the status of images. And the title of Inland Empire most probably should be taken as inner/mental empire, where the virtual and the actual are completely indistinguishable. Cinema of the brain. Full of intense thoughts, full of unconscious feelings.

As a footnote I have to remark that while Lynch has become more ‘Cassavetian’ in allowing more frays and sloppiness in his aesthetics, It also has to be remarked that Cassavetes in his last films also presents sometimes mental images, such as the dream (or is it a flashback or flashforward) and a delirium at the end of Love Streams. Sarah, the sister, dreams a loving dream of her husband and daughter – Robbert, the brother sees a naked hairy man in his room (‘who the fuck are you?’) that turns into his dog / or turns out to be his dog.

The role of spectacle
So if the source of their filmmaking is so very different, where or how do Cassavetes and Lynch meet – because, as you know, that is what I am arguing. Well, here we have to dive again one level deeper into the worlds of Cassavetes and Lynch and see how they direct their actors and how they see how they conceive role of ‘the spectacle’ or ‘mediation’.

In A Constant Forge, the DVD documentary on Cassavetes, Peter Falk explains how he did not understand at all what he was doing or saying in A Woman under the Influence (for instance on the dinner table when he starts talking about seeing babies everywhere), in any case he never knew what his character’s motivation was. This ambiguity makes that the actors had to rely on their bodily performance. And very often it was only on screen that they saw what this performance revealed.

Laura Dern, the main character in Inland Empire has expressed a similar experience of confusion for her as an actress having no idea what she was doing, why and in what kind of world she was operating (real, imaginary, Hollywood, Poland). In 2007 the Foundation Cartier in Paris exhibited David Lynches paintings, one of which with the title “Bob finds himself in a world for which he has no understanding”. This, Lynch comments in the DVD extra’s, is a common condition for us human beings.

So, although they both have a different starting point to construct their films from, both directors share a basic feeling of ambiguity about the nature of behavior, about the nature of reality, about the possibilities of knowing. Nothing is crystal clear in both Cassavetes and in Lynch’s world. In both worlds characters are quite lost, in identity crisis. Nothing is familiar, so the only reliable way of ‘understanding’ is by intuititive performance or unconscious acting.

Here we see how Cassavetes and Lynch are moving towards each other in terms of an uncertainty of knowing and an ambiguity of reality that calls for ‘a constant forge’ into the unknown territories of life, hidden in either the body or the brain. Moreover, both filmmakers, even though that might be stating the obvious, use ‘the spectacle’ as a form of exploring these territories. For only in ‘the spectacle’ true creativeness can emerge, and some truth about (emotional) life can escape.

We must understand here that this is a very different conception of ‘the spectacle’ than Guy Debord’s critical understanding of ‘the society of spectacle’. In the society of spectacle, mediation (film, television other media) absorbs life and returns it only as a shallow simulation (think of Baudrillard as well; reality, real life disappears in the copy of the copy of the copy in audio-visual culture). The spectacle numbs and dumbs people in this conception of the spectacle. In the way Cassavetes and Lynch look for dramatization, theatricalization, performance, mediation and spectacle, life is constituted or reconstituted in front of the camera. This, it seems to me, is an important insight that is relevant if we look at contemporary mediated culture and see how it relates in different ways to spectacle that both Cassavetes and Lynch show us.

For Cassavetes his life and his films are completely intertwined. In Opening Night he and Gena Rowlands are a couple on three levels: in real life, the film and in the theater play within the film. It is well known that his own house served as location for most of his films. And in order for the husbands in Husbands to become friends Cassavetes, Falk and Gazarra really had to spend time together and become friends. And out of that intimacy and friendship, out of the playing together as performance, something true emerges.

Lynch is much less personally involved in his films, but at several moments he has investigated the opposite borders of the spectacle: where for Cassavetes actual bodies, actual friendships, actual relationships create something genuine in a spectacle that makes you forget that you are looking at a technologically mediated form, Lynch shows precisely the opposite, namely that technology and mediation can create real experiences and emotions. Think of the famous scene in Mulholland Drive in Club Silencio, where the host of the show announces it is all a show, all playback, and yet the performance of the singer Rebekah del Rio of Roy Orbinson’s ‘Crying’ is so moving that it is one of the most really intense and dramatic moments of the film. And in Inland Empire the most realistic moment in the film, where Nikki/Sarah dies among the homeless on Hollywood Boulevard, is revealed as spectacle when the camera is revealed by a widening frame and we hear ‘cut’.

Both Cassavetes and Lynch also know that their own approach of ‘the spectacle’ is not a common one. Cassavetes has expressed his contempt for Hollywood as an industry and repeatedly argued that ‘television sucks’. And Lynch comments on Hollywood and the false illusions of stardom, wealth and happiness it creates in Muholland Drive where the dream career as an actress turns out to be the delirum of a junkie. Laura Dern’s character Nikki in Inland Empire (or Sue in the film within Inland Empire) ends op ‘stabbed in the gut and staggering along Hollywood Walk of Fame, leaving a trail of blood…’ It’s not so difficult to read that image as a commentary on the Hollywood industry.

So again, Cassavetes and Lynch have different approaches but both reveal the reality in and of the performance which makes them so interesting ‘blood brothers’ of the truth of the spectacle – and thus exemplary for a shift of thinking about the spectacle that contemporary culture demands.

Collecting and Connecting
Another aspect of Cassavetes and Lynch late works that relate to contemporary culture has to do with ‘collecting’ and ‘connecting’.
Love Streams is about a brother and sister, Robert Harmon (played by Cassavetes) and Sarah Lawson/Harmon (played by Rowlands). Sarah has just been divorced from her husband who also got custody over her child, and Robert is a famous writer and womanizer. They are both collectors: Sarah collects luggage and animals that she offers to her brother, Robert collects women.

Ch. 9 ex-vrouw met zoontje Alby aan deur → huis vol vrouwen
Ch 12 stukje terug (aankomst taxi met al haar koffers) &
Ch. 21 (aankomst taxi met dieren)

Deleuze describes these collections as the desire for connecting by collecting:
‘How can one exist, personally, if one cannot do so alone? How can something be made to pass through these packets of body, which are at once obstacles and means? Every time, space is made up from these excrescences of body, girls, luggage, animals, in search of a ‘current’ which would pass from one body to the next. ‘

It seems to me that here we have another image – a metaphor almost for contemporary culture, where within the quantity of data, we look for the quality of relations and connections.

In Inland Empire Laura Dern does not so much collect things, objects, or persons, as that we are offered a walk through the seemingly wild and random collection of worlds and images that she enters in her mind. Like Cassavetes’ film, it is hard/impossible even to give a plot summary, or in any case a plot summary just does no justice to the experience of the film. But it is clear that the heroine is emotionally in turmoil by what she experiences when she tries to make sense of the different type of images, among which Eastern European women (prostitutes, women traded?) and double or doubles of herself, a bunny family (‘It had something to do with the telling of time’), shifting places.

How do these collections of mental images connect? Note that Nikki/Sarah regularly sees the word ‘axxonn’ written on walls. (Axxonn is not only the title of an online drama series by Lynch but as you know, also the neurons in our brain that send out signals to other neurons, dentrites – in other words neurons that are looking for connections).

58 min. Axxonn (also online mysery drama 2002)
1.07.50 ‘Strange what love does’ – 1.12.13
1. 24.56 ‘Locomotion’

As in Love Streams the connections fail for large parts, and yet, something passes through. Something of a current, a connection, a stream passes through the body, passes through the brain.

A Woman in Trouble – A Woman of Mystery
There is one more element that needs to be raised, a strong and striking similar concern that both directors share, which is the image of a ‘Woman in Trouble. Both Cassavetes and Lynch have portrayed more than once women in trouble (think of Mabel in Women under the Influence or Dorothy (Isabella Rosselini) in Blue Velvet).

In an article on Cassavetes Jonathan Rosenbaum describes his experience of a theater play That Cassavetes directs right after Love Stream, which he considered as an afterthought and postscript to Love Streams. The title of the play was A Woman of Mystery and according to Cassavetes himself in his notes ‘About the Play’ the play has to do with an unexplored segment of our society referred to as the homeless, bag ladies, winos, bums. It has been difficult to explore this particular woman of mystery. She is not only homeless (if homeless means without the comfort of love), but she is nameless, without the practical application of social security, or any other identity. Alone, she clings to her baggage on the street. (…) The woman has been permanently disabled by the long discontinuance of feelings of love.”

As such, this nameless woman of mysteries resembles Sarah in Love Streams, the aging actress in Opening Night and Mabel in Women under the influence (who also temporary looses her home when she is put into a clinic). Both in the film and the play Cassavetes brings the image of a homeless women who lives in a state of suspended identity, not knowing where to place her continuing love (love is a continuous flow, it never stops, she says in the film) with such an intensity that this love actually jumps on the spectator, affects the spectator directly. And as such, Love Streams – and other Cassavetes films, restores ‘a belief in the world’ even though this belief is broken by personal disappointments, trauma’s and the incapacities to ‘connect’ (because of jealousies, pettiness, ignorance, or whatever reason). And, as Deleuze indicates ‘surely a true cinema can give us back reasons to believe in the world’, but the price to be paid, in cinema as elsewhere, was always a confrontation with madness.’ As we know, Cassavetes has never been afraid to show this confrontation with madness either.

Interestingly enough, when asked about Inland Empire Lynch responded that it is “about a woman in trouble, and it’s a mystery, and that’s all I want to say about it.” Here too, we can argue that the woman in trouble, the woman of mystery is homeless: Laura Dern, Nikki, Sarah does not where or when she is (she has trouble recognizing the order of things), and the film even suggests that even in her three identities, she could be the dream of yet another women. All women relate to a group of other homeless women, prostitutes, bag ladies. In fact all women are in trouble in Inland Empire, and the emotions are often of panic or despair.

Nevertheless there is also room for more affirmative motions. In any case the lyrics of one of the songs in the film which also features on the Dvd menu are ‘Strange what love does, so strange what love does’. At the end of the film, Lynch with all his dark emotions and scary places, even stages a strange family reunion (was it Nikki/Sarah’s alter ego?), and the film ends with the word “Swwueeet” and cheerfully dancing women (the eastern European smuggled women from earlier in the film) and happy faces even if the whole mise-en-scene is somewhat absurd. Contrary to Cassavetes who is actually less optimistic about the fate of his homeless women, or in any case leaves their fate even more open than Lynch does.

In final analysis it is clear that neither Cassavetes nor Lynch are afraid to torture their audience by presenting emotionally disturbing images, by annoying us with ambiguities in characters behavior and confusion of spatial and temporal references. Both directors undermine all our habitual forms of recognition of place, time and fixed identities. Their unconventional attitude towards the centrality of the spectacle, of filming in a free and independent way, looking for connections and intensities to escape from the spectacle, makes their work very relevant for digital screen culture. When asked about his digital cinema, Lynch frequently compares film to a spiderweb: “We are like a spider. We weaves our life and them move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe”. In the documentary I’m Almost not Crazy, whose title indicates again a confrontation with madness, Cassavetes points towards the importance of the spectacle without the metaphor of the spiderweb. Indicating first that philosophy means ‘to know how to love’, he then says: “You start thinking about life, and you realize everything is a movie.” The spectacle brings love and life. Life itself is not enough.

However different they may be, in digital culture (of which Cassavetes was ahead in spirit, and which Lynch with highspeed catches up), both ‘body’ and ‘brain’ need to connect to others. With their emphasis on the search for love and the confrontation with our emotions, especially (but not exclusively) embodied in the spectacle of the ‘woman in trouble’ both directors show that indeed, love streams in datastreams, or in any case it should…

this paper was first presented at Filmmuseum / Universiteit van Amsterdam
John Cassavetes Seminar
‘Life is not Enough’ -Cassavetes, creativeness and contemporary screen culture
Saturday 31 October, 10.00 – 17.30

April 16, 2009

micropolitics of media culture

Filed under: new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 12:48 am


April 13, 2009

The Mosaic Film: Nomadic Style and Politics in Transnational Media Culture

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 11:02 am

Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam)

In contemporary media culture the formal, narrative, and stylistic structures that are most pervasive can be described as an aesthetics of the mosaic. Multiple main characters, multiple interwoven story lines, multiple or fragmented spaces, different time zones or paces seem to be specifically apt for engaging with the migratory nature and politics of our times. In this essay, I will look at Babel (USA: Inarritu, 2006), WWW. What a Wonderful World (Morocco/Germany/France: Bensaidi, 2006) and Kicks (Netherlands: Ter Heerdt, 2007) and discuss the ways in which in these films an aesthetics of the mosaic is related to migratory movements and contemporary globalized media culture. This aesthetics, I will argue, is closely related to transnationalism, which can assume different forms. I will argue that by means of a nomadic style and nomadic politics these films assert a Deleuzian “becoming-minoritarian” as “an affaire of everyone.”

(New) Mosaic Aesthetics in Cinema

The mosaic film is not a new phenomenon. Although it has never explicitly been classified as a genre, from early on in the history of film there have been films with multiple stories. In Intolerance (USA, 1916), D.W. Griffith cross cuts between four stories that are set in four different periods and places (a modern story set in America in 1914, a Judean story set in Christ’s Nazareth in A.D. 27 , a story that relates the circumstances of the St Bartolomew’s massacre of 1572, and story set in Babylonia in 539 B.C.). Although each story is shot in a different tint (amber, blue, sepia, grey-green) that makes them recognizable, it is already a complex, nonlinear approach to epic storytelling, bound together by the themes of human intolerance, hypocrisy, injustice, and discrimination. Nevertheless, this type of narrative structure never became the primary form of classical Hollywood films, nor of other film schools or movements. In classical Hollywood films, two plot-lines (action-plot and romance-plot) usually unite perfectly to tell the story of a goal-oriented protagonist (Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson 1985). Epic stories that tell larger stories of a period or of a nation are usually structured in a linear fashion.

Other examples of mosaic films are Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (USA, 1941) and Akira Kurasawa’s Rashomon (Japan, 1950). Citizen Kane begins with the death of the newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane and the last word he pronounces before dying, “Rosebud.” A journalist then sets out to investigate the meaning of this word, interviewing many people who knew Kane, who tell their stories of Kane in a mosaic-like flashback structure that together creates a colorful picture of Kane. In Rashomon, the central point around which the film revolves is the murder of a samurai that is described from four different points of view. These examples of well-known mosaic films are less epic than Griffith’s, describing, rather, multiple versions of the life of a single person or a single event. In these films, there is a central point that ties together the different pieces of the puzzle and in that sense presents a different type of mosaic structure than the multiple epic narratives of Intolerance. What all of the early mosaic films have in common is the fact that they relate to the past, either to collective history or to personal memories that are presented as different moments or different versions of past events.

In contemporary media culture, it seems that the mosaic film has evolved, gaining importance to the point that we could even speak of a new genre. The film that is often described as the starting point of the contemporary mosaic film is Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (USA, 1993). Most strikingly, the mosaic structure of this film does not refer to either a history, a person, or an event presented in recollection, but relates to a shared time and place in the present. The film presents a cross section of Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1990s. Twenty-two characters are presented in ten interwoven stories (based on short stories by Raymond Carver). None of the stories, or rather “occurrences” as Altman himself calls them in the documentary Luck, Trust and Ketchup (USA, John Dorr and Mike Kaplan, 1993), really ends or is fundamentally connected to the others, except through the common event of a small earthquake at the end of the film and by the news broadcasts that are televised in every household. The characters sometimes meet in significant ways, at others, much more superficially. Compared with the earlier mosaic films, the frames of individual stories are opened up and intertwined in much more complex, subtle, and sometimes even random ways in the contemporary mosaic film. Television and other media seem to play an important role in these random connections between otherwise often unrelated people.

Besides shared time and space in the present, another dimension of the contemporary world that is addressed in the new mosaic films (though not yet present in Altman’s film) is that comprising the transnational connections is made possible not only by the media but also by the increasing migratory nature of today’s populations. In these films, the shared space potentially extends over the entire globe, which has consequences for the experience of time and temporality which becomes more “out-of-synch” or “heterochronic.” Different time zones, different cultural significance and experience of time, and different conceptualizations of time are now sensible through the narratives and in the images of the films. I will return to temporal aspects in respect to transnational migration in the new mosaic later in this essay. First I would like to look more generally at types of transnationalism.

Types of Contemporary Mosaic Transnationalism

The transnational dimension in contemporary mosaic film can manifest itself in different ways. Of course, by defining different categories of transnationalism in the mosaic film, I do not wish to make absolute distinctions. The distinctions are fluid and the categories are open. Nevertheless, the films that I am focusing on here, Babel, What a Wonderful World, and Kicks take different positions with respect to contemporary transnational migration and its implications, which is why I think it useful to make a rough categorization on this basis.

I will first address a group of recent mosaic films that literally move between countries and continents. Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, USA, 2000), for instance, gives a multilayered picture of the drug war between Mexico and the U.S. through three alternating stories that finally coincide. Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, USA, 2005) also moves between continents to tell four intertwined stories related to the oil industry. In its own particular way, Babel also belongs to this cross-continental type of mosaic film. Babel tells four stories, divided over three continents, and includes five different languages. The film starts in a small Berber village in the bare mountains of Northern Morocco, where a shepherd sells a gun to a neighbor who wants to use it to chase jackals that attack his herd of goats. His two young sons, Said and Yussef, are in charge of using the gun to protect the goats. We then move to San Diego where a Mexican nanny, Amelia, takes care of blonde Debbie and Mike. Back in Morocco, Australian Susan and American Richard, who are on a bus tour, clearly have an argument to settle during their vacation. Then the film takes us to Japan, where we witness a volley ball game played by deaf and dumb girls, among whom is Cheiko, who is watched by her father from the tribunes. The stories will be connected by an accidental bullet, fired by Yussef while playing with his brother that hits a touring car filled with American tourists. It is Susan who is hit by the bullet. While Susan and Richard have to stay longer in Morocco than planned, Amelia takes their children, Debbie and Mike, to her son’s wedding in Tijuana. In Tokyo, the police investigate whether the gun that was used to shoot the American touring car formerly belonged to Cheiko’s father.
In The Making of Babel on the DVD of the film, Inarritu states that he has always been fascinated by the air that we all breathe and travel through, that invisible entity that we all share. With this film, he wants to show that although we are in different spaces and different time zones there is a literal cross-continental connection. Not only that the same air that we breathe connects us, but also that a Japanese gun, given as a present to a Berber shepherd in Morocco, can have enormous consequences for people in Morocco, Mexico, and the U.S. On a less literal level, the film expresses another transnational aspect that we share: a common way of expressing through the body when words fail.

A second type of transnationality can be found in mosaic films, set in third world countries, that address different iterations of migration. In this type of mosaic film, the stories are always infused with a longing-for-elsewhere. In André Téchiné’s Loin for instance, Serge, who is French, Sarah, who is Jewish, and Said, who is Arab, meet in Tangiers, where the fate of those from the West who travel to Morocco intersects with illegal immigrants who want to leave North Africa to find a better living in Europe. This category of transnationalism would also pertain to WWW. What a Wonderful World, which is set in Morocco, mainly Casablanca and Rabat, cities that are rendered as hyper-modern urban spaces. Here too, multiple characters interconnect: the contract killer, Kamel; the police officer, Kenza; the cleaning lady and occasional prostitute, Souad; the hacker, Hicham; and his father and several other characters together create a picture of contemporary Morocco. Here, it is neither cross-continental settings nor a transnational cast that set up the transnational dimension, but, rather, an emphasis on contradictions related to globalization and postcolonial conditions in many former colonies. One such contradiction is embodied in the dilemma of the hacker, Hicham, who accesses the digital murder assignments of Kamel. Although he can communicate with the whole world (“Club Internet l’Univers” is the name of the internet café he frequents), his dream of actually travelling to Europe is an impossible one. This aspect of transnational culture, called “fake-globalization” by filmmaker Bensaidi (Bensaidi 2007, 1), is clearly addressed in the film. Morocco’s history as a French colony is also alluded to when Kamel and Kenza speak in French instead of Arabic. I will elaborate on other aspects of this film further on in this essay.

First, I want to touch on a third type of mosaic film related to transnationalism and the migratory mobility of people: the multicultural meeting point-film, usually set in a western city, where people of all colors and origins share a contemporary urban space. Here, the crux is not so much a longing for an elsewhere as it is the difficulties associated with a newly diverse population living together in close juxtaposition. Ignorance of cultural differences, misunderstandings, racism and (fear of) terrorism are central elements of these stories. Crash (USA, Paul Higgis, 2004) is an example of this type of mosaic film. Comparable to Short Cuts, the film presents a cross section of Los Angeles at the beginning of the second millennium. In Crash, a transnational dimension is added because of the racial tensions that pervade the film, though never in a one-dimensional way. Perhaps the most touching scene in this film is when a racist white cop (who takes care of his old father) saves a black woman from a car accident, even though we just saw him humiliate this woman a few moments before.

In a different way, Kicks, set in the Netherlands in the new millennium, presents a similar type of multicultural mosaic society. Dutch-Moroccans and indigenous Dutch from different classes who live more or less segregated lives in the same city (Amsterdam) are portrayed in several plot lines. The film deals with contemporary society in several ways. A kick boxer, Said, has a Dutch girlfriend, Danielle, (“a cheese head chick” as she is unappreciatively referred to by other Dutch-Moroccans) and works with youngsters to keep them of the streets; his younger brother, Redouan, is more of a rebel and loves rapping political texts with his friend Karim; Kim is a well to do Dutch woman who, after she decides one day that she should get to know some of her Moroccan fellow countrymen, enters a Moroccan snack bar to talk to “real Turks”, as she says when she orders a drink, indicating that she cannot tell the difference between Moroccan or Turkish immigrants. Here, she meets Nordin, a funny, conservative Dutch-Moroccan who applies double standards to all of his behavior; her husband, Wouter, is a frustrated filmmaker looking for a good story; a trainee police officer, Aaliya, and Marouan, who works for the Dutch army, are about to marry; and Lisette runs a shelter, has a husband and son but longs for a different (more glamorous) life. Here again the connections between the characters are made possible through an accident: the killing of Redouan by a Dutch police officer, Frank, when he is caught in what seems to be a burglary attempt (in fact, he has been inspired to write more rap texts and has called Karim to join him at the clubhouse). Here again, the effects of migratory movements in the Western world in the form of racism, as well as ignorance and misunderstanding, feed the underlying tensions of the film. As with the two other films that are the central focus of this essay, I will elaborate at greater length on Kicks below.

The multiple storylines and multiple characters that these films share reflect the ongoing shifts in the loci of focus and importance between the center and the periphery in a transnational world. In the three films that I discuss in this essay, Morocco is a central location or point of reference, displacing the traditional centrality of the West. In addition, the conventional relationship between center and periphery with respect to the cast (Hollywood stars vs. amateur actors) is also disturbed: the multiplicity of characters evens out the status distinctions between the characters. Even Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who play Richard and Susan in Babel, are just a part of the larger cast in which a number of nonprofessional actors take part.

April 12, 2009

The Mosaic Film: Nomadic Style and Politics in Transnational Media Culture (2)

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 4:40 pm

Media Technology: Binding and Separating Forces

Media technology also plays an important role in the new mosaic film. Paradoxically, the pervasive reach of television news appears to be both a binding and splitting force. Both in Babel and in Kicks, news of the accident spreads quickly, and is then interpreted in relation to ethnic tensions and threats of terrorism. In Babel, the news media immediately interprets Susan’s being struck by the bullet as a terrorist attack on American tourists, a news item that Cheiko, in Japan, stumbles on while zapping. In this way, global television news creates a strange (paranoid) kind of transnational “imagined community” (Anderson, 1991), that functions like an anxiety machine. “Media are spreading the fear of the other,” Innaritu says in The Making Of Babel. Kicks provides a similar view of television news when, after the death of his brother, journalists confront Said with the rap texts Redouan sung earlier; in doing so they are trying to characterize Redouan one-dimensionally as a (potential) terrorist. The television news further enhances polarization by announcing that an opinion poll held immediately after the incident shows that 79% of the Dutch-Moroccans think the motives for the murder were racist, while 77% of the indigenous Dutch think this is not the case. On the other hand, the news (both on television and on the radio) also provides all of the members of the community with a common point of reference, and provokes Kim to begin, naively perhaps, to change her own attitude, and to look for connections beyond her own circle of well-to-do Dutch friends.

The technologies featured most prominently in WWW. What a Wonderful World are the computer and the mobile phone. As noted above, the Internet connects Hicham (and many other Moroccans) to the rest of the world, while, at the same time, political conditions are restrictive with respect to their ability to physically travel abroad. The mobile phone is another important connector. Kamel falls in love with Kenza’s voice, which he has heard only through the phone and which he does not recognize in embodied form until the very end of the film. Kenza earns some extra money by renting her mobile phone to friends and acquaintances. Here too, new technology does not change everything: not everyone owns a (mobile) phone, the new is not for everyone. Technology connects and disconnects.

In Babel, the telephone is also used as a cinematographic enfolder of time. Here, communication technology’s ability to bind and/or separate is realized particularly in a temporal dimension. Most of the film presents the events more or less chronologically, except for one moment when time is enfolded in a sort of loop. At the beginning of the film, Amelia, the Mexican nanny, picks up the phone when she is playing with the kids, Debbie and Mike. It’s their father Richard, who phones from Morocco to tell Amelia that his sister will take care of the kids the next day so that she can go to her son’s wedding across the border. He also talks to Mike on the phone, who tells him about his day at school. At the end of the film we return to the same phone call—but now it is presented to us from Richard’s point of view in Morocco. What makes this scene particularly touching is the fact that we not only now know what happened to Richard and Susan before the call was made (we didn’t know at the first iteration that Susan was hit by a bullet and that Richard is calling from the hospital in Casablanca). We also now know what will happen to Amelia after this call. Richard’s sister will not come after all and, in desperation, Amelia will take the kids with her across the border. In Mexico, they will attend a wonderful wedding party, but on the way back home they will get stopped at the border. Amelia’s nephew, Santiago, who is driving the car, then panics and drives away, leaving Amelia and the kids in the desert. They will survive, but Amelia, who has been taking care of Debbie and Mike since they were born, will be sent back to Mexico for illegally taking American kids over the border. Because we know what happened before and what will happen after the phone call when we see it for the second time, Amelia’s answer, “Everything is fine, Mr. Richard” is just as heartbreaking as the tears that fill Richard’s eyes when he hears the voice of his son, knowing, as we do, that Susan is still in critical condition. The significance of the shared moment in the present (the phone call) has been augmented by virtue of its interrelation with the past and the future. Temporally has multiplied, become “heterochronic” (Bal, this volume…).

On a narrative level, the telephone is here used for its dramatic possibilities—the play between embodied and disembodied voices, and the spectator’s knowledge of a particular situation. But the telephone also reveals the temporal out-of-syncness or dyschrony that is characteristic of migratory movements and migratory aesthetics. As Miguel Hernández-Navarro asserts, “the coexistence of times as a collision and an irresolvable tension, [is] like a fundamental dyschrony, impossible to assimilate” (Hernández-Navarro: this volume). The transnational mosaic film reveals the contradictions and temporal tensions that come into existence when (via technology) time and space are traversed in an out-of-synch way.

Finally, the cinematographic technology itself must be addressed. In the second part of this essay, I will examine the political implications of the mosaic film, and argue that this type of film can present particularly political and resisting narratives in the larger media networks. Here, I’ll first describe how the particular nomadic styles in which these films are shot enhance their relation to contemporary reality.

Nomadic Style: Mixing the Codes

The contemporary mosaic film is often presented in a nomadic style. As the term derives from Deleuze and is often misunderstood, I will briefly revisit Deleuze’s thoughts on the nomadic before returning to the films. Postcolonial theory has put forward many objections to Deleuze’s conceptual response to the postcolonial situation. His concept of the nomad has met with particularly heavy criticism. It is often seen as an all too easy way of describing migrants as nomads without any roots, or without any hierarchical relations. Deleuze’s notion of the nomad is seen as both romanticizing and assimilating. Hence, this concept is believed to contribute to “perpetuating a universalized and unmarked western norm, [leaving out], or marginalizing local knowledges and prioritizing theoretical validation over political exigencies” (Wuthnow 2002, 194). While acknowledging these dangers of simplified equations of the nomad and the migrant and the universalising powers of conceptual thinking, however, I would like to argue that the films under discussion are nomadic experiments in the sense Deleuze lays out in his essay “Nomadic Thought.” Here, he argues that “the nomadic adventure begins when the nomad seeks to stay in the same place by escaping the codes” (Deleuze 2004, 260). As the different types of mosaic film discussed above make clear, real mobility is not a necessary condition for establishing a transnational dimension, hence the nomad does not need to be a migrant. Other elements of the mosaic aesthetics of these films make them nomadic. As such, I’m not arguing that nomads (as a special category of people) escape the codes, but that escaping the codes (in any possible way) is nomadic.

By presenting complex, fragmented, and multiple stories and characters, the films that I’m discussing here them selves escape or mix the codes of conventional filmmaking that demand a central narrative and clearly goal-oriented main characters. Babel escapes the code requiring a star-driven plot by giving equal amounts of attention and screen time to Hollywood stars and amateurs. The unusual combination of Moroccan, Mexican, and Japanese settings and story lines is also refreshing. Even though the cinematographic techniques applied to making the transition from one scene to another are conventional (match on action, graphic matches or sound bridges), they are handled with such brilliance that crossing continents feels quite enchanting.

Stylistically, WWW. What a Wonderful World is more obviously concerned with mixing the codes (genres) of the crime film, the romantic comedy, Buster Keaton (the director, Besaidi, who plays Kamel himself, has an inexpressive face like Keaton), and Jacques Tati (some of the scenes where Kenza directs the traffic in Casablanca call Playtime to mind). And by presenting a stylized and modern image of Morocco, the film also breaks with Moroccan cinema’s clichéd images of pitiful women, poor children, and powerless or/and tyrannical men. This nomadic representation of Morocco is often funny in its absurdity, but also in the intensity with which it confounds Morocco’s traditional images. This is typical of nomadic style: “You cannot help but laugh when you mix up the codes,” Deleuze argues (258). The mood in transnational mosaic films is not exclusively sombre, but also embraces cheerful moments, moments of humor and lightness. (See also Pisters, 2009).

Moments of laughter are also present in Kicks, in those situations when cultural codes are explicitly scrambled by Nordin, who, for instance, loves singing typical Dutch songs by 1960s singer Boudewijn de Groot. The characters in Kicks may typify certain recognizable figures in contemporary Dutch society; the fact that Dutch Moroccans and indigenous Dutch meet and interact is a mixing of social codes that is not often seen in Dutch cinema. Cinematographically, the characters break another code: especially at the beginning of the film, during the introduction of the characters, but also at moments later in the film, the characters look straight into the camera, into the eyes of the spectator. This is unusual in feature films and sets up the very powerful effect of direct address, enabling the direct involvement of the spectator: it’s not just the world on the screen but our own world that we are engaging with. Which leads me to the second important attribute of the nomadic, namely its political implications.

April 7, 2009

The Mosaic Film: Nomadic Style and Politics in Transnational Media Culture (3)

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 8:22 am

Nomadic Politics: Outside and Intensity

Nomadic politics appears to be an essential constituent of the contemporary mosaic aesthetic. A political engagement with the contemporary world is an important aspect of all of the mosaic films that I’m discussing here, and is generally characteristic of this type of film. Therefore, it must be observed that “escaping the codes” does not mean envisioning the world in terms of some transcendental realm wherein politics is no longer necessary, a formulation that is central to the critique that Peter Hallward and others have deployed against Deleuzian nomadism (Hallward 2006). On the contrary. The ideas that Deleuze distinguishes as characteristic of Nietzschian philosophy, and which are the basis of his nomadic thinking, point towards an engagement with the world. Nomadic thought connects works of art (here, cinema) to the outside and to intensity. Both concepts, the outside and intensity, relate to what Deleuze describes as “being in the same boat,” where everyone is pulling an oar, is sharing something beyond any law, contract, or institution:

We are in the same boat: a sort of lifeboat, bombs falling on every side, the lifeboat drifts toward subterranean rivers of ice, or toward rivers of fire, the Orenoco, the Amazon, everyone is pulling an oar, and we’re not even supposed to like one another, we fight, we eat each other. Everyone pulling an oar is sharing, sharing something, beyond any law, any contract, any institution. Drifting, a drifting movement or “deterritorialization”: I say all this in a vague, confused way, since this is a hypothesis or a vague impression on the originality of Nietzsche’s texts. A new kind of book. (Deleuze, 2004: 255)

The relation with the outside is thus not the exclusion of reality but, on the contrary, the opening up of a philosophical text, a work of art, or a film to the forces of life. As Deleuze points out further:

What is this: a beautiful painting or a beautiful drawing? There is a frame. An aphorism has a frame, too. But whatever is in the frame, at what point does it become beautiful? At the moment one knows and feels that the movement, that the line which is framed comes from elsewhere, that it does not begin within the limits of the frame. It began above, or next to the frame (…) Far from being the limitation of the pictorial surface, the frame is almost the opposite, putting it into immediate relation with the outside. (255)

Let me first look at some of the ways in which Babel, WWW, and Kicks open up to the outside and engage with the world. This is done in several ways. A classic way of engaging with politics in art is by means of metaphors or other tropes. When film is not overtly political (such as the Soviet revolutionary films of the twenties, or other overtly propagandistic films), political references are often made by using a small incident to illustrate something bigger, or by using symbolic images that allow allegorical readings. At moments, Babel, WWW, and Kicks all express their concerns with the contemporary world in this classical way. In Babel, the accidental gun shot that sets all of the other events in motion is clearly intended to be read in an allegorical way. By means of this small incident, we understand how quick assumptions and misunderstandings turn every incident into an act of terrorism and add to the fear of the other. It’s not just the events of the story that are being told. Babel reveals all of the tragedies that are generated by the events that the media isolates to present as news items. And, in doing so, the film actually shows not what divides us, but what binds us: the air we breathe, the love we feel, the miscommunications we cannot circumvent.
WWW presents symbolic images that have evident political significance. When, after his first attempt to cross the ocean (which costs him and his father all their money), Hicham is thrown back on the Moroccan shore, he disassembles all of the computers in Club Internet l’Univers and sells the separate parts to get money for a second attempt. Then, in a striking and heartbreaking twist that is at the same time almost comic in its absurdity, we see the image of the little boat with Hicham and other immigrants encountering an enormous cruise ship, full of lights and music. Although the people on board the tiny boat begin to wave and scream to the cruise ship, their boat is heedlessly obliterated by the ship, which does not even notice them. We never see Hicham again after that moment.
Kicks begins with an announcement that everything in the film is based on true events. Here too, a gunshot accident is the basis for further reflections on the media’s propensity to swiftly categorize the other as a potential terrorist, and, on the other hand, immediately label the police officer (and indigenous Dutch society) as racist. Although the rap songs of Redouan and Karim are strongly worded expressions of frustration about their own situation that are related to or projected onto world politics, in fact, misunderstanding, fear, and frustration are the experiential roots of this tragic incident, which is emblematic of many other tragic incidents and misunderstandings in contemporary multicultural societies.

More explicitly, the film also self-reflexively comments on how sensationalism and opportunism drive the media to misrepresent multiculturalism. In this sense, the role of filmmaker, Wouter, is telling. Wouter trolls news sources in seeking out ideas for his films. When he finds a story that describes female illegal immigrants being harried by dogs in a shed, he set out to reproduce the story on film, looking for (as he says) “real illegal women” and “real dogs” to tell a “real story” of present-day Netherlands. Wouter’s eagerness to “do something” related to multicultural society without any real involvement can be considered another example of the abusive potential of the media, while, at the same time, Kicks itself clearly addresses all these multicultural issues in a much more clever way. So the use of symbolic and allegorical images is one way of relating to the outside.

In The Making of Babel, there are a few other instances that indicate how this film relates to the outside more implicitly, beyond what can be seen on the screen. One of the scenes that is shown in rehearsal is the scene in which Said, Yussef, and their father are surrounded by Moroccan police officers with guns, and Said gets shot. After several failed attempts at shooting the scene, Said finally gets it right, at which point the Palestinian-Arabic translator of the film begins to cry. She explains that the scene reminds her of a moment in her own past, when she and her father were surrounded by men with guns. In the Mexican part of the film, the actor who plays the border patrol agent who arrests Amelia remarks that his own parents are Mexicans who illegally crossed the border to settle in America. And that, for him, it now feels very paradoxical to perform the role of an American cop who could have arrested his own parents (which would have prevented his performing this role in the film now). This bonus-DVD information does not directly feature in the film. But the real emotions and direct engagement that are related by members of the cast and crew are felt beyond the frame of the images. In all cases, the outside that the films relate to is shared by the audience, either through personal experience, or by way of the more extended shared image culture (including the bonus DVD) that we share, and through which we know or are able to imagine more than what is seen strictly on the screen. In these ways, the mosaic film is “hooked up to its [external] forces, (…) like a current of energy” (Deleuze 2004, 256).

The second crucial dimension of nomadic thought with respect to the work of art is that of intensity:

The lived experience is not subjective, or not necessarily. It is not of the individual. It is flow and the interruption of flow, since each intensity is necessarily in relation to another intensity, in such a way that something gets through. This is what is underneath the codes, what escapes them, and what the codes want to translate, convert, cash in. But what Nietzsche is trying to tell us by this writing of intensities is: don’t exchange the intensity for representations. (…) There is a kind of nomadism, a perpetual migration of the intensities designated by proper names, and these interpenetrate one another as they are lived on a full body. The intensity can be lived only in relation to its mobile inscription on a body, and to the moving exteriority of a proper name, and this is what it means for a proper name to be always a mask, the mask of an operator. (Deleuze 2004, 257)

The intensity of the images in the mosaic film is also felt through the bodies of the actors.

In Kicks, the nomadic, nonrepresentative intensity is mainly felt in the body of the kick boxer, Said (Mimoun Oaïssa). He is the one who has learned to channel his frustrations and anger in a positive way, apparently taking the news of the death of his brother calmly, waiting for the results of the official investigation before judging what happened. This response is not appreciated by Karim and other friends of Redouan. Said remains in control, but one can feel the mounting tension expressed in his body, in the look in his eyes. It is only in his final boxing match that Said expresses his pain, which translates into a series of intensities related to the complexity of the contemporary situation, both personal and collective. Other characters express themselves bodily as well. Most striking is the silent scream that Lisette (Eva Duyvenstein) utters the day after her thirtieth birthday party; she is fed up with everything and longs for more substantial recognition, a successful career as a singer or as an actress perhaps. In this way, Lisette embodies the pervasive contemporary sentiment that in order to count one must actually become a media star. Everything else is dull and boring. It’s a sad sign of the times, but one that can give rise to intensive feelings of longing and boredom. Chiel (Jack Wouterse), a middle-aged drop out of Dutch origin, expresses his anger and frustration by bursting into racist slogans and constantly getting into fights.

WWW achieves intensity through abstraction and minimalism, especially in the body of Bensaidi in the role of Kamel. His face is always impassive, like a blank slate, his body performing his actions in ritualistic style: downloading the data of his next victim, performing the murder, having sex with Saoud, whom he literally throws out of bed at 4.00 o’clock sharp, etc. The only time we hear his voice is when he is on the phone with Kenza. Which is when we realize she must mean a lot to him. It is by means of this minimalistic and nonrealistic approach that WWW translates the intensity of love.

In Babel, it is striking to notice how the body takes over when communication fails. This is why Innaritu gives so much emphasis to close ups of faces and hands, so called affection-images that work directly on our senses (Deleuze 1992, 87–111). Susan and Richard are both devastated by the loss of their third child and cannot communicate. It is only after Susan is shot, and her emotions are expressed through the extremely physical gestures that are the vocabulary of a wounded body that things between them start to move again. In Mexico, it is through Amelia’s body, carrying the children through the extremely hot and dry desert, that we experience the intensity and tragic implications of the situation. And, since Cheiko is deaf and dumb, her mode of expression is physical from the beginning. Her movements are very expressive; she tries to embrace her dentist, and she takes off her panties out of frustration with not being accepted by boys as soon as they discover her deafness. The camera work and use of sound reveal how Cheiko perceives the world very well. A scene in a hip Japanese night club is especially amazing in the way that stroboscopic light effects and sudden silences translate Cheiko’s perspective. Cheiko’s loneliness and longing is also captured in the last scene of the film, where she is shown standing naked on the balcony of a very high Tokyo apartment building. When her father puts his arms around her, the camera zooms out until we see only the lights of Tokyo by night to the point where the image becomes a sea of particles. And, through this image, we feel and know what intensities are traversing the city, the world.

The outside and intensity open up the interiority of the text or the image, thus giving the new mosaic films nomadic political dimensions. By relating to the virtual (invisible) but very real forces in the world that we truly share, they express and address what we can call a universal consciousness of becoming-minoritarian, which notion I will further develop in the last part of this essay.

April 5, 2009

The Mosaic Film: Nomadic Style and Politics in Transnational Media Culture (4)

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 3:40 pm

Becoming-Minoritarian as an affaire of every one

The nomadic nature of the mosaic film relates to a politics of becoming-minoritarian. Again this is a concept to be used with caution. Just like the nomadic should not (automatically) be equated to the migrant or the nomad as a category, becoming-minoritarian does not necessarily mean becoming a member of a minority group. This is, in the first place, because becomings in general are not representational. In fact, “any becoming is a movement of de-identification” (Marrati 2001, 211). The notion of becoming has also stirred many debates, but here I would like to refer to just the political aspect of becoming-minoritarian as it is explained by Paola Marrati. Marrati compares becoming-minoritarian to the concept of the majority. The majority is usually related to its representational value in politics. However, Deleuze has argued that the majority can never have genuine representative value:

First and foremost, the majority is a constant, a model determining what is, independent of relative qualities, what is majoritarian and what is minoritarian… The representation cannot but confirm the relationship between existing forces… The majority represents literally no one. It is a model of the construction and attribution of identities; as such, it is necessarily an empty model. (Marrati 2002: 207, 208)

The majority is thus the normative, but in fact empty, model of measurement. According to Deleuze (and Guattari), the face relates to Nobody (Ulysses) because it functions as an “abstract machine.” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 167-191) The normative face provides a model of identity and normality in relation to which deviations can be detected. Becoming-minoritarian, on the other hand, is always a process of deidentification and defiguration. It needs an encounter that “allow[s] for new relations to be established and new experiments in life to take place.” (Marrati 2001, 212). It is a flight from the face, which in its final stage will reach a becoming-imperceptible. As Marrati explains, the “man of becoming” must go unnoticed; there must be nothing special to be perceived from the outside. Becoming involves a becoming-everybody,

but “becoming-everybody” (devenir tout le monde) is not just a matter of being unrecognisable, of being like “everybody else”. Deleuze and Guattari are playing here with the different possible meanings allowed by the French expression “tout le monde”. Thus devenir tout le monde also entails a becoming of everybody, a becoming-everything and a becoming of the world itself. (…) Deleuze and Guattari oppose the figure of a universal minoritarian consciousness that in principle concerns everybody to the majoritarian “fact” that itself is the product of a state of domination, but is the analytical fact of nobody. (Marrati 2001, 214).

Becoming-minoritarian is what Deleuze and Guattari call micropolitics, which is not related to any form of representation either of majorities or of minorities. Its aim is to resist, to resist power, resist the intolerable, resist fear and to shame, resist the injustices of the present. Contemporary mosaic films function precisely as such micropolitical acts of resistance, first and foremost by proposing for the spectator an intensive, affective encounter that can provide a slightly new perception of the world.

A final point that should be noted in this respect is that this act of resistance does not entail a pure moral judgement as to who is good and who is bad. On the contrary, micropolitical acts of resistance reveal the complexity of all emotions; they do not express any judgemental value. In Babel, Kicks, and What a Wonderful World none of the characters are judged, precisely because they are shown in the context of their multiple relations. In Kicks, the Moroccan boy who seems to be a burglar is actually innocent; the police officer who shoots him seems to be terribly racist, but the film also presents him as a stranger in his own country (especially when he visits the wedding of his Moroccan colleague) who simply does not know very well how to deal with this new situation. Richard, in Babel, seems to be a jerk at first, not allowing his Mexican nanny to go to her son’s wedding, until we find out why he does so. In What a Wonderful World, nobody (murderer, hacker, prostitute, drunkard, police officer) is judged either. This nonjudgemental quality of the mosaic film is part of its nonnormative strategy to provoke a universal minoritarian consciousness.

It is through nomadic aesthetics and its political implications as described above that these films relate a becoming of the world as a “possibility of inventing new forms of life, different modes of existence” (Marrati 2001, 214). As Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal (who plays Santiago) says in The Making of Babel: “We still haven’t realized we are sharing the same planet, building fences where there are none; things have to change, one day will change.” In any case, the contemporary mosaic film clearly addresses a micropolitics of becoming-minoritarian and makes us feel and experience that this is everyone’s affair, transversing minorities and majorities by affecting and addressing us as “participant observers” of the same world beyond the screen.


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Deleuze, Gilles
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Marrati, Paola
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Ockhuysen, Ronald
2006 “Mozaïek over Paniek en Angst”. Review Babel (July 2007)
Pisters, Patricia
2007 “La Ville Frontiere: Filmer Tanger”. Theoreme 10 Villes cinématographiques : ciné-lieux, eds. Laurent Creton and Kristian Feigelson, 191-197. Paris : Presse Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Pisters, Patricia
2009 (in press) “Violence and Laughter: Paradoxes of Nomadic Thought in Postcolonial Cinema” in Paul Patton and Simone Bignal (eds.), Deleuze and the Postcolonial. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Wuthnow, Julie
2002 “Deleuze in the Postcolonial: On Nomads and Indigenous Politics”. Feminist Theory 3 (2): 183-200.

February 14, 2009

Filed under: patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 11:23 am


February 11, 2009

Beeldkracht – over film, denken, voelen en hersenen

Filed under: film,patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 7:28 pm

Een scène uit Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007):

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) verlaat in zijn auto de oprit van een groot huis en rijdt in het donker over een stille landweg, de muziek is rustig voortstuwend, met een onbestemde dreiging, de uitdrukking op Clayton’s gezicht is somber. Na een tijdje stopt hij de auto. Ook de muziek stopt. Stilte. Hij kijkt naar buiten, het raam van de autodeur zoeft zacht open. Dan stapt hij uit. Het wordt ochtend, mistvlagen stijgen op. In een point of view shot zien we in de verte op een heuvel drie paarden bij een kale boom staan. Clayton loopt behoedzaam naar de paarden toe. De paarden blijven onbeweeglijk staan en kijken hem met prachtige ogen aan.

Clayton kijkt met verwondering en vertwijfeling in zijn blik terug. De paarden hebben iets bovennatuurlijks. In de verte staat Clayton’s auto op straat. Plotseling is er een enorme knal. De auto ontploft en vliegt in brand. De paarden rennen weg de heuvel op. Er volgt nog een ontploffing. Clayton rent terug naar beneden – fade out in de mist. Dan springen we enkele dagen terug in de tijd.

Veel aspecten in het samenspel tussen vorm, stijl en inhoud kunnen ervoor zorgen dat een film je raakt en aan het denken zet. Soms is er één scène, één audio-visueel beeld dat zoveel kracht heeft dat het de hele filmervaring kleurt. In deze korte beschouwing wil ik inzoomen op dergelijke ‘magische scènes’, filmmomenten die in je hoofd blijven hangen. Wat is het dat zulke scènes zoveel kracht geeft? Filosofen en neurowetenschappen zijn sinds enige tijd ook geïnteresseerd in dergelijke vragen en geven enkele suggesties voor aanknopingspunten. Maar uiteindelijk zit een antwoord net zo goed in de films zelf besloten. Ik zal me hier beperken tot het vertoonde fragment uit Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, 2007).


Magische scène

De scène vindt plaats aan het begin van de film. Op dat moment weten we alleen dat Michael Clayton (George Clooney) een ‘probleemoplosser’ op een groot advocatenkantoor is (hij komt net van een rijke cliënt die hij uit de brand moet helpen). We weten ook dat hij waarschijnlijk in de schulden zit (we zien hem eerst in een nogal louche goktent). Dan volgt de vreemde ontmoeting met drie paarden op een heuvel langs een stille landweg. De manier waarop de paarden zijn gefilmd (in de koud dampende ochtendnevel, in close-up Clayton aankijkend alsof ze hem iets willen vertellen) geeft de indruk dat deze paarden meer weten dan menselijk bewustzijn kan beredeneren. Clayton weet niet hoe hij moet communiceren met de paarden, zijn lichaamstaal en vragende ogen spreken boekdelen. Maar de paarden houden zijn vertwijfelde aandacht vast. En dan ontploft zijn auto beneden op de weg. De paarden hebben hun taak volbracht en rennen weg. Clayton rent de andere kant op.

De scène wordt op het einde in een andere variant herhaald, maar daarover zo meer. In eerste instantie zit de magie van deze scène in het bevestigde vermoeden dat deze paarden, die uit een andere dimensie lijken te komen, Clayton willen waarschuwen zonder dat we verder nog precies weten wat er aan de hand is. Het is alsof we in een flits verschillende connecties aanvoelen die in deze scène liggen besloten maar die we pas later echt zullen begrijpen.


Le zigzag

De filosoof Gilles Deleuze omschrijft dergelijke fenomenen van plotseling gegrepen worden of plotseling inzicht in een televisie-interview. Voor elke letter van het alfabet krijgt hij een woord om van zijn commentaar te voorzien. Voor de de letter ‘z’ is dat ‘zigzag’ (le zigzag).1 ‘Zigzag’ en ‘z’ geven volgens Deleuze een elementaire beweging aan van een verbinding tussen verschillende elementen, zoals de bliksem hemel en aarde verbindt. Hij stelt zelfs half grappend voor om de Big Bang door le zizag te vervangen.

De zigzag-beweging duidt namelijk op een elementaire (filosofische en wetenschappelijke) vraag: hoe kan er een verbinding ontstaan tussen twee verschillende krachtenvelden? Elke verbinding, stelt Deleuze, wordt voorafgegaan door ‘duistere voorbodes’ die nauwelijks opvallen. En dan is er plots toch de vrij onvoorspelbare bliksemschicht die inzicht geeft. Voor de scène uit Michael Clayton kunnen we vermoeden dat deze ontmoeting met de paarden voor het personage een dergelijk zigzaggend inzichtsmoment is. De toeschouwer tast nog gedeeltelijk in het duister maar voelt wel dit wel aan. Een scène die meer laat voelen en denken dan er letterlijk te zien is, waarin we de connecties tussen verschillende elementen (buiten het kader) vermoeden zonder ze noodzakelijkerwijs helemaal te begrijpen zijn momenten die onze hersenen signaleren en vasthouden, vooral vanwege de affectieve impact die ermee gepaard gaat.

Volgens Deleuze is er sowieso een direct verband tussen film, de hersenen en filosofie. Waar traditionele filosofie/filmtheorie het geprojecteerd of gemedieerd beeld als van een tweede orde ziet, een re-presentatie of illusie van de werkelijkheid, groeit langzaam het inzicht dat filmbeelden, zo gemaakt of illusoir als ze kunnen zijn, daadwerkelijke ervaringen produceren. Beelden doen iets, hebben een direct effect op onze hersenen. Een film kan nieuwe circuits in onze hersenen aanmaken, ons denken en voelen (subtiel en onzichtbaar) veranderen op het microniveau van de hersenen. Omgekeerd bepalen onze hersenen ook veelal wat we in een beeld zien, hoe we selecteren uit de perceptuele overvloed en hoe we de beelden ervaren. Er is een voortdurende cyclus van over-en-weer beïnvloeding tussen beelden op het scherm, de werkelijkheid en onze hersenen.


Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat ook neurowetenschappers recentelijk interesse tonen in film. Van de vele mogelijke verbanden die er zijn te leggen tussen film, filosofie en neurowetenschappen zal ik alleen het fenomeen van de spiegelneuronen noemen. Spiegelneuronen zijn neuronen die gaan vuren op het moment dat we zelf iets doen of zelf een emotie ervaren, maar ook wanneer we zien dat iemand iets doet of door een emotie gaat.2 En het maakt weinig verschil voor onze hersenen of dat zien gebeurt via een beeldscherm of in ‘het echte leven’. Het feit dat beelden direct iets doen, beweging brengt in onze hersenen ondersteunt het filosofische inzicht dat beelden meer zijn dan re-presentaties die alleen via een omweg betekenis hebben. Extreem gesteld kunnen we zelfs stellen dat beelden een directe rol in spelen in de vorming van onze (individuele en collectieve) subjectiviteit.

Sommige films en scènes zijn daarbij sterker sturend dan andere. In een recent onderzoek is aangetoond dat bij het zien van een Hitchcock-film onze hersenen voor meer dan 60% synchroon gestuurd worden. Hitchcock was dan ook kampioen beeldkrachtpatserij. Maar wat uiteindelijk bepaalt door welke scène we worden gegrepen of inzicht krijgen is afhankelijk van het samenspel tussen de sturende en immanente kracht van de beelden en de kracht van verschillende resonanties in onze hersenen: welke beelden herkennen we, welke associaties en herinneringen worden opgeroepen, welke kern van emoties wordt daarin aangesproken?3 De zigzagbewegingen die er ontstaan tussen de hersenen, het scherm en de werkelijkheid blijven tot op zeker hoogte variabel en onvoorspelbaar.

Feedback loop

Laat ik terugkomen op de scène uit Michael Clayton. Ik zei al dat deze scène op het einde van de film terugkeert, maar dan als een soort feedback loop met variaties. Als toeschouwers weten we nu meer. Claytons kantoor verdedigt een grote firma die veel slachtoffers heeft gemaakt en we hebben gezien hoe subtiel de film alle personages in morele grijstinten heeft afgeschilderd, hoe inhumane beslissingen worden genomen als er veel geld in het spel is en mensen onder druk staan (Tilda Swinton speelt hier een geweldige rol als topmanager van het foute bedrijf). We hebben ook gezien hoe de topadvocaat in deze miljardenzaak, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), in een moment van inzicht (waar de film eigenlijk mee begint, een andere briljante scène) gezien heeft waar hij mee bezig is. Hij weigert zijn medicijnen tegen manische depressiviteit in te nemen en wil niet meer meewerken met het verdringen van ethische basisprincipes. Dat komt hem duur te staan. Hij wordt vermoord.

In de feedback loop-herhaling zien we nu door parallelmontage dat Clayton ook door huurmoordenaars op de hielen wordt gezeten. Clayton zelf weet dat niet, hoewel het muziekthema van de scène in het begin in de herhaling gejaagder klinkt en met meer dreigende akkoorden zijn gemoedstoestand lijkt weer te geven. We weten nu ook dat Clayton achter de waarheid van de moord op zijn collega is gekomen maar toch niets doet om hiertegen te protesteren; zijn schulden maken hem afhankelijk van zijn baas. En we hebben gezien hoe hij in het appartement van de vermoorde Eden een boek (van Claytons zoon) vindt met belangrijke aanwijzingen. Hij slaat een bladzijde open met daarop een tekening van paarden bij een kale boom op een heuvel…

We begrijpen nu waarom het tafereel langs de weg zijn aandacht trok. Het samenkomen van die twee beelden (de tekening in een fictieverhaal, de paarden langs de kant van de weg) legt een verband tussen verschillende krachtenvelden die Clayton dwingen tot het maken van een keuze voor een andere levenswijze. Ook voor de kijker slaat in de herhaalde scène ‘de bliksem’ weer in, nu met meer inzicht in het magische van dit moment. Gevoel en denken komen samen en maken even kortsluiting in de hersenen. Michael Clayton is opgeslagen in deze twee scènes. En paarden in een mistig landschap zullen voortaan de kracht van deze beelden oproepen.

1 Een samenvattende transcriptie van dit interview van Claire Parnet met Gilles Deleuze is te vinden op
http://www.langlab.wayne.edu/Cstivale/D-G/ABC1.html. (A voor Animal (dier), B voor Boire (drinken), C voor
Culture, D voor desire (verlangen), etc.)

2 Antonio Damasio beschrijft dergelijke fenomenen in Het Gelijk van Spinoza: Vreugde, verdriet en het voelende
brein. Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2003.

3 Onderzoek wijst uit dat het vooral de prefrontale rechter hersenhelft is die te maken heeft met inzichtmomenten
waarin het geheel wordt overzien en creativiteit ontstaat (de linkerhelft is beter in details en het herkennen van

50 Jaar Nederlandse Film- en Televisie Academie
Symposium Film Denken
31 oktober 2008 – Felix Meritis (Amsterdam)

February 9, 2009

prof.dr. P.P.R.W. (Patricia) Pisters

Filed under: patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 1:29 pm


Patricia Pisters is professor of Film Studies at the department of Media Studies and coordinator of the bachelor and master training programmes of this department. She studied English, French and Film Studies in Nijmegen, Paris and Amsterdam . In 1993 she started to work as guest lecturer at the department of Film- and Television Studies of the University of Amsterdam. In 1998 she defendedher PhD-thesis From Eye to Brain on the philosophical work of Gilles Deleuze and its significance for film theory. She has been a contributing editor to film magazine Skrien, a collaborator of the International Film Festival Rotterdam and advisor of the Dutch Fund for Cultural Broadcast Productions. She is member of the advisory board of DDG (Dutch Directors Guild).

Teaching and research interests include questions related to multiculturalism, interculturality and the media, mainly looking at North African cinema and Arab media. Within the research institute ASCA (Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis) this is represented in the research project ‘Transnational Media’. Another research area relates to questions on the nature of perception, the ontology of the image and the idea of the ‘brain as screen’. In the ASCA project ‘The Rhizotorium’ these questions form the basis for collaboration between screen studies, (Deleuzian) philosophy and neuroscience.

her webpage is here

February 8, 2009

machines of the invisible: manifesto for a schizo-analysis of media culture. by patricia pisters

Filed under: film,new media politics (k3),patricia pisters — ABRAXAS @ 2:02 pm


1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an ever growing schizophrenic ‘logic of addition’.
2. ‘Old’ mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.
3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v culture.
4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.
5. The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in conception; this becomes more evident and widespread in contemporary a/v culture.
6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges ‘the reality of illusions’.
7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous ways.
8. The virtual is a real power.
9. Images have the power to act.
10. Affect is an autonomous power.
11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional characters are symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the false.

It is argued with good reasons that digital technology has changed the media landscape completely: old mass media like film, television and radio have been replaced by more fragmented, non-hierarchical, rhizomatic forms of media. This is, however, only partly true. By looking at the level of image-production in contemporary a/v media, I will take the changes in the cinematographic apparatus, or the cinematographic regime, as a starting point for a manifesto for a schizo-analysis of media culture.

The apparatus theory in the 1970s famously proposed to see cinema as a ‘machine of the visible’. The underlying idea of this approach is that cinema produces ‘impressions of reality’ or ‘illusions taken for reality’. Cinema is thus seen as a mass medium that invites us into ideologically determined subject positions. However, in contemporary media culture the paradigm has shifted: the audio-visual image in digital culture no longer lures us into taking ‘illusion for reality’ but gives us the ‘reality of illusions’.

At the heart of this change is the cinematographic apparatus itself, which now could be conceived as a schizo-analytic producer of heterogeneous and multiple connections that is tightly connected to other forms of a/v media. The digital cinematographic-apparatus has to be seen as a complex constellation of schizoid ‘machines of the invisible’.


1. Contemporary media are characterized by a stammering stream of an ever growing schizophrenic ‘logic of addition’.
Laptops, mobile phones, webcams, ipods, satellite television, web 2.0: new forms of media grow like wild plants without deep roots (rhizomes) in between older forms of mass media (newspapers, film, radio and television). Undeniably, ‘old mass media’ have changed by this but it doesn’t mean that they have disappeared completely in the rhizomatic network. The television news is no longer the only source of information, CNN competes with Arab satellite channels, bloggers and civil journalism, hypes emerge online, Youtube and Twitter turn everybody into a media producer. But deeply rooted trees are not that easily overgrown. The media have become individualized and fragmented and specialized and opened up


And they are also still mass medial. So no either… or-logic but an ever growing process. Contemporary media culture can only be thought in the stammering stream of an and…and…and logic. A schizophrenic logic of intensity and multiplicity that begs for a schizo-analysis.


‘We’re tired of the tree because we have grass in our heads’, Deleuze and Guattari argue when they introduce non-hierarchical rhizomatic thinking in A Thousand Plateaus. At the same time they indicate that out of every rhizome a tree can grow, and that trees can behave rhizomaticly. So it is not a matter of saying: old media are tools of capitalist ideology, whereas new media free us from ideological interpellation. ‘Old’ and ‘new’ media are two different ways of thinking and behaving that can have both positive and negative effects, produce the most beautiful creations and the most horrible suffocations. The media are complex and interwoven networks of grass roots and tree-structures.


2. ‘Old’ mass media like television and cinema are not dead but undead.

Like zombies or vampires ‘old mass media’ have strong regenerative powers as indicated by the fact that for instance,

a. Programs such as ‘Idols’, ‘Dancing on Ice’ and other popular shows are still able to keep a mass audience on a Saturday night in front of the television set. Not to mention the Dutch BNN-program ‘The Big Donor Show’ that attracted a million audience, 30.000 potentially new donors and was Breaking News all over the world. Cinema retains or regains its multiplex attractions.

b. Mass media are indeed no longer the most important makers or distributors of the news, but still have a huge filtering function. Only when an internet hype is reported by the 8 o’clock news it becomes really popular and widely followed (such as the ‘jumping’-dance hype in the Netherlands). In this way traditional media have become the ‘curators’ of the internet.

c. Mass media use new forms of media as well: podcasting is also still radio, the 8 o’clock news on demand is still the 8 o’clock news. Did you miss an emission? ‘Were you too afraid to watch (the ‘Big Donor Show’)? Try again’, broadcast company BNN says on their website. In this way new media do not weaken the power of the traditional media but reinforce it. And beside all fragmentation and multiplication, the internet becomes a huge store, database and audiovisual archive of the mass media.


3. Schizophrenia points to clinical and critical symptoms of a/v culture.

By arguing for a schizo-analysis of media culture I am not proposing to pathologize culture, nor calling for insanity. However, the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia do point to important characteristics of contemporary a/v culture and criticize them at the same time.

Positive symptoms: an overflow of energy, intensity, everything is connected to everything, liberated and recreated, explosion. As Deleuze and Guattari say: ‘Connecticut – Connect-I-Cut’: machines and bodies, bodies that liberate themselves from their normative organization (BwO).
Negative symptoms: intensity turns into catatonia, inertia, apathy, implosion. Every production provokes its own anti-production. That is the core (axiom) of the immanent system of ‘capitalism and schizophrenia’, indicated by Deleuze and Guattari. Our image culture is more like a schizoid delirium than like the psychoanalytic dream.


4. The delirium is socio-political and world historical.

The schizoid delirium is situated at the other end of the individual Oedipal dream. The delirium is in the first place collective, socio-political and world-historical. In Alienations documentary maker Malek Bensmail has filmed patients and doctors on a psychiatric ward in Algeria.

The patients are moving between hyperactivity and a stream of delusional words and catatonic states. But at the same time their remarks are incredibly sharp, addressing socio-political issues all the time.


This documentary also shows that the difference between doctor and patient is not that big anymore. Everybody feels the insanity of the contemporary situation. Doctors and patients, but also filmmakers and spectators are implicated – we all share the collective deliria of our audio-visual media society.


5. The cinematographic regime is already schizo-analytic in conception; this becomes more evident and widespread in contemporary a/v culture.

As Ian Buchanan has argued the tripartite schizo-analytic conceptual schema of ‘body without organs’, ‘assemblage’ and ‘abstract machine’ informs the basic matrix of Deleuze’s account of the cinematic image. It follows the logic of the ‘frame’, the ‘shot’ and ‘montage’. The frame selects and deterritorializes the image, presenting it in new ways (BwO), the shot unites elements in a closed set (assemblage), montage joins together the powers of the frame and the shot (abstract machine).

But the cinematic image also operates in a larger ‘abstract machine’ of media culture, where it can join all kind of hegemonic and resisting forces.


6. The schizo-analytic regime of the image acknowledges ‘the reality of illusions’.

The classical film theoretical notion of the filmed (or mediated) image as an ‘impression’, ‘effect’ or ‘illusion of reality’ has modulated into the image as a ‘reality of illusions’. This insight translates schizophrenic (and neurobiological and Deleuzian) findings that the image has its own immanent power to do something (in our mind, in the world).

A schizo-analysis of media culture takes into account at least four immanent (and autonomous) powers of the image: the power of the virtual, the power of the performative speech act, the power of affect and the power of the false.

7. Immanent powers of the image present them selves in heterogeneous ways.

These powers do not provide an unequivocal model of analysis. They present themselves in all kind forms and on different types of levels, they metamorphose in good and bad, nobel and base and everything in between.


8. The virtual is a real power.

‘There is no actual image that is not surrounded by a mist of virtual images’. One of Deleuze’s last aphorisms seems to grow in relevance every minute. Every image we see resonates in all kinds of ways with other images: images from our personal and collective memory, fantasy images, film- and other media images.

Memories are stored on film, a film-image becomes a memory-image. Fact and fiction chase each other, virtual and actual form a circuit as in the hall of mirrors of The Lady from Shanghai. Hitchcock’s fiction has become a collective memory. Collective memory has been colored by fiction (Stone’s JFK). And where is Laura Dern in Inland Empire: in the present, the past, in Poland, in America? In which layer of reality or fictions is she moving… or trapped? And in this film, isn’t it precisely that scene of her death, explicitly indicated as fictitious because we see an enormous camera appearing in a suddenly widening frame, that is the most raw and social-realistic?


9. Images have the power to act.
Another power that is acknowledged by a schizo-analytic approach of media culture, is the power of the speech act, ‘act de parole’ as Deleuze says. Or better still we should perhaps speak of an ‘act de l’ image’. Philosophers of language have since long demonstrated convincingly that words have performative power: the power to do something or to have something done. In this way words operate in reality. Images have the same kind of (or maybe more) performative power of the speech act.

Even if everybody knows that an image is staged, it has an effect: it penetrates our mind and puts itself somewhere in the flux of images. Of course this effect is not new. Propaganda images have been used like this for a long time. But this power goes beyond conscious propagandistic means. All images have this creative power of the speech act.

So, in a similar vein the image can be used to tell stories that call a minority group into existence, ‘creating a people’. The active power of the image is not to be underestimated. The Battle of Algiers has become the Algerian War of Independence.

On the level of the contents of the images the Algerian women in The Battle of Algiers are very conscious of the power of the performative: with bleached hair, speaking perfect French and in an elegant dress the French barricades in the city are no longer closed. And in a recent French movie the message is cynical: a simple French man all of a sudden sees the absurdity of random (and not so random) identity checks and the whole social system: he ends up in a police cell, then in a psychiatric hospital and finally looses his job. But with a fake cv and following the social ‘rules of the game’ without too many critical questions, everything turns out all right: ça va? tres bien merci!


10. Affect is an autonomous power.

The schizophrenic feeling of a too much of everything, too much injustice, too unbearable, too many images – it all reduces our sensory-motor capacities. But it creates more room for the affect. Deleuze has demonstrated how the affect is connected to the close-up.

The close-up is one of the most typical and most striking stylistic features of the cinematographic/audio-visual image. In that way cinema has contributed to the power of affect. Faces and other bodily parts or objects in close-up obtain affective impressive or expressive qualities. The eyes loose their perspectival overview, disoriented the image touches us directly. ‘The affect has autonomous power’, Brian Massumi has elaborated on this. It works independent of story or context.

On a political level the power of affect takes on a different guise. Helen Mirren as Queen Elisabeth gradually discovers that the representative powers of the ‘Queen as the Country’ has modulated into the affective power of the ‘Queen of Hearts’.


11. Forgers, magicians, charlatans, tricksters, conmen and delusional characters are symptoms and diagnosis makers of the powers of the false.

Finally the schizoanalytic lesson of Orson Welles, again first noted by Deleuze. In F For Fake Welles performs as a magician to introduce the stories of other charlatans. Master forger Elmyr de Hory draws a Picasso in ten minutes: no museum in the world that distinguishes it from an original one. The magician knows like no body else how to play with the reality of illusions. The art forger undermines the difference between copy and original. The conman plays a game with our expectations and conventions (Sawyer in Lost). The artist plays this game most creatively and most generously.

What is demonstrated in the power of the false is that the truth is very difficult to retrieve and most of the time is based on a choice. An affective choice, even if it is often wrapped in rational arguments, moral principles or dogmatic convictions. But the true ethical evaluation should be the affirmative creative potentiality, the ultimate motivation of the ‘charlatan’. In The Illusionist we don’t really know how Eisenheim has conjured his plan. But inspector Uhl decides that he knows what happened. And real magic or just a trick, it actually doesn’t matter, Eisenheim’s motivation (love, life) is what counts.


The media are an immanent system that feeds itself. An abstract machine that always grows, expands, produces: from the most cruel and horrific to the most beautiful and sublime. Production and anti-production. Schizo-analysis not as a disease but as a process and method to understand the immanent powers of the image, to play with them, and break through them (without breaking down).

The brain and the screen maintain an intimate and complex relationship. The camera has penetrated our mind, for the best and for the worst. But the brain also determines for a large part what we see on the screen, for the best and for the worst. The cinematographic apparatus is no longer a machine that renders the visible, a machine of the visible.

The new cinematic regime of digital a/v culture points to the fact that the screen is that thin membrane between world and brain and that the mediated image, in producing all kind of ‘invisible’ powers, should be conceived as ‘machines of the invisible.’