CinematograhyDeren

CinematograhyDeren - MAYA DEREN: Cinematography: The...

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Unformatted text preview: MAYA DEREN: Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 1 The motion-picture camera is perhaps the most paradoxical of all machines, in that it can be at once independently active and infinitely passive. Kodak's early slogan, "You push the button, it does the rest," was not an exag- gerated advertising claim, and, connected to any simple trigger device, a camera can even take pictures all by itself. At the same time, while a comparable development and refinement of other mechanisms has usually resulted in an increased specialization, the advances in the scope and sensitivity of lenses and emulsions have made the camera capable of infinite receptivity and indiscriminate fidelity. To this must be added the fact that the medium deals, or can deal, in terms of the most elemental actuality. In sum, it can produce maximum results for virtually minimal effort: it requires of its operator only a modicum of aptitude and energy; of its sub- ject matter, only that it exist; and of its audience, only that they can see. On this elementary level it functions ideally as a mass medium for communicating equally elementary ideas. The photographic medium is, as a matter of fact, so amorphous that it is not merely unobtrusive but virtually transparent, and so becomes, more than any other medium, susceptible of servitude to any and all the others. The enormOus value of such servitude suffices to justify the medium and to be generally accepted as its function. This has been a major obstacle to the definition and development of motion pictures as a creative fine-art form—capable of creative action in its own terms—for its own character is as a latent image which can become manifest only if no other image is imposed upon it to obscure it. Those concerned with the emergence of this latent form must therefore assume a partially protective role, one which recalls the advice of an art instructor who said, "If you have trouble drawing the vase, try drawing the space around the vase.” Indeed, for the Cinematogrt time being, the definit careful attention to wh Animated Paintings In recent years, per the film world and no theaters, there has bcc be called the "graphic which combine abstr.’ realistic figures, are (.ll graphic artists who m: of the rich resources A major factor in thc mous technical and 1 processing, so that it i the two-dimensional, l dom they bring to a cm The similarity bctiv recognized by artists :4 others, who were att limited at that time) medium, particularly rhythm, spatial depth dimensional illusion Ci etc. They put their gr: as a means of extending. The new graphic-m early efforts as i'evcrsr film medium as an ext larly clear when one a' for it is usually no 11'“ spelling out in time— design of an individua describe such works, which certainly have paintings.” This entry of paint parallels with the in attracted to it persons exploration and develr expression. The additi ists and dramatists. A ° It is significant that l abandoned this approach. Ray, Dali, and the paintr Duchamp, ctc.) indicate a_ plastic and the photograp photographic reality. iAYA DEREN: ography: f Reality picture camera is in that it can be at sive. Kodak’s early " was not an exag- any simple trigger r itself. At the same refinement of other d specialization, the and emulsions have I and indiscriminate to medium deals, or tlity. In sum, it can ll effort: it requires 1 energy; of its sub- :nce, only that they s ideally as a mass I ideas. fact, so amorphous transparent, and so tible of servitude to of such servitude ally accepted as its the definition and e-art form—capable rn character is as a if no other image is I 's latent form must .e which recalls the we trouble drawing 5e." Indeed, for the Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 6] time being, the definition of the creative form of film involves as careful attention to what it is not as to what it is. Animated Paintings In recent years, perceptible first on the experimental fringes of the film world and now in general evidence at the commercial art theaters, there has been an accelerated development of what might be called the “graphic arts school of animated film.” Such films, which combine abstract backgrounds with recognizable but not realistic figures, are designed and painted by trained and talented graphic artists who make use of a sophisticated, fluent knowledge of the rich resources of plastic media, including even collage. A major factor in the emergence of this school has been the enor- mous technical and laboratory advance in color film and color processing, so that it is now possible for these artists to approach the two-dimensional, rectangular screen with all the graphic free- dom they bring to a canvas. The similarity between screen and canvas had long ago been recognized by artists such as Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, and others, who were attracted not by its graphic possibilities (so limited at that time) but rather by the excitements of the film medium, particularly the exploitation of its time dimension— rhythm, spatial depth created by a diminishing square, the three- dimensional illusion created by the revolutions of a spiral figure. etc. They put their graphic skills at the service of the film medium, as a means of extending-film expression.° The new graphic-arts school does not so much advance those early efforts as reverse them, for here the artists make use of the film medium as an extension of the plastic media. This is particu- larly clear when one analyzes the principle of movement employed, for it it usually no more than a sequential articulation—a kind of spelling out in time—of the dynamic ordinarily implicit in the design of an individual composition. The most appropriate term to describe such works, which are often interesting and witty, and which certainly have their place among visual arts, is “animated paintings." This entry of painting into the film medium presents certain parallels with the introduction of sound. The silent film had attracted to it persons who had talent for and were inspired by the exploration and development of a new and unique form of visual expression. The addition of sound opened the doors for the verbal- ists and dramatists. Armed with the authority, power, laws, tech- ° It is significant that Hans Richter. a pioneer in such a use of film, soon abandoned this approach. All his later films, along with the films of Leger. Man Ray, Dali, and the painters who articipated in Richter's later films (Ernst, Duchamp, etc.) indicate a profoundap reciation of the distinction between the plastic and the hotographlc image an make enthusiastic and creative use of photographic rea ity. 62 Mayo Deren niques, skills, and crafts which the venerable literary arts had accumulated over centuries, the writers hardly even paused to recognize the small resistance of the "indigenous" film-maker, who had had barely a decade in which to explore and evoke the creative potential of his medium. The rapid success of the "animated painting" is similarly due to the fact that it comes armed with all the plastic traditions and techniques which are its impressive heritage. And just as the sound film interrupted the development of film form on the cummercial level by providing a more finished substitute, so the “animated painting” is already being accepted as a form of film art in the few areas (the distribution of 16 mm. film shorts of film series and societies) where experiments in film form can still find an audience. The motion-picture medium has an extraordinary range of expres- sion. It has in common with the plastic arts the fact that it is a visual composition projected on a two-dimensional surface; with dance, that it can deal in the arrangement of movement; with theater, that it can create a dramatic intensity of events; with music, that it can compose in the rhythms and phrases of time and can be attended by song and instrument; with poetry, that it can justapose images; with literature generally, that it can encompass in its sound track the abstractions available only to language. This very profusion of potentialities seems to create confusion in the minds of most film-makers, a confusion which is diminished by eliminating a major portion of those potentialities in favor of one or two, upon which the film is subsequently structured. An artist, however, should not seek security in a tidy mastery over the simplifications of deliberate poverty; he should, instead, have the creative courage to face the danger of being overwhelmed by fecundity in the effort to resolve it into simplicity and economy. While the “animated painting" film has limited itself to a small area of film potential, it has gained acceptance on the basis of the fact that it does use an art form—the graphic art form—and that it does seem to meet the general condition of film: it makes its statement as an image in movement. This opens the entire question of whether a photograph is of the same order of image as all others. If not, is there a correspondingly different approach to it in a creative context? Although the photographic process is the basic building block of the motion-picture medium, it is a tribute to its self-effacement as a servant that virtually no consideration has been given to its own character and the creative implications thereof. The Closed Circuit of the Photographic Process The term “image” (originally based on "imitation”) means in its first sense the visual likeness of a real Object or person, and in the very act of specifying resemblance it distinguishes and establishes Cinematogral the entire category of \ or person. In this specii photograph of a horse image. 7 But the term "image' a mental activity, whet images" of perception :1 action of the imaginat reality is first filtered in modified by prejudicial it is combined with sin both forgotten and rem ceptual image; this in t1 instrument; and what ii reality in its own right. or image of a horse; it i resemble a horse or w visible relation to any r0 Photography, howevt its own image by the a It thus presents a close: traditional art forms, 1 passes thrOugh the arti: is responsible both for process and for the v. medium cannot be, its(‘ it is but a step to the press or as an extensior realization of the potcr manner that the pho paintings.” But in so far as the already accomplished ll the instrument than w] to reality in conjunctior or microscopic lenses a Just as the magnifica a mountainous, craggy so slow-motion can re‘ changes which either :2: nature would be chant Applied to the flight of hitherto unseen sequer movements of which it i By a telescopic use 0 achieved by triggering minute intervals. When the actual integrity, aln le literary arts had lly even paused to us" film-maker, who are and evolve the " is similarly due to astic traditions and ad just as the sound on the commercial i, so the "animated ffilm art in the few of film series and 'ill find an audience. ary range of expres- act that it is a visual uriace; with dance, t; with theater, that h music, that it can ad can be attended a juxtapose images; i in its sound track to create confusion vhich is diminished tialities in favor of Jtly structured. An [y mastery over the , instead, have the ; overwhelmed by .y and economy. 3d itself to a small on the basis of the irt form—and that film: it makes its the entire question 21‘ of image as all ent approach to it hie process is the m, it is a tribute to I consideration has aative implications ion”) means in its person, and in the res and establishes Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 63 the entire category of visual experience which is not a real object or person. In this specifically negative sense—in the sense that the photograph of a horse is not the horse itself—a photograph is an image. But the term "image" also has positive implications: it presumes a mental activity, whether in its most passive form (the “mental images” of perception and memory) or, as in the arts, the creative action of the imagination realized by the art instrument. Here reality is first filtered by the selectivity of individual interests‘and modified by prejudicial perception to become experience; as such it is combined with similar, contrasting or modifying experiences, both forgotten and remembered, to become assimilated into a con- ceptual image; this in turn is subject to the manipulations of the art instrument; and what finally emerges is a plastic image which is a reality in its own right. A painting is not, fundamentally, a likeness or image of a horse; it is a likeness of a mental concept which may resemble a horse or which may, as in abstract painting, bear no visible relation to any real object. Photography, however, is a process by which an object creates its own image by the action of its light or light-sensitive material. It thus presents a closed circuit precisely at the point where, in the traditional art forms, the creative process takes place as reality passes thr0ugh the artist. This exclusion of the artist at that point is responsible both for the absolute fidelity of the photographic process and for the widespread conviction that a photographic medium cannot be, itself, a creative form. From these observations it is but a step to the conclusion that its use as a visual printing press or as an extension of another creative form represents a full realization of the potential of the medium. It is precisely in this manner that the photographic process is used in "animated paintings.” But in so far as the camera is applied to objects which are already accomplished images, is this really a more creative use of the instrument than when, in scientific films, its fidelity is applied to reality in conjunction with the revelatory functions of telescopic or microscopic lenses and a comparable use of the motor? Just as the magnification of a lens trained upon matter shows us a mountainous, craggy landscape in an apparently smooth surface, so slow-motion can reveal the actual structure of movements or changes which either cannot be slowed down in actuality or whose nature would be changed by a change in tempo of performance. Applied to the flight of a bird, for example, slow-motion reveals the hitherto unseen sequence of the many separate strains and small movements of which it is compounded. By a telescopic use of the motor, I mean the telescoping of time achieved by triggering a camera to take pictures of a vine at ten- minute intervals. When projected at regular speed, the film reveals the actual integrity, almost the intelligence, of the movement of the 64 Mayo Deren vine as it grows and turns with the sun. Such telescoped-time photography has been applied to chemical changes and to physical metamorphoses whose tempo is so slow as to be virtually imper- ceptible. Although the motion-picture camera here functions as an instru- ment of discovery rather than of creativity, it does yield a kind of image which, unlike the images of “animated paintings" (anima- tion itself is a use of the telescoped—time principle), is unique to the motion-picture medium. It may therefore be regarded as an even more valid basic element in a creative film form based on the singular properties of the medium. Reality and Recognition The application of the photographic prdcess to reality results in an image which is unique in several respects. For one thing, since a specific reality is the prior condition of the existence of a photo- graph, the photograph not only testifies to the existence of that reality (just as a drawing testifies to the existence of an artist) but is, to all intents and purposes, its equivalent. This equivalence is not at all a matter of fidelity but is of a different order altogether. If realism is the term for a graphic image which precisely simulates some real object,_then a photograph must be differentiated from it as a form of reality itself. This distinction plays an extremely important role in the address of these respective images. The intent of the plastic arts is to make meaning manifest. In creating an image for the express purpose of communicating, the artist primarily undertakes to create the most effective aspect possible out of the total resources of his medium. Photography, however, deals in a living reality which is structured primarily to endure, and whose configurations are designed to serve that purpose, not to communicate its meaning; they may even serve to conceal that purpose as a protective measure. In-a photograph, then, we begin by recognizing a reality, and our attendant knowl- edges and attitudes are brought into play; only then does the aspect become meaningful in reference to it. The abstract shadow shape in a night scene is not understood at all until revealed and identi- fied as a person; the bright red shape on a pale ground which might, in an abstract, graphic context, communicate a sense of gaiety, conveys something altogether different when recognized as a wound. As we watch a film, the continuous act of recognition in which we are involved is like a strip of memory unrolling beneath the images of the film itself, to form the invisible underlayer of an implicit double exposure. The process by which we understand an abstract, graphic image is almost directly opposite, then, to that by which we understand a photograph. In the first case, the aspect leads us to meaning; in Clnemalogrc the second case the on: the key to our evaluati Photographic Authority As a reality, the p innocent arrogance of dependent presence, ii view it with an indil toward the man-mach require our perception summate the communiu d'étrc. At the same tin personal detachment t' the photographic imap weight only to the out It is upon this autho: mentary film is based. effective reality and in accentuate the per-tint mentarists operate on interests of bringing tl' moral purpose of the fih Obviously, the interc to the interest inherent period of particular pr served to make Fiction effectiveness and autho to the "neo~realist" styln trend toward location fi In the theater, the p a sense of reality whicl raphy, the intermission the other conventions include this physical p ever, replace the fll‘tlfit distances, and place; th posed into transitions \\ turn of dramatic devel within the context of t' vincing in their logic 0 emanates from the res the streets and building- In certain respects, 1 physical presence of ti- theater, can even cont example, believe in the to believe that it is p Such telescoped-time anges and to physical o be virtually imper- unctions as an instru- does yield a kind of d paintings" (anima- nciple), is unique to 3 be regarded as an in form based on the s to reality results in For one thing, since existence of a photo- he existence of that ace of an artist) but This equivalence is cut order altogether. h precisely simulates differentiated from it Li: role in the address lastic arts is to make e express purpose of s to create the most recs of his medium. - which is structured ire designed to serve they may even serve re. In a photograph, -ur attendant knew]- then does the aspect itract shadow shape revealed and identi- pale ground which iunicate a sense of when recognized as wt of recognition in y unrolling beneath ile underlayer of an :ract, graphic image nich we understand 5 us to meaning; in Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 65 the second case the understanding which results from recognition is the key to our evaluation of the aspect. Photographic Authority and the “Controlled Accident” As a reality, the photographic image confronts us with the innocent arrogance of an objective fact, one which exists as an in- dependent presence, indifferent to our response. We may in turn view it with an indifference and detachment we do not have toward the man-made images of other arts, which invite and require our perception and demand our response in order to con- summate the communication they initiate and which is their raisori (l’étre, At the same time precisely because we are aware that our personal detachment does not in any way diminish the verity of the photographic image, it exercises an authority comparable in weight only to the authority of reality itself. It is upon this autherity that the entire school of the social docu- mentary film is based. Although expert in the selection of the most effective reality and in the use of camera placement and angle to accentuate the pertinent and effective features of it, the docu- mentarists operate on a principle of minimal intervention, in the interests of bringing the authority of reality to the support of the moral purpose of the film. _ Obviously, the interest of a documentary film corresponds closely to the interest inherent in its subject matter. Such films enjoyed a period of particular pro-eminence during the war. This popularity served to make fiction-film producers more keenly aware of the effectiveness and authority of reality, an awareness which gave rise to the "nee-realist" style of film and contributed to the still growing trend toward location filming. In the theater, the physical presence of the performers provides a sense of reality which induces us to accept the symbols of geog- raphy, the intermissions which represent the passage of time, and the other conventions which are part of the form. Films cannot include this physical presence of the performers. They can, how- ever, replace the artifice of theater by the actuality of landscape, distances, and place; the interruptions of intermissions can be trans- posed into transitions which sustain and even intensify the momen- tum of dramatic development; while events and episodes which, within the context of theatrical artifice, might not have been con- vincing in their logic or aspect can be clothed in the verity which emanates from the reality of the surrounding landscape, the sun, the streets and buildings. In certain respects, the very absence in motion pictures of the physical presence of the performer, which is so important to the theater, can even contribute to our sense of reality. We can, for example, believe in the existence of a monster if we are not asked to believe that it is present in the room with us. The intimacy 66 A Maya Deren imposed upon us by the physical reality of other art Works presents us with alternative choices: either to identify with or to deny the experience they propose, or to withdraw altogether to a detached awareness of that reality as merely a metaphor. But the film image—whose intangible reality consists of lights and shadows beamed through the air and caught on the surface of a silver screen—comes to us as the reflection of another world. At that dis- tance we can accept the reality of the most monumental and ex- treme of images, and from that perspective we can perceive and comprehend them in their full dimension. ' The authority of reality is available even to the most artificial constructs if photography is understood as an art of the “controlled accident." By “controlled accident” I mean the maintenance of a delicate balance between what is there spontaneously and naturally as evidence of the independent life of actuality, and the persons and activities which are deliberately introduced into the scene. A painter, relying primarily upon aspect as the means of communi- cating his intent, would take enormous care in the arrangement of every detail of, for example, a beach scene. The cinematographer, on the other hand, having selected a beach which, in general, has the desired aspect—whether grim or happy, deserted or crowded—— must on the contrary refrain from overcontrolling the aspect if he is to retain the authority of reality. The filming of such a scene should be planned and framed so as to create a contest of limits within which anything that occurs is compatible with the intent of the scene. The invented event which is then introduced, though itself an artifice, borrows reality from the reality of the scene—from the natural blowing of the hair, the irregularity of the waves, the very texture of the stones and sand—in short, from all the uncontrolled, spontaneous elements which are the property of actuality itself. Only in photography—by the delicate manipulation which I call controlled accident—can natural phenomena be incorporated into our own creativity, to yield an image where the reality of a tree confers its truth upon the events we cause to transpire beneath it. Abstractions and Archetypes Inasmuch as the other art forms are not constituted of reality itself, they create metaphors for reality. But photography, being itself the reality or the equivalent thereof, can use its own reality as a metaphor for ideas and abstractions. ln painting, the image is an abstraction of the aspect; in photography, the abstraction of an idea produces the archetypal image. This concept is not new to motion pictures, but its development was interrupted by the intrusions of theatrical traditions into the film medium. The early history of film is studded with archetypal figures: Theda Bara, Mary Pickford, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Cinematogro Garbo, Charles Chapli personages, not as peop structured around then brated cosmic truths. The invasion of the wrights and actors into the root of theatrical in- photography, is an absr deprive the motion-pict significant that, despite tors and film critics wh adopting the methods, { respected art of theater stars and the most cre continue to operate in t possible, as Marlon Bra; to become an archetypa intuition has been subse repertory complex, anot tioned as the means h remunerative variety of sistent employment for i soever for insisting on volved in the totally tliii Photography’s Unique In In all that I have said the photographic image Actually, however, the s: —-an initial identificatit aspect according to tha aspectual terms)——becor. aspect in a manner uniq I have previously refe but it has its expressive 1 ing upon the subject and ideal ease or nagging h meditation on a moveme to an action; or it can l anguished helplessness, mares of childhood, whei which pursues us comes e Yet, slow-motion is no something which exists i be created only in conju photographic image. Wh ning and identify the acti her art works presents r with or to deny the agether to a detached taphor. But the film lights and shadows 2 surface of a silver or World. At that dis- monumental and ex- we can perceive and to the most artificial art of the "controlled ie maintenance of a measly and naturally ity, and the persons 2d into the scene. A means of communi- the arrangement of he cinematographer, iich, in general, has serted or crowded— ing the aspect if he ng of such a scene a context of limits e with the intent of d, though itself an no scene—-fi'om the :hc waves, the very II the uncontrolled, of actuality itself. lation which I call : incorporated into IO reality of a tree anspirc beneath it. Istituted of reality hotography, being ise its own reality Iting, the image is - abstraction of an it its development .raditions into the d with archetypal Dietrich, Greta Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 67 Garbo, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc. These appeared as personages, not as people or personalities, and the films which were structured around them were like monumental myths which cele- brated cosmic truths. The invasion of the motion-picture medium. by modern play- wrights and actors introduced the concept of realism, which is at the root of theatrical metaphor and which, in the a priori reality of photography, is an absurd redundancy which has served merely to deprive the motion-picture medium of its creative dimension. It is significant that, despite every effort of pretenti0us producers, direc- tors and film critics who seek to raise their professional status by adopting the methods, attitudes, and criteria of the established and respected art of theater, the major figures—both the most popular stars and the most creative directors (such as Orson Welles)— continue to operate in the earlier archetypal traditioa. It was even possible, as Marlon Brando demonstrated, to transcend realism and to become an archetypal realist, but it would appear that his early intuition has been subsequently crushed under the pressures of the repertory complex, another carry-over from theater, where it func- tioned as the means by which a single company could offer a remunerative variety of plays to an audience while providing con- sistent employment for its members. There is no justification what- soever for‘ insisting on a repertory variety of roles for actors in- volved in the totally different circumstances of motion pictures. Photography’s Unique Images In all that I have said so far, the fidelity, reality, and authority of the photographic image serve primarily to modify and to support. Actually, however, the sequence in which we perceive photography -—an initial identification followed by an interpretation of the aspect according to that identification (rather than in primarily aspectual terms)——becomes irreversible and confers meaning upon aspect in a manner unique to the photographic medium. I have previously referred to slow-motion as a time microscope, but it has its expressive uses as well as its revelatory ones. Depend- ing upon the subject and the context, it can be a statement of either ideal case or nagging frustration, a kind of intimate and loving meditation on a movement or a solemnity which adds ritual weight to an action; or it can bring into reality that dramatic image of anguished helplessness, otherwise experienced only in the night- mares of childhood, when our legs refused to move while the terror which pursues us comes ever closer. Yet, slow-motion is not simply slowness of speed. It is, in fact, something which exists in our minds, not on the screen, and can be created only in conjunction with the identifiable reality of the photographic image. When We see a man in the attitudes of run— ning and identify the activity as a run, one of the knOwIedges which ‘53 Mayo Deren is part of that identification is the pulse normal to that activity. It is because we are aware of the known pulse of the identified action while we watch it occur at a slower rate of speed:that we experi- ence the double-exposure of time which we know as slow-motion. It cannot occur in an abstract film, where a triangle, for instance, may go fast or slow, but, having no necessary pulse, cannot go in slow-motion. Another unique image which the camera can yield is reverse motion. When used meaningfully, it does not convey so much a sense of a backward movement spatially, but rather an undoing of time. One of the most memorable uses of this occurs in Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, where the peasant is executed by a volley of fire which also shatters the crucifix hanging on the wall behind him. This scene is followed by a reverse motion of the action—the dead peasant rising from the ground and the crucifix reassembling on the wall; then again the volley of fire, the peasant falling, the crucifix shattering; and again the filmic resurrection. Reverse motion also, for obvious reasons, does not exist in abstract films. The photographic negative image is still another striking case in point. This is not a direct \vhite-on-black statement but is under- stood as an inversion of values. When applied to a recognizable person or scene, it conveys a sense of a critically qualitative change, as in its use for the landscape on the other side of death in Cocteau’s Orpheus. Both such extreme. images and the more familiar kind which I referred to earlier make use of the motion-picture medium as a form in which the meaning of the image originates in our recog- nition of a kn0wn reality and derives its authority from the direct relationship between reality and image in the photographic process. While the process permits some intrusion by the artist as a modifier of that image, the limits of its tolerance can be defined as that point at which the original reality becomes unrecognizable or is irrelevant (as when a red reflection in a pond is used for its shape and color only and without contextual concern for the water or the pond). In such cases the camera itself has been conceived of as the artist, with distorting lenses, multiple superpositions, etc., used to simulate the creative action of the eye, the memory, etc. Such well- intentioned efforts to use the medium creatively, by forcibly insert- ing the creative act in the position it traditionally occupies in the visual arts, accomplish, instead, the destruction of the photographic image as reality. This image, with its unique ability to engage us simultaneously on several levels—by the objective authority of reality, by the knowledges and values which we attach to' that reality, by the direct address of its aspect, and by a manipulated relationship between these—is the building block for the creative use of the medium. Cinematogra The Placement of the t Where dees the filn action if, in the interest he restricts himself to graphic stage and ac: photographic process as Once we abandon ti and consummation of t visual arts and the the: medium and can see 1 consists of two parts, images with which the permanent, incorruptib way dependent upon t assembled to compose can and should be on] creative action. All invention and cre between known parts. ' I pointed out earlier, at not to communicate a s attributes simultaneous and high. Seeing it as appraise its age, an a height. But in a film sun the table falls apart, at constitute its meaning : attributes becoming ir: sequential relationship the images according 1 form which transfigure minishing their reality of potential functions reality. Whether the images ing qualities, in the can the logic of ideas and e ture of a film is sequer. place in its time dimen though composed of sp A major portion of ii of time and space. By filmic techniques as fias etc. These affect not tl it. In a flashback there : integrity of the action ml to that activity. It >f the identified action speed that we experi- know as slow-motion. triangle, for instance, 'y pulse, cannot go in can yield is reverse 0t convey so much a rather an undoing of is occurs in Cocteau's ed by a volley of fire the wall behind him. the action—the dead it reassembling on the at failing, the crucifix Reverse motion also, : films. iother striking case in .tement but is under- ed to a recognizable ly qualitative change, 191' side of death in familiar kind which picture medium as a ginates in our reeog~ iority from the direct photographic process. he artist as a modifier defined as that point izablc or is irrelevant if its shape and color ater or the pond). conceived of as the )sitions, ctc., used to mory, etc. Such well- ly, by forcibly insert- nally occupies in 'the l of the photographic ability to engage us ijective authority of 1 we attach to that id by a manipulated lock for the creative Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 69 The Piccerrieml of the Creative Act and Time-Space Manipulations Where does the film-maker then undertake his major creative action if, in the interests of preserving these qualities of the image, he restricts himself to the control of accident in the pre-photo- graphic stage and accepts almost complete exclusion from the photographic process as well? Once we abandon the concept of the image as the end product and consummation of the creative process (which it is in both the visual arts and the theater), we can take a larger view of the total medium and can see that the motion-picture instrument actually consists of two parts, which flank the artist on either side. The images witl'l‘ which the camera prevides him are like fragments of a permanent, incorruptible memory; their individual reality is in no way dependent upon their sequence in actuality, and they can be assembled to compose any of several statements. In film, the image can and should be only the beginning, the basic material of the creative action. All invention and creation consist primarily of a new relationship between known parts. The images of film deal in realities which, as l pointed out earlier, are structured to fulfill their various functions, not to communicate a specific meaning. Therefore they have several attributes simultaneously, as when a table may be, at once, old, red, and high. Seeing it as a separate entity, an antique dealer would appraise its age, an artist its color, and a child its inaccessible height. But in a film such a shot might be followed by one in which the table falls apart, and thus a particular aspect of its age would constitute its meaning and function in the sequence, with all other attributes becoming irrelevant. The editing of a film creates the sequential relationship which gives particular or new meaning to the images according to their function; it establishes a context, a form which trausfigures them without distorting their aspect, di- minishing their reality and authority, or impoverishing that variety of potential functions which is the characteristic dimension of reality. Whether the images are related in terms of common or contrast- ing qualities, in the causal logic of events which is narrative, or in the logic of ideas and emotions which is the poetic mode, the struc- ture of a film is sequential. The creative action in film, then, takes place in its time dimension; and for this reason the motion picture, though composed of spatial images, is primarily a time form. A major portion of the creative action consists of a manipulation of time and-space. By this I do not mean only such established filmic techniques as flashback, condensation of time, parallel action etc. These afiect not the action itself but the method of revealing it. In a flashback there is no implication that the usual chronological integrity of the action itself is in any way afieeted by the process, 70 Mayo Deren however disrupted, of memory. Parallel action, as when we see alternately the hero who rushes to the rescue and the heroine whose situation becomes increasingly critical, is an omnipresence on the part of the camera as a witness of action, not as a creator of it. The kind of manipulation of time and space to which I refer be- comes itself part of the organic structure of a film. There is, for example, the extension of space by time and of time by space. The length of a stairway can be enormously extended if three different shots of the person ascending it (filmed from different angles so that it is not apparent that the identical area is being covered each time) are so edited together that the action is continuous and re» sults in an image of enduring labor toward some elevated goal. A leap in the air can be extended by the same technique, but in this case, since the Film action is sustained far beyond the normal dura- tion of the real action itself, the effect is one of tens-ion as we wait for the figure to return, finally, to earth. Time may be extended by the reprinting of a single frame, which has the effect of freezing the figure in mid-action; here the frozen frame becomes a moment of suspended animation which, accord- ing to its contextual position, may convey either the sense of criti- cal hesitation (as in the turning back of Lot’s wife) or may consti- tute a comment on stillness and movement as the opposition of life and death. The reprinting of scenes of a casual situation in- volving several persons may be used either in a prophetic context, as a de’jri-uu; or, again, precise reiteration, by inter-cutting reprints, of those spontaneous movements, expressions, and exchanges, can change the quality of the scene from one of informality to that of a stylization akin to dance; in so doing it confers dance upon non- dancers, by shifting emphasis from the purpose of the movement to the movement itself, and an informal social encounter then as- sumes the solemnity and dimension of ritual. Similarly, it is possible to confer the movement of the camera upon the Figures in the scene, for the large movement of a figure in a film is conveyed by the changing relationship between that figure and the frame of the screen. If, as I have done in my recent film The Very Eye of Night, one eliminates the horizon line and any background which would reveal the movement of the total field, then the eye accepts the frame as stable and ascribes all movement to the figure within it. The hand-held camera, moving and revolving Over the white figures on a totally black ground, produces images in which their movement is as gravity-free and as three-dimensional as that of birds in air or fish in water. In the absence of any absolute orientation, the push and pull of their in- terrelationships becomes the major dialogue. By manipulation of time and space, I mean also the creation of a relationship between separate times, places, and persons. A swing- pan—whereby a shot of one person is terminated by a rapid swing away and a shot of another person or place begins with a rapid Cinematogr swing of the camera, the blurred area of t people, places, and z separated. One can Eli in different places pe' movement, and, by :1 nor as to preserve the becomes the dominan' Separate and distan made continuous by r when a person begins mediately followed by to complete the gestu; a dancer step from we larly to transport him itself became his stagi by which the (lynamit onist, instead of nude: ture, finds instead that action which was once her with a volatile an: sonal identity is the sol These are but sever. space relationships \vl manipulation of the sc tive action available t it is a photographic in tension, of scparatcnes to the fullest degree image: its fidelity (wh serves as a transCenda and places), its rcalit vates our l-mowledgcs .- of location and dislo (which transcends the and endows it with me The Twentieth—Cantu: I initiated this discn what creative film fon- eventually at a determ only valid point of d6[ the keepers of catalog ians, who, in their effn performing or the plas tean operation. A radio is not a louc n, as when we see d the heroine whose -mnipresence on the as a creator of it. to which I refer be- t. film. There is, for time by space. The ed if three different different angles so being covered each continuous and re- ne elevated goal. A chnique, but in this ad the normal dura- ’ tension as we wait single frame, which Ion; here the frozen tion which, accord- sr the sense of criti- vife) or may consti- s the opposition of casual situation in- ). prophetic context, iter-cutting reprints, and exchanges, can formality to that of rs dance upon non- e of the movement encounter then as- ient of the camera wement of a figure aship between that i done in my recent 1e horizon line and ement of the total le and ascribes all :ld camera, moving tally black ground, gravity-free and as h in water. In the ad pull of their in- 1150 the creation of d persons. A swing- d by a rapid swing egins with a rapid Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 7l swing of the camera, the two shots being subsequently joined in the blurred area of both swings—brings into dramatic proximity people, places, and actions which in actuality might be "widely separated. One can film different people at different times and even in different places performing approximately the same gesture or movement, and, by a judicious joining of the shots in such a man- ner as to preserve the continuity of the movement, the action itself becomes the dominant dynamic which unifies all separateness. Separate and distant places not only can be related but can be made continuous by a continuity of identity and of movement, as when a person begins a gesture in one setting, this shot being im- mediately followed by the hand entering another setting altogether to Complete the gesture there. I have used this technique to make a dancer step from woods to apartment in a single stride, and simi- larly to transport him from location to location so that the world itself became his stage. In my At Land, it has been the technique by which the dynamic of the Odyssey is reversed and the protag- Onist, instead of undertaking the long voyage of search for adven- ture, finds instead that‘thc universe itself has usurped the dynamic action which was once the prerogative of human will, and confrOnts her with a volatile and relentless metamorphosis in which her per- sonal identity is the sole constancy. These are but several indications of the variety of creative time- space relationships which can be accomplished by a meaningful manipulation of the sequence of film images. It is an order of crea- tive action available only to the motion-picture medium because it is a photographic medium. The ideas of condensation and of ex- tension, of separatcness and of continuity, in which it deals, exploit to the fullest degree the various attributes of the photographic image: its fidelity (which establishes the identity of the person who serves as a transcendant unifying force between all separate times and places), its‘rcality (the basis of the recognition which acti- vates our knowledges and values and without which the geography of location and dislocation could not exist), and its authority (which transcends the impersonality and intangibility of the image and endows it with independent and objective consequence). The Twentieth-Century Art Form I initiated this discussion by referring to the effort to determine what creatiVe film form is not, as a means by which we can arrive eventually at a determination of what it is. I recommend this as the only valid point of departure for all custodians of classifications, to the keepers of catalogues, and in particular to the harassed librar- ians, who, in their effort to force film into one or another of the performing or the plastic arts, are engaged in an endless Procrus- tean operation. A radio is not a louder voice, an airplane is not a faster car, and 72 Mayo Deren the motion picture (an invention of the same period of history) should not be thought of as a faster painting or a more real play. All of these forms are qualitatively different from those which preceded them. They must not be understood as unrelated develop- ments, bound merely by coincidence, but as diverse aspects of a new way of thought and a new way of life—one in which an ap- preciation of time, movement, energy, and dynamics is more imme— diately meaningful than the familiar concept of matter as a static solid anchored to a stable cosmos. It is a change reflected in every field of human endeavor, for example, architecture, in which the notion of mass-upon-mass structure has given way to the lean strength of steel and the dynamics of cantilever balances. It is almost as if the new age, fearful that whatever was there already would not be adequate, had undertaken to arrive com- pletely equipped, even to the motion-picture medium, which, struc- turecl expressly to deal in movement and time-space relationships, would be the most propitious and appropriate art form for express- ing, in terms of its own paradoxically intangible reality, the moral and metaphysical concepts of the citizen of this new age. This is not to say that cinema should or could replace the other art forms, any more than flight is a substitute for the pleasures of walking or for the leisurely panorama of landscapes seen from a car or train window. Only when new things serve the same purpose better do they replace old things. Art, however, deals in ideas; time does not deny them, but may merely make them irrelevant. The truths of the Egyptians are no less true for failing to answer questions which they never raised. Culture is cumulative, and to it each age should make its proper contribution. How can we justify the fact that it is the art instrument, among all that fraternity of twentieth-century inventions, which is still the least explored and exploited; and that it is the artist—of whom, traditionally, the culture expects the most prophetic and visionary statements—who is the most laggard in recognizing that the formal and philosophical concepts of his age are implicit in the actual structure of his instrument and the techniques of his medium? If cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form, it must cease merely to record realities that OWe nothing of their actual existence to the film instrument. Instead, it must create a total experience so much out of the very nature of the in- strument as to be inseparable from its means. It must relinquish the narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the causal logic of narrative plots, a form which ii0w- ered as a celebration of the earth-bound, step-by-step concept of time, space and relationship which was part of the primitive ma- terialism of the nineteenth century. Instead, it must develop the vocabulary of filmic images and evolve the syntax of filmic tech- niques which relate those. It must determine the disciplines inher- Cinematogrop ent in the medium, discr new realms and dimensr ture artistically as scienc (Reprinted by permissio Academy of Arts and 1960, The Visual Arts To Ie period of history) or a more real play. at from those which as unrelated develop- diverse aspects of a one in which an ap— larnics is more imme- of matter as a static ge reflected in every ecture, in which the an way to the lean er balances. whatever was there aken to arrive com- :edium, which, struc- a-space relationships, art form for express- :le reality, the moral s new age. lld replace the other for the pleasures of lscapes seen from a ve the same purpose ever, deals in ideas; ake them irrelevant. 'or failing to answer cumulative, and to n. t instrument, among us, which is still the he artist—of whom, sham and visionary zing that the formal :plicit in the actual of his medium? ers as a full-fledged as that owe nothing at. Instead, it must :ry nature of the in- must relinquish the :ature and its timid a form which flow-- -by-step concept of f the primitive ma- : must develop the ntax of filmic tech- ie disciplines inher- Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality 73 ent in the medium, discover its own structural modes, explore the new realms and dimensions accessible to it and so ennch our cul- ture artistically as science has done in its own province. (Reprinted by permission of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Boston, Massachusetts. Winter 1960, The Visual Arts Today.) ...
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CinematograhyDeren - MAYA DEREN: Cinematography: The...

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