Unreal Nature

March 26, 2015

By Insisting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… by thus resisting their reduction to symbolism, they weave into the fabric of the film their own strands of becoming and dissolution, their own contingency: so that their occurrence remains a surprise in its context, marking only a confluence of possibilities: each cut not a stark annunciation but a chord encountered en pasant in a polyphony, recruited from the flow of history to be engaged in the flow of meaning.

Continuing through Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… Films afford certain images which are memorable in a very particular way. They are always documentary images (whether they occur in ‘documentaries’ or not); they usually represent moments of relative inactivity; and their memorability lies in their appearing to confer a sort of grace upon the moment recorded. Listen to Britain is rich in such images, and those shots of people untroubled at finding themselves the objects of scrutiny fall into this category; but in A Diary for Timothy they are few. (An exception is the close-up of a woman ‘discovered’ at the end of a long track along the bunks on a tube-station platform.)

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The images in A Diary for Timothy aspire toward the condition of stills [as compared to being ‘memorable’]. Indeed, they tend to work better as such than those of Listen to Britain. they aspire toward the condition of stills because they exist as images only for the contribution they make to the film’s argument (and I am not referring only to such calculated effects as the posing of the family to resemble a Raphael altarpiece while an unseen choir sing ‘Adeste Fideles’). It is not a question of how sympathetically or unsympathetically they were shot, but of the fact that the film’s meaning exhausts their meaning. That is the sense in which they are ‘cerebral.’

One characteristic of a still photograph is that its object is ‘given,’ and therefore takes on an aspect of the necessary. Those images which I describe as memorable, whilst representing moments of stasis, do not approximate to the condition of stills (and it is in this paradox that their ‘grace’ resides). The cutaways in Listen to Britain, for example, in so far as they betray an awareness of the act of filming or even simply of the world off-camera, counterpose against the chronology and discourse of the film their position at the intersection of other histories, other causalities, other discourses; and by insisting upon their own temporal dimensions, by thus resisting their reduction to symbolism, they weave into the fabric of the film their own strands of becoming and dissolution, their own contingency: so that their occurrence remains a surprise in its context, marking only a confluence of possibilities: each cut not a stark annunciation but a chord encountered en passant in a polyphony, recruited from the flow of history to be engaged in the flow of meaning.

[line break added] In other words, the presence of these moments of ‘grace’ depends not only on the selection of the image but upon the formal equilibrium maintained between the shot as witness to a past event and the shot as constituent in an enclosed semantic system. For me, A Diary for Timothy represents a rare triumph of overall conception and accumulated detail over inner disintegration; and I therefore read it, by a sort of double-reverse, in an optimistic light. Unlike other war documentaries, which both substantiate and articulate our memories, A Diary for Timothy shows England as a totally unfamiliar place: and this, which may again result from the film’s formal incohesion, is for me the fascination of it.

My most recent previous post from Vaughan’s book is here.

-Julie

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