Unreal Nature

May 17, 2017

Daylight’s Inhuman Faculty for Always Being Perfect

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… they belong to a form of filmmaking that “lets the world happen.”

This is the essay ‘Imges of Thought: The Films of Antonioni and Godard, and the New Topographics Movement’ by Larisa Dryansky found in Reframing the New Topographics edited by Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach (2013):

… According to Deleuze, the shock of the split between man and his environment that marked the years of World War II and its aftermath is at the core of the new style of filmmaking exemplified by Godard and Antonioni. Both filmmakers and the New Topographcs photographers do, in effect, share a profound sense of loss with respect to their surroundings.

The rupture did not, as may be expected, generate a withdrawal into an inner world. On the contrary, it fostered an extreme form of detachment. The characters in Godard and Antonioni’s films are in a relationship of exteriority to reality: they are not actors so much as passive observers. As Stanley Cavell expresssed in The World Viewed, with specific reference to Antonioni, they belong to a form of filmmaking that “lets the world happen.” The same can be said of the images of the New Topographics photographers.

[line break added] Quoting Gohlke, William Jenkins, the curator of the exhibition, writes in the introduction to the catalogue of the “passive frame” maintained by the photographs. This passivity is simultaneously the most striking and most puzzling aspect of the New Topographics images, for, as Jenkins asserts at the very outset of his essay, “… the problem at the center of [the] exhibition is one of style.” Yet how does one define a style that renounces the very nature of styling?

One potent way to “let the world happen” is to make it difficult to identify the point of view from which the scene is taken, or rather, to give it a much wider scope. The spatial composition of Antonioni’s films does just that. Starting with L’avventura, Antonioni developed a characteristic form of visual composition based on the flattening of space.

[line break added] His technical instruments for this were the wide-angle lens and, beginning with Il deserto rosso, the telephoto lense. His use of the lenses, as the film historian CĂ©line Scemama-Heard has pointed out, is unorthodox: contrary to common usage, Antonioni often applied the wide-angle lens to small spaces, while the zoom is employed most times to encompass a large area rather than zero in on a character or detail. The result is, in both cases, a strange deformation of spatial hierarchy in which far and near seem to collide.

[line break added] Indeed, despite implied references to the large canvases of Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko in the films, the flatness of Antonioni’s images is quite distinct from the abstract two-dimensionality famously advocated by Clement Greenberg. Depth is not annulled but rearranged in a startling disorienting way while the anthropocentirc certainties of perspective are abandoned.

… Another essential component of the “topographic” vision deployed in these images is light. Leaving aside the case of Stephen Shore’s color photographs, many of the New Topographics images are lit by a characteristically bright light. The exact temperature of this light varies from photographer to photographer, but what remains in the viewer’s mind is the “dry, cold brilliance” [Robert] Adams refers to in his text for The New West. Adams himself has drawn a parallel between the quality of the Western light captured in his photographs and what Raoul Coutard, Godard’s cameraman, defined once as “daylight’s inhuman faculty for always being perfect.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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