Sunday, December 10, 2006

Not dark yet...

But it's getting there. So, as a timewasting distraction before jumping back into my paper (which, I realized last night, only needs to be 15 pages, whereas I have notes for a paper that would be, oh, 50 or 60 pages - double-spaced, that is), I'm staring at the computer screen and doing my best to be non-productive and restful before writing a paper that will, undoubtedly, revolutionize R.W. Fassbinder scholarship... hehe, heh, *sigh*. I just kept watching, and just kept reading, and just have this huge surplus of disconnected notes about the relationship between voice (new!) and gaze (it's been done), and the weird abstract space/image/time in some, maybe most, of his films. The idea to connect Michel Chion's concept of the acousmetre (well, I guess it's a Pierre Schaeffer concept, but Chion's the one who applied it to film) to the semi-diegetic narrations of In a Year of 13 Moons was kind of a late-breaking lightning bolt that added an extra day to the writing and an extra $23.05 to my credit card bill (for Chion's The Voice in Cinema). The acousmetre is basically a voice that's not tied to a visible source, or, more specifically, a mouth. And, because it isn't attached to a body, it doesn't have to obey the same physical rules as an actual person, often taking on a kind of vaguely omniscient, omnipotent, panoptic quality - as in the old horror movie saw where the phone rings and the threatening caller tells the helpless, virginal blonde that "I'm watching you right now!!!" and then appears from out of nowhere brandishing a gigantic, sharp phallic object of some sort, like a knife or a harpoon.

And by expanding the Lacan-bating emphasis on the look and to-be-looked-at-ness in Fassbinder's films to the voice-inclusive idea of "perception," which explains not only the nicely avant garde feeling that his characters often seem to be posing for the camera, but that they often have a compulsive need to talk, usually either telling their own stories or talking either themselves or someone else into something. The visual is, of course, much more effective, and more trusted - by both characters and the audience. So, any time there's a reliance on the voice, usually as the alternative to an unseen image but sometimes when characters are trying to talk away visuals that are evident if not obvious, Fassbinder overcompensates. That overcompensation can come in the form of dramatic histrionics (though rarely if ever from the protagonist, with Petra von Kant being the most obvious exception), but usually this comes in the form of an excess of audio-visual artifacts and mannerisms scattered around the screen: cluttered frames, busy and distracting soundtracks, allusions to other films, music, etc.

Since I started writing, I've noticed sometimes, as with Querelle, In a Year of 13 Moons and Katzelmacher, Fassbinder seems to be pitting the voice explicitly against the image. In Querelle, the narration goes above and beyond what we're shown, commenting on the action without confirming or contradicting the image; the characters go through a ritualistic verbal denial of their own sexuality throughout the film, even when their pants are around their ankles; finally, Jeanne Moreau's character reads tarot cards at the beginning of the film, launching the action by mentioning Querelle, and then again at the end - when she discovers on her second reading that she was mistaken, with the words "I was wrong. You never had a brother!" she effectively erases the entire film as nothing more than a "mistake," a fever dream that never happened. But even though these various kind of verbal commentary actually do take control of the narrative, the vivid, hallucinatory images are powerful in an entirely different way, one that can't be erased by mere words. Etc.

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