Monday, March 05, 2007


I've decided on general topics for the two essays I have to write in the next couple weeks. For Jim's Classical Film Theory, I'm writing about Bazin and Godard, focusing in particular on the Histoire(s) and Bazin's lovely essay "Death Every Afternoon." There, as well as in an essay on eroticism in the cinema, Bazin discusses the "ontological pornography" of actual death on screen (a term more conditional than you might expect from anyone but Bazin). Godard's fascination with the depiction of death and catastrophe, juxtaposed with fictional films, his repeated allusions to Raymond Queneau's "L'instant fatal," as well as a connection between his discussions of sex and violence, in real life and in the cinema, make for ideal points of comparison with Bazin. I should say that's currently the focus, before I've started writing. There are elements of Bazin's writings on eroticism, on his "Myth of Stalin in the Soviet Cinema," and much of What Is Cinema?'s first English-language volume that's of similar relevance - I just can't quite get my head around exactly how to approach them. I've already rewatched the Histoire(s) once, and I get the feeling it will continue to become more impressive with each subsequent viewing. The montage, and the arguments are incredibly intricate: they make sense on a purely aesthetic level your first viewing, and each time you revisit it the full implications become clearer.

The other paper will be a sort of elaboration on the Fassbinder paper I wrote last quarter, this time focusing more exclusively on Querelle. I think my interest lies more with In a Year of 13 Moons, but this being a class on "adaptation" I have to incorporate at least something of a concession towards the class topic. Still, the paper is on Fassbinder, not Genet. Querelle is a unique adaptation in that it claims to be "about" Genet's novel, not a version or adaptation of it - something like Straub as a postmodernist. It looks like the speech and the look will be the focus. Fassbinder's characters are constantly staring at each other and it's just as much their act of looking as what they're looking at that's being captured by the camera, and they all seem to have a sort of awareness of being looked at that probably comes from Fassbinder's origins in experimental theater but takes on whole new meanings when projected on film. Speech has several different registers in the film, all of which vie for some sort of control over perception (of a character's image, of his sexuality, of the basic facts of the narrative, etc). There's the dialogue, highly-stylized in both form and delivery, which is often a disavowal of what we can see to be true. There's Seblon's recorded diary, a literal removal of his voice from his body that eventually wins over Querelle when he discovers the tape recorder. There are the two offscreen narrators, the voice-over and the intertitles. The voice-over occasionally seems to contradict what we're seeing, and neither is at all evident from the image. Finally, there's Jeanne Moreau's Lysiane, who basically introduces the narrative by reading Robert's fortune and predicting trouble to come. The story ends as Lysiane read's Robert's cards again and effectively erases the whole of the film by declaring that she was mistaken, and that Robert doesn't even have a brother. Suddenly, the bar Querelle has left in devastation goes back to normal and Robert looks as if nothing had happened. Querelle's ship leaves with the exact same shot it arrived, this time projected in reverse. Lots to talk about, and I have to develop a small chunk of it for a presentation on Thursday.

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