What follows are a few fragments from an unfinished essay I wrote in 2007 for Thom Andersen's class on Deleuze. From this distance, it seems impossible and perhaps unnecessary to complete the essay; yet in re-reading it, I thought that it contained enough original scholarship that it could be of value to someone and so I have posted it here. I have cleaned up the footnotes and added embedded videos where appropriate, but for the most part, it remains untouched, a document of my thinking at the time.
Paraphrasing Pierre Reverdy, Jean-Luc Godard repeatedly states that an image derives its emotional and intellectual power from a juxtaposition that is distant and true.[i] In Notre Musique, he creates an essay-film-within-a-film that analyzes his own method of accomplishing this. He refers to it, perhaps with some irony, as “shot/counter-shot.” Addressing us, the audience, at the same time that he addresses his audience within the film, he holds up two still pictures: an example of shot/counter-shot from a Howard Hawks film. But the images are not distant enough: there can be no truth, no reconciliation of distant realities, “because the director is incapable of seeing the difference between a man and a woman.”[ii] The rest of the self-reflexive essay is devoted to relating realities that are distant and true. One particularly striking example is worth quoting at length:
“In 1938, Heisenberg and Bohr were walking in the Danish countryside talking about physics. They came to Elsinore castle. The German scientist said, ‘Oh, there’s nothing special about this castle!’ [realist painting of castle] The Danish physicist said, ‘Yes, but if you say “Hamlet’s castle,” [black] then it becomes extraordinary.’ [electronic, still image of castle shrouded in fog. cut to a lamp, swinging against a black background] Elsinore the real, Hamlet the imaginary. Shot and counter-shot. Imaginary: certitude. Reality: incertitude. The principle of cinema: go towards the light and shine it on our night. Our music.”[iii]
In his book, Cinema II: The Time-Image, Gilles Deleuze refers to this method of editing as the interstice. He claims the interstice signifies the movement from a cinema of Being to a cinema of becoming. “It is the method of BETWEEN, ‘between two images’, which does away with all cinema of the One. It is the method of AND, ‘this and then that’, which does away with all cinema of Being = is.” [iv]
According to Deleuze, the interstice is not a given, it must be induced.
Given one image, another image must be chosen which will induce an interstice between the two. This is not an operation of association, but of differentiation, as the mathematicians say, or of disappearance, as the physicists say: given one potential, another one has to be chosen, not any whatever, but in such a way that a difference of potential is established between the two, which will be productive of a third or of something new.[v]
While the interstice must be induced, it is within cinema itself. There is already a gap in the image, but some images are capable of illuminating that gap. Like the picture plane in painting, the interstice must be both created and revealed, brought into being and allowed to remain.[vi] The interstice is, in effect, the film plane. It is the condition of cinema revealed as such. It is the frame-line, the liminal within the image. It is the in-between. Just as there is an invisible darkness inside of every image that is the pre-condition of viewing, “the darkness, which always alternates coequally with the light, on every motion picture screen,”[vii] so is there a between inside of every image and every cut. Some cuts close this distance (invisible editing) while others announce it. Some cuts conceal this gap, while some shine light on the night of the interstice.
The camera, almost alchemically, converts the world into something other than it is, transforming the evanescent into the material, transubstantiating light, time and space into discrete frames on a strip of celluloid. The projector produces the illusion of movement by eliding the interval between these frames. What Deleuze calls the interstice is a result of the intermittent motion of the film itself; “Between each frame, when the shutter closes over the lens as the strip of film is repositioned, there is a moment of darkness, a fragment of time which is not recorded.”[viii] This absence has what Charles Pierce terms an index, a physical trace of its existence: the frame-line. The frame-line is the avatar of the in-between that is a necessary component of every image in cinema. It signifies an elision, the imperceptible movement of the film from one frame to the next that will take place in darkness. If it is perceptible, the projected film returns to material. When the film jumps in the gate, we suddenly see it naked, vertical streaks replacing the motion the projector had only recently restored to the world. The projector has lost its loop and is no longer capable of sewing frames together into the fabric of time and space.
In Ken Jacobs’ Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son, we are treated to this spectacle, and the effect is, at first, quite unnerving. The illusion (of an anti-illusion) lasts long enough, however, that we can appreciate seeing a strip of film in this new light. In fact, the magic of Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son is its ability to oscillate between the material and representational aspects of cinema. In wrenching rhythms reminiscent of Charles Mingus or Thelonius Monk,[ix] we shift from smooth spectacle to stuttering substance. Through almost every conceivable means, we become aware of the two-dimensionality of both the picture plane and the film plane.[x] The motion of film from one frame to the next could be said to be the subject of Jacobs’ obsessive investigation:
Nothing has been actually slowed down, we’re just finding more time in that time. There’s much more time in that time than we ever imagined, in two frames. 16 or 18 or 24 frames per second, that’s infinite time, and infinite motion is taking place, infinite numbers of events are taking place and this begins to explore that. I’ve never exhausted the time bounded by two frames.[xi]
There is a cut from frame to frame, a deeper cut from image to image, and a still deeper cut between “differentiated” images, a distance between every frame, contiguous or otherwise, without which cinema would cease to be. This distance can be emphasized, or it can be elided, but it can never be erased. Peter Kulbelka calls the cut from frame to frame within a shot “weak articulation” to call attention to the fact that there is the potential for deep cuts between every frame.[xii] According to Kubelka, what we actually experience in the movement from shot to shot is the last frame of one shot meeting the first frame of another. Half of his work, which he calls his “metrical films,” makes explicit use of this principle. In order to achieve what Deleuze refers to as the interstice, however, Kubelka must use shots,[xiii] for the interstice is not purely graphic. It is also metaphoric, or more accurately, it is visual thinking that elides metaphors through direct association.
For this reason, we could also say that Julie Murray’s films create interstices, although of a very different character. Murray’s films create interstices by a strange method: visual rhyme. By juxtaposing two images that share a single characteristic¾color, texture, shape, motion or even number¾she actually illuminates everything that is different between them. As opposed to Godard’s image that is the product of “two realities that are distant and true,” Murray creates an arbitrary relationship that reveals the deep differences between two images. Cutting from a map to a butterfly, we notice certain repeated patterns between the two. Maps and butterflies are made to kiss; they are made to share a point of contact, but only a point. They remain apart. In fact, like similar poles of magnets, they are impossible to bring together.[xiv]The chain of images continues and soon our associations and dissociations become stranger and stranger as we attempt to reconcile each new “differentiated” pair. This soon becomes a chain of alienation in which each thing is connected and yet everything seems out of place. Murray’s films reveal the arbitrariness of metaphor, yet they elevate everything to the plane of metaphor. They illuminate the fact that the relationships produced by consciousness can be arbitrary, yet her work is nothing but consciousness, a chain of images as stream of consciousness.
Both Murray and Kubelka edit their sound with as much dexterity and complexity as their picture. Sounds can rhyme, not only with each other, but with the diegetic sound that is implied by an image. In Unsere Afrikareise, we see a crocodile violently splashing while we hear the sound of a tape recording that speeds up as the machine shuts off. The effect is stunning because the sound clearly does not emanate from the image, yet it harmonizes with it. Both synchronous and non-diegetic, it has affinity with the image, but refuses to join it. Here again, an interstice is introduced. There is a space between sound and image where thought is possible. In effect, this particular strain of editing allows one to hear and see multiply, communicating simultaneously with multiple planes of consciousness as images and sounds proliferate connections, forming webs of association that reach in several directions at once, streams of consciousness running concurrently, only at times confluently.[xv]
Ultimately, this is what distinguishes Murray’s and Kubelka’s montage from that of Sergei Eisenstein. Instead of positing dialectics, they spin webs, rhizomes. Deleuze:
If Eisenstein is a dialectician, it is because he conceives of the violence of the shock in the form of opposition and the thought of the whole in the form of opposition overcome, or of the transformation of opposites: ‘From the shock of two factors a concept is born’… he thinks that any other conception weakens the shock and leaves thought optional.[xvi]
But in both Murray and Kubelka the lack of dialectics doesn’t leave thought optional; it makes it multiply.
In the past, I believed that invisible editing was not just aesthetically outmoded, but morally reprehensible. The classical continuity system, for me, signified filmmakers’ attitudes of superiority to their audience. Refusing to reveal the mechanism behind the magic, these filmmakers were like the magician in the Wizard of Oz, charlatans content to lord it over their audiences with little more than smoke and mirrors. I believed that films utilizing the techniques of classical continuity editing were essentially endless parades of dumb tricks, celluloid legerdemain fit for Vaudeville, not art. If cinema aspired to more than box-office receipts, I believed it first had to pass through the rigors of modernism, revealing itself as a medium. If painting was modern because it refused to deny the picture plane, cinema had to acknowledge the film plane. To elide its inherent fissures was to assure its provincial status in the world of art.
In fact, I believed cinema was inherently modern, that it had been corrupted by capitalism and that the symptom of its money-disease was narrative. The critic in Federico Fellini’s 8½ chastises the protagonist’s film as proof that cinema is fifty years behind all the other arts. In fact, cinema, a mechanical medium demanded by and of modernity, was born ahead of the other arts. The Lumieres’ actualities, far from regressively realist, are post-impressionist, oscillating between representation and abstraction—documentation and fabrication—eliciting reality as well as performance. When I learned that they often remade certain actualities after printing the original negative into oblivion, I was convinced of their visionary understanding of the mechanical multiplication of images. It would be another sixty years before the ontological implications of mechanical reproduction would become both the subject and form of Andy Warhol’s embodiment of the all-surface, all-over explosion of images resulting in a “plastic inevitable:” the machine-man’s camera-eye-consciousness.[xvii]
But, proto-post-modernist projects such as the Lumieres’ Warholian camera rolls had been abandoned for the cheap thrills of chase scenes. In short, I thought that cinema was led astray by D. W. Griffith, who perfected and proselytized the new religion of invisible editing and forever turned the cinema away from an exploration of time to an exploitation of it. Cross-cutting induced suspense, I thought, did not study time; it abused it.
Thanks to the wisdom and patience of my teachers, Deleuze’s two books on cinema and the syncopated wit of J. Hoberman, I no longer think of the continuity system as evil incarnate. Now I appreciate and agree with the analysis that Deleuze offers. His achronological narrative[xviii] proposes a transition from movement-image to time-image, from a cinema of the One to a cinema of the AND, the between, the plus.[xix]
For Deleuze, the world-crisis of World War II produces an analogous crisis in cinema. No longer can films assert that a situation can be changed by the action it demands of an individual. Instead, it is replaced by a cinema that revolves around seers and their visions. The new cinema is an episodic, circling cinema of walkers, wanderers and their experiences as opposed to a straight-line cinema of actors and actions. It is a nomad cinema, not an industrial one. Instead of arrows (consequences, this leads to this) we get pluses (this and this and this and…).
But, the plus is not simply an addition; it is a meditation on the possibility of addition. Not just “this and this” but “what is this and?” It is “a method which cinema must ponder at the same time as it uses it.”[xx] The continuity system of the action image creates coherencies, heals cuts and salves disruptions whereas the interstice of the time image creates spaces; it opens the cut to reveal its depth.[xxi] The interstice is a suspension, a hovering between, a falling from one image to another, a leap.
This is clearly illustrated in the “Shake A Hand” sequence of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. First, there is a leap from the story to a tangential micro-narrative—or is it an actuality? This special type of interruption will recur throughout Killer of Sheep. There is an image of children leaping between two buildings, filmed from below. We cannot see any part of their actions besides their leap, their suspension in air. There is only the leap, the gap, the dance with gravity. On the soundtrack we hear, “Shake a Hand,” sung by Faye Adams. Its lyrics might be Killer of Sheep’s credo: Just leave it to me/ Don’t ever be ashamed/ Just give me a chance/ I’ll take care of everything.// Your troubles I’ll share./ Let me know and I’ll be there./ I’ll take care of you./ Anyplace and anywhere. Her voice is like crying, and rhymes with what might be a privileged moment in the film, where the difference between make-believe and actuality is blurriest. The cracks in her singing and the strength in her voice both reinforce and oppose the tears of a child that we see. Multiple leaps between sound and image. That is, they both leap multiply. The leap is not unidirectional, not even in time. For this scene foreshadows another crying child, whom we will meet in only a few more shots, while at the same time it references the very beginning of the film.
A leap between the image and the music, and a further leap between the documentary quality of the children’s play and the melodramatic action that follows: a man bounds down a staircase with exaggerated movements, running and hiding from a woman aiming a gun at him. Eventually, the protagonist appears, uniting the fragmented spaces we have been hastily assembling in our minds, a final leap, or fall, from the micro-narrative to the main story, or rather, from one plateau to another. For, in truth, there is no grand narrative in Killer of Sheep, but rather a succession of stories unified by characters and concerns. It is a record of people and places more than actions. Like all cinema of the AND, it has incidents, but not events. This is not a landscape that can be changed by a single action or a single actor. Instead it must be seen, experienced. Not so much diagnosed as understood. It is a reflection, a record that forms a consciousness at the same time that it describes one. Therefore, it leaps between stories as well as images.
This stasis that is time itself.
[i] “In King Lear (Godard, 1987), for instance, Professor Pluggy, the slapstick character he portrays, states, ‘The image is a pure creation of the soul. It cannot be born of a comparison but of a reconciliation of two realities that are more or less far apart. The more the connections between these two realities are distant and true the stronger they need to be.’ Professor Pluggy’s words echo those of Pierre Reverdy, who, writing in the second decade of the twentieth century, had analysed the cinema in much the same terms.” Hayes, Kevin. 2004. The body and the book in Contempt. Studies in European Cinema. 1 (1): 31-41.
(2 May 2007).
[ii] Godard, Jean-Luc. Notre Musique. France. 2004. 35mm.
[iv] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985. p.180
[v] Ibid., pp. 179-80
[vi] Hans Hoffmann: “The picture must always be complete. At the same time, you have to know when it is finished.” as quoted in a lecture by Ken Jacobs attended by the author.
[vii] Andersen, Thom. Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer. United States. 1975. 16mm. also quoted in Doane, Mary Ann. The Emergence of Cinematic Time. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002. p. 202
[ix] J. Hoberman uses almost the exact same description—Monk-like rhythms, impressionist oscillation between representation and reality—for Oscar Micheaux in his article “Bad Movies” (reproduced in Vulgar Modernism). Indeed, there are many instructive affinities between the two filmmakers. Perhaps Michaeux is the missing filmmaker behind Jacobs’s Perfect Film (a brilliant piece of trash)?
[x] “No movement. No depth. No artifice. The sacred.” Godard, op. cit.
[xi]Jacobs, Ken and Flo. Interview by Tom Gunning and David Schwartz. Films That Tell Time, A Ken Jacobs Retrospective. American Museum of the Moving Image. 10 and 11 August, 1989.
[xii] Sitney, P. Adams. The Graphic Cinema: European Perspectives. Visionary Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. pp. 298-9.
[xiii] Kubelka’s greatest achievement in creating interstices is Unsere Afrikareise. Interstices abound, between every shot, between every sound and every image, even to the point of there being multiple interstices articulated at once.
[xiv] And yet we cannot help but think them together. What if we decide to think of butterfly wings as animal skins? What if we decide to think of animal skins as maps? Julie Murray proposes the following in her description of the film:
Hidden among the pounding of animal hides,/ All tamed into maps, their shapes / Explicit replicate butterfly wings,/ lie the motives of Lír./ The king who paid improper attention to his children.// From that first fascination/ And it’s lascivious gaze,/ Came the gorged desire for substance,/ Among the skins,/ Nets, shadows and milk bottles/ Pried from the stomachs of metal fish,/ Steam, smoke and things that won’t stay,/ Speared, dangled, measured, divined./ All dreamed through wallpaper, Or dowsed from something they drowned in long ago. [Murray, Julie. Deliquium. 2003.
(2 May 2007).].
[xv] This—that one of the projects of modernism is to speak to the multiple planes of consciousness simultaneously—was pointed out to me by Ken Jacobs while he was lecturing on Pablo Picasso’s cubist collages.
[xvi] Deleuze. op cit. p. 158
[xvii] Educated in chaos, his maxims are headlines and his eyes are headlights. Note Warhol’s long lasting affinity for newspapers: from early pencil-on-paper reductionism, lending an element of the abstract to the front page, to mechanically manufactured (literally: “hand-made”) repetitions of tabloid imagery that renders the concrete abstract through sheer repetition. Warhol observes—and then reproduces by other, illuminating means—what already exists. It is a performance where he is a conduit, a radio/tv tower intercepting every kind of communication and spitting them all back out, sometimes as a stream-of-consciousness, sometimes as a skipping record, sometimes as a mechanical mirror. Before Warhol, Weegee. In Weegee’s reportage, there is already an element of the abstract (“woodcut-like starkness meant to arrest the eye of a rushing pedestrian at a dozen paces”(Hoberman)) and the self-reflexive (note his incorporation of headlines into his own work as well as his crowd studies). His obsessive themes already suggest the endlessly repeatable. For more on Weegee and tabloid lyricism in general, see Hoberman, J. Three American Abstract Sensationalists. In Vulgar Moderism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991. pp. 24-7
[xviii] For Deleuze, achronology is an important aspect of the cinema of the time-image, but here I mean to suggest that his narrative of cinema itself is achronological. The crisis of the action-image that he describes lasts into the 70’s in America and arguably continues today, even though the cinema of the time-image began in the 40’s. The notion that time itself is multiple, running in one direction—forward—but not along a single course, has profound implications for cinema and thought.
[xix]Alpha 60: “Once we know the number one, we believe that we know the number two, because one plus one equals two. We forget that first we must know the meaning of plus.” (Godard, Jean-Luc. Alphaville. France. 1965. 35mm.) And Brian Massumi on the importance of Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “Nomad thought replaces the closed equation of representation, x = x = not y (I = I = not you) with an open equation: … + y + z + a + … (… + arm + brick + window + …)” (Massumi, Brian. 1987 Translator’s Foreward. In A Thousand Plateaus, p. xiii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.)
[xx] Deleuze, op. cit., p. 179
[xxi] This is most clearly illustrated Godard’s lecture on shot/counter-shot in Notre Musique.