Tuesday, April 29, 2014

THAS: The THAS Official Motto

"Sense is this wonderful word which is used in two opposite meanings.  On the one hand it means the organ of immediate apprehension, but on the other hand we mean by it the sense, the Significance, the thought, the universal underlying the thing.  And so sense is connected on the one hand with the immediate external aspect of existence, and on the other hand with its inner essence.  Now a sensuous consideration does not cut the two sides apart at all; in one direction it contains the opposite one too, and in sensuous immediate perception it at the same time apprehends the essence and the concept. But since it carries these very determinations in a still unseparated unity, it does not bring the concept as such into consciousness but stops at foreshadowing it." (Hegel, in his Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, as quoted in Jean Hyppolite's Logic and Existence)

I suppose I should give some time over to explain my most recent addition to the page, the new subtitle (or inscription below the title in the header), which has effectively been adopted as the official motto of the Tobe Hooper Appreciation Society.

Sense of course, as used here in the motto, suggests that second version of it ("the Significance, the thought, the universal underlying the thing") in Hegel's theory of phenomenology and epistemology, with regards to aesthetics and determination of the Beautiful.  The epistemological concerns of Hegel may be too far up in the aether for quick results (after all, Hegel was long laid to rest before film became a vulgar artform), but the application to Hooper's craft is there at least in Hegel's thought's lineage with Kant's thought, in which Beauty is the result of the act of pure Judgment.  In both cases - Hegel's Lectures, Kant's Critique - the "sensible diversity" (that which is sensed) is only evaluable, beyond matters of mere taste, if taken into light of its passage from the Sensible to the Concept, a process in which the faculty of "sense," as dually expressed above, is involved.  For both cases, the matter of Beauty, Truth, and the Good is a matter of engaging the faculty of "sense."  Few are the artists who work along these lofty lines of art's value, in which a process of achieving the Universal, the transcendental, is a whole other line of work - often very much involving matters of Spirit and the artist's spirit - than the one involving things like "success in the industry."

Hooper is such a filmmaker of Ideas.  His films are streams of ideas - of cinematic matters of sense - and not products of blockbuster compatibility.  Hooper's every creating gesture posits this unity between the external material that constitutes the indexical "film art," with the inner essence (the essential forms, and what can be said of there being Absolutes in art) and concepts of his processes, which imbue full apprehension - self-reflection, the true Ground Zero of sense, but also indicative of a true appreciation and wish to be a part of [a history of] cinema's Form - into the resonance of the piece of art.

Continuing on, from Jean Hyppolite's exegesis of Hegel's aesthetics Logic and Existence:

"Signification such that it appears in language, sense as the becoming of the concept in discourse, exist first in relation to the movement which seems to engender them.  There is no sense before language, any more than there is an ineffable Absolute, or any more than there would be dreams for the one who would never be awake.  The arts which precede poetry in the ascending series of the fine arts, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music, give us the illusion of an ineffable which would be sense without speech, and in relation to which we could say, in a paradoxical form, that speech is itself mute." (Hyppolite, Logic and Existence)

In positing the symbiosis of the sensible and the signification, the external and the absolute, the Phenomenology and the Logic, Hegel and Hyppolite pinpoint the banal ingredient of a work of true Knowledge, or epistemological value (via language, speech): self-consciousness, of the processes of language between the sensible and the concept.  Hooper's work is uncannily prescient of how concept comes through within the form (language) of his films.  Hyppolite pinpoints poetry as something of the apex of self-conscious art, this through its language, which is some great compaction of the expression and the reflection of itself (see quote below).  Then, it must be said Hooper's camera is poetry not due to the power of his images, but due to a language of the camera, which is always a reflection of itself (not a conveyance system of the narrative), of forms employed.  This is the ground zero of sense.

Hyppolite provocatively continues:

"Couldn't we prefer the image to speech as the carrier of sense?  Poetry, however, appears as the endpoint of a movement which remolds the sensible in order the signify it.  Poetry is the supreme art; preserving from the sensible only the sound that disappears as soon as it is emitted, sublating the elaboration of the world of sounds in music, poetry is the originary light of the world, because it says and narrates the world.  Poetry also says the "I" who narrates and who, first thrust into his narrative with epic poetry, reflects upon himself in lyric poetry and who, with dramatic poetry, is placed within the frame of his world.  But if poetry is the apex of art, it is also the sign of its decline.  It is complete in the double sense of the term.  The negation of the sensible is almost too complete so that there is still art and already pure signification; sense as sense, that is, philosophy, shines through."

Sentimentality is the boon of the immediate, of an anti-philosophy.  Poetry deals in emotions, but narrates with language - the passage between consciousness and concept.  Cinema does not readily brandish its language, but presents only its recorded consciousness of space and time, something of an inherent neutrality.  The cinema that betrays cinema's inherent language of neutrality by ignoring it (often, in result, flying in its face) is the birth of the sentimental (this a rather Bazinian line of thought).  Hooper's artistic identity is of a transcendental agency, so aware of the form he works with and deigns to employ: the scientific, neutral, Apollonian concepts he administers upon himself and his work is the narrating "I" in the poetry of his camera, moreover a poetic agency as there is nothing more convincing of self-reflection than Hooper's miraculous, and beautiful, self-restraint and employment of structures.

Not that a "cinema of sense" monopolizes or bowdlerizes the idea of great cinema - this vulgar, subjective art that cannot be placed with the same measuring sticks as such that Bach would provide music (his polyphony measurable with numbers and countable statistics analyzing the complexity of his usage of notes, timings, the extent of fingering skill).  Even the fine arts are more measurable, for it is the film art's great arrogance that it wants to be the music equivalent of the visual art, yet requires not half of music's precision or skill.

Anyway, let's make an example of the Apollonian cinema versus the Dionysian sort:

I love Boorman's film maudit Exorcist II (not too surprisingly), whose greatest sin is trying to be the Star Wars of demon possession films.  ('Exorcist II' spoilers herein.)  But Linda Blair is more a chipper, nascent Clara Barton than Luke Skywalker, Pazuzu more floating idea - mostly within the mind of Richard Burton's priest - than an Emperor Palpatine.  Past its ill-conceived passive-aggression towards every facet of the original film (including its domestic drama potency) and its confusion over whether a demon still lives within Linda Blair's Regan (but it was exorcised!  More gratuitous contrarian aggression towards the original?), the film is still one that asks fervently the science vs. religion question and actually gets it right (with a thorough agnosticism) and recasts the mild-mannered Kitty Winn (as Regan's perennial young nanny) to become the film's bitter cleric for the ecstatic sacrificing, uttering the pitiful line "I chose evil" in a croak of repentance after willingly sending herself into a cleansing flame.  (End of spoilers.)  But Boorman is a Dionysian sort of filmmaker, his films the pinnacle of a great cinema of emotion and disorder.  Deserving as Exorcist II is of further unpacking, it pays off in a rather immediate way... such that I imagine devoting much time to it (in addition, exposing myself constantly to the work's general aura of hysteria, and its occasional bouts of actual embarrassment, as I will admit the film has a few issues of dramatic credibility) would result in my quickly getting exhausted by having to deal with it and its mode of swinging to the fences.

Hooper's work, on the other hand, is of such a mind-freshening clarity.  Reviewing his work is like revisiting a pleasant melody, like listening to an oboe and clarinet duet (the oboe of course being Salieri's voice of God, the clarinet an instrument of almost equal, simple, reedy delight).  The sense of grammar roots around in your mental plumbing and clears it like a pipe snake, and the cleanness of how Hooper communicates alleviates mental congestion like the self-satisfying undulations of a Bach contrappunto.  The motions of their work are so clear, so intelligent, that other work, great work, seems to suddenly, in relation, become bogged in tar - works lost in themselves when there are greater, clearer concerns involving self-reflection, appreciation and implementation of structures, with which to create horizons, expanding out above Apollonian colonnades (sorry, Exorcist II, I really do love you, I just cannot imagine spending much time with you, just like I can't imagine spending much time in forest bacchanals listening to insistent pan flute).

This sort of self-reflection in art, this fanaticism of the formal, is essentially the spine of Neoclassical aesthetic theory, and, somehow, Hooper is a beacon of it in a cinematic history that thrives on sensuousness.  This is why I find Hooper's most telling analogues to be those other purveyors of scholastic film, in which concepts and conceptual reserve drive a filmmaking of tonal and formal experimentalism, of self-reflection and cinematic reflexivity.  I think of Straub-Huillet, Agnes Varda, Joe Dante, even.

Apollonian values are about the merging of the sensible and the logic.  Logic, as evinced through structures, pervades the work of these artists.  Think Straub-Huillet's utterly logical anti-narrative narrative films (without the smug Godard's anarchic rejection of narrative), think Varda's playful but categorical utilization of narrative concepts (her films all feel like chamber pieces without being so, much like Hooper), or Dante's pure irony that permeates into visuals that find artifice in painstaking visual order.  This art takes the sensible and makes it the concept.  Hooper's every camera move is the act of creating rationally.  If an artist speaks so much, so determinedly, using the "I" of language, a permanence of the work is gained, earned.

Hyppolite: "The one who speaks guarantees the permanence of these determinations [those of the "I" in language].  He is himself this formal permanence, this abstract tautology of a content which holds in the particularity of its distinct determination."

Sunday, April 13, 2014

THAS: An Objective Study of 'Poltergeist'

Don't worry, this will be not as pedantic and far less insolent than it sounds.  But why not take an objective, definitely (definitely! I sarcastically point out) categorical look at Poltergeist?  It doesn't happen too often.  (Didn't say I wouldn't be a little bit smug.)

Outside of holding thoughts that the "Spielberg family" quality is not exactly E.T.-pitch preciousness here, really now, or that Poltergeist is in fact far too molasses-like to be an Amblin film, kind of just look, you know... outside of that, I hold no doubts Spielberg posed a major creative hand in the picture.  Meaning to be completely and entirely discriminate in this post on how I treat facts, operating along that thin shield across from which lie what we can and what we can ever know, I do not, repeat, do not, know that any accounts I purport here to be reliable are in fact reliable, or that my deductions from these accounts are in fact correctly reasoned. 

I do not know... but I can reason, from that one account of things, that the ruckus over directorial duty was instigated by a day in which the Los Angeles Times arrived for a set visit, leading to their subsequent reportage expressing confusion having witnessed Spielberg doing his powerful-producer thing over in the front of the house - shooting Second Unit the Suburban Schlub biking the six-pack over to catch the game - while Hooper was in the back, shooting Robbie in the tree and the canary funeral.  Overlooking the strange notion that the LA Times would overlook going to the backyard to see Hooper and the majority of the cast, then we can conceivably take the canary funeral and, through the principle of divided duty, attribute it to Hooper at least partially.

Now I do not wish to push Spielberg out of the picture (well, I can wish, but must I be so petty, is the question...), and clearly there is the evidence of the numerous production photos of Spielberg director-pointing (and his near-constant presence), and so this little anecdote, of a day of seemingly clearly defined duties and delineated whereabouts, must be taken as a simple novel gift, existing in a situation in which it does not need to exist, for the film exists just fine as a work of a clearly vigorous, alchemical collaboration.

Again, not that all things are cleanly made distinct now.  Not that all decisions are made on the shoot day, but some decisions are made on the shoot day.  Most, I'd say (from experience).  But who knows about a production as big and surely organized to the last detail as Poltergeist's?  Who knows about a lot of things?  Yet this particular moment from Tweety bird's funeral rings with a sort of simple, deferential meagerness, an ornate but modest moment of hairsplitting triviality (it's the scene where the (angelic) girl buries the bird, what's to discuss?) that rings of having been conceptualized - "directed" - on-the-fly, conceived only while staring at the actors' first rehearsal, not having been subject to the deadening effect of meticulous storyboards (those things Hooper hates): a moment of two simple tilt-ups used as punctuations, plus an impressing shot of a mother's hand submerging the childhood artifact in earth and an unnecessary one of the dog.

Then the casually gawking, modernly irreligious older daughter is pulled down and made to kneel in the old tradition, cuing the cut to the wide shot and the backwards track of the camera along the path of the hallowed mound, lined with flowers.




("Now I lay me down to sleep...")
 ("Oh brother.")
 ("Stifle it!")


The camera move, unfortunately, is slightly imperceptible in the screen caps.  But the Hooperian structure is all but apparent, another mathematical scene - consisting of 4 camera set-ups - in which two skeptical, secular tilts upward are the arithmetic needed to add to the scene's hallowed, venerated capitulation of a wide shot, in which all players now kneel for an at-this-point unknowing story about modern players' relationship with the dead: an image laced of an ironic religiousness as it witnesses age-old, atavistic funerary tradition accommodated to the simultaneously materially false, yet emotionally and immediately sincere (the mother really loves her daughter, the mother really, herself, planted those somewhat-illustrious natural flowers, which is innately some [atavist] rebellion against the commercial suburb in which aestheticism and naturalness is actually the least concern) modern world of the suburban bubble and the pertinaciously unbroken family.

And this concludes what is perhaps the only objective case we have on Poltergeist, and even then it's not.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One of the Most Perfectly Constructed Scenes in Cinema?

Dedicated to fellow cinema delegates and valued contributors to THAS in the land of Spain. 


"One of the most perfectly constructed scenes in cinema?" is the rhetorical question-cum-title.  Essentially I make you watch (almost) the length of a scene from The Dark, then take some preliminary steps of video-essay ingress toward considering the scene (before leaving the rest to you; as it now perfunctorily exists, the coda was born partly of laziness, yes.)

But Apollonian restraint is perhaps best responded to with Apollonian restraint.  A brief introduction of momentary ingress is probably more appropriate than a total and undignified probe of the entire scene... one cannot hold one's hand through a scene of such an intangible dignity, of such mise-en-scène (aesthetic) ethics bred through extreme clarity (the prerogative of Apollonian values, that is, in the vaunted sense summoned up by those precious German Enlightenment Weimarians - before Nietzsche came and Angsted it all up).  It would not be becoming of it to pore over its sweet and satiric (proven here, as was in Cervantes, not mutually exclusive) tonal creation: it is a scene that creates perfection of human order, a trio of nitwits corralled into an encounter that must make cinematic sense for its points to come through, points of depicting a farce of personalities, the preordination of the results of such an interaction, and the topic of death, in direct friction with these characters' bullheaded personalities.  Let's put it plainly: it's a scene of "moral will" (thank you Tolstoy, describing Baumgarten), a scene tasking itself to impart Knowledge (of human beings) through perfect form, a scene not about the words being spoken or the emotional humans being mocked, but about a pure, immaterial knowledge brought about by a camera of such sweet empiricism that Plato would perhaps blush (faced with the commercial-beauty oxymoron of cinema - ideals found in the unideal), or perhaps be responsible for if tasked to write 70s monster schlock up to a Form of Art.  And so, a steadfast order of wide shots, over-the-shoulders, perpendicularities, and evolving shots, informed by a rationality beyond mere words (instead put to pietistic cinematography), punctuated by a moment of moving camera so pristine one cannot help but be hinted at the divinity of human interaction and human fallibility (one woman's sureness, a man's affronted incredulity), is put to play.