To Be Outside and In-Between, Ben Goldsmith

  • ‘Looks and frictions’ is an apposite title for a work of cultural studies and film studies scholarship, emphasising the latter’s visual preoccupation, the interest of both in observation, and the former’s fondness for frottage, placing theoretical frameworks over objects of study and tracing the indentations left. Significantly, both terms connote both closeness and distance, and implicitly acknowledge the outsideness of the critic or viewer in their engagement with the object of study.
  • As Morris cogently observes, Willemen’s great legacy and example is his putting of ‘how?’ questions — ‘political questions about particular social aims’ (3) — in to cultural studies.
  • Central to his work is the triad of producer, text, and viewer, considered in such a way that the socio-historical context of the production and the act of viewing (and criticism) are always privileged and foregrounded. His use of ‘inner speech’ and the concept of ‘the fourth look’ (perhaps his most significant contribution to film studies) work to elucidate the ways in which the interplay of the textual and the social involve and interpolate the viewer.

  • The concepts of ‘doubleoutsideness’ and the ‘in-between’ work to interrogate the viewer’s (and critic’s) understanding of and positioning in relation to, both their own and another culture.
  • Arguing that ‘meaning, an inevitable by-product of any ‘mark’ in whatever material of expression, is itself a verbal phenomenon’ (29), Willemen points to cinematic techniques of condensation such as literalisms — the low angle shot representing looking up to or deference — as marks of enunciation and as verbal metaphors
  • In acknowledging the linguistic base of meaning production in cinema, Willemen surmises that filmic images may be grounded in language-specific tropes. This permits him to re-emphasise the need for consideration of the particular contexts of both image production and consumption in theorisation of subject-formation in cinema, and to adjust critical frameworks accordingly.
  • Metz’s notion of film as a one way mirror (‘I look at it but it doesn’t look at me looking at it [t]he visible is entirely on the side of the screen’ [1]) is too limited in its failure to account for or even consider ‘the complex interactions of looks at play in the filmic process’
  • Willemen allows that the spectator in Hollywood narrative cinema is inscribed as invisible, this does not preclude the image’s look back at the spectator. This invisibility ‘does not mean that he or she is not also subjected to a look, merely that the look at the viewing subject is effaced through a series of aesthetic strategies’
  • The existence of three different looks in/at cinema is exposed in Laura Mulvey’s work on the gaze: the camera as it records the pro-filmic event; the audience’s look at the image; and the intra-diegetic look of characters — where the first two are subordinated to the third in order to prevent a ‘distanciating awareness’ in the audience which would destroy willing suspension of disbelief. 
  • Willemen undercuts the rigid, gendered hierarchy of male (active) gaze and woman (passive) ‘to-be-looked-at’ in Mulvey’s formulation, arguing that ‘even the classic American cinema can mobilise both the sadistic and the fetishistic modes of looking in relation to figures other than images of women’
  • The simultaneous demand for and denial of the ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ of the image overinvests the addresser’s stake in the dialogue, valorises the voyeur’s gaze, but denies its autonomy; in binding the viewer so tightly into the spectacle, the fourth look is ‘diverted and left dormant’
  • By contrast, the direct address of the porn film, in offering itself to be looked at, invigorates the fourth look to the point where the position and activity of the viewer are threatened, and the viewer risks becoming the object of the look, ‘of being overlooked in the act of looking’ (114). The risk is increased when the viewer is ‘looking at something he or she is not supposed to look at, either according to an internalised censorship (superego) or an external, legal one (as in clandestine viewings) or, as in most cases, according to both censorships combined’ (114), a process which Willemen sees as working to problematise the social dimension of viewing, reintroducing it as a determining influence on the relationships between filmer, filmed and viewer
  • For Willemen, it is in the work of film-makers like Gitai or those of the Brazilian Cinema Novo outside the ‘white European sphere’ that the possibilities for rethinking the ‘dialectical relationship between social existence and cultural practice’ (175) and for reframing cinema as a particular political practice have been most actively taken up

Note to self: !!look them up!! Gitai, Angelopoulos, Souleyman Cisse, Haile Gerima, Ousmane Sembene, Yussif Chahine, Chen Kaige, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

 

 

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