Monday, November 17, 2008

Silent Cinema.

"Bilateral discussion of film/literature has also stunted the growth of film, and all successful New Wave movements have been the tiny moments of total vision that have allowed film to move forward."

"(have we yet defined this condition? No. Is it impossible to define such a varied, complex, technological condition? Fuck no)"

Cut and pasted from some of my class notes:

There was a screening at UCLA, recently, and I had the pleasure of listening to Anthony Hopkins speak afterward about life, literature, and acting. No one had set out any water for Mr. Hopkins, so I had to run over and purchase him a bottle at the vending machine. This is how far away from cool I am: I buy water for Anthony Hopkins, I handle Peter Bogdanovich's socks and poo poo undies.

While watching "The Silence of the Lambs," I was struck with two separate, overwhelming feelings. 1. An acknowledgment of my own mortality during the funeral scene, and more importantly 2. An intake of some images that land in a weird limbo; some images in the film are evolved directly from romantic literature, but, when seen on the big screen, really can't at all be described in literary terms. The movie, I think, really taps into a pure cinema. But, just in the same way that photography and the motion picture have in the past pushed literature in certain directions (the broad topic of another essay), I think that literature has pushed cinema toward images that can only be seen. Neither medium can ever be pure (if it ever was), and neither can be stricken from the conversation of the other.

Maybe two years ago I wrote a little essay for Shawn about "Magnolia" that talked about characters as Story Batteries. Characters generate the story (like an Energizer), then side characters motivate the primary characters and vice versa. Story batteries, then the lesser Battery Batteries.

I think that the reason "Silence" works is that Hannibal is a Story Magnet. The story picks up almost immediately, with zero (or .0001) character development for Clarice or her boss, Jack Crawford. Clarice is sent to Hannibal to investigate Buffalo Bill, and the move is barely motivated (if nearly incoherent). All of the dialogue is explication, but as this is going on, the first twenty minutes is building and building toward the big reveal of Hannibal.

All of these tools can be traced directly back to Edgar Allen Poe's M. Dupont stories (or, at least, to similar and contemporary stories of the same structure). Dupont is a detective that is a vessel both for the reader and for other characters. He has few traits other than intelligence and cunning, and so the reader is meant to both admire him and be able to fill him with implied traits. There is a lack in his character, and the audience fills it. On the other hand, Dupont spends most of his time getting into the heads of other characters in order to solve the mystery. All dialogue is explication and logical progression from disorder (apparently unsolvable mystery) to order (mystery solved, heirarchy restored).

I think that Hannibal is positioned as What Dupont Has Become. He is the old literary character that allows the reader to impose characteristics without justification. Left in the new medium of film, this kind of character has turned on itself. Dupont's kind of infinite capacity to inhabit other characters runs amok in Hannibal. He cannibalizes other characters. He literally eats them and shits them out. Of course the new generation, the film generation, the Clarice generation, would need to contain him.

(look, you can even see set lights shining down on Hannibal's cage)

Mr. Hopkins himself said that Hannibal is a type, like Iago, Richard III, or Mephistopholes. "He's the devil, essentially." An actor on screen has the peculiar abilty to create a visual personality, though, and I think it has the same effect as Dupont does, even though it is in a different medium. A film character can become defined by two things: 1. The face and 2. The actor's previous acting jobs. Jodie Foster is both Clarice, and a culmination of the personalities of every character that Jodie Foster has previously played. Hannibal is Anthony Hopkins (or the personality that we associate with Anthony Hopkins), as well as Hannibal.

The audience implies this. They fill the character with meaning (albeit personal, and visual) in the same mode that Dupont inhabits other characters. We are all a group of logical detectives, inferring feelings from pantomimes and facial expressions and our knowledge of the past and the actor's work. This a big part of the star system. You know, in a way, what you will get when you see a movie with Hopkins, or Pitt, or Smith. Some can transcend simply playing themselves; John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Buster Keaton. They play two things at once: a personality, and a person. I don't think this is a bad thing, but it is the same thing. Can we get away from Dupont? Can we create characters who are who they are within the system of the film and nothing more? Do we want to do this? Can we both imply a greater life to our characters while steering away from 'realism' but also away from 'literary' forms?

(I wonder what Hannibal is reading).

So, Hannibal is a Story Magnet, but Clarice herself is also mimicking Dupont. She combats Hannibal's ability to get into your brain by trying to get into his brain. When she sits with Hannibal, the story moves forward and backward thanks to the Prid Pro Quo tool. Hannibal propels the story into the future (information, clues toward Buffalo Bill) and into the past (in exchange Clarice tells of her childhood that has brought her to be an FBI agent). Clarice is not really a character, though. She is a why / because type. Why is she an FBI agent? Because her father died in the line of duty. She doesn't get away from the literary Dupont type. She is just a new kind, in opposition to the old kind, on the other side of the law. "Silence" makes no progress toward a new or kind of character, but I also don't think it is trying to go anywhere new. These characters are given absolute singularity through some amazing (romantic, marvellous) images. It walks a line, or is in a limbo, between literature and film. I don't know if we can get away from this limbo.

(A tableau, of itself a romantic ideal of how death looks. Perfect in motion?)

(Hannibal, at this point, coalesces into a person beyond a personality. All of this given to us via a rising camera and music. No wonder Jonathan Demme has gravitated so much toward musical films. We can find so much in the images and music of Talking Heads, Neil Young, Tunde Adebimpe).

(The light of the projector behind the romantic image)

1 comment:

joe said...

in retrospect, an annoying article. not really a complete thought, and trying to combine thoughts on shawn's essay with my own thoughts on Silence of the Lambs. Ah well, next time.