Monday, January 19, 2004

Film by its nature is about absence, the shadow of the thing no longer -if ever- here. Most film, however, ignores the obvious, claiming to be about presence: of the story, of the characters and the objects in the frame. Indeed what is most interesting in the greatest film -and what is at the heart of all American film- is the presence of the dream, the presence of the illusion, in all innocence. This is also true, of course, of the worst film.

"All technical refinements depress me. The perfection of photography, the big screens, the stereo sound, all of it makes possible a servile reproduction of nature; and that reproduction bores me... The artist's personality interests me more than the copying of an object." Jean Renoir

The most wonderful thing about Renoir, or Mizoguchi, or Ford, was their ability to make illusion itself profound. By contrast Crimson Gold, like most serious films fights the illusion, fights the effortless narrative of film mechanics, so as to avoid the banality that any intellectual now recognizes -has recognized for 50 years- as a very American/Capitalist form of false consciousness. Crimson Gold is about absence. But then its makers do not claim to be innocent, so we sense a purpose when a camera is placed—as an eye—to look at an object or event; we sense the gaze of the lens carrying a moral weight that we do not experience often in American visual culture. It was the genius of Renoir and Mizoguchi and Ford to have carried that complexity, not without intellect or thought, but also not without a certain casual, and in a sense common, popular, grace.

2021.  Barthes and photography.

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