Posts Tagged ‘Serge Daney’

(Visual) Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 10/23

October 23, 2009

Poetic weight for a dreary day, courtesy of Chris, Serge and Rainer Maria.


From Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (1983).

Unidentified images are printed on the retina; unknown events happen fatally; spoken words become the secret code of an impossible self-knowledge. These private moments are the primitive scene of the cinephile, the scene in which he wasn’t present although it was exclusively about him. In the way Paulhan speaks about literature as an experience of the world ‘when we are not there’ and Lacan speaks about ‘what is missing from its place’. The cinephile is the one who keeps his eyes wide open in vain but will not tell anybody that he could not see a thing. He is the one preparing for a life as a professional ‘watcher’, as a way to make up for being late, as slowly as possible. (Serge Daney, “The Tracking Shot in Kapo’’)

And we: spectators, always everywhere, looking at all of that, never beyond! It fills us too full. We set it right. It disintegrates. We set it right again and we disintegrate too. (Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies)

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/12

August 12, 2009

Based on my advocacy of watching films in the stacks at Memorial Library, it should be apparent that I think a film is a film, whether you’re seeing it on a silver screen, an IMAX screen, a laptop screen, a 9-inch TV screen, an HD TV, or even a crisp white sheet hanging from the ceiling. However, reconciling this belief that “a film is a film” with my personal cinephilia  has always been tricky. There are so many arguments concerning the ‘proper’ way to watch a film, and it leads me to wonder: Is there such a thing as a ‘right’ way to see a film? At what point does a cinematic experience become something else? Is watching a film always a cinematic experience, regardless of the technological medium you’re using to facilitate that experience? Moreover, what happens to a film designed for the big screen when it’s viewed on the little screen?

Well, I’m far from the first person to ask these questions. Case in point: this quotation, from Serge Daney’s essay “From the Large to the Small Screen” (the title is relatively self-explanatory), in which Daney asks a few preliminary questions that might be useful in an investigation of both the cinematic experience and cinematic achievement across multiple mediums. I wonder what Daney would’ve made of what I did at Memorial Library just this afternoon, or of cinephilia in the internet age in general.

“We are tempted to ask those who systematically denigrate cinema as it comes across on television, the following question: do you miss the film or the fact of going to the movies? In the latter case, raise your voice so that films may be made once more—real films—that will require large halls (but do not be too surprised if such films are mostly American and if there are good reasons for French cinema not being able to deliver on such a large scale). But if it is the film that counts and the film was already a work of genius in a hall, ask yourself if this genius is so volatile that it disappears with the mere change of medium. Chances are rather stronger, perhaps, that the word ‘genius’ has been used lightly.” (Serge Daney, “From the Large to the Small Screen”)

Readers, if you’re out there: is there such a thing as a ‘right’ way to watch a film, and why?

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/11

August 11, 2009

Apropos of some recent discussion on the blogosphere about whether a certain comedy film is a not-so-veiled endorsement of a kind of social conservatism, I think that this quote, taken from an essay written by the late great Serge Daney, entitled “The Critical Function”, really seems to hit the spot. I’m not ‘against’ interpretation (like my girl Susie Sontag claimed to be), because frankly it’s an inevitable aspect of artistic discourse; but as Daney points out in this quote, a critical ‘reading’ of a film is never the correct reading of the film: it’s merely a reading. Digging in a film for latent significations is all well and good, but what a film does is just as fertile a ground for inquiry as is what a film says.

Daney’s criticism is really exciting stuff to read because he never restricts his approach to treating films as texts, as designed assemblages of signifiers that congeal in order to produce meaning, whether that meaning be political, psychological, philosophical, etc. Daney was more interested in asking questions about subjects (films, television, tennis, politics) than in claiming to have discovered the answers to those questions before they’d even been asked (in other words, for the critic, as well as for the artist, questioning is often more important, or at least primary, than answering); he understood that cinema is but one thing of millions upon millions of things that interact in order to produce the world as we think we know it, and so an investigation of cinema could just as easily begin with the question “what function does this film serve?” as it could with the question “what does this film mean?” I think that this attitude at least partly accounts for why, despite the intellectual milieu he was working both with and against, Daney was so concerned with the implications of cinematic spectatorship and the then-emerging national cinemas in the Third World. Anyway, enough of me:

“The fact is that the question of signification, taken by itself, is a meaningless one, of no concern to anyone. In Cahiers itself, the battle cry has been: ‘You don’t see a film. You read it.’ Fine. But this reading, this search for ‘discrete elements’ here, for bits of information there, wouldn’t serve much purpose (except as fodder for academic rumination, as sustenance for semiologists) if one didn’t know what it is that happens on the side of the receiver. The critic must be able to read a film: he or she must also know how the others, the non-readers, read. And there is just one way to find out: by inquiry. For it is a question not only of reintroducing the receiver into communication theory, not in the abstract sense (the general public) nor even in the concrete sense (a given social group or individual); but of remembering that the receiver is also something other than a receiver. Just like the film he is seeing, he is involved in the class struggle, he plays a part in it. And it is on the basis of this struggle, and the turns it takes, that the problem of positivity, as it affects all films, can be posed (for whom? against whom?); on the basis of this struggle too that one can begin to reply.” (Serge Daney, “The Critical Function”)