Tuesday, May 23, 2006


A few notes from the end of the rope: When the cinema yields intimations of sickness, they are best divined from some place beyond despair, because what appears onscreen is, after all, so often a construct of a massive budget (at least by the standards of a novelist or a poet, who needs only buy paper and ink), or of an aesthetic of clear-headed logistics made necessary by the financial constraints involved, that, it should go without saying, the work arrives like an insult to the wretched. These qualities do not apply for every film; when a picture comes to us bearing only the INTIMATIONS of the abyss, rather than some kind of laid-bare bleeding (as in Rivette's 'Out 1: Spectre' or Cassavetes' 'Faces'), it's generally due to the fuss and muss of careful planning, hundreds of camera set-ups because there existed in the production not only a certain luxury of time but authorial ease of mind which allowed attention to technical concerns, narrative clarity, structure... No matter how deep beneath the surface runs a dread paranoia or the seppuku bogeyman, a facility at the business of movie-making will remove these matters to a place somewhere at the author's arm's length (and if he can tolerate such a removal these concerns should probably not be any closer anyhow) and, this being the case, all things can be conquered. Such is the consummate professionalism that I have been told, and have witnessed, is a staple of Klieg-lit studio cinema.

In 'Spies' ('Spione', 1928) Fritz Lang's method is as meticulous as anything out of the Japanese sensibility. Space is delineated in careful cuts from angle, angle, angle, tracing a 180-degree arc around a central character. Reverse-shots (always plural even in a single sequence) come to us confrontationally, as counterpoint. The effect is a commingling, a dancing intercourse of points-of-view that at times suggests rape. In one sequence, important documents detailing a "Japanese secret treaty" have been torn from the pouch of an exposed valise, knifed away in fact -- ultimate sexual rebuke for the quasi-eunuch Japanese for whom the potential loss of the documents also means, in his own words, a refutation of identity, an unworthiness in being called Japanese. The thief, a nymphomaniac Germanette, reclines in a repose that carries all the graphic shock of a stained affiche, and fingers her reward -- a string of pearls resembling so much ropey come.

No trust in the cops or the banks either. "Turn the keys to your safes over to us!" Who are the real criminals in Lang's film? The big budgets can show us how a society falls apart -- but Berlin on the eve of inflationary demise is not the same as the individual stories of ruin. Lang would, of course, give that to us three years later in 'M' -- but then Himmler took the cameras, his giggles aligned with our screams, and --

-- how long before we the people were again the auteurs of our own prisons...?