Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A blank stare — mysterious and blank



Steven Fama again writes in with some incredibly generative comments on my reading of the stroboscopic blank in Bruce Conner's REPORT. I have a couple of quick thoughts in response...

To begin, I want to return — apropos of Fama's comments — to the question of the physiological and emotional resonances carried by this passage of Conner's film. Between my posts and Fama's, we've read it as shocking, anxious, and hypnotic. As a heartbeat that quickens and stops. And Fama notes further that a mystery attends this "scene," writing: "Is the 'picture' ever coming back? Maybe this concern also creates anxiety, at least in some watching the film. Of course, this effect would be strongest on the first viewing." There's nothing much I can add here, really, except to note that he's right, and that much of the film's tension does in fact hinge on this dynamic within the passage in question. And to say that this sense of mysterious anxiety continues to attend the stroboscopic blank even on repeat viewings. Even after we know that the "picture" does in fact come back, it seems to take too long.

But this raises another emotional response — one we haven't mentioned — that is at play here. The fact of the matter is that this passage is also boring. It lasts for what seems an eternity, and that it compells me to stare deeply into it (though this may not be a universal response), makes it feel longer than it in fact is. And this boredom is integral to the particular anxiety produced by the film: we don't merely wonder whether the "'picture' [is] ever coming back" — we fear that it won't, and that we're suddenly watching something we didn't plan for. And it's frustrating, not only because nothing is "happening" (except, of course, in the audio track), but because what we want to see — the moment of national tragedy — is withheld from us. In a sense, the film's use of the blank, already a refusal of representation, is a refusal of our desires, perverse as they may be.

What is more, this sense of boredom, and of frustration, works throughout the film. Footage, chopped-up and repeated, works to frustrate forward progress, not only of narrative, but of physical movement. There's a resemblance to Gertrude Stein's use of "repetition," her confounding insistence on a continual present that, here, becomes ominous. And the Presidential limo begins its fateful journey, turning perhaps onto Elm St., perhaps onto one of many that lead — have already and irrevocably lead — to Elm St. And, though the voice-over's narrative continues unimpeded, the footage begins again and again, advancing only a few frames at a time. It staggers, and it reiterates the cruel inevitability of the past, almost to the point that the historical narrative, violent as it is, seems a relief. Later, the First Lady begins a walk — only a few steps — towards the ambulance that carries her husband's corpse, the uncanny analogue to the limo with which we began. Already "former," she never arrives, being blown back to the beginning of her movement, even as she comes closer to closing the distance with each successive attempt. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.


— - — - —


If we read, as Fama suggests, the stroboscopic and blank section of REPORT as containing a mystery, it's an interesting one. Certainly, we can read the JFK assassination — and either or both Conner or/and Fama may be pointing in this direction — as a murder mystery. Further, where the notion of mystery resonates on this level, it finds itself in direct and fascinating conflict with the fact that, whether the "picture" ever comes back, we know, and all too well, what happens next. A strange mystery, indeed!








[Read Fama's comments in full here, and my original post there.]



24 comments:

Steven Fama said...

Thanks Nathan for taking my comments and finding in them something that spurred more interesting thoughts.

I've a habit -- especially with Conner's work -- of analyzing art (or poetry) so much that I in my mind pin it down tight under glass, like people sometimes do when catching and displaying a butterfly. Something alive and undefinable becomes dead and fixed, and thus less fun.

And so for that reason I've decided not to say anything more about REPORT right now. Let it fly around free for a bit. But I am going to watch it again, and also look around to see if in the past others have written about the flicker/strobe segment of the film. So I might "report" back further some time in the future.

Thanks again.

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