"...to the human animal, that can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own..." - Rod Serling
The Twilight Zone is masterful television, naturally. Not for pure originality, but because it encompasses so many of our speculative-fiction tropes into one format, namely, primetime television. The series was a Modern Brothers Grimm of the uncanny and the intriguely eerie.
In keeping with this particularly modern narrative role (is there anything that really says "Post-War Society" like the image of Rod Serling with a thin black tie and a cigarette in hand? File it next to Elvis' hips, and James Dean's car wreck.) most of the stories of the Twilight Zone revolve around psychological issues. Memory, personal appearance, perception, crises of the ego, and paranoia flow through these tales. And naturally, if we are discussing the modern human condition and its fissures and crevices, time is going to be one of the main characters, the lurking dark, waiting to finally show itself like a metaphysical Cthulu. The mocking trope of the series, "...in the end, it was really people," is somewhat of a distraction. Because it in the end, for all people, "it was time, all along."
"Time, time enough at last," is the horrifying conclusion of a particular character upon finally grasping, via the plot's journey, long after we have all discovered it, that all of humanity has been destroyed. Humanity, and humanism, is the story of the struggle against time, or the struggle with time, wrestling with its flow like swimming in the metaphorical river that "won't stay the same river twice". Remembering, forgetting, paranoia for the future, anxiety for the past, running from things, running to things, "before it's too late", "because it is too late."
In this particular clip I've featured at the beginning of this post, much of this comes to a head. I could tell you the back story, but the images are apparent enough. A woman, lamenting the still image on a wall, walks in a room distraught, and switches on a film projector. She immediately relaxes, and is caught in the scene. A second woman enters, and screams in panic. A man shows up, questions the second about the first's whereabouts, and then determined, switches on the projector. The missing woman is on the screen, in the film, addressing all the other "characters" as her friends. The man calls out to the screen, in a screen-within-a-screen shot, the hallmark of the modern film self-consciousness. Bizarrely, horrifically, the image responds, long enough to wave goodbye and disappear, as the reel runs out, and the image disappears. The man gets up to leave, and walking into the hallway, finds the missing woman's handkerchief, and we realize suddenly that the scene on the film was filmed in the hallway of the house in which they remain.
Wow. A lot to digest here.
Rather than come up with an overall "theory" of this clip, I just want to draw your attention to some elements. I've been working on a theory of criticism lately, of various narrative arts, that instead of trying to apply an overall "theorem" to the piece or genre or form, instead finds various machinations of how any such theory will work. I'll go into this later when I have my ideas more solidified, but for now, let's leave at this: if you were to approach a complicated machine like a car, you might not try and explain "how the car works", but instead pick out some unique and emblematic parts of the car, and explain how those work. You might explain a wheel and axle, or a disc brake, or a 4-stroke combustion engine. These are all parts of how the car works, but do not attempt to explain it in totality, which would necessitate various economic theories of production, design theory, raw materials processing, social forces in transportation, and on and on. Nothing works independently of anything else. But to learn anything, we have to start taking things apart. And you start taking apart most things by unscrewing some bolts, and unplugging a few wires, looking carefully while you do so.
So, like, look at THESE parts, man:
- Memory: memory is an attempt to re-live time, to rethink it, to put yourself back into a "mindset", to remember "how you felt" then. It is an attempt by consciousness to replay itself.
- Photography: still pictures are good, moving pictures better. Moving pictures are still pictures, played 24 frames per second, pulled across a lens, with a shutter to silence the perception of the film's motion, and instead create the illusory perception of time passing. The image moves, but the screen stays still. This might as well be the logic circuit of the spark plug timing computer in this clip. I refer you to electromagnetic physics, i.e. Deleuze's Cinema 1 & 2, and countless other works still trying to puzzle out on paper how film actually "works".
- The "Screen", or the substance of film: a white sheet, where "everything happens". The blank slate of consciousness of film. Screen's within a screen tell us "this is not actually happening; you are watching it." Translation: this is not actually happening; you are remembering it. The difference between neurosis and psychosis is that a neurotic can still tell the difference between fantasy and reality. However, sometimes psychotics are actually better off in terms of mental stability and happiness. Sometimes.
- Film vs. Video: What is real, and what is staged? The advent of video means the advent of "reality". Snap shots of motion, hence what's "real". Video has a living pulse. It is everpresent, in a way that film can't be. You cannot see video data. It can be erased, and re-recorded. Now it is digital, and exists without physical form. Film requires a theater, a screen. Video lives in the TV. Video is what the TV breathes, eats, shits, and fucks. Video works with the TV, in the TV, against you.
- Double exposure: What happens when a film is wound around the reel? Does it breath, in the way that videotape breathes on the shelf, desiring us to play them, to insert them like the cartridges they are? What happens to the woman in the clip? If the film is played back, will she appear again? Or is she a ghost, inhabiting the film, moving with an uncanny life apart from the captured individual frames? Or is she gone forever, the lingering moments on the end of the film her vanishing image, her shadow?
- Camera anxiety: I first discovered camera anxiety while watching The Man with the Movie Camera (clip below, another crazy earth-moving vehicle to be dissassembled). When watching a shot of a car or a train, I simply observe the car or the train. I am an innocent voyeur. When I see the shot with the camera man filming the car or train, I am suddenly aware, "those people are being filmed!" When it goes back to the original shot, I cannot shake the feeling. I am sitting with the camera man, and we are looking at the car and train. Anyone can see us, looking at them. It gets worse: in the second shot, I have a delirious realization: "there must be a second camera somewhere. Where is the second camera? Where is the camera that is filming us filming?" When do we see characters in film and video as ourselves? Are we better off or worse for knowing the difference?
Now back to your regularly scheduled phenomena.
Predictions for 2012
5 years ago