Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Inside the fragment

The Third Generation

Thinking about what Roland Barthes writes about film stills, how they are not just samples, but rather quotations. How movie stills differ from any other kind of imitative stills (e.g. paintings or photographs) because they are always underwritten by a second text (i.e. the movie they're drawn from).

Imagine trying to describe the stills below. How much historical and cultural contextual knowledge would you have to supply to do so accurately? And how much would your own standpoint obfuscate the original significations? How could you possibly express the simple, stark beauty of the still from Through A Glass Darkly, or the horror on the boy's face screaming out from the Salo still? Bogart in bondage as Bacall looks away in trepidation, the architecture of Hepburn's face, Fassbinder's black humoured pastiche work, Cameltoe's utterly disdainful inhalation from amongst the distressingly by-numbers art house art direction of Skin Flick, and blood trickling from the eyes of a pre-teen girl.

All of these attempts to communicate the qualities of the image fail, because words can't describe filmic images. They merely reduce them to a series of well-worn paraphrases and then re-encode them as sentences, never getting near their essence or meaning, never breaking the code. The filmic, says Barthes, is that point where "articulated language is no more than approximative and where another language begins," (or several languages perhaps). The stills below, each one is so composed as to tell its own story (narratively, aesthetically, historically) but also invites you to enter the larger work. So dive in.


The Philadelphia Story

Skin Flick

Through A Glass Darkly

Let The Right One In

The Big Sleep

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