10.11.2008

The Moving Image


“In short,” Deleuze writes, “cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image." That is to say, the film camera does not capture stills to which movement is later added by the projector, by an external media; that would be to miss movement all together. “Movement,” Deleuze tells us via Bergson, “is distinct from the space covered." Movement is more or less continuous while the space covered is divisible. Hence, “you cannot reconstitute movement with positions in spaces or instants in time: that is, with immobile sections.”

It is not that cinema invents the movement-image; Bergson discovered the concept independently. But is cinema the only art to proffer the movement-image? Prior to cinema, or outside of cinema, are there examples of the movement-image? In what sense, if any, can we say that an ostensibly still image moves? Is this movement the same as a movement-image?

In The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan claims that “[v]isual space is uniform, continuous, and connected." But that doesn’t seem right to me at all. Take the painting above by Matthew Ritchie: Is this visual space uniform, continuous, connected? The work may not move in any linear fashion but it most certainly undulates: there is a distributing (and not just a distribution) of intensities, of speeds, of temperatures. The eye does not take in the work uniformly; consumption is not immediate. But nor is the painting: this will not have been a matter of the viewer making the work move. Rather, the viewer moves with the painting, with its flows and lines, its speeds and vibrations.

We cannot say, then, that the movement of the work is the movement of the viewer, of his mind or even of his eyes (although it is both of those things as well). The painting takes the viewer on a journey, not to an imaginative place, not to concepts or ideas (at least not necessarily; there may very well be a conceptual speed and intensity as well, not to mention a speed of communication between and amongst concepts), but a perceptive journey. As Deleuze and Guattari maintain in What is Philosophy?, a percept is distinct from perception, from a perceiving subject. The movement at work in Matthew Ritchie’s painting is the movement of the image.

In his reading of the French artist Gérard Fromanger, Deleuze maps the distribution of temperature in Fromanger’s photographs/paintings. “[I]n each painting,” Deleuze writes, “there is a voyage, a circulation of tones." The image, then, is not still, not uniform or continuous. Indeed, “[a] circuit of exchange and communication begins to be established in the painting." That is, colors speak across the canvas to each other, lines criss-cross, they swerve and bend. There are points of inflection, moments at which things turn: yes, moments.

I can’t help but think of the so-called abstract paintings of Modernism. Pollock, like the roving camera of film, puts himself in motion, writhing over the canvas. Miró became obsessed with birds, with the possibility of a line that could take flight, unobstructed. Paul Klée’s line, like Miró’s, wiggles and prances and folds and bends; at times, there are arrows so we can keep track of all the movement. There’s a great Klée drawing I saw recently. It was not as rounded as I imagine Klée’s usual work; there was an odd geometry as the lines turned at sharp angles, forming a strange portrait. The title was, “Moderately Slow.” We call Calder’s work “mobile.” (The mobiles are 3D Miró’s; it is not, then, that movement is made explicit; it’s that movement shifts from two to three dimensions.)

This circulation of intensities, this communication of tones, these lines of flight: is this the movement-image of Deleuze and Bergson? How does this movement of the image relate to the moving image of cinema? What makes the cinematic image different from the painting or photograph? From Bazin to Deleuze, there seems to be agreement that movement is the distinguishing factor. But if we agree that images do move, what distinguishes the movement of cinema from the movement of a Klée drawing?

According to Deleuze, the movement-image of cinema involves the perpetual modulation of matter: “the movement-image is the object: the thing itself caught in movement as continuous function. The movement-image is the modulation of the object itself." The movement-image is not a representation, a capture, but “matter itself.” But this can certainly be said of a painting or photograph as well. As Merleau-Ponty suggests, Cézanne’s apples are not representations of apples at all: they are apples, again and anew. Great images do not refer, they do not point: they are matter, they are the world modulating itself before our very eyes.

Deleuze therefore seems to locate the point of distinction elsewhere. “Photography,” he writes, “is a kind of ‘moulding’: the mould organises the internal forces of the thing in such a way that they reach a state of equilibrium at a certain instant (immobile section). However, modulation does not stop when equilibrium is reached, and constantly modifies the mould, constitutes a variable, continuous, temporal mould.” The movement-image is “a transformation of the mould at each moment of the operation.”

This is deceptively complex so let me follow its different threads. Deleuze claims that the internal forces “reach a state of equilibrium” and then suggests that this is an “immobile section.” But is an equilibrium necessarily immobile? Kant claims that confronted with beauty, say a flower, the faculties of the viewer are set in a motion that will not resolve; he calls this “free play." And yet, unlike the sublimity of a storm, beauty affords a kind of harmony of the faculties: an equilibrium of sorts is reached and yet free play persists—a moving equilibrium. I might even say that there is only an equilibrium in and of the movement.

Of course, for Kant, this free play is a free play of the faculties; it refers to the motion of a mental state, not of the object. But if we assume the phenomenological perspective, the seer and the seen are intertwined: the motion of the mental state is continuous with the motion of the object without becoming the same movement. It is not a matter of pure reflection, of an unadulterated echo, but of repetition, a continuous bloc of becoming that includes object and viewer in a relentless conversation, a relentless and mutual touching that is neither determinative nor arbitrary but mutually constitutive. So while we may say that an image may or may not achieve a state of equilibrium, we have not said that this image does not move.

Now, I almost said that the image must move, that movement is a condition of it being art. But seeing Andreas Gurky’s enormous photographs in person, I hesitate: his images are disquietingly still. Some clearly aim for stillness—an empty Prada shelf, for instance. But others, such as those of throngs at a rock concert or the Tokyo Stock exchange, objectively contain movement. There are all the tell-tale signs: blur, and sometimes there is what seems to be a double-shot, as if two photographs, taken moments apart, were layered on top of each other. And yet even these images do not move; they won’t budge. There is no depth perception; focus and blur have nothing to do with distance and proximity. There is no vantage point, as if a living moment were captured, as if motion begins the moment the shutter releases, or that the eye of the photographer is in motion, capturing this fleeting event. What McLuhan says of visual space in general can be said of Gursky’s photographs in particular: they are “uniform, continuous, and connected.” They are a parody of the visual. There may be internal differentiation, but there are no points of inflection; nothing happens here. Even in the soccer field, with a player down, there are no events. Indeed, I’d say that a color field painting enjoys more internal differentiation that Gursky’s photographs. It’s almost as if he works hard to still the movement of life: his image of Pollock’s image makes this explicit as Pollock’s lively drips come to a screeching halt under Gursky’s watch. And yet “watch” is not the right word for he is altogether absent. There is not vantage point to these images; there are not great shots that he captured. Neither the camera nor the cameraman are in motion: stillness is absolute. I might say that the movement of a Gursky photograph is its non-movement (for it is not a death or even a dearth; the photographs are affirmative.)

And so an equilibrium may or may not be achieved, an image may or may not move, but what is it that distinguishes the cinematic image from other moving images? Deleuze tells us that the terms of the “mould” are different. This notion of the mould comes from Bazin. But Bazin sees a very different cinema than Deleuze. For Bazin, cinema is fundamentally representational; hence, he begins with an analysis of the photograph and engages the notion of the mould, an impression of reality. But Deleuze’s cinema will never have been representational; as he says, the movement-image is matter, nor just a mould of matter.

I am not saying a painting and a film are the same; I am not trying to break down the boundaries between them, playing the skeptic, trying to force language to its limits. No, my point is this: the difference lies not in movement per se, not in duration, not in mobility but in the boundaries of movement. There is a difference between a film and a painting or photograph: the temporality of the frame. What Deleuze says of the respective statures of the moulds is true for the respective statures of the frames; in the cinematic image, there is “a transformation of the [frame] at each moment of the operation.” The frame of the cinematic image is in perpetual flux, dissolving, reforming, shifting without pause. The frame of a painting is more or less static. Even if we can say that the frame of a painting is in motion—say, Matthew Ritchie’s sprawling works that leave the wall, dripping, as it were, onto the floor—the open frame nevertheless enjoys a consistent trajectory: it may be in motion, it may be infinite, but it is one differential equation. A film, on the other hand, shifts equations as it will. Even Calder’s mobiles have a boundedness, a frame that is in motion but never dissolves: each mobile is one, albeit elaborate, differential equation.

At times, the frame of a painting next to the endless reframing of a film makes a painting seem stilted, claustrophobic—all the movement of Miró’s bird in that tiny space. And yet there is an odd exhilaration at the endless vibration, at the tightly wound flux of a Miró or Klee or Matthew Ritchie. At the zoo one day, I had a revelation while watching the big cats pace in their cramped cages. They were not bored; they were not looking for a way out; they were not frustrated. On the contrary, by moving steadily in their space, the cats transformed the 20-foot cage into a sprawling savannah of infinite horizons. Freedom, they seemed to say, cannot be quantified: this space is infinite because I occupy it, because I move in it. This is the thrill of a Klée sketch: within this bounded space, there is infinite movement.

But the swell and vibration of a Klée or Miró or Ritchie will never give way to the continuous modulation of the cinematic image. This is what Deleuze is after from cinema, from the movement-image: a pure becoming, every moment at the limit of its own dissolve, matter in a state of relentless transformation. The bounded, framed image will not know such dissolve; it will never give way to another state. On the contrary, it is this state of movement, this stipulated becoming, ad infinitum. It is at once condemned and liberated to repeat itself.

There is a strange of condensation to the framed image. I imagine a Matthew Ritchie as an entire film—all the dissolves and transformations—presented within one frame (albeit a frame that is always at its own limit rather than being the container of limits). In some sense, such a painting is film sped up, past the speed of light: his painting is the trace. On the other hand, his painting is a film slowed down so much that transformations endure, never quite come to a head, slur.

This moving framed image, then, is not sequential. It does not relate to a whole but is itself a whole (as Deleuze describes the movement-image: it has a local modulation as well as a modulation of the sequence or series itself.) Of course, there are framed images that are part of sequences, Robert Rauschenberg’s great set of zipper-attached prints, for example. But the movement or communication between the different images does not constitute the relentless dissolve of the frame as we see in cinema.

Perhaps, then, the movement of the framed image is not the movement-image at all. It may not be an immobile section, its equilibrium may or may not move, but it does not become another image. There is no modulation: it is all bounded fray, a framed set of vibrations, communications, swells. Of course, there are different kinds of such framed movement. Just as Deleuze proffers a topology of cinematic images—the affect-image, the perception-image, the action-image—so there is a topology of framed images: the swell-image, the vibration-image, the hot-image, the cold-image, the wisp-image, etc. A whole set of images, then, each with a dominant mode of movement. There’s the fold-image and its subsets: the convex-image, the concave-image, the sharp turn-image, the micro-pleat-image, the broad turn-image, etc; the temperature-image, hot to cold; cold to hot; and everything in-between; the speed-image; the rhythm-image; etc. I imagine there are thousands of possible moving image types.

2 comments:

a johnson said...

i'm feeling it.
but, hey !! where did the podcasts go?
the johnsons miss your golden voice!
if you do quit teaching go into radio or host a really evil gameshow.

Anonymous said...

After those scathing comments I left on your ugly, misogynistic blog ("Burroughs was right: women are vampires" remember?), you make it private. Dammit! I was gonna post that on Ratemyprofessor and report you!

Figures. I suppose you knew that sooner or later a female student would have rightfully reported your stupid ass.

I know you'll delete this comment, but I'm watching you. Put that shit up again and I will report you.

Unfortunately in the world of today, where "uppity" women don't have to fuck you or put up with nonsense from men like you, you have to keep your misogynistic insecurities behind a blanket of privacy.

Suffer, asshole. Seethe silently. Cause you can't do a thing about anything.

I hope your anger towards women burns a big hole in your stomach.