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"Beyond Spatial Montage" part 6 of 6

story © Michael Betancourt | published November 30, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  



Theory

This theory work will be published as a book-length monograph Beyond Spatial Montage: Windowing, or, the Cinematic Displacement of Time, Motion, and Space by Focal Press.

Part 6 of a 6 Part series proposing an expanded theorization of spatial montage, excerpted from a current book project.

Afterword

The potential of on-screen structures that appear as displacement is at once a deeply under theorized, but at the same time over-determined. The same series of structures are shared by both the avant-garde and commercial media worlds. The failure of existing theorizations originates with those theories demand that the displaced structures of windowing be essentially critical, ignoring the alternative uses that are apparent within commercial media production. The uniformity of this morphology that allows both collage/montage-like juxtapositions and seamless constructions of realist continuity demonstrates the independence of these structures meaning from their formal organization: these on-screen structures function at a more basic level than that posed by the interpretations of narrative or the combinatory potentials of montage-like forms. Developing a conceptual map to accommodate this range of forms thus becomes a necessary prerequisite for any hermeneutic critical assessment.

The morphology of windowed structures employment in commercial media is entirely different than those same structures uses in experimental or avant-garde media. The distinction between them is not an issue of formal structure and development. Nevertheless, the particular displacement techniques most commonly appearing in commercial cinema and television are those whose formal organization of material can readily be assimilated to the illusionistic and discursive demands of realisms it has been historically employed in dramatic cinema. This subservience of the formal aspects of displacement to those demands imposed by the realist drama for the presentation of simultaneous action lends to those structures the semblance of an a priori meaning: that their only meaning must depend on their use within realism.

The ruptures that experimental and avant-garde media then pose for these formsspecifically as violations of this realist practicereinforces the rhetorical division of formal techniques between those associated with realism and those employed by its critics. Oppositions of this type assume a dialectical form, resolving the ambivalence of a given morphology as ideology. They reproduce the supposition that to be formal is to disengaged critically, and is corollary that critical engagement denies the need for a thorough formal analysis noted by Bois. The particular shape (morphology) that a given form takes may be constant across a variety of works, but this organization of materials does not imply one meaningor another. Formal techniques are ambivalent: they are enablers for interpretation; they constrain the range of plausible interpretations for the materials they contain. How these constraints develop, what they imply through their organizationthese are related, but distinct problems to address.

Realism provides a fundamental reference point for the elaboration and development of windowing historically, both in commercial media and elsewherethose works that develop in works that do not employ the realism of commercial cinema are often representative not just of an alternative approachthey are constructed and theorized as an oppositional practice, one where realism serves as the formal and aesthetic being negated. Replacing cinematic theory and historical concerns with those imported from the art world situates the resulting films in the realm of art, with its specific aesthetic interpretive protocols and critical hermeneutic mythologies. As these are developed from the analysis of what are static worksthe development and transformation of painting and sculpture is not typically a function of duration in the same ways that the development of motion pictures, dramatic theater, and music depend on time as a functional dimension of the works form: we do not normally speak of the duration of a painting, or the total running time of a sculpture, (even though there are exceptions). The deployment of art world concerns as the interpretation of these motion picture works is a reflection of the dualism that structures these analysesthe oppositional positioning of some works in relation to a dominant narrative cinema. Shifting the terms for the historical foundations of experimental cinema from the concerns of cinema (or motion pictures) to those of painting enables a reification of the oppositional relationship at the level of praxis, thus necessitating distinctions between the works at a fundamentally formal level, but without requiring the demonstration of them as distinct forms.Replacing cinematic theory and historical concerns with those imported from the art world situates the resulting films in the realm of art, with its specific aesthetic interpretive protocols and critical hermeneutic mythologies. As these are developed from the analysis of what are static worksthe development and transformation of painting and sculpture is not typically a function of duration in the same ways that the development of motion pictures, dramatic theater, and music depend on time as a functional dimension of the works form: we do not normally speak of the duration of a painting, or the total running time of a sculpture, (even though there are exceptions). The deployment of art world concerns as the interpretation of these motion picture works is a reflection of the dualism that structures these analysesthe oppositional positioning of some works in relation to a dominant narrative cinema. Shifting the terms for the historical foundations of experimental cinema from the concerns of cinema (or motion pictures) to those of painting enables a reification of the oppositional relationship at the level of praxis, thus necessitating distinctions between the works at a fundamentally formal level, but without requiring the demonstration of them as distinct forms.

The invisibility of denials, especially when they readily appear within analysis as an autonomous form whose morphology and structure can be taken as givens, gives the resulting argument a dialectical nature: concerned with the development of alterior forms, the absent denied form becomes their negativeit is everything left over. Such a construction is formative of both sides in this duality, yet it is one where a precise morphology remains elusivethe absent denied form only takes shape through its relationship to what is defined, rather than being directly analyzed in itself. The necessity for such a logical structure to avoid a close examination of the dominant narrative cinema becomes apparent and inevitable. By constructing its argument in this fashion, it is incapable of making these connective relationships an explicit element of the experimental works form. These morphologies and structures must remain independent, parallel, and unlinked.

Neither thinking that formalism is everything nor formalism is irrelevant has a role for an engagement with the morphology and structure of cinema. Both claims have a ideological basis that guides both interpretative and aesthetic engagements with motion pictures; these antithetical positions also pre-form the understanding of the historical record in ways that are incompatible with the type of analysis that forms this taxonomy. The need for a descriptive analysis of the range and relationship of multiple-image works in juxtaposition to both traditional editing and the long take is self-evident from the disparate and fragmentary theories and analyses of spatial montage and its parallel theorizations. The empirical dimension that structures this analysis is one where new potentials can emerge from logical analysis and consideration of how the demonstrative uses of existing works might be organized.

What results in this analysis is a formal description that is fundamentally subservient to the demands of interpretation even as it is independent and separate from those demands: it functions at a lower level of interpretation, but is determined in advance by the higher level concerns of meaning. The interdependence of specific form framed by specific interpretive horizons renders the particular, developed historical uses legible in relation to more heavily theorized concepts such as cinematic realism. These higher level concerns have determined which potentials have been developed and which have not, as well as their roles in interpreting the resulting works. The formal element (morphology) in this discussion is essential, but plays a secondary role akin to grammar in verbal language: it organizes its materials invisibly, rendering those materials comprehensible. Considering the morphology employed in historical motion pictures creates a foundation for more complex semiotic analyses. It is the foundational organization that makes these considerations possible.


Beyond Spatial Montage:

  • Part 1 Foundations
  • Part 2 TimeSpace Displacement
  • Part 3 TimeMotion Displacement (Step Printing)
  • Part 4 MotionSpace Displacement (Mirroring)
  • Part 5 TimeMotionSpace Displacement
  • Part 6 Afterword





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