Thursday, August 11, 2005

Complicity

In response to Picture Motion SB writes….
Interesting stuff.Is this 'complicity' something that is voluntary though? While it might be true that "... we the viewer are actively engaged in making the series of individual frames into a continuity of motion..." and "...we make the illusion happen" it doesn't necessarily follow that we do this 'willingly'. Perhaps we make make the illusion happen 'in spite of' ourselves - perhaps it is a response (other than a conditioned response)that is psychologically 'hard wired', acting independent of will. How much of this is unconscious or sublimated, and further what is the impact of the cultural context? Is this comething that the Andersons consider?

The degree of free will displayed in the process of seeing motion where there is none is clearly a key issue. The Andersons posit it thus "To reject the mechanism of persistence of vision is to reject the myth of persistence of vision and the passivity of the viewer it implies"

Complicity implies a level of active participation and in the sense that the viewer creates for himself or herself the picture motion (it is not on the screen) then they are actively engaging in the filmmaking process. But has the viewer the free will to stop seeing the illusion? As with magic tricks where one can train oneself to see the sleight of hand, the possibility that a viewer could learn to see the "reality" of the individual frames is tantalising though untested. Certainly though film can be said to be a 'trick' which we make happen.

The Anderson’s annoyance with the film community for continuing to advocate "the myth of the persistence of vision" rests less perhaps on complete free will than on a subtle shift of emphasis from the eye to the brain. "The concept of a passive viewer implied by the myth must be replaced by the viewer implied by an enlightened understanding of the illusion: a meaning-seeking creature who engages the film as actively as he engages the real world about him" …and with specific regard to certain strands of film theory "psychoanalytic-Marxist film scholars have retained the model implied by persistence of vision: theirs is a passive viewer, a spectator who is "positioned," unwittingly "sutured" into the text, and victimised by excess ideology" In effect the Anderson’s are empowering the viewer and making them far more active part of the process.

There may well be a number of implications here for a reconsideration of the practice/theory of strands of structural/experimental filmmaking. Paul Sharits and Peter Gidal not surprisingly springing to mind. The Andersons suggest that process of short-range apparent motion is identical to that in everyday ‘real life’ motion perception. The suggestion here is not that we see 25 frames per second but that vision is a highly active process in which we are constantly taking in new visual information out of which we construct an artificial continuity In other words the illusion of filmic continuity and motion is the illusion of vision itself.

1 comment:

SB said...

But has the viewer the free will to stop seeing the illusion?

"the myth of the persistence of vision" rests less perhaps on complete free will than on a subtle shift of emphasis from the eye to the brain.


These are ponderous issues. Whether illusory perception is occuring in the brain or the eyes surely makes little difference to the ability of the viewer to willfully stop seeing the illusion, or to put it another way, to be aware of the illusion. It happens, it would seem, where-ever. Does it really matter whether it's the eye that is 'faulty' by not being sufficiently accurate to be able to distinguish individual fleeting images at 1/24th second and to register them instead as continuous movement, or whether it's the brain that is (consciously or not) more than happy to accept illusion? These are psycho-physiological technicalities, no? That the Andersons use this as a way of technically refuting the passivity of the viewer is all well and good, but surely the notion of the passive viewer is pretty much out-dated anyway. It's pretty commonplace to hear about the visual sophistication of the 'average' consumer of visual culture: the notion that 'we' are all 'constantly bombarded' with visual information has become a post-modern mantra of sorts, and as a result, we are told, we are 'image-savvy'.

Do we really need 'scientific evidence' to lend some notion of objective credence? Surely the belief in Science as being objective itself seriously lacks credibility?

I think it's also a bit misleading to invoke Gidal and Sharits. Gidal's position was always materialist Marxist, that is to say polemically ideological, and one could (very simplistically) reduce it to a argument based on class-based power relations (it is not that, but the same paradigm of power base positions are key in Gidal, you know, 'they' (the ruling classes) are lying to us (the proletariat). As for Sharits, I'm not sure what his position is. I guess from what I've read, that it would be somewhat more libertarian, perhaps even psychedelic.

" …and with specific regard to certain strands of film theory "psychoanalytic-Marxist film scholars have retained the model implied by persistence of vision: theirs is a passive viewer, a spectator who is "positioned," unwittingly "sutured" into the text, and victimised by excess ideology"

There seems to be a slight confusion here in that the Andersons are somehow conflating materialist Marxism with a more Lacanian approach. The Lacanian position, which has been extended by the likes of Slavoj Zizek and in someways related to Deleuze's 'Cinema' series, take cinema's 'illusionism' and its attendant psychological cause/effect as its sine qua non, if you like. The Gidal materialist approach attempts a radical polemical debunking of this illusionism, and while not explicitely 'anti'-Lacanian (or for that matter Freudian) is implicitely so.

I think the reality of these positions, perhaps inevitably, is somewhere else. While Gidal (and a couple of other structuralists) positioned their theory and practice somewhere explicitly in opposition to 'dominant' (read also as illusionistic) cinematic forms. I think Sharits, and some other more 'abstract' practitioners, didn't see their practice as particularly in relation to cinema at all. How can it be possible for abstract non-representational cinematic works to be illusionistic anyway? They have a cinematic medium in common but are as different in practice as photo-realist painting and abstract expressionism.

In reading what you write about the Anderson's studies I can't help thinking that what they are really describing is related more generally to human perception of the world. That an 'illusionistic' photo-realistic cinema which reproduces recognizable images that move through (space and) time, is easily accepted by the viewer, constructed willingly even, is hardly surprising. It simply took the technology of cinema to take this out of the realms of everyday experience of the world and into the realm of artifice.

Aby Warburg documented attempts to visually represent movement through time and space way before Muybridge and Marey, way before the Victorian panoramas, the Zoepraxiscope and magic lantern right back to Giotto and medieval Italian painting and possibly earlier in pagan and aboriginal artefacts and performance. This suggests that the impulse to represent/reproduce movement is as old as art itself! Perhaps it took the invention of cinema to lend it representational verissimilitude, to finally develop a medium that convincingly replicates one's experience of everyday reality- a time-based medium in itself.

Excuse me for the rambling, the grammatical, spelling and factual errors and any other general or specific wrongheadedness; this written after a couple of Weston Organics and best part of a bottle of red.