Realism(s) #16, or: notes on mechanical reproduction

The screen actor is conscious, all the while he is before the camera, that in the final analysis he is dealing with the audience: the audience of consumers who constitute the market.

--Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', One-way Street and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood (Penguin, 2009), p. 244.

Advertising has created, especially amongst young people, the idea that there’s a sphere, a realm of images, that's always a question of technique, of creativity (what a horrible word), of invention, of money, and people who pay for that. It’s a worthy conception — in fact, it exists throughout the history of the West: there are images that are sold, sold into prostitution, and there are some sublime ones. Only there’s not only that in cinema, painting or the other arts, there's also been something else: there are filmmakers who make images that don’t sell anything. For instance, a film by Rivette, maybe not the last one, but let’s say the films of his that no-one has seen... Rivette's a guy who lives outside of consumerism, as a sort of peripheral saint; a guy who observes, with an intense curiosity, the life of his contemporaries. He’s not angry at all, he’s a pure cinéphile, like what I said at the beginning: 'we’ll never be part of...' He's the purest example. When you see Le Pont du Nord, to take one of his most beautiful films, there isn’t a single shot in the film that could sell anything: not one that could sell the actress who plays in it, the quality of the sun, nothing.

--Serge Daney, Itinéraire d'un ciné-fils (1992). [h/t]

We could use this as a way to define political cinema: totally avoiding what keeps capitalism alive, such as inflation. If, at the aesthetic level, you practice the same inflation which fuels capitalist society as well as the world we live in, then there's no point; you're just grist for the mill. Elio Vittorini said this in Les Lettres françaises of June 27, 1947: 'This is how I first became politically aware, looking at the spectacle of the society I lived in. This gigantic lie, I knew it well enough. They were all talking about some pre-Fascistic morality the very morality from which Fascism itself had sprung. They were all leading back to Fascism — or, at best, to moral stagnation and sterility. They were trying to heal the wounds, again and again. They never attacked the disease itself.'

--Jean-Marie Straub, in conversation with François Albera & Danièle Huillet, 'Sickle and Hammer, Cannons, Cannons, Dynamite!', 2001, published in the 2004 Viennale & Filmmuseum Straub-Huillet retrospective catalogue, p.42.

The corruption and collapse of the rule of law, in the financial sphere, is basically irreparable. It’s not just that restoring trust takes a long time. It’s that under the new technological order in this field, it cannot be done. The technologies are designed to sow and foster distrust and that is the consequence of using them. The recent experience proves this, it seems to me. And therefore there can be no return to the way things were before. In other words, we are at the end of the illusion of a marketplace in the financial sphere.

--James K. Galbraith, from a keynote lecture on post-Keynesian economics, 13/05/2011, via.

People in commercials are to cinema history what religious trinkets were to sacred art: a terminal stage before the renunciation of the image, or its effective replacement by automatons.

--Serge Daney, 'From Projector to Parade', 1989, Film Comment 38.4, 2002, p.39.

The lengthy discussions between well-dressed businessmen on the stock market floor include a great number of characters, between five and twenty, all arguing and gesticulating like puppets. It’s an early attempt at working on a crowd or group scene, a domain in which Griffith will excel until his final film (whereas the cinema, in 1909, was generally content with two or three actors in front of the camera). Except that, here, there is absolute commotion, with the actors entirely focused on themselves (among them, many names will become famous), without any explicit development or correspondence with regards to a particular idea. We can also read these manual frenzies as a way of looking down upon the conformity in the commotion of all these white-collared workers who hate each other, eat, drink gluttonously, and do nothing — in contrast to the proletarians, who no longer have anything to put in their mouths.

--Luc Moullet on D.W. Griffith's A Corner in Wheat (1913), from 'Ah Yes! Griffith was a Marxist!', LOLA #1, trans. Ted Fendt.

Film's response to the shrivelling of aura is an artificial inflation of 'personality' outside the studio. The cult of stardom promoted by film capital preserves the personal magic that for years has lain solely in the rancid magic of its commodity character. When film capital sets the tone, no other revolutionary service can be ascribed to present-day films in general than that of furthering a revolutionary critique of traditional notions of art.

--Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', One-way Street and Other Writings, trans. J.A. Underwood (Penguin, 2009), p. 245.

Le Pont du Nord - Jacques Rivette, 1981, 16mm


In other news: an astonishing fortnight, at its most intense when this and this were unfolding at precisely the same time. In that spirit: Evan Calder Williams on looting. And on riots: two excellent pieces by Owen Hatherley; James Meek in Hackney; Anthony Paul Smith — "of course firebombing a local pub is an idiotic thing to do, but so is maintaining the status quo." Full solidarity with all those facing the revenge of a flailing, sadistic neoliberal state — the current wave of sentences, like these, are the first signs of a new normal.

Hackney, 08/08/11, via

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