CarrieLynn brings up an interesting point about tools making us human. However, as Mark Federman (http://individual.utoronto.ca/markfederman/article_mediumisthemessage.htm) points out, McLuhan “suggests that a hammer extends our arm and that the wheel extends our legs and feet.” Thus, the use of tools would seem to make us post-human rather than human (or more human, whichever you prefer). I think this applies to Cassandra in a way (and to the Doctor and all of his companions, as well), who is kept alive by machines (the nutrient tank that houses her brain, the moisturizing gun, etc). So as much as she would like to protest that she is a “pure” human, I think she serves to underscore the fact that there may not be such a thing, and that there never has been since the time we started using tools. As I said, the same thing goes for the Doctor and his companions, who use tools ranging from the TARDIS to cellphones to all the various gadgets and gewgaws that have appeared throughout the show. So I might argue that the message of the show is more that post-humanity is an inevitability, regardless of how we feel about that, and that we have to learn to navigate the perils in order to achieve the potentials.
This is an interesting thought, given how often the Doctor, at least in the first season of the reboot, distanced himself from humans by calling them apes. One could argue he did so as part of the emotional pain he was suffering from the Time War (which we now better understand, even if the 50th anniversary special kinda undercuts it). And at other times the Doctor has been known to be rather anti-human, at least in a disdainful way.
The interpretation could be that he and the series were trying to show us our bad side in order to highlight and promote our good side — a common narrative trope for science fiction morality tales. In a sense he may be helping us to become post-human (which I would argue doesn’t make sense, given that the use of tools is what makes us human, but that’s just me).
What I have found interesting from working on this project is the ways in which the producers have handled constructing the text in order to control their audience. During the run of classic Who, there was a lot done to try to create a polysemic text that could have different rhetorical elements to entice different types of people — even polar opposites! — to construct an audience. However, as the show developed a loyal fan base, the show became too insular; too heavily reliant on intratexuality and self-references. Scholars have indicated how this seems to have lead to the series going off the air, as the audience retracted in size to be essentially just the fan base.
The new Who has reestablished itself by being polysemic, and having many different rhetorical elements to attract a wide ranging audience. And yet, at the same time, because it has been shepherded by Who fans who became producers, the show has been able to bring in the intratextuality and self-referentiality. The new Who has been successfully balancing mainstream and fan audiences. The question we have now is how long they will be able to keep this up — especially given the strains made evident around the hiring of Capaldi as the next Doctor.
After 50 years, the series can be a lesson for other television producers as to how to develop a polysemic text to reach a polyvalent audience. But (SPOILER) with the new regeneration about to occur, how long will the producers be able to keep appealing to so many different types of peoples without alienating one group in favor of another?
Thanks John for a great post and amazing clip. I think Ringu is extraordinary and shows, yet again, how the best horror relies more on suggestion and implication than assertion or demonstration (as you say, revealing what is horrific, disturbing, or uncanny in the background). Here the background is not only psychic or unconscious, animal or sexual, but technological and audiovisual: it is the video image itself that is fatal and the telephone network that announces its fatality (makes me think of Cronenberg’s Videodrome). And it’s specifically oriented towards (Japanese) youth culture, cursed by a repressed past and captured by the desire to see. The deadly images and sounds, suggestive and fascinating, though we experience them only obliquely, propagate themselves via rumour and gossip, informal networks of communication. Imagine another (non-American) remake today, using twitter or facebook! For all the power of background sound and of visual suggestion, it’s still the visceral-bodily features that get to me: those gnarled fingers, missing fingertips, uncanny crawling, and hair without a face. I don’t want to look, want to get away, escape the deathly image intruding into my living room, taking possession of my mind, but I’m captured by the image, cannot look away …
Thought provoking post John, thank you for a good read. Your take on J-Horror has me thinking of it in terms of a “return of the cinematic repressed.” And, is it not also interesting how we find the power of the Lumiere’s cinema in the presentation, as opposed to the explicit representation? That is, the train’s arrival is interestingly background-oriented, moving into sight as if dead on (as the old anecdote goes), scaring those in the front row. Cinema, here, seems to image the coming of modernity itself, the animated-machine rising to life with all its horror/wonder.
Thanks Elena for a wonderful post and video clip (and John’s great comments on the car and becoming-animal). It’s very interesting that you mention Bachelard in relation to Leos Carax. It is certainly an extraordinary exercise in poetic imagination, or cinematic imagination since the whole film seems to be about the idea and experience of cinema as a machine that poetises, capturing movement, emotion, and time but also dreams, imagination, and fantasy. The limo seems to be something like a stand-in for the cinema itself: the magic of performance and illusion, a mysterious machine that conveys Oscar on his sojourn through characters, movies, and time (including Carax favourites like Monsieur Merde).
I wondered about the fascination with performance in the film, since so much of is about the transformations that occur when those enigmatic ‘human somethings’ (as Cavell put it) appear on screen, figures that haunt and hypnotise but that we don’t really know how to name. Cinematic memory haunts and possesses, merging cultural memory with imaginative fantasy (like Kylie evoking Jean Seberg doing a musical duet with Levant). Holy Motors shows that with delirious intensity.
I also wondered about the weird technological and aesthetic ‘evolutionary’ movements or mutations in the film, from the very origins of cinema to its digital transfiguration (Muybridge to motion capture imagery). We evolve into something else (becoming-other) the more we enter this symbiotic or transformative relationship with the cinema, this mad mind/machine/performance circuit of images. Could this be related to Carax’s surreal joke about the domestic kinship between Oscar and his chimp family?
Thanks Robert—I have in fact not heard of this documentary, and look forward to seeing it soon. I appreciate your rendering of my post, it is in line with my intention and I think you help to work the complication out of it. It is in fact this other side of victory, as you write, that has had me thinking of a training philosophy of politics for a social/cultural landscape so encouraging (in my mind) of cultivating a will and, thus, ability to enact change.
Thanks Adam for a really interesting post and video clip. The doco seems to be working in counterpoint, revealing the discipline, will, and pain that underlie and make possible the spectacular media moments of Olympic victory and culturally-charged sentiments of triumph and pride. It’s hard not to think of various cultural and cinematic references on the nexus between sport and politics (Kalling mentioned Riefenstahl, but one could also point to other Olympic docos that take a different approach: a fascinating recent one is Salute (2008), by Australian filmmaker Matt Norman [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0874317/] on the story behind the famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics).
Your remarks about finding the political potential in such images struck me as suggestive. Zizek (riffing on Gramsci, Laclau, and Mouffe) talks about how ideology works by taking individual signifying elements that do not have a particular determinate meaning and articulating them into a unifying narrative or discourse that provides a coherent meaning and identity for the subjects of that ideology. Images of ‘classical’ physical beauty, athleticism, physical prowess, discipline, will, and strength, for example, are not inherently fascist; they can always be rearticulated within a new chain of discourse and given an alternative ideological-political meaning (Zizek even claims that fascism pinched various symbols, images, and collective practices from the Workers’ movement). That’s what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did with their fist salute during the 1968 200m Medal ceremony: rearticulate two powerful discourses, Olympic victory and Black Power. Perhaps this is the kind of political potential that you are suggesting one might draw from the film’s visual presentation of the other side of ‘victory’.
Wonderfully sad scene, Robert. I can’t help but see it now with Angelopoulos’ recent death in mind. Here we have a film-maker’s death from heart attack in 1954 being filmed by a film-maker who would die from injuries and a heart attack following a road accident while shooting The Other Sea in 2012. It’s the same sadness, I think, of passing that Stiegler refers to in Technics and Time (v.2, p.21) when talking about Fellini’s Intervista (1987 - his penultimate film). In a key scene Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg watch their younger, beautiful selves in La Dolce Vita (1960) – ‘Anita sees herself, finally—one should say en fin, in the end—in a tragic mirror-play; she sees her future ad infinitum as reflected in her past and reversed there as her end—the undetermined, written in huge letters across all films, as a fabulous and interminable symmetry. Anita, seeing herself, does not say (as Barthes does looking at the photograph of Lewis Payne): “he is dead,” “he is going to die” (a telescoping whose stakes he manifests magisterially—and what happens to Anita is also a tele-scoping and a tele-scopics). Anita does not merely say “she” but, inverting the propositional order: “I,” “I am going to die,” and: “I am dead”—I am dying, already dead’. For me, the viewer, the cinematic reflexivity of this scene from Ulysses’ Gaze now rebounds again via the passing of Angelopoulos.
The car-space is also very interesting in this film. I’m not sure whether Bachelard ever intended to write a poetics of automobiles, but he should have, given the amount of time we spend there (and in this film, to be sure). The car appears as eco-skeleton too, a becoming animal, in this case specifically, a white snake. Behind a metal skin we are becoming-Jaguar, or Italian horse, or bull, or panther. ‘Here in my car, I feel safest of all.’ ‘It’s the only way to live. In cars’. Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic. And the last scene in the garage, referencing Franju’s Eyes Without a Face - again, another one hiding behind artificial skin. And wasn’t the girl’s father in Eyes a vivisectionist who was eventually killed by his own lab animals? Shame then that Carax reduced the chimpanzees in this scene to performing monkeys.