Small, striking moments

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 3 April 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

This is the comment I wanted to leave on Girish’s latest blog entry, which has the same title as this one, but there wasn’t enough space in the comment box!

I’ve been working on Hitchcock’s Rope for some time now. It’s a film full of striking moments (like the moment, already discussed by V F Perkins, where a swing door’s movement is synchronised with a character’s actions, perhaps suggesting complicity between the director and the murderous protagonist). There are two great moments that sprang to mind after reading this blog. Perhaps I thought of them because they’re arresting moments, moments of thought, for the characters as well as for the viewer.

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The weight of the past

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 5 December 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

(This is a companion blog to an earlier entry which used 4’33”to think about what happens when the medium used to (re)produce music shifts. The current entry thinks about photography, with the help of a book and a television programme.)

A few weeks ago, in a cafe or a restaurant, I noticed a couple looking through a set of photographs that they had just gotten back from being developed – a commonplace sight as recently as perhaps six or seven years ago, but much less so now.

Nostalgia touches photographs in many ways. In her beautiful book On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote:

A photograph of 1900 that was affecting then because of its subject would, today, be more likely to move us because it is a photograph taken in 1900. The particular qualities and intentions of photographs tend to be swallowed up in the generalized pathos of time past. Aesthetic distance seems built into the very experience of looking at photographs, if not right away, then certainly with the passage of time. Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.

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Who am I writing for? Who should I be writing for?

This is the first entry in a new category of posts on this blog: ‘Research ponderings’. I intend these posts to be places where I try to feel my way through some of the perplexities I encounter while working on my research. This will be helpful to me in its own right, but what will of course be even more helpful is if fellow researchers read my ponderings, and are kind enough to offer any words of guidance they might have. I will try in each entry to stick to a particular problem, or at least a tight cluster of them, and avoid lamentations concerning intractable states of affairs.

I’m at an exciting stage in my research leave. The reading I’ve been doing is connecting lots of dots, and giving me lots of new thoughts. Articles are forming themselves in my head, and even splitting into multiple articles as the issues I’m dealing with clarify.

Anyway, here’s one of the things I’m trying to think through…

I want to write an article that uses the insights of phenomenology to offer new tools for the close analysis of screen drama. My problems are all variations on the same theme: the things I want to do to make the case I want to make are somewhat at odds with the demands of research as I think it is understood in contemporary academia.

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Anthony Minghella on the moral responsibility of drama

…But these issues, along with the perennial concerns of style and mechanism and beauty in play-making, exercised me less than the attempts, however rudimentary, to create a world of feeling, to emulate what I have most responded to in the work of others: moments of insight which enlarge upon the narrow range of direct experience possible for any of us. And here, with the obligation to be accurate, is where drama acquires something like a moral responsibility. The world offered back to the audience, be it magical, funny, or tragic, had better be scrupulous: or else, like Flute’s Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we kiss the wall’s hole and not the lips at all. Which is why the theatre – of all the dramatic media least disposed to adornment or mediation, roughest, live, and the harshest arena of judgement – is finally the one I most respect, most care for, and most fear.

Anthony Minghella, in the introduction to his Plays: One. Methuen, 1992.

Arrival (Villeneuve, 2016)

This post contains spoilers.

Communication is at once one of the great themes of fiction, and the very stuff of most fiction most of the time. Arrival, written by Eric Heisserer, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and based on a short story by Ted Chiang, is a ‘first contact’ film that holds in check spectacular views of alien spacecraft and scenes of high-tech battle, and instead focuses most of its energies on dramatising the attempts of a group, organised and commanded by the US military but led by two professors (one of linguistics, one of physics), to communicate with a pair of newly-arrived extra-terrestrials. It is very much a film about communication, and one that has been warmly received in many reviews. But its view of communication – and especially of how we might overcome our limited human skills in this regard – seems to me to mainly waver between the peculiar, the limited, and the naive.

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