VARIETY CINEMA MILITANS LECTURENetherlands Film Festival, Utrecht, September 2003CINEMA IS DEAD, LONG LIVE CINEMA?By Peter GreenawayIntroductionCinema died on the 31st September 1983 when the zapper, or the remote control, was introducedinto the living-rooms of the world.Cinema is a passive medium. It might well have fulfilled many of the expectations of an audience ofour fathers and forefathers prepared to sit back, watch illusions and suspend disbelief, but Ibelieve, we can no longer claim this to be sufficient. New technologies have prepared andempowered the human imagination in new ways. There is, as we all well know, brand newaudiences out there who make up not just a television generation, but a post-television generationwhere the characteristics of the lap-top are persuasive and generate new demands and create newbench-mark standards. The ideas of excessive choice, personal investigation, personalcommunication and huge interactivity have come a long way since September 1983, and the act ofcinema has had to exist alongside and be a partner to, a whole new world of multiple-mediaactivities, which have all intrinsically metamorphosed cinema itself. Inter-activity and multi-mediamay well be words that are too familiar anymore to be truly attended to, but they are certainly themajor contemporary cultural stimulants. How will cinema cope with them, because it surely must.If the cinema intends to survive, I believe, it has to make a pact and a relationship with concepts ofinter-activity, and it has to see itself as only part of a multi-media cultural adventure.Once upon a time, cinema - after avoiding the issue, refusing to encompass it, pretending that thepatient was not sick and the object not broken, so why try to cure one, and mend the other? - facedand tackled and adapted itself to a new technology of sound. The long existing, world-dominantentertainment-technology of the so-called Silent Cinema changed almost overnight, and in essenceit died. And it is virtually entirely buried. Who now watches Silent Cinema? Buster Keaton andCharlie Chaplin on television, and a small minority of film enthusiasts.Whether we are going to like it or not, the same may well soon happen to so-called Sound-cinema.This is a Militans Cinema lecture. I can afford to be militant. I have been given some license to beprovocative, disrespectful, irritated and angry. And militant. The terms of this platform expect it ofme. And I have been given this license for a second time. Last time I tried to make a littleentertainment. With pictures and projected alphabets. And a few thorns. This time I want to makea heavier polemic. With thorns. Because my complaint is that now, after 108 years of activity, wehave a cinema that is dull, familiar, predictable, hopelessly weighed down by old conventions andoutworn verities, an archaic and heavily restricted system of distribution, and an out-of-date andcumbersome technology.We need to re-invent cinema.
Every medium needs to constantly re-invent itself. We need now not to put new wine in old bottles,and certainly not to put old wine in new bottles, we need to put new wine into new bottles. You areallowed to recognise the wine which is human ingenuity and imagination, and you are permitted torecognise the bottles which is cinema, though I am convinced we shall be needing to change thatname.Current state of the cinema’s demiseFirst, a brief run through of some of the current factors we all know about cinema’s demise.Cinema in cinemas is undoubtedly not the popular art it used to be. In the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, it issaid that European families saw two films at the cinema every week. We can easily agree that youwould be hard pressed to find a European family that would see cinema now in cinemas twice ayear.Statistics from the heart of the major Western film industry in Hollywood state that 75 per cent ofpeople see their cinema on television, 20 per cent buy their cinema as video or DVDS, and only 5per cent view their cinema in places called cinemas.In this country, I am told, the average Dutch citizen watches only two feature films in a cinemaevery three years.The head of Kodak has stated that his company will not be manufacturing celluloid in 10 year’stime.The poverty of official cinema distribution means that I cannot, and you cannot, see any film ofyour choice in any cinema of your choosing this afternoon, or even next week, and probably notnext month, and possibly never. It is easier for me to see a minor painting by Caravaggio in a smallUmbrian town than it is for me to see Kubrik’s 2001 in any cinema that would represent that filmin the way it was manufactured to be presented.Four thousand feature-potential films have been made in the USA every year for the last four years.350 get some cinema distribution, 50 hit sensible distribution figures in 80 US cities, lasting forabout - on average - 10 days in a cinema - that is one reasonably distributed film for every week ofthe year. Twenty feature-films a year hit the big-time, 10 hit the very big time and 4 make superbig-time. Four out of 4000. Where do all the undistributed films end up? The usual places are“straight to video” or television, a third of them are dumped, though most film-makers would notbe so blunt as to admit it.European newspapers were noisy in their complaints this year that the Cannes Film Festival was ofpoor quality, and followed it up soon after by saying that the Venice Film Festival was not muchbetter. These two festivals are traditionally supposed to be a litmus paper to the life and health ofthe inventive cinema world. The reaction is no surprise. There is precious little invention in thecinema world, because traditional cut-and-paste, narrative, illusionistic cinema has had its day. Wemust move on. We must re-invent cinema.It is a fact that there are more and more film festivals instituted every year, programming greaterand greater numbers of festival films which are never seen again, films which have no hope of anycinema distribution; there is less and less informed film criticism in our newspapers, fewer andfewer serious programmes about cinema on television, a fall in readership of film magazines, andgreater and greater creation of media courses in the universities of the Western world. Confusingand apparently contradictory statistics? Well not necessarily. It would seem that something verysimilar happened at the decline of opera and classical dance as major cultural forces - althoughhappening over a longer space of time - an excess of attention as the quality and proliferationdeclined, a propping-up of the institutions by the dismayed, that the energy had evaporated, and adeterioration of quality and insight as the means of production apparently seemed easier.Mallarme suggested that all the world is created to be put into a book. He might now say that allthe world is created to be put into a film. Everyone wants to make movies. It is a sign of overkilland a state of exhaustion, resulting in banality and repetition. And we have arrived at amonoculture, single model of cinema all over the world. Hollywood product is made in Sydney,Tokyo, Shanghai, Rotterdam and London, and especially in London.Perhaps we can say that the cut-and-paste, narrative, chronologically-plotted, illustrated-text,illusionistic cinema has played itself out. If you believe it is still alive ... consider that they say, a
slow-moving, herbivorous and not very bright dinosaur, shot in the head on a Monday, is braindead for a week, and can manage to wag its tail until the Friday, before the last breath leaves itsbody. Friday will soon be upon us.However, however, however, all of which is no great cause for alarm or despondency, tears,sadness or nostalgia, but probably for jubilation, because it is a situation fitting to a recognisablepattern, and the exhaustion invariably coincides with rejuvenation. We should rejoice that thedinosaur is soon to be a fossil. We await those small creatures in the forest floor who will soon takeover the world.We have every right to be optimistic about the future as long as we are prepared to acknowledge“cinema is dead, long live cinema”. We can believe in the phoenix.A medium is governed and shaped and perceived by the characteristics of its technology. Theaesthetic-technology of cinema has lasted 108 years - but if cinema essentially expired on theapocryphal 31st September 1983 - then, from 1895 to 1983, is 88 years, the length of threegenerations. It would seem that the life of many aesthetic-technologies might fit into anexaggerated three generation life-span, covering the activities of invention, consolidation and thena throwing away in anticipation of a new cycle. The prime time of fresco-painting technology in theRenaissance, spans Giotto, the inventor of the primary technologies, through Michelangelo, theconsolidator, to the restless Carracci Brothers who experimented with oil-based techniques inassociation with the wet plaster, and essentially corrupted its primacy to make way for a significantchange. The basic fresco characteristics existed before this cycle, and persisted after it, but themajor significant work in the medium is created within this span of time. Similar arguments can beput forward for the subsequent painting technologies of egg tempera painters on wood panels - vanEyck to Durer, and the first and second waves of post-baroque canvas painters - Bernini,Velasquez, El Greco, and then the painters of artificial light - Caravaggio and de la Tour, David,Goya and Delacroix. Cinema has responded to the theory very well. If you are a European,Eisenstein invents the language, Fellini consolidates the language and Godard throws it away. Ifyou are American, then the cycle might read Giffiths, Orson Wells and Cassavetes.In all cases, the medium might continue wagging its tail, but in homage to, or in admiration of, atradition, or to further mine fields already strongly prospected, or simply to enjoy the well-oiledmachineries of production structures and studio facilities, there will be revisionist film-makers, asin the 1973 to 1986 period, Coppola, Kubrik, Scorsese working the Fellini-Welles vein, and WoodyAllen, the Cohen Brothers and Wenders working the Godard vein, and then the post-revisionists ofthe late eighties, further trading, pastiching and homaging the tropes like Tarantino, Stone andScott.Running parallel to the last throws of the old medium, the technology changes - out of a desire forchange itself, or because the bending of the medium creates various breaking-points, or out of awish to repudiate the past, or because the stretching of the previous technology generates hugeimprovements along the avenues of cheapness, swiftness, greater accessibility and greater ease ofhandling, and sometimes even because of the introduction of a brand new base-energy source,which in the case of the moving picture industry, as in music, has been first magnetic tape, andthen, as in so many other fields, the full explosion of the digital revolution.If this theory of the three generations of invention, consolidation and rejection will not suit yourperception of the progress of 108 years of cinema, cinema as an entire medium has always beenslow and sluggish and resistant to vigourous change. Even a well-respected cinema director likeScorsese, basically makes the same films, structurally and narratively, as Griffiths, the founder ofnarrative in cinema. There are better emulsions, smarter equipment and superior publicity, but thesame structures with beginnings, middles and ends, moving from a position of negative behaviourto positive behaviour on a largely Christian morality programme, have not changed; revengeordained and completed, wrongs righted, retribution obtained, success rewarded, innocentsexonerated, finishing with happy closures - these are structures that are repeated overand over and over again - and they are structures that have previously been invented, employedand elaborated by the 19th century literary giants, Dickens, Balzac, Zola, Tolstoy. When we arebrought to realise that most cinema is illustrated text - we then have a further demoralisation, todiscover that of all these texts illustrated by cinema, few, if any, have advanced to even the early
years of literary excitements of the twentieth century. None, for example appear to haveapproached James Joyce.The distances of language change and development traveled in cinema are slight compared to whathas happened in the other media in the same 1895 to 1995 period. Consider the changes that haveoccurred from 1895 to 1995 in music - Strauss to Stockhausen via Schoenberg, or Debusy to Reichvia John Cage; in literature - from Hardy and Mann to Borges and Perec. And getting closer andcloser to cinema, consider that, in the theatre, Chekov is alive in 1895, and by 1995, we haveexperienced Osborne and Pinter, Brecht and Beckett. And closer still to the ideals of a pictorialcinema, in painting, van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Malevich and Klee are all alive and well andkicking in 1895, and we have now have traveled to Warhole and Keiffer via, Matisse and Duchamp,Picasso, Rothko and Jasper Johns. It is difficult to imagine such changes in characteristics,language, attitude, perspective and immense plurality, in the march of cinema from 1895 to 1995.Is this such an unfair comparison?Consider the huge energies, the vast sums of money, the one-time large public audiences, the hugecrowds of manufacturers and the sheer number of movies made throughout this century of years -with these factors doesn’t it seem we could have expected greater developmental thrust and pulland range of practice?However, it is now too late. The game is over. We have lost our opportunity. We must roll over andstart again. And we can.I believe the last time we saw radical cinema-language change and novel cinematic invention waswith the German cinema in the mid and late seventies - Herzog, Straub, Fassbinder and the earlyWenders. After that, there has been little radical experiment and radical invention. Maybe therecould not have been anymore, because by 1980, television had finally won the battle for the movingimage experience.After 1980 there is little evidence of investigative finances being put into the cinema media. Themoney, and the energy that always follows money, was being placed elsewhere, and the reallyinteresting inventive minds of the moving image went to places where life was more stimulating -video-experiments, web-mastering, multimedia investigations, video-clips, animation - thefeature-film was no longer the vehicle for major synthesis and change, the all-embracingsymphonic form that encapsulated the total vocabulary. We can easily believe that Bill Viola isworth ten Scorseses.However important the factors are of social, political, economic and cultural pressure - theabsolute strength of the medium is in its aesthetic, its relationship of language to content, itsrelevance to now, the ability to stimulate and entrance, provide stimulus to dream, legitimiseimagination, set fire to possibilities, indicate what happens next, encourage wholeheartedparticipation - and I would say - encourage wholehearted participation to the point of the panic ofover-excitement. I believe cinema as we know it now, simply fails to do this. And I believe this, insome good measure, is due to four tyrannies.The four tyranniesIn associated with the cinema celebrations of 1995, with some considerable anxiety and some deepdisenchantment about contemporary cinema, I planned an investigation into film language to seewhat about it was investigative, useful, autonomous and worthy of preservation, and, primarily,unique. What could cinema do, after a century, that no other media could do?I constantly saw cinema as being easily deconstructed back into other media forms where what ithad to say, could be said as easily and probably more forcefully and more efficiently in other ways.We considered ten characteristics that seemed especial to cinema - light, the text, the frame,projection, props, music, scale, time, actors and the camera, and embarked on a series of city-wideexhibitions, under the generic title The Stairs. We succeeded in placing a large exhibition in thestreets and squares, parks and buildings of Geneva focused on the frame - erecting 100 woodenstaircases across the city where a viewer was invited to climb a short flight of stairs to an eye-pieceto examine a framing of the city, a wide-shot or a medium-shot or a close-up. The staircases
emained in the city for 100 days - and the framings were available to all for 24 hours of a day andnight in sunshine and rain, moonlight and fog.The scenarios of this living cinema-film of 100 viewpoints for 100 days were anything that mighthappen. You could watch a man take a dog for a walk. You could, if you were lucky, watch a dogbite a man. If you were exceptionally fortunate, you could watch a man bite a dog - the ordinary,the unusual and the extraordinary.The first place motive was to consider why cinema, along with all the other plastic arts, views theworld within the confines of a rectangle, a parallelogram, within the boundaries of four rightangles?And when we do so indeed, what might that mean? And do we need to continue to do this,and how was the act of framing relevant to the act of film-making itself? And which single frame isthe most relevant and is it possible to get the timing of the framing right? Was the single framenecessary, could we break it, explode it, could we re-invent it? What were the advantages and whatwere the disadvantages? And the most important question - was action, event and activity withinthe single frame separable from the single frame itself?In 1995 we were privileged to place a second exhibition in the series, in the city of Munich, and thesubject was the act of projection. On the cathedral, the town hall, the opera-house, shops andshopping-malls, offices, the police-station, gasometers, churches and theatres, we made screenprojections to simulate the essence of the cinema experience - 100 illuminated screens - pursuing achronology of cinema history from simple black and white 1895 Lumiere projection through tocolour and the experimental ratios of the 1950s and 60s, to the advent of the television ratios - 100cinema screens alive with projected light all the hours of darkness.This time the motive was to demonstrate the central cinema experience, the projection of lightacross a distance onto a framed space to be viewable simultaneously to a mass audience.The exhibition in the series of The Stairs dedicated to props, the significance of the inanimateobject in cinema - can you imagine a gangster movie without a gun, a telephone and a car, aShakespearian feature without a skull, a dagger and a crown, Othello without Desdemona’shandkerchief ........ was eventually turned into an exhibition in Vienna called One Hundred Objectsto Represent the World, and then into an opera of the same name that traveled the world.No single characteristic of cinema is entirely separable from all the others, and I was beginning tosee the characteristics as tyrannies, which were confining, straight-jacketing, even abusing thecinema, tyrannies that were perhaps destroying any further emancipation of the idea of the movingimage in cinema. I finally saw those major tyrannies as the tyrannies of the frame, the text, theactor and the camera.The tyranny of the text.Every film director, with precious few exceptions, has to have a text before he or she can have animage. From Spielberg to Godard, Lynch to Tarantino, Kubrik to Fassbinder. With the cinema thatwe have developed - though of course, it need not have happened that way - it is impossible toapproach a studio or a producer with three paintings, four prints and a sketch-book of drawings,and expect to be rewarded with support to make a movie. The cinema is supposed to be an art andan industry of the image, yet we have a text-based cinema. Every film you have watched you cansee the director following the text, and if you are lucky, making pictures as an after-thought. Nosurprise of course. We are all very sophisticated, even across all the language barriers, at makingand using and receiving texts, written and spoken. Our educational systems are based on forcefullyfeeding the letters of the alphabet to reluctant children, and then to press home a necessity toamassing an understanding of words. As adolescents the reading procedures become moresophisticated, and as adults, continually persuaded practice, hones and refines and focuses ourabilities - a systematic universal act of education in the word. You have a tongue. It will not speakcomprehensively on its own - it needs training. Few, in proportion to the mass attendance at thetextual altar, attend art school, design school, receive architectural training. You have an eye - canit truly see without being trained? Just because you have eyes - does that mean you can see? And ifyou can see, can you project and communicate your meaning indeed to those who also have had noextensive training of the eye?
Would you, could you, presume to write a sensible comprehensible letter, leave alone a novel,without undergoing intensive training in text?It could be said that most of us suffer from considerable visual illiteracy, persuaded upon us by atext-obsessive educational insistence. Hence the reliance on the word, not the image. Derridafamously and wittily suggested that “the image always has the last word” - it is of course a falsestatement, the word always has the last word, and anyway isn’t a word an image?In England and America, there is great and vigourous support for a writer’s cinema. We do notneed or want or desire a writer’s cinema. We need a cinema-maker’s cinema. The cinema shouldnot be an adjunct to the bookshop, servicing, illustrating literature.The last three dominant significant cinema-events have been The Lord of the Rings, a book - threebooks, Harry Potter, a book, probably eventually, four books, and Spiderman, at least that issupposed to spring from a semi-visual source, a comic - but essentially an illustrated book.In pessimistic moments, I would argue that you have never seen any cinema, all you havewitnessed is 108 years of illustrated text.The tyranny of the frame.We view all the plastic arts through a rigid frame. Since painting separated itself from architectureat the end of the Mediaeval period, it regulated its parameters, with very little exception, to fit fourright-angles. And theatre, with a proscenium arch, copied painting; opera and ballet arranged itsscenarios and choreography to be seen in association with theatre’s proscenium arch stage-space,and cinema copied the theatre, and television copied the cinema, and then there are photographssquared up for painting-picture-frames and to fit the right angles of a book. This wholesale practicehas become so traditional and orthodox, it is not questioned.Retrospectively, it is the view through a window, though we are thinking now from a contemporarywindow point-of-view, since the major horizontal aspect window ratio of a cinema screen could nothave been matched architecturally by a window much before the middle of the nineteenth century.But the analogy is important because traditional cinema insists on creating an illusionistic space togive audiences a window experience - a surveillance through a window frame out into a paralleluniverse connected to that which the audience physically experiences as it sits in the cinema.There is no such thing as a frame in the natural world - it is a man-made, man-created device, adiagrammatically sharpened and regulated reaction to his own irregular horizontal view of theworld bordered by the brow and the cheek-bones when the face is held rigid and the eyes keptsteady. It is an ironic curiosity that the Japanese have tried to reverse the game - by forcing mandevisedframes into landscape design - using the sea horizon as the absolute horizontal, andplanting tall straight-trunked trees to make the vertical frame-lines - ironic and curious, sinceOriental picture-making has steadfastly, until it came in contact with western practices of seeing,eschewed the frame, not finding it at all necessary to use a frame to contain and shape the world.And the frame in the cinema has ever restrictingly tightened. There used to be several aspect ratiosopen to a cinematographer, especially in the years of pre-standardisation, and again when cinematried to fight the effects of television with a rash of experimental ratios in the 60s and 70s, but nowwe have been steadily reduced to that most convenient of aspect ratio frames, the television frameof the ratio 1 to 1.33. And all professional film-practitioners know the contortions and humiliationsthat cinema has had to experience to get its non-television ratio demands onto the television screenwith letter-boxing, cropping, reducing, panning and scanning. Such has been this so dominantindustrial practice that few television viewers are even remotely aware that they are not watchingthe real thing, but some particular television-convenienced version.If the frame is a man-made device, then just as it has been created, so it can be un-created. Theparallelogram can go.
The tyranny of the actor.To acknowledge and overcome the third tyranny, the tyranny of the actor, is perhaps not going tobe so popular. It could be said that we delight in being tyrannised by actors. And I am going to havesome difficulty in following through the premise that the cinema is not, and should not be aplayground for Sharon Stone or a Sylvester Stallone or even a Nicole Kidman or a Robert de Nero,though in 108 years we have allowed and permitted it to be so. So many films are set up to create aspace for an actor to perform, that it would seem sometimes that the cinema is a vehicle for theirappearance alone.There are many genres of painting in which the actor is absent, or reduced to the concept of afigure in a landscape. I am not advocating a cinema where there are no actors, where the humanfigure is not by inference the centre of our interest, but I will argue that the actor has to seriouslyshare the cinematic space with other evidences of the world, has to be, in essence a figure in alandscape which is likely to give attention to space, ideas, inanimacy, architecture, light and colourand texture itself.The legitimate supremacy of the actor in the viewing space is a characteristic of theatre, where thedemands on his dominant visibility are essential to give credence to the suspension of disbelief in apatently symbolic world, but like it or not, the cinema should not be a species of recorded theatre,and the actor has to relinquish any supremacy he rightly might believe is his for the taking in thetheatre.It is of course not so familiar a condition to the actor who is led to believe by his profession that thecamera should persistently centre his contribution, especially since we have created off-screenssystems to excessively promote the actor and surround him with agents and managers, asympathetic production system and a Press and publicity organisation who appear to need hispublic relations power. I have had actors complain that they are too much subject to the insistenceof the frame, that their movements are too bounded by the demands of the composition, that theyhave to arrange their contribution to be subservient to a tree, a still-life, a lighting space, shadows,darkness, various devices of invisibility, that I am more interested in their legs, feet, body, theirgiven physical anatomy, the way they wear and shape their clothes, the physical space they occupy,the gestures they make, the pose they take, their weight on the floor, their relationship to a wall ora ceiling, rather than their face or their interpretation of a psychological role, or their skill atinterpreting a narrative imperative. It is true I take many of my cues and precedences frompainting where there are other considerations than human performance, but I believe the actorshould take his contribution in association with a sense of ensemble with the world and certainlyensemble with the cinematic language. We have developed a cinema where the identification of anactor’s emotional and psychological performance is considered to be the key to an audience’sresponse. This is limiting, reductive and undersells the visual potential of cinematic language.The tyranny of the camera.If the tyranny of the actor is difficult to accept, then the fourth and last tyranny is perhaps evenmore of a blasphemy - for it is the tyranny of the camera. We have to get rid of the camera.The camera is a recording device. It gives us an image of the world that is mimetic, it reproduceswhat we put in front of it. The camera is not a painter. It has entered the cinema equation too highup the Richter Scale - say at Richter Six, where it would have been better to have entered at RichterZero - which of course is contradictory because there would have been nothing there - which ofcourse is what my proposition is all about.Two quotations. One from Picasso: “I do not paint what I see, but what I think”. The second fromEisenstein, certainly the greatest maker of cinema, a figure you can compare with Beethoven orMichelangelo, and not be embarrassed by the comparison, and there are few cinema-makers youcan elevate to such heights. On his way to Mexico, Eisenstein travelling through California, metWalt Disney, and suggested that Walt Disney was the only film-makers because he started atground zero, a blank screen.The connection between the two quotations is suggestive. There is a necessity in a curious way tobypass the lazy, mimetic, passive recording eye - human or mechanical - and jump straight to the
ain, the imagination, the seat of creation. And it is suggested that we have now the tools, and wecan easily imagine the tools we shall have tomorrow, to make this happen. We should not want acinema of appropriation, of mimesis, or reproduction of the known world, not even a cinema ofvirtual reality, but a cinema of virtual unreality.The Renaissance contribution to the modern world in visual terms is usually couched in terms offorever and forever successfully reproducing reality. From Giotto to Masaccio, from Masaccio toUccello, from Uccello to Raphael, from Raphael to Giorgione - you can choose your own chain ofever-rising realism.It has been an upward success story in getting painted images to look more and more like thenatural world - the gradual controlling of the technologies of chiaroscuro and scale, sculpturalmodelling, linear perspective, aerial perspective, anatomy, in order in the end, to reproduce whatwe already have around us. Is that such a success story? Should not the energies have been spentin more worthwhile, investigative pursuits, to pursue the possibilities of the inventive humanimagination, probably the most complex and self-regarding phenomenon in the universe?The real world is always going to be more real, more exciting, more terrifying, more dangerous,more appealing than the world that can be reproduced by the camera.Should therefore cinema eschew ambitions of illusionistic recreation of the known world - itsmajor pursuit - and attempt to manufacture the imaginative world alone?My militant response then to the current circumstances of a dying aesthetic-technology calledcinema, jolted into the necessity of accepting the novelties of inter-activity and the revitalisedpossibilities of multi-media, is to shake out these tyrannies of the frame, text, the actor and thecamera, and try to place product in the firing line of these polemics.Cinematic bench-marksIt is an arrogant assumption to think we can make cultural bench-marks, significant artefacts withwhich to measure the state of a total practice. Bench-marks, I suspect, are made only after theevent. Did Dante know that he was making profound significance with The Divine Comedy - awork that self-confessedly suggests an attempt to unite the angels in their heavens with the stoneson the road? Did the van Eyck brothers in Ghent with their triptych of the Adoration of the Lamb,or Michelangelo, with his view of known beliefs on the Sistine ceiling, know that they were bothmanufacturing works that would attempt to put everything in one place, ordered, systematic andcomprehensible? Would Shakespeare and Cervantes have known that their cultural contributionswould occupy the same sort of significance. And did Joyce in writing Ulysses, the most influentialbut least read of the 20th century’s novels, know that, by gathering together every known trope ofnarrative and story-telling and exposition of experience in words, and thereby having to invent anew sort of word exposition to realise it - did he have consciousness of the bench-mark he wasmaking?It maybe that the first total cinema masterpiece bench-mark was Eisenstein’s Strike - made in1924. From the start of cinema on the 20th December 1895 to Eisenstein’s Strike in 1924 is verynearly 28 years - the length of a generation. If the new post-cinema-cinema began on 31stSeptember 1983 - until now - that is 20 years somewhere between next Tuesday and nextWednesday - we have 8 years to go to make the first masterpiece bench-mark of the new visualtechnologies.The Tulse Luper Suitcases project hopes to address and answer and find, in a deeply investigativeway, some answers to some of these concerns and anxieties. It certainly revolves around, anddesires to exploit, interactivity and multi-media. The project is manufactured for exploitation inthe cinema, on television, on one or more websites, as a serious collection of DVDs and inassociation with a library of books, with links to the making of theatre and opera, exhibitions andinstallations in museums and galleries.
To date, after 13 months of manufacture, there are three hours of highly wrought cinema materialshot, edited, and hopefully to be projected on HD television, though as you will see tonight, twohours exist - because the industry is slow to take advantage of the revolution around us - on 35mmfilm. There are two published books, a play performed in German at the Frankfort NationalTheatre, and soon to be rehearsed and performed in 12 cities in Holland, and two exhibitions, onein Milan and one currently in Ghent. In the next thirteen months, there will be three newexhibitions - in England, Leipzig and Berlin, two theatre productions in Lille and Bremen, andthree more hours of HD material, bringing us up to seven episodes in the 16-episode Tulse Lupersaga.The ambition is to make an integrated product viable and comprehensible in different forms forthe first decade of the 21st century, that centres, as its cement and superstructure, around the lifeand times of its central character Tulse Luper, whose activities are multifarious, though perhapslike us all, he is a professional prisoner. Matching the atomic number of uranium, his life-historycovers 92 years. He is 92 tomorrow, the 29th September.The whole project is an attempt to make a gathering together of today’s languages, to place themalongside one another and get them to converse, and as far as cinematic language is concerned, tofind ways out of the above stated tyrannies.Considering the tyranny of the textIn the first place, though it still begs my anxious questioning of the creation of a visual mediumthrough text, the substance of The Tulse Luper Suitcases was written out indeed in words, albeitwith a text of some complexity that makes it looks more perhaps like a vertical and horizontalmusical score than a conventional film-script.It is not an adaptation of a book, or a play, or any phenomenon that saw light first as literature ofany description. On the argument of “If it itches, scratch it” - the text therefore is much in evidence.I give you frequent doses of the text on screen.There is a very necessary content reason for this, since it soon becomes evident that the film ishappening, so to speak, as it is written, and is, in essence, the deliberate product of a writer, thoughquite how that shapes up, I do not want to reveal just yet, for that would give away the wholecontaining conceit of the thing.Text usually shapes the cinema narrative and certainly provides the cinema dialogue. Conventionalcinema seeks to conceal that written textual origin. In the Tulse Luper Suitcases there is no hidingof these origins, and the film is so full of narratives that narrative is often negated by excess, andcertainly narrative is constantly interrupted and fragmented by side-bars and listings and subnarratives,as to make conventional narrative continuity problematic.Since it would seem text and image are a pair, often of unequal status, and there is much evidenceto suggest they have co-existed in painting for much of its history - do not try to break up theunequal, uneasy marriage but seek to exploit it. Acknowledge that most of the images seen incinema began as textual descriptions, deliberately use text as image, employ calligraphy andtypography to define text as that very thing. Contemporary advertising has made of thecombination of text and image, an art of its own, and cinema might do well to imitate and developits exploits.Considering the tyranny of the frameAbel Gance with his film Napoleon in 1927 developed a three-screen projection, and intimatedpossible ways to use it. Wide shot, medium shot, close-up; back, front and side; landscape, portrait,still-life. To synchronise three 35mm projections in 1927 was not so easy and the technologicalexperiment essentially stopped with Gance.There was a wait of some forty years before the technology and thus the possibilities of thelanguage could be resurrected. There was a spate of films in the 1980s where it became notuncommon, more than once associated with movies featuring Steve MacQueen, but noticeably the
device was a decoration to the narrative not substantial to it, and rarely added more than retinalexcitement. Special feature events like the Tokyo Olympic Games with large sums of money toexhibitionistically flaunt, engendered essentially non-narrative multi-screen experiments, byoffering only more sheer retinal stimulus and pattern-making, and such language is now the stablediet in pop concerts and video-walls, though rarely structured in other than illustrative anddecorative ways.The conventional cinema still cannot perform multi-screen projection, and until such time it canand will, the single screen can suffice to be spliced, split and fragmented. Multiple screens imply asense of choice. It is not easy to look at all screens with equal attention simultaneously, choice formajor attention has to made, though those choices can be conducted and orchestrated by thedirector. New digital technology minimises Gance’s difficulties, though as suggested with a singlescreen agenda.The Tulse Luper Suitcases endeavours to utilise and develop a multi-screen language in the variousways Abel Gance anticipated and certainly to take it beyond. Superb steadiness, immaculateframed edges are digitally edited on High Definition tape at increasing near real-time editingspeeds. Before, during, after; past present future; fast, slow, slowest, repetitions, reprises, acrossscreen devices of innumerable continuities, developing a language that equates more with humanexperience in its interactions between reality, memory and imagination.One of the greatest potential excitements is the ability and freedom now to fashion the frame tosuit the content. Very crudely, a snake traveling across the grass suggests a long horizontal frame, agiraffe, a tall vertical one. And morphing such a snake into such a giraffe can be accomplished withhands-on ease. The frame can be cut and cropped with various layers of density, overlap andmetamorphosis.Pre-Renaissance painting, having no imperatives to depict the real, played with subjective scale,and with condensed and simultaneous time, both considerations being relevant to the dictates oftheological ideals.Christ, at the Last Supper, being the most important figure at the table, was depicted physicallylarger than his disciples. Adam and Eve were tempted, ate the apple, plucked the fig leaves andwere expelled from the Garden of Eden all in the same interconnected single space. These areexpressionistic devices long explored by painting, and to a certain extent by flourishing comic-bookarts, and certainly with renewed interest in the last 150 years after the long years spent pursuingthe chimera of reproducing the apparent reality of the eye, real time and true scale.The digital revolution technologies can re-explore these issues to make - to use a convenienceconcept-word - an animated cubism. Making for a God-like ubiquity, you can see both sides of thewall, insides and outsides, downstairs and upstairs, macrocosm and microcosm, all at the sametime. The historical key markers to a philosophy of the moving image can be profitably revisitedand revitalised - Muybridge sequential photography, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, andMarey’s multiple-image fencers, dancers and athletes can resume significance.The frame has come alive.It is no longer a passive jail of four right angles.Considering the tyranny of the actor.The tyranny or conventional dominant contribution of the actor has been considered for some timein the feature films I have made over then past twelve years within bounds of what could bedescribed as a cinema of passionate detachment. It can be characterised by being sparing of closeups,a desire not to cut the body unless absolutely necessary, and to be aware of the human figureas a strong compositional element within a self-conscious frame, any gestures or actions that arenot sympathetic to the visual composition within a frame, will probably be rejected or simply notseen, or if considered a valuable contribution, re-shot, or reformatted to give them visualcompositional significance. The camera views I normally employ would rarely be personorientated. For example I would never use an over-shoulder shot in a two-way conversation andviewpoints are constructed from the ideal position of the camera not the eye-line or viewpoint ofthe character.
In the Tulse Luper Suitcases, the use of the actor has been taken further in such directions, which Ibelieve, and certainly many of the actors believe, gives greater scope to their contribution, whilststill holding them firmly within a space that denies orthodox actor dominance.One of the major metaphors of the project is the saying that there is no such thing as history, thereare only historians, that history, in effect, is a highly subjective business recorded with vestedinterests. Napoleon could have behaved like this, or like this, or like this. That this conversationcould have been delivered like this or this or this. That this interpretation of the event could havebeen melodramatic or sentimental, melancholic or yet again pathetic. Consequently we have triedto give a cinema audience alternatives, certainly in keeping with the interactivity choices laid downin our ambitions, but also to demonstrate that there isno singular verity. We have often given these interpretations simultaneously or overlaid them withone another in a cubist-like phenomenon, editing and layering techniques which could probablyonly be achieved with the help of the new technologies.Conventional cinema editing in true cut-and-paste chronology style, gives you one event at a timesequentially. The cinema has never been good, unlike the theatre for example, at simultaneity. Thenarratives as a consequence often behave like musical scores, deliberately full of repeats andreprises, variations on a theme, returns to explore thematic areas further and in greater detail,often using different actors to play the same role, to interpret the same material. So much is this acharacteristic that, within the dramas themselves, the actors are often viewed as actors, thoughstaying inside the film and not outside of it. We see their auditions. We often show different takesof the same action, a characteristic of cinema rarely seen by viewers but extremely commonplace toactors themselves and certainly to all those involved in the making of a film. So although theconventional virtuosity of the actor on screen is denied or at least abrogated to eradicate thetyranny of his contribution, a respect and an acknowledgement for the actor’s essential presence iscertainly championed, even extravagantly championed.Considering the tyranny of the cameraThe spectrum of visual possibilities in the manufacture of the moving image is large, andtraditionally the feature film only uses a small sectionof that spectrum, sufficient to realise an illusionist drama. Mixed visual genres in the cinema arenot common. I suppose the combination of live action and the cartoon, noticeably celebrated in afilm like Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an example, though it was an experiment not overenthusiasticallycopied, and it was a drama that after all pursued illusionistconceptions, another window-on the world construction, and any Tex Avery self-consciousanarchies, any breaking of the frame techniques, stayed within those conventions.The days of strict adherence to the Platonic verities, observing singular time, singular place,singular treatment and singular subject, are long gone, and eclecticism is legitimate andhonourable. It would be difficult to see how it could be otherwise in an information age withencouraged encyclopaedic thinking.The supermarket of visual and dramatic possibilities is huge. I believe cinema should seize theopportunity to shop vigourously in the supermarket.Watching virtually any four minutes of CNN News demonstrates what television has been doing fora long time, using a whole range of communication languages simultaneously. The introduction ofmore and yet more multiple pictures, lines of moving text, titles, sub-titles, inter-titles, animateddiagrams, animated maps, insert talking heads, split screen conversations, has not noticeablycreated apoplexy in viewers, and though curiously I suspect consciously unaware of the gesture, itis becoming common now for the screen itself to be self referenced with fixed company logos -which really do demonstrate to the viewer that he is watching a screen, and not merely what isconveyed through it.We have developed habits of visual selection. Largely we take what we want. We can ignoreEnglish-language moving text of stock-market reports in Tokyo, whilst we focus our attention towatch animated diagrams of hurricanes in Florida, though peripherally we are aware thatcommunications of the world are coming at us fast and furiously. Whilst feature films, Hollywood-
style and art-house style, have been pursing the straight and narrow, television has been revellingin communication skills for a long time. Godard suggested that “We look up at cinema, but down attelevision”, a pointed reference at anatomical reality, but also at snobbish sloth. It is curious thatcinema so long regarded as a vulgar medium by the traditional arts has adopted its own snobbismsin the face of competition.It is a commonplace now that post-production is extremely sophisticated and permeates practicallyeverything we see on screens - not just the ubiquitous dinosaur that is so believable, children areconvinced they exist somewhere outside Jurassic Park and demand to see them at the zoo, butclandestinely, polishing up politicians, sexing-up entertainers,erasing mistakes, changing colours, brightening gloomy days, and of course the opposite, addingblood and smoke, transposing grief and pain from one location to another to suit public relationsand political expediency. Many years ago, although admiring the technique, we were shocked at theway unwanted politicians disappeared from official Soviet Politburo photographs, such technicalmanipulations now are commonplace. The ethics are decidedly problematical. But the language -almost what we could call an anti-camera language, is extraordinary.My fascination and inclination, being interested in process and wishing to demonstrate thatprocess, as well as to give you end-results, solutions and closures, is to use it. If I am making aproject whose central metaphor is “there is no such thing as history, there are only historians”, Ineed to use it. And indeed every possibility of communication by visual image is used. Dramaelaborated, Chekovian, kitchen-sink, vaudeville, pantomime, cinema-verite, surveillance, operatic,melodrama, soap-opera, stripped down to a black box, worked up to a David Lean exuberance,pastiche amateur theatricals, talking heads, stand-up comic. And such uses of the actor’s trade areinterspliced and elaborated with animated maps and diagrams, cartoon simplicities and cartooncomplexities, static and animated texts, multiple typographies and multiple calligraphies. This isan anti-Dogme film. It exuberates and celebrates new cinema language.Finale.Cinema died on the 31st September 1983 when the zapper or the remote control was introducedinto the living-rooms of the world. Cinema as our fathers and forefathers knew it was a passiveelitist medium, made expensively for the patronised many by the condescending few, with adistribution system that has made its own product virtually unviewable. Now we can break themonopolies, really start with an art of the moving image with viewer participation that can trulyempower the imagination, diversify interminably, cater for all, and not patronise audiences. Whatwas cinema? Rows and rows of people sitting still (and who in any other human occupation sitsstill for 120 minutes?), all looking in one direction (the world is all around you - not just in front ofus), in the dark (man is not a nocturnal animal). With a cinema with characteristics like this,perhaps the sooner dead, the better.Let us rid cinema of the four tyrannies of text, the frame, actors and the camera. But what are wetalking about anyway? You haven't seen any cinema yet, all we have seen is 108 years of illustratedtext, and, if you have been lucky, perhaps a little recorded theatre.Now a cinema of what you think and not what you lazily see is truly possible. Let us seize thatnettle and begin the art of the moving image all over again. Every medium needs constant reinvention.Let us now re-invent that cinema. We can. We now have the most amazing new tools to do so. Nowwe need the desire and the courage. And this new medium of the moving image will almostcertainly not be experienced in those strange high-street pieces of architecture called cinemas.So-called cinema was invented in 1895. It took 29 years, with Eisenstein's Strike in 1924, to makethe first bench-mark masterpiece of this new aesthetic-technology of film. If a New Moving Imageaesthetic-technology was baptised on 31st September 1983, then we still have a few year's grace toinvent its first bench-mark-masterpiece.Well-aware of the dangers of the discrepancies of what I say matching with what I make, I offer youthe first toe in the water of an ocean of possibilities in the multi-media, interactive project of TheTulse Luper Suitcases - cinema, television, website, DVD, library - as a candidate for that benchmarkposition.