Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reflexive reflectivity? A note.

A few days ago, travelling by coach on the M40 I watched The Wrong Man; laptop balanced on knee, screen tilted upwards, pound-shop headphones struggling to block out the murmurings of the humanity around me. To my surprise, I find this mode of viewing oddly agreeable (which may or may not have something to do with my belief that I am somehow conquering the crushing burden of time by effectively doing two things at once).

In an interview in Film Comment a while ago, Chris Marker spoke about the ‘lightness’ of such viewings:

I've just watched the ballet from An American in Paris on the screen of my iBook, and I very nearly rediscovered the lightness that we felt in London in 1952, when I was there with [Alain] Resnais and [Ghislain] Cloquet during the filming of Statues Also Die, when we started every day by seeing the 10 a.m. show of An American in Paris at a theater in Leicester Square. I thought I'd lost that lightness forever when I saw it on cassette.

Here, Marker is clearly pointing to the much evident superiority of image (and sound) between DVD and tape. But perhaps we could choose to see the somewhat deviant activity of watching a film on an iBook as an equivalent to the pleasingly deviant feeling one gets from going to the cinema in the morning (good luck finding a paying cinema in L. Square or anywhere else that opens before lunchtime nowadays).

But that’s not what I want to talk about. What really struck me watching The Wrong Man was the effect of my laptop screen’s reflection. Throughout watching the film I was constantly aware of my own image being superimposed with that of the action. Now perhaps this is simply ugly narcissism on my own part, but it occurred to me that such a dual image could impact the viewing experience quite a profound manner. I was, in effect, watching a simultaneous map of my own responses: an experience which was both disorientating and oddly apt (especially when watching a film about identity, doublings and facial similarity such as The Wrong Man).  I have attempted to recreate the effect in the far from perfect environment of my Homerton bedroom (apologises to anyone who might be eating).

Whilst a default reaction might be to see such reflections as further evidence of the deficient nature of non-cinema viewing, would it be too perverse to celebrate such an enforced self-reflexivity? It brought to mind the paintings of Francis Bacon, always displayed behind reflective glass so that the observer is forced to be confronted with their own image within the darkness of the canvas. Such a compulsory interactivity is integral to Bacon’s works, and a key reason why reproductions of his paintings lack impact.

Now as Douglas Sirk so neatly stressed in that famous shot of Joan Fontaine in All That Heaven Allows, the reflective fixed screen can be used as a smart metaphor for our submissive entrapment. But what if this engagement becomes more active?

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