Skip to main content

Philosophizing Faces

Sometimes I have this intense yearning for a time when I had a vision of things. I could feel that I took off from a certain mental stimulus created in empty space without even a gentle prod. The power of cinema and its instant gratification of such serendipities have given great joy and fortitude to bide the pettiness of everyday life.

The news of Bergman and Antonioni passing away had me thinking about the times when I’d watched their movies and the impact they had on me. And I wondered how many other directors wielded such magic? Tarkovsky, Aravindan..? Incidentally they are all dead. They took high risks for unknown returns, hesitantly like Van Gogh did when he approached color in fear and respect, to discover the splendor of creation, one’s own absorption in what he created; the absorption of his being and of his reason.

As directors, Bergman and Antonioni established communication with the audience not with any sleight of hand with preconceived notions of their forte or market (so to speak), but it happened while they were responding to their own inspiring as well as discouraging stimuli.

Antonioni’s treatment of color and space to push the limits and his accent towards the de-peopled empty shot provided us a glimpse into his penchant for abstraction where he obliterates his characters and eclipses their faces. Or his vision of poetic consciousness revealed through the characters who watch themselves in detachment to sustain a free indirect discourse, or the ‘low language’ of the present day world. Even a non-neurotic character like the director in “Beyond the clouds” was created in a similar cast. The free indirect discourse is the essential form of literature, which Antonioni had successfully achieved through his constructs of cinematographic images.

In Blow Up, Antonioni toyed with viewers and scholars of semiotic studies as he constructed a heavily interpretational and subjective value of reality and how camera is essentially a sensory tool which in the end makes Thomas, the camera wielder and our interpreter of perceived reality to disappear and ends up in the closer still of the corpse. Art of Illusion, as any magician would call it.

Bergman’s obsessive framing of faces is well known. He spoke of Close-Up and human face thus: “Our work begins with human face...The possibility of drawing near to the human face is the primary originality and the distinctive quality of the cinema.”

The visages linger in the ambit of camera to a point where they lose their individual sense of being and begin to resemble the other – resemble by default or by the absence of perceived qualities. Such acts of dissolution and disappearance invariably remind us of Bergman. The incessant train of human faces in Silence, Persona, Autumn Sonata, Cries and Whispers and many other films pass us and vanish into the void where the photogram burns with fear as its only effect. The facial close-up is about both the face and its effacement. Bergman has pushed the nihilism of the face the furthest, which is its relationship in fear to the void or the absence, the fear of the face confronted with its nothingness ala Beckett.

Antonioni and Bergman were the original thinkers who processed and exhibited their thoughts through the medium of cinema. They had more than their fair share of hurdles, baiters and failures – personal and professional. Yet their works had unprecedented impact on philosophical thought and made us aware of the power of cinema. Perhaps what we yearn ever more and in nostalgia would be for a time which allowed such genius to be among us - the living dead.


Note: I have used Gilles Deleuze's Cinema 1 - the movement images freely to drive home my pointless point. Since this is "just" a blog and me being lazy, I have not annotated the text - with all due respect to Deleuze.
*

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Padmarajan: A Loss in January

[Malayalam Movie director and writer 1945 - 1991]

Padmarajan died in a cold January, untimely. He was in a hotel at calicut, in the middle of a celebration of his latest film Njaan Gandharvan (I, the celestial enchanter), in 1991. It was as if audience of the show was subjected to a dismayed silence, and the show was stalled. I for one who had just begun waking upto adolescence and the charm of his creative genius, felt the void, instantly.

Padmarajan started his career as a writer. Unfortunately I have not read any of his books. I know him from his films. If the literary quality of his films is anything to go by, they must be a world to discover. In fact like most of the films, his first film was based on his own novel Peruvazhiyambalam (The grand roadway Inn, 1979). The movie tore down the mythical fence between popular and art house movies. He pioneered the middle of the road solution for commercially succesfull good films and began a short lived golden period of malayalam films alo…

Kunhunni maash

Kunhunni maash was an archetypal teacher of children and adults who have an open and earnest mind of a child to learn. No one has distilled knowledge and enlightenment to the degree of simplicity that he so effortlessly achieved. It spread like sunshine for decades over many generations of young kids who not only soared in their imagination about the open sky he unleashed, but learned the secrets of goodness and being kind and appreciative of mother earth.

For the twenty years I who read his(Kuttettan) editorial notes and advice to budding writers in the Children's Section (Baala-Pankthi) of Mathrubhumi magazine and having met him under a tree along with other students at school, felt the irrevocable loss of his long shadow. It's not just the charm of old world that is lost; I believe it is more than that. I doubt if we can ever find such fine folks anymore who can clear the gloom and guide your spirit to all that is worthy of life and living.

He was a short man. His poems were …

Ophelia - death by water

One of the most tragic and haunting images from Shakespeare plays that you ever read would be that of Ophelia lying drowned in the still water. She lay in the glassy stream weighed down by the viscous gravity of her tunic, unable to wade through the whirlpool of worldly woes. An image that is so earthy, erotic, deathly and saintly gleaned effortlessly from Gertrude’s soliloquy (from Act 4 Scene 7):

There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them: There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide; And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up: Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes; As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a crea…