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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.


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