Film Noir / Sartre on the Fantastic / Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive

In her book about film noir “Power and paranoia: history, narrative and the American cinema, 1940-1950”, Dana Polan quotes Jean-Paul Sartre on the Fantastic:

“The fantastic is no longer for modern man anything but a way of seeing his own reality reflected back at him.” And Sartre goes on to find the traces of this fantastic precisely in the resistance of everyday human objects to everyday human projects in an ordered world in which “each [tool] represents a piece of worked matter, their ensemble is controlled by a manifest order, and the signification of this order is an end, an end that is myself or, more precisely, the human in me, the consumer in me”.”

“Objects don’t have the mission of serving ends but rather of relentlessly manifesting a fleeting and unsettling finality: thus, this labyrinth of hallways, doors, and stairways that lead nowhere, innumerable signposts that dot routes and signify nothing.”

I like the way this quotation refers to the warped spaces in David Lynch’s movies or Resnais’ “ Last year in Marienbad”.

“As Sartre notes in his analysis of the fantastic, much of the horrific uncanniness of a new fantastic art of everyday life derives from its disturbance of systems of communicated meaning; uncannily anticipating Lacan’s argument. Sartre suggests that horror comes from a letter that reaches its destination, but reaches it wrongly.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Aminidab, ou du fantastique considere comme une langue”, Situations (Paris: Gallimard, 1947)

In “More than night: film noir in its contexts”, James Naremore talks about david Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive”:

“In regard to Lost Highway, Zizek argues that “one should absolutely insist that we are dealing with a real story (of the impotent husband, etc.) that, at some point (that of the slaughter of Renee), shifts into psychotic hallucination in which the hero reconstructs the parameters of the Oedipal triangle that again make him potent. … [We] return to reality, precisely when … the impossibility of the hallucination reasserts itself””

About the witchy hobo living near the dumpster at Winkie’s Diner in “Mulholland Drive”:
” “He’s the one who’s doing it”, a character says at one point, and at the end of the film we see the derelict in possession of the blue metallic cube that provided a hinge between “dream” and “reality”. Whatever his or her symbolic function might be (abject reality? the Lacanian “Real”? the Freudian id or “it”? the dirt and poverty we’re afrais to recognize?), he os she exists both within and beyond the time-space inhabited by Betty and Diane, and he or she might well be dreaming everything.”

“Diane dreams (or in my view the film dreams) that she is Betty, a fantasmatic ego ideal who achieves blissful sexual love with Rita; afterward, Rita takes Betty to the beautifully tawdry, patently artificial Club Silencio, a melancholic netherworld where fantasy begins to break down and where, in McGowan’s words, “we experience the loss of a relationship we have never had”. Unlike the male character in Lost Highway, Diane elaborates her fantasy to the point where Betty attains a moment of fulfillment, but this entirely imaginary experience is followed by a scene of painful mourning, then by the black hole of the unrepresentable, and then by an awakening into desire – a repetitive, excruciating longing for an object always out of reach, which can be ended only in death.”

“like all Lynch’s films, Mulholland Dr. is affectively complex, oscillating between humor noir and pathos, between horror and sweetness, between irony and sincerity. No director aside from Hitchcock has been able to invest subjective travelling shots with such uncanny and suspenseful effects, as when Betty first moves through her apartment at Havenhurst or when she and Rita walk along a decaying courtyard toward Diane Selwyn’s bungalow.”

Place – Tacita Dean & Jeremy Millar

The books surveys different interpretation of the theme “Place” in contemporary art. I found a few relevant critical quotes and artists whose practice is similar to mine.

The Stalker talking about the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film:
“Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here. And we are in no condition to comprehend them. Old traps vanish, new ones take their place; the old safe places become impassable, and the route can either be plain and easy, or impossibly confusing. That’s how the Zone is. It may even seem capricious. But in fact, at any moment it is exactly as we devise it, in our consciousness… everything that happens here depends on us, not on the Zone.

“a romantic notion that the critic John Ruskin called the ‘pathetic fallacy’, the belief that the landscape might be made to mirror the emotional state of the person found within it.”

P38: Baudelaire on the flâneur
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of the birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world – such are a few of the slightest pleasures of the independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

P40: Stan Douglas, Canadian artist made a 6 minute film “Le Détroit” that shows a black woman searching for an unknown object in an abandoned house. The film alludes to the economic problems that turned some parts of Detroit into ghost estates and dilapidated neighbourhoods. “The film is projected onto semi-transparent material, while its negative is projected – with a small time interval – upon the screen’s reverse, thereby emphasising the haunting nature of the narrative.”

P68: Sartre on the Fantastic
“The law of the fantastic condemns it to encounter instruments only. These instruments are not … meant to serve men, but rather to manifest unremittingly an evasive, preposterous finality. This accounts for the labyrinth of corridors, doors and staircases that lead to nothing, the innumerable signs that line the road and that mean nothing. In the “topsy-turvy” world, the means are isolated and posed for their own sake.”

P90: a blue-filter produces the day-for night effect from Hollywood films (‘la nuit américaine’)

P98: Rodney Graham took photographs of Aberdeen, hometown of Kurt Cobain, to show the dereliction of the city, and tacky objects of consumerism.

Aberdeen - rodney graham

P138: Chantal Akerman, Belgian film-maker makes documentary bordering on fiction.

“D’est” (From the East, 1993) shows a journey across Eastern Europe, ordinary people and places are filmed.

“From the other Side” explore a small mexican town just outside the USA border where would-be-migrants wait before tempting the crossing, and the opinions of the inhabitants of Douglas, Arizona (on the other side) about the border policy.

P152: Janet Cardiff makes “audio-walks”: she writes a script inspired by mystery/film noir, then go for a walk in a chosen location where she records the script on tape.

P172: J.G. Ballard
“I noted the features of this silent world: the memory earasing white architecture; the enforced leisure that fossilized the nervous system; … the apparent absence of an[y?] social structure; the timelessness of a world beyond boredom, with no past, no future and a diminishing present. Perhaps this was what a leisure-dominated future would resemble? Nothing could ever happen in this affectless realm, where entropic drift calmed the surfaces of a thousand swimming pools.”