Review of Manifesta Biennal in Palermo for

My first foray in art criticism! Review of Manifesta Biennial in Palermo for A-N from the subjective perspective of an artist working with queer and feminist themes and an underground ethos.

My review has been featured in GLIMP, free international queer art newsletter from the Netherlands, September 2018 edition.

Manifesta 12: Chercher La Femme, Chercher Le Queer

I applied to for a bursary to visit Manifesta 12 partly out of interests for its core themes of migration, and space/place as politically charged, especially as sites of repression, which I explored in my own work (Ghost House, Disciplinary Institutions), and partly out of interest for visiting Palermo itself, where Luchino Visconti, an artist I greatly admire, had made his masterpiece The Leopard.

At the time of applying, I was unaware of the 2014 controversy of Manifesta 10 taking place in St Petersburg with direct funding from Putin’s government, despite several calls from various artists and organisations to either withdraw and boycott or organise with more curatorial and financial independence, in protest of the Russian government’s repression of LGBTQ rights, and human rights in general. As an artist dealing with feminist and queer themes, this new information influenced my perception of the Biennale.

My review will first explain my reservations and criticism towards the Biennale’s general curatorial concept, which I perceived to be heavily biased towards a specific type of artwork rather than presenting balanced, varied approaches to the mandated subjects, then focus on the few artworks that I perceived dared to go beyond the restricted view of the curator and engaged with the subjects in deeper, more thoughtful, critical and independent ways, and therefore stood out for me.

Manifesta 12 is split into three curatorial themes, each investigated both generally and within the context of Palermo, with themes occasionally overlapping. The Garden of Flows explores plant life, gardening and climate change. Out of Control Room examines geopolitical power and migration. The City on Stage, the theme explored most closely in relation to Palermo, focus on the urban life of the city.

Amongst the 3 themes, I was most interested in Out of Control Room as I regularly explore repression of minorities and social control in my own work. As it turned out, it was the theme for which I was most disappointed with the curatorial process. I felt a disproportionate quantity of artworks, most of which especially commissioned for Manifesta, explored the theme purely from the angle of collating and visually presenting big data about various forms of violence taking place in contexts of armed conflict or migration, without ever digging into the controversial questions of ‘Who benefits from the crime?’, ‘Who is pulling the strings?’. In short, too much of the work focused on the factual ‘What’ and ‘When’, but shied away from the ‘Why’, and even to a certain extent from the simpler issues of ‘Who’ and ‘To Whom’.

‘Signal Flow’, a video installation by Laura Poitras, documents the US military presence in Sicily. ‘Liquid Violence’, an installation by Forensic Oceanography looks at the militarized border zone of the Mediterranean, leading to the death of many migrants at sea. Both works are mostly detailed records of strikes or deaths, and their factual circumstances. ‘Unending Lightning’ a video installation by Cristina Lucas documents the history of aerial bombardments and bombings over civilian targets, from the first, in 1911, to the present day. World wars and civil wars, terror campaigns and random bombings are all gathered in a database assembled by several research groups over the last five years, that methodically counts who killed whom, how many civilian casualties there were, when and where. But because the work lists together so many events that happened in widely different geopolitical contexts, motivated by wildly different causes or ideologies, whose only common denominator is the ‘What’ (civilian death by airstrike), if feels even more devoid of critical context and analysis than the previous examples, which at least narrowly focused on one specific, coherent type of event.

While I fully relate with the artists’ drive to expose human rights abuse, when bombarded with such accumulation of data, my mind starts wandering in wild directions, about Western regimes silently supporting dictatorships in the Middle East for decades, the extent of human rights abuse taking place in far away countries that never end up landing on the shores of Fortress Europe, the shadowy links between repressive regimes abroad and authoritarian, regressive groups in Europe, and the refusal of the work to engage back with me about the complex underlying causes of the carnage it catalogues leaves me frustrated.

When looking at most of the work, I kept wondering whether I was looking at designed/animated infographics made for a newspaper, a mainstream news documentary aiming to present a ‘neutral perspective’ (as opposed to artist’s documentaries where the subject is filtered though the artist’s critical and creative perspective), or a video clip for a charitable fundraiser that sticks on purpose to dramatic human stories without digging into the more controversial political or economic underlying causes. All these media have their use, but Manifesta 12 is world class art event, and I would have expected it to tackle its chosen political themes from more controversial and critical angles.

I asked myself what may have been the drive behind this curatorial focus on big-data and fact-gathering. At first, I thought it might have been a deliberate intellectual response to ‘fake news’ and the rejection of facts and experts during the Brexit and Trump campaigns, but these events happened in the second half of 2016, by which time the curating and commissioning process must have been advanced, so this theory most likely does not hold. I then looked into the origins of Manifesta: Manifesta was created in 1994, aiming to ‘enhance artistic and cultural [international] exchanges after the end of Cold War’. Extrapolating and venturing into my own highly subjective perception (please consider this sentence a disclaimer), I felt that the creation of Manifesta in a context of East vs.West conflicting ideologies may shed light on the curatorial angle, except in the context of the migration crisis, the concept has shifted to North vs. South oppositions. While a whole third of the program was devoted to power, repression and migration, the vast majority of the works explored power dynamics from country to country, with affected human beings identified solely by their nationality/geographical origins, and a country’s population was mostly presented as a homogeneous cultural entity. Other forms of repression, gender-based, against minorities in a given country, or between conflicting ideologies and values within a country’s population, the very conflict that drives cultural change, were mostly ignored. Consequently, the works that stood out for me were the ones that offered alternative or counter- narratives.

‘Purple Muslin’, by Erkan Özgen. Photo: Melanie Menard.

Purple Muslin, a documentary video by Erkan Özgen created in collaboration with women refugees in Europe and Turkey who fled the war zones of northern Iraq, records in interviews the women’s experiences of violence, repression, and being forced to leave their country to survive. The video made for harrowing viewing and while it focused on recording testimonies without providing context (ISIS is named as the perpetrator but the video does not dwell on who funds/supports them), the work shed light on uncomfortable questions that none of the other migration-related works addressed: that women bear the brunt of repression and violence, both in repressive regimes and in war zones. And also, since a lot of the women interviewed lived in refugee camps near the Irak border, do we (Europeans) only care about human rights abuse when its victims land on our borders, while washing our hands off repressive regimes far away?

‘Pteridophilia’, by Zheng Bo. Photo: Melanie Menard.

Another human group bearing the brunt of repression and violence, namely LGBTQ+ people, often sent back to unsafe countries when their asylum requests are rejected by European countries, was conspicuous by its absence. The only explicitly queer work in the whole of Manifesta’s program (compare with last year’s Venice Biennale program…) is Pteridophilia, a video by Zheng Bo exploring the ‘eco-queer potential’ of sensually connecting with nature and ‘relying on bodies rather than language to initiate affective relations’. The work is playful and sexy, and appealed to my love of camp and eccentricity. But it felt like a slap in the face that the curators’ token queer work did not address LGBTQ+ repression amongst a program so heavy on power and migration, especially in light of the previous St Petersburg controversy. Like our queer lives do not matter.

Indeed, to find work addressing LGBTQ+ repression, and artist-activists fighting back against the laws of their own countries, one had to dig all the way into the collateral program (of independently curated fringe events): the Visual Arts strand of Sicilia Queer filmfest curated a group show of contemporary artists from Beirut, exposing the situation of LGBT rights in Lebanon, and offering glimpses of the clandestine queer scene of the city, including a lot of compelling photographic work, from the stark documentary to the aesthetic and conceptual. But the show was only on between 30 May and 30 June.

‘Night Soil’, by Melanie Bonajo. Photo: Melanie Menard.

‘Night Soil’, an experimental documentary by Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo, alternating social documentary and experimental hallucinatory visions, explores the disconnection most Western people feel from nature, and the consequent feelings of fragmentation, emptiness and alienation. The artist documents how her subjects, mainly women, because she believes their voices are insufficiently heard even today, tackle the problem by exploring alternative way of life outside the mainstream system, based on a different relationship with nature and a reassessment of ideas surrounding gender. Melanie Bonajo’s long term, intensive collaboration with her subjects, and the artist occasionally stepping into the frame herself, both observer and participant of a community, reminded me of Nan Goldin. ‘Night Soil’ highlights and celebrates the possibility for unknown individuals to affect change, both social and intimate, using their creativity and self-directed willingness to resist enforced norms, to make and be the change they want to see in the world. The work stood out for me as I felt it was the sole representative in the whole of Manifesta’s program of the avant-garde strand of contemporary art that, throughout the 20th and 21st century, defined art not as a remote/detached commentary on life, but as a laboratory for new ways of living, often operating at the intersection of the official art world and underground, alternative communities.

“I’m happy to own my implicit biases (malo mrkva, malo batina)” by Nora Turato. Photo: Manifesta.

Nora Turato’s “I’m happy to own my implicit biases (malo mrkva, malo batina)” is a spoken word performance (and a site specific recorded sound documentation of it when the artist is absent). The monologue is inspired by the Sicilian tradition of the so-called donas de fuera, that is “women from elsewhere”, who at the time of the Spanish Inquisition were treated as outcasts due to their unconventional powers and behaviour, and adapts it to a contemporary context by whispering secret stories, commonplace clichés and popular myths exposing contemporary sexist discourse and cultural normativity. The performance celebrates the concept of “elsewhere” (artist’s own description) or “The Other” (my interpretation) understood as a ‘space of emancipation within a contemporary culture that increasingly promotes the concept of inclusion as a deterrent to diversity and change’. I felt parts of the monologue satirising the worst cliches about the supposedly ‘irrational and hysterical female’, lines such as “I’m ready to cry, or combust or scream” or “I don’t need to make sense”, were especially powerful. The historical reference to the repression of female behaviour by the Inquisition, when read in parallel with Erkan Özgen’s documentary of female victims of ISIS in contemporary Irak, created a chilling historical echo across time and space, a powerful reminder never to forget past abuse and never to take progress and acquired rights for granted. As a piece of side trivia, the installation-performance takes place in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo, a stunning baroque oratory also home to the reproduction of a stolen Caravaggio. Fascinating women stories are collected in a series of related critical writing:

“Videomobile”, by MASBEDO. Photo: Melanie Menard

“Videomobile”, a video multi-channel installation by MASBEDO transforms an old van into a ‘video wagon’ that roams locations loosely associated to the cinema of the past, investigating Sicilian society and the history of Palermo through the angle of power dynamics, the genius loci, and the struggle for ideals. When roaming, the van acts a mobile video recording studio. When stationary (as I saw it), the van displays the collected videos on 3 small screens and 1 larger screen. The work stood out for me as it gave voice to ‘characters who had worked in cinema in an almost anonymous or marginal form, such as make up artists, extras or technicians’ alongside ‘better known figures such as directors, intellectuals, producers or politicians’, but gave each of them an equal voice. One of the clip pays homage to Pasolini’s Comizi d’Amore, where he interviewed women and children on the taboos of sex, love and freedom, and I could feel the influence of this ethos in the way the film-makers presented each of their subjects, whether famous or unknown, as a thinking, reflecting, autonomous individual, and gave them equal opportunity to address deep subjects if they wished. Some testimonies offered fascinating insight: collaborators on Visconti’s film described how his love for pomp and grand design infected their own later creative output. A musicologist explains how Visconti, when he adapted ‘The Leopard’, ‘turned a right-wing book into a left-wing story’, and how this process may have been related to Visconti’s own social ambivalence, coming from an aristocratic background but having leftist ideals. This insight made me reflect on how powerful and thought provoking political art can get (think of Visconti’s The Damned) when the artist does not shy away from exposing their inner contradictions, and playing with formal ambiguity, something I felt was sorely lacking from most of the overt but one-dimensional political work in Manifesta. In another very moving sequence, a photographer Letizia Battaglia speaks to a 10-year old girl Aurora ‘as though to her confidante’ and photographs her ‘as a mirror image of herself’. The artist shares her experience with the young girl in the most honest, profound, unpatronising manner: she talks of her younger self’s desire to take beautiful photographs, only to have it confronted by an uglier reality, of the profound meaning images can take when produced in a spirit of civic sense, quest for beauty and commitment to utopias and ethics. Live on camera, she relays onto the next generation how to think, create and initiate change in the world. In its unpretentious simplicity, I found this film extremely empowering when compared to other works which, while more overtly political, only extorted ordinary citizens to act after the artist had done the thinking for them (The Peng! Collective ‘ Become an Escape Agent’ and ‘Call a Spy’). Both Letizia Battaglia and a lesser known subject worked at the Palermo left-wing and anti-Mafia newspaper L’Ora and one of them (I can’t remember which and quote the film from memory) recalled how the newspaper acted as a local hub for artists and intellectuals of international caliber, including Visconti, the first point of call where they came to inform themselves of the local cultural and intellectual climate when they came to Palermo to work on a project. By paying homage to the ongoing work of local artists and intellectuals who, despite most of them remaining unknown, contribute to the ongoing cultural change and development of their city, long after the art stars have passed and moved on, the work could have provided inspiration for Manifesta to engage with local communities in a less patronising way, by thinking in collaboration with the locals instead of observing their lives but imposing external interpretations on them.

Cognitive film theory

While doing some bibliography research for my UAL Ph.D. application, I found out about cognitive film theory.

Cognitive film theory was born in the late 80’s from a dissatisfaction with dominant film theory that tended to analyse films either from an ideological viewpoint, be it marxist, Althusserian, feminist, Lacanian or such, or as a codified language through the use of semiotics. Cognitive film theory tends to focus on the experience and reaction of the film spectator, on the relationship between film content proper, context in which the viewing experience takes place, and viewer psychology. Scholars of cognitive film theory include David Bordwell, Noel Caroll, Per Persson, Carl Plantiga, Greg M. Smith.

The cognitive approach is interdisciplinary and varied rather than a unified methodology and its scholars draw from from various disciplines including philosophy, empirical psychology, neuroscience. Its founder Caroll focuses on ‘look[ing] for alternative answers to many of the questions addressed by or raised by psychoanalytic film theories … in terms of cognitive and rational processes rather than unconscious or irrational ones’ ( his own words from ‘Engaging the Moving Image’). Greg M. Smith and Per Persson favour a cognitive psychology approach, and their books study the cognitive and emotional responses of the film spectator.

According to an article Caroll believes that film cues the spectator’s emotions primarily through narrative, and studies this process within different genres: horror (‘The Philosophy of Horror’ (1990), but also suspense, humor, melodrama (‘Engaging the Moving Image’).

On the other hand, Greg M. Smith believes that the “primary emotive effect of film is to create mood” moods having longer duration and being elicited more throughout most films, whereas emotions are intense, brief, and intermittent. Smith also argues the emotions depend on moods as “orienting states” that prepare the viewer for specific emotional responses. Smith believes that mood is primarily created by stylistic devices rather than narrative.

I can only write this very simple overview because I haven’t read any of the books yet, but the focus of this theory on the audience’s emotional and intuitive response to film seems related to my moving image practice, and I plan to study it further after the MA. I’m especially interested in Greg M. Smith’s concept of mood as a product of aesthetic choices rather than narrative devices.

Reference books I included in the bibliography for my Ph.D. application were:

Allen, R. (1995) Projecting Illusion: Film Spectatorship and the Impression of Reality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2008) Film art. London: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Persson, P. (2003) Understanding cinema: a psychological theory of moving imagery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Plantinga, C. & Smith, G. (1999) Passionate views: film, cognition, and emotion. London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Smith, G. (2003) Film structure and the emotion system. New York: Cambridge University Press.

‘Flâneur’ vs. ‘Dérive’

The ‘Flâneur’ (approximatively equivalent to ‘roamer’, ‘wanderer’) was invented by Baudelaire and was a key figure in late 19th century and early 20th century decadent literary movement. It is a gentleman who strolls the city in order to experience it, as a detached, gently cynical observer. The flâneur is a passive figure, he observes the dynamics of the city from a disengaged point of view. Baudelaire called the flâneur ‘a botanist of the sidewalk’.

The Surrealists reused the concept, putting a greater emphasis on the role of random chances in the activity of ‘flânerie’. The Surrealist version of the flâneur was to devise experiments involving randomness and chances in order to experience the city without being blinded by mundanity. For example, follow beautiful female strangers across the city, or visit a city while guiding oneself using the map of another city. The ultimate Surrealist goal was to reach a higher level of truth by attaining the point where ‘reality’ and ‘surreality’ converge. By playing with random occurrences while strolling the city, the surrealist flâneur expected to gain a higher awareness of the city, beyong immediate reality. Therefore, the Surrealist flâneur is already a more active explorer than its decadent ancestor.

In ‘Theory of the Derive’, Guy Debord defines the concept of the ‘Dérive’ which he explicitly defines as opposed to ‘different from the classic notions of journey or stroll’. The ‘dérive [literally: “drifting”]’ is ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances’ that ‘involves playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects’. The participants of a Dérive must ‘let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.’ A Dérive implies the ‘domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities’. This phrasing has connotations of the scientific explorer, almost of the military strategist. Indeed, Debord compares the mindset of the Dérive to those of the ‘ecological science’, and the act of ‘Dérive’ is a tool in the Situationists’ revolutionary project.

Debord explicitly takes position against letting chance take a too important role in a Dérive, because ‘the action of chance is naturally conservative and in a new setting tends to reduce everything to habit or to an alternation between a limited number of variants. Progress means breaking through fields where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favourable to our purposes.’

Ghost Towns in the USA: Detroit and New Orleans.

On Triple Canopy website, I found a presentation by Bryan FinokiThe anatomy of ruins: New American landscapes: varieties of blight, idylls of desolation, the lifespan of decay.

It presents the new phenomenon of Ghost Towns, caused by economic recession (Detroit) or natural disasters (New Orleans). The case of New Orleans is also not purely natural because it is the lack of State investment in public infrasctructures that made the city unprotected from known natural threats. Therefore, as argues the author, these images are in all cases a symptom of the failure of Capitalism. He links these Ghost Towns to Naomi Klein’s concept of ‘disaster capitalism’, that is the strategy of private corporations exploiting natural catastrophes and lack of governement infrastructures as opportunities for profit.

The author says that these images of no man’s land have become contemporary icons expressing our ‘infatuation with our own destruction’ and the ‘phantasmagorias of the End Times’.

An article about the destruction of Michigan Central Station, Detroit.

Camera Lucida – Roland Barthes

In his book “Camera Lucida”, Roland Barthes asks himself what gives a photograph impact. Why do some photographs command our attention while other just do not draw us so powerfully, even though we may still recognise an interesting subject and/or technical qualities in them?

Barthes believes that a photograph talks to is viewer using ‘two languages, one expressive, the other critical’ (p20). What he calls ‘expressive’ is what I call ‘intuitive’. He goes on to define to define the specific discourse of the photograph within those two languages.

The ‘studium’ is the appeal of a photograph on a critical level, the way it can grab a viewer’s attention on a cultural level, mediated by moral, cultural and political references.

The ‘punctum’ is something, often a small detail in the photograph, that disturbs the neat interpretative order offered by the ‘studium’, thus creating ambiguity and different levels of reading. A photograph without this ‘punctum’ only has one level of reading, whereas the punctum brings a ‘duality of language’ to a photograph. For the punctum to work, it must not be a too obvious contrast within the photograph, but rather a surreptitious detail. Something elusive enough so that the viewer cannot easily name it or explain it. For Barthes, the impossibility to name something is ‘the best symptom of the feeling of uneasiness.’

I find that Barthes concern with ambiguity and different level of meanings is similar to what interests me in particular artworks.

Relational Aesthetics

This post contains reading notes from “Relational Aesthetics” (“Esthétique relationnelle”) by Nicolas Bourriaud, and discussion of some concepts. Bourriaud focuses on the relationship/communication between the artist and their audience via the artwork. He is particularly interested in a particular type of ‘participatory’ art where the audience is invited to take part in the making of the artwork but his more general ideas are relevant to other types of art as well. I liked this book because it makes central the question of the social function of art and its philosophical implications, something that I feel is too often overlooked in contemporary art.

(Page numbers are from the French edition.)

P12: Three philosophical traditions during the twentieth century: the rationalist modernism (derived from 18th century enlightenment) and the philosophies of liberation through the irrational (Dada, surrealism, situationism) are both opposed to the authoritarian state.

P16: art is a ‘social interstice’ in the marxist sense, that is an activity that, although it takes place within the capitalist system, suggests alternative exchange values.

P18: the concept of ‘relational aesthetics’ comes from a marxist/althusserian philosophy where existence has neither pre-existing meaning nor goal. The only real thing are the links between individuals, that always take place in a specific historical concept, ‘the sum of the social relationships’ as Marx puts it.

P26: Duchamp: “it is the viewer that creates the painting”. The audience creates the meaning of the work.

P44: Marx defines money as a value reference that is used to compare abstract quantities of different items, such as work. Art is an exchange activity that cannot be regulated by money or any other ‘common substance’ because it is the sharing of meaning in its raw state (“le partage du sens à l’état pur”).

P47: Bourriaud thinks modernism had a logic of opposition whereas art today is concerned with coexistence and negociation.

P59: Bourriaud lists artists that do not believe in the producer’s ‘divine authority’ to assign meaning to their work, but instead engage in open-ended, unresolved discussion with their audience. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

P62: Bourriaud says modernity was concerned with liberating the individual against group tendencies, and nowadays individualism is criticized. He thinks that today the emancipation of the individual is no longer the most urgent concern, but instead communication and relationship between humans. I completely disagree with that, I think the emancipation of the individual is the key thing against reactionary thoughts. Post 1970s reactionary thoughts distorted the notion of individualism, taking it away from ‘critically defining one own values for oneself’ (individualism in the philosophical realm) to ‘destroying all social solidarity and pitching individuals against each other in the economical realm’ (individualism in the economical realm). I believe art must support the notion of individualism in the context of defining one’s own values as a valid alternative to reactionary thought which encourages individuals to accept state ideologies blindly while at the same time shedding all sentiment of class solidarity (Thatcher, Sarkozy, Cameron …)

P71: reference to Nietzsche’s concept of art taking over the possibilities offered by new techniques to create ‘life possibilities’ out of them, refusing the authority of technology but instead using technology to create new ways of living, thinking and seeing. I like this idea in the context of digital art. To use digital technologies to create something meaningful (in a active way) rather than simply reflect on the changes technology itself brought to human lives (passive thinking).

P88: Bourriaud thinks that today’s mainstream ideologies do not value work in a non economical context, and do not assign any value to free time. I completely agree with this. Work is not valued as a way of creating meaning but only when it creates immediate profit. Bourriaud also says “to kill democracy, one starts by silencing experimentation, then accusing freedom of being rabid” (“Quand on veut tuer la démocracie, on commence par museler l’expérimentation, et l’on finit par accuser la liberté d’avoir la rage.”)

P91: As a critic, Felix Guattari is concerned with ‘subjectivity’. Maybe look into him further. However, Guattari, like Nietzche, only considers subjectivity and meaning from the point of view of the creator of the artwork.

P103: Mikhail Bakhine defines the concept of “transfert of subjectivation” as the moment where the viewer assigns meaning to the artwork they are looking at.

Duchamp in the 1954 Houston conference about “the creative process”: the viewer is the co-creator of the work. The “Art coefficient” is the “difference between what the artist had planned to achieve and what they actually achieved.”

P107: Marx criticises the classical distinction between “Praxis” (the act of transforming oneself) and “Poiêsis” (the act to produce something and transform matter): he thinks that both actions work together.

Guattari: “the only acceptable finality of human activities is the production of a subjectivity continually enriching its relationship to the world.”

p114: Bourriaud believes that the characteristic of artwork produced within totalitarian regimes is that they do not offer to the viewer the possibility of completing them; they are closed on themselves. He calls this “the criteria of coexistence”: the act of asking oneself, when looking at an artwork: ‘does this work offer me the possibility to exist alongside it? Does it authorise a dialogue?’

Research Paper ‘Director’s Cut’

Click the link and it will send you to a pdf of my research paper Mental space on screen: through the examples of Last year in Marienbad, Stalker and Lost Highway as submitted for the MA.

Research Paper: Mental space on screen (Melanie Menard)


This paper explores how the different elements of a film work together to depict the mental space of the characters, that is, give the impression that the events shown on screen reflect their subjective experience, and the space shown on screen is a projection of their mental state. Through the examples of Alain Resnais’ Last year in Marienbad (1960), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1996), I show how similar techniques recur in films made in completely different cultural contexts, but that have in common to picture the subjective world of the characters. These techniques are: narrating events as the characters think about them, remember them or imagine them rather than how they actually happen; a labyrinthine set design where the inside and the outside contaminate each other; lighting and colours that reflect the mental state of the characters; rhythm that traps the viewer inside the characters’ subjectivity and, finally, sound that creates a mood of its own rather than illustrating or simply enhancing the images, with sparse dialogues becoming an integral part of the sound design.

Keywords: space, subjectivity, cinema, cinematography, sound

A few sections of the research paper were removed to keep word count down. Mostly I rephrased and condensed, which accounts for the somewhat dry style, and the lack of sometimes explicit transitions between ideas. The dry style is fine by me, it’s a research paper not a literary work, but I think more explicit transitions between ideas would have made the paper more reader friendly. However, I had a word count problem and decided to sacrifice a bit of fluidity in order not to cut out relevant ideas. I think the 2 last sections ‘sound’ and ‘rhythm’ are written more fluidly, with more explicit transitions between ideas. That’s because I wrote my paper backward so I was not so worried about concision when I wrote them (the last sections, more technical, were written first, and the first sections, more general, were written after).

However I cut out 3 complete paragraphs because they were interesting but not so directly relevant. I put them here.

1)This was cut out because it was a discussion where neither me, nor the person whose idea I was discussing, were really convinced of what we said. We were both formulating hypothesis to open up discussion, without being personally convinced of these hypothesis. So it was interesting but non essential.

Vida & Petrie (1994, p190) discuss Tarkovsky’s habit to shoot dream scenes in black and white in most of his films, and compare it to Stalker:

‘The choice of black and white for dreams may reflect the conventional idea that most people dream in black and white, but more probably implies, in line with Tarkovsky’s belief in the essential “reality” of black and white, that the inner truth of our experience is to be found within our dreams. In Stalker the basic pattern is reversed, with black and white creating the sordid reality of the everyday world of the future and color representing the potential escape from this offered by the Zone.’

This leads to an interesting issue. The only sequence in the Zone that contains monochrome shots (sepia rather than black and white) is indeed the dream sequence. If characters are dreaming, they may approach their inner truth. It is possible, then, that the Zone as a whole offers fake hope and illusion rather a gateway to inner reality, an interpretation that could be corroborated by the characters’ final decision not to enter the room. Maybe the Zone is, like in Lost Highway, the world of illusion and fantasy, rather than the world of hope and spirituality.

2)this was a transition between the ‘rhythm’ and ‘sound’ sections. It contained an interesting reference for further research, but was non essential to the subject.

Quoting Vlada Petric, Vida & Petrie (1994, p240-241) list ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of them, not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’  ”Camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation”, ”illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings”, ”dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity”, ”ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real” together correspond to the combined action of discontinuity editing and slow rhythm described in this section. “Color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery” has been discussed in the previous section. ”Sight and sound counterpoint” will be discussed in the next section.

3)In the conclusion, I discussed the philosophy of art of the 3 directors, and the way a film interacts with its audience. This was interesting but not directly linked to the subject, so was cut out.

When all these elements are combined, we get what Deleuze (1985, p35) calls a ‘conscience-camera’, that is a camera that ‘subordinates the description of a space to the functions of thought’ and ‘enters’ inside ‘mental relationships’. ‘Objective and subjective’, ‘real and imaginary’ then become ‘indiscernible’. The camera is no longer descriptive: instead it ‘questions, responds, objects, provokes, theorises, hypothesises and experiments’. This new nature of film allows new possibilities (Deleuze, 1985, p210): it ‘elaborates a circuit between the author, the film and the spectator’. This circuit has two ways of communication that work together: first a ‘sensory shock’ that ‘elevates the images to conscious thought’, then thought that brings the viewer back to the images and gives them an ’emotional shock’. This ‘coexistence’ between ‘the highest degree of conscience’ and ‘the deepest level of the unconscious’ is what makes, for Deleuze, the power of ‘Time-image’ cinema.

This vision of the dual nature of film, intellectual but also unconscious, sensual, emotional or irrational, the later allowing a direct connection between the artist and the audience, is shared by Tarkovsky, Lynch, and Robbe-Grillet. Tarkovsky (2008, p176) states that ‘cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world’ and ‘a film is an emotional reality’ perceived by ‘the audience’ ‘as a second reality’, which ‘allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work’. For Lynch (interviewed by Rodley, 2005, p140), films are ‘a subconscious thing’. In an interview together with Resnais, Robbe-Grillet (Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967, 170) says that art is ‘a reminiscence’ or ‘an illumination’ of ‘the world’ and that it ‘interests us because we find in it ready-made the things to which we feel impelled by the emotions reality has generated in us’, and Resnais agrees with him on that. Robbe-Grillet also says that ‘when an image strikes [him] in the cinema, it is always because [he] recognise[s] [his] own experience’ in it, and this shared experience is what makes ‘communication’ possible between the artist and the audience, through the medium of the work.

All sources for ‘mental space’ in ‘Last year in Marienbad’

Richardson, M. (2006) Surrealism and cinema. Oxford, UK: Berg.

P73, 167: surrealist cinema concerned with direct experience of real life

Kyrou, A.(2005) Le Surréalisme au cinéma. Paris: Ramsay.

P21,22,25, 234: same idea

Deleuze, G. (1985) Cinéma 2: L’image-temps. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.

(Deleuze, 1985) p102:
“Les deux grandes scènes de théâtre sont des images en miroir (et c’est tout l’hôtel de Marienbad qui est un cristal pur, avec sa face transparente, sa face opaque et leur échange”

(Deleuze, 1985) p136: L’année dernière à Marienbad
« Le second niveau serait celui du réel et de l’imaginaire: on a remarqué que, pour Resnais, il y a toujours du réel qui subsiste, et notamment des coordonnées spatio-temporelles qui maintiennent leur réalité, quitte à entrer en conflit avec l’imaginaire. C’est ainsi que Resnais […] établit une topographie et une chronologie d’autant plus rigoureuses que ce qui s’y passe est imaginaire ou mental. Tandis que chez Robbe-Grillet, tout se passe « dans la tête » des personnages, ou, mieux, du spectateur lui-même. »

« La dissolution de l’image-action, et l’indiscernabilité qui s’ensuit, se feraient tantôt au profit d’une « architecture du temps » ([Resnais]), tantôt au profit d’un « présent perpétuel » coupé de sa temporalité, c’est à dire d’une structure privée de temps ([Robbe-Grillet]). »

« C’est que Resnais conçoit « L’année dernière », comme ses autres films, sous la forme de nappes ou régions de passé, tandis que Robbe-Grillet voit le temps sous la forme de pointes de présent. »

« De toute façon, les deux auteurs ne sont plus dans le domaine du réel et de l’imaginaire, mais dans le temps, nous le verrons, dans le domaine encore plus redoutable du vrai et du faux. Certes, le réel et l’imaginaire continuent leur circuit, mais seulement comme la base d’une plus haute figure. Ce n’est plus, ou ce n’est plus seulement le devenir indiscernable d’images distinctes, ce sont des alternatives indécidables entre des cercles de passé, des différences inextricables entre des pointes de présent. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p157:
« Il y a probabilisme statistique chez Resnais, très différent de l’indéterminisme de type « quantique » chez Robbe-Grillet. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p159:
« Resnais conçoit le cinéma non comme un instrument de représentation de la réalité, mais comme le meilleur moyen pour approcher le fonctionnement psychique. »

(Deleuze, 1985) p268: Resnais and memory
« Cette membrane qui rend le dehors et le dedans présents l’un à l’autre s’appelle Mémoire. […] Car la mémoire n’est certes plus la faculté d’avoir des souvenirs: elle est la membrane qui, sur les modes les plus divers (continuité, mais aussi discontinuité, enveloppement, etc.), fait correspondre les nappes de passé et les couches de réalité, les une émanant d’un dedans toujours déjà là, les autres advenant d’un dehors toujours à venir, toutes deux rongeant le présent qui n’est plus que leur rencontre. »

Leutrat, J. (2000) L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad). London: BFI

(Leutrat, 2000) p19:
That architecture can be the image of a psychic state is nothing new in cinema. One could cite numerous examples of architecture or architectural details being « symbolically » called on to represent the mental state of an individual or a group of people.

(Leutrat, 2000)P23: lightning cameraman Sacha vierny
While the ‘Scope format usually implies a certain immonility, something extremely static, Resnais had a field day with camera movement, low angle tracking shots. 

(Leutrat, 2000)P24: camera operator Philippe Brun
« Albertazzi in very big close-up beside a mirror in which two actors were reflected […] behind him the wall is out-of-focus, but in the mirror the two actors are sharp.

(Leutrat, 2000)P25: Robbe-Grillet disagrees with Resnais’ choice of music
a music to set one’s teeth on edge. Instead of this beautiful, captivating continuity, I was after a structure of absences and scocks; with percussive elements in the widest sense, not just drums and cymbals. I’d imagined a composition based on the essentially real noises one hears in a hotel, in particular in an old fashioned hotel like that one. Lift doors, for instance, those metal doors on hinged rods that make a very beautiful sound if properly recorded; or then again the ringing of different bells: the porter’s, the chambermaid’s, etc… more or less strident or distant; and the whole thing composed with footsteps, isolated notes, shouts.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27: Francis Seyrig composer
« I realised that he wanted Wagnerian touches for the love-story side of the film, but also a 1925 feel, plus modern bits, all mixed together. »

(Leutrat, 2000)P27
Resnais wanted ‘functional’ but also lyrical music, the sound curve of which would reproduce that of the film. This image of the curve, of its plotting so to speak, is essential: it is something which seemed to obsess Resnais, and which functionsas a connecting thread in the ‘scenario ‘ of L’Année dernière à Marienbad. Music was needed that would blend with the décor.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27: Art director Jacques Saunier
We devised some panels and reworked certain sculpture which were carved in these panels, the motif of which made him think, he said, of the repetition of a musical phrase.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27 resnais:
I reckon there must be forty minutes of speech in Marienbad. It could almost be sung. It’s like an opera libretto with very beautiful and very simple words, which are endlessly repeated.

(Leutrat, 2000)P27 resnais:
I think one can arrive at a cinema without psychologically defined characters, in which the play of emotions would be in motion, as in contemporary painting where the play of forms contrives to be stronger than the anecdote.

(Leutrat, 2000)P29: death imagery:
the immobile servants ‘doubtless long since dead’; the compliment addressed to the woman, ‘You seem lively’; or the statement she makes, ‘You’re like a shadow’; or there again, this fragment of a couple’s conversation, ‘We live like two coffins side by side in the frozen ground of a garden’; and in one of the very last images as, framed in the distance X and A go off together, the curtains around the door under which they pass are like the drapes of a catafalque.

(Leutrat, 2000)P31: script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot
« in his shooting script Resnais spoke of ‘eternity’ shots […] shots that had no precise date, everything that was future time or timeless. »
Bernard Pingaut
« succession of static views, or travelling shots along the corridors, shots of promenades in the garden – dead time, a sort of pure description escaping the rigorous order of the narrative.

(Leutrat, 2000)P32: Jean Louis Bory
« Mouldings, dadoes, friezes, cornices, astragals and festoons… the baroque sensuality of the interior architecture and decoration of the grand hotel-palace contrasts with the exterior Cartesianism of the formal gardens – or rather, there is a play between them. L’année dernière à Marienbad is based on the kind of play which opposes, to the Cartesianism of conscious life, the baroque nature of our memory and our affective life. »

(Leutrat, 2000)P33:
In effect interior and exterior contaminate one another.

(Leutrat, 2000)P33: script supervisor Sylvie Baudrot
« a very long scene in which Delphine Seyrig and Albertazzi walk side by side down a corridor. We shot it in three different corridors. […] we’d put potted plants so that the continuity between the potted plantsmight disguise the passage from one section of corridor to another, but Resnais didn’t want to hide the fact that three different corridors were involved. »

(Leutrat, 2000)p36:
« the bedroom mantelpiece changes from one moment to the next: a mirror here, a snowy landscape there »

(Leutrat, 2000)p36:
resnais has strewn the hotel décor with representations of this garden, which served to decorate the walls. They encourage the idea that there’s no longer an inside or an outside, only spaces imbricated in each other.

(Leutrat, 2000)P37: the voice over at the beginning describing the setting
« thematically, it emphasises the funereal (lugubrious, black, dark, silent, deserted, empty, sombre, cold, oppressive »
the voices shifts closer and further from the camera, lacking a distinct origin.

(Leutrat, 2000)P54:
Resnais’ substitution in the rape episode of a series of ‘bleached-out’ travelling shots of the young woman »

Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.

(Chion, 2009) P267: « temporal vectorization » means that a sound gives spatial cues from the way it varies
« We can also find a sound interesting when it offers no temporal vectors, either because it does not vary over time or because it varies in a chaotic and unpredictable way. Such sounds can contribute to a feeling of fixity, stagnation, or destructuration. For example, since Francis Seyrig’s organ music in Last Year at Marienbad has no discernible direction, it acts to create the feelinf that those long tracking shots in the baroque palace aren’t going in any particular direction either and certainly not leading to a predetermined destination. Another type of music – say, a very well-defined melody – could give these same tracking shots a sense of deliberate progression toward a goal. »

p423: « a verbal or musical sound event is synchronised with an abrupt change in lightning. »

P424:  « Resnais synchs the hoarse « No! » spoken by Delphine Seyrig with the lightning of two lamps on either side of a large bed. […]It is impossible to say which of the two events – audio or visual – is the diegetic cause of the other. There is no way we can take Seyrig’s « no » […] as the noise of the light switch […], nor can we understand [it] as the cause of these lights turning on or off. The lightning event does not cause the sound, and the sounds do not cause the lights to change.But synchresis is at work, and it leads to that question of who decides what. »

Resnais, A. (1967) Trying to understand my own film. In: Geduld, H. (1967) Film makers on film making: statement on their art by thirty directors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Resnais, 1967) P157:
‘The film is about degrees of reality. There are moments where it is altogether invented, or interior, as at the moments where the picture corresponds to the dialogue. The interior monologue is never in the sound track; it is almost always in the visuals, which, even when they show events in the past, correspond to the present thoughts in the mind of the character. So what is presented as the present or the past is simply a reality which exists while the character is speaking.’

(Resnais, 1967)P158:
Questioned about Robbe-Grillet’s interpretation of the film as X’s point of view as he attempt to convince A of past occurences, Resnais, following Truffaut’s dictum that “every film should be summarized in one word”, proposes the title ‘L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, or, Persuasion’.

(Resnais, 1967)P158:
Resnais originally consciously introduced some ‘psychoanalytic themes’ such as ‘ostentatiously large rooms, indicating a tendency towards narcissism’ and signifying ‘impotence’ but he cut them out because they did not conform to his idea of the character (he does not precise which one, one could perhaps suppose M, the possibly -husband), or ‘possibly’ because he was ‘too aware of their psychoanalytical significance’.

(Resnais, 1967)P158: A possible reading is that ‘the hotel is really a clinic’ and X is A’s psychoanalyst, helping her to accept events which she has deliberately repressed.
P159: Resnais continues on this interpretation: provide that we assume that A’s denegation in the beginning is genuine and not ‘sheer coquetry or fear’, from the scene where laces her shoe, ‘we can take that she has remembered’

(Resnais, 1967)P159: possible interpretation, X is death
‘Robbe-Grillet finally hit on the phrase “granite flagstone” and he realised that the description of the garden would fit a cemetery’
‘the old Breton legends – the story of Death coming to fetch his victim and allowing him a year’s respite’

(Resnais, 1967)P159:
‘In the first quarter of the film, things seem to have a fairly high degree of reality; we stray further and further from it as the film proceeds; it is quite conceivable that, at the end, suddenly, everything converges, that the conclusion of the film is the most real part of all.’

‘we never really know if the scenes are occurring in the man’s mind or the woman’s. There is a perpetual oscillation between the two. You could even maintain that everything is told from her viewpoint.’

(Resnais, 1967)P160:
‘For me the film represents an attempt, still crude and primitive, to approach the complexity of thought and its mechanism.’

(Resnais, 1967)P161:
‘one has to know how much of one’s subjective reality one can share with others’

(Resnais, 1967)P161:
‘When I see a film, I am less interested in the characters than in the play of feelings. I think we could arrive at a Cinema without psychologically definite characters, where the pattern of feelings exists freely, just as, in a modern painting, the play of forms is more important than the “story”’

(Resnais, 1967)P162:
‘all the changes of costume correspond to different “layers” of time’

(Resnais, 1967)P163:
‘I would be reluctant to transform a setting, even in small details, to suit the camera. It is up to the camera to present the décor in the right way, it’s not for the setting to conform to the camera.’

Resnais, A. & Robbe-Grillet, A. (1967) Last words on last year. In: Geduld, H. (1967) Film makers on film making: statement on their art by thirty directors. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967) P164:
‘an image is always in the present’ (RG)

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:
‘what goes on in our minds is just as real as what goes on in front of our eyes’ (RG)

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:R
‘if you study Marienbad closel, you see that certain images are ambiguous, that their degree of reality is equivocal. But some images are far more clearly false, and there are images of lying whose falsity is, I feel, quite evident.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P166:RG
‘The use of décor is characteristic. When the room has an extraordinary complicated baroque décor, or the wall are heavily encrusted with wedding-cake ornamentation, we are probably watching a rather unreliable image. Similarly when the heroine takes 300 identical photographs from a drawer, the image is improbable and must be more imaginary than objective. Perhaps, if we were speaking in terms of a strictly objective reality, we might say she only took one picture out; but she wished there were 300.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P167: RG
‘The question is whether the uncertainties aroused by the images are more intense than all the uncertainties of everyday encounters or whether they are of the same order. Personally I believe that things really happen as vaguely as this. The theme is of a passionate love affair and it is precisely these relationships which comprises the highest proportion of inconsistencies, doubts and phantasms. Marienbad is as opaque as the moments we live through in the climaxes of our feeling, in our loves, in our whole emotional life. So to reproach the film for its lack of clarity is really to reproach human feelings for their obscurity.
[…] It is strange how people will quite willingly accept the plethora of irrational or ambiguous factors in everyday life, yet complain bitterly when they come across them in works of art. […] They feel the work of art is made to explain the world to them, to provide them with reassurances. I am quite sure that art is not meant simply to reassure people. If the world is so complex, then we must recreate its complexity. For the sake of realism.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P169: R on the scene where the balustrade crumbles, it looks like from the Fantômas series.
‘It is one of the lying images. […] It is an image of the future, probably imagined, under the stress of her anguish, by the young woman, it is quite naturalthat she should have recourse to popular novels.’
Robbe-Grillet says the extreme ‘theatricality’ of the dialogue reinforces this impression.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P170: RG
‘I think that the artist replenishes himself directly from the reality and that art interests us because we find in it ready-made the things to which we feel impelled by the emotions reality has generated in us. I don’t think we really derive our inspiration from art, not during our creative moments. […] The real schock is produced by the world and art is only a reminiscence of it. An illumination, perhaps. […] When an image strikes me in the cinema, it is always because I recognise my own experience, otherwise communication would be impossible. Every work of art would be purely subjective and absolutely no contact with anyone else would be possible.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P171:
Robbe-Grillet’s script already contained ‘numerous specifications as to editing, composition, and the camera-movement.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P171: RG
‘the only time is the time of the film. […] There is no reality outside the film. Everything is show. Nothing is ever hidden.’

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P172: The long over-exposed tracking shot which concludes with a repetition of the last part of the movement, and the quick succession of shots where A is alternatively sitting on either side of her bed, were not anticipated in Robbe-Grillet’s script.

(Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967)P173: RG
‘In Marienbad the important thing is always a sort of hollow in the heart of the reality. In Marienbad it is the “last year” which provides the hollow. What happened then – if anything – produces a constant emptiness in the story. […] In Marienbad at first we think that there is no last year, then we realise that last year dominateseverything: that we are definitely caught up in it. At first we think that Marienbad did not exist, only to realise that we have been there from the beginning. The event which the girl repudiates has, by the end of the film, contaminated everything.So much so that she has never ceased to struggle against it, to believe that she was winning, since she has always rejected everything, and, in the end, she realises it is all too late, she has, after all, accepted everything. As if everything were true – although probably it isn’t. But true or false have been emptied of meaning.

Liandrat-Guigues, S. & Leutrat, J. (2006) Alain Resnais, liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006) P40: Marienbad is a black and white film, where most images tend to on the lighter side, very legible with bright lightning that does not leave ambiguously obscured corners. Resnais tends to alternate between visually light and visually dark films, the “clear line” movies (to reuse Floc’h’s expression, quoted in Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006, my translation) taking place in the upper-class and the dark ones in the lower middle-class.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P49: In the hotel garden, the luminosity is such that the trees and statues have no shadows. Yet the characters have shadows that have been painted. Jacques Saulnier comments that Resnais had this concept in mind from the very beginning. If, as Leutrat (2000, p50) puts it, the characters are ‘turned into stones (by their immobility, poses, rigid gestures, etc.)’ and also by those fixed painted shadows, there is a statue in the garden which appears ‘animated by the shots of it taken from different angles’, and its ‘change of location’ throughout the film. The characters postures also uncannily mirror this statue: ‘the hands of the female figure in the statuary group is extended, while her other hand rests on the man’s shoulder’ whereas in the scene where X pleads with A, his hand is ‘extended toward’ her while she ‘places her hand on his shoulder’.

P64: ‘Ces journées, pires que la mort, que nous vivons ici côte à côte, vous et moi comme deux cercueils placés côte à côte sous la terre d’un jardin figé lui même.”

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P90:
According to Jacques Saulnier, Resnais had planned from the beginning that A’s bedroom would transform according to her acceptance of what is told to her: at first, the room is incomplete, bare of any detail because she rejects the very notion of XX. Then, progressively, the bedroom gets more and more precise until it reaches the appearance it had in reality. But immediately, A starts feverishly elaborating in her mind an hypothetic future, and the design of the bedroom becomes totally delirious.

(Liandrat-Guigues & Leutrat, 2006)P91: Francis Seyrig explains that the music contains several “themes” corresponding to various settings such as “garden” or “hall” and changes as the character move in the hotel. The music “mimicks the editing”.

P130: Resnais on Surrealism
“Dire que je suis fidèle à la ligne surréaliste serait prétentieux.Mais disons que je rôde autour.”
“Je n’applique mes idées que d’une manière inconsciente – instinctive, surréaliste, proche de l’écriture automatique -, faisant en sorte qu’elles fonctionnent naturellement.”

P151: they don’t say who said this!!!
“Marienbad, ce sont deux ou trois thèmes qui reviennent, qui se developpent, qui sont repris. Si on regarde l’image, c’est entièrement musical.”

P162: further death references
A shot showing A in a flowing black dress is accompanied by the noise of a tomb being closed.

Brown, R. (2009) Last year at Marienbad. Cineaste. vol 34, Issue 4, Fall 2009.

(Brown, 2009) ‘a verbal tracking shot’ (about the introductory voice over)

(Brown, 2009)Sometimes the visuals follow the narration, at other times ‘the visuals actually contradict an event that X’ narrates. For example, a shot of A’s bedroom shows an open door while X narrates “the door was closed now” and ‘X angrily repeats “No! No! The door was closed!”’

(Brown, 2009)A scene of A and X standing at the hotel bar is interrupted by ‘a quick series of startling, soundless flash shots showing A in a white gown standing in a white bedroom.’ ‘In the midst of these shots, we see and hear X telling A, “One night, I went up to your room”. Then, A drops a cocktail glass that breaks and her terrified reaction is out of proportion to this mundane event. From then on, the possibility that a rape has taken place is introduced and ‘images of violence’ increasingly perturb the narrative (the crumbling balustrade, M shooting A). It all culminates in the possible rape scene with ‘X approaching A as she recoils in fear on her bed’. We see a ‘track backwards out of the room over which X’s voice-over insists that the act was not “by force”, followed by a fast return tracking shot through the hotel’s corridors.’ The sequence ends in an ‘overexposed white on white shot of A in her room, followed by nine varied repetitions of the end of the track-in shot in ten seconds. Brown (2009) highlight the ambiguity, that the ‘thrusting camera movement’ and the ‘loud and dissonant music’ ‘suggest rape’, while ‘A’s smile and outstretched arms suggest the contrary.’

I would suggest that the overexposure suggests A’s illumination when she remembers and is confronted to her memory, and the nine alternative end shots her confused attempt at deciding on what to believe amongst several possibilities with various degrees of truthfulness, repression and wishful thinking.

Robbe-Grillet, A. (1962) Last Year at Marienbad. London: John Calder. That’s the screenplay.

There are numerous instances where Robbe-Grillet (1962, for example p88) explicitly says that the décor must be ornamentated, suggesting a lying image.

A’s changing bedroom is described in detail by Robbe-Grillet (1962, p84-85, 91,92, 104, 121,122,127,132,138,139,146) including indications about the mirror moving from the chimney to the chest and the painting on the chimney, and the single bed turning into a double bed. The probable truth image is indicated ‘it is apparent that everything is now in its right place’ (p122)A’s anxiety then produces ‘a proliferation of ornaments’ (p135) then they disappear (p139).

The voice over (Robbe-Grillet, 1962) p17
‘this enormous, lyxirious, baroque – lugubrious hotel, where endless corridors succeed silent – deserted corridors overlooked with a dim, cold ornamentation […] transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls…’
‘flase door, false columns, painted perspective’
‘and there’s no way of escaping’ (bit of dialogue)
p146 ‘among this trompe l’oeil architecture, among these mirrors and these columns, among these doors always ajar, these staircases that are too long…’

‘choosing my way as though by accident among the labyrinth of similar itineraries’
Leutrat (2000) even suggests the whole hotel looks funereal.
p49: scenic indications
‘in all these images of the hotel, there are never any windows; or in any case, the landscape outside is never shown, or even the window panes’
p123: after she sumits to X, A sees the garden from a window for the first time.

(Robbe-Grillet, 1962)p56 disrepancies between verbal description by X and shown image

Robbe-Grillet (1962) repeatedly gives elaborate indications regarding non-continuity: he specifies consecutive shots where, for example, either the characters keep the same clothes, posture and position in the frame but the décor has changed, or the décor is the same but characters have inexplicably moved. He also indicates to reuse elements of décor or secondary characters previously seen in different circumstances.


Last year in Marienbad (1960) takes place in a luxurious spa hotel. A man, X (played by Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman, A (played by Delphine Seyrig) that they met the year before in Marienbad and planned to meet again this year to run off together. A denies that they have ever met. A is accompanied by an older man M (played by Sacha Pitoëff) who may be her husband, although this is never confirmed. X keeps trying to convince A of his version of the events, and different hypothetical versions of past, present and future events are played out as the various characters mentally consider them.

All sources for ‘mental space’ in ‘Stalker’

Tarkovsky, A. (1994) Time Within Time: The Diaries 1970-1986. London: Faber and Faber.

(Tarkovsky, 1994)P156: diary entry September 20th 1978
“This film is terribly difficult to make. […] There is no sense of place. And no atmosphere. I am afraid it may be a disaster. I just cannot see how to shoot the dream. It has to be utterly simple.
We are failing to achieve the most important thing of all: consistently developed sense of place.”

Tarkovsky, A. (2008) Sculpting in Time:Reflections on the Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P138:
Perhaps the effect of colour should be neutralised by alternating colour and monochrome sequences, so that the impression made by the complete spectrum is spaced out, toned down. Why is it, when all that the camera is doing is recording real life on film, that a coloured shot should seem so unbelievably, monstrously false?

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P139:
Strangely enough, even though the world is coloured, the black and white image comes closer to the psychological, naturalistic truth of art, based as it is on special properties of seeing as well on hearing.

Sometimes, the utterly unreal comes to express reality itself. “Realism”, as Mitenka Karamazov says “is a terrible thing.” And Valéry observed that the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P159:
I should like to hope that it [music in his film] has never been a flat illustration of what was happening on the screen, to be felt as a kind of emotional aura around the object shown, in order to force the audience to see the image in the way I wanted. In every instance, music in cinema is for me a natural part of our resonant world, a part of human life. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that in a sound film that is realised with complete theoretical consistency, there will be no place for music: it will be replaced by sounds in which cinema constantly discovers new levels of meaning. That is what I was aiming at in Stalker.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P162:
In itself, accurately recorded sound adds nothing to the image system of cinema, for it still has no aesthetic content. As soon as the sounds of the visible world, reflected by the screen, are removed from it, or that world is filled, for the sake of the image, with extraneous sounds that don’t exist literally, or if the real sounds are distorted so that they no longer correspond with the image – then the film acquires a resonance.

P176: against the Structuralists
Cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world. In cinema, man’s innate drive to self assertion finds one of its fullest and most direct means of realisation. A film is an emotional reality, and that is how the audience receives it – as a second reality.
The fairly widely held view of cinema as a system of signs therefore seems to me profoundly and essentially mistaken. I see a false premise at the very basis of the structuralist approach.
[…] Cinema, like music, allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work.
I want to emphasise yet again that, with music, cinema is an art which operates with reality.

Aesthetic norms are therefore wished upon the audience, concrete phenomena are shown unequivocally, and the individual will often set up a resistance to these on the strength of his personal experience.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P193-194:
I felt that it was very important that the film [Stalker] observe the three unities of time, space and action. […] In Stalker, I wanted there be no time lapse between the shots. I wanted time and its passing to be revealed, to have their existence, within each frame; for the articulation between the shots to be the continuation of the action and nothing more, to involve no dislocation of time, not to function as a mechanism for selecting and dramatically organising the material – I wanted it to be as if the whole film had been made in a single shot. […] As a matter of principle I wanted to avoid distracting or surprising the audience with unexpected changes of scene, with the geography of the action, with elaborate plot – I wanted the whole composition to be simple and muted.
[…] I wanted to demonstrate how cinema is able to observe life, without interfering, crudely or obviously, with its continuity. For that is where I see the true poetic essence of cinema.
It occurred to me that excessive formal simplification could run the risk of appearing precious or mannered. In order to avoid that I tried to eliminate all touched of vagueness or innuendo in the shots – those elements that are regarded as the marks of ‘poetic atmosphere’. That sort of atmosphere is always painstakingly built up; I was convinced of the validity of the opposite approach – I must not concern myself with atmosphere at all , for it is something that emerges from the central idea, from the author’s realisation of his conception. And the more precisely the central idea is formulated, the more clearly the meaning of the action is defined for me, the more significant will be the atmosphere that is generated around it; Everything will begin to reverberate in response to the dominant note: things, landscape, actors’ intonation. […] It seems to me that in Stalker, where I tried to concentrate on what was most important, the atmosphere that came to exist as a result was more active and emotionally compelling than of any of the filmsI had made previously.

(Tarkovsky, 2008)P200:
In Stalker only the basic situation could strictly be called fantastic. It was convenient because it helped to delineate the central moral conflict of the film more starkly. But in terms of what actually happens to the character, there is no element of fantasy. The film was intended to make the audience feel that it was all happening here and now, that the Zone is there beside us.
People have often asked me what the Zone is, and what it symbolises and have put forward wild conjectures on the subject. I am reduced to a state of fury and despair by such questions. The Zone does not symbolise anything, any more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way across it a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish between what matters and what is merely passing.

Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.

(Chion, 2009)P309:
« The sound of a telephone that rings suddenly in a film(often in Tarkovsky, in the empty house of Stalker […])is the very symbol of the dream that is a film. The characters who pick up the receiver can also be waking up from a dream – like waking up from a film – and sometimes they find themselves in a new reality, but it’s only the film-dream that continues on. »
same image lost highway

Bird, R. (2008) Andrei Tarkovsky: elements of cinema. London: Reaktion.

P153: during Stalker when everyone was interpreting it
‘Tarkovsky stressed more than ever before or ever again the need for film to affect viewers « emotionally and sensuously », without them « trying to analyse what is happening right now on screen », which « only hinders the perception of the picture ».’

Gerstenkorn J. & Strudel, S. (1986) Stalker: La quête et la foi ou le dernier souffle de l’esprit. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.

P84: The Stalker transforms the Zone, an ordinary no man’s land in itself, into an embodiment of the Sacred.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986) P85, 95: The change of colour in Stalker embodies a spiritual and philosophical context: the mundane, daily world outside the Zone is shot in Sepia while the zone itself is shot in colour. Sepia results from the degradation of a colour film and symbolizes the intellectual and spiritual degradation of a world where “spiritual life” (as the Christian authors of the text phrase it, but which I would rather rephrase as “philosophical quest”, all the while keeping the rest of his interpretation) no longer has a place.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P86: Professor is able to go back unharmed despite Stalker’s warnings because he does not share Stalker’s faith in the sacred or magical nature of the Zone. “The rules of Faith do not apply to those who do not have Faith.” Because the Zone is a projection of the character’s inner view, its characteristics and the way it interacts with the character depend on this character’s philosophical viewpoint.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P91: For the Christian authors, the dangerous crossing of the fence around the Zone guarded by soldiers symbolizes “the crossing over the psychic censorship that prevents the evocation of the Sacred in Soviet society.”As before, I would broadly keep their interpretation, only rephrasing it as the characters taking a plunge into themselves, into their own philosophical quest against prevailing intellectual conformity.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P92: The four main obstacles in the quest privilege Writer’s mental state: trying out the shortcut expresses his rebellion, the wet tunnel the trap of illusion, the dry tunnel tests his will by confronting him to doubt, and the Meatgrinder test his suicidal tendency.

(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P101: The surroundings mirror the character’s philosophical viewpoint: when they stop to rest, Professor sleeps on a rocks (hard and dry), Writer on moss (soft and damp) and Stalker in mud (slippery and wet), the presence of water being a recurring motive in Tarkovsky’s films. Professor is the most rational and materialistic, while Stalker is the irrational believer with Witer, the Artist, somewhere in between, cynical and materialistic yet open to visions and enlightenment through his art.
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P102: In the same way, the type of place where a nut falls down mirrors the mental state of the character who threw it.

Pangon, G. (1986) Stalker: Un film du doute sous le signe de la Trinité. In: Estève, M. Andrei Tarkovsky: avec des textes de Jean-paul Sarte, présenté par Michel Estève. Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard.

P107: (similar to previous p92) It is Writer not Stalker who wears the Crown of Thorns.

Vida, T. & Petrie G. (1994) The films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a visual fugue. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994) P152: « within the various settings, the spatial cues are often contradictory and misleading » especially in the rest sequence in the swamp, the one Tarkovsky refers to as the « dream sequence ». The « physical positioning of the characters, in relationship to each other, their surroundings, and even within the film frame, changes, apparently arbitrarily, from one shot to the next. »

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P152: « an average shot length of almost one minute (142 shots in 161 minutes, with many 4 minutes or longer) »

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: ‘the slow, inexorable pacing of individual shots’: often the camera is ‘virtually motionless or tracking forward so imperceptibly that it is only toward the end of the shot that we realize how much our spatial perspective has changed’. ‘The fusion of these shots into a whole whose seeming inevitability counteracts the spatial and temporal dicontinuities of the individual segments.’ ‘we live inside it and accept its laws’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P153: The colour green is omnipresent when they enter the zone, suggesting the characters’s hope that ‘here things are really going to be different’. When they reach the Room, ‘subtle shades of gold and red rising and falling in intensity’ suggest feelings of ‘magic ‘ and ‘wonder’.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P190: colour in the Zone suggests an ‘escape’ from the ‘sordid reality of the everyday world’ represented in Sepia.
The final colour sequence suggests ‘some seepage of the powers of the Zone into the real world’

with ref to previous christian interpretation:
(Vida & Petrie, 1994)p146 ‘Tarkovsky seemed more concerned with attacking the spiritual emptiness of contemporary society in general than with proposing specifically Christian remedies’ (He said in an interview “for me the sky is empty and ‘that he did not have the “organ” that would enable him to experience God’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P201: sounds that create an ‘atmosphere working in counterpoint with the images rather than simply reflecting or intensifying them’ such as telephones, foghorns.

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P237: ‘the extensive use of the long take’ ‘traps us within the protagonists’ subjectivity’

(Vida & Petrie, 1994)P240-241: Petric lists ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of those: ‘ « camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation »; « illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings »; « dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity »,; « ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real » and « sight and sound counterpoint, including color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery ». Tarkovsky uses these techniques not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’

Strugatsky, A. & Strugatsky, B. (1978) Stalker. In: Tarkovsky, A. (1999) Collected screenplays. London: Faber.

P390: When Stalker goes off on his own for a bit, Professor says he is having ‘A meeting with the Zone. After all, he is a Stalker.’ This suggests an intimate relationship between Stalker and the Zone.

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P393: Stalker
‘The Zone demands respect. Otherwise it will punish you.’
‘In the Zone, a straight road is not the shortest. The further you go, the less the risk.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978) P395: Stalker
‘The Zone is a highly complex system… of traps, as it were, and all of them are deadly. I don’t know what happens here when we’ve gone… But people only have to appear for the whole thing to be triggered into motion. 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 be either 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.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P399: Stalker
‘You can’t wait here… Nothing stays the same from one minute to the next.’

(Strugatsky & Strugatsky, 1978)P408: Stalker to Writer
‘Back there, in the hall, the Zone took pity on you. It became obvious that if anyone were fitted to pass through the mincer, that person was you.’

Order of the journey

P392: seeing from afar the ‘grey-white building’ where the room is

P396: ‘a subterranean tunnel’

P398: ‘the underground tunnel’ that stalkers jokingly call ‘the dry tunnel’ because it is flooded

P399: they have a rest at the exit of the dry tunnel

P402: ‘the hall’: ‘a spacious but gloomy room, covered with flagstones; the walls are concrete, and there are dilapidated concrete pillars’

P405: the Meatgrinder, called ‘the mincer’ (P407): a ‘corridor’, ‘blackened with smoke, and underfoot are black, charred ashes’

P406: ‘a room with a telephone’: ‘a room full of dust, cluttered with old lumber and furniture. A dusty telephone hangs on a wall near the entrance’

P410: ‘The Room’: ‘And now they are standing in front of the doorway, which is broad as a barn door, in the threshold of the room: a completely empty expanse. There are black puddles on the cement floor: the evening sky shines through the perforated ceiling.’

They are inexplicably back to the bar, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely eventless.

Full synopsis

In Stalker, the title character meets two clients in a bar, Writer and Professor, whom he will guide through a no man’s land called “the Zone” where a room is supposed the make the visitor’s innermost wish come true. In a stolen railway trolley, the trio forces the military barrage that prevents the general population from entering the Zone, then continue on foot once inside the Zone. Stalker warns his clients that travelling through the Zone requires to obey specific rules. They face several mysterious obstacles on their journey. Several times, Writer and Professor disobey Stalker’s directives but always come out unharmed, though scared. Finally they arrive in front of the room’s threshold. Professor reveals he intended the blow up the room all along, out of fear that it is used maliciously by power hungry people. Stalker attacks him, accusing him of destroying hope. Writer separates the fighters, but then turns on Stalker, berating him for his naivety and hypocrisy. Professor is nonetheless convinced not to blow up the room, and Writer renounces entering the room, because he realises he is not fully aware of his own “innermost wish” and fears unforeseen consequences. None of the three men enter the room: they sit peacefully in front of its entrance for a while, deep in thought. Next, they are inexplicably back to the bar where they met at the beginning, as though the return journey through the Zone was completely uneventful.

‘a collection of debris lying in shallow water’ including ‘a syringe’, ‘a mirror’, ‘coins’, ‘a rusting pistol'(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p145)
(Gerstenkorn & Strudel, 1986)P88: rusty syringes in the water and the phone call to which Writer replies “No this is not a clinic!” hint at psychiatric repression in the USSR.
(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p208)suggest that water means spirituality in tarkovsky, therefore debris in the water suggest that water purifies human civilisation.

Similarities between the ‘telephone room’ (the antechamber to the room) and Stalker’s flat have been noted, among them the floorboards, the defective lightning and the presence of sleeping pills.(Vida & Petrie, 1994, p151) is this all only an inner journey?

Tarkovsky was fond of ruins, ‘especially the colour and texture of old walls’. He found the tiled wall to which the trio inexplicably return (where Porcupine have hung a nut as a warning) himself. (Vida & Petrie, 1994, p230)

All sources for ‘mental space’ in ‘Lost Highway’

“Sometime during the shooting, the unit publicist was reading up on different types of mental illness, and she hit upon this thing called “psychogenic fugue.” The person suffering from it creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything – they forget their past identity. This has reverberations with Lost Highway, and it’s also a musical term. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it [relates] to the form of the film. ( Lynch quoted in )

“The unit publicist was reading up on certain mental disorders during production, and she came upon this true condition called ‘psychogenic fugue,’ which is where a person gives up himself, his world, his family – everything about himself – and takes on another identity. That’s Fred Madison completely. I love the term psychogenic fugue. In a way, the musical term fugue fits perfectly, because the film has one theme, and then another theme takes over. To me, jazz is the closest thing to insanity that there is in music.” ( Lynch quoted in )

Herzogenrath, B. (1999) On the Lost Highway: Lynch and Lacan, Cinema and Cultural Pathology. Other Voices. v.1, n.3, January 1999.

The first part of Lost Highway presents a marital scenario of uncertainty, anxiety, and unspoken suspicion. It takes place in a house which more resembles a fortress than a cosy home. From the film’s beginning, we have the feeling of tension and fear: home, the family unit is the place of trouble and terror. This feeling is emphasized by Lynch’s masterly employment of the soundtrack. For Lynch, “[h]alf of [a] film is picture … the other half is sound. They’ve got to work together” (Press Kit). So, in Lynch’s work, the soundtrack is a most important factor to enhance the mood of a scene. For example, during the dialogues between Fred and Renee there is no resonance to their voices. It is as if the works are spoken in a sound-absorbing environment, the whole spectrum of overtones, all those features that make a human voice seem alive, seems to have been cut. In its dryness, the voices of Renee and Fred almost seem to enact an absence of sound, or better – an absence of room, of the acoustics of space: it’s as if they are living in a recording studio covered in acoustic tile. (Herzogenrath, 1999)

“the general feeling of being observed, a feeling that takes shape in the fact that they live close to the “observatory.” The outside literally starts to intrude the inside, and the threat is emphasized by the deep droning sounds (in a cinema with a good sound system, the spectators actually can feel this threat as a uncomfortable feeling in their stomachs …”(Herzogenrath, 1999)

Lacan and drone sound in sound design:
“With respect to the delusional aspects of psychosis, Lacan comments on “this buzzing that people who are hallucinating so often depict … this continuous murmur … is nothing other than the infinity of these minor paths” (Seminar III 294), these minor paths that have lost their central highway. What is the deep droning sound underlying most of the movie but this “continuous murmur?””(Herzogenrath, 1999)

Caldwell, T. (1999) Lost in Darkness and Confusion: Lost Highway, Lacan, and film noir. Metro Magazine. No. 118.

“In the scene preceding the discovery of her [Rene’s] death, Fred disappears into the darkness of their house, but emerges as two shadows that move towards her bedroom, one shadow belonging to Fred, the other belonging to the Mystery Man as the embodiment of Fred’s violence.”(Caldwell, 1999)

Biodrowski, S. (1997) The Making of “Lost Highway”. Cinefantastique. vol 28, Issue 10, April 1997.

“There is a key in the film as to its meaning,” Lynch continued, “but keys are weird. There are surface keys, and there are deeper keys. Intellectual thinking leaves you high and dry sometimes. Intuitive thinking where you get a marriage of feelings and intellect lets you feel the answers where you may not be able to articulate them. Those kinds of things are used in life a lot, but we don’t use them too much in cinema. There are films that stay more on the surface, and there’s no problem interpreting their meaning.”

To realize his noirish world, Lynch let Deming shoot LOST HIGHWAY in varying levels of darkness. The film is a little creepier than something that has contrast, with few exteriors or daylight scenes. Whenever he could, Deming consciously used hardly any light at all to keep contrast down. “There are many places in the movie where I would normally use a back light, but didn’t,” Deming laughed. “So you have people kind of melding into the background. It’s kind of an extension of when Fred walks down the hallway and disappears; it’s keeping that feeling through the rest of the movie. In another film, a director would say, `What about a back light?’ and 90-percent of the time I’d put it there, but not for this movie. (Biodrowski, 1997)

Cinematographer Deming about using underexposure:
“The thing I wanted to achieve was giving the feeling that anything could come out of the background, and to leave a certain question about what you’re looking at. The film is working under the surface while you’re watching it.”Biodrowski, 1997)

Groys, B. & Ujica, A. (2006) Sur l’Art de David Lynch. In: Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain (2007) David Lynch: The Air is on Fire. Paris: Editions Xavier Barral.

L’espace, dans les films de Lynch, est donc une hétérotopie, pour reprendre le terme de Foucault. Il s’agit certesd’un espace qui, extérieurement, ressemble à celui de la réalité américaine, qui est donc pourvu de toutes les références, de tous les comportements et de toutes les images auxquelsnous sommes fort habitués, mais qui fait tout de même naître chez l’observateur le sentiment d’être déplacé dans un autre espace, dans un espace parallèle . De ce point de vue, il est particulièrement intéressant d’entendre Foucault dire que l’hétérotopie est le lieu où les temps s’accumulent, où l’histoire s’accumule – par exemple le musée, la bibliothèque ou le cimetière. Mais on peut aussi dire que l’hétérotopie est un espace dans lequel les esprits du passé règnent et prennent possession du temps présent.

Lynch, D. (2002) Master Class with David Lynch. In: Tirard, L. Moviemakers’ Master Class: Private lessons from the world’s foremost directors. New York: Faber and Faber.

(Lynch, 2002)P128:
“I have always believed that sound is half of what makes a film work. You have the image on one side, the sound on another, and if you know how to combine them properly, then the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts. The image is made up of different elements, most of them hard to control perfectly – light, frame, acting, and so on. Sound, however – and I include music in that category – is a concrete and powerful entity which physically inhabits the film.”

“I like to play with contrasts; I like using lenses that give a greater depth of field; and I like extreme close-ups […] But none of this is systematic.”

Chion, M. (2007) David Lynch. Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma.

(Chion, 2007)P247: About Fred Madison’s house
‘Son intérieur est d’un design minimaliste, souligné par les cadrages et l’écran scope.’

Rodley, C. (2005) Lynch on Lynch. London: Faber and Faber.

“Making films is a subconscious thing. Words get in the way. Rational thinking gets in the way. It can really stop you cold. But when it comes out in a pure sort of stream, from some other place, film has a great way of giving shape to the subconscious. It’s just a great language for that.”

it’s about a couple who feel that somewhere, just on the border of consciousness – or on the other of that border – are bad, bad problems. But they can’t bring them into the real world and deal with them. So this bad feeling is just hovering there, and the problems abstract themselves and become other things. I just becomes like a bad dream.

(Rodley, 2005)P225: the madison house section repeatedly uses fade-ins and fade-outs – from and to black

(Rodley, 2005)P225:
Q: Fred and René’s house has an uncertain geogrpahy. It seems that it might be endless: that once you step into it, you’re entering some potentially vast, dark labyrinth.
A: that’s the way it is in relationships sometimes.You just don’t know how they’re going to go, if there’s an end to them of if there’s just more trouble.

(Rodley, 2005)P225:
“production design is mood”

(Rodley, 2005)P226: sound in the madison house
“the home is a place where things can go wrong, and the sound comes out of that idea. If you have a room, and it’s really quiet, or if there’s no sound, you’re just looking at this room. If you want a certain kind of mood, you find the sound that creeps into that silence: that starts giving you a feeling. And there are also sounds that kill a mood. So it’s getting rid of everything that you don’t want, and then building up all the things that are gonna support it and make it whole.
(Rodley, 2005)P227: about the drones and rumbles in the Madison house
“there’s one channel of the six-tracks that’s going to the subwoofer. […] There’s an uneasiness there.”

Astic, G. (2004) Le purgatoire des sens: Lost Highway de David Lynch. Pertuis: Rouge Profond.

P35: surexposition in the desert love scene

(Astic, 2004)p55: the way the Madison living room is framed and the flattening of the depth of field in certain shots suggest an uncertain geography, with a corridor being alternatively visible and invisible.

(Astic, 2004)P56: stairs are ubiquitous in Lost Highway (and recurring in other Lynch films such as Twin Peaks). Fred goes down stairs to the Death Row and, in a mirror scene, his alter ego Pete goes up stairs in the pimp’s house before he experiences a moment of “total derealisation”. “L’escalier dit ainsi, chez Lynch, l’abandon de la surface et le creusement de la rêverie ou du cauchemar effectué à même la matière architecturale de son film.”

(Astic, 2004)P58 another recurring motif is the hotel, reminiscent of Edward Hooper’s paintings which are a strong visual inspiration for Lynch.

P63: the phone rings in Fred’s soundproofed rehearsing room. Is the phone only ringing in Fred’s head?

(Astic, 2004)P69: when Fred talks with the Mystery Man at Andy’s Party, the music and ambient noise stops, and their words are very clear, the setting becomes visually blurred: it suggest the conversation is taking place inside Fred’s head.

(Astic, 2004)P79: when Fred has a nightmare of his murdering Renée, the bedsheets are black. In the videos, they are white.

(Astic, 2004)P80: There a triptych of paintings in the Madison living room. When Pete receives a phone call from Mr eddy and the Mystery Man, his worried parents have disappeared when he raises his gaze: instead, he sees three landscape paintings that were not there before, “absurdly highlighted by the focus of the camera.”

(Astic, 2004)p84: sparsity of the dialogue, with lots of silence between lines which gives a “pure sensation of dilated time”

(Astic, 2004)p91: the Madison house is always framed so ad to never be shown in its entirety

(Astic, 2004)p100: the seemingly endless corridor at the end of which Renée anxiously calls to Fred

(Astic, 2004)p100: the recurring images of mirror suggest Fred’s shattered personality (women in mirrors, Fred in the window, Alice reflected in the mirror in the scene where she submits to Mr Eddy, Pete reflected in the car window, Andy’s face reflected in the glass table)

(Astic, 2004)p102:
At the end of the endless corridor, Fred looks at himself in a mirror that is not the only mirror we have seen so far (in the bedroom). The scene 45 in the screenplay suggests this mirror is in the living room: it can only be in this part of the living room that is always occulted by the framing.

(Astic, 2004)P128:
The cinemascope format “flattens the verticals”, “enlarge black surfaces” and “widens the lateral convergence lines”: it distorts the perspective in a way that sends the characters into a purely “mental space”.

P132: the scene where Pete sees Alice for the first time is blurred, suggesting fantasy.

Chion, M. (2009) Film, a sound art. New York: Colombia University Press.

(Chion, 2009)P149: “Lynch’s characters often speak as thoughas though they were being listened to others, by some third party lurking in the shadows – which is, in fact, the case since they are listened to by us. But that also means that they seem to be observing us listening to them. So they create a void in their voice, which then gives greater force to the sound that comes after.”

(Chion, 2009)p205: “fundamental noise” (never pure silence in Lynch films)

McGowan, T. (2007) The impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press.

(McGowan, 2007)P157: Fred’s house
‘subdued lightning’, ‘minimalist décor’, ‘drab colours (black, gray, taupe, dark orange)’, ‘minimized depth of field’

(McGowan, 2007)P158: Pete’s house
‘bright lightning’, ‘colorful furniture and décor’, ‘no empty space’, ‘depth of field’
P167: ‘traditional conventions of Hollywood realism’

(McGowan, 2007)P168: Pete section: constant background music, the actors speak naturally without ‘lengthy and awkward pauses’.

(McGowan, 2007)P162: Fred and the Mystery Man at the Party
‘the background noise of the party dims to become almost inaudible, as if, in the midst of this crowded party, the Mystery Man and Fred are having a private – intrapsychic – conversation’

Zizek, S. (2000) The art of the ridiculous sublime: on David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Seattle: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities/University of Washington.

Zizek (2000) interpret the stylistic difference between the world of Fred and Pete as the separation between, on the one side, the drabness of ‘pure, aseptic reality’ and, on the other side, ‘fantasy’. For Zizek, those two aspect constantly merge in the way we usually perceive our environment: fantasy constantly ‘sustains our “sense of reality”’, protecting us, somehow, from its drabness and making the world liveable. We are simply not used to seeing ‘reality deprived of fantasy’ and seeing it through Fred’s eyes causes a shock for the viewer. This forced separation of the reality and fantasy elements of our usual perception, Zizek calls the “extraneation” effect.

Hughes, D. (2001) The complete Lynch. London: Virgin.

(Hughes, 2001)P208: Peter Deming cinematographer on fred in the corridor
“Normally you would try and separate people from the background by putting a little backlight on them, but we thought it was subtly creepy to have people coming in and out of black, or standing there and becoming part of the background, and to have the audience not really knowing what could come out of the black, so you’re anticipating stuff.”

(Hughes, 2001)P211: at a preview screening, Lynch made the projectionnist turn up the volume to emphasize the ‘background drones and almost subliminal effects’.

(Hughes, 2001)P222: Peter Deming denies the difference in cinematography between Fred and Pete’s parts are a stylistic choice, he says they are a mere consequence of the locations where they were shot.

Berthomieu, P. & Lauliac, C. (2001) Music in a world of sounds: David Lynch par Angelo Badalamenti. Positif, December 2001, pp.89-92.

Music drowns in the sound design, so that the viewer sometimes doubt there is any music at all.

Henry, M. (2001) David Lynch: Désirer l’idée. Positif, December 2001, pp.83-88.

(Henry, 2001)Lynch explains that his production designer Jack Fisk once told him “If you make a film that takes place in 1955, don’t forget that most of the cars or the furniture would have been made before 1955”

Krohn, B. (1997) Entretien avec David Lynch. Cahiers du Cinéma. N°509 January 1997, pp 26-29.

(Krohn, 1997)David Lynch and his cinematographer, Peter Deming, chose a chocolate brown filter, which causes a dominant colour of “red yellow brownish” to penetrate every images.

Rodley, C. (1997) David Lynch: Mr. Contradiction. Sight & Sound. Vol. 6, Issue 7, July 1996, pp 6-10.

(Rodley, 1997) Present during the Lost Highway shooting, Rodley reports that David Lynch has a ‘very precise delivery in mind’ for the ‘sparse and enigmatic dialogue’, yet he ‘doesn’t give line readings but gives indications of mental states’ to help his actors.

Orr, J. (2009) A Cinema of Parallel Worlds: Lynch & Kieslowski + Inland Empire. Film International. Issue 37, January/February 2009, pp 28-43.

p31: ‘A cinema of parallel worlds leaves behind the sureties of time and place because it abandons a unicameral world for a bicameral world. Here, if “room” is taken generally as enclosed form of Raum, or space, then “unicameral” means one-space cinema and “bicameral” means dual-space cinema.’

Lynch, D. & Gifford, B. (1997) Lost Highway. London: Faber and Faber. That’s the screenplay.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997) P10: Fred and Renee watch the first video
On the video, ‘the picture is accompanied by an eerie droning sound’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P32:
After Fred stares at himself in mirror that the screenplay locates in the living room, there is a cut to Renee in the bedroom calling out for him, then a cut back to the living room where ‘no one is in the living now, but a shadow moves slowly across a wall’. Then we see the same scene from ‘Renee’s POV’, looking ‘down the hallway’: ‘there is just darkness at the end of the hall. It is eerie. After a moment, fred slowly walks out of the darkness towards Renee. He walks out of the shot and the camera remains on the rectangle of darkness at the end of the hall.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)p32: The next scene is Fred watching the muder tape, with the same ‘droning sound’ on it.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P85: the night just after Pete sees Alice for the first time
Pete ‘hears a succession of highly amplified sounds at intervals with eerie stretches of silence: crickets in fractured cadence; a distant television; a fly buzzing slowly in the room; a moth’s wings beating against light bulbs in the ceiling fixture; the washing of dishes. […] Underlying these sounds is a kind of unearthly, steady drone.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P86: same scene
‘Pete’s parents POV down the hall towards Pete’s room. There is no one there – just an empty hallway.’
‘Pete’s POV – the hallway and the living room. There is no one in the living room.It’s empty.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P112-114:
After Sheila screams ‘HE’S SOMEONE ELSE!!!”, ‘the droning sound returns’ and Pete hears ‘every word and every sound’ as ‘loud and distorted’.

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P118:
After Pete gets a phone call from Mr Eddy and the Mystery Man, ‘down at the far end of the hall he sees his parents staring at him.’ A close up shows the ‘parents staring in the direction of the living room as if sensing something, but not seeing’. The Parent’s POV then shows ‘the hall and living room beyond. There is no one there.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P125:
After Andy’s murder, Pete goes upstairs and ‘staggers toward the bathroom at the rear right of the hallway. The hallway suddenly becomes hazy, different from and longer than it appeared to be.’ Doors are numbered like in a hotel. Pete considers door 25, passes it and enters door 26 where he experiences an hallucination involving ‘an extremely whorish version of Alice’. When he flees and closes the door, ‘the hallway has “changed back” to Andy’s hallway. The doors no longer have numbers.’

(Lynch & Gifford, 1997)P134:
Fleeing the desert to escape the Mystery Man, Fred finally stops in front of ‘an old two-storey building’: the ‘Lost Highway Hotel’ and gets a room there. The hallway leading to it is ‘strangely similar to Pete’s vision upstairs at Andy’s’ and his room is number 25. Fred falls asleep and the film cuts to the camera moving down the hallway at night and stopping in front of room 26. Inside Renee and Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent make love.

Full Synopsis

The plot of Lost Highway (1996) needs to be explained in more details because of the complex time structure and relationships between (and changes of) characters that could become confusing otherwise.

The film starts with a view of a highway through a desolate, desert landscape at night shot from inside a moving car. The next scene shows Jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman) at home: a voice in his intercom tells him ‘Dick Laurent is dead’. He looks through the window but can’t see anyone at the door. Over the next few days, Fred and his wife Renee (played by Patricia Arquette) receive anonymous videos showing, first, the outside of their house, then, them sleeping in their bedroom. They call the police. At a party at Andy’s, a friend of Renee’s, Fred meets the Mystery Man who tells him they have met before, and that he is inside Fred’s house at this very moment, proving so with a phone call. Fred is freaked out and asks Andy who the Mystery Man is. Andy replied he is a friend of Dick Laurent, to which Fred automatically replies that Dick Laurent is dead. This confuses and worries Andy and Renee, because they do not know that he is dead, and Fred is not even supposed to know him. Back in their house, Fred checks the house while Renee calls out to him from the bedroom. This echoes a dream Fred had when they started getting the anonymous tapes. The next morning, Fred, alone, watches a new video: on it, he sees himself murdering Renee.

Fred is condemned for the murder of Renee and sent to the death row. He experiences increasingly painful headaches, culminating in a terrible crisis one night. The desert highway at night is shown again. The next morning, Fred has inexplicably vanished from his cell: instead a younger man, Pete Drayton (played by Balthazar Getty) is found in it. Pete is unable to explain how he came to be there and is released to his parents, though a police car secretly follows him constantly. At home, Pete’s parents make mysterious allusions to ‘that night’ before Pete was found in prison. He goes out with friends, and his girlfriend Sheila makes similar allusions. The next day, Pete goes back to the garage where he works as a mechanic and checks the Mercedes of a gangster, Mr Eddy. The cops who follow Pete identify Mr Eddy as ‘Laurent’. Eddy comes back with Alice, a beautiful blonde who looks exactly like Renee (played too by Patricia Arquette). Alice convinces Pete to have a secret affair. Pete begins to experience hallucinations, culminating in a confrontation with Sheila and his parents who all refer again to ‘that night’. Alice tells Pete Mr Eddy knows of their affair and convinces him to steal money from Andy, the guy who introduced Alice to Eddy, and run away together. Pete gets a threatening phone call from Mr Eddy and the Mystery Man. Pete meets Alice at Andy’s house: it is the same Andy whose party Fred and Renee Madison went to. Pete finds a photograph showing both Alice and Renee between Andy and Mr Eddy. Pete accidentally murders Andy and experiences hallucinations involving a hotel lobby. Pete and Alice drive off to the desert (recurring view of the deserted highway at night). As they make love, Alice suddenly leaves him and vanishes. Pete inexplicably turns into Fred and is violently confronted by the Mystery Man who produces a video camera and tells him Alice’s name is Renee.

Fleeing the desert to escape the Mystery Man, Fred finally stops in front of the ‘Lost Highway Hotel’ and gets a room there. In the room next to Fred’s, Renee and Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent make love. The next scene shows detectives investigating the crime scene at Andy’s house: they find the photograph, on which Renee is alone between Andy and Mr Eddy/Laurent. Back at the hotel, on what appears to be the next morning, Renee leaves Eddy/Laurent, then Fred attacks him, drags him out from his room as the Mystery Man watches from the window and drives him to the desert. In the desert, Fred and the Mystery Man shoot Eddy/Laurent together but the last shot after he dies shows Fred alone. Fred drives back to his house in Eddy/Laurent’s Mercedes and says ‘Dick Laurent is dead’ on his own intercom. A police car was waiting for him and chases him down the desert highway.