Black leader (1)

July 28, 2008

(Three related posts this week, M-W-F)

The opening of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil:

Black leaderGirls from Iceland in the 60sBlack leaderA US fighter jet on a carrierBlack leader

The narrator reads us the letters she receives from Sandor Krasna. She describes his problem with the footage of the girls from Iceland– he could never find another image to cut it to. So he uses black leader: “He wrote me, ‘One day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.’”

The film, not a travelogue, swings back and forth between First and Third World; memories real and not; and African, European, and Asian time. You could be forgiven for calling it a documentary on Japan. He does spend some time in that fascinating place, but as occasion and counterpoint, not for a prime subject. Instead of a list of facts, the film is a “list of things that quicken the heart.”

In a way it is the only movie, or every movie. This for how it did what movies do now, years before they did, now that they’ve been rendered into “content” for “media platforms,” now that you can put them in your pocket.

Smoke rising in Iceland

In particular it works just like memory, and builds a whole system, coherent in itself. For (just one) instance, smoke binds the film together as leitmotif, memento mori, and probably a dozen other things besides. (Another instance: cats, the fleabitten thread running through Marker’s entire filmography.)

If the film works as a capsule of mind and memory, then Marker anticipated by 20 years ideas set forth by artist Warren Neidich. In his book Blow-Up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain, he describes the “phatic image,” one engineered so that the brain takes it in faster. So too it builds stronger neural networks inside the brain. Such images include media, video, anything that attracts the eye by shedding its excess. Film sheds time, with only 24 frames per second, while video sheds detail, color, and dynamic range. Neidich, an artist with actual training in neuroscience, in a sense only describes things Marker intuited years before.

The ending (or close to it):

Manekineko, aka the “Beckoning Cat,” or Happy Cat as I always called themHis friend pushes in the pin to activate the ZoneThe Beckoning Cat enters the Zone

By now, Krasna has introduced “the Zone,” his friend’s homage to Tarkovsky.  In it one finds these video images he makes with a synthesizer, solarized or saturated or posterized. Each image comes from an earlier scene in the film, but exists apart from it.  One image became clear to Krasna only after he saw it in the Zone.  This could be like a memory burning itself into clarity years after it happened, if it happened at all, or like the nonspace in which we’re reading this sentence.

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