Archives For histories of film theory

The essay film – something to do with the personal. A view; an experiment; a meditation.

It is not necessarily only reflective or self-conscious in style as Contempt (Godard) might be considered.

The American Heritage dictionary: “A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal views of the author.”

The essay tracks a persons thoughts as they follow lines of reasoning to undo a mental knot. It is also the medium by which the thinking takes place. It facilitates the reasoning. An alternative to Socratic dialogues for instance.

“Readers must feel included in a true conversation, allowed to follow the rough mental processes of contradiction and digression and yet aware of a formal shapeliness developing underneath.” (Lopate)

The definite qualities of the essay-film as according to Lopate:

1) must have words in the form of dialogue or text (the corollary would be that any visual medium – a political poster or an ad – could be taken as an essay)
2) Must represent a single voice – or take the appearance of a single voice.
3) The text must represent the author’s attempt to work out some reasoned line of discourse on a problem.
4) The text must impart more than information. It must represent a strong personal point of view. There is a difference here between journalistic and essayistic.
5) The overall language of the text needs to be as eloquent and as interesting as possible. Lopate suggests a cultural standard to bare when reasoning in discourse.

” … a Markerian nostalgia for the escaping present, and a melancholy over the inherently receding reality of photographed images.”

This sense of time and awareness of the inadequacy of mechanical reproduction of time allows Marker to project an ‘historical understanding onto otherwise bland or neutral footage.”

In Sunless recollecting and rewriting an inextricably linked.

Sunless suggests some form of prophecy for a new age of communication, technology and globalisation – which to a large extent is true of Marker’s vision – though the personal, essayistic form inspired by such works seems never to have arrived.

A personal vision does not equate to a personal view.

The camera as a device for recording thoughts: it has a tendency to provide its own thoughts. That is, there are always unintended and accidental consequences of the recording and re-ordering of time and space. This is the foundation to the topic of cinema as a machine for thinking as a topic for discussion.

There is a hint in all this toward the matter of the autonomy of cinema and film form.

And sketches for themes concerning upcoming video projects…

From ‘Chris Marker: La Jetee’ by Janet Harbord (Afterfall Books)

” […] ‘I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering,’ says the narrator in another of Marker’s landmark films, Sans Soleil (Sunless, 1983), ‘which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining’. The comment recalls Nietzsche writing that there could be no hope, ‘no present, without forgetfulness’, as well as Kafka’s statement: ‘One photographs things in order to get them out of one’s mind. My stories are a kind of closing one’s eyes’. We close our eyes, like the cinema’s blink to blackness, and we dream of what has been and might be. Forgetting is not an abandonment of the past, but permission to elaborate, to reconstruct differently, to mix up the syntax. Both memory and cinema work with an unstable set of associations, contingent on the circumstances in which they appear. If the potency of a memory is the opening enigma of La Jetee, the rest of the film is an exploration of the ways in which recording devices, such as film and photography, perform a choreography with memory’s work.” (p4)

Harbord pulls together the exact thoughts I encountered upon studying Nietzsche and recognising the close connection between Nietzsche and the central thesis of the narration embedded in Sans Soleil. This thesis, or theme, attracts me because it provides a solid foundation, or rather inquest, in which to uncover, using the mediums of video and audio, what lies beneath, or next to, or perhaps above everyday reality. That is, the perceived experience of the everyday. For Nietzsche total memory was a prison, and the ability to forget was tied to human happiness.

“Metaphysics calls the permanent Now ‘eternity’. Nietzsche, too, conceives the three phases of time from the standpoint of eternity as a permanent Now. But, for Nietzsche, the permanence does not consist in something static, but in a recurrence of the same.” (p418 – Who Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra? {Heidegger})

Briefly, Nietzsche’s conception of the superman, or perhaps to coin a phrase less laden with contemporary connotations – an evolved modern person free from the pitfalls of historical ‘man’ – is someone free from the past and therefore free from the spirit of vengefulness and free from the degradation of the present as caused by the attachment to universal ideals. This second point pertains to the Will to Power and the eternal recurrence of the same – a statement on the Being of beings – see Nietzsche blog posts for more info.

Talking about ‘the everyday’ has some implications that need to be set apart. The everyday refers to the perceived everyday experienced by an individual subject. The implication of the activities of the subjects own memories in this everyday experience is that the past is always present and always fighting for attention in the present. The seduction of the past lives with us. It beckons us to grasp what has been and remake it differently. This is the central theme of La Jetee, of Vertigo (Hitchcock), of the Greek myth Oedipus and perhaps even an inversion of the stories of Kafka – that is; to wake up in the present without the desire to reshape it according to an ideal found in both an individual past and collective past. To no longer reshape the present is to break a fundamental contract with the past and with memory itself. In another sense this could be construed as an argument founded in solipsism; that is, the quest to set aside individual subjectivity in order to come upon a form of true objectivity (to prove the existence of others – the brain in a jar, evil demon deception problems) In short, memory construes an idealised past and invades our experience of the present tempting us to not see what is set out directly before us but rather to reshape what is before us to suit an ideal; a fantasy. We want to re-make things that have been in order to repeat them and to change them. Dangerous ground for tragic heroes.


Memories exist in the unconscious. The unconscious is our storage unit. Drawing on Freud we can construe the unconscious as a land without time or temporality. Moments from the distant past may be buried deep but have no interest in real temporal orientation and so might erupt into the present creating fractures and disturbances. If the activity of memory constitutes our shaping (re-shaping) of the present then we are destined to madness, or a recurring nightmare; the past is simply an unknowable landscape which cannot be mined for truth. Truth being construed here as an objective viewing of the present, real and unfolding world. The scientists in Marker’s La Jetee attempt to mine and use the memories of their test subjects to reshape the future/past. To achieve their goal they need one of Nietzsche’s evolved human beings – a Nietzshean Superman.


A great lecture by Keith Sanborn –