Category Archives: Writing

on color

notes on editing, Johan van der Keuken

Situations in a film don’t really explain anything. What counts is that they have come about by way of participation. And it is only by way of participation that they can come to mean something to the viewer.

Since I am unable to see things in pure isolation, I have also introduced a destructive emotion. Life erodes every statement you make.

If you operate on that wavelength you create prototypes of reality. This can be done in very simple everyday images. I would rather not have power over specialized technical machinery. Film is more a way to put things into a context than to create a story. An innovation of the eye.

As soon as a person has been filmed, he is no longer a person but a piece of fiction, filmed material. And yet, at the same time, he goes on living.

There is a great amount of tension in this double movement. Discovering a form for this tension means projecting an imaginary world and describing the human struggle within it.

By linking the approach of the painter to the love of music, I am gradually entering the realm of poetry.

July 1969

When you make a film, you constantly think, What is the next step, what sound, what text, what music, what act, what fact can I link to this shot? How do I connect everything to everything? In the first instance, film works by a process of expansion. When you take a photograph, you think: how do I get all those observations into one and the same shot? How do I separate that one picture from all the others? How do I stop it and get it to stand still? Photography mainly works by a process of reduction. I have noticed that my way of thinking tends to be a predominantly binary one, a binarity that dissolves into endless combinations. It is never a matter of this or that but always of this and that: indoors and outdoors, people and things, the others and me, north and south.

A binary stance that sets me editing. Two elements compete and merge into one concept without their battle ever completely ending: The individual against the surface also always remains the individual in the surface. Solving this conflict in a unity of vision, but still keeping it alive all the while, is a contradiction the film medium has easily managed to live with. In photography, it is more difficult to show the montage in its active stage within one and the same picture. If you want to do that, taking pictures is more difficult than making films. You have much less to work with. After years of filmmaking, I too have seen the idea of the unique picture fade away. In retrospect, reality seemed to have been disguised as often as revealed by it. One second of film frequently contained a number of meaningful and varied photograms, thus making the selection of that one and only photograph I had in mind quite a problem. The intensity with which you take your photographs, the desire to make your move at exactly the right moment, gives the photograph an added emotional value that no single film photogram has, affected as it is by chance circumstances. But that element of chance, once it is admitted, menaces an image that is perhaps only an ideal image born of the fear of the free fall, that absolute image in which everything that moves chaotically is called
to order.

In my attitude to film, this idea of collage still plays a significant role. It is a certain kind of freedom that you grant to the images. You donÕt have any pretense about knowing all the feasible potentials of every image. There is a remainder, a more or less remote region where the image means nothing. And the more freedom you give the image at the start, the more leeway you have to create complicated rela- tions between images, to play a fascinating game between reality and the imagination, in which meanings are rounded off like a buoy. You also move farther and farther away from the social arena, where battles are not only fought with concepts but with real weapons as well. The more progress you make as a filmmaker, the more you view your work as a force, be it perhaps a modest one, in the social struggle. One of the repercussions is then that the free, autonomous image often has to be subordinated to the image as the bearer of meanings. I have the feeling that, in covering precisely this ground, the art of montage has enriched its possibilities.

First it dissociated itself from meaning and concept and became collage. By way of an acknowledgement of the limitations that our society (and perhaps every society) imposes upon us, it returned to the formulation of concepts. But in the process, it became a kind of montage that also incorporates the collage and exhibits a constant interchange between freedom and collective necessity. Dialectics that are left wing in their consequences but that “preserve the level of surprise.”

On “The Truth 24 Times a Second”

The idea of “the truth 24 times a second”* is erroneous. The acceleration that takes place in the mechanical process creates a gap between the “function” of mechanical repetition and it’s “form” as a continuous flow that is only perceivable in a purely subjective experience of time.

Fragmentation, in the present day montage conception, is not an automatic result of a fragmentation built into the mechanics of the film. It solely corresponds to the searching movements in our consciousness, to the shifting back and forth between the various layers of reality. Just as the corners, holes, convex and concave surfaces in a given space can be explored, the time fragments in the film correspond to the convex and concave surfaces in our time experience as it is shaped by various states of mind.

Whereas Eisenstein’s “cubist” montage created an equivalent in time for the free standpoint in some given space, in today’s montage we move freely in a space that no longer has any borders. The dialectic element lies in the fact that, again and again, the montage is abolished by it’s own disappearance, an amorphous flood of observations in which shapes waveringly emerge. These shapes represent, so to speak, our feeling of responsibility, choice, direction. They are microscopic signs of everyday solidarity in the flow of perception.

Film is such an impressionable medium that any schematic categorization within time and space has become unfeasible. This is the freedom and the uncertainty we have acquired since cubism. (Whereas most films, even modern ones, are still at some pre-cubist evolutionary stage such as impressionism, or on some sidetrack of modern art as magic realism.) Anything and everything can serve to turn a film into a space. The important thing is not the reproduction of a three-dimensional reality, but by way of the “time elements” in a film, the creation of an autonomous space. The whole syntaxis of camera angles and movements that was once hoped for has been shattered along with the notion of a unified space or a central piece of subject matter or, one step further, a mechanical fragmentation countering that central piece of subject matter. In spite of what we have been taught, on the level of montage, the “cut” can introduce an element of slackness.

Even more importantly, it can provide the horizontal or vertical lines with which we demarcate the very transitory arenas or playgrounds in the space of our film. From this totality of undefined spaces and wavering shapes, a final form emerges as soon as the film has unwound itself. This final form, convenient in size, can be wrapped up by the viewer and carried off in his head. It is a thing, but it is a thing that moves, it is fragile and expansive at the same time and it can loose itself in the space inside the head. But as long as we can keep an eye on what is going on in there, whenever we want, we can scrutinize the forces that rule reality or, for whoever wishes to put it that way, the universe.

The dynamic equilibrium of a composition is a permanent check on the tension, violence and aggression in the real world. In that sense, it is an ideal state of affairs. The every-day aspect, the upper layer of consciousness consists of never forgetting the unchecked violence and its opposite pole, the unchecked slackness. If the final aim of a work of art is the breaking down of weak forms and the creation of an equilibrium of strong forms, then weaknesses, stagnations and moments of shattering fervor also have to be included in the composition. This means that one has to choose one’s point of departure in ordinary reality which, in essence, rebels every way it can against composition.

Thus film has two layers, the unending interaction of strong forms in dynamic equilibrium expressing a general progressive view of the world, and a series of moments of stagnation and unresolved violence, corresponding to the individual fate that can not (yet) be steered by strong forms and usually accounts for the more anecdotal streams in the film. But in the process of filmmaking, these two layers have to merge into a final form in which there is no longer any hierarchic distinction between the component elements. This is why even a text or anecdote can become a spatial element. Emotionally speaking, the “work” of filmmaking is indeed the energy expended mirroring information back and forth and granting that information its final form. The film itself is only a vehicle for information, not a product. It is a substance that possesses certain characteristics that can be played off against each other. This accounts for the idea of dynamic structure in contrast to the idea of a final product.

* A statement by Jean-Luc Godard in Le Petit Soldat: “Photography is the truth, and cinema is the truth 24 times a second”

July-August 1967

zadie smith on facebook, on being & representing a self, on being owned

read the whole piece here in the NYRB


When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.


You want to be optimistic about your own generation. You want to keep pace with them and not to fear what you don’t understand. To put it another way, if you feel discomfort at the world they’re making, you want to have a good reason for it. Master programmer and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier (b. 1960) is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical. Lanier is interested in the ways in which people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. “Information systems,” he writes, “need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality” (my italics). In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a “person.” In life, we all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation, Lanier argues, which is

“based on [a] philosophical mistake…the belief that computers can presently represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.”

We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.


Lanier wants us to be attentive to the software into which we are “locked in.” Is it really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing the needs we feel in order to convince ourselves that the software isn’t limited? As Lanier argues:

Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.


Software may reduce humans, but there are degrees. Fiction reduces humans, too, but bad fiction does it more than good fiction, and we have the option to read good fiction. Jaron Lanier’s point is that Web 2.0 “lock-in” happens soon; is happening; has to some degree already happened. And what has been “locked in”? It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

But here I fear I am becoming nostalgic. I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed. Because I find I agree with Zuckerberg: selves evolve.


…the advertising money that will rain down on Facebook—if and when Zuckerberg succeeds in encouraging 500 million people to take their Facebook identities onto the Internet at large—this money thinks of us the other way around. To the advertisers, we are our capacity to buy, attached to a few personal, irrelevant photos.

love for lydia


One of the characters in Roberto Bolaño’s last book 2666 offers us a field guide to phobias.


The classic fears:
Claustrophobia: “fear of confined spaces”
Gephyrophobia: “the fear of crossing bridges”
Agoraphobia: “fear of open spaces”
Necrophobia: “fear of the dead”
Hemophobia: “fear of blood”
Iatrophobia: “fear of doctors”

The religious fears:

Sacraphobia: “fear or hatred of the sacred, of sacred objects, especially from your own religion”
Peccatophobia: “fear of committing sins”

The weirder fears:
Clinophobia: “fear of beds” (how to deal with the problem: “sleeping on the floor and never going into a bedroom”)
Tricophobia: “fear of hair” (where some “cases end in suicide”)
Verbophobia: “fear of words” (Verbophobia is more than not speaking “because words are everywhere, even in silence, which is never complete silence.” Another name for fear is Logophobia.)
Vestiphobia: “fear of clothes” (which is “more widespread than you’d expect”)
Gynophobia: “fear of women” (this “naturally afflicts only men” and is “very widespread in Mexico . . . almost all Mexican men are afraid of women”)

The romantic fears:
Ombrophobia: “fear of rain”
Thalassophobia: “fear of the sea”
Anthophobia: “fear of flowers”
Dendrophobia: “fear of trees”

The still weirder fears:
Optophobia: “fear of opening the eyes” (this is “even worse” than the fear of eyes because “in a literal sense, it leads to violent attacks, loss of consciousness, visual and auditory hallucinations, and generally aggressive behavior”)
Pedophobia: “fear of children”
Ballistopobia: “fear of bullets”

Phobias on the rise:
Tropophobia: “fear of making changes or moving”
Agyrophobia: “fear of streets or crossing the street”

Fears you yourself probably have but haven’t named:
Ergophobia: “fear of work”
Decidophobia: “fear of making decisions”
Anthrophobia: “fear of people”
Astrophobia: “fear of meteorological phenomena like thunder and lightning”

Other fears:
Chromophobia: “fear of certain colors”
Nyctophobia: “fear of night”

The worst phobias:
Pantophobia: “fear of everything”
Phobophobia: “fear of fear itself” (Campos comments, “If you’re afraid of your own fears, you’re forced to live in constant contemplation of them, and if they materialize, what you have is a system that feeds on itself, a vicious cycle.”)

Proudly using Dynamic Headers by Nicasio WordPress Design