Friday, December 20, 2013

Not Quite Absolute Marxist Movies

...My divided experience of simultaneously watching what I see on the screen and imagining the reactions of the lost audience creates a particular kind of nostalgia that is unique to moving images from another era.

The cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek calls such a divided experience “nostalgic fascination.” Using the genre of film noir to detail his analysis, he asserts that contemporary audiences cannot take the dramatic scenes of film noir seriously. “What we really see when we watch a film noir, is this gaze of the other: we are fascinated by the gaze of the mythic ‘na├»ve’ spectator,” he argues, “the one who was ‘still able to take it seriously,’ in other words, the one who ‘believes in it’ for us, in place of us.” Asserting that our relation to film noir is always divided between fascination and distance, Zizek believes that the distance we feel from the film is, in effect, what draws us to it; the inability to be absorbed by the film’s narrative is the very condition that creates its allure. We are drawn to the gaze of the original audiences—the lost audience who could identify with such a film without irony or sentimentality. The assertion that earlier viewers of film noir necessarily took the films seriously and that present-day viewers cannot is questionable; however, the idea that we experience “double vision” when we watch a historic film is helpful for understanding part of the experience of watching Woodsmen and River Drivers. Constructs of earlier spectators juggled with contemporary perceptions may help to shape the archival film viewing experience. It is as if we watch such a historic film in a room crowded with ghosts. We necessarily watch images of the past through the lens of the present, but our perceptions are haunted by those earlier spectators, the ones whose vision were not encumbered by the phantom audiences that came before them.
- Janna Jones, "Records of Loss"

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