experiments in performing the moment of self

no breakthrough without breakdown‘ (to quote the last sentence from the – except for the title – german article Just be yourself! Which self? on Cassavetes) .. and … to continue (see former post) with the fluid and processual aspects of performance and attempts to not simply capture those but to make them visible as a driving force for the progressual formation of identity – crucial in both directions: building and disolving. In this concern the films of J.Cassavetes have to be seen as important and inventative contributions.
… The cinematic figure emerges over the course of the film from the collapse of a star, all at once it is the decay of the ideal picture and the survival of the actor. Since this concerns an internal conflict, an overcoming of inherent representations, the figures get hold of themselves through decomposition. Carney described this as ‘ increasingly missing in action ‘. There is a kind of becoming invisible of the figure. …

translated from the following german paragraph:
Die filmische Figur entsteht im Laufe des Filmes aus dem Untergang eines Stars, sie ist zugleich der Untergang des Idealbildes und das Ãœberleben des Schauspielers. Weil es um einen inneren Konflikt geht, um eine Ãœberwindung der inneren Repräsentationen, gewinnen die Figuren sich im Untergang. Carney beschrieb sie als ‘increasingly missing in action’. Es gibt eine Art Unsichtbarwerden der Figur.

Like many others the author (Antje Steiger) of this german paragraphs mainly quotes and relates her references to R.Carney and his main thesis of the method of insecurity as a significant working mode established in and around making the films. In contrast to Carney, who is an early admirer of Cassavetes and has written several books on his films, film critic Adrian Martin points out (and there are others too: see bottom links) that it is time to overcome the limiting view to interprete Cassavetes’ films as mere outacting pschodramas and to discover the inherent structure evolving from their specific form and modus.

Cassavetes’ films open to us slowly, like flowers, gradually revealing their emotional and physical terrains. Each of his films is a distinct, strange planet with its own secret rules and hidden lines of force. “How the frame is composed, how a character is lighted, how the camera moves or doesn’t move” is as much part of the adventure as any use of a person, a body, a face, a voice or a gesture in these movies.

All of Cassavetes’ films transform human questions – all those “questions about love, identity, and definition”, what it is to be and maintain a couple, a family, a community, an individual-in-society – into, at the same time, urgent questions of representation. Every phenomenon explored by his work is treated not as a ‘given’ but as a question, a thing still to exist, a dream to be conjured, a concept to be tested and tried. This is why Nicole Brenez describes the films as a ‘figural laboratory’ – and why they are great films on all formal parameters, not mere photographic ‘documents’ of this or that searing psychodrama. …

.. to comment thus:

It is only when, as participant spectators, we cross over the line with Cassavetes into the fine-grain, filmic dissolution and reformulation of beings, over and over again, that we truly discover how form and content mutually generate each other, and how “actions, gestures, faces or ideas” are (as Comolli also said way back in 1969) actively produced, not reproduced. Cassavetes’ films simultaneously ‘create the event’ and ask of it: what’s happening in this swirl that constitutes a person, a relationship, an action, a scene?

… The criticism in A.Martin’s article concerns the dominating interpretation of Carney and aims to resolve Cassavetes from the heroic and purely emotional-dramatic background he merged into through an interesting, but very one-sided interpretation. He points also to some hardly realized facts like the comic like attitude in composition, the drifting access of space, the laboratory of the processual, …
But not only to follow his intention and get Cassavetes out of the cult figure myth by allowing a re-discovery of the work for filmic analysis which might enable as well to re-locate his work within a wider – intercultural – context … – it is in any case worth to (re) view those great films and eventually reassess their interpretation:
The Criterion Collection Cassavetes’ Films on DVD
– also here (same but some further descriptions)

… and for those within the area of 3sat TV station there are still two films to come to your house …

further links:
J.Rosenbaum on Carney’s books on Cassavetes
C.Tsiolkas on Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes

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3 thoughts on “experiments in performing the moment of self

  1. Thanks, Monika, for your thoughts on Cassavetes, and the creative way you take forth some of my ideas on his great films. Your blogsite is terrific. I hope you read my co-edited adventure ROUGE at http://www.rouge.con.au

    all best wishes, Adrian

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