DUTCH ESSAY - DE PALMA CREATES A MIRROR THAT REFLECTS ON THE ESSENCE OF CINEMA
At Sabzian, Gerard-Jan Claes and Nina de Vroome have written an interesting article that looks at Brian De Palma's Blow Out, citing Lewis Carroll and Roland Barthes, and illustrated with generous amount of images from the film. Here's an excerpt, with the assistance of Google translation:
De Palma reports as a painter who can only report on painting by making a painting himself. It is as if he realizes that in the end you can only say something about the body of a film by creating a new body. His cinema is essentially always a making-of, not as an instructional video that explains technically how a film is created, but as a mirror that reflects on the essence of cinema. A mirror is always more than a two-dimensional plane that reflects an opposite image. It also opens up a space in which another variant of reality lives. The mirror image shows the things you never saw before, peculiarities and details that never before stood out but at the same time remain uncomfortably recognizable. The familiar image is given a new form as reflection, like the characters in a book that is held in front of the mirror.
In the editing studio, Jack is instructed by the director to find a scream that fits the image. As a professional sound man he goes out that night to collect sounds. At a bridge over a river Jack takes sound close-ups. Through his headphones we are made part of the sensory closeness of the sound of the things that Jack captures. He holds his microphone with his bare hand, as if it were a gun, and shoots his listening ear into the distance. There is a couple on the bridge. The woman whispers in our ear: "What is he, a Peeping Tom or something?" In light of the first scene even the benign curiosity of our Jack gets a suspicious side. Listening is listening, because in the chair of cinema it becomes clear that looking and listening are never innocent. An owl, the loving couple and a frog unleash themselves from the night scene to show themselves to Jack as isolated figures. Suddenly he hears the hard bang of a car tire, slipping wheels, the railing of the bridge breaking into pieces and a great splash. Together with the car, an attractive passenger sinks into the depth. Jack intervenes and saves her from death. But what appears? Beside her was a man who leaves behind a bubbling trail of air bubbles.
A bit later, Jack, together with the drowning woman, seeks refuge in a motel where he again hears the sound, this time not to verify whether it can be used for a gratuitous film scene, but to bring a hidden truth to light. What actually happened during the recording? He starts a reconstruction. With his pencil he does the movements he made with his microphone. The line that pulls the directed microphone through the space seeks to connect the area with a possible perpetrator. With the pencil in his hand Jack manages to bring that conscious evening back to life. In this scene it becomes tangible that sound initiates a much stronger reminder mechanism than image. By playing the sound again and letting the pencil move with it, Jack tries to find out the origin of the sound. The sounds he hears become the soundtrack of his memory. They are able to bring back the image that had slipped into this memory. We see him in a motel room, but his physical presence is subordinate to his mental absence. Just as Jack relives a moment from the past, the spectator in the cinema is similarly always split in the meantime. The voices and faces in a film always refer to a different moment, to the moment of recording. The viewer always looks at events that have already taken place. He looks back at things that have been lost, that have been erased by time and that brings the film back to life as a reminiscence. Discovery and re-experience take place simultaneously in a present that consists of the past.
The technique that Jack uses to "rewrite" his memory with the pencil does not take him any further. He continues his research into the possible murder. He not only tries to fathom the conspiracy, but at the same time works as an accomplice of De Palma, who seizes Jack's quest to further dismantle the cinematic device. He comes into contact with a journalist who has been able to record the accident in a series of photographs. The photographs themselves do not suffice as evidence. Unlike the photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up Jack does not lose himself in the analysis of dust and dots in the texture of the photo. He immediately looks for a way to "uplift" the medium from photography to cinema, as if the value of a photo can only be named as a film still for him. Only when successive film stills are placed synchronously on a sound band, does the miracle of reality arise. When he looks at his montage, his mouth falls open, because of what becomes visible in this film, but also for the appearance of cinema itself.
All of this leaves the graceful drowning woman Jack has fallen in love with cold. Sally has no interest in his search. But was she not right next to the man who is no longer alive? From her point of view, Jack's discoveries should have aroused her interest, but not according to the logic of the film: the excitement in Blow Out stems in part from the fact that everyone works against Jack, that no one believes him, that nobody cares about the truth. De Palma also argues that he is free of that obligation. It does not matter what the truth is. It only matters that the viewer feels that a truth is buried in the fabric of the film. As in a B-movie, the viewer has to be served and as long as set-up and payoff are connected, according to De Palma every narrative obligation is met. A real conspiracy has an ideological agenda and he does not burn his fingers. Meanwhile, the viewer is continually being misled and delusions and reality start to mix. There are a number of strong plot twists that defy every logic. Like the spectator, Jack gets entangled in conspiracy theories. Is he crazy? Or is there something wrong?
This brings us to a next lesson from De Palma. In the cinema you are constantly looking for hints and directions. Something always happens. Is it not visible in the picture, or hidden behind the scenes. The work of the mastermind that makes everyone believe that a serial killer is ravaging the country is reflected in the work of the director who is in charge. Watching a movie has always had to deal with the feeling that it works simultaneously behind the scenes and in full view. It is dealing with the chimera of a conspiracy, with the idea that you are being defrauded. Because whether you are being manipulated or not, there is always a concrete result: as a spectator you get misled in a specific way, you become connected to the world on the screen with a "technical umbilical cord" (Lauwaert). Always that ambiguous experience: suspension of disbelief and the feeling that someone is listening to you.