Film Theory

Poetics of Cinema 2 by Raúl Ruiz

Eleven years since the publication of Poetics of Cinema, Raúl Ruiz continues his articulate, erudite, and insightful rumination in Poetics of Cinema 2, a lithe and infectious, yet densely referential, cross-pollinated exposition on the art and nature of image-making in an age of an overexposed cinema that, in its aesthetic democratization and crass commercialization, has fostered a paradoxical culture that is both sacred and banal, rarefied and dying. Intrinsic in Ruiz’s exposition is the autonomy of images, a spectator’s mental process of assimilating visual experience by decontextualizing the images from their imposed seriality (by virtue of ordered presentation such as chronology, guided tour – or its contemporary media equivalent, DVD commentaries – or other modes of accompanying narrative). It is this awareness of an assimilated image’s contextual independence within the spectator’s subconscious – the interactive “art of memory” – that Ruiz underscores the primacy of images over narrative form in the filmmaking process:

Firstly, the images that together make up a film determine what type of narration will structure the film and not the contrary. A film is not made up or composed of a number of shots, but rather it is decomposed by the number of shots; when we see a film of 500 shots, we also see 500 films. Thirdly, a film is valid, aesthetically valid, insofar as the film views the spectator as much as the spectator views the film.

In essence, Ruiz proposes that the independence of images from their respective original sources enables the personal creation and discovery of other “mental realities” – the accidental convergences and patternistic connections within the inexact continuum of a symbiotic, subconscious image registration. Therefore, within this paradigm, the role of the filmmaker becomes one of applying a fixative (as Ruiz suggests), presenting the indelible image – the imago – in a way that reinforces its persistence of memory within the distraction and noise (what Ruiz calls the perepeteias) of the film’s overarching composition.

This idea of decontextualized images as organic, autonomous entities resurfaces in the chapter Fascination and Detachment in which Ruiz argues that the art of cinema lies both in its ability to engage the spectator during the course of the film, as well as its ability to form isolated connections and residual imprint – the iconostasis of the image that continues to exist outside of the film – that has been enabled by the ritualization of the transformative encounter:

We mustn’t forget that to experience a work of art is not simply letting oneself be fascinated by it, a mere falling in love with it, but rather, it’s understanding the process of falling in love. For this, one needs the freedom to move away from the loved object in order to return to it freely. The amorous encounter with the work of art is a practice that can be summarized in the following formula: ‘To love renders one intelligent’.

Ruiz describes this existence of an external collective consciousness – a figurative external brain – as being akin to an electromagnetic field or emanated aura that creates a continuity of memory in its fragmentation and reconstitution even in the absence of immediate experience. Conceptually, Ruiz illustrates this sense of a karmic fatedness in a ghostly encounter between the hero and an enigmatic woman named Ivonne in The Lost Domain:

-I know that tonight we’ll make love and that soon afterwards I will die, but I know we’ll see each other again.

Amazed, the young man asks her:

-We’ll meet after our deaths?
-“Of course not,” she replies. “I don’t believe in such things. We’ll meet in a different way: you, or another man, will come across another woman, not me, like we have tonight, and they will live the same story, and, in this manner, we, like them, will have met.

This sense of infinite convergence also infuses the amorphous, if impenetrable, dream logic of his earlier film, Love Torn in Dream where inescapable destiny is implied through the eternal recursions and permutations of a set of immutable, iconostatic images that repeatedly play out in a series of parallel wormhole tales.

In examining the existence of images outside of their medium of creation, Ruiz further suggests the interplay of vicinity (the experience of the image) and resonance (the intimacy of the image) in the role of the spectator, an integral convergence between the presentation of information and its assimilation that also forms the basis for what Ruiz calls an actor’s “fragmentary work”, where each shot scene requires a certain degree of character reframing and re-invention – a locus of particular egocentricities:

Since Stanislavski, character has been constructed as a clock. A Newtonian clock. Later on, within and outside ‘the method’, the character will cease to be a clock. It’s liquefied; evolution, duration, the flow of emotions and its overflowing are privileged. Though Stanislavski’s counsel is still valuable and useful. In Stanislavski – and here we return to fragmentations – there is a coexistence of mechanical criteria and vitalist attitudes, privileging impulsion, lows and highs, and dramatization of incoherences.

Within this framework, Ruiz envisions an actor’s creation of character as three concentric circles of permeable realities – the projected image (the largest), the self-image (the middle), and the memory of experience (the smallest) – that cumulatively reflect the complexity of character and eschew the staid conventionality of generic, paradigmatic representations: an impossible blankness of character that Ruiz subsequently calls inamible.

This coexistence of interpenetrating realities shaped by both the (super)imposition and intimate resonance of autonomous, living images is perhaps best encapsulated in Ruiz’s stated postulate in the concluding chapter, The Face of the Sea (In Place of an Epilogue):

Here is my own theoretical fiction: in the waking dream that is our receiving the film, there is a counterpart; we start projecting another film on the film. I have said to project and that seems apt. Images that leave me and are superimposed on the film itself, such that the double film – as in the double vision of Breton traditions – becomes protean, filled with palpitations, as if breathing.

Acquarello, 2007 [reprinted]

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