Guide to Reading Deleuze’s Cinema II, Part III: From Image-Crystals to the Powers of the False
[So, continuing my series on reading Deleuze’s Cinema I & II. My hope is that when I’ve got this series done, people will be able to read my posts on these books, and be able to tackle them on their own, without a class to help guide them through it, and without using one of the secondary sources you can find on Amazon (each of which I find ultimately lacking in some respects, for a variety of reasons). However, in no way should these posts be seen as a summary or synposis of any sort! Rather, they are simply here to clear up things that make it difficult for people to read these books on their own. But these are two of the richest books written on film, and treasure troves for philosophers as well. These are nearly infinitely rich books, these posts are barely scratching the surface! If you want to be truly inspired, just open to any page . . .]
Transition to the Powers of the False: Crystals, Peaks, and Sheets
Today I’m going to tackle what Deleuze calls the ‘powers of the false’. He addresses these after the crystal image, discussed a bit in my last post, but which I want to expand on a little before going into the powers directly.
Deleuze says that there are four types of crystal (and he adds a fifth type in his discussion). These are films which give us perfect crystals, cracked crystals, forming crystals, and decomposing crystals. The perfect crystal he aligns with the films of Max Ophuls, in which copies proliferate with seemingly no end in sight (for example, in a film like Lola Montes, in which the circus act and the memories of her life mirror each other back and forth at the expense of chronological narrative). The cracked crystal he identifies with the films of Renoir, in which there is often a play of mimicry between characters which is finally disrupted by one event which creates a line of flight out of the hall of mirrors (like the gunshot at the end of Rules of the Game). Fellini is the filmmaker of the crystal in formation, for example, in a film like 8 1/2, anything the main character Guido sees in his ‘real’ life can act as a ‘seed’ to crystallize the ‘medium’ of his inner world to produce extended flights into memory or fantasy. Deleuze argues that in later Fellini, we often see spaces (like the rooms in the housing projects in ancient Rome in Satyricon) represent separate pathways in time, forming a giant spatial crystal of time. And finally Deleuze describes Visconti as the filmmaker of the crystal in decomposition. Visconti’s films often show us the fall of the wealthy and powerful. These are figures who have been able to make their worlds resemble, mimic, and mirror them in a variety of ways. But in Visconti’s films, everything his formerly powerful figures touch begins to disintegrate, decrystallize.
Tarkovsky, however, takes pride of place in this chapter, and Deleuze describes his work, in some beautiful passages, as films of the turning crystal. We see particular scenes, like the reeds or chemical oceans in Solaris, that seem to try to image the process of crystallization of time itself, as a constantly churning self-differingness. This is what Deleuze calls the turning crystal.
Deleuze then begins to discuss filmmakers who present us with shatterings of more human forms of time-image. Remember that he presents us with the human versions of the time image, namely, mnemo-signs (recognition and recollection-images) and oneiro-signs. But then he moves to hyalo-signs (mirror images) and image crystals. Just as image-crystals blast apart human notions of time from the outside, seemingly, outflanking human notions of time with mirrors and crystals, he then examines filmmakers that explode human time, as it were, from within.
Some filmmakers present us with a series of present moment, present moments which never seem to line up in any sort of progression, and seem to contradict each other, as if they came from parallel universes in which different things occur. For example, it is simply not possible to both go to the movies and not go to the movies this afternoon. Or to go to the movies, get on a plane to Europe, and go swimming in the ocean, all at 3pm today. These are what Leibniz would call incompossible events, they can’t all happen at the same time, at least not in the same universe or world. In parallel universes, each with a copy of you, however, if would be possible (if you believe in, or if there are, parallel universes, of course!). For Deleuze, some films present us with incompossible presents, each of which then feels less real (deactualizes), due to the presence of others.
For example, in Last Year at Marienbad, the female lead at some points seems to remember certain events happening last year, while at other points, she insists they couldn’t have happened. And rather than not being sure, she seems fully sure each time. It is as she is living in two parallel dimensions, one in which she is sure something did happen last year, and in the other, is sure it didn’t. Deleuze sees this as a breakdown of the notion of the present moment itself, and hence, a film with multiple, rather than one, peak of the present.
Deleuze also sees multiple peaks of the present in the films of Luis Bunuel, particularly in a film like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie, in which the ensemble of characters seems to jump from setting to setting, each time about to have dinner, and then each time interrupted. It is nearly as if they were trying to do one event, namely, have dinner, yet it gets interrupted in multiple worlds all at the same time. The present becomes dissociated into multiple incompossible milieu, thereby providing us with another approach to the multiplicity of the present.
Deleuze then describes at length the films of Orson Welles, in which the investigation of the past is an essential concern. In a film like Citizen Kane, Welles displays the past often as layers within the depth-of-field of the film itself. Often we will see the older Kane inhabit a different visual plane in the same film frame as his younger self. For Deleuze these characters inhabit different sheets of the past. In Welles’ early films, these sheets all can be sewn together, so to speak, to produce a coherent, single past. But in Welles’ later films, like Mr. Arkaddin or F for Fake, the past becomes unstable, and the sheets don’t line up. We have multiple pasts, and find it difficult to tell which is necessarily true. From here, Deleuze makes his transition to the powers of the false . . .
Before going there, however, one essential thing to keep in mind. Simply showing the Solaris ocean does not a time-image make. If Tarkovsky had simply shown the ocean, or Fellini Roman apartment buildings with different things happening in all the rooms, these would be movement-images, not time-images. It is only the linkages between these crucial images and the others in the film that allow us to say that they represent not merely movement, but also time. The Solaris ocean is a representation of the way time manifests in the film, it’s formal structure, just as Fellini’s Roman apartments are a differing form of the same. Time images represent the structure of interrelations between movement-images. This is why montage was an indirect way of representing time, but in something like the Solaris ocean or Fellini’s apartements or Resnais’ hotel in Marienbad, we see an attempt to visualize within a movement-image the time-structure of the film itself, which is what makes these attempts to directly image time.
The Powers of the False
I’ve written about this section of the Cinema books before, if in slightly different contexts, and I’m convinced the transition to the powers of the false represent as massive a shift in the Cinema books as that between Book I and Book II. If you notice, Book II is so much thicker than Book I, and honestly, I think the second half of Book II should’ve been its own book, because honestly, it’s a different creature. In my mind, there is Book I: The Movement-Image, Book II: The Time-Image, and Book III: The Powers of the False.
The third part of the Cinema books is really where Deleuze articulates his vision for cinema. Some of Deleuze’s most beautiful, powerful, and evocative passages are here. Also some of the most difficult. I also think this section is less clearly organized than what preceded it. So in what follows, I’ll try to present what Deleuze is ‘really’ up to, and in a logical, relatively straightforward fashion.
There are four primary powers of the false. These powers correspond to what Deleuze calls the crystalline regime in film, as opposed to the more traditional organic regime. The four primary powers of the false, which roughly correspond to the following four aspects of traditional film, which Deleuze then proceeds to explode in his own way, are as follows: 1) CHARACTER (subject), 2) OBJECT (bodies/gestures/series), 3) GENRE (categories/meta-series/topology/unconscious), and 4) PLOT (narrative/meaning/reading). I’ll explain each in turn.
Character: From the Man of Action/Truth to the Forger
Traditional cinema before WWII, or dominant cinema after WWII, presents us with the cinema of action, either in crisis mode, or in denial. These films are dominated by two primary types of character, namely, the man of truth, and the man of action. The man of truth wants to know, and at the end of the film, generally does know the answer to some sort of big question, there is resolution to some sort of crisis, etc. The man of action, on the contrary, solves problems via action. Bruce Willis is a classic man of action, while a detective or scientist that can figure out the truth behind appearances, like a Perry Mason, is a traditional man of truth. Deleuze oppses this to his hero of the powers of the false, namely, the forger, the one who tells tall-tales, spins yarns, the storyteller. This character may have a sinister side (like Welles’ sinister Mr. Arkaddin), one who sadistically glorifies in fooling others (and hence has similarities to the anal-imaginary father in psychoanlaysis), or may be more of an artist (like the character Welles’ plays of himself in F for Fake). While forger has a sinister edge to it, I prefer the term artist, and the artist is the one who glorifies in the power of art to create new worlds. While the forger delights in destroying the certainties of those who long for truth, and represent the destructive side of this power of the false, the artist is the one who loves creation and its limitless possibilities for its own sake.
Objects: From murder weapons to the powers of unknown bodies
We all know classic cinema objects, from murder weapons to the clues tracked by detectives, to the bodies of characters that are lusted after from afar (which are subjects treated like objects). For Deleuze, anything presented by a film can become a body, anything can be extracted from the situation presented in a film and become significant. If in traditional cinema only certain things are reocgnized as bodies, and are carved out by the powers of cliche under the dominance of the ultimate cliche, namely, the sensory-motor schema, then the powers of the false want to create new bodies in cinema. He sees this happening primarilly in what he calls the cinema of bodies (which he sometimes calls the cinema of gestures) which carve a body out of space via the powers of film. In this section of Cinema II, Deleuze examines the manner in which in the gritty proto-reality TV realisms of filmmakers like Cassavettes and Clarke, bodies seem to “secrete the narrative” from them. Cassavettes would semi-improvise stories from characters invented in workshops with his main actors. The bodies come first, the roles and stories afterwards, and always a blurring between them. This is the cinema of the everyday body. But Deleuze also examines the cinema of the ritual body, in films by avant-garde filmmakers like Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, etc.
While he doesn’t mention Kenneth Anger, Anger’s films give us great examplesw of cinema as a space for new rituals which make the human body, and the bodies of objects, function in new and different ways. For Deleuze, what carves a body out of the world of a film is always the series, a series of events which make the body significant. For example, in Anger’s 1954/1966 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, the act of putting on jewelry, and particularly of putting jewelry in one’s mouth, becomes highly ritualized. By showing many hands and mouths doing these actions, the hands and mouths become objects in their own right, they leap out of the film and become objects that dominate a whole section of the film. Series present powers, and here we see Deleuze bringing the cinema of bodies into contact with the notion of powers presented in the affection-image section from Book I.
While there are some similarities between the cinema of the forger (along with other subjective categories presented in Book II such as op/son-signs, peaks/sheets) and the perception-image of Book I, and the cinema of bodies and the affection-image, the link is somewhat tenuous. More synthetic work would need to be done to make these linkages, which I don’t think Deleuze really explicitely makes himself. That said, it’s clear that much of what he attempts to do in Book II is to explode the categories of Book I, and show how a cinema beyond the movement image is possible, so it seems to me that Deleuze easily could’ve gone down this road if he’d chosen to do so (and which we can if we choose as well).
Ok, I’ll cover the final two powers of the false, which are much more complex, and are expanded by Deleuze in several chapters of Cinema II, in my last and final blog post in this series . . .