The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
My essay On Icarus’ Wings. The Cinematic Experience of Falling Bodies has been published in issue 4 of Czech journal Iluminace – The Journal of Film Theory, History and Aesthetics. The essay describes the ways in which the film spectator experiences physically and psychically the cinematic representation of falling human bodies, with particular regard to the culmination of this movement: the impact. The latter is usually not shown on screen because of its psycho-physiological ‘violence’. Cinema employs a series of stylistic strategies – ‘replacement’, ‘obscuration’, ‘diversion’, ‘interposition’ intended to represent the unrepresentable. To explain how these strategies operate, I draw upon both recent neurocognitive experiments and classic experimental psychology demonstrations on visual occlusion and evaluate their implications for film aesthetics. The essay concludes with a brief analysis of a short film on 9/11 by A. G. Iñàrritu in order to illuminate the bond forged between the aforementioned strategies and the symbolic dimensions of the film viewing experience.
Tamtéž lze lokalizovat také téma studie Adriana D’Aloii nazvané „Na Ikarových křídlech“. Její autor se zabývá zdánlivým paradoxem divákova prožitku filmové reprezentace těla ve volném pádu: třebaže dopad těla není téměř nikdy ve filmu plně ukázán, divák emocionálně zakouší pád jako by dokončen byl. Divákově reakci lze podle D’Aloii porozumět na pozadí psychologického a neurovědeckého výzkumu vnímání na cíl zaměřeného jednání. Stejně jako Smithem zkoumaný úlek a bezprostřední empatie, patří i hrůza z pádu lidského těla mezi repertoár základních divákových reakcí.
Here is an excerpt from my essay on the cinematic experience of falling bodies on which I’m working on for publication in an international film studies journal.
The case of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñàrritu’s short film in the collective work 11’09’’01 – September 11 (Canada 2002) is extremely interesting, since the impact with the ground of the falling bodies is not represented at all and since the black screen is used to partially obscure the movement that precedes the impact, which is, therefore, only evoked as the dramatic and inevitable ending of the falls. The black screen represents a darkening of both the visual field and consciousness. The sight at a distance of desperate, defenceless falling bodies is immediately and emphatically experienced by the spectator because of the precarious nature of its representability. The unwatchable, the unbearable, the unrepresentable is embodied in the ‘blind’ gaze offered by the black screen. Deferring, fragmenting, rationing and partially blacking out the movement, Iñàrritu wants to keep us at a distance, in order to make those piteous images acceptable and bearable. The film embodies both a perceptual and an interpretive approach. The unsensory (i.e. the negation of perception) communicates the insensate (the inconceivability of the events). The physic and the psychic are bound together in an empathetic process of understanding. This empathic relationship does not occur through the proximity between the viewer’s body and that of the falling victims, nor through the display of their facial expressions, but rather through the embodiment of expressive qualities of the on-screen event: the film is operating literally on the edge of visual perception, working to focus bodies that are almost indistinguishable from the rubble – falling debris, souls in search of liberation. Verticality is ineluctability, the fall is decline (in fact, the fall of the bodies anticipates and prefigures the fall of the Towers). The strength of the expressive qualities of the images and sounds (which literally surround the spectator, coming from all directions) affects the neurophysiological basis of the spectator’s emotional experience, but reaches a higher, symbolic level: the movement in the space is a sense of void, and the spectators feel they are plummeting. What heightens these emotions is not only the recognition of the bodily conditions of the falling bodies and the generic empathy that arises from our awareness of our human similarity with those people, but also the ‘expressive shape’ of the movement. The representational forms and expressive dynamic have per se – or rather, they are – expressive means that instinctively refer to figurative concepts (the fall as a sense of emptiness, decline, decay, human weakness, dizziness as instability, fear; speed as an uncontrollable, inevitable force) and thus arouse emotions empathetically, i.e. in the form of an immediate understanding of the meaning of the fall: the sensate in the sensorial, and the sensorial in the sensate.
Oggi m’imbatto per caso in questo video di Scott Snibbe e Annie Loui:
“Falling Girl is an immersive interactive narrative installation that allows the viewer to participate in the story of a young girl falling from a skyscraper. During her miraculously slow descent, the girl reacts to the people and events in each window. Daylight fades, night falls and passes, and at dawn, when the falling girl finally lands on the sidewalk, she is an aged woman who bears no resemblance to the young girl who started her fall a few minutes before.
Cameras situated in the room and connected to computer incorporate images of viewers themselves that appear in the apartments that the falling girl passes. These are juxtaposed with the ever present central image of the girl in silhouette falling slowly along the skyscraper’s side as she gets older and older. In this way, viewers participate in this tale about the shortness of our lives and the petty concerns that often occupy us.
The project is a collaboration between interactive media artist Scott Snibbe and choreographer/filmmaker Annie Loui.”
My hypothesis is that along the history of images a series of specific and recurrent “experiential figures” have arisen that have proved to be a functional way to set up the psychological relation between images and observers. In order to study the perceptual-emotional-cognitive relationship between the spectator and the images, we can take into account the fall of human body since it is particularly interesting for its philosophical significance and its capability to engage a corporeal relation with the spectator. I wonder if a good way of studying the nature of this double corpor(e)ality – the representational and the spectatorial one – should be investigating its historical origin, that is its genealogy in the history of visual culture. In the history of art, the genealogy of the figure of fall probably starts with the visual representation of the fall of Lucifero (the fallen angel) and Icaro (the fallen God).
La mia idea è che lungo la storia della rappresentazione per immagini si è conformata una serie di precise e ricorrenti “figure esperienziali” e che tali figure abbiano funzionato e funzionino come modalità funzionale di predisposizione della relazione psicologica fra immagini e osservatori. Per studiare la relazione percettiva-cognitiva-emotiva fra spettatore e immagini, possiamo considerare la caduta del corpo umano come una particolare forma esperienziale di ingaggio corporeo dello spettatore, resa peraltro più interessante dalla sua valenza filosofica. Mi chiedo se un buon modo per studiare la natura di questa doppia corporalità – quella rappresentazionale e quella spettatoriale – non debba essere un’indagine sulle sue origini storiche, la sua genealogia nella storia del visuale. Nella storia dell’arte, la genealogia della figura della caduta si origina probabilmente con la rappresentazione della caduta di Lucifero (l’angelo caduto) e Icaro (il dio caduto).
La caduta di Icaro (Jacob Peter Gowy, 1636-7)
La caduta di Lucifero (Gustave Doré, 1886)
La caduta di Icaro (Marc Chagall, 1975)
While my clip shows only the final part of the fall (proving that the fatal impact is a censored circumstance – at least in Western culture), this poetic found-footage video by Oliver Pietsch, entitled Maybe Not, will provide you with a “full-fall” experience:
Can you identify the films from which these scenes are cutted out? Do you know any other movie that shows a falling bodies?
[Many thanks to Michael Goddard to have signalled me the video].
In the latest months I have been trying to figure out how cinema represents the falling of human bodies. My idea is that the representation of fall leads to a peculiar kind of relation between images and spectators. On the basis of neural specularity (mirror neurons), we are able to directly feel an empathetic relation with falling bodies, as if we were those very bodies that are falling. The spectator’s corporality is involed in viewing of such images. But how? – that’s the question. Probably the spectator is involved in a wide range of engagements, concerning perceptual, cognitive and emotional patterns. Just to give you an overlook on the topic, I edited this short (and funny) video:
In questi mesi sto cercando di studiare quali sono le modalità con cui il cinema rappresenta la caduta del corpo umano. La mia ipotesi è che la rappresentazione della caduta porti a una particolare forma di relazione fra le immagini e gli spettatori. Sulla base della specularità motoria (neuroni specchio), siamo in grado di sentire direttamente una corrispondenza empatica con il corpo in caduta, come se fossimo noi stessi a cadere. La corporeità dello spettatore è coinvolta nella visione di questo tipo di immagini. Ma come? Probabilmente il coinvolgimento dello spettatore si può realizzare lungo un’ampia gradazione di possibilità, a seconda dei pattern percettivi, cognitivi ed emotivi attivati. Solo per dare un’occhiata generale sull’argomento, ho montato questo breve (e divertente) video: