Cinema: Body and Brain
The idea comes from Gilles Deleuze: two types of cinema, one tending more toward the body, the other emphasising the brain. It's not a strict or absolute distinction: every film mixes both tendencies in varying proportions. As with all things, it's a matter of degree, of emphasis.
But we know what the philosopher means. The cinema of the body is John Cassavetes, Maurice Pialat, Elaine May, Abel Ferrara, Philippe Garrel. A physical, visceral cinema, centred on the flesh, on the contact of bodies, on eroticism and violence, on 'corporeal subjectivity'. A cinema where the camera gets in the middle of the messy flux of life.
At the opposite extreme, a cinema of the brain: cool, cerebral, systematic, ordered, rational. The cinema of Harun Farocki, Stanley Kubrick, Alain Resnais, Alexander Kluge, Brian De Palma, Straub & Huillet. Calm, highly structured. An essayistic cinema, whether in documentary or fiction mode.
Godard, Varda, Breillat, von Trier, Eustache, Akerman — many filmmakers alternate between brain-films and body-films, where one or the other tendency is dominant. Or they mix both impulses in the same film. But the recent deaths of two masters reminds us of the polarity between these extremes — and the immense artistry that arises in the tension, the back-and-forth movement between them at the greatest heights of film history.
Stephen Dwoskin and Chris Marker, body and brain. Dwoskin, free-ranging avant-gardist for over 50 years, creating his œuvre in intimate proximity to his own, disabled body — and going all the way to the outer limits of physical (as well as psychical) pleasure and pain, in search of literal and metaphorical nakedness.
Patient portraitist of the individual human face in ecstasy or torment (or both at once); restless map-maker of the confused tangle of human limbs in contact and motion, beyond the conventional limits of identity or gender. Just as we see, for instance, in his Central Bazaar (1975), where an 'encounter group' hippie-Happening results in a complete loss of personal borders — and the face of Carola Regnier (who died last November) registers the ambivalent emotions.
Marker: always the text, written or spoken, effortlessly eloquent, a triumph of rhetoric, wit and poetic association. Words, thought, language guide everything in Marker's work, even though he was (like Dwoskin) someone with a prodigious visual (and aural) sense.
Marker's images — from the earliest films of the 1950s through to his last playful videos, Second Life perambulations and on-line audiovisual gifts — came to us as arranged like a super-size, labyrinthine filing cabinet: compared, cross-referenced, superimposed, and above all subjected to the most rigorous montage. Like when he laid an image of soldiers in formation over Denise Bellon's photo of a glorious nude in Remembrance of Things to Come (2003), with that clever, smooth voice on the soundtrack guiding us through the starkly changing history of 'physical culture' from the between-wars years to the onset of World War II.
There are also many connections we can make between these two crucial artists — in order to discover how cinema as a medium can build a 'network' spanning the too-often opposed poles of body and brain. After all, didn't Dwoskin describe his own, mobile, trembling 'camera eye' as a form of 'visual thinking' — not simply an expression of a rudely libidinal gaze, as some mistook it in the 1970s and '80s? And didn't Marker carve out, in his daily still-photographic and videographic practice, a store of visual and sensual obsessions (cats, street graffiti, women in crowds and on trains, lovers in the metro — all of which we see in Chats perchés, 2004) that lead us into a singular, personal universe?
A friend remarked, when he realised that Marker made it to the age of 91, productive (like Dwoskin) to the very end: "That's serious history". Each artist, in their distinctive ways, via sensations and reflections, recorded the double trace of changing history: the imprints that the world leaves on the body and in the brain.