Ktismatics

16 April 2007

I’m a Real Good Listener

Filed under: First Lines, Movies — ktismatics @ 9:29 am

5jpg_6in.jpg

What the hell?
– Sam Shepard, Paris, Texas, 1984

Even if you’ve never seen this movie you might feel like you had. It begins with aerial scenes of the bleak and iconic majesty of the American Southwest. Ry Cooder’s slow slide guitar dominates the soundtrack. A man walks: he looks bad, but his stride is strong. He stops, drinks the last swig from a water bottle, drops it, walks into the void that stretches endlessly before him. He comes upon the barest outpost of human habitation. He steps inside a dark and forlorn bar; Mexican music plays on the juke box. He grabs a handful of ice and eats it, passes out. A man sitting by himself drinking a beer sees him fall and speaks the first line, almost five minutes into the film. The main character, Travis, the walking man, doesn’t say a word until twenty minutes later. That word is Paris.

Paris, Texas is one of those films about alienation in America, where the cities are as empty as the endless desert, where people are as isolated from one another as the stone buttes and mesas standing mute sentinel. This variation on the theme, written by playwright-actor Sam Shepard and directed by the German Wim Wenders, is a really good one.

Travis’s brother picks him up and drives him back to L.A. It turns out nobody’s heard a word from Travis in four years; Travis’s wife Jane is gone too — it’s obvious that something terrible must have happened. Their son Hunter, now eight, has been staying with Travis’s brother and his wife ever since. Slowly, gently, Travis becomes reacquainted with his son, who had all but forgotten him. One day Travis buys an old junker car, picks Hunter up at school, and the two of them begin the long drive back to Houston to find Jane.

Travis and Hunter follow Jane to what looks like a warehouse in a scruffy part of town. Leaving Hunter in the car, Travis goes in the warehouse. It’s broad daylight but inside it seems like nighttime. Several women are lounging; one is partially undressed. A man tells Travis he’s in the wrong place, escorts him upstairs. Two ranks of booths line a central corridor; each booth, numbered, is entered through a cloth curtain. Travis tries booth 10. He takes a seat in a dimly-lit room. He picks up the receiver of a telephone that sits on the table in front of him and places his order: a blonde girl, about 25 years old. There’s a glass partition separating Travis from the other half of the booth, which has been decorated to look like a poolside: beach chairs, umbrella, inflatable toys. A girl comes in wearing a nurse outfit. “Why aren’t you looking at me,” Travis asks her; “can’t you see me?” “Listen sweetheart, if I could see you I wouldn’t be working here.” The glass partition is a one-way mirror: Travis can see the girl but she can’t see him. She’s not the right one: Travis gets up, walks down the corridor, goes in booth 6, sits down.

Travis sits in the dim light, his eyes closed, his hand shielding his face. We hear the door on the other side open, then the girl’s voice, electronically distorted, as if we’re listening through the phone with Travis: “Are you out there? That’s okay, if you don’t want to talk, you know. I don’t want to talk either sometimes. I just like to stay silent. Do you mind if I sit down?” “No,” Travis replies. Now he looks through the glass and sees Jane, dressed in a long fuzzy pink sweater. This booth looks like a cheap motel room without the bed: she stands next to a side table on which are placed a lamp, a telephone, and an intercom speaker box. A wall-mounted TV flickers over Jane’s right shoulder.

“Am I looking at your face now,” Jane asks. Travis doesn’t answer. Jane laughs: “Oh God, it don’t matter. If there’s anything you want to talk about, I’ll just listen, all right? I’m a real good listener.” Travis is silent. “Is there something… I don’t know, is there something I can do for you?” Pause. “Do you mind if I take off my sweater?” No reply. “I’ll just take off my sweater.” She reaches for the hem and begins lifting it. “No, no, don’t, please, please leave it on.” She does. “I’m sorry,” Jane says, “I just don’t know exactly what it is that you want.” “I don’t want anything.” “Well, why’d you come in here then?” “I want to talk to you.” Pause.

Jane, who has been looking directly at Travis, even though she can’t see him, now turns her head to the side. “Is there something you want to tell me?” “No.” Jane faces forward again. “You can tell me, I can keep a secret.” “Is that all you do is just talk,” Travis asks her. “Well, yeah, yeah, mostly. And listen.” “What else do you do?” “Nothing really. We’re not allowed to see the customers out of here.” Now the perspective changes. We’re still seeing Jane, but now we see the frame of the glass, bordered by raw insulation. We realize we’re now on the other side of the glass looking at Jane’s reflection. This is what she sees: when from the other side she seems to be looking at Travis, she’s actually looking at herself. Now it’s Travis’s voice that’s distorted; we’re hearing it through the intercom in this fake motel room. He gets aggressive, essentially accusing her of being a whore. She looks frightened, says she’s sorry, maybe he wants to talk to one of the other girls; she gets up to leave. “No no, please please please don’t go.” “I just don’t think I’m the one you want to talk to,” Jane says. We flip back to Travis’s side of the glass wall. We see Jane sit back down; Travis, teary-eyed now, apologizes. “All right,” Jane says soothingly through the earphone; “that’s okay.” Travis lays the receiver down on the table and stands up.

Now we’re back on Jane’s side of the glass; her voice is undistorted, open, clear. “I know how hard it is to talk to strangers sometimes. Just relax. Relax and tell me what’s on your mind. I’ll listen. To you. I don’t mind listening. I do it all the time.” We see what she sees: dimly illuminated in the lamplight, the phone receiver sits on the table in the otherwise-dark compartment on the other side. Jane doesn’t know if the faceless man has left, or if he’s standing there, or what he’s doing…

Advertisements

37 Comments »

  1. F: Jenny, will you marry me….I would make a good husband.
    J: I know you would, Forrest.
    F: But you won’t marry me.
    [pause]
    J: You don’t want to marry me, Forrest.
    F: You don’t love me, Jenny.
    [pause]
    I may not be a smart man….But I know what love is.

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 16 April 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  2. Are you contrasting the straightforward honesty of the simple but good man with this whole roundabout way of having a conversation in Paris, Texas? The last line of dialogue you quote reminds me of a line and a song in another movie I talked about recently: David Lynch’s Inland Empire. The line: “Strange what love does.” I think that could be the subtitle of Paris, Texas.

    One of the things that caught my attention in the scene I cite in the post is its perverse similarity to therapy. The heterotopic setting, the professional listener. When Travis finally, gradually, circuitously reveals himself to Jane, he’s talking on the phone with his back to her — as if he was lying on an analyst’s couch. At first she doesn’t get it. While Travis talks she’s looking and talking seductively, but she’s saying things like this: “How do you mean?” “I know that feeling.” “Please go on.” “What do you mean?” “Hmmm.”

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  3. Though socially twisted the act of reaching out on Travis’ part is what commitment is all about. On the other hand, the therapist’s ‘hmmm…’ is empty, is it a ploy to keep the client talking and to get the full fee for an hour’s time on the couch?

    Comment by samlcarr — 16 April 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  4. Sam –

    It’s a question every therapist needs to ask her-/himself from time to time. It also brings up the question of fees: is every minute on the couch equally valuable to the client or equally hard work to the therapist or equally meaningful in the relationship? By the way, have you seen this movie? It does resolve in a redemption and reconciliation that seemed inconceivable at the beginning, as we watched the mute and ragged Travis walking into nothingness.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  5. Yes, it’s a classic and deservedly ‘cult’ too. So, the therapist by being true to the trade can bring about real change! I never doubted it. Do the ‘meta’ questions not matter? Is the technique itself the answer?

    Comment by samlcarr — 17 April 2007 @ 6:15 am

  6. This would be a case of the signifier being disconnected from the signified. The various therapeutic verbalizations — I see, hmm, go on, etc. — are supposed to indicate the therapist’s interest and concern, but even if they’re completely shallow these phrases can elicit confidential and intimate and insightful verbalizations from the client. That might be enough. There’s a famous early AI program called Eliza, which simulates an analyst’s responses. So you might type in something like, “That time I went to Seattle I had a really bad cup of coffee.” Eliza might reply, “Seattle?” Or “How did that make you feel?” Or, “Did your mother drink coffee?”

    Travis is an interesting therapeutic client in light of our prior discussions of language and deterritorialization. When we first encounter him he apparently hasn’t spoken for years. Talking to the therapist who is also his wife, his back to her, Travis begins telling his version of their story like this: I knew these people… these two people… He tells the whole thing in the third person past tense. He gets to the end of the story: And for the first time, he wished he were far away, lost in a deep vast country where nobody knew him. Somewhere without language, or streets. And he dreamed about this place without knowing its name, and when he woke up, he was on fire…

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 April 2007 @ 8:23 am

  7. Yes. I remember that. Of course one difference is that he goes to the one person who can give him satisfaction, redeem his soul… but the process has also started a while back with his son, talking to him and sharing. The first acceptance, and a sacrificial one too…

    Comment by samlcarr — 17 April 2007 @ 9:18 am

  8. I haven’t seen the movie, but the description and discussion of it sounds like a movie I must see! I am wondering about Kohut’s concept of “mirroring” here. Kohut proposed that a fundamental need of children is for their parents to “mirror” their experience (particularly emotional experience) back to them so that they can take it in and understand it. For Kohut, this type of “mirroring” on the part of the therapist played a prominent role in treatment. What struck me about the description of this scene from the movie is that the professional listener using “mirroring” techniques is the one caught in the mirror…she cannot see the other, she is blind, only seeing herself and using hollow words in a rote manner. It is the other who has to break through to a real relationship (? I don’t know how it ends) through engaging her in his story and refusing to watch her watch herself (and thus refuse to objectify and control her as well as himself…this is an interesting piece of humanizing I think). Is this an example of giving the other a “face” through not facing them literally? Hmmmm… (that is not meant as a technical “hmmm” to keep you talking) :-) I like that imagery…

    Comment by Ron — 17 April 2007 @ 10:24 am

  9. Sam –

    Right. This is a very personal story, even a heroic one. Each individual — Travis, Jane, Hunter, Travis’s brother, his wife — takes a great psychological risk and makes a great sacrifice.

    Incidentally, there’s another simulation of psychoanalysis in a conversation between Travis and his son Hunter. Travis, having just seen Jane at her job, is getting drunk at a bar. Hunter drags him off to an all-night laundromat to sleep it off. Travis lies down on the couch, says something about a “fancy woman.” “What’s a fancy woman,” Hunter asks his father. He sits down in a chair behind Travis, in the analyst position. Travis goes on: “My mother — not your mother, but my mother — she was not a fancy woman…”

    A week or so ago we discussed whether face-to-face encounters facilitate or hinder conversation that involves personal psychological risk. Both Travis and Jane have buffered themselves against the pain of intimacy by withdrawing into impersonal engagement with the world. Travis struggles mightily to maintain himself in the conversation with Jane. He needs all the barriers at his disposal to see it through: mirrors, turning his back, intercoms, telephones. Jane does too. Had they seen each others’ faces they might not have been able to do it. This inability to engage directly might be an artifact of an alienating culture, but it’s the culture they lived in, the horizon they shared.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 April 2007 @ 10:36 am

  10. Ron –

    It’s an English-language movie so if you find it at your local Romanian Blockbuster it should work out for you. We checked it out from the Antibes public library, where films are alphabetized not by title but by director.

    Your observations about mirroring are good ones. The first girl, the one in the nurse outfit, doesn’t look straight ahead, doesn’t look at herself. Some kind of narcissism with Jane, who talks to the other but is always watching herself talk? Toward the end Jane tells Travis that “every man has your voice,” but at the same time every man has her face. So it’s as if Travis’s voice is being projected back to her from her own face. What could that mean? Every man reflects her own face back to herself, but every man is also a double of Travis’s voice. Lacan talks about the mirror phase too, about how kids develop a sense of self based on how they’re reflected back to themselves by the other. For Lacan the voice is the Father. When Jane first realizes it’s Travis on the other side of the glass, she turns off the lights on her side of the booth so she can see through the mirror. Jane comes right up to the glass, kneeling in front of Travis as she speaks to him. Travis, who is much older than Jane, sits above her and either looks down at her or looks over her. A father confessor?

    …and refusing to watch her watch herself (and thus refuse to objectify and control her as well as himself…this is an interesting piece of humanizing I think). Is this an example of giving the other a “face” through not facing them literally? That sounds right. Travis sees himself as an intimidating force in Jane’s life, someone who dominates and overwhelms her, threatening to obliterate her. When she finally tells him her story, Jane sits on the floor with her back to him holding the intercom speaker in her lap.

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 April 2007 @ 11:38 am

  11. I viewed this movie recently as well and it makes me wonder if Sam Shephard and Wem Wenders saw all of this in what they made; does it matter? It feels rich in its simplicity, like we can finally get down to the relationships between these people when we strip the environment down to bare sets, the messages down to the words.

    Any idea where I can buy a pink fuzzy dress?

    Meilleurs voeux!!

    Comment by bluevicar — 17 April 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  12. Say, bluevicar, don’t you think it’s rather a remarkable coincidence that we both saw this same old artsy movie recently? And now I know what to get you to wear for the May Day parade.

    It’s interesting that stripping a movie scene down to words is a way of simplifying and clarifying what’s going on. Surely we lose richness by reducing the verbal and auditory complexity to just strings of description and dialogue. But it focuses our attention in a way that otherwise gets spread across the experience of watching an listening. You’re right: it probably doesn’t matter whether Shepard or Wenders thought about the exchange between Travis and Jane as a therapeutic encounter. Would we have experienced it in these terms if we hadn’t had our interpretive frameworks primed by recent thoughts and discussions related to pscyhotherapy?

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 April 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  13. Ktismatic, congratulations on an excellent blog.

    I talked about recently: David Lynch’s Inland Empire. The line: “Strange what love does.” I think that could be the subtitle of Paris, Texas.

    I remembered that Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski both appear in Inland Empire, and with Laura Dern walking through a hall of mirrors the whole time and the general thematic resonance of alienation, the references are unavoidable. There was also something plotwise in Empire about a couple reuniting and a child lost, which brought Paris, Texas back to mind – just like the city without a center in Inland Empire, the Lacanian gap. Funny how at the time of the film’s release I remember psychologists labelling Travis as a psychotic in a negative way, nowadays with Deleuze’s influence we speak of deterritorialization…

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 5:24 am

  14. Parodycenter –

    Right — Lynch brings the two leads from Paris, Texas into his movie. Harry Dean Stanton’s nice-guy brother in Paris, Texas is played by Dean Stockwell – I remember him as a menacing character lipsynching Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet.

    …just like the city without a center in Inland Empire, the Lacanian gap. Interesting idea.Travis’s brother lives in L.A., up on a hill overlooking the airport. So the center is this vast empty basin populated by giant machines of transport linking to the other empty centers of the other cities. So Laura Dern was seeking a center to the labyrinth that wasn’t there, that was no place, that was her own nonexistence? For Travis the center is Paris – the first word he speaks, the title of the film, the place he wants to go to. He carries a photo of Paris – a bare empty plot in the desert. “But there’s nothing there,” his puzzled brother remarks when he sees the photo. It turns out that Travis was conceived in Paris Texas. Though he always seems to be going to Paris he never actually gets there.

    And thanks for your good words about the blog. I read and enjoyed your observations on the Lynch film, which I liked a lot for reasons similar to yours. It looks like some enthusiastic commentary ensued.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  15. So Laura Dern was seeking a center to the labyrinth that wasn’t there, that was no place, that was her own nonexistence?

    Yes I think the space of the film is decentered subjectivity as you would have it in post-structuralism including Lacan. And plotwise when the film climaxes, Dern shoots at a character who then turns out to be a projection of her own distorted face, which for me summed up the movie as Dern’s soul-seeking through a series of narcissistic mirrorings. I think you can also see the space as Dern’s vagina (as Lacan would say, ”there is no woman”) especially given the numerous hints at Oedipal issues – all the abusive or sadistic men who penetrate her, the splitting between the saintly girl and the whore, etc. I also think if the main question of the movie is ”Do you love me?”, then psychoanalytically speaking it’s like the client’s expectation of the therapist to be his Big Other (this relates to your conversation about mirroring, and Kohut was mentioned properly in context) and clearly the outcome would be that Dern learns to love herself, etc.

    But I was deeply dissatisfied with the psychology in this film, as these themes were given in the form of (rather slight) samples or references to existing movies, and I couldn’t make any sense of the motivation. Why does she have this Oedipal trauma? What’s the connection with Poland? Where’s the social context of her problem? Krzystoff Kieslowski’s BLUE, which this film amply references, had the same soul-seeking theme featuring a similarly alienated heroine, but her psychological journey was clearly related to the political trajectory of the European Union.

    So one whole hour was just walking through dark corridors in a surreal atmosphere, and by now I think I could pull the same off with a DV camera & some sufficiently menacing sounds in the background. The ending, as a consequence, didn’t really move me – she just sort of ”grew” to some cosmic or carmic enlightenment. As usual with Lynch, when there’s no suspense to drive the engine, it ends up rather shoddy.

    (part of my criticism is subjective too – I don’t believe in karma, or at least I don’t believe it applies to Western culture in the same way – have a more Christian viewpoint)

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  16. Kohut proposed that a fundamental need of children is for their parents to “mirror” their experience (particularly emotional experience) back to them so that they can take it in and understand it. For Kohut, this type of “mirroring” on the part of the therapist played a prominent role in treatment

    Ron there is a scene in Paris, Texas which supports exactly this – once Travis is back from his nomadic existence in the desert, and tries to play the role of the father again, there is a scene where Hunter (his son) imitates his walk. Mirroring is all over the place in the film.

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  17. Parodycenter –

    The psychology of Inland Empire seemed less focused on people’s motivations than on the decentering of self, the sense that selves are reflections of situations they find themselves in. Was Laura Dern’s desire to be loved? Oops, at first I typed “lived” by mistake: was her desire to be lived? Maybe so: maybe she wanted to be animated by a life that desired itself.

    My sense was that what she desired most was dread: the desire to go down all those hallways and through those doors into the next disruption of self. Something like dread animated the film, and it used the people in various ways to fulfill itself. It’s as if the film was itself a kind of transpersonal or subpersonal presence, and it pursued its desires through the people and characters that populated it. The people moving through characters and settings were the language of this impersonal presence. Why did the film desire dread? Maybe it was afraid of coming to an end?

    So yeah, a kind of Eastern ethos, or perhaps Gnostic, reflected and multiplied and redimensionalized. Plus, as you say, a lot of surrealistic creepiness for its own sake.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 2:52 pm

  18. Was Laura Dern’s desire to be loved

    When they start shooting the ”On High in Blue Tomorrows”, they rehearse a scene in which Dern is abandoned… not loved anymore…she begins to cry. Later, when she confronts the lead actor in a parallel reality where it is suggested that he is married to Julia Ormond and there’s some kind of jealousy story going on, Dern asks ‘”Do you love me’?” That’s the (psychoanalytic) mirroring you and Paul were discussing.

    And it;’s the question posed by the masochist, who needs external support for his sense of self and well-being, who finds his ”locus of control” in the sadist; note that Dern has a sadistic husband; and it frames the story in psychoanalytic terms, for it is also the question any client would pose to the therapist in the beginning of analysis.

    kind of transpersonal or subpersonal presence, and it pursued its desires through the people and characters that populated it

    It is interesting to compare this to an earlier film by John Carpenter, ”Cigarette Burns”, which also posits a film that is able to pursue its desire through the people and characters in it. The film is much more impactful due to its being less pretentiously self-conscious about its ”avantgardism” and its Left leanings, which is something I find off-putting for at least one hour of Inland Empire. In the Carpenter film, everything is told within an hour in a series of tight and lean (and suspenseful) scenes, displaying a mastery of narrative and character development, even if old-fashioned, that Lynch doesn’t really fathom. But this is more a technical and stylistic remark from me as a film-maker, than holding Lynch in contempt, because when Lynch gets to his hallucinations, there’s nobody quite like him. I am going to write a post on Carpenter soon, stay tuned.

    My sense was that what she desired most was dread: the desire to go down all those hallways and through those doors into the next disruption of self

    yeah which can be said of most Lynch movies, however I felt that if the point was to establish that the self is a construct, because it patches up, or quilts up a hole (like the silky thread through which you burn a hole and look through), he didn’t really need 3 hours to tell us… I appreciate though that the majority of viewership doesn’t read Lacan, so maybe they need to hear this repeated over and over again ;-)

    i don’t know how you thought the film was Gnostic?

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  19. John Carpenter? I’ve never really paid much attention to him, so I’d like to hear what you have to say. And my grasp of Lacan is extremely tenuous, so I’ll take your word for the Lacanian themes. But I’m willing to learn.

    Okay, how about this: I presume you’d agree that Inland Empire is a movie about movie-making. The cast and crew show up the first day on the set and the director reveals his discovery: even though he thought he was directing a new script, in fact it’s a remake. By implication every new story is really a retelling of an archetypal story. The characters too are archetypes. So there can be different settings, different names assigned to the roles, different dialogue spoken in different languages, but it’s the same archetype every time. There are only a few archetypes — yearning for love, or fear of death, or the quest for the true self — which weave in and around each other in the eternal return. The specific telling of the story isn’t as important as its endless repetition. Gnostic.

    So here’s David Lynch working with an improvised script, making it up as he goes along, and what does he write? A director who, without being aware of it, is doing a remake. This doesn’t seem like a story about the omnipotence of the director to control everyone’s fate. The director is at best a demiurge, just like the actors. Presumably in the making of this film Lynch and the actors were subjecting themselves to the process, letting the film shape itself, unconstrained by precedent or studio or schedule. Yet what they get is the uncanny doubling, the compulsion to repeat, the eternal return, the dreadful lure of the death instinct.

    Lynch, in his efforts to create the unprecedented, finds that he cannot stop repeating himself. It’s horrible, it’s compelling. Actors give themselves over to their roles, losing their identity over and over, and yet they remain themselves. They desire to lose themselves into the part, but it’s terrifying. Actors and directors and writers want to be loved, want not to be abandoned, yet they don’t want to prostitute themselves or to subject themselves masochistically to the money men.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  20. Oh yes agreed on all that, and thats the part of the film I liked,.

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 9:36 pm

  21. That, couched in the whole Lynchian weirdness, I liked too. The rabbits and the Locomotion I could have done without.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 April 2007 @ 9:44 pm

  22. The rabbits and the Locomotion I could have done without.

    That is to say Brecht and Beckett, the two Marxian tropes that inexplicably (or predictably) still enthrall the Lefty academia with all those ”disruptive antics”, as in the Rabbits waiting for Godot, or the prostitutes bursting out into dance so as to thwart identification, or the character’s faces blurred to the same end. But I keep forgetting Lynch is of the 1968 generation.

    I also hated the idea of using wide-angle shots to indicate weirdness, esp. because Polanski did that in REPULSION, but if I go on like this, the bitching will outweigh the film’s numerous accomplishments.

    I just remembered that the structure of the film was fractal in that each segment (fractal) contained a reference to the one that preceded it, and the one that came after. The effect was something like wandering, or meandering, which gave me the impression that Dern was in some post-mortem dimension *akin to the depicions in the Tibetan book of the dead.

    Then she seems to come out of this loop, this repetition, but the dramatic mechanism is lacking – this is what I meant by motivation. In Carpenter things are motivated by guilt and ressentiment, and in Lynch’s previous Mulholland Drive it was pathological narcissism and revenge. Here it just sort of happens, … in a New Agey kind of way…and it’s related to a vaguely feminist statement which however didn’t entice me because I felt that the heroine’s trouble with men had no grounding.

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 11:09 pm

  23. There are only a few archetypes — yearning for love, or fear of death, or the quest for the true self —

    The ”quest for the true self” part would be a falsity from the psychoanalytic perspective, because it posits that self is an illusion (Lacan believes a necessary illusion, but still, self is only a construct). I think the major religions share this view, I don’t know about gnosticism. I felt that Dern’s problem was more her inability to encounter the Other, which she outgrows in the end, where the film provides a sense of communality and connectedness across all the fragmentation. This was pretty much the setup of Kieslowski’s BLUE if I remember well, which might explain what Poland is doing in the film.

    Comment by parodycenter — 22 April 2007 @ 11:32 pm

  24. It’s informative for me to read your excellent observations both about citations and about cinematic techniques. Having never framed scenes visually I’m always able to be entranced because I’m not consciously aware of what’s being done to me. Lynch works hard on crafting visual and sonic impressions that induce mood in the viewer. It’s almost as if the dialogue is like listening to a hypnotist: the words are something innocuous to focus your conscious attention on while what the hypnotist has in mind is to gain access to your subconscious. Lynch works to enrapture the viewer into a way of experiencing. It’s part of using the craft in service of the story, but in Inland Empire the mood seems to be the point.

    And that’s your objection, I think: cinematic technique divorced from motivation and the other dynamic apparatus of drama feels bland and boring and manipulative. When I saw this movie a second time I was very tired and I found that Lynch’s cinematic mood didn’t do anything to wake me up. If he’s trying to induce a kind of postmortem dreamlike state, it helps if the audience doesn’t already feal half dead and half asleep already. The mood of dread didn’t overwhelm the lethargy.

    The often persistent, smooth, and pallid lack of mood, which must not be confused with a bad mood, is far from being nothing. Rather, in this Da-sein becomes tired of itself. Being has become manifest as a burden. One does not know why. For Heidegger being enveloped in a mood is part of the condition of being in the world, but what mood discloses about the world is precisely what we pay no attention. In the evasion itself there is something disclosed.. By allowing oneself to be enveloped in the mood, but where plot and character and dialogue are only part of the mood-sustaining machinery, what is it that becomes disclosed? Is it the sort of disclosure that can happen only in the evasion of consciousness that mood is?

    The references to Brecht and Beckett: conceivably every text is a citation of other texts. When you are making a film, are you consciously aware of the citations as you go about your work, or can you only see them after the fact? Most filmmakers and writers are reluctant to scrutinize their own work to carefully, for fear that they’re going to become paralyzed by everything they already know. All the past influences are there, but the hope is that by mixing them around and aiming them in a direction they’ll emerge into something different from a string of citations. Here’s Wittgenstein from the preface of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: How far my efforts agree with those of other philosophers I will not decide. Indeed what I have here written makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before my by another.

    Lynch is consciously aware of citing some influences on his film, most conspicuously his own prior films, so surely he’s aware of — and worried about — being derivative. I suspect it’s a discipline he imposes on himself not to think about influences too much, not to watch too many other films, not even to analyze his own films too carefully. But it’s a self-hypnosis of a sort, and at some point even the inspired dreamstate makes you look at its sources.

    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 8:23 am

  25. I think: cinematic technique divorced from motivation and the other dynamic apparatus of drama feels bland and boring and manipulative.

    Yes, but don’t get me wrong, I understand fully why characters are hollow here; it is because they are not characters, but holes, to be filled in randomly by spirits, and so on. Nevertheless, the film makes certain psychological suggestions about Dern, and because they are given so off-handedly, they end up an inconsistent pile. She is obviously damaged, but what damaged her? Her masochism? Her relationship? The Phallic Order? I think the ship is only saved from sinking by the fact that Dern somehow creates personalities out of these abstractions, so even if the content is utterly mediocre, she elevates it to the status of personality.

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 8:52 am

  26. It’s informative for me to read your excellent observations both about citations and about cinematic techniques.

    Thank you your writing is highly inspired and interesting for me because of your discussing theological issues so in a few days when I manage to read through, I will have a million questions!

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 8:53 am

  27. In the evasion itself there is something disclosed.

    Yes that sounds right. I could also compare it to Lacan’s purloined letter, which stands right in front of your nose, but because of that, you don’t see what the letter is telling you.

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 8:57 am

  28. The references to Brecht and Beckett: conceivably every text is a citation of other texts. When you are making a film, are you consciously aware of the citations as you go about your work, or can you only see them after the fact?

    Absolutely, but this sort of citation, drawing as it does on Brecht and Beckett’s alienation techniques, seems to belong to a certain ”commodity group” (as Colonel Chabert aptly put it) with these kinds of film-makers. Like I remembered yesterday seeing a film by almodovar, La Mala Educacion, in which at some point the camera pulls away from what you thought was a fictional plane to reveal that it’s a recording. Then you get the same scene in Inland Empire with the camera pulling away from the dead Dern and you realize it was after all fiction. As if distantiation were marketed as a kind of a stock stylistic technique. I guess the criterion here would be whether repetition, to borrow Deleuze’s term, breeds difference, and I think Inland Empire does, because a third entity comes out of the screen, out of the superimposition of the parallel realities; if you’re familiar with k=punk’s writing (www.k-punk.abstractdynamics.org), he explains this very nicely through the trope of hauntology (from Derrida). They have tried this sort of experimenting before, e.g. the work of Peter Greenaway in Tulse Luper Suitcases, but I think only with Inland Empire we have gotten to the proper format – maybe because of Lynch;’s crucial decision to film in DV. In this way a window really opened to a new dimension.

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 9:03 am

  29. It’s almost as if the dialogue is like listening to a hypnotist: the words are something innocuous to focus your conscious attention on while what the hypnotist has in mind is to gain access to your subconscious

    yes and with Lynch, this is continuously fascinating, on a purely affective level. So maybe in fact the film is ”about” the dreadful sadness of being, the enthralling mysteries of love, life and death, and the pain of corruption (of innocence), shortly, the madness of the world, more than it is ”about” any single theme. I guess my complaint is in fact that since that level is so powerful, who even needs all the extra coating in the form of half-baked psychology, just trim the film down to those hallucinations and you’d get a masterpiece. This was all actually very hard to experience, for example that death scene on the streets of Hollywood is absolutely horrifying, because of the immediate way in which it faced me with deeply spiritual issues. It is indeed hypnotic, but I wouldn’t say in a manipulative fashion… as any truly great artist, Lynch seems to be simply channeling forces that he couldn’t know even if he wanted to, because they belong to some transcendent realm.

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 9:17 am

  30. I’ve done a little looking around on your blog, as well as a couple of your discussants. Very stimulating. I’ll have to dredge the archives and see what comes up. I was amused by your critique of some other guy’s ponderous twaddle regarding the Lynch film.

    Bad Education was another movie about movie-making. Various kinds of doublings, as I recall: the main character with his dead brother the screenwriter. And the screenplay itself mirrored this doubling. I remember the scene where on one side of the screen is the scene being filmed, on the other side is the film crew. And then elsewhere in this building where the filming is taking place the mirrored realities merge. A scene of the filming also happens in Mulholland Drive, where fifties’ style girl trio is singing, then the camera backs up to reveal that this set is essentially a box sitting on top of a natural bluff somewhere in/near L.A. “Commodity group” — interesting idea.

    So if this movie had either spent more or less time on the characters, the movie would have been better. I agree: why bother with the trappings of personality and traces of the past if you’re not going to explore them further. It is remarkable, though, how poorly character development can be done even in movies where that’s supposedly the main point. My wife and I watched The Royal Tenenbaums the other day, and even though it’s supposed to be all about this dysfunctional family you don’t really get any idea from the film as to what happened to these characters and why they are the way they are.

    …as any truly great artist, Lynch seems to be simply channeling forces that he couldn’t know even if he wanted to, because they belong to some transcendent realm. I guess that’s what I didn’t like about rabbits and Locomotion — they seemed forced and self-indulgent, like purposely trying to insert some sort of strange comic relief. I bet Lynch isn’t very good at telling jokes.

    Comment by ktismatics — 23 April 2007 @ 11:12 am

  31. was amused by your critique of some other guy’s ponderous twaddle regarding the Lynch film.

    I was pissed at the guy because last month he got me to defend him in this enormous diatribe against an online movie reviewer who failed to notice the fascist aspects of Zack Snyder’s 300; I didn’t know that the guy is so righteous about his possession of supreme lefty truth as opposed to righty falsehood, he cares more about showing off his righteousness than fighting racism. Hence my parodic revenge.

    One of the Cultural Parody Center’s missions is to keep the academia on the edge of their seats with merciless parody that is meant to protect us against their obfuscatory and/or self-indulgent philosophizing. We have granted ourselves immunity from parody, though.

    I was also seduced by the deadpan humor of the Tenenbaums until I realized that this movie is about a big burgeois NOTHING, I don’t know how else to qualify it, and since I already went through my Jim Jarmusch phase in highschool, I didn’t find that particularly amusing.

    I am now moving away from Inland Empire and on to your other very interesting posts, most of which coincide with my own interests. But it will take some time to read it all.

    Comment by parodycenter — 23 April 2007 @ 5:57 pm

  32. Just saw Paris, Texas tonight. A good movie. I enjoyed it. Also enjoyed the slide guitar!

    Very interesting from a counseling/therapy perspective. What would it mean for therapy if the client could see the therapist, but the therapist could not see the client. An opportunity to spill my guts to someone who has no basis to criticize or condemn me. The chance to open up to someone who will not form judgments of who I am, as a therapist inevitable will do. The client verbalizes without being “evaluated”. An interesting concept. It goes back to my suggestion of internet therapy.

    Comment by Erdman — 20 May 2007 @ 3:55 am

  33. Jonathan –

    I’m glad you had a chance to see Paris, Texas. The characters find ways of getting authentic while always evading direct encounters with one another. In what way is this a commentary on society: that directness has become impossible, or that directness is what enables us to hide from one another? We never even get a direct encounter with Paris Texas: it’s just that one photographic image that Travis carries around. Every single personal revelation happens on a telephone, through a tape recording, in an old home movie…

    From Paris Texas you don’t get the sense that direct encounters are impossible, but that they’re too painful to bear. Which gets back to your point: direct encounters are threatening both to yourself and to the other person. We are very fragile beings; all our bluster is a smokescreen, another illusion, another image, all the more compelling because of its real physicality. If mirrors or recordings or e-chats can keep us from being overwhelmed by the distractions of presence, then these devices are valuable.

    The chance to open up to someone who will not form judgments of who I am, as a therapist inevitable will do. The client verbalizes without being “evaluated” At least you won’t be able to see the evaluation in the therapist’s face, body language, etc. It’s easier to imagine that the other person isn’t judging, or to carry on regardless. Of course people can be quite harsh on the internet as well, but you have a chance to react, to regroup, either to go away or change tone or make yourself vulnerable anyway.

    Internet therapy? Maybe so.

    Comment by ktismatics — 20 May 2007 @ 5:34 am

  34. He never even get a direct encounter with Paris Texas: it’s just that one photographic image that Travis carries around. Every single personal revelation happens on a telephone, through a tape recording, in an old home movie…

    From Paris Texas you don’t get the sense that direct encounters are impossible, but that they’re too painful to bear.

    Great rejoinder, John.

    Might we suggest that this movie gives us grounds to question, in Derridean fashion, the privileging of presence over absence in the encounters? For example, Travis makes a tape recording for his son and in it he tells him that it would be impossible for him to say these things in person. His depth of feeling was stifled through the direct encounter. Presence overpowered his ability to engage in an authentic flow of emotion and feeling.

    But why is this? Being-there, in terms of the encounter, can produce things that otherwise would not have occurred. But the converse is true as well. So, what gives? What do we say? That we privilege neither presence nor absence, but that we allow our position in the stream of life to dictate our response to encounters and pray that we have meaningful encounters? Perhaps something to the effect of the later Heidegger, “Only God can save us.” (Spiegal Interview, 1966)

    Comment by Erdman — 20 May 2007 @ 11:30 pm

  35. Jonathan –

    Tying these indirect encounters to the metaphysics of presence — excellect insight. Closing the distance between self and self, is there some fear of overwhelming or of being overwhelmed by the other? “No man can see God and live.” We’re always engaged in some sort of dialectic between revealing and concealing. Our assumption is that pure and immediate flow of revelation is the ideal, and that the ideal can be attained. After all, being is being-with, always already relational. But we’re also always in a condition of angst, of separation from the world and from one another, of otherness, of difference. To demand full presence is to violate my difference as a self; to demand full absence is to violate my humanity — which was Travis’s situation at the beginning of the movie. Maybe here is a dialectic between Gadamer and Derrida? That we privilege neither presence nor absence, but that we allow our position in the stream of life to dictate our response to encounters and pray that we have meaningful encounters? That sounds right.

    Comment by ktismatics — 21 May 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  36. I like that.

    The Gadamer/Derrida relationship is certainly a good study. It goes to a larger discussion of the relationship between German hermeneutical thought in the early 20th century (represented by Heidegger and Gadamer) and how this translated over to the French (Derrida, in particular), and how this influenced the course of philosophy and hermeneutical study throughout the remainder of the 20th century eventually crossing the ocean over into America where it seems as though a lot of literature profs. in bow ties hijacked the deep philosophical thinking and bastardized the implications for literature from their hermeneutical context (developed initially by Heidegger and Gadamer). But, then again, haven’t we now learned that all thought is borrowed thought? And that all learning is simply hijacked and bastardized from its original development to be recontextualized according to the current need!??!

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 22 May 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  37. Literature profs are the main ones keeping Freud and company alive too. But both Gadamer and Derrida were literature guys to begin with — Derrida was a French literature guy who went philosophical, and I’m not sure whether a “hermeneutician” belongs in philosophy or literature.

    The Gadamer-Derrida distinction I thought was particularly apt for this business of getting too close versus too far apart. I’m bastardizing these guys for my own psychological purposes, but I think that’s fair too. Gadamer’s fused horizon isn’t just a bringing-together of perspectives; it’s the point where you realize what it is that you see differently from someone else. It’s the moment of differance that can be recognized. It’s the way out of ignorance that results from too much sameness in an interpretive community. So that’s Gadamer’s passage into Derrida. But the fused horizon is something that Gadamer immediately wants to synthesize into a shared understanding, something that closes the gap that’s just been opened in the conversation. It’s like a Hegelian move: fusion = synthesis, where as soon as a dichotomy of understanding opens up it clarifies the confusion that has been hidden. And so Gadamer immediately shuts out Derrida. Derrida wants to preserve those gaps between people as the place not of convergence but of divergence. Or something along those lines — it’s probably not clearly articulated.

    Comment by ktismatics — 22 May 2007 @ 3:34 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: