Volume 9, Number 1 (January 2012)
Author: Russell Manning
The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zaratustra).
Well, this is a painful review to write. The film is a mess. The really odd occurrences are just that…odd. They have no resonance. (Rotten Tomatoes review of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou).
A duel lies at the heart of language, the duel between language and
Meaning (Jean Baudrillard, Transparency of Evil).
This essay challenges an implicit stratagem that lurks beneath the surface of contemporary popular western film and its analysis. My thesis is that in order for highly market driven films to flourish, so called independent or art-house or auteur cinema must necessarily be deemed to be other. It is how this powerful relationship is structured that is the focus of this essay as it is in the naming of this other that establishes a productive tension. This is in no way a conscious stratagem by the film community, but rather a by-product of the naming itself; a seduction of one form by its other and vice versa. The productive tension of naming goes on in the background, a nebulous region, which perhaps in Baudrillardian terms is where seduction is at its most uncanny.
As such the film industry, in what appears to be free and autonomous servicing the needs and demands of a voracious and demanding audience is not the transparent relationship that it is often understood to be. I argue that whilst the form of art-house, independent or auteur cinema is marginalized, the market driven cinema grows stronger. I do not make this claim as an aesthetic line in the sand, and my critique is not aimed at the market driven film industry. My ultimate conclusion is that for the viewer to more comprehensively enjoy film, this demarcation line between two types of films, as an ideological manifestation should be brought into the spotlight, investigated then challenged. When we sanction the binary of independent/ mainstream or standard/ quirky or Hollywood/ Art-house to function at the level of implicit ideology, we diminish the potential aesthetic horizon in any cinema encounter.
For the purposes of exemplification I will use as my marker, American Independent cinema poster boy Wes Anderson and his film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). My aim is to demonstrate that attempts both public and private to denigrate this film never fully take hold of their intended targets because declaring what this form of cinema is, or what it is about, or what it is trying to say, or what genre it falls into interestingly exposes then covers over this ideological subterfuge. As such the essay takes as its methodological support Jean Baudrillard’s notion of seduction, and attempts to see film interpretation, both professional and recreational as victim to what Baudrillard would give us as an entirely different logic. We will, as much as possible, inhabit Baudrillard’s world to let him show us what is wrong with ours.
This logic, the retrospective positing of use value from sign value and not the other way around underpins my thesis and exemplifies his use of the word seduction. Watching films has a recreational use value. They entertain and educate. But a film’s (use) value as entertainment and education is determined by a coded significatory system. This (sign) value then creates the types of films we are encouraged to view. By naming, or encoding a film as ‘quirky’ we are also establishing an aesthetic index that attracts consumption activity. If a film consumer envisions ‘mainstream’ consumption as de rigueur they are more likely to play the game of consumption preferenced by the logic of the system.
Of course to employ Baudrillard as an accomplice, to be seduced by his view of the structural logic of the market has its own implicit problems. Nevertheless any encounter with Baudrillard can always be a line of flight from his world back into ours. This facilitates a disconnection from the often contented and self-serving approach to film, philosophy and their theoretical nexus. As such we honour the form of Baudrillard as much as the content. The challenge is to glimpse Baudrillard’s logic and mirror it against this ideological subterfuge that attempts to claim a real of film theory. And perhaps turn it on its head.
My confrontation with Baudrillard is motivated by the endgame I would argue Baudrillard himself was trying to achieve. His goal was not to be captured in thought, theoretically cornered and dominated and as such he wanted his thinking to subvert and seduce, to leave quizzical remainders and intellectual blemishes. As such we do need to capture him here in confrontation and suggest (perhaps in his honour) that dogmatic film interpretation will not capture us. We will return fire by expanding and encouraging our thinking away from and in spite of this ideological dimension of film analysis and film production. We will end by thinking we have failed, because to fail in theory is to admit that we haven’t captured thought and there is still work to be done.
II. Wes Anderson
A film critic describes The Life Aquatic as a film that:
….explores personal relationships as much as it explores the underwater world. And it does so in a bizarre and crazy way. Quirky and oftentimes absurd, “The Life Aquatic” is an action comedy of misfit proportions (http://www.oregonherald.com/reviews/mark-sells/reviews/lifeaquatic.html)(no longer active 2018).
Here we see the interpretation pointedly categorize the film into the ‘offbeat’ category. This declares an aesthetic bias that concludes there perhaps are two types of films, ‘offbeat’ and its binary other, for want of a better word we will call ‘normal’. The remainder of this essay argues that when we dichotomize film using this binary, (strange/common) we intuitively preference one side of the binary and marginalize the other. It is this preferential ‘move’ in which a subtle ideology lies in wait, because often the binary is structured to economically or politically privilege one side at the expense of the other. Put another way, the Hollywood industry wants you to see its films by creating a world where ‘other’ types of films are considered differently and often negatively at least until the market sniffs a dollar in them. Taking licence here, the exchange values of films create their use value. Film is among other pursuits the use of recreational time. How we use our recreational time appears to be an autonomous pursuit. But I would argue that films also have a sign value whereby an outlay of twenty dollars of income can be exchanged for film X or film Y dependant on a set of arbitrary, contingent and diachronic values. My argument is that if the choice is always between X and Y and never anything else, then recreation time conceived here as use value is being dominated by the types of films that X and Y always are, conceived here as sign value. The constitution of films X and Y are produced from within the parameters of an ideologically formulated system. Traditional use value of the film goer would seem to neutralize the aesthetic into an objective and autonomous use of recreation time. But here Baudrillard’s world makes its mark. It is the demand of the viewer which is the end result, not the initiating point of the system. As such film X and Y are not real choices but the sign values of a heavily coded productivist system. Thousands flock to the multiplex to see film X because of the conditioning process of the system. Their alternative is film Y.
If this is so then clearly the demands of the viewer are not primary. They can be massaged and controlled and coded by the market. Aesthetics itself becomes transitory and hinged to the whims of fashion. Today’s hand held camera is tomorrow’s 3D. From there we can assert that on many occasions the market determines the taste of the viewer and not the other, more conventional way around. For example for an adolescent, operating on a constructed binary of cool/uncool may see films that have gargantuan special effects, car chases and explosions as ‘cool’ and a black and white dialogue driven classic film devoid of special effects as ‘uncool’. This structuring logic here means that certain types of filmmaking can prosper and other types may not from a box office perspective. In an aesthetic sense the binary labels are irrelevant. It is the coded sign value which becomes powerful. The logic here textures what ‘cool’ will become. This is devoid of any moral, aesthetic or rational input. When viewers go searching for a film they are armed with these encoded criterions. They respond to these codes, often puppet like, conforming to the templates roughly hewn by the codifications.
As such the binary logic of an autonomous subject determining a neutral object is not straightforward. Subject/object is a ‘mythical determination’ conceding utility placed by subjects on goods.(Grace, 2000: 8) But we can see that the punters are not getting what they want for their recreational film dollar in a fair exchange, but are more inclined to have these wants preceded by the film objects they desire to consume. What makes the cool/uncool binary (for example) so powerful is the markets capacity to integrate and normalize the codification into the aesthetic and everyday discourse. We can now assert that film making preoccupations as they exist at the moment such as rapid editing, gratuitous choreographed sex scenes, hand held camera work, are not merely aesthetic devices to enhance plot and theme, but also market strategies designed to enhance the cache (sign value) of certain types of film aimed at the recreational dollar.
Similarly, on the other side of the binary we can see how those of the independent/auteur/ hue turning their noses up at the wouldn’t-be-seen-dead blockbuster Hollywood films because of a similarly structured ideological discourse albeit with opposed outcomes. Here it is instructive to consider The Life Aquatic. Wes Anderson’s film draws flak from one side of the binary divide. For example,
The idea that Disney-owned Touchstone gave Wes Anderson that much money to go and make a semi-autobiographical art-house film about what it’s like to be a director is one of the greatest gags ever pulled. Everything about The Life Aquatic is epic, expanded and unruly. It feels like Mr. Anderson was so giddy about getting all that money, he just took his budget and threw every penny up onscreen (“http://www.observer.com/2009/movies/single-persons-movie-life-aquatic-steve-zissou)(no longer active 2018)
Therefore, the second we suspend the binary all interpretation is on the table. By dropping the label of bizarre or quirky or art-house we clear a space for new reactions to film to be made, rather than being pigeonholed by the restrictions of a binary driven interpretative paradigm. To see films as ideologically constructed via dependence to the binary throws a spotlight on their aesthetic construction as economic in the case of the mainstream or social in the case of the independent strategy. What we need is a new language to digest films with. This language would question the binary construction of film interpretation and also pay careful attention to its genealogy. Here entering into Baudrillardian analysis becomes rather helpful.
III. Seduction / Seduction
Art is profoundly seduction, and although I have spoken enthusiastically about seduction, I do not want to fall prey to the seduction of art. That is why I have spoken of seduction more in terms of simulation and simulacra – reflecting a sceptical, critical , paradoxical position and raising a challenge to both the naïve exercise of reality and the naïve exercise of art (Baudrillard, 2005:98).
Baudrillard challenges a naïve conception of reality and the seduction of language that posits a real. His term of seduction cannot be fully explained because firstly any attempt to name something will seduce itself because it is also a “superconductor of non-meaning’ (Baudrillard, 1996: 104) In his world language creates the artifice that there is a real to cling onto. Secondly Baudrillard uses the terms to deliberately muddy the theoretical water. But this makes the attack on the binary more pressing because as soon as we claim that the world is bifurcated, seduction challenges and threatens to unstitch it. When a critic suggests that the Life Aquatic is bizarre and crazy it is rational to assume that the film has some definitive characteristic from which we can label it. However the problem when trying to claim whatever reality can be ascribed as normal, the full extent of normalcy is riddled with uncertainty and vagueness. As such we must also ascribe the Other to normalcy, positing normalcy as preferred to whatever its Other we are trying to avoid. In Baudrillard’s world, the artifice of language is seductively exposed and renders theory with an emasculated bite.
Then if we stop for a minute and examine normalcy carefully all of a sudden we uncover a sinister underbelly. If The Life Aquatic is ‘bizarre’ then its opposite or other is an ‘ordinary’ film. Now when we see a lot of homogenous films pumped out of the one market machine made understandably for profits, then the signifier/signified relationship of the word ‘ordinary’ takes on a systemic structural role of simultaneously telling us what the term ‘ordinary’ actually signifies, and more importantly what the other to ordinary is. If this is the case, then the market driven film machine (say that which gave us megahit blockbuster films) attaches the signification of ‘ordinary’ to a content value in the minds of the cinema viewer. Consequently, what the signifier ‘ordinary’ structures is also the signifier of bizarre because bizarre becomes everything that ordinary is not. This is Baudrillard’s investigation of a naïve reality contoured by an equally naïve understanding of Art. As he reminds us: “The law of the seduction takes the form of uninterrupted ritual exchange where seducer and seduced constantly raise the stakes in a game that never ends. (Baudrillard, 1990:22).
Examination within a binary paradigm becomes problematic because of the increasingly arbitrary nature this connection between signifier and signified has. It remains fluid and dynamic always in excess of itself, threatening to shift away from its present signification to something else. Ordinary used to imply Rear Window but now may denote Saw III. It is a power play that can never win. As soon as a reviewer, or academic, or loudmouth in the theatre claims that the film was ‘bizarre’ seduction gets to work. An idea here is produced in a newspaper, academic journal or the theatre materializing the moment, attempting to frame a binary and a binaric reaction. This power play produces the binary bizarre/normal bringing forth and accentuating a programmed response. But the nanosecond that this reality emerges, the phenomenological attempt to accede to it instantiates a problem. The elephant in the room is the excess of meaning, hovering between the binary. It is as if the travel between bizarre/normal just does not quite capture what the subject was attempting to say. Under normal conditions we move on. We agree that it was bizarre or normal but there is an itch there that it is better not to scratch.
This excess is the incapacity of reason and language to fully identify or consolidate a fixed totality of interpretation. As a result, it becomes understandable that to assert itself psychologically interpretation must constitute a real and, thinking must crown itself momentarily(and duplicitously) as achieving this totality. Binary thinking is born, not just because all thinking must posit an other, but because thinking must stake out a territory to defend. Here the enemy at the gate lies on the side of the most powerful member of binary bar (good/evil rational/irrational). But the state of the world is dynamic and in attempting to totalize interpretation will always move against itself. Definitions seduce themselves and are open to self-induced challenge. This movement is Baudrillard’s seduction whereby meaning constantly produces a real and then undermines itself from within. For Baudrillard Seduction is an irresistible force and the world would end when seduction yields to rationality. It does not matter that we offer a definition of rationality, but treat it as that which is opposed to its other. Seduction seems to be the tension between the binary of this/that. It allows this to be and that to challenge it. It is the force that simultaneously attracts and repels. In this sense the greatest enemy to seduction is not rationality but seduction itself. The moment we think we are talking rationally the moment rationality manifests as appearance. It is inescapable and ultimately impossible to categorize because as soon as we have it we only sense a simulacra of it.
To label a film as bizarre infers that there is a norm or a standard that is rhythmic, natural and permanent. Yet this artificiality and precariousness of language is glossed over, because the binary construction cannot ever be fully or universally articulated. This might be for many reasons, but essentially it can be the work of seduction itself, opening up meaning and interpretation and simultaneously turning on it. The dance of language encourages us to participate then apologizes for stepping on the other’s toes. This seduction is Baudrillard’s Seduction where language simultaneously marks the real and questions it, where seduction exposes the ‘superficial abyss of its own appearance’ (Baudrillard, 1990: 54). To declare a film as quirky, or bizarre stakes a challenge that antonyms, such as ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ have some legitimate, rather than ideological claim on the language of interpretation.
When a viewer declares that a film is ‘weird’ they have staked a claim that they know something intrinsic and universal about normal. But a universal claim to knowing normal merely tells us the state of an ideologically derived power assertion. When a market driven film industry gives us a set of clearly recognizable characteristics in plot and theme and technical presentation, ‘normal’ becomes identifiable. Then any normal film naturalizes itself in plot, them and technical capacity. Representation/interpretation that falls outside these parameters can be dismissed either as minor ( as is the case with Anderson) or major threats to the market itself. This industry will either battle or appropriate such challenges. Quentin Tarantino is a perfect example here. Initially reviled as an enfant terrible of independent cinema, his form of film making was appropriated then adopted into the mainstream. What drove this annexation of his style of multiple modalities and homage driven intrusions into the diegetic space was its potential to generate revenue. Its by-product may have been an aesthetic revelation, but its motivation was ideological in the primary instance. (Biskind, 2007; 155-7)
In the same manner, anytime a film reviewer attempts to capture Anderson’s film and explain it, some explanatory excess emerges; leaving a trace of seductive unease. It is the sense that we haven’t got it quite right, that we haven’t fully articulated what there is to know about the film, that the limit has not been reached. I want to claim that the aforementioned implicit ideological agenda at work here is discernible and that paying attention to it can liberate the way we come to the films of Anderson, but more importantly how we come to films in toto.
IV. Anderson Meets Baudrillard and the Binary
Because Baudrillard’s concept of seduction is so hard to name, it is more instructive to see it in action. Rex Butler suggests seduction is opposed to simulation in the sense that any attempt to name a real is both facilitated by and simultaneously opposed by seduction. (Butler, 1999: 73) Consider each night’s television newscast. The camera ostensibly frames a reality, but the astute viewer knows that the purported reality here may or may not be actual, instead a version of events massaged by anything from camera angle to duplicitous editing, distortions of chronology or misquotation. Presentation may a fabrication, a bias or a blatant lie. We can never really know if what we are seeing is factual or duplicitous because what is being named emits that residue of non-meaning, a leftover that may tease or tantalize us. (Was that the truth we just watched?) Reality television, amateur film footage and the proliferation of CGI effects in cinema has only made this unease exaggerated. This leftover is a charge or power, infused into all language that comes to the viewing interpreter as a posited value. The news must be thus, or the film must mean this. However this real but can never fully devoid itself of an ambiguity latent lurking beneath the superficial meaning. This relationship between the signifier and the signified problematizes the fixity and assuredness of any binary assertion. When we dichotomize between fact/fiction we can see the positive power of language not having the grip it purports to have, constantly ‘turned from its own truth’ (Baudrillard, 1990:53).
Baudrillard’s infamous declaration on the Gulf War embodies this interplay of fact/fiction, the simulation of the idea of the war and the seduction that we may be being deceived by the indissoluble marriage of media and war machinery. Here the illusion of appearance was a seductive line promulgated that the war was proceeding in a certain manner achieved by a feat of visual imagery. A Gulf War took place but the actuality of it will never be known, only the seductive Other, packaged and presented as a reality television programme.
My argument is that the film maker Wes Anderson simulates a real, then seduces his own simulation, undermining the comfort of the viewer with careful and judicious placement of a tantalizing otherness. Similar to Baudrillard’s world, Anderson gives us ‘the charm and illusion of appearance’ by setting up his mise en scène to present a manifestation then undermining it with a seductive excess.
I further argue then to label this style of film making as ‘twee’, or ‘zany’ or any other epithet drawn from the ab-normal is to fall into a repetitive trap. The etymology is instructive here because ab means away from, but we have to ask away from what? Anderson’s scenes as interpreted by his detractors are away from what they want them to be. They desire a normality. If we look at a few key scenes from A Life Aquatic we can see the danger of claiming that his scenes fall the other side of normal. My aim would be to prompt a language that drops this reliance on constantly evoking a binary divides such as normal/abnormal and speak about films differently.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou tells a very simple and recognizable story. Zissou (Bill Murray) is a Jacques Cousteau character struggling financially and emotionally. His close friend Estaban de Plantier (Seymour Castell) is tragically bitten in half by the mythical jaguar shark. At the same time Steve’s long lost son (Owen Wilson) arrives, throwing Steve into more inner turmoil as he tries to save his career, his family and his once great business. Interpretations of the film from this narrative are very straightforward and as mentioned reviews were generally negative. The film was seen as whimsical and absurdist and in many cases not funny. Bill Murray comes in for special criticism as the lugubrious Zissou with many critics reading his work in the film as smug, sniping, lazy and bitter (http://www.observer.com/2009/movies/single-persons-movie-life-aquatic-steve-zissou).
In a scene many may forget from the film Zissou stands being interviewed by Jane Winslet-Richardson (Cate Blanchet) and explains: “Supposedly Cousteau and his cronies invented the idea of putting walkie-talkies into the helmet. But we made ours with a special rabbit ear on the top so we could pipe in some music”.
At this point he does a subtle dance accompanied by a cheesy organ on the soundtrack. The effect here totally undermines what ‘should’ be happening and it is easy to label it form our stock of Anderson terms. But instead we may see it as the self-seduction of the diegetic space by the director himself. Zissou’s dance cannot be accounted for without falling back into a binary. But here is perhaps the key both within and outside of the diegetic space. We cannot capture what Zissou is doing here. He has made the space more enigmatic and we can be thankful for it.
We watch footage of youth running amok in a major capital city of Europe protesting a rise in University fees. Here the presentation both spoken and visual preferences on interpretation of the participation in the protests. The emphasis is heavily devoted to the violence perpetrated, the clichéd pictures of masked students projecting missiles at the police, the burning cars, and the obligatory bloodied face drawn from wither side. What is always missing is the explanation of how the protests were initiated, the government policy that sparked such a forceful resistance. For many viewers the conclusion is simple. They conclude that the violence is destructive, senseless and criminal. But in order for this conclusion to be reached viewers have to juxtapose the terms against an oppositional other. Hence the other is in these cases destructive/constructive, senseless/sensible and criminal/lawful designated by the slanted bar between this/that. (Genosko, 1994: 2) This ‘power bar’ of signifier and its opposite has a very powerful effect. In preferring one over the other a certain moral, social and economic lifestyle is evinced. They know that this is destructive behaviour because they can simultaneously think constructive behaviour. Constructive people do not throw stones at the police nor engage in violence. Now it is important here to put aside the ethical dimension of what is in play and just consider the structural dimension of the binary. We rarely stop to question the positioning significance of this binary operation. When this is chosen over that because this appears to be preferable to it the preferencing can quickly become normalized. If the police were mercilessly beating innocent protesters or the burnt cars belonged to some state sanctioned torture squad the throwing of stones and burning of cars suddenly takes on an entirely new meaning. The exact same logic operates when we claim a film maker as ‘offbeat’ or ‘quirky’. The preferenced side of the binary self-perpetuates and the marginalized side fails to capture the general imagination. The strong side of the binary produces meaning, makes meaning appear resolutely but tenuously so.
As soon as we talk of a film being ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ the fear of sliding into redundancy or repetition rears its head. As such the terms of normal and standard are never universal, perhaps to the point that they have no fixed meaning at all. If we reach this conclusion then perhaps we need to say the exact same thing about quirky and off beat. It is then time to look at the machinery that is producing this false normalized binary. Perhaps then we can liberate film interpretation. We live in a highly mediated environment with a proliferation of screens that dominate the visual and intellectual fields. Whilst the defenders of market capitalism would have it that the market responds to the shifts of demand, my argument is that demand itself responds to the ideological seduction of the binary which plays out in a myriad of daily manifestations. The consolidation of this mediation as accounted for above is consolidated and effectively demonstrated in the interpretation, both professional and amateur of the cinema. Without resorting to an empirical list of money making films we can see that certain types of cinema do very well at the box office. The rise of cinema as Debordian ‘spectacle’ however plays another role. When we look at the underside of the binary, the discouraged world of what lies under the bar.
A simple explanation would be to take a typical film review and see how many times that language is used in a universalizing sense. Consider:
Unfortunately, for all its comic, aesthetic astuteness, there’s something very important missing from Anderson’s latest that’s always been there before: heart. There’s a half-arsed attempt to jimmy in some romance between Blanchet’s journo and Wilson’s amiable Ned, while Ned’s maybe-father/maybe-son relationship with Steve fails to stir up any feeling and climaxes with something of a dramatic gaffe. The artificiality encouraged by the helmer proves overwhelming, with the story’s more serious elements either looking horribly out of place (such as when the Zissou ship is boarded by violent Indonesian pirates) or becoming so sapped of emotion they sink to the level of a cheap afternoon soap (http://www.empireonline.com.au/reviews/ reviewcomplete.asp?DVDID=10665)(no longer active 2018).
Ian Nathan’s review concludes that there is something missing from the film, it fails to stir up any feeling and elements look horribly out of place. Nathan is employing a code whose seduction we may resist. Firstly he claims that the film as no heart. Following our logic that would mean that the film is heartless, or cold, insensitive or even callous. In Nathan’s coded world the film must display heart. That the relationships in the film have to thoughtful compassionate affectionate resonances. The important conclusion here is not to take issue with what Nathan is saying, because that is to fall within the same ideological boundaries we are trying to seduce. Instead let’s step through the film frame (being careful not to call it a window,) and take some time to see why the world of Steve Zissou may not be heartless, but a world where ambivalence reigns supreme where each inflexion and gesture, each complicated frame cannot be dogmatically encoded with meaning because this world is full of seductive uncertainty.
Nathan wants quirky and offbeat, but he wants a specific prescription for it to work. Parts of the film fail and other parts look horrible. When we start to think this way, the aesthetic intentions of the film, according to Nathan’s review begin to appear to have some pre prescribed real, some other that Andersen in his attempt to be quirky and offbeat fails to tap into. But this prescription is a seductive illusion, facilitated by the other side of the binary to ensure that Nathan’s point seduces us and promotes a view of the film that is akin to his personal taste. On a micro-scale there is very little to argue about except for the aesthetics of personal taste itself. But we would find that difficult.
V. Watching Films From Within Baudrillard’s World
In The Life Aquatic Anderson often seduces by stealth. For example if you pay attention the background often disturbs the implications of the foreground. A killer Whale swims by, a Zissou pinball machine grabs the eye, a stop motion animation appears simultaneously garish and affectionate. The trap of interpretation diminishes the capacity for the mythological element of film to take us away from ourselves and as such another form of resistance should be plotted. Interpretation will necessarily fail, because ultimately it will be seduced. As Baudrillard reminds us seduction is indestructible. (Baudrillard, 2005:204) In his world the transience of interpretations is replaced by the enigmatic state of wonder, returning the cinema back into a world of mystery.
We can refuse to be drawn into game and not be forced to declare our hand. When we accompany Anderson into the world of Steve Zissou instead we are like Alice in Wonderland, where the next event that will occur is full of charm and wit and destiny. By its very unpredictability we accord that interpretation will always fail and that rather like Alice we should revel in that which is curiouser and curiouser.
In the end I want to analyse films by leaving them alone. But I also want to make an attack on the ideological boundaries which a pornography of interpretation will engender. Watching films with Baudrillard is to fight the posivitizing and universalization that goes with the market driven film industry. It is to develop a vocabulary that is individual and ambivalent and as such difficult to be appropriated by others. The interesting thing about Anderson’s films, and exemplified by The Life Aquatic is the direction that any singular frame can take. The trajectory of his frame is to challenge the homologous and heterogeneous frames of mainstream cinema. The ambivalent play from shot to shot can leave the viewer in anticipation of a surprising encounter that rarely emanates from the mainstream.
Finally a confrontation with Baudrillard for me concludes one inescapable paradoxical assessment. Baudrillard publically tracked the decline of the symbolic for nearly forty years, but his work reads like a dialogue with himself. He attempted to make the world more clear for himself so that its panoply of interpretations makes it more complex and mystifying. Seen this way the world becomes a mysterious potential and destiny can then rule, countering ideological trumpery. Film viewing can be like this. By challenging interpretation, constricted by a binary domination, film can reclaim a real which never was and perhaps that is the way it should be.
About the Author
Russell Manning is from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
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