Department of Art
UC Santa Barbara
Theories of montage invariably stress the difference between at least two types of splices. Rational cuts – so-called Hollywood-style “invisible editing” – are designed to smooth out the transitions between shots in order to create a sequential and teleologically-driven causal narrative through which the spectator is “sutured” into the protagonists subjective “viewing-views.” Alternatively we have a more self-reflexive, meta-communicative form which stresses the constructed nature of the medium, typically associated with Soviet montage and the impact of Brechtian alienation techniques on the French New Wave. In the case of the former – what Gilles Deleuze calls the movement-image – the momentum of motor-action moves us quickly and easily across cuts and splices, linking segments and sequences in a fluid, mechanistic continuity driven by cause and effect relations. Thus a character leaves a room, we cut to them stepping into the street, and we make the necessary linkages to assume that the character has “gone outside.” If we then cut to them sitting in the back of a taxi, it is not difficult to assume that they are on their way somewhere.
However, what happens when this degree of motor-connection breaks down? What if we find it difficult to link together scenes in a logical continuity? We become more aware of the cut and splice between scenes than the scenes themselves. The latter become autonomous and self-contained, forcing us to read continuity as a disjuncture – as in the case of Dziga Vertov’s The Man With a Movie Camera where the director inserts shots of the audience viewing and the editor editing the film we are watching, thereby creating a split between diegetic and exegetic points-of-view. In fact, in extreme cases – Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad or Chris Marker’s La Jetée – the sheer discontinuity produced by motor breakdown opens up the gap of the irrational cut – the interstice – as itself the immanent content of the film as (a) Whole.
Hamlet’s famous observation that, ‘Time is out of joint’ can be read simply as temporal discontinuity, but also in its more literal sense of a dehiscence, in that time has escaped out of the ‘between of the joint’, like blood escaping from the sutures of a wound, disclosing the immanent, ever-changing temporal Whole that is usually covered up by the smooth sequencing of montage itself. It is the autonomy of the interstice that allows immanence – Bergsonian difference-in-kind as a durational multiplicity – to well up from below. This is what Deleuze calls the time-image: cinema as a multiplicity, cinema as becoming-difference. It is only discernible because of the false movement that the montage of the time-image makes manifest, for ‘aberrant movement speaks up for an anteriority of time that it presents to us directly, on the basis of the disproportion of scales, the dissipation of centres and the false continuity of the images themselves’ (Deleuze 1989, 37). With modern cinema we see the sensory-motor schema shattered from the inside.
This has far greater philosophical ramifications than simply creating a disjuncture in the smooth spatial continuity of the movement-image, for this demolition of the subject-object binary creates nothing less than a Deleuzian event, which is simultaneously both an invention and an erasure, a virtual affect that simultaneously creates and pummels space. As Tom Conley explains, “The interstice is the interval turned into something infraliminary in a continuum in which an event can no longer be awarded the stability of a ‘place’ in the space of the image. The interstice becomes what exhausts – and thereby creates – whatever space remains of the image in the sensory-motor tradition. It supersedes the interval and, by doing so, multiplies the happenings of events” (Conley 2000, 320).
It’s also important to note that the interstice/event isn’t necessarily tied to the material splice between shots. It can also take the form of tearing hiatuses and holes (in the form of silences) in the surface of the sound and image track as a means of triggering the incommensurable event that is itself a form of unrepresentable space-time on a stratified plane of immanence (Deleuze’s Stoic-inspired time of Aion that connects past, present and future as pure becoming). Using silence to construct bridges across and between consistencies is a common tactic in Godard – Vivre sa Vie, Bande a Part, but also a staple of experimental films such as Hollis Frampton’s Zorns Lemma and the work of James Benning. In such cases, what remains is less causal relations than longitudes and latitudes, haecceities, non-subjectified affects and collective assemblages; in short a war machine of displaced affects, a smooth space of continuous deterritorialization always searching for the limits of an absolute outside.
Conley, T. 2000. The film event: From interval to interstice. In G. Flaxman (Ed.), The brain is the screen: Deleuze and the philosophy of cinema (303-25). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. 1989. Cinema 2: The time image. (H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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