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Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Indivisibility Between Text and Image

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Greenaway who?

You're an imbicile Dead Beat.

Tell me something I don't know.

So begins Beat and Pete.

"Like I was saying: you have got to go very slowly. John Cage, composer, painter, and all-round thinker and cultural catalyst, said that if you introduce twenty percent of novelty into any artwork, watch out-you are going to lose eighty percent of your audience at once. He said you would lose them for fifteen years. Cage was interested in fifteen-year cycles. But he was hopelessly optimistic. The general appreciation, for example, of Western painting has got stuck around Impressionism, and that was 130 years ago, not fifteen years ago."

"So what to do?"

"Japanese hieroglyphs may be a good model for reinventing the desperately-in-need-of-being-reinvented cinema. The history of Japanese painting, the history of Japanese calligraphy, and the history of Japanese literature are the same-all grow and have grown together; what you see as an image you read as a text. What you read as a text, you perceive as an image. This was certainly my major aim and model in the film The Pillow Book. Get the Titanic sailing correctly before you worry about the deck chairs. Indivisibility between text and image. Eisenstein saw the possibilities back in the 1920s. His theories of montage assimilated the dual image-text role of the Oriental ideogram. No middlemen. Image and text come together hand in hand. Cinema does not seem to have wanted to learn from such an encouragement. We have encouraged ourselves to need perhaps too many middlemen, too many translators. Most of them lazy. My fictitious Japanese lover's less-than-great calligrapher is Ewan McGregor's Jerome, a translator. St. Jerome was the first major translator of text for the modern world-though his business was to convince us about Christianity. What is it that cinema is trying to convince us of? Christianity and the cinema both desire happy endings. Heaven and a golden sunset. Perhaps, sadly, in the end, cinema is only a translator's art, and you know what they say about translators: traitors all."

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