Monday, 26 January 2009

Quasi. Antonioni and Participation in Art. ‘Preface: The Screen Test’ (1968) dir. Michelangelo Antonioni.

Screening of Michalangelo Antonioni's "Prefazione : Il Provino".

The producer, Dino De Laurentiis, had the quaint idea of making Soraya, one-time queen of Iran, into a movie star, and he persuaded Antonioni to contribute a “Preface” called “The Screen-Test” to a three segment film with Soraya as star of each segment


Antonioni’s preface is a small but interesting semidocumentary about how it must feel for a social celebrity to become a movie star.


It is not too farfetched to see in the microscopic examination of Soraya’s face a new kind of concern with the surfaces of art’s materials. Antonioni seems in this short film to approach the no-man’s land between cinema and metacinema. ‘The screen-test’ clearly foreshadows the meditation on the relation between art and reality that is ‘Blow Up’.

from ‘Antonioni, or, the surface of the world’ by Seymour Benjamin Chatman

The film was screened as part of a lecture on 'Participation in Art' by philosopher Alexander García Düttmann. He discussed two aspects of participation in art : immediacy and mediation.

Immediacy corresponds to the belief in what the viewer/beholder is being presented with (not necessarily in the representations), whereas mediation acknowledges the artificiality of art (it is art and not nature).

When in the film Soraya is being prepared for her screen test it corresponds to the artificiality of the product represented as it is being produced and has been produced (film). At the end of the film, Soraya is filmed dressed in a lavish gown by the window of a romantic salon with the wind blowing from two huge machines. The enunciation of illusion holds immediacy and mediation together and produces a 'mood'. The viewer can choose whether to be taken in or to be an observer.

Düttmann points out how the viewer/beholder can be aware of the mediation (intelligence) and how he can forget art is art (stupidity). The relationship of those two should be measured up against the work of art (when taking art seriously). Otherwise intelligence collapses to stupidity (knowing too much about art brings art to an end). Illusion is integral to art as it wouldn't be art otherwise.

An example to the conventions of participation can be traced in horror films where quasi-fear occurs : 'I know it's a film, yet I still feel fear'.

The celluloid closet (1995) by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Screened @the ICA, London.

A documentary on homosexuality as seen (mostly) through the American mainstream cinema. Even though a bit dated now ('Philadelphia' being the most recent of the films talked about) 'The Celluloid Closet' is a decent documentary with a comprehensive perspective on the visibility of homosexuality in the movies. Starting from Thomas Edison's experimental films it takes you through the history of Hollywood movie making and discusses the censorship and the coded expressions of homosexuality as well as the shifts that occurred in the portrayal of such roles.

La Décision Doypack (2008) by Paul Rooney

"These works approach the subject of historical memory. Exploring the way in which history only properly exists if it is actively recalled in the present, but also how flawed that recollection can be, the works ultimately reveal the comedy and melancholy involved in attempting to represent the past in art."

The film is set in a brightly colored studio, with actors and props utilizing the space to re-create the experience of an Australian food packaging manager who finds himself in Paris during the upheaval of May 68 events.

The packaging manager’s memoir, (which Rooney found online and based his text on) is used to access these events free from the burden of historical analysis. Hence, ambivalence, artificiality and humour are employed as techniques to create a distanced and mediated approach to historicity. Paul Rooney references Jean-Luc Godard to root his approach that film practice is a theatrical and mediated process of re-creating experience. It is thus acknowledged as a packaging device which most probably separates us from the content as (food) packaging separates us from the food. The idea of separation is further employed in the end of the film when the narrator imagines the city of Paris being completely 'packaged' in cling-foil.

The use of text, language, actors and props are integral to the piece as they are constantly shifting meanings, always changing directions before becoming solidified. Often, we are presented with a certain tactility and intensified mediation : the use of gestures, props such as toy planes and maps, shots of handshakes that have a noticeable duration, the touching of a cling-foil surface accompanied with a 'silly' song or even shots which reveal the studio.

Consequently, we are reminded of the authorship that is ought to be acknowledged in attempting to re-create a historical moment. In effect the film is always lingering between seriousness and funny and is constantly upsetting the expectations of cinematic narrative.