What is Pixelization, doc?

It is a pity that after these many years of film and video experimentation, odd camera angles, camera movements independent of the action, or any other unmotivated elements in the mise-en-scène, are becoming less unique, less effective. Long gone is the period that an authorial signature is easy to distinguish: the acrobatic long track of Welles, the theatrical lighting and monologue of Bergman, the awkward pan-and-zoom of Truffaut. The self-consciousness they meant to evoke is no longer that readily answered. If the rule of ‘invisible witness’ characterized by classical Hollywood narration has been broken by a so-called art cinema narration, then why is it not possible that these same techniques, vulgarized by the extensive use of MTVs and commercials, cease to identify an excursive narration, but something else, for example, a preoccupation to visually impress? Nowadays in order to make the audience aware of the camera movements, it is probably not wise to move the camera at all.

Michael Almereyda invented anther option. This is called pixelization. By definition it is a decrease of image resolution, which has been already widely used in news and documentary productions in order to preserve the presumption of innocence or common decency. But the technique used in these circumstances bears two dissimilarities to that employed by Almereyda. First, I presume that previously the lower resolution is only applied to parts of the image, faces, license plates and genitalia, etc., whereas in Almereyda’s Nadja (94), the whole screen is blurred. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in Nadja, the obscured images do not represent something that he does not want us to see, but instead, or on the contrary, something he wants us to see better. Yes, this sounds definitely contradictory. So how does it work?

Well, let’s start with its irritating effect. Why is it irritating[1]? Because these are the emotional charged scenes of which we are deprived of a clear view. It is like being blocked out of a mat glass door where murder, incestuous love, or whatever could be fun to watch, is happening. Why he blocked our view? Aren’t we supposed to watch them since he made them for us to watch? Yes and no. First possibility: due to the budget constraint, he is actually not able to enact those scenes in a convincing way (think about David Cronenberg’s early films). Second: even if they are executed in a satisfactory way (like in numerous other big budget vampire movies), would the result be better? Be more appropriate to his purpose?

What is the result he wanted to achieve? It pays to mention that this film tried hard not to fall into any of genres it is paying homage to. It is not Derek Jarman, not David Lynch, not John Cassavetes, not vampire, not lesbian, not horror. It consists of them all but is not any one of them. How did he do that? By creating distance, or diversion. What about the little boy wearing Mickey Mouse hat in Dracula’s Transylvania lair? Isn’t that a typical Brechtian reflective detachment? Welcome to Disney land in Romania!

It has also been said that all these pixelized scenes are connected with the vampire’s appearance. In my opinion, this is not necessarily so and most probably not the case. Suppose all scenes are originally shot in normal resolution, the choices are only made in the editing, or to be more precise, in the final stage of the editing. I do not have any direct source to verify my point, but the way as I see fit to do it is to put up the whole film together first, and then pixelize those scenes where either the image is too strong or too weak. There are two issues that immediately come up. One is the boundary: do we pixelize precisely the frames we see fit, or do we intentionally blur the boundary, thus discourage the attempt to associate this technique to any specific psychological motivation? Furthermore, do we adhere to the first principle or do we try to form an accelerated rhythm of the interlacing? For both of these two issues I opt for the option B.

It is probably an authorial signature for Almereyda to use pixelization (I haven’t seen his others) since it has the potential, as I can imagine, to become one. But the good news is that art cinema does not propose a fixed set of rules waiting to be applied in no matter what epoch. The so-called art-cinema, and its division with the classical cinema, is largely based on different modes of interpreting the action and psychology, two major elements of any film. In the classical cinema, both the action and psychology has to be clear and comprehensible, and the formal aspects strive to attain this clarity – what is engendered is then properly regarded as the rule of Hollywood narration. On the other hand, if we are aiming at a different audience, or a different mode of interpreting the world in the mind of the same audience, the action and psychology will inevitably acquire a huge amount of uncertainty. And this uncertainty should certainly be reflected in the techniques used to arouse them. Maybe it is even not fair to put into opposition the classical narrative and art cinema narrative, for there are always infinite numbers of uncertainties corresponding to only one certainty. But the common denominator of all this infinity is nothing but this intensified correspondence between the techniques used and the kind of self-consciousness it seeks to arouse.

[1] To begin with, it is shot in black and white. Are you kidding? How many films made in North America recently (or more generously, after the 60s) are not in color? Shadow and Fog (92)? Good Night and Good Luck (05)? What else?


No comments:

Popular Posts

Blog Archive