Necessary Means: Isiah Medina on 88:88
By Phil Coldiron
Originally published in Cinema Scope 64 (Fall 2015).
One of the enduring problems of the cinema is that André Bazin’s answer to the question, “What is it?” is so convincing that he was able to pass off an ontology of one of its modes, namely realism, as a sufficient description of the whole. Of course, the issue hardly begins with Bazin: since its inception, cinema has existed, with few exceptions, in a single, conservative form—one based on the “realism” of 24 frames per second as a common measure of photography and projection. Motion pictures were born at the moment of Impressionism and the realist novel, and the form of figuring the world found in La sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (1895) is no more or less historically conditioned than that of the lilies or Bovary; and yet, exploration of cinema’s further modes has hardly begun after 120 years. In its earliest form, the cinema, scarcely considered an art, reached aesthetic achievements equal to, if not greater than, the highest art of its day; this is an extraordinary fact in its history. And yet, beyond this early success, what reasons can there be for the artists of the cinema—even the wildest filmmakers, who have nonetheless produced what can at times seem to be a countless number of great works—remaining so doggedly reverent to a form that allows for only a relatively narrow set of conceptual possibilities? It’s as if suddenly one day everyone woke and decided that the limit of cuisine is chips; or, in the case of Hollywood and its discourse complex, one single, disastrously bland chip, valued at an astonishing sum primarily for its resemblance to an earlier chip.
Isiah Medina’s project begins from the decision to start elsewhere. While the cinema of realism prides itself on taking “show, don’t tell” to its limit, this maxim nonetheless conceives of the world in the terms of a fixed narrative waiting for one of two potential expressions (i.e., “showing” and “telling”); narrative is figured as documentation, and it niggles in the way that sublimated objects tend to. Medina’s first feature, 88:88, is, among many other things, an act of criticism regarding this tradition of quality. His is instead a cinema of the cut, of difference, of reconsidering every assumption of more than a century’s worth of filmmaking. In practice, this means that each relationship available to the cinema must be rebuilt; nothing will be taken for granted within the frame. If there are narratives, they will not be simply given and accepted; they will appear as the product of careful study of the relations of the world, which Medina examines and expresses through the logic of rhythms. As I hope the following conversation makes abundantly clear, this is work concerned with cinematic thinking as the basis for everyday philosophy. It is thinking done under the signs of Epictetus and Spinoza; it is cinema done under no sign but its own.
I realize this sounds as though I’m dancing around describing 88:88, a film made by an artist born in 1991, as “modernist.” And indeed, I am doing this, for two specific reasons: cinematic modernism, as a historical period, ended with Hollis Frampton’s death on March 30, 1984; and, if modernism in the arts is the sensibility which tends toward the highest standards through a refinement of available means, then what exactly was, or is, modernism in an art in which neither the standards nor the means have been defined? 88:88 answers this second question, and in the process can’t help but evoke its few antecedents in truly modernist cinema, work which takes seriously the idea that the cinema is an invention without a future—cinema that has been, and still is, open at every point to finding new directions. For Medina, this means starting with the bare, rich material of the lives of his friends and loved ones; it is, as in Mekas’ diaries or Eustache’s Numéro zéro (1971), a simple film of the people in his life. As it progresses, it situates itself around two young men, one black (Myles Taylor) and one white (Erik Berg), who perform monologues in the film’s second half that define its emotional limits.
Medina’s rejection of novelistic cine-realism occurs on two levels: he shows that the connection assumed today to exist naturally between sound and image is anything but (“It’s like saying the earth is flat”), and he refuses to force the image to exist only as a means for attaching to a continuous, coherent reality. 88:88 takes the single frame, of both sound and image, as its basic unit. These two formal decisions necessitate the creation of a new, experimental form of the system composed of cuts and frames which we generally refer to as montage, which emerges here in a space defined by Markopoulos (rhythm as a form of memory), Godard (simultaneity as a form of political thinking), and Costa (the function of aesthetic concepts “in the world”). At a time when the term “experimental cinema” has come to designate more or less a set of potential generic forms, 88:88 is a real experiment, which means that its failures, or what appear to be its failures, themselves produce thought; chief among these are its occasional lapses into inscrutability, the result of creating rhythms which are too dense and too fast for any viewer to process in real time. But this “failure,” tied to our accepted notions of “reading” moving-image work, nonetheless points squarely to the film’s great and generous demand: to begin every cinematic relation from degree zero. I could say that 88:88 is a masterpiece, but masterpieces are the domain of the past; Medina has taken his first step into the future.
Cinema Scope: Let’s start with a conversation we had recently, wondering what in cinema is like Coltrane’s Ascension, or Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury. So then, what in music is 88:88 like?
Isiah Medina: 88:88 is like “Nas Is Like.” The song verbally begins with DJ Premier scratching Nas is like over and over again, but the cut is close enough to hear Nas is…Nas (is…Nas is…Nas is…). What is it to say that Nas is…Nas? The form of the proposition forces us to expect a new term, a determination, but this is disappointed with the repetition of “Nas.” We expect a determination, an element of the set. Yet at the same time the term does not encounter itself, we encounter its absence. The set is empty. No positive content, instead we have absolute self-reference, a negative relation to predicates that would define it. This is the beginning. When a thing names itself, including itself and its name, we can begin counting. “Nas is” is included in every bar in that sense, like 88:88 will have been included in every frame.
88:88 is like “a poor man’s dream, a thug poet, live it and I write it and I watch it blow up,” like “freedom or jail, clips inserted, a baby’s being born, the same time a man is murdered, the beginning and end,” like “making choices that determine my future under the sky,” “flatline am I sane? That depends.” 88:88 is “like Greeks in Egypt learning something deep from their teacher,” like “corporate accounts from a rich country.” Creating its own web of possible inferences, its own history and likeness. The chorus is a scratched in hook from other songs that Nas has also made in the past, sampling itself, providing its own ground. “Or for anyone who has ever been through shit in they lives so they cry at night wishing they died till they throw on a rap record, and they sit and they vibe.” (Eminem) And the line, “I used to take it for granted why they place me on this planet? I would ask myself while writing raps to myself but right there was the flow of all flows not a demon but a rose in the cement”—how Jay-Z wrote in his head, like Griffith making movies in his head. This importance of not writing it and seeing visions in your head and trusting that. “Trying to maintain I flip fill the clip the tip my homies not eating make my heartbeat skip and I’m amped up they locked the champ up even my brain’s in handcuffs.” “evenmybrain’sinhandcuffs” was my first password to the computer I first edited with; handcuffs as password. And without comment: “Summer of Dreams” by Kanye West, with all its freestyled non-words as words. Not enough time in one lifetime to love you like you deserve. And back to “Nas Is Like”: if Primo cut up “Variations, Op. 27: Sehr mässig” by Webern. These are some of my conditions.
Scope: Webern seems particularly present in the way you’ve edited the dialogue. The silence is expressive, but non-dramatic: it’s never simply the “sound” of waiting for some other event. It doesn’t need anything to justify its presence.
Medina: Silence is a sound and living luxurious does not make one less part of the rabble. Or can a sound be the waiting-for of a new silence? Can a cut be without being a waiting-of a new image? It is also a poetic question if we demand that poetry be a condition of cinema: what does a line break sound like? Can we say that reasons need justification, but axioms do not? An axiomatic silence. I mean, silence does not exist, but it is.
Scope: So when you say that cinema contains poetry, it’s not an issue of metaphors, it’s about form: a properly poetic film really has line breaks in it. Of course, the same film might have key changes and psychological narration, too.
Medina: Definitely. Cinema itself is not poetry, but in thinking poetry in cinema, in a free play of being able to reflect on poetic forms, perhaps we can return to poetry again in a different way, by going through this passage of movie-making. Perhaps if we think some ideas of love or politics or science through cinema we can return to those domains renewed as well. But these domains also renew the frame, the cut, instances of sound, in cinema thought as philosophy. If a shot in cinema reminds one of empirical experience, we experience this experience’s end, its cut, by a form. Forms cut through empirical experience, reorganizing what can be experienced. What is interesting about the cinema is that via the cut perhaps we can be hit by a poetic form, a thinking of love, a discourse on infinity, a political idea, all at the same time, and yet still recognize it as an experience you can universally transmit to a friend. Philosophy or cinema can allow us to circulate between politics, love, science, and art by comparing the forms of transformation they entail. And this is a political point: we are not destined to specialization, to a specific place in the world.
Scope: You mentioned the idea of writing or filming in one’s head, which I find particularly interesting given that you often build your work out of material you’ve recorded over quite a long time. Is the relation between the mental image and the material image constantly in flux for you?
Medina: If we look at the shape of the 8 we can also think of a Moebius strip. The distinction between interior and exterior is decided locally at every point but globally there is no distinction. At each point there is always a reverse side, an outside. With the Lumière Brothers’ Démolition d’un mur (1896), we have the beginning of thought, a thought of the beginning, a reverse, but perhaps globally this going forward or backward distinction disappears; what matters is what changes point by point. If we cut the band along the centre, the band becomes longer, producing two further twists.
I think it’s a question of space, where space is thought of as that which suspends the distinction between interior and exterior. What is inside (my head) is no more easily accessible than what is outside. Yet the form of access is the same, thus we can suspend the distinction, and suspend this suspension at certain points (0,1) in a procedure of thinking.
When on set there is no-thing written. There is this move between free style and free association. But the idea is that we are still within a rationalist discourse, precisely because if everything is determined we can more or less start at any place and find ourselves at the core of our problem. In a movie set, interior or exterior is decided at each and every point, whichever allows us to continue our process. Thinking is that non-dialectical unity between theory and practice, where what is theoretical or practical is in that constant flux between mental and material, since the materiality of the mental is always in tension. When we look at physics today matter disappears in abstract mathematical formalism.
The reason I want to stress this idea of writing or filming in one’s head, or montage in one’s head, is to put it in a simple way that we have no idea what an Idea can be today and how immediate an Idea’s consequences can be for what we even think matter is; that the obstacles of our thought are only the obstacles that thought produces for itself, in order to better cross it. As you say, there is a mental image and a material image, but these are held together by the cut.
I think with cinema to better partition subjectivity from the world that it appears in, or again, the cut from the frame that allows its appearing. This is a subjectivity not limited to individuality. The idea is to create a Kuleshov effect whereby the very cut between the subject and the object can appear to the subject, so that the subject can understand the rule that it created for itself, include itself as an object it can be affected by, and through self-reference undergo a transformation. Subjectivity is no longer the substantial image of the close-up, but in the very cut that makes the distinction possible. From here, we can attempt to delink ourselves from our natural appearing, objecting to the nature of causes via a becoming-objective of the cut that can be thought of separately from the frame that constitutes it.
Scope: The discourse around determinism and suspension is one of the film’s key intellectual threads. What does determinism entail for the possibilities of political action? I should say that 88:88 seems quite aware of the folly of confusing art and political action.
Medina: That everything is determined does not entail that there is a plan, but that if we are to follow the consequences of our political ideas then there is a form of determinacy and a form of suspension that we must discover. In a frame, what appears may appear to be everything that there is. If politics is a tracking shot, then politics merely becomes the extension of what there is. Politics becomes a managerial exercise of organizing what is possible and immediately in front of us. Continue the shot at any cost, at any repetition. Who is excluded to make the shot possible? This shot may appear as a freedom. A freedom of movement. But what is this everything determined by? By what does not appear, by what in-appears. The flicker, and perhaps, a cut. We remember that there must be a cut before the shot even begins and a cut for the shot to end.
To take a fatalist stance, that everything is determined, is also to start at the end. The end has already taken place, we do not have to wait for it—it is hidden—but we know it is required for the movement to look seamless. We do not wait for a particular moment in the shot to begin a political action; we begin rationally cutting. If everything is determined, we are in a rationalist discourse, and in the last instance we can defend every cut that is universally addressed to all. Once you make a decision, a cut, you are determined by it and must follow its consequences, or start again. To say that everything is determined is to focus not on the freedom and right of the shot, which merely extends what is repressively possible, but to cut with justice, with equality. We are all within the shot, thinking perhaps we can last a little longer in its light and not disappear off frame, or into the darkness. But if everything is determined, we release ourselves from the luxury of thinking we may have good luck, and instead accept the absolute necessity that at one point the shot will cut, we will be out of frame, and start from there immediately. To start politics from the necessity, the determinacy that for some to be in frame, some will be out, is to choose the out, the worst, first. Choosing the worst opens us up for the cut, as the worst will have happened in this fatalist universe. If living luxuriously is the starting point of our politics, or more precisely the luxury of contingency without necessity, we will always find new justifications for the shot in progress.
But if we begin with thinking the end of a process, the necessary production of poverty to allow the existence of a shot, we can begin with what inexists. And perhaps if you line up these cuts, rather than these shots, a counter-history, or better, an eternity of political struggles, Ideas, appear. And as cuts are subjective, unsubstantialized, and axiomatic, together you can recut any long take into a new subjective position, to show subjects where you did not know they existed. Yet this is where the nothing that determined the “everything” can retroactively be located. And as cuts, they can be recommenced, resurrected, exceptional, and, in a sense, eternally valid. Like the shock of Frampton reproducing Kuleshov with students, you are almost frightened it may not work, but it does. Eternally. If everything is determined, we can choose the worst, and that is, choose to begin again where we last left off. And still: political action is not a critical found-footage film. We must risk beginning our own shots that via the cut will have changed form; our cuts will be immanent to our own struggles, and we will not be determined by any political problem that we ourselves have not put there. Not only a subtraction from extant institutions, but towards the institutionalization of our subtraction. We live in absolute necessity, fatalism, determinism, but we can cut to what will determine us.
Scope: While I agree with your reasons regarding the need here to choose the worst, I wonder about the necessity of the idea that for some to be in the frame, some will be out. Isn’t it possible to move here to thinking of the frame at the level of form, the question of how the film’s many frames relate in memory? Then you can begin dealing with the political relations in that space, which I think would be one way to describe Vertov’s project, for example—and it’s one that 88:88 continues.
Medina: The necessity of what is in frame and what is out is a logical necessity. Despite appearances, there are infinite forms of the cut, and a cut requires exclusion. In a classical logic, the decision of P excludes non-P from the realm of possibility. P or non-P. If you cannot afford the “or,” if everything is an “and,” we cannot distinguish true change. Instead we must think of the flicker that separates each frame, historically perhaps it can be seen at 18P, 24P, 29.97P, or 60P.
Let us say in the tracking shot of politics, each successive frame simply adds to this sequence model: n+1. The succession of frames is (inde)finite, we make a decision for finitude. Keep shooting, you may circle the earth, but you will never periodize. This is a politics of forgetting (“Are we still in the same shot, this is so well done I forgot!”) and without an idea of the end, without the cut, we remain in finitude.
The shot inevitably comes to an end, and let us call ω the end of this repetitive model of succession; ω ends the repetition of n+1. A historical interruption to the tendency of naturalization in a tracking shot. It is not considered in frame, nor does it succeed it—as a point it surpasses the potential “tracking shot” not by adding to it, but by being the horizon of its succession. A cut, ω, retroactively totalizes the potentially infinite shot, and becomes its limit. We can succeed by applying the same operation, ω +1, reopening succession. But ω is not a successor to the first succession; ω was itself a support for the prior potentially infinite succession. The consequence is that there is more than one form of the intervallic. The space between frames is not the same one, because, if so, then we are, despite appearances, still within a tracking shot, within the one, within the same form of succession that is n+1, and no cut has taken place.
Thus, it is the power of decision, of exclusion, that allows for the infinite sizes of the cut, of the interval: infinite infinities. Without exclusion we would have only one infinity, one interval. Yes, the finite frame allows us access to a thinking of the infinite cuts, but we must assert the framing of the cut, the finitude of infinity itself, or again that there are infinitely many infinities. We must frame the cut in order to better cut the cut. Only the disciplined decisions of a classical logic, P or non-P, operating on both the intuitionist logic of the many degrees between P or non-P (think of the degrees of light, in the parlance of a cinematographer, the zones of the frame, or for philosophy we can say the phenomenological appearing of the world), and the paraconsistency of P is non-P (the flicker that may be a cut if we decide for an absolute change in the degrees of light from frame to frame, and if we do not the flicker only appears [P] to disappear [non-P]), can reorganize a new world of appearing. To put it much too briefly: if in film the relation between frame to frame operates such that the second frame makes clear what the first frame was, forcing the first to become 0, and the second to become 1, or again, makes it countable, this form of the cut 0 → 1 would later become the very form of the digital image. New classical decisions in the cut will later have produced new forms of the image. So perhaps from 24P we will see ωP, and so on. Take it to the end: there will always have been no-thing to see, but this inconsistent no-thing, this interval, must be given structure, must be made consistent. Or again the obstacles to rational cutting are only the obstacles rationality will have placed there.
Without the subjective action of cutting creating new exclusions, true lines of division, we will only have one interval. There will only have been one cut, and the cut will be an objective law, rather than the infinite, subjective production of new truths. If there is only one interval, it is like having only one form of negation, or only one form of historical change. If Stalinism’s belief in an iron law of historical becoming can result in Socialism in One Country, perhaps thinking there is the same one thing between frames can result in a vision of cinema that closes itself off in the same way.
Scope: I’d like to ask about another sense of the cut: that is, in how it relates to the people populating your film. It would be wrong to call what anyone is doing acting—with maybe the exception of Myles. But you’re also not after any sort of Brechtian or Bressonian distance or coolness. The feeling to me is closer to home movies, but home movies that have been hewn to the barest gestures needed to express something. As active as the montage is, the content of the image is generally quite still, and often concerns the way that a body fills up a space, or doesn’t.
Medina: I tried working with someone without truly being friends first beforehand and it was a disaster. To be honest, even just reciting a text or telling me a story doesn’t work unless we are friends. Working with Erik and Eliza, who are trained actors, it’s the same. It’s more important that we’re all crew than if you are a “good actor.” The only good actor is one that can act as a good friend. I grew up with Erik, and Eliza is now a friend. At the same time, Erik told me that for him acting is not simply faking, but what is essential is to act, to go for what is most true in the emotional, intellectual situation. So he is always acting. It’s like raising your hand in class when a professor says something that disgusts you—it’s a duty to combat it. It’s not a question of grades or anything like that. When you are in front of friends you can force yourself to act true. You can be with friends and there is a police officer verbally attacking a friend, or more, and you defend your friend. There is a subtraction that friendship provides, and if it is attacked you defend yourselves. When you are friends you can read those bare gestures and the stillness is the stillness of the fact that with friends, being together is enough. Being together is already thinking, already the construction of a time. You only show home movies to friends and family, so when you view 88:88, it’s also an offer of beginning a friendship, which is to share a thought, to share an Idea.
But when I see old home movies a generation ago, there can be a nervous wave to the camera, a hello, and then a continuation of whatever the person is doing, however heightened or acted it has become. Growing up always being recorded, everyone is comfortable with the shooting and there is none of that. With constant surveillance we are in the state’s home movies, so regardless we should act true. We watch ourselves watching, watch ourselves producing Kuleshov effects, in order to make new actions possible. Erik told me one time, “You can have the passwords to all my accounts. I don’t care.” If you are living true, then there is nothing to hide. You can be proud of how you live, how you think, and be proud of your friends, as friendship can be the possibility of revision. To return to Brecht: “The more innocent they are the more they deserve to be shot.” We actually spray-painted this in Myles’ room when we were teens. This can be thought of not only as a Stalinist who promotes shooting innocent people, but brutally, if you are innocent of going against a repressive state, then you deserve to be shot. Since you will be shot either way, we should be disciplined and organize politically. This is the fatalist stance again. If we are going to be under surveillance, or not, we should live in fidelity to an Idea.
Lastly, the directions I give are simple, a direction to look in, give him dap, read this page in your head but not aloud…but it’s just a starting point. You can do whatever you want really, but I may need you to look in this direction, and think about this Idea, and we can think about this Idea together. To show someone thinking in a movie is still an exciting proposition. If you shoot someone thinking, you can cut to anything, since thinking can suspend any shot and point elsewhere, or maybe point right here. Thinking shows us that the elsewhere is right here.
Scope: And then there’s the question of maintaining a general separation between the image and soundtrack. Am I right to say that there are fewer than half of a dozen instances of synced sound in the whole of the film? What do you see as the relation between these two aspects?
Medina: To approach the question in another way: how do we maintain the idea that empirical sciences disclose what is when each scientific revolution can do away with what came before? What we do is attend to the mathematical formalization, the pivots that endure these waves of posited objects. We touch on what is invariant.
To put it bluntly, I do not trust that it is that simple that we record a voice leaving a mouth a mouth and it is simply synced. It’s like saying the earth is flat. I find it abstract, and not concrete at all. Knowing that our conceptualization of sensuous immediacy can be doubted, I find there is a fundamental instability in experiencing empirical reality. It was never given in cinema that sound has to leave people’s mouths; that was a choice to be made, and it is another strength of cinema. Again, cinema did not link itself to the real by producing representations that appeared to be like what we saw with our eyes. I maintain that the link to the real is the cut. The cut that separates images or sounds is the cut that separates reality from itself or again: reality is incomplete. But it is its incompleteness that allows us to connect, disconnect, and reconnect inferences of what merely appears to us, and perhaps produce something like a new Cogito proof. I dream of a cinema that will present us with a new proof of our existence. In a Descartes movie perhaps there is no syncing, just systematic doubt of any link until he says, “I think, therefore I am.” Or maybe it’s the opposite, that there are new possibilities of what a true link is between phenomena and the old sync appears to be kitsch. We can doubt that this delinking is indeed a form of doubt. We may at first mistrust that this separation of sound and image in cinema can be naturalized, but we should mistrust this mistrust, and see that perhaps with the syncing of the music, to the voice, to the cuts, to the frames, these are all in sync to demonstrate a thought, and this may be of greater value. One of my favourite quotes from Badiou is “the true battle is not idealism vs. materialism, but dialectics vs. empiricism.”
So there is syncing, compatibilities between images and sounds, or rather, cuts link some framed sounds and some framed images. Cuts are a pivot, and when run together are invariants that endure every historical image or sound. It is the work of reason to divide, to separate, what only appears to be linked. It is important to create dualisms, important dualisms like the distinction between being and appearing, but we must also integrate, at necessary, courageous points. And it is not a simple link, it’s more speculative, it’s the infamous hearing of an image and the seeing of a sound. Instead of attaching a fixed predicate of sound to the subject of the image, the subject can become the predicate and the predicate can become the subject. This reversibility is at the heart of cinema, and perhaps Godard is correct that the Lumière Brothers were within the artistic sequence or lineage of Impressionism, but it is not the case at the point of reversal in the Démolition d’un mur, a movie that reveals the operation of the reverse as the support of phenomenal appearing. Reversals are the real “movements” of cinema, if cinema can do the work of philosophy.
Scope: So then what do you see as the possible effects of linking framed sounds and framed images by the cut? I ask because, for example, that link in the cases of Myles and Erik occurs only later in the film; to have that “attachment” occur earlier would’ve particularly, and significantly, altered the film’s psychological aspect.
Medina: If we accept the general separation between sound and image, it is also to neutralize even the moments of attachment. You may not notice it, and if you do see the voice leaving the mouth you may still retain a moment of doubt. It is important to sever the link between bodies and languages in order to make way for truth. To speak only from your immediate body may not be the greatest freedom. Of course, the moments of attachment aren’t random. To be asked, “What is your favourite movie?” can be a stupid question, a question related immediately to your individuality, your body. To realize the fact of your body because you got evicted and you are hungry and saying you feel like you have no worth may be something you say when there is a complete fusion between your immediate language and your immediate body. Maybe the music at the concert wasn’t good enough to explore the possibilities of thinking in sounds, so you have to speak to your friend and hear something real from him.
But to do justice with thought, of course negotiation can be worth as much as war, sound as much as silence, and the attachment might appear differently. Maybe when you are lying down holding hands with your lover, listening to a love song that you chose together off of your phone, this immediacy is a worked-through immediacy, a result, and this is not natural. This is not an immediate body in the same sense. So in that scene there is diegetic music, but it is the diegesis of the subject-body rather than an individual-body, and this moment of attachment becomes the Two’s separation from the world. Inside and outside, the valuation of diegesis and non-diegesis, can be decided point by point.
Scope: It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to view 88:88 as a type of young dandy’s cinema—it’s an intricate ordering of the world, where if you’re present you’re posing, as much as in Von Sternberg or any of his underground admirers. But then this comes up short when thinking about how bodies themselves act in its frames—in the sense that a posed body is obviously still acting in any number of ways. Of course I can’t help but think about Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” here. What do you see as the body’s place in your cinema? Particularly as it relates to sexual difference, which is the only aspect of 88:88 that seems slightly underdeveloped to me.
Medina: The body is a place that we inhabit. We have a body; we are not it. We can have time, or as in 88:88, we can leave it behind. Eliza wears a sweater in a scene that says BODY. Like a piece of clothing, it can be left behind. There is a cut between the body of the human animal, and the possibility of becoming part of a subject-body. There is a cut in the movie from Myles sitting to a white dot, a point, against black. The body is a point of exteriority, and as exteriority we can learn how to work with it. It is a cinema of posing: in a pose we are not positioning our body “naturally,” but then was there ever a natural pose for our body? With the voice separated from the body throughout, then the individual body can always possibly be unbound and vectored towards an idea that is not simply to be an individual body. The pose is thought as an unnatural position of appearing, a fight against naturalization. A body can pose, a body can pose a problem, and maybe become part of another body of thought. Like playing violin, dancing over flickering frames, sitting down explaining a mathematics problem; these are not natural positions. When Jean Genet says, “What is a black man, and first of all, what colour is he?” can we say, “What is a body, and first of all, where is it, and how many are there?”
There is a subject-body or the body of an individual, in the movie there are bodies of poetry and music, the body that Neil is attempting to build to solve his problem dealing with Sturmian words. And the body appears differently with Anne and I, since I love her, so I am forced to think of a different relation of her appearing to the frame and to the cut. Here again is the power of exclusion: I reserve a type of shot, a type of cutting for Anne, because I do love her, and others can be excluded from that type of shot and cut. The true change in love cannot be thought without this exclusion. Infinity is not this idea of openness, it can be a closure, an enclosure of other smaller infinities within it. It is finitude that is open, not infinity.
There is the scene when Anne’s face is off frame and she is using two cellphones framing herself simultaneously. The feminine position is in no need of the masculine position to think the difference to itself—it is not to say feminine is not-masculine or in polarity with masculinity; instead the two frames are both feminine. The feminine is in montage with itself, exiting the very field of the masculine and its opposite. Even if I frame this scene, I can only frame the fact of the split subject. They both capture her face, and we hear Parmenides being read: “On the right boys; on the left girls.” Both the left and right cellphone frames are of Anne, then I pan left to Erik who was reading Parmenides, with Anne now off frame in the right. But also when Anne looks at me near the end of the movie there is a recollection of the possible positions in the frame, and when she stops looking we become one within our bodies again. Both bodies are split with regard to themselves but are united by the same split, the same attempt to formalize this gap. The two attempts to frame the cut are different—in love there are two different positions—and a new cut is formed, again and again. To repeat again, there is the shot of Anne split with a back and forth of her face with a black screen and the autumn trees. Love is like the chance of the same face coming up on the die, again and again, and since the game isn’t rigged we treat this contingent landing as necessity. The black screen is not a lack; we acknowledge the necessity of the gap, and the lack comes to lack.
There is a scene when birth-control pills are taken. When it is Bien’s birthday, before he looks up to the camera watching him from the ceiling, he says, adding to the movie’s discourse on the One, “One is a birthday girl, and one is a birthday boy.” I think sexual difference through love and if not, maybe it’s a political question, and we treat this difference with an axiomatic equality and respect. In a scene shot with Samara, there was sound recorded as well, but she preferred that we use the image, but not the sound; so this can be another axiomatic silence, we didn’t have to discuss it. There is no hidden camera, no hidden sound recordings. We think in public.
And then there is my mother speaking on derivatives markets, and she does not appear, but Kieran also speaks on the One and fatalism and does not appear. I am friends with Kieran through our interests in art and philosophy among other things—we met online, talked through Skype, but never in person—so the question of the body never comes up, but we do share ideas and collaborate.
There is Myles as a shadow ω, having his hands up, infinity arresting the count. But Anne also has a scene with her hands up, and also has an armband that has ω, so when she has her hands up it is a bit like ωω. Though I will not draw it out here right now, we have a theory of the relation between the masculine and the feminine as two forms of infinity; maybe love is the question of finding ways to maintain each form of infinity without making the other finite. There are mathematical resources we can look towards today to study and perhaps with it find new ways to frame and cut bodies in cinema. The importance is that thought is not committed to the relation of finite to the infinite, but instead we can find new ideas by thinking the relation of an infinity to an infinity of another size. The truth is that we need new procedures to construct successive infinities, or else there is a limit, and this is an important task. Yet, at the same time, in one of the shots the armband is somewhat hidden when her arms are up and the ω is the same—science gives us the right to speak as no one in particular, the arms are in shadow or the person is in a mask. As Anne pointed out, science suspends gender.
There is a political body, a scientific body, a body in love, a body of artworks—we are not simply our individual body. But this is why it is a constant experiment to think how bodies of truth exist in frame. Einstein did thought experiments wondering what it is to be a photon, but the same struggle exists when you do a thought experiment and wonder what it is like to be in your own body. I cannot think of the body as such in cinema, it has to interact with its split through some sort of procedure of thinking whether it’s love, science, politics, or art.
I met Anne between Time is the sun (2012) and For Zoohky (2013), and I’m sure there are visible changes in my cinema as to how I continue to make movies, since I think sexual difference through love and I am still learning how a body can be subtracted from the reaction, and the obscurity, of being a naturalized individual. Anne is also interested in neuroscience, biology, labour laws, among other things, so with our two frames I hope to find new cuts together, new ways of thinking this difference, new Ideas of what a body is.