Academic journal article Framework

Flesh for the Author: Filmic Presence in the Documentaries of Eduardo Coutinho

Academic journal article Framework

Flesh for the Author: Filmic Presence in the Documentaries of Eduardo Coutinho

Article excerpt

Theoretical discussions about the filmed body's corporality or materiality have often addressed the emphasis on physical presence as something that halts narrative progression, even if temporarily. But whereas classical narratives may allow for pauses for the appreciation of, say, the physical attributes of a star, in other modalities the stress on corporality may indicate a more or less significant disdain for plot progression. In his revisionist and elucidating approach to early cinema Tom Gunning identified an impulse to simply present a filmed subject or landscape-the cinema of attractions, he says, was made of "instants, rather than developing situations."1 Gilles Deleuze, in turn, wrote about a cinema of bodies that do not enact unfolding events-in the domain of a "time-image" defined by the coexistence rather than the succession of temporalities,2 the body appears as marked by accumulated experiences.3 Though by no means similar to the idea of attraction, Deleuze's conceptualization of the actor's body as heavy, worn out, and tired is as much about "presence" as the aesthetics of astonishment described by Gunning.

In the realm of literary theory, Roland Barthes elaborated on yet another conception of presence as a means to differentiate authorial figuration from authorial representation, discussing the reader's desire for a writer to be found in the text "not in the guise of direct biography (which would exceed the body, give a meaning to life, forge a destiny),"4 but in his or her physicality-thereby merging the writer and her work into one single entity. Barthes replaces the idea of authorship as origin with the concept of authorship as process, whereby the author ceases to be anterior to the text to become either a scriptor, a weaver of preexisting discourses,5 or a voice relevant not as the conveyor of a message, but as a corporeal presence in a "tissue" that is "worked out in a perpetual interweaving."6 Figuration, says Barthes, "is the way in which the erotic body appears (to whatever degree and in whatever form it may be) in the profile of the text," which in turn can also "reveal itself in the form of a body."7 Underlying Barthes's conception of authorship is a dialectical movement in which the text at once detaches itself from the author and contains the author, who is split into a real self and a textual self construed at each reading. The author is thus at once absent and present; even if the text cannot not narrate or represent interiority, the materiality of language (its sounds and rhythms) evokes the author's concrete body through textual irregularities that suggest her struggle for expression.

In cinema studies, the auteur has been sought mostly in the film-even if in the early days of Cahiers du cinéma the search for recurring elements of style was complemented by long interviews in which critics hoped to trace meaning back to a palpable and intending author. It is the concern for the author existing outside of the text that was lost with the ensuing auteur structuralism and the focus on reception studies, at least until the flourishing of autobiographical and first-person films resuscitated the interest in the historical human being(s) at the origin of the filmic utterance. Simply put, the theoretical distinction between the real person and the critically construed author has never completely suppressed the impulse to merge the two. Considerations about meaning and self-expression, which are obviously at the center of this distinction, have led theorists to overlook a possibility granted exclusively to filmmakers-self-inscription by means of the author's photographic image.

It is in order to explore the filmic manifestation of what Barthes called figuration that I borrow and adapt the stress on physical presence to the detriment of narrative that is articulated (in different contexts and to different ends) by Gunning and Deleuze. The attention to the effects produced by the author's body in the image shifts the focus from authorship as critical construct to authorship as self-construction, calling for an examination of directorial self-inscription. …

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