Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

David Lynch, Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze: The Cinematic Diagram and the Hall of Time

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

David Lynch, Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze: The Cinematic Diagram and the Hall of Time

Article excerpt


In contrast to his book about Francis Bacon, the initial French edition of which was accompanied by a lavish supplementary volume filled with color reproductions of Bacon's paintings, Gilles Deleuze's two books on cinema contain no visual illustrations whatsoever. By way of explaining this, Deleuze simply claimed at the start of Cinema 1: The Movement-Image that "it is in fact our text alone which aspires to be an illustration of the great films."1 Still, he may well have had a serious theoretical motivation for refusing to include film frame reproductions in his cinema books. Inasmuch as Deleuze's approach to cinema is founded on a Bergsonian philosophy of time as irreducible durée, frame reproductions could function beneficially only as degraded aide-mémoire, likely to help the reader in recollecting his or her own past encounter with the cinematic passage (mobile cut of durée) in the film from which the still image (immobile cut of durée) has been extracted, yet equally likely to distort that recollection by arresting the mobility of the recollected cut, reducing the cinematic passage to a sort of painting. When matters of cinematic ontology are at stake, then, it might seem better to eschew frame reproductions entirely, as Deleuze did, rather than to risk reducing cinema to photography. Yet despite such concerns, here they are: still frame reproductions of images from the films of David Lynch, peppering my Deleuzian text beginning with the Lynchian invitation presented here as figure 1. The justification for this is simple and provides my essay with its first important claim: images found in Lynch's films must be thought in relation not just to the cinema but also to painting.

This claim doesn't only apply to Lynch's early experiments with projecting film images onto sculptural painted screens, nor is it limited to his animated shorts. It applies to all his films; painting is essential to Lynch's cinema. A suggestive utterance taken from one of the many extant interviews with Lynch implies confirmation of this contention. "One of the things that strikes me," he said, "is how exciting it must have been to have been a filmmaker in the early days of cinema, because not only was it so magical to see paintings begin to move, but they could start altering time."2 The lengthier second part of this essay will therefore show that cinema's ontological capacity for mobilizing inhuman forces (via a cinematic diagram) is put to work in Lynch's film practice in order to produce an image of that most profound of Deleuzian inhuman forces, the Virtual, and that Lynch's recurrent image of the Virtual-as the Hall of Time, a hallway and exhibition space where time itself is put on display-is no mere illustration but a properly philosophical intervention into our concept of time in the wake of Deleuze's work.

But we have not yet exhausted the richness of Lynch's utterance. There is a suggestion too that for Lynch, filmmakers do not perform their work only on celluloid, or only on canvas, but also on time itself. What cinema shows us of time can, in time, alter time so that our concepts of time require revision. This proposition does not go beyond Deleuze's thought but instead affirms it; Deleuze's philosophy of time should be conceived as a response to the historical obsolescence of earlier concepts, an obsolescence provoked by developments not only within philosophy proper but also within the arts.3

The Cinematic Diagram

Greg Hainge's commentary on Lynch's film Lost Highway (1997) asserts that "Lynch's filmic expression employs techniques normally reserved for painting" and that Lost Highway employs such techniques "in order to break conventional narrative so as to bypass the intellect and reach the viewer on an affective, sensational level."4 Hainge's analysis relies on a lucidly summarized version of Deleuze's reading of the paintings of Francis Bacon, which is worth reproducing at length:

primary Figure: the chromatic juxtapositions of the backgrounds, the lines of force inscribed on the canvas-Bacon's inimitable circles, arrows, parallelepipeds and evanescent cubes-and other elements all exert a centripetal force on this primary Figure. …

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