Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

History's Irruption in the Look-to-Camera

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

History's Irruption in the Look-to-Camera

Article excerpt

History's Irruption in the Look-to-Camera Camera Histórica: The Century in Cinema by Antoine de Baecque. Translated by Ninon Vinsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 424 pages. $105.00 hardcover, $35.00 paperback.

In his sprawling work of film historiography, Camera Histórica: The Century in Cinema, Antoine de Baecque conceptualizes three modes of interpretation as "ways of entering history" (xv). One can figure history; narrate history, or "circle" history. Beginning with a close reading of Manuel de Oliveira's No, or the Vain Glory of Command (1990), de Baecque pursues the circling of history, or what he calls the cinematographic form of history, that is, the mise-en-scène that gives form to a director's vision of history. Cinema and history create this form together, which de Baecque also says has the status of a methodology entailing the study of history with films rather than historicizing films. The aim of de Baecque's project is thus to connect aesthetics and historiography by examining the development of cinematic form.

For de Baecque, history "irrupts" into cinema; in other words, cinema does not simply reconstitute the events of the past. History's impression on the cinematic image results in metamorphoses of form. Following Gilles Deleuze's argument that the systematic use of the jump cut is a key feature of the time-image and the break with prewar, classical cinema, de Baecque locates another "formal figure of the irruption of that same history: the look-to-camera" (27). The look-to-camera occurs when a character stares into the camera lens, seemingly gazing at the spectator with a "head-on intensity" that emerges "straight from history" (35). De Baecque calls the look-to-camera the "supreme form" of modern post-1945 cinema because its formal transgression illustrates a type of fundamental encounter between history and film, a literal "looking back" of the historical through the capacities offered by cinema. He finds the look-to-camera, for example, in the faces of the Japanese women standing in the doorways of their hospital rooms at the beginning of Hiroshima mon amour (1959, directed by Alain Resnais), in Europa '51 (1952, directed by Roberto Rossellini) through Irene's (Ingrid Bergman) encounter with eleven "mad" women, and in Summer with Monika (1953, directed by Ingmar Bergman), where the title character directly addresses the spectator. These encounters exemplify a mode of historical address because they originate from a visual affirmation temporarily occluded by repressed trauma that, when released, generates revolutionary changes in cinematic form.

According to de Baecque, Alain Resnais's Night and Fog (1955), made on the tenth anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, crystallized this version of the look-to-camera. The film's "countless stares," he says, "wrenched from the death camps by photographers and cinematographers," are "stares that bear witness to the Nazi horror" (37). In his discussion of the camp footage in the first chapter, de Baecque characterizes images of mass graves and naked corpses as "staring down the history of cinema .. ., offering themselves up as a generic form for modern cinema" (44). While de Baecque's argument could be used to elaborate the visual "evidence" of history (which would, in turn, make Camera Histórica shout film and representation), it instead articulates the process by which history suddenly breaks into cinema. The images of death that emanated from the camps were "silent" at first but returned a decade later, vis-à-vis the look-to-camera. Whereas the visions and figures of the death camps were once considered an unrepresentable history of trauma, their return through modern cinematic form produces the very way they enter into history.

The chapters that follow look at a range of European and American films that illuminate what de Baecque calls "the age of history in film": Sacha Guitry's Si Versailles m'était conté (1954), the French New Wave, the work of English filmmaker Peter Watkins, Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98), the end of communism as seen in the work of several East European directors, and American films of the late twentieth century, specifically end-ofthe-world films, bad-taste films, and the gothic (e. …

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