Saturday, 10 October 2009

Deluezean analysis of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage's opening sequence

Dario Argento's eclectic and excessive approach to the image is evident from the opening scene of his debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The information conveyed by the scene and its successor are straightforward: Rome is in the grip of what we would now term a serial killer. The images themselves, however, are anything but, as Argento jumbles chronology, juxtaposes moving and static images and colour and black and white (both via the technology of optical printing, a recurring element within the film) and plays with the frame. The most straightforward images are those of the (presumed male) killer and his weapons: These are affection-images, close-ups of objects, of knives in their red/velvet lined box and of the killer's black/leather encased hands, especially when caressing the photographic image. But even here there is an added complexity, in that Argento is playing upon cliché. The functional, fashionable garb of Bava's Blood and Black Lace is here fetishised (Needham: ??:??), as a “vurt” or bad object/fetish. We are also encouraged to read the killer as male. Faciality is key here: Though Argento does not present this figure, or her (male) gallery counterpart, as explicitly masked, as in Bava, the implications are equally clear. Man is the aggressor, woman the victim. The “cliché,” a key element of the film, is thereby foregrounded, to be subsequently explored, emphasised and deconstructed. The more complex images are those which present the victim-to-be. A more conventional, less imaginative approach would have been to show her being photographed by the killer and then the killer preparing to strike. Argento's use of moving and static images, along with moving images caught in the act of becoming static, and of colour and monochrome, complexifies this. In particular it is neither movement-image nor time-image. On the one hand these images suggest an action-image relationship, that the killer will act, or has to/should be stopped. On the other hand they imply the breakdown of the action-image and the sensory-motor relationship underpinning it: What has already happened, is in the past? What is still to come?

The final image in this scene, that of a black screen and a scream, is equally significant. It is an image which shows up one of Deleuze's weaknesses, namely his emphasis upon the visual image (thing) at the expense of other images (things). Deleuze presents this image, that of a black screen, as an “empty” set. But, in conjunction with the scream, it is emphatically not. Rather, it is a set which conveys death; indeed, were the sound to be absent, this image in conjunction with its successor (starting with a newspaper hoarding reading the third death of a woman in a month) would still say the same thing, for the viewer (particularly Italian) who can read the image. This is a frequent aspect of Leone, Argento and Questi's images. The sound image, which is unbounded, does not overlap or accord with the visual image, which us bounded by the frame. All three directors thereby go beyond the movement-image, where the frame/set incorporates sound and image, with the former a duplicate and supplement to the latter, towards the time-image, with its separate, non-commensurable opsigns and sonsigns.

No comments: