Thursday, 5 November 2009

Some thoughts on two or three images from Deep Red

As Marcus’s gaze meets Helga, Argento does something unusual within his work: He uses the zoom lens, rather than the sequence of two or three jump cuts. Through this he draws us from Marcus to Helga in an instant, without any interruption.

Argento’s general avoidance of the zoom lens is something which distinguishes him from Bava, Fulci and many other Italian directors working within the giallo and horror filone. For them the zoom was a staple part of their repertoire: It was a device which still had meaning, beyond signifying the laziness and ineptitude assumed by more traditionally inclined critics, but one which was nevertheless equally predictable: It was an impulse image, a shock.

For Argento it is also a shock, but through its rarity or singularity a shock to thought: What does this image, from this filmmaker, mean in this context? The answer, I would argue is that it makes a connection, and a transference, from Helga to Marcus. Helga had earlier indicated at the parapsychology conference that she could only see things at the instance they happened, but not what was to happen. As such, she could not predict her murder. But what she may have done here, at the moment of death, was project the killer’s identity to Marcus via her gaze. Marcus, however, is likewise thereby unable to see things until the moment they have happened: As he races into Helga’s apartment, he cannot recognise what he sees as a movement-image, a sensory-motor schema that provides a guide to action, as it is before him (or to his side).

This is also perhaps due to the sheer complexity of this image. Besides its marginalisation with the frame, that it is a central piece of data in a peripheral position, it neatly combines the three pre-Deleuzean conceptions of the frame. As a realist image it is a window on the world: Here is Martha’s face. As a formalist image it is a frame on the world: Here is Martha, seemingly as part of a painting. As a psychoanalytic image it presents a distorting mirror: Martha, reflected in the mirror, appears as part of the painting.

But, as we saw earlier, Deleuze’s notion of the frame (or the frame within the frame?) as encompassing a set of data potentially incorporates and thus supercedes each of these previous images. It presents the frame, or the frame within the frame, as containing a data set to be read.

Yet, this notion also indicates one of the problems here: an information system, of a computer type, and human perception do not accord. This is at least implicit in Deleuze’s discussions of conventional organic human or animal perception, as attending to those things which are habitually of the most important, and of those things through habitual patterns. But it is questionable if machine perception works in the same way. Rather than arriving in a massively parallel fashion, computer data arrives in series. An image is not perceived all at once, with the point(s) of interest then being focused upon. For humans, however, visual images are still processed in a linear fashion, starting at the top left and continuing along and down to the bottom right. (While there are bidirectional code libraries for text display, to reflect the habituated reading patterns of Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and other written languages, these are not yet reflected in conventional image processing libraries. In addition computer display co-ordinates are not Cartesian: an X, Y graph of pixel coordinates is different from an X,Y graph of Cartesian coordinates.)

As such, whereas we might happen – especially on a repeat viewing – to acknowledge the figure or information in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, a Deleuzean, more linear reading of this data, line by line, would perhaps fall short.

Alternatively, this again points to the difference between using these ideas metaphorically, as philosophical concepts, and literally, as scientific functions...

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