Monday, 30 June 2014

Uncanny Fusion: Journey to Mixed-up Files

A true story.

The above autobiographical video UNCANNY FUSION forms part of a piece "of truly subjective, creative film criticism about the spectatorial experience." My accompanying text (from which a short excerpt is given below), was prefaced by a theoretical introduction co-written, in part, with Christian Keathley who also made a video and wrote an autobiographical refection for this work. This work has just been published as 'The Use of an Illusion: Childhood cinephilia, object relations and videographic film studies' at PHOTOGÉNIE 0, 2014:

After several years of prolifically making video essays about films, of enjoying playing with their particular modes of disclosure and ‘unconcealment’ (as I reflected in a 2014 article), I began to be drawn to using video practice to work through some verbally quite inexplicable (or, at least, difficult to explicate) but recurrent spectatorial experiences.  I started to mine the potential connections between personally charged cinematic moments to test out Mikhail Iampolski’s understanding of how, through the insertion of a ‘“source” of a cinematic figure into a film as its subtext, the intertext can also function as a generative mechanism’ (246).  While Iampolski wasn’t writing about literal forms of ‘insertion’, how better to explore such filmic connections generatively than to remix them using the practices of audiovisual montage?  My earliest experiments, and this impulse, are described in my 2013 essay “Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies.”
     I didn’t fully explore in that text why I set out to do this, although I did mention an aspect of my adoption story for the first time in published work. But I was at least partly inspired by an encounter with the written work of Winnicottian psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, specifically with his book The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, which is mentioned by Kuhn in her Screen article “Thresholds: Film as Film and the Aesthetic Experience.”  The ‘unthought known’ of Bollas’s title – a deeply resonant concept for me as soon as I came across it, rather like Sprengnether’s notion of the ‘buried metaphors’ by which we live – refers toheretofore inarticulate elements of psychic life’ (210).  Ian Hunt concisely describes this concept as referring to ‘the ways in which individuals may organize their lives around an event or a traumatic pattern of experiencing that, although at some deep level known, can only with difficulty be claimed for conscious thought’. For Bollas, the unthought known can be intuited, inter alia, in the déjà-vu experiences of  ‘aesthetic moments’, occasions during which ‘an individual feels a deep subjective rapport with an object [...] and experiences an uncanny fusion with [it, with the sense] of being reminded of something never cognitively apprehended but existentially known’ (16).  As Ian Woodward and David Ellison write, this kind of experience
is a type of ‘spell’ that holds person and object in symmetry and solitude. In this experience of deep rapport, the person is provided with a feeling of fitting with an object. Bollas notes that this type of experience is often non-verbal, given its location in early childhood experiences [of parenting or ‘environmental’ idioms], and he argues that such experiences are difficult for even adult subjects to articulate precisely because they are reminders of past instances of integration and transformation between subject and object through the qualities of objects. (48)
The sense of uncanny recognition I experienced when I learnt that the unthought known might trigger powerful psycho-somatic aesthetic experiences was what set me off on the path that led to the [above] videographic study.  This video not only attempted to relate the (true) story of just such a (cinematic) aesthetic moment (one of a number that I have experienced in my life).  It actually provided the space and the form, across a production period lasting several years, in which I was able to articulate or, at least, to reproduce what, in the process of editing, I came to understand for the first time about this uncanny experience of connection.
Extract from Catherine Grant's autobiographical text in Catherine Grant and Christian Keathley, 'The Use of an Illusion: Childhood cinephilia, object relations and videographic film studies', PHOTOGÉNIE 0, 2014. Online at:

Monday, 17 March 2014


INTERSECTION, a videographic film study of In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000) 
By Catherine Grant, Chiara Grizaffi and Denise Liege

The above video explores the notion (and some of the motifs) of 'Intersection' in Wong Kar-wai's 2000 film In the Mood for Love. It works through a synchronous compilation of the images and soundtracks from the montage sequences in the film that use the same orchestration of a waltz originally composed by Shigeru Umebayashi for the film Yumeji (Suzuki Seijun, 1991). Watch the video, then read the below, intersecting quotations from written texts about Wong's film. Then repeat.

In In the Mood for Love [Wong Kar-wai] quotes lines from a 1972 novella, Intersection, by Liu Yichang, a Shanghainese expatriate writer living in Hong Kong. [...] The story of Intersection, the Chinese title of which is Duidao, tells of the way in which two characters’ lives – strangers to each other – appear to intersect in ways apparently determined by the nature of the city, and the structure of the novella provides a direct form of inspiration for Wong’s use of the intersecting motif in In the Mood for Love. [...] Wong explains the significance of the title [of the novella on which he based his film, as follows]:
'The first work by Liu Yichang I read was Duidao. The title is a Chinese translation of tête-bêche, which describes stamps that are printed top to bottom facing each other. Duidao centres round the intersection of two parallel stories – of an old man and a young girl. One is about memories, the other anticipation. To me tête-bêche is more than a term for stamps or intersection of stories. It can be the intersection of light and colour, silence and tears. Tête-bêche can also be the intersection of time: a novel published in 1972, a movie released in 2000, both intersecting to become a story of the ’60s. [See Tête-bêche: A Wong Kar Wai Project (Hong Kong: Block 2 Pictures)]'
Tête-bêche – the intersecting motif that makes up Wong’s narrative style in other films, notably Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, and Fallen Angels (1995), which are narratives of parallel stories, finally finds its mature expression in In the Mood for Love where the motif assumes a diacritical mode."
[Excerpt from Stephen Teo, "Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love: Like a Ritual in Transfigured Time", Senses of Cinema, Issue 13, 2001]

[My] synopsis of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (IMFL) reveals three sites of intersection. First, there is the theme – the mood of love is rendered through the intersection of the sanctity of marriage and the restraint of the affair. Second, there is the space – the narrative of the story is structured through Hong Kong’s intersection with its region, including Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand (where the film was shot). Third, there is the time – history is replaced by a Jamesonian display of post-modern historicism, where the past surfaces as an intersection through the aesthetics of style.
[My] essay takes Wong’s evocation of tête-bêche as a point of departure for an exploration of intersection in the film. Two practices of tête-bêche as intersection are evident in IMFL. First, tête-bêche is the intersection of Duidao and IMFL. The film intersects with the novella through the cinema, the space of Hong Kong and China, and popular media from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South-east Asia. Second, tête-bêche resonates with the temporality of Hong Kong before and after 1997, when the British colony returned to its socialist motherland, China. I have written elsewhere about how Hong Kong cinema expresses this temporality of pre-post-1997 as a culture that simultaneously forecasts and recollects. I extend that idea here, to suggest that intersection functions as a point in Hong Kong’s period of transition – both pre-1997 to Chinese rule and post- 1997 in the following fifty years of the unique ‘one country, two systems’ administration. This can be seen in IMFL’s conception and release. The film originated when Wong visited Beijing for a month in 1996, and he gave it the working title Summer in Beijing. He writes: ‘Between Summer in Beijing and In the Mood for Love, eras changed, locales changed, and the music changed. We moved from contemporary jazz to nostalgic waltz.’IMFL is Wong’s first post-1997 film, shot on location in Thailand while filming 2046, a science-fiction film set fifty years after Hong Kong’s 1997 return, highlighting its status as a product of temporal (before and after 1997) and spatial (China, Hong Kong and South-east Asia) intersections. In IMFL, ‘2046’ is the number of the hotel room occupied by Chow.  
These two practices of tête-bêche produce intersection as a point in transition characterised by convergence and divergence.
Wong’s quotations inscribe not only local literature and vernacular pulp fiction, but also Japanese film, art and music. ‘Yumeji’s Theme’ is borrowed from Suzuki Seijun’s 1991 film, Yumeji, a bio-fantasy about the turbulent life of Japanese artist Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934), played by popular singer Kenji Sawada, who embodied the romanticism of Japan’s Taisho era (1912–1926) with his hybrid woodblock and art nouveau style, and was renowned for his sketches of nude women.[...]
[Excerpt from Audrey Yue, "In the Mood For Love; Intersections of Modernity" in Chris Berry (ed) Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes (London: BFI, 2003) My emphasis]

Yue suggests that the film’s “historical and cultural mode of production” draws heavily on the ideas in [Liu Yichang's] novel, including the use of music and cross-cultural references. The film also begins and ends with texts adapted from the novel.
To summarise Yue’s arguments about the tête-bêche, the film offers three ‘sites’ of intersection. First, there is the tension between marriage and the possibility of an affair – between ‘sanctity’ and ‘restraint’. Next there is a spatial intersection with Hong Kong as a hub and movement to Japan, Cambodia and Singapore signalled in the narrative as well as the references to Shanghai (and the fact that the film was mostly shot in Thailand). Finally, there is the historical intersection – looking backward and forward.

Much of Yue’s analysis is not easily available to Western audiences without the detailed cultural knowledge needed to decode many of the references. However, other dimensions of the film’s importance are concerned with more current issues, such as the screening of the film at Cannes and its presence alongside several other high profile East Asian films, signalling a general international acclaim. But this too has a sense of ‘intersection’. Following Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ([Ang Lee,] Taiwan/US 2000), a ‘crossover’ film bringing a popular Chinese genre, the wu xia or martial chivalry film, to an international audience, In the Mood For Love’s Cannes Awards replaced Hong Kong’s usual association with action cinema with recognition of its arthouse status. Yet, in some ways Wong Kar-wai was following Ang Lee in re-visiting the film genres he had enjoyed as a child.

At the centre of In the Mood For Love is Maggie Cheung. Born in Hong Kong, schooled in the UK, briefly married to French director Olivier Assayas, she is also perhaps the most famous female face in contemporary East Asian film culture. As a film icon, Cheung is unusual in speaking English, French, Cantonese and Mandarin. In one of her most critically acclaimed roles as 1930s Shanghai melodrama star Ruan Ling-yu in Centre Stage (Hong Kong 1992) she shifts between Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese with ease. [...] But as the camera lingers on her face (also made famous by Lux shampoo adverts) and her sublime body in an ever-changing display of cheongsams, it is worth thinking about how this supremely talented modern woman now represents the changing image of Hong Kong in a world in which, as Yue suggests, there is a convergence of the “Oriental, neo-Oriental and self-Oriental commodification of pan-Asian popular culture”. Here is the final intersection – the carefully composed reflection on the Shanghai/Hong Kong community’s past and and future and the way in which this is viewed across the world.
[Excerpt from Roy Stafford, 'In the Mood for Love [Programme Notes]', Cornerhouse Cinema, July 6, 2007]

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Mechanised Flights: Memories of HEIDI and Shirley Temple (1928-2014)

Mechanised Flights: Memories of HEIDI from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.

A video made today in memory of Shirley Temple (1928-2014) who died yesterday. It is forged from personal reflections on Heidi (Allan Dwan, 1937), and uses refilmed, cropped and re-edited digitised sequences from the black and white, and colorised versions of the film.

The following quotations were swirling around in the editing space, too, along with inevitable thoughts of Laura Mulvey's videographic study of Marilyn Monroe and Martin Arnold's found footage experiments.
'[Shirley] Temple must be approached as an intermediary and complicating presence poised between the adult originated film fiction and the viewer.' [Gaylyn Studlar, Precocious Charms: Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema (University of Califirnia Press, 2013) p. 67.
'The only other Temple film released in 1937 was HEIDI, which, according to Edwards, was a story suited to Temple's "slightly more mature personality". Edwards points out that Temple's hair had darkened and her ringlets brushed back into curls. Temple's theatrical instincts had sharpened, Edwards observes, and she suggested the Dutch song and dance dream sequence. After minor disagreements about the dance steps with the other children in the scene, director Allan Dwan had badges made reading "Shirley Temple Police".' Every child was issued one after swearing allegiance and obedience to Temple. Shirley wore one reading 'Chief'. "Shirley Temple", Wikipedia, Accessed February 11, 2014: Citing Edwards, Anne (1988). Shirley Temple: American Princess. William Morrow and Company, Inc.: 106, 107, 111.