Tag Archives: Vivian Sobchack

‘Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’: Video Essay by Adam Vincent

 

 

Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’ – Creator’s Statement

 

‘A Mellow Trip’ is, without doubt, a passion project. Stemming from my deep attachment to Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, Warner Bros., USA, 2014), the video-essay is an unashamed attempt at conversion. My own experience with the film can be characterised best by a growing sense of warmth and connection. Upon viewing the film for a second and third time, I felt myself gently drawn into its hallucinatory orbit, shaking off any initial irritation surrounding the film’s narrative obscurities. Subsequent revisits cemented this affection, leading me to the conclusion that Inherent Vice is a film which benefits greatly from multiple viewings. As a result, I want fans and detractors alike to re-watch and reconsider Inherent Vice in the light of the video-essay’s contextualisation. I would like viewers to approach the film with fresh enthusiasm, using the framework of subjectivity which I have proposed in order to advance their own interpretations. Although my video-essay does not directly reference a multitude of scholarly sources, I feel that it is resolutely academic in its attempt to inspire further research.

Further, I have also framed ‘A Mellow Trip’ in such a forthright manner because I see the video-essay as a singularly persuasive medium, offering an alluring blend of a film’s most arresting images and sounds. The potential to crystallise these audio-visual stimuli into an overarching argument was the primary reason I chose Inherent Vice as my subject matter. To elaborate, I believe Inherent Vice is a film which can be more fruitfully analysed through the lens of its affective and sensorial appeal, using the very images and sounds which attracted me in order to entice the viewer of the video-essay to return to the film. I have positioned this style of critique in opposition to much of the film’s negative reception. This reception focused the majority of its ire on the confusion and frustration caused by the film’s narrative wanderings. Shedding the pragmatism of plot descriptions for a slightly more poetic approach felt like a liberatory exercise, affording the video-essay a degree of emotional expression which I would find difficult to replicate in prose. I rarely situate the evidence for my ideas within its broader narrative context (unless completely necessary), as I feel this would contradict my desire to move away from a narrative-centred critique of the film.

Academic Context

I made the decision to elide academic quotes from the video in order to maintain sharp focus on the textual evidence present in Inherent Vice and keep my video-essay accessible to a wider audience. However, various pieces of film criticism were central in the creation process, guiding my methodology and informing my decision-making. It is first necessary to acknowledge the huge influence of Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’. Sontag’s clarion call to “learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more”[1] forms the life-blood of ‘A Mellow Trip’, pulsing through every frame and informing every decision made in the process of its creation. Her appeal for acts of criticism which offer an “accurate, sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art”[2] particularly struck me. I thought that any act of criticism in prose would inevitably fall short in this regard. Although an evocative written description may offer a sense of an art object, I felt that the shift in medium would inevitably result in a dilution of the original audio-visual artifact. The shared medium-specificities of the video-essay and cinema, namely their multi-sensory appeal, meant that this project was the perfect opportunity to attempt this slightly esoteric, yet captivating, form of critique.

The last section of my video-essay on Doc’s heightened sensory appreciation draws on the work of influential affect theorists such as Vivian Sobchack and Laura U. Marks. Their work on the embodied responses of a spectator to the sensory information presented onscreen is absolutely fundamental in my analysis of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recreation of Doc’s drug-addled senses. To be specific, Laura U. Marks’ concept of the “haptic image”[3] which invites an embodied reaction from the spectator had a direct impact on my choice to emphasise certain images. For example, Doc stroking the carpeted wall in the massage parlour seemed to be a moment that highlighted this concept in a succinct and straightforward manner.

Although deeply flawed in its uncritical nature, Andrew Sarris’ conception of the auteur theory provided a groundwork for the contextualisation of Inherent Vice within the wider filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson. Sarris highlights “recurring characteristics of style” as a feature which distinguishes an auteur and serves as their “signature”.[4] Despite my misgivings surrounding Sarris’ work on the auteur theory, I think his simple conceptualisation is enough to briefly ground my exploration of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work. Taking the reflection of his protagonists’ subjectivity as a recurring stylistic feature, I was able to place Inherent Vice more easily in a lineage with Anderson’s earlier films. This was another attempt to combat a criticism of Inherent Vice, namely, that it lacked the sheer intensity or focus which characterised the rest of Anderson’s career.

Playing with Form

‘A Mellow Trip’ represents a dualistic impulse in terms of film form and image use. First of all, I wanted to explore the capability of the video-essay medium to recontextualise images in a striking and dramatic manner. This impulse can be seen most clearly in my use of montage throughout.  From the drama and beauty of the electronic Four Tet track which soundtracks the Paul Thomas Anderson montage, to the jittery and rapid editing of the paranoia montage, these moments audio-visually reflect their content on a small-scale, while also working in parallel with the video-essay’s broader theme of subjectivity. While these montages may suggest a suspicion surrounding the ability of the film image to explain itself, other moments in my video-essay are a paean to the virtuoso filmmaking at work throughout Inherent Vice. I have often left the film’s images and sounds largely untouched and allowed them to speak for themselves. A key example of this would be my analysis of the Harlingen reunion scene. The rewind device which leads to my (re)consideration of this scene, far from a gimmick, is a combination of both of these key impulses. Self-reflexively highlighting the process of creation behind a video-essay, this moment demonstrates the necessity of an author who can curate a film’s most evocative images and place them within a new context in order to foster an interpretation. On the other hand, the essay rewinds back to the beginning of the Harlingen reunion clip which, with the added effect of Jonny Greenwood’s score, is able to express itself without the necessity for further contextualisation.

Each section is clearly modelled around the primary mood or tone which it concerns. The ‘Confusion and Paranoia’ segment opens with a sharp stab of offbeat psychedelic rock which abruptly cuts off as the montage begins. The ‘Melancholy and Nostalgia’ section on the other hand, includes longer pieces of footage and a Neil Young song from the film which poetically conveys my ideas. Again, as with the use of montage, I wanted the idea of subjectivity to be conveyed not only cognitively, but visually and aurally too. Most importantly, I wanted to be playful in my use of visuals and music as my entire mission statement revolves around enticing an imagined viewer to watch and reconsider Inherent Vice. For this, I was always looking for exciting ways to visually present an idea without resorting to voiceover to state my interpretations. Examples include my acknowledgment of Jonny Greenwood’s paranoid score, suggestively placing a red waveform over a smoke-filled screen with a murky still of Doc in the background.

Conclusion

To put it simply, I have looked to create a piece which captures the spirit of a film I love very much. I hope to inform and seduce, drawing viewers from academia and beyond to engage in a dialogue with my interpretation of the film. I see the framework of subjectivity as integral in bursting open the enigmatic surface of Inherent Vice, leading to revelations about the film’s inner mechanisms and its exploration of broader socio-cultural concerns. Inherent Vice is a film which feels loose in sensibility yet thoroughly controlled in execution. This is what I hope to have replicated. I truly hope you enjoy it.

[1] Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 10

[2] Ibid., p. 9

[3] Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2

[4] Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962’ in Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader (Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008), p. 43

Giulia Tronconi: In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem

 

A wonderful video essay where one feels one is learning something more about the form of the film through feeling and thinking, and the video essay demonstrates the condensation of effects that achieve this. …and without voiceover. The Creator’s Statement is essential to the understanding and appreciation of the video essay and I include it below:

 

Creator Statement

 

Through In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem I express my admiration for Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to let visuals speak poetically. I resort to film theory and literary criticism to explore how images on screen may be employed as objective correlatives and subsequently traced back to semantic fields, which in return convey physical and emotional sensations to the spectating subject through what Barbara Klinger has named the arresting image. Although Klinger’s original formulation contemplates the presence of just one arresting image in a film, I conjugate her theory in a slightly different fashion, dissecting the film’s mise-en-scène according to a range of emotions, interlinked yet discernible. Simultaneously, I engage with theories of haptic visuality as formulated by Vivian Sobchack, exploring how the cinematic image may stimulate the viewer’s sensorial receptivity in order to achieve emotional impact, framing the film experience as “a system of communication based on bodily perception as a vehicle of conscious expression”[1]. Through my essay I investigate whether film may be considered a poetic medium: I understand the use of certain elements of mise-en-scène as a visual extension of literary devices, ultimately enhancing the medium’s expressive capacities.

In the Mood for Love is an invitation to feeling – material and emotional. Wong Kar-Wai subtly creates tensions which carry throughout the film, allowing the viewer to physically perceive, albeit virtually, the textures, prints and patterns on screen; to experience the tender feelings of loneliness, yearning and heartbreak which permeate the text. Thus, I divide the essay in three chapters corresponding to these emotions, which together encompass what the viewing experience of In the Mood for Love is to me. I consider each section to be a semantic field comprising of a number of objective correlatives and provide a range of arresting images which epitomise the moment of highest emotional intensity.

The objective correlative is a literary device coined by T.S. Eliot and defined as the only truly artistic way of expressing emotion: “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”[2] Eliot envisions the objective correlative as a powerful tool whose presence in the text inevitably arouses an emotional reaction. The correlatives themselves contain a universally understandable meaning, affordable to any reader; they do not require explanation on behalf of the author, for they are objectively expressive[3]. Objective correlatives tend to respond to semantic fields: a collection of words and images employed to subtly establish a specific idea, atmosphere, emotion[4]. References to such literary devices advance my claim of In the Mood for Love as a visual poem, in that the film presents what I name visual objective correlatives: camera movements, framing devices, details such as food, clothing and cigarettes, which work together to convey loneliness, yearning and heartbreak. These semantic fields culminate in arresting images, namely what Klinger refers to as ‘memorable cinematic fragments’, a ‘site of lingering affective power and uncertain meaning’[5]. The arresting image holds significant evocative force, for it slows down the narrative. The film’s forward motion is momentarily suspended, allowing for the contemplation of an ‘exquisitely composed, significantly evocative and/or uncanny image’ [6].

Objective correlatives, semantic fields and arresting images all emphasise the strongly affective dimension of art, its capacity to agitate the reader’s sensorial and emotional receptivity. Klinger attributes the allure of the arresting image to the way it exploits the emotions that have been mounting in the spectator throughout the film[7]. In the Mood for Love progressively creates meaning by leveraging the sensorial nature of the cinematic medium, building patterns of motifs which trigger emotions. The video essay references haptic theory as conceptualised by Vivian Sobchak: “we do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium.”[8] Film, although inherently immaterial, is a medium which manages to establish sensorial engagement and emotional involvement. This form of participation entails identification, prompting the recollection of past events and past selves, necessarily affecting the viewing experience[9]. For such reason, I focus much of my research on tangible, perceivable objects which speak to the viewer universally, encouraging to reminisce of certain smells, flavours, sensations on the tip of the finger.

Therefore, I associate semantic fields as follows. Loneliness, the primary feeling experienced by the two characters during the film, conveyed through visual techniques such as the horizontal pan, the mirrored image and the frame within frame. I manipulate, superimpose, contrast the footage to show how the text speaks of solitude by creating movement in cramped spaces, obstructing vision and centring the frame around reflected figures rather than actual characters. I provide this image as the epitome of loneliness, where all visual devices are suspended to create a puzzling moment of contemplation.

 

Yearning, the impulse to pursue passion and the painful refusal to do so, symbolised by food, hands and the qipao. First, I find one arresting image for the act of eating as alternative expression of sexual desire; secondly, a different image, containing both the objective correlatives of the hand and the qipao, expressive of the acknowledgement of the impossibility of fulfilled love.

And finally heartbreak, the end of love and the bittersweet closing line of the film. I find one arresting image for the objective correlatives of cigarettes and one for the pink slippers, as two moments with an unusual temporal status, almost appearing outside of time, in a fantasy dream-like dimension[10].

 

 

By selecting these images, I find frames in the film which seem to stand outside the narrative flow, marked by a profoundly affective, puzzling and arresting quality. Physical and emotional feelings travel from the screen to the viewer by means of expressive images which function as visual metaphors and infuse the film with its distinct poetic aura. I let the images speak for themselves, allowing an uninterrupted flow on screen, temporarily arrested only to encourage the viewer to experience a brief, yet profound, sense of loneliness, yearning, heartbreak.

 

 

 

[1] V. Sobchack, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992), pp. 9;

[2] T.S. Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems 95-103, The Sacred Wood: essays on poetry and criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);

[3] Olsen, F., Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);

[4] H. Rapaport, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011)

[5]B. Klinger, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited, 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK), pp 26;

[6] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 26;

[7] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 24;

[8] V. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004), pp 63;

[9] B. Klinger, op. cit, pp. 21;

[10] B Klinger, op. cit, pp 25;

 

 

Filmography

  • In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Orly Films, Paradis Films, China, 2000)

Bibliography

  • Ciment, Michel, Niogret, Hubert, Interview with Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love / 2000, Positif 477 in (ed.) Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee, Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);
  • Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee (ed.) , Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Klinger, Barbara, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK);
  • Olsen, Flemming, Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);
  • Rapaport, Herman, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004).