click on the green.
“For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time…That is the sense in which the Lumiere brothers were the first to contain the seed of a new aesthetic principle" (Tarkovsky)
Tarkovsky didn’t like montage, one of cinema’s unique ways of working with time, as he thought it divorces us from our own experience. But part of the fascination with film is the opportunity to have new time sensations than those we’re used to, and to live in someone else’s dream.
Film captures collective memory (though from certain angles), but our memories subvert and alter reality, cast in a different light. Go to a football match and then see it on TV, the angles are different, the TV, like documentary films, adds a layer to memory but we retain our own memory and viewing angle. Each individual memory of a film will be different and will evolve. Film can be held as a reality but will always be a subjective experience. Even the apparent objectivity of film footage as evidence of the past is still only an aspect of a moment. Buildings, fossils and artefacts provide evidence of the past, which otherwise would barely exist. With unscrupulous people and possible manipulation, films are now less trustworthy documents.
The present is gone in a flash, so that it barely exists at all. Kore-eda’s After Life captures a single moment in time, to be preserved with all else gone. Our bodies disintegrate so is there is an after life our soul is our memory, our whole collected experience. We are the sum of our memories. People talk of your whole life passing by your eyes at the point of death, as a way of expressing that.
Dogs experience life in a different time; when they sniff on a walk they are living with the near past, but i suspect they have little regard for the future, except for the immediate future, the anticipation of a walk or food. What does a dog dream of? Film gives us new ways of seeing the world.
Time, dreams, memory- all connected with death. Tarkovsky saw the purpose of art as preparation for death. Memories are often painful. We can’t sift out everything undesirable. People aim for happiness, but maybe a range of experiences is more important, as with a great novel or film. A life lived to draw on. On our deathbeds – if we regret at all- will we regret more the things we didn’t do than those we did?
Buddhists warn against dwelling in the past, rather than appreciating the present. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives is immersed in Buddhist reincarnation.
Resnais’ films are interesting for how they deal with memory- the collective memories stored in Toute la Mémoire du Monde, subjectivity, memories questioned in Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima mon Amour.
In Ulysses’ Gaze, Angelopoulos condenses memories of gatherings into one long take. In his films time becomes fluid, places storing events from different times flowing into each other: the present linked to the past, the individual linked to the collective and wider events..
Jonas Mekas uses film as a way of storing memories, footage as diary.
In Sansho the Bailiff, the children and mother are driven by memories, sounds and voices floating across space and time. The poignant final scene is about recognition, a connection restored, and also loss. We, the privileged viewers have already stored the image of Anju in the water, unknown to her mother (and unseen by her brother).
Films like Without Memory and Away from Her address memory loss, the latter due to Alzheimer’s disease, with its impact on loved ones and carers,a sense of disintegration of an individual and connections.
In Gaston Kaboré’s Wend Kuuni, a boy is found and adopted but remains mute until a memory is triggered- this can be taken as representing the risk of Burkina Faso (among other countries) losing its collective cultural and historical memories, through colonialism.
In Stealing a Nation we see people from the Chagos islands suffering in squalor, yearning for a return to their homeland from which they were forcibly removed by imperialist military powers. A link to the individual plight, the aching longing of the separated family in Sansho the Bailiff, but a real one, and a very important film.
In Renoir’s wonderful featurette A Day in the Country, a happy memory is revisited. Poor Sylvia Bataille, she deserved better.
I will take the above quote by Andrei Tarkovsky a stage further.
“For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time…That is the sense in which the Lumiere brothers were the first to contain the seed of a new aesthetic principle”
“But immediately afterwards, cinema turned aside from art, forced down the path that was the safest from the point of view of phillistine interest and profit”.
Are filmgoers absorbing someone else’s adventure without time for reflection? Too much living for the immediate excitement, escapism without contemplation?. For Tarkovsky art was about immortality.
The idea of nostalgia, including longing for homeland, was important to both Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos- to the point they argued over the national origin of the word, one seeing it as essentially Russian, the other as Greek. It’s there too in the Portuguese saudade and the Welsh hiraeth. Nostalghia is of course the most Russian of Italian films. Angelopoulos turned away from the sunny touristy image of Greece, while Nostalghia is foggy.
When we are gone and those who’ve known us and have memories of us are gone too, all that will be left of us may be a photo or a film or grave marker. Film stars live on, skeletons forever young.
ARSENY TARKOVSKY: I dreamed this dream and I still dream of itI dreamed this dream and I still dream of it
and I will dream of it sometime again.
Everything repeats itself and everything will be reincarnated,
and my dreams will be your dreams.
There, to one side of us, to one side of the world
wave after wave breaks on the shore:
there’s a star on the wave, and a man, and a bird,
reality and dreams and death – wave after wave.
Dates are irrelevant. I was, I am, I will be.
Life is a miracle of miracles, and I kneel
before the miracle alone like an orphan,
alone in the mirrors, enclosed in reflections,
seas and towns, shining brightly through the smoke.
A mother cries and takes her baby on her knee.
A.E.HOUSMAN: (from) A Shropshire Lad
Into my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
(quoted in Of Time and the City)
See also Apursansar’s list Sculpting in TimeRead less