Friday, March 27, 2009

Enunciating Pleasure in a Nameless Hero

Before taking this "Intro to Film" course, I believed that my intense love for movies stemmed from the escapist aspects of films, of going to far off places and encountering people and situations that I have never experienced. However, throughout the course, it has surprised me to learn that this love has more to do with a narcissistic self-reflexivity and a voyeuristic need, according to most of the articles we have read. My identification with the camera and characters and the gratification I derive from watching the latter is what ultimately provides cinematic-watching pleasure. Of course, this requires accepting a certain reality within the story and ignoring the discourse, or production, that creates it. According to Christian Metz in his essay, "Story/Discourse: Notes on Two Kinds of Voyeurism" he explains that the "traditional film succeeds in giving the spectator the impression that he is himself that subject," and thereby derives pleasure, when "[the film] abolishes all traces of the subject of enunciation," that is to say when the spectator is unaware of the discourse.

While watching Yimou Zhang's film, Hero, I had this very idea in mind. First, I must say, this film was perhaps one of the most visually stunning movies I have ever seen since Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The mise-en scene in this film is spectacular and is meant to invoke visual pleasure for the spectator's wandering eyes. The spectator is mesmerized by the gorgeous colors, costumes, and settings, not to mention the acrobatic insanity that ensues for most of the film. All of these elements help to enhance the story and make it more pleasing to that ever-fickle moviegoer.

However, those same acrobatic feats are what make the movie suspend reality and introduce skepticism into the spectator's mind. The action in this film is so unbelievable and magical that the spectator wonders exactly how these amazing shots could be made. For example, the scene on the lake (shown below) is incredible.

Jet Li (Nameless) and Tony Leung (Broken Sword) share an epic battle while practically defying gravity as they fly over the water. Not only that, but the water itself serves as a balancing board for them to regain their battling composure. It's stunning! Yet as soon as the spectator starts questioning how the shot was made the illusion of the story is gone and discourse comes to the forefront. Therefore, the supposed reality of the film comes into question and the pleasure derived from self-identification is somewhat lost. Pleasure can be derived from the amazing visuals, but it is not as intense as primary identification would be.

On the other hand, if there are an abundant amount of gravity defying stunts in the film, there are just as many close-ups. I believe that is where the true pleasure of the film comes from and thus when voyeurism is at it's highest. The spectator is not only watching these characters and objects, but he/she can see also them in detail. In her essay, "The Close-up," Bela Balasz explains close-ups "radiate a tender human attitude in the contemplation of hidden things, a delicate solicitude, a gentle bending over the intimacies of life-in the miniature, a warm sensibility." It is this sneak peek into a previously "hidden thing," as Balasz says, that we enjoy in film. (Hidden in the sense that it is not as defined or able to be seen in detail in long or medium shots.)

In the first ten minutes of Hero alone there are at least 15 or more close-ups showing the spectator a hidden secret, hidden object, or hidden emotion that could not have been seen in a long shot. Throughout the film there are numerous more and each one provides a hidden insight. When they are all combined in the final product, the spectator can derive far more voyeuristic pleasure from the close-ups then he/she could from the discourse-revealing gravity defying acrobatic fights. It's possible that by juxtaposing these two opposites it enhances the visual pleasure even more.

Perhaps I am a bit biased since I was watching the film under the pretense of finding some kind of meaning in order to write this blog or to have something to say about it in class. If I was just going to see the movie in theaters maybe I wouldn't be focused on any of the technical aspects but would rather just be amazed by the extravagant beauty of the movements, settings, and costumes. Who knows? Maybe by studying film itself we are more attune to the discourse and often forget to just enjoy the story.


Alex Kilkka said...

"Before taking this 'Intro to Film' course, I believed that my intense love for movies stemmed from the escapist aspects of has surprised me to learn that this love has more to do with a narcissistic self-reflexivity and a voyeuristic need."

In this entry you raised two questions that seem to be the essence of film studies:

How does this film make you feel?
And, why do you feel that way?

I find it interesting that while you still find pleasure in film, the source of that pleasure has shifted more from engagement with the story to appreciation of the creation process. In other words, you've shifted emphasis from question one to question two.

As someone interested in creating films one day, I've found this course a valuable resource and starting point for learning the methods of the film industry. Like you mentioned in the entry, it has shaped our understanding of our interactions with film and the meaning of the pleasure (voyeuristic or otherwise) we derive from it.

Wynn Hunter said...

I really liked your blog, Bel, and it was the major source for my collective response. And, I totally identify with your statement about your love for film in the first paragraph.

MarylandDevil said...

I am also curious about my relationships with film as a film student. As I have been learning more and more about film theory I have come to view film in a different way. Now I am far more able to see technical details that I couldn't appreciate before. However, I also have become less focus on the story of film. Sometimes I feel that can make not appreciate the less subtle aspects of film. A film like Hero is interesting because it visuals can distract you from the storyline, which is complex and deep. I feel that I cannot see more of the film now than I could before, I just look at other aspects.

lex said...

Interesting Bel.....Justin seems to think that the striking visuals provide access to the complications of the story...while you see them as distracting/detracting. Maybe you two should chat :)