Sunday, January 7, 2018

Passacaglia y Fuga
Jorge Honik, 1975

I am struck, primarily, by the silence that the sea presents, opening the narrative space. A film primarily shot inside the contrast between the silence (and, in terms of camera movement, stillness) of the sea with the at-times overwhelming natures of Bach's organ piece (which amps up in volume and intensity as the film progresses)--I'm not one to read for metaphor (as I have explained multiple places), but this is a ripe comparison of internal vs external (and more appreciated on my part for its literal nature).

The beauty of the film, while certainly heightened by the quality of the images and the light, is attained primarily in the fluidity of the movement, of the horizontal pans only occasionally interrupted by gestural significance (the breathing of a body, a spinning chalice, the blinking of an illustrated saint's eye).

John Lecht, in an essay on Bataille, states that "verticality can refer to the axis of transcendence, where transcendence refers to objectification, conceptualization, representation, distanciation, homogeneity, knowledge, history (as written or as narrative) and, more generally, to the domain of theory especially in the sense of theoria: to see. Horizontality, on the other hand, refers to immanence, and thus, secondarily, to ritual, difference, horror, silence, heterogeneity, abjection (in Kristeva's sense) and, more generally, to the domain of [the] nondiscursive, or practice." With this in mind I'm always fascinated by how artists use each axis. Bernard Noel, himself a "disciple" (for want of a better term) of Bataille, subverts Lecht's explanation and insists upon the verticality of poetry on the page, the way it functions as a stake into the ground (or into a body), the way it stands upright.

Honik's horizontality sits somewhere between Bataille and Blanchot. The shots compress time in their tracking; the pans feel closer to ritual and difference (qualities which Lecht attributes to horizontality). I'd also insist that, in certain ways, despite being literally visual, revealing more of the space of whatever we're looking at, the tracking shots fail to truly allow us as viewers to see the space; when tracking over the spines of books we move too quickly to focus on any in particular; when tracking from left to right across the window upon the mountain we move through such extreme compression of time we can never see the present, only an overall impression of passing time and seasons. Our sight, in many ways, is obscured.

But with all that said, this film succeeds primarily in how it uses everything mentioned above in tangent with the increasing intensity of Bach's organ piece; the title cues us into this, let's us know to both expect and excuse a heavy reliance on music. Here the reliance on music does not predicate the way the film is cut (an incredibly smart move, for rhythmic intensity differs wildly from the sort of slow building intensity that Honik matches to the organ here), but rather allows us to accept the swelling that at times threatens to push the limit, to overwhelm.

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