What is Ciné-Musique? par irrational numbers
At any rate, it is not simply film music, diegetic or non-diegetic, soundtrack or incidental; although these enter into it, they do not exhaust or define its nature. The authors even say: cinema that is musical in feeling but has no actual music going on. Musical, first of all, signifies a sensory abstraction, freed from representational relation. Secondly, the dominance of rhythmic pattern (even harmonic consonance resolves to rhythmic congruences). It is entirely proper here to recall here Deleuze and Guattari’s Ritournelles:
We must rather say that territorial motifs form rhythmic faces or personae, and territorial counterpoints form melodic landscapes. There is a rhythmic persona whenever we find that we are no longer in the simple situation of a rhythm which is itself associated with a persona, with a subject or an impulse: now, it is the rhythm itself which wholly constitutes the persona, and which, in virtue of this, can remaain constant, but can just as well grow or diminish, by addition or subtraction of sounds, of durations always growing and decreasing… [Mille Plateaux, 391]
We need here, of course, to translate this into the context of the cinematic experience in all its synaesthetic richness. But perhaps the melodies and rhythms that belong to the total experience of film are all the more abstract in so far as they cannot be wholly attributed to either material, sensory component. This makes it fitting perhaps, that Day of Ciné-Musique consists in the unresolved tension between the work of a painter and that of a musician.
In so far as it has already been recognised, the avant-garde quest to isolate the elusive ciné-musique cannot expect de jure to achieve more than the most hackneyed plot and setting: successes in this field, like Marienbad, are rare. Obversely, bad movies might well, and often do, make good ciné-musique. For it is fatuous to suppose that, in search of this abstract musical plane, one could do away all at once with character and narrrative, with sense and meaning in their brute senses: but one must say that the artform unconsciously approaches its essence when these become vehicles for the more abstract lines of sensation. Ciné-musique is thus the simultaneous affirmation of something beyond the immediate content, and the necessity and innate dignity of that content.
Truffaut, in search of the music that animated his boyhood: the narrative line of young Antoine Doinel is paralleled by an abstract intensive line, which accompanies but does not imitate or project the ‘real’ Doinel. Ultimately we must attach the proper name of Doinel to this abstract line, which expresses a joy and a life that cannot be contained in ‘him’, which burst his bounds, a transversal whose vector takes in the quick lightness of the young boy’s limbs, his scuffling dashing passage through the streets, his physical and symbolic escapes, the teeming life of the city, and finally even the mercurial motion of the camera itself – and compared to which Doinel-as-character is only a pale cipher. Maximum velocity is reached in the hearts-and-diamonds sequence, where not only does the movie undergo a zoetropic redoubling, but film itself becomes a gigantic particle accelerator spinning at unbelievable speeds, a whirling siren tone.
Here the Doinel machine syncopates, and finally synchronises, with the very material support of the film as it passes before our eyes. This movement of joy, says Truffaut, is an innate potential of film; this medium is a becoming-child.
Von Sternburg’s The Blue Angel: Of course, there is the spatial, there are spaces – the club, the stage, backstage, and the spiral stair, leading to Lola’s room. But (to state the obvious) to the viewer their spatial existence is on the level of an illegitimate metaphysical speculation, since for him they exist only as the spatium, the transcendentally-deduced condition for series and refrains of states of intensity related only to each other, and known only through constant rhythmic passages through their thresholds. The elevated threshold of the spiral stairs, the (deceptive) transcendent access upwards around which the whole plot pivots and for which Lola is only a cipher; the backstage area, through which lugubrious omens circulate (the man with the bear, the glowering clown) like the figures of a swiss clock on their mechanical promenade.
At the end of the film we will see, unexplained, exactly such a clock; when professor Rath has already become part of the infernal motion, the automata whose impulsive force, figure of desire, is Lola (but even she, famously, can’t help it!). At last the contrapion will reach its terrible climax, its point of possible breakdown, as Rath oscillates around the liminal veil that separates stage from backstage, hopelessly fights his absorption into the machine: This short delay has been due to mechanical difficulties…. Not only is there nothing behind the glamour (if there was ever an anti-showbiz film this is it), but at the terminus of our desire there is only a becoming-robot-clown, an absorption into the uniform unstoppable motion of the celluloid fabric, a revelation of what was always our sleepwalking (Those behind the stage always knew this of course, which is why they only looked on sardonically; and incidentally this does not invalidate the Truffaudian proposition, since children are also automata, they love to spin and spin until they fall down). Yes, there is the pathos of rhythmic repetition, the reprisal of objects (the Lola postcard portraits, the egg, the clown) in different circumstances, taking on different meanings. But more profound is the fact that these passages through the spatium, the way we inhabit the space of the film, are no different to how we repeat and inhabit, in-habit, our lives, and our impulsion by occult forces (the irresistible black hole of Dietrich’s weird luminescence: this is where stars – such as they once were – play their part in the generation of ciné-musique).
What moves us in film: Ciné-musique is intimately temporal, one could say it is tied to metrics or relative velocities: frames per second. So that we most easily reproduce the ciné-musical state of mind when we are becoming-automaton, subject to involuntary motion or limitation: LA from a cab window. This is music that enters us unconsciously, whose continuity with, or continuation through, other media, through life itself, is quite possible (to keep living this ciné-musique, we turn the materials of movies into objects that go beyond them – because we want to keep something of what moves us in film). It is true that we might speak of composition, montage, synchronisation, a whole admirable arsenal of technical knowledge – but none of these would capture the movement of the whole. Likewise, as Mullins writes, an ‘appreciation’ of the technical and organisation business of making movies gets us no further towards an understanding of what movies do. This question can only be pursued through a sort of instinctive groping, a dangerous procedure which, if we pursue only the easy tracks (precisely, LA from a cab window, radio on) might misfire into mere imitation, preciousness, acting-out or ironic reproduction. Doubtless we have all at some time sought to achieve that state when we “feel we are living in a movie”: the question is how to take this desire beyond a wistful adolescent longing.
Then what are the fictions of Pellet’s paintings? In spite of the fact that they are (at least) triple reproductions (with the painters models already standing in for characters in cinematic scenes) they too do not seem destined to reproduce – at least, not anything that exists prior to its reproduction. The people who inhabit the canvas knowingly act out slices of fictional situations, like actors trapped in a single frame, their eternal congelation intensifying rather than neutralising the tension of the arrested narratives, like the insistence of a scratched record. Frozen plot constellations, moments of ciné-musique where emotional encounters form vertical dissonances. In this respect they are peculiarly non-visual, not in Duchamp’s sense of the deposition of the retinal, but in that, like Bacon’s canvases, they are machines for reproducing rhythms whose visuality is only incidental. A synaesthetic calculus, they attempt to determine the instantaneous velocity of celluloid emotion (It is just that I can’t stand not to, I can’t stand not to stop time, says Mullins). Like the last frozen frame of Les Quatre Cent Coups, its tangent flashing forward on its course through the imagination.
The potency of figure is corroded – Pellet’s people are only empty points constellated by flows of becoming that have nothing to do with persons: an antihumanism unconnected to the cold irony of the screen; beyond glamour, into the rhythmic dynamics of ciné-musique.
And what of Mullins’ delirious travelogues: weightless jetlagged hotel moments, depth-charges of memory, moments of low-rise immanence? The appreciation of the authenticity of that most infamously inauthentic of all places, Holywood. His texts go in search of the real glamour which, as the second-generation cliches would have it, is a pure fiction put out by this unsavoury pit of snakes. He finds a glamour-in-depth, a luminescence lent by faraway silver-screen reflections. Aiming to go beneath the hypnosis of a lifetime of infection by Hollywood, he finds another, more profound mesmerism beneath.
I have also written these as a writing which eats the movies: Ciné-musique escapes (or rather is pursued) out of the work of art itself into the social and commercial networks and locations that produced it. Here the authors perhaps seek a further abstraction: the ultimate matrix of all those singular threads of ciné-musique. They want to go further than this first abstraction, the abstraction which reveals the essential real of the cinematic; to locate that massive assemblage which lends its orchestration, its tonal colour, to cinematic movement in its entirety: and of course they go to the geographical seat of its power and glory; Hollywood. Once more one does not expect imitation: art does not imitate life in such a straightforward manner, especially when a massive commercial structure intervenes; and yet in LA Mullins does indeed find anticipatory echoes, half-explanatory moments, which suggest a common thread – now lost in time – to those glorious cinematic lines of sensation.
Beyond LA: The way to understand the further deviations that constitute the greater part of the text is perhaps that eventually we reach the point where, trained by a lifetime of infection by Hollywood, the writer begins to generate his own autochthonous ciné-musique. One begins to recognise in sequences of lived experience itself the same structures of reality one found, the same sensations one sought, in film. One no longer needs to take a cue from fiction, one has become (or discovered one’s own) fiction.
A second sojourn in Tahiti was undertaken from August 27 to September 3 2004. In this second trip my long obsession with Tahiti became more of a reality-tinted matter. It was a way of seeing how much the first trip had transformed me – and yet how I had managed to keep the fantasy intact
To capture ciné-musique efficiently would be to master the capacity to repeat moments as identical. But we find the copy always shifting, fading, not quite similar. A confounding repetition almost Beckettian in the precision of its jetlagged hysteresis, one whose resolution is not advanced a jot by the writer’s obsessive recitation of precise dates and room numbers:
I think that for awhile I did remember the first night of the third Los Angeles trip as being the ‘same’ profound thing that the first night o the seond had been; but by now I seem to have forgotten the specificity of the third one – this third of a series. The series were: #1) Jan 2001; #2) December 5 (Wednesday) to December 13 (THursday), 2001; #3)December 5 (Wednesday) to December 12 (Thursday), 2002 – clearly the virtual replica of #2. I had undertaken this project (the third trip, the 2002 one) for two reasons: That it be somewhat if not almost exactly like the second one; and that it also free me from the second one, which was still poised to take me ‘away’ (The ‘actual first trip to Los Angeles’ in 1984 spawned this recent series, but it is nonetheless a discrete thing, from times long past.)…
This is the search for the paradoxical ‘original print’ amongst the distributed copies, or the attempt to identify where one began to live a particular fiction, where its reality began.
In between the discontinuous double series of the two authors contributions to the project, one discovers sometimes confusion, sometimes clarity, but never a clear point of coincidence between text and image. Occasionally the book offers us a rush of sensation that reminds us what film is, or was once, capable of. It is perhaps hopeless to make sense of the book, even more to offer a ‘review’ of it: better to make sensation of it, or to let it effect a sort of contagion of sensation, to propogate refrains of ciné-musique: release the kinematic muse. In this regard, there is little to be gained from studiously pursuing all of the (sometimes well-known, sometimes obscure) movies mentioned. Aside from the fact that every reader who understands what ciné-musique is will already have their own favourites, their own films and experiences through which ciné- musique speaks to them, the movie reviews are in certain respects a red herring with relation to the problem that Mullins and Pellet set us. A fortiori we might say that any given part of the text, at the time of reading, appears disposable: but it would only be so were there a straightforwardly discursive method of going about the work of this book. At its most ambitious, the project would be a complete theory of how the movies changed the world forever and irretrievably. At its other pole it could be a rather affected peripatetic postmodern phenomenology. But instead, cine-musique remains a defiantly concrete poetic undertaking, repelling on all sides the discursive disciplines that menace it (film studies, urban theory, psychoanalysis, the novel, psychogeography, the travelogue, and of course the film review itself) in order to maintain a passionate fidelity and an amplificative relation to its source.