FAITH, UNCERTAINTY & AUSTERITY (LAURA MULVEY INTERVIEW PART 2)

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EDGAR PÊRA – Yes. So you’ve been writing a lot of…about this cinema of uncertainty. What attracts you more in this concept of uncertainty?

LAURA MULVEY – To begin with…If I was going to be completely honest about this it would be to think about the way that one can put the cinema against religion, because you mentioned religion earlier. And it seems to me that certainty, in spite of the implicit doubt and the problems of belief…that religion demands belief and in that sense demands certainty and it always seemed to me that uncertainty was a quality that intellectuals should cultivate.

EP –  Oh, that’s interesting.

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LAURA MULVEY – It was something, I think I have it in my book (Death 24 times a second) something Vertov said about “cinema makes uncertainty more certain” or something like that…So in some ways my interest in uncertainty was an intellectual principle but then as the cinema itself began to change and the world…the progressive world which I grown up in, also began to change those questions of uncertainty to be important both statically and politically. And also to a certain extend, to bring out that oscillation between the film as pleasurable for the possessive spectator and the film as pleasurable for the regular spectator, if that makes sense.

EP – Yeah, I think so but don’t you think that critics and cinephiles have beenbuilding a dogma about the auteur and people don’t see anymore just movies… they go to see movies by someone and there’s a dogma that if… if a filmmaker doesn’t do according to the dogma of what this auteur is suppsosed to do, it’s not ok or if it doesn’t look like a auteur film it’s also not ok for them… So don’t you think there’s…it’s not a religious dogma but anyway it’s some kind of certainty, almost as a faith…

LAURA MULVEY – Oh, a kind of orthodoxy…

EP – Yes… They define what is cinema and what’s not …

LAURA MULVEY – Yes, I mean certainly in the later fase of my film going, after I left university and I started going to the cinema with people who were influenced by the Cahiers, the Cahiers Du Cinema… We followed the doctrines of the Cahier rather like a cult as it were.

EP – In Portugal it was the same…

LAURA MULVEY – It was.

EP –  It was the bible…For many many journalists and critics… Sometimes still is…

LAURA MULVEY – So… and then of course Paris was our home and we would go over to Paris and go to the cinemateque, and that indeed had also a kind of influence… this was later, I mean this is in the 60’s, it wasn’t the great days of the Cahiers but we were still buying the yellow covered Cahiers and we were reading the back numbers and we were following those…

EP – Actually I’m still buying them, from times to times. I buy old Cahiers…yellow and some after…

LAURA MULVEY – Yeah, but also in those days from the politique des auters what was important for us was that our favorite directors worked industrially, so their films weren’t necessary of even quality but you could always find something…a touch, a mark of the director even with films that weren’t necessarily their best. And I think that’s misunderstood nowadays, I think that people use the concept of auteur more for someone who has total control over there outputting their work, rather for someone who is always struggling with the system…struggling to get the film edited the way they want, shot the way they want, where everything is a fight to a certain extent.

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EP – Yes, I did have my first experience…last year in that kind of system.

LAURA MULVEY – Really?

EP – Yes.

LAURA MULVEY – What was that?

EP – It was a feature film, I was asked to do it in 4 months, thirteen days of shooting…very fast… a comedy. It was very successful in Portugal. It was thought as a product for sofa spectators, I think…

LAURA MULVEY –  And what is called?

EP – Upside Down …It’s not my best movie but there was one or two critics that realized there was something in it which was really mine, even if the story wasn’t mine but there was some kind of…there I felt I was an auteur because I still could manage to put my own style in something which wasn’t…it wasn’t my crew, nothing…everything. I was a foreigner…

LAURA MULVEY – That’s fantastic.

EP –  Well,  it was an effort to work inside an industrial system, and I’ve learned a lot, I suppose.

But I am asked the question about dogma because for me it’s a very important question, not directly related to Cahiers for instance…when I first presented A Janela (MAryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix) in Locarno in 2001, there was this…I think it was an Italian journalist who asked me why this movie isn’t in the Bienalle of Venice instead of a cinema festival? It was a compliment considering the movie a work of fine arts, but also it was a way to say “you don’t belong here”. Because I always feel there’s some kind of gate keepers who say this is cinema and this is not cinema, this should be shown in an installation or whatever…I still hear from time to time… My last film, is called Lisbon Revisited, it’s in 3D and it’s a sensorial experience but after the premiere there was someone who told me that she preferred to see the film in a museum.

LAURA MULVEY –  It’s tricky nowadays.

EP –  Yes. Cinema should be shown in different medias, but films that don’t accept the rules, shouldn’t be kept way from cinema theaters.

I think that maybe…what I came up with is…this idea that maybe we shouldn’t talk about Cinema but we should talk about “Cinemas” like “theatrical Cinema”, “individual Cinema”, “catholic Cinema”, whatever…but that Cinema doesn’t exist anymore like just one entity and it’s…it’s more than a fragmented Cinema…There are lots of different definitions of what cinema should be…

LAURA MULVEY – That’s quite true. Otherwise you can tempt to be too purist, you could try and define Cinema and define it so nowherely that it leaves out lots of contemporary developments that are quite important.

EP –  When you wrote Death 24 times a second in 2005, it was the same year that youtube was launched and what do you think that were the major changes from DVD consumption which is very individual to this kind of inter…not interactive but this kind of space for creating lots of associations…

LAURA MULVEY –  Edgar, I got to just…it started to rain very heavily and I left a book outside, I’m just going to get it.

EP –  Ok.

LAURA MULVEY –  That’s incredible, we’ve got an absolute amount of rain. At least we don’t have to water the garden this evening.

EP –  Oh, you have a garden.

LAURA MULVEY –  Well, I’m in the country so…anyway go on…so about Youtube…

EP –  Yes, youtube which is the most common space where people share their videos and their own editing of scenes… do you think that kind of possessive spectator of DVD’s is now some kind of fetishistic creator?

LAURA MULVEY –  I always thought that… I mean, I think that… Even though I wasn’t writing so much about Youtube and clip culture… that we shared a moment… I mean it’s not an accident that I was writing about the late spectatorship at the same time as Youtube was sharing clips and remaking movies. It was a period of such intense change where it was necessary to rethink. Well, as you said earlier, the concept of cinema…

LAURA MULVEY ANAGLIF_8EP – Sorry? Sorry, I couldn’t…maybe it’s the connection. There’s a problem with the connection now.

LAURA MULVEY –  Can you hear me?

EP –  No.

LAURA MULVEY –  I lost you.

EP –  Yeah, me too.

LAURA MULVEY –  It could be the rain. Perhaps I’ll call you back when the rain stops.

EP –  Ok.

LAURA MULVEY –  Oh, it’s stopping a little bit.

EP – Yes.

LAURA MULVEY –  And can you hear me better now?

EP – Yes, yes.

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, I think it was the storm. What was I saying? Oh yes…that as you said a moment ago it was the period in which the concept of cinema as an entity changed into the concept of cinemas…into a multiplicity of cinemas. So that was around…I see between the century of Cinema in 95 and the Youtube moment of 2006. It was what we might call a threshold, a liminal period in which it was very difficult to know what Cinema was and what Cinema would become, and that made it very exciting and interesting. Again, a period of uncertainty that we were talking about earlier… and so I think that even though I didn’t specifically have Youtube or know about Youtube when I was working on my book. It’s a shared atmosphere, a shared moment which inevitably affects my way of thinking.

EP – Yes, you were anticipating something, I realized… When I realized it was published in the same year of the creation of Youtube…

You should have written that through the years… before Youtube, anticipating the Youtube culture a lot… So do you agree that the “Possessive Spectator” that you talk about, that started collecting photographs or small scenes on a DVD, is also a creator?

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, I mean what I was interested in at the time, or put it like this: because of my age and the kinds of cinemas that I was interested in and loved, what I wanted to do was to do a montage as it were between technological changes in the cinema of the past. I wasn’t interested so much in speculating about the future or thinking of myself in anyway futuristically. I was thinking of myself much more in old fashion modernist terms of how as a modernist I could jump across post-modernism and think about how the old and the new could find a new relationship through the spectators ability to manipulate the image, delay the flow of film, find tableux where tableux have never really been seen before, find stillness where stillness haven’t been seen…anyway to break it up, fragment the cinema not to distort it but to find aesthetic qualities that always been there but never actually been seen. Does that make sense?

LAURA MULVEY ANAGLIF_6EP –  I think so, I’m still…What I’m thinking now is Cinema…there’s now many cinemas and in the beginning, in the “cinema of attractions” period, cinema was just one attraction among many and now it’s many attractions that are related to cinema but how do you feel that in terms that…well… now with games and all the other interactive stuff that deals with narrative in another way…but at the same time that puts the spectator in the center, mostly with this first person games where you are both the spectator and the protagonist of the story… How do you feel that it’s…this relation…you have thought about the way everything connects?

LAURA MULVEY –  I don’t think I’ve thought enough about that. I think it’s a very interesting phenomena and it really affects the way one deals with narrative, or narrativity. But I’ve never really been able to get engaged with playing games, thinking about games…

EP – Me neither, I must confess.

LAURA MULVEY –  It’s a problem.

EP –  I read about games but I don’t play…well, I see kids playing but… maybe that’s not so different as when TV appeared and fragmented the way we see movies and talkshows and commercials…everything has the same face value…Or not…Now tablets and smartphones affected the way cinema is shown. And many Hollywood movies that have mainly a sucession of (tamed) attractions and fragments of narrative… the explosions are more important than the story?

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, yes. But I think that’s an exaggeration of the way… there’s always been a tension in cinema between spectacle and narrativity. So we could chase the spectacle of the great fight with CGI and so on… back to spectacles, great spectacles across…even pre-cinematic spectacles or even…you know, in the very early days of Cinema…the way that Cinema was both…or was it even pre-cinema in this shows? Shows that would show mount eruptions at night, for instance…or the great wave on Brighton beach or some extraordinary spectacle combined with the short tales.

EP –  Attractions…

LAURA MULVEY –  So, that sense of linked narrative and leading towards something and then the eruption of spectacle which is amazing and impressive…I think the cinema brought those two together in an amazing way which should go back to your (concept of) amazement…the question of amazement…

It’s the amazement at the spectacle but also the involvement emotionally with the protagonist, the character and so on…and the anxiety for the character and their fate. So there’s a mixture between the amazement of the volcano and the anxiety about the danger of the protagonist, and Cinema in some ways brought these two together and perhaps nowadays the spectacle is emerging, especially as it gets digitalized and becomes more technically sophisticated. We’re going back to the age of spectacular.

EP –  Okay, but sometimes I think that avant-garde films like Anemic Cinema from Duchamp for instance, films that are also against narrativity are in a way a spectacle, don’t you think?

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, yes.

EP –  So, sometimes we associate Hollywood with spectacle and narrativity with more serious films but for me that’s really tricky, it’s not that simple, I think there’s this…at least some kind of the avant-garde or the way which cinema could be, which could avoid lots of narrative ways of showing…of making a film. So, do you think there’s this component of spectacle in the avant-garde…at least until nouvelle vague. From the 10’s to the 50’s, I’m talking about…

LAURA MULVEYBut there’s certainly spectacle in Paul Sharits, for instance.

EP – I think t I’ve never seen his films.

LAURA MULVEY – …montage films with color, plain color and then a quick shot of something or other…I’m sure you can find it on Youtube.

EP –  Yes. But don’t you think that narrative is sometimes an enemy of the avant-garde?

LAURA MULVEY –  Well, we use to think that…we use to think that narrative… in the old days of “Screen”… they used to argue that narrative was a bourgeois mystification and avant-garde could not have narrative but I’ve never felt that and in the films that I made with my former husband Peter Wollen, we liked mixing stories together with other things and we felt that perhaps narrative or perhaps more the story…the idea of a story, thinking about stories…certainly out of place in avant-garde film and even you can think of a film… you know Wavelenght?

EP –  Yes.

LAURA MULVEY –  Michael Snow’s Wavelenght. You couldn’t think of that in terms of a certain kind of narrativity…

EP –  Yes.

LAURA MULVEY –  As well…

EP – Suspense…narrativity.

LAURA MULVEY –  So, I think the avant-garde is more interesting when it’s confused rather than when it’s too purist.

EP –  I agree with you, actually. But it’s very difficult to…sometimes to use these elements of spectacle, which I think they’re most associated with montage and free association and I think it’s very difficult to do it nowadays. This kind of montage…do you think the cinema that we do today and I’m talking about cinema we see in festivals, not Hollywood films… in that kind of movies there is some kind of austere ideology that says that spectacle should be banned from (auteur) cinema… they are mostly films of austerity, I think.

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, yes.

EP –  There’s this austere ideology.

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, a kind of asceticism. It’s a kind of striping away of excess…a kind of anti-baroque…minimalism and I think it is interesting to think that the period of the avant-garde of the 60’s and 70’s did also go inside with minimalism in the fine arts and also to a certain extend of literature as well. Le nouveau roman was again a kind of minimalist experiment but I think recently perhaps, the kinds of cinemas…what they call nowadays slow cinema developed perhaps a reaction against the years of digital editing and a kind of pop culture, or the video montage where there was a sense of reasserting their power of the image of duration, even as specific to cinema, even at the moment when it was being challenged in so many ways. Even a film like Zhangke Jia’s The World which was shot digitally has very, very long extended shots as it were engaging in that relationship between the camera and the world, while the editing of…I don’t know what to think. The cinema of montage as it were a highly cut up film, it was kind of escapement against that and again a kind of statement of aesthetic possibility.

EP – Yes, but don’t you find that kind of attitude puts again this division between low and high art? Cinema it’s really this mix of high pop culture and high art where everything meets, it’s a kine-melting pot. So austerity is rejecting the origins of cinema.

LAURA MULVEY –  And also rejecting our origins in the Cahiers which always mixed…The Cahiers du Cinema always mixed the popular with industrial cinema…

EP – Yes…

LAURA MULVEY –  So they would love…you know, Sam Fuller as much as Roberto Rossellini, always mixing up…

EP –  So you say that you could see that kind of mixing more in nouvelle vague than you see today… that kind of mixing of two worlds.

LAURA MULVEY –  No, I was actually… there was a moment of self-criticism of feeling…I probably lost touch with the popular today and I need to kind of reengage with what popular cinema today might be…No I don’t watch television that much, I don’t watch the great series, American series on television..

EP –  But also the filmmakers. The filmmakers don’t see most of those films. I think, most of these austere auteurs and critics, they have this notion that we shouldn’t see pop culture…

LAURA MULVEY –  I’ll think about that. I think this has to be a moment of self-criticism, I’ve lost touch with my origins where I always mixed the popular with the high.

EP –  Yes, I see…

LAURA MULVEY –  I’ll report back to you.

LAURA MULVEY ANAGLIF_10EP – Thanks a lot. One last question: what do you wrote this word I really…these two words I really like…passionate detachment.

LAURA MULVEY –  Passioned detachment.

EP –  Yes, what do you mean by this?

LAURA MULVEY –  Probably when I wrote it, I probably didn’t know because that article, that essay was very rhetorical and it was written in a particular moment in time. It couldn’t be written earlier, it couldn’t be written before… the women’s movement broke my cinephile love of Hollywood but I needed that cinephile love of Hollywood, in order to write the essay and I couldn’t have written it later in the context of an academic milieu or environment. It was outside the academic, it was a manifesto, it was written within the context of the early days of feminism, so it was written very much to affect people, emotionally and intellectually. So…but passioned detachment meant…really for me it would have meant a kind of the Brechtian spectator with the passion of the desire to reinvent a new form of way…a new way of seeing, a new form of spectatorship, a new concept of cinema. So it was to argue for a minimalism… but to say that minimalism could be seen as exciting and passionate. Does that make any sense?

EP – Yes, I thought that in these two words Passioned Detachment you have the high and low, that’s what I like about it. You have the emotion which we associate with sensations and Hollywood, and detachment which you associate with avant-garde, with Brecht. What I really like about these two words together is that you put it back on track of these two paths of popular…

LAURA MULVEY –  Yes, I think that was a very important part of that essay, was to try bring these two things together.

Can you hear me?

EP –  Yes.

LAURA MULVEY –  What…and there was one last thing about that I wanted to say…and it has also to do… bringing the element of curiosity into visual pleasure so the excitement of curiosity, the excitement of seeing with the mind’s eye… and it should be exciting and passionate to think as well as just to absorb.

EP –  Yes, to decipher.

LAURA MULVEY – To decipher…

EP –  I really like your ideas.

LAURA MULVEY – Amazement as well…intellectual amazement.

EP –  Ok, thanks a lot Laura.

LAURA MULVEY –  Not at all.

EP –  I really enjoy talking to you.

LAURA MULVEY –  Me too. Ok, bye for now.

EP –  Ok, let’s keep in touch.

LAURA MULVEY –  Bye for now.

EP –  Bye.

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