The author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema and Raiding the Icebox offers a beguiling A–Z of his engagement with films: from Aristotle through Bambi and Godard to The Passenger and the Underground
AN ALPHABET OF CINEMA
I am going to begin at the beginning, with A. Perhaps with the collaborative film A & B in Ontario that Joyce Wieland made with Hollis Frampton, and completed after his death—in which each film-maker in turn shot a segment of their own for the other to respond to, like a game of tag, or a cinematic dialogue? No,
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On Gaze Theory
The author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema traces the dialectic of the gaze from Hegel to Hitchcock, via Kojève, Lacan, Sartre, Vertov and Kuleshov. Vision and voyeurism, selfhood and spectatorship in psychoanalysis, philosophy and cinema.
Liberation from bourgeois marriage, central radical demand from Sand and Kollontai to Piercy, is subsumed in the age of global capital by calls for same-sex property rights. Wollen’s unmade film treatment celebrates loves unsanctified by church or state—de Beauvoir’s relationships with Sartre and Algren.
Threads from the history of Mexican surrealism: the Blue House in Coyoacán and Breton’s protegée as avant-garde antidotes or postmodern devotional objects. The components of the Kahlo cult and its basis in the artist’s own practice of self-fabulation and masquerade, concealment and display.
Speed and the Cinema
Jeopardy and menace, flight and pursuit: the highwire and lion’s den as kindred to the cinematic thrill. Peter Wollen reflects on the varied tempos of the avant-garde, from René Clair to Michael Snow; and on the planetary expansion of the culture of speed.
Situationists and Architecture
How dreams of unitary urbanism that would confound Le Corbusier could be a summons to social revolution. The Situationist ideas of dérive and détournement as gypsy principles of chance and larceny in the imagination of a utopian space. Inspirations from Neuschwanstein to the Watts riots, visions from Constant’s helicoptered nomads to Jorn’s ceramic garden.
An elegy for Derek Jarman, meditating on the meanings of the monochrome he took from Yves Klein for his last film, confronting death. From lapis lazuli to ultramarine: shades of paradise from Ficino and Blake to Goethe and Guy Debord.
Government by Appearances
Louis XIV’s passion for dancing, and its metamorphoses, at the beginnings of a society of the spectacle. Peter Wollen looks at the birth of ballet as a projection of state power, and the bonding of elites that court entertainment bequeathed to modern democracies.
Magritte and the Bowler Hat
Why did Magritte populate his surrealist images with bowler hats? Peter Wollen takes us from the oneirics of the Belgian painter to the antics of Tintin and Chaplin, the purism of Le Corbusier, memories of Beckett, fantasies of Bond and Kundera. Emblem of working men and city toffs, cabaret girls and Orange parades—what icons have matched it for multiple meanings?
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