Announcement of a New Blog Series: In this new blog series called Critical Literature Review, I will be featuring a series of annotated bibliographies grouped per topic. I have already posted a summary review of David A. Gerstner’s essay The Practices of Authorship. Each literature review piece or annotation will basically contain three parts. The first part provides a brief summary of the main arguments of the book. The second part evaluates the book’s strengths and weaknesses, method of presentation and other elements. The third part is the assessment of the usefulness of the book in relation to my research on Lav Diaz. The bibliographic format to be used is APA. For more information on the critical literature review, check a handout here. All my literature reviews can be found here.
The Long Take: A Cinematic Style? Or an Aesthetic Condition of Contemporary Culture?
Majority of literature in cinema has generally viewed long take as a stylistic device. Andrei Bazin’s essays “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” (1960) and “Evolution of the Film Language” (1968) are two of the inaugural essays that problematize the aesthetic practice of long take in relation to realism. The aesthetic practice of long take, whether used in contemplative cinema to deploy affects of emptiness, ennui and languor or used as a means to orchestrate complex cinematography, constitutes a smaller subset of a bigger set of stylistic devices used predominantly in art cinema and commercial cinema for several reasons. In today’s media culture, the long take has been appropriated in different platforms, in particular, amateur instructional videos in Youtube, surveillance footages, pornographic video productions among others. The digital platform has rendered the long take as a new stylistics to deploy spectacle. Hence, in this series of text, we will see how the concept of the long take is deployed in several writings.
The Intrasequence Cut: The Long Take Between Bazin and Eisenstein
Bibliographic Note: Henderson, B. (1980). The Long Take (1971). In A Critique of Film Theory (pp. 48–61). New York: E.P. Dutton.
In Brian Henderson’s essay titled The Long Take (1971), the idea of the long take is drawn from a classical film theory perspective. Henderson (1980) says
‘the true cultivation and expression of the image… requires the duration of the long take (a single piece of unedited film that may or may not constitute an entire sequence). [L]ong take… permits the director to vary and develop the image without switching to another image… Thus the long take makes mise-en-scene possible.’ (p. 49) [Emphasis mine]
Henderson wanted to create a film theory that does not exclusively privilege either Bazinian notion of long take, which is associated with his temporal realism, or Eisenteinian notion of montage. He wanted to create a theory that would deploy both principles halfway. However, Henderson’s idea is not the definitive long take we are after. For Henderson, the long take is not primarily the length of the shot. It interacts with the montage, but not in the way that it privileges the montage’s rhythm or the autonomy of the long take in itself.
Henderson (1980) defines this new idea as the selective cut, or the intrasequence cut, or the mise-en-scene cut, to distinguish it from the montage cut or the long take in a Bazinian sense. An intrasequence cut ‘does not relate, arrange, or govern the whole of the piece it joins; it merely has a local relationship to the beginnings and ends of the connecting shots…’ (p. 54).
Assessing the Intrasequence Cut
Henderson’s ideas are weakened by his incapacity to think beyond the stylistic dilemma of Bazinian-Eisensteinian aesthetic complex. Henderson is a typical film theorist caught in between a web of generalizations centering on aesthetic figure of the director-as-auteur and their corresponding styles on mise-en-scene and montage. Henderson flippantly weighs in on the lack of theoretical grounding of a set of films that falls between Bazin and Eisenstein. Henderson was not able to account, like many aesthetic theorists, the material dimension of the long take and its industrial relation to the whole production of the image. As a stylistic device, its capability to generate new theory of cinema is insufficient as it lacks a systematic distinction that would easily differentiate it from a rhythmic montage or a Bazinian long take. Henderson has not fully show its autonomy as a stylistic device nor its general relation to whole discourse of the production of cinema.
Usefulness in my Research
Lav Diaz’s style of editing may be something close to Henderson idea of the intrasequence cut: a paradoxical stylistic cut that is both autonomous and related to the other shots. However, due to Henderson’s delimitation that the long take as not necessarily related to the length of the shot, I am led to conclude that Diaz’s stylistic category is something more complex than the facile relationship between Bazinian and Eisensteinin categories. In Lav Diaz’ cinema, we also have to look at the technological aspect and the material conditions that allows for such a style to thrive.
Since the research aims to unmask the metaphysics of long duration, one has to ask first how does style contributes to the formation of metaphysics of long duration. Long duration here constitutes the general artistico-politics of slow cinema, in particular, the cinema of Lav Diaz. Remember however that the project is a materialist critique of the metaphysics of long duration. It reassembles the old time debate between materialism and idealism that Marx deployed in his readings on Feuerback, Proudhorn, Max Stirner. The best way to approach this is to constitute first the process of mystification in slow cinema by analyzing aesthetics categories, styles, narrative structure, and political content of the films. The research questions should be:
- How does the process of mystification of slow cinema occur?
- What are the contradictions and limitations (the aporia?) of these metaphysics of long duration?
- What is the dialectical materialist opposite of long duration?
The general framework, as I see it now, after writing my paper presentation on Marx contra Deleuze, is to extrapolate the debate of materialism vs. idealism and apply it within the framework of slow cinema.
The Long Take as Effigy of the Wondrous
Bibliographic Note: Koepnick, L. (2017). The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
In Lutz Koepnick’s recent book The Long Take: Art Cinema and the Wondrous (2017) takes on the notion of the long take closer to Lav Diaz’s approach. However, Koepnick’s notion of long take is still problematic.
For Koepnick, ‘that contemporary moving image practice often embraces long takes — extended shot durations and prolonged experiences of moving image environments — as a medium to reconstruct spaces for the possibility of wonder’(Koepnick, 2017, p. 1). Unlike Henderson who sees long take as a style situated between Bazin and Eisenstein, Koepnick constitutes the long take in a larger socio-historical fabric. For Koepnick, the long take is transmediatic, no longer local to cinema, but moves across various media platforms and spaces of spectacle. All these long takes share an ‘effort to rub against today’s frantic regimes of timeless time, against today’s agitated forms of viewership and 24/7 spectatorial self-management’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 1).
As cinematographic style, Koepnick traces the prominence of long take in the 1990s when international arthouse filmmakers like Lisandro Alonso, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Pedro Costa, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang and others were recognized in the global arthouse market as a new force of filmmaking (Koepnick, 2017, p. 2). One of the key words in Koepnick’s book is wonder or the wondrous. For Koepnick, the long take is the ‘effigy of wondrous, the focal point to rethink notions of art cinema today’ (Koepnick, 2017, p.3). His goal is to ‘emancipate the long take from the grip of recent cinephilia (Koepnick, 2017, p.3).
Koepnick defines the wondrous ‘as experience of something that defies expectation but need not to be encountered with fear, restless action or speechless defensiveness’ (Koepnick, 2017, pp. 1-2). The wondrous commands ‘a certain absence of expectation and a deliberate postponement of reaction, activity and interpretation…existing outside the realm of the will, defers any demand for instant reply and communication, and defies impatient efforts of narrative integration’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 8). The wondrous, for Koepnick, is a perceptual event: ‘Wonder happens suddenly. It ruptures the fabric of time, yet unlike the traumatic experiences of shock, the wondrous neither overwhelms nor petrifies the senses’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9). Although a wondrous event ‘disrupts temporal continuity, it requires time and duration’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9).
In introducing the idea of the wondrous, the goal of Koepnick is not to reduce long take ‘as a palliative to the ills of contemporary speed’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 4). He does not look at long take as a candidate to promote slow life agenda, nor does it physically slow down the speeds of the twenty-first century. Instead, Koepnick looks at the long take as one that ‘distends time, derails the drives of narrative and desire, and hovers above the border between film and photography’ (Koepnick, 2017, p. 4). Koepnick seems to zero-in on the politics of the long take in relation to contemporary notions of attention. However, Koenpick delimits his notion of the long take as not related to extended-shot durations intended for choreography of complex actions, or intended as performative space, or a space for deployment of special effects (Koepnick, 2017, p. 9).
Assessment of the Long Take and the Wondrous
While it prods on a new idea of the wondrous, Koepnick’s notion of the long take is a step back in terms of inclusiveness. It has identified its class position by privileging the wondrous as exclusively identifiable with art cinema. He outwardly declares it in one paragraph, and let me quote in length:
My interest, in other words, is in long takes that result not in spectators shouting, “Wow, how the heck did they do that!,” but in viewers who may find themselves investigating possible relations among the different temporalities on screen, the temporal orders of the projection situation, and the rhythms of their own physical and mental worlds. My interest is in moving image work that embraces extended- shot durations as a medium to provide a space not for mere spectacle and astonishment but for reconstructing spaces for wondrous looking in the face of its ever- increasing disappearance.
(Koepnick, 2017, p. 10)
In this passage, Koenpick’s bourgeois position as a writer becomes clear. While he is critical of the ever disappearing spaces of contemporary culture, he still does not overcome his own class contradiction. Consistent to our materialist stance on art cinema, Koenpick is guilty of concealing the role of the proletariat in the production of the long take and its spectatorship. He effaces the proletarian subjectivity by jumping over them with his words ‘not in spectators shouting, “Wow, how the heck did they do that!”’. The exclusion of mainstream cinema is a major loophole in Koenpick’s privileging of the wondrous in art cinema. While no true opposition exists between art and mainstream cinema, Koenpick has not fully looked into the problematic category of the wondrous in relation to its complicity with class ideology.
The wondrous, if we are to put Koenpick’s politics in the context of cultural markets, is close to the affect produced by commodity fetishism. The exacting materiality of the wondrous, as only limited to art cinema’s deployment of the long take, tells us that it is nothing different to the affect associated with media fetishism. I therefore argue that Koenpick’s idea of the long take is a form of art cinema fetishism. However, I will suspend for a moment this assessment as I will have to read the rest of the work and see if this position is held throughout the work.
Usefulness in My Research
Koepnick’s notion of long take has overlaps in Diaz’s aesthetics. Diaz’s aesthetics fits in the mold of Koepnick’s privileging of art cinema. Diaz’s cinema has never been fully integrated in the proletarian struggle of Filipinos. His cinema has gained recognition in Europe, in arthouse film festivals like in France, Berlin, Venice, Fribourg among others. Diaz’s orientation towards the art market, which reached its peak when he collaborated with bourgeois elite producers of Manila in 2012 for his film Norte, the End of History (2013), recently opened many doors to Diaz in a financial sense. However, unlike Koepnick, Diaz’s long take is built on a theological position of temporarility that he rigorously sought throughout his career: a liberation theology that instrumentalizes technology and long duration as both emancipatory forms of pedagogy for the spectator.
Koepnick has focused his profiling of the long take in relation to the economy of attention from the perspective of the art cinema spectator. It is a phenomenological rendering of the long take. However, Diaz’s long take is positioned from an aesthetic-political sense, not in a phenomenological sense, as in Koepnick’s the notion of the wondrous.
In order to calibrate our critique for Diaz’s long take and long duration metaphysics, the positionality of our approach would comprise constituting first the material base of the long take: its mode and means of production. To establish this, we have to constitute the political economy of long take in the Philippines and how films like Lav Diaz’s oeuvre are marketed by cultural agents in the West.
Clarification of Position: Subjecting Auteurism to Dialectical Materialist Critique
In my earlier post regarding theories of authorship in film, I mentioned that Lav Diaz’s authorship must be constituted within an expanded framework beyond the politics of representation. The framework that I’m referring to is the dialectical and historical materialist framework which looks beyond the politics of representation by reconsidering the importance of material conditions, the distribution of capital, and the intensity of market exchange, in the production of a cinematic product. Aside from the political economic consideration, dialectics of history is important in looking at auteurism in relation to the works of Lav Diaz. What are the historical forces that constituted the cultural status of Lav Diaz as an auteur? And, in the process of questioning, we must also look into the larger social fabric that constitute the conditions of the long take and auteurism. We must look at the long take in a dialectical and historical materialist manner, and this can only matter, in a dialectical sense, if we reify the metaphysics of long duration of Diaz and a negation of such metaphysics. The negation of such metaphysics is a materialist form of duration – time as material.