Notes on Vertigo, La Jetee and Uski Roti

Case Study 1: Vertigo

In Vertigo, Hitchcock explores the dualistic nature of mind and matter through establishing a clear link between camera and consciousness. The title sequence links these two elements i.e. camera and consciousness through the link between the eye (representing vision/the camera) with the spiraline nature of consciousness (represented by the graphic of the spiral). Hitchcock links this dualistic nature of camera and consciousness through the use of the point of view shot that results in the famous “vertigo effect” of zoom-in/track back which links the character’s vision with a pathologized field of consciousness.

There are primarily two figures of consciousness represented by the spiral: the ascending layer of consciousness (ratio essendi or in Hindu thought the male figure of Shiva) and the descending layer of consciousness (ratio cognoscendi or in Hindu thought Shakti). Shiva is the male figure of consciousness whereas Shakti is the female, descending layer of consciousness. The opening titles showing the parts of a woman’s gaze are not symptomatic, as Mulvey writes, of the male gaze, but instead represent the descending layer of consciousness which is that of Shakti.

The character of John/Scottie is one of the seeker on the path to self-realization, who explores the female energy through figures of thought (his projections that produce Madeleine) that do not really exist. Reality itself enters in the form of matter i.e. the flowers and the necklace that disturb the figures of thought so that the character is forced to enter the domain of pathological delirium. In other words, the descending layer of consciousness is also a descent into pathology, making cinema essentially a transcendental idiom, which through a short circuit is made into a medium of pathology.

All films exist at the level of history, myth and lived experience. Hitchcock mythifies the location-space i.e. San Fransisco that comprises of iconic crystalline images such as that of the Golden Gate bridge with elements of folklore (the MacGuffin that is Carlotta Valdez) so that desire is mythified, time out of joint, and love is the only element that establishes a continuum between past,present and future.

Deleuze’s reading of Hitchcock establishes him as being on the brink of the time image, in which the life force (elan vitale/pranayama) produces a sensory-motor continuum that links the relationship between action, perception and affection that is a relation-image. In other words, instead of a sensory-motor continuum one can think of the film as being produced by the breath of movement and the imaginary image that is produced whilst focusing on the breath so that none of the images are real but refer to a pure mental image. In other words, the film does not play at the level of reality, it is only material elements such as the necklace, the Lacanian “little bit of real” that brings us to this element of reality in the mental projection.

Through this mental projection Hithcock emphasizes the essence of the feminine energy that is captured through Madeleine who is but a projection of Scottie’s mind, but is actually Judy. Both Valdez-Madeleine and Madeleine-Judy are half-known and lead John-Scottie through “dimensions beyond the known” so that Hitchcock is able to capture essence and the audience is engaged in a musical thought form instead of a representation of reality.

Hitchcock is able to make a film about obsession instead of suspense precisely so that cinema becomes “a little time, in its pure state” and the audience can project their own thoughts into the tightly composed frame. This frame is the totality of matter in the image, and as in all of Hithcock, there is no outside of the frame. The image on the one hand points to the characters, objects, movements and affects and on the other hand points to the whole. When the story of the murder plot is revealed much before Scottie can interrogate Judy, the audience already knows the plot and from then on, can only look at the film as being free of the story and about the endless repetititions of Scottie that at the same time move the story forward so that the power of repetition, the circle (represented by Scottie and the repetitious appearances of Kim Novak playing different characters) is taken forward by the straight line of the story. When the circle meets the straight line, the spiral is produced, a spiral of consciousness. Similarly the frame of the ageing of the tree trunk matches the spiral form of actress Kim Novak’s hair, thus bringing consciousness into the denoted frame.

The projection of every film is in the form of a cone representing consciousness. Hitchcock makes the shape of the projection/screen relationship into one that is represented in the spiral of the graphic titles and in the vertigo effect such that the metaphysical aspects of the film have a denotational effect in the frame. The film is between movement-image (pranayama) and the sensorial collapse producing pure images and sounds (pratyahara), so that the mental relationship produces a sense of obsession in the spectator. The circuit of desire is endless repetititious like a fugue but at the same time never closes upon itself. Through this desire, transformed into love (the real MacGuffin of the film), Hitchcock explores the relationship between power(the ascending spiral) and freedom (the descending spiral). Scottie looks to master knowledge as Madeleine-Judy attempt to free themselves of it so that they are actually half-known. On the other hand the woman murdered, the ‘real’ Madeleine Elster is someone of whom we know nothing about.

Case Study 2: La Jetee

Whereas Vertigo witnesses a linkage between past and future through mental projections represented in the frame, La Jetee is an example of the Deleuzean time-image in which time is out of joint and the past and the future no longer have a continuous relationship. The film comprises of photographs representing the past, whereas the ‘story’ of the film is about the future. In other words the consciousness (the past) is in a totally different dimension from the content (the future) resulting in a withdrawal of motion. The limit-image of the past is the image of childhood producing desire (the image of the woman), whereas the future leads to the linkage between this desire and death. Past and future meet on the location-space that is the pier, so that for a few brief seconds the character completes motion, in the form of running, and the circuit of desire for a brief moment is fulfilled, only to be followed by the death of the character.

Conclusion: Uski Roti

As opposed to Vertigo and La Jetee, Uski Roti completely delinks motion through pre-empted and delayed editing so that the pre-emption and delay produce a tension that is a representation of expanding consciousness itself. The ascending spiral of consciousness is represented through the use of the 28mm lens whereas the descending spiral of consciousness is represented through the 135mm lens. When the 28mm and the 135mm are used in a combination, the single shot represents both the ascending and descending layers of consciousness. The link between movement and thought are once again represented through a negative space i.e. that of the young woman’s rape causing a delay in dropping of the stick and the rock. However, Balo’s niece is lying about the rape resulting in a delay in the soundtrack, causing the soundtrack to be out of sync. These lies are supported by Balo’s phantasies about her husband that are also false and transform the symbolic element of the real representations into the imaginary domain of signs. The consciousness is completely cut off from the content whilst at the same time the use of lensing unites mind and matter to form a non-dualistic approach to cinema.

All three films deal with the descending layer of consciousness or Shakti and are about allowing the female characters to free themselves via the male gaze, which is nothing but the ascending layer of consciousness.

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