From: bryan mckay (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Feb 12 2009 - 18:34:18 PST
I think there are degrees of active and passive spectatorship. I would
recommend reading James Peterson's Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order,
specifically the chapter "Avant-Garde Film Viewing as Problem
Solving." One's brain must to be active to process visual information
-- there's no question there -- but whether or not the viewer is
conscious of this process should be the focus. When we watch a typical
narrative film, the patterns of storytelling are so ingrained in our
subconscious that we don't have to work to parse the images at all.
Nathaniel Dorsky talks about the nihilism of contemporary montage,
where the viewer is assaulted with a constant parade of meaningless
cuts. Perhaps this is what Simonetta is talking about. If a filmmaker
were to intentionally create this sort of nihilistic effect, that
wouldn't be too out of line with the Dada ethos. When the cuts rapidly
add up to nothing, the viewer is forced to step back and simply watch
the shots pass by, unable to actually engage with or decode the film.
I'm not sure if this gets at Simonetta's question or not, but
hopefully it at least clears up some of the confusion re: passive and
active spectatorship and what those terms might actually suggest.
On Feb 12, 2009, at 9:07 PM, malgosia askanas wrote:
> Simonetta, could you please explain what you mean by "a passive
> viewer"? To me it would seem that, for example, focusing on "the
> constant change of the shots rather than on the content of the
> shots" - in general, focusing on one specific aspect versus all
> others - already implies an active posture towards what is being
> viewed. Assuming that the viewer is paying attention to the film, in
> what sense(s) is the viewing ever passive?
>> Hello everyone,
>> I am writing to the list because I have a question and I would like
>> to ask if anyone can help me understand something about Dada films.
>> My question refers to the film Emak Bakia (Man Ray, 1926) in
>> particular. I was discussing with some classmates (I am a grad
>> students in Films Studies) today in one of my seminars about the
>> power of the look/eye in Ray's film. The film literally "tries the
>> patience of the viewer" at first sight. We questioned (but we could
>> not find an ultimate answer) where we as viewers stand in relation
>> to a movie like Emak Bakia. Are we active or passive viewers? I
>> have studied that Dadaists do not want the viewers to think about
>> what the viewers watch because they want the viewer to focus on the
>> constant change of the shots rather than on the content of the
>> shots. If that is true at a first viewing and the viewer is, then,
>> a passive one, I think that after various viewings of the film, the
>> supposed passive viewer feels the urge to become active. I found
>> myself trying to remember what I was watching and I found it very
>> hard, so I watched and re-watched the film many times. However, I
>> think that the issue gets even more complicated right at the
>> opening sequence of the film, where we have a medium shot of the
>> director as he looks into the camera, while his eye looks at us
>> being completely reversed in the lens. Is he "looking at" us, as we
>> are looking at him? In other words, are we both active and passive
>> viewers at the same time? I am interested in this (and this was my
>> point during the discussion) because I have read that Dadaists are
>> concerned about "the fixed object," however in Emak Bakia nothing
>> is fixed. All the objects rotate somehow or move (the director's
>> eye as well is upside down and suggests a sort of already-happened
>> rotating movement.) The only element to be fixed at all times is
>> us, viewers, as we watch the constant change of these rotating
>> images. So, if the filmmaker is looking at us while the eye is
>> upside down, thus, in an unconventional way, does it mean that what
>> matters the most is the viewer in his/her passive or active role?
>> I hope this makes some sense. I'll be very grateful for any
>> thoughts you may have on this matter. I have never taken a class on
>> avant-garde fims so far (this seminar is about modernity), but I
>> watch a lot of avant-garde films, so I may have misunderstood to
>> some extent Man Ray's project.
>> Thank you so much in advance for your help.
>> All the best,
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.