[ James Donald, Anne Friedberg, and Laura Marcus. Close Up 1927-1933:
Cinema and Modernism. Princeton: Princeton UP (forthcoming). x, 341
pp. Paperback. ]
[ Elaine Equi. Friendship with Things. Barrington, MA: The Figures.
1998. 40 pp. Paperback, $8. ]
Close Up 1927-1933: Cinema and Modernism, edited by James Donald, Anne Friedberg, and Laura Marcus, brings together some of the most significant articles that theorized the early art film in Close Up, giving us a sense of the lively, international film culture which posed itself in contrast to the film-as-entertainment productions of the early Hollywood and British film industries. The editors have judiciously selected little-known works by Dorothy Richardson, Kenneth Macpherson, Bryher, as well as H.D. In addition to generous sections on film and psychoanalysis and the debate about silent film's transition to sound (POOL's 1930 silent, feature film, Borderline, for example, was lost among the new "talkies"), there are fine introductions by the editors to each chapter's selections, and a useful appendix.
This anthology confirms for us the fact that, if early film was as influenced by the manifestos of Imagism and Vorticism as the Modernists themselves, certainly the art of the art-film began to be understood as a language of images--Eisensteinian montage. This language could accomodate the expansion of innovative lyric poems as well as experimental film. Here's Sergei Eisenstein's definition of cinema--or, more precisely, the distinction he makes between commercial cinema and artistic cinematography--from his essay, "The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram" (published in Close Up in 1929):
Cinematography is, first and foremost, montage.
For H.D., Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Dorothy Richardson and others, there was as vital a methodological connection to film techniques as there was substantively a connection to psychoanalysis.
Moore, for example, not only read Pound's work on the Chinese
ideogram fundamental to the inception of the Imagists, but also Sergei Eisenstein
in translation, "The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram" and "A
Dialectic Approach to Film Form," in Close Up in the late 1920s and
early 1930s. Eisenstein's argument, which we find noted in shorthand in
Moore's reading diary, is that montage
is not an idea composed of successive shots stuck together but an idea that DERIVES from the collision between two shots that are independent of one another (the 'dramatic' principle). 'Epic' and 'dramatic' in relation to the methodology of form and not content or plot!! As in Japanese hieroglyphics in which two independent ideographic characters ('shots') are juxtaposed and explode into a concept.
Thus: eye + water = to weep; knife + heart = sorrow, Moore quotes from Eisenstein's "Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram" in her unpublished reading diary. That is, the method of combining two images which, together, "explode" into idea: the Modernists' relation to phenomeno-logical thingness of the world.
In that light, Elaine Equi's chapbook, Friendship with Things (The Figures 1998), announces its poetic, filmic, and phenomenological heritage. Things, objects--one of the epigraphs is Merleau-Ponty: ". . . to look at an object is to inhabit it . . ."--play through the mind's associative, perceiving capaciousness. "Tarn/ Goose/ Nutmeg" ("Wittgenstein's Colors"). Objects enchant, seduce our postmodern minds--the other epigraph is Baudrillard: "Only the object is seductive." "The Objects in Catalogs" are a "bit vulgar, like starlets"; they are "mute": "A vast literature reduced here/ to a few short phrases: numbers/ letters and of course, price" ("The Objects in Catalogs"). Modernist formal technique is combined with postmodern perception; not pastiche but collage, a neo-Eisensteinian collision of sensibilities: "(we are)/ Forever turning// things into thoughts" ("The Objects in Fairytales"); "Each shower/ a palimpsest" ("Snapshots of Water").
An attention to the object as word-sound, an apparent coincidence of rhyme, is not (as Moore might say) unwelcome: "'water'/ 'daughter'" ("The Objects in Fairytales"). We appreciate the sudden eruption of possibly wise paradox: "The smallest space/ is the biggest.// The biggest/ is the emptiest.// The emptiest/ has the most things in it.// The most things/ make us happy" ("Heart Sutra: Abridged Version"). But things are no longer just things but things for, seductively, deliciously, the mind to inhabit "if surrounded by the right things" ("The Objects in Japanese Novels").
--Cynthia Hogue, Bucknell University
S.M.Eisenstein: Selected Works (Volume I Writings, 1922-34), ed. and trans. Richard Taylor (London: BFI Publishing, 1988), 161-80; 163-64. First published in Close-up (September 1929). Moore takes extensives notes from a later article published in the journal, which reiterates the gist of this quotation. See Rosenbach, VII:02:02, 1250/6 MM's extensive notes of this translation published in Close Up, "The Principles of Film Form Montage," 8, 3 (Sept. 1931).
Bio: Cynthia Hogue's books include the forthcoming
The Never Wife (Mammoth Press, 1999), which won the first Mammoth
Press Poetry Prize, and Scheming Women: Poetry, Privilege, and the Politics
of Subjectivity (SUNY Press, 1995). Her interview with Harryette Mullen
has just been published in the electronic journal Postmodern Culture
go to this issue's table of contents