Cinematicity

film & culture

Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and The Reality of Cinematic Dreams

A light-hearted comedy that conceals the most thorough exploration of the role that cinema's dreams have in our lives by one of America's greatest directors.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A light-hearted comedy that conceals the most thorough exploration of the role that cinema's dreams have in our lives by one of America's greatest directors.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A regular person, struggling with the burden of an economy in recession, with an abusive, womanizing, cheating husband, with a job that leads nowhere, for little pay, with a tyrannical capitalist boss goes everyday, sometimes more than once, to the cinema to watch the gilded, luxurious, glamorous lives portrayed by Hollywood actors, to get some reprieve from her difficult life. On the other side, a film character looks out from the cinema screen in the gaps in his role, the moments he glances to the right, to a place out of view but in the audience, dreams of leaving the repetitive role he's been cast into and to plunge himself into the reality he watches each and everyday that he performs, that his picture is beamed onto the wall and the dance of light compels him to action. This is precisely the premise of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, and it is a film in which, on one afternoon, in an empty cinema, this movie character(Tom Baxter, played by Jeff Daniels) decides to step out of the pictures and profess his love for the audience-member(Cecilia, played by Mia Farrow) he's seen countless times watching him and to attempt to live a real life with her. The film is about the one-dimensionality of cinema confronted with the three-dimensions of reality, about the naiveté of characters who think life conforms to that of the pictures, where fake movie-money buys food in expensive restaurants, where a kiss naturally leads to a 'fade-out' and sex in the privacy of a dark, unseen nothingness and the fact that he must negotiate intimacy in the light of day, where only what one already knows, the roles they've played and the experiences they've had are enough to confront any real-life situation. The film is also about the fantasy of the cinema, the allure of the fictions it portrays, and the willingness to live life according to them, to abandon the difficulties of life at the moment the possibility to do so presents itself and to live the life of one's dreams. But it's a film about the separation between real dreams from false dreams, about the difference between the love of a movie character and that of the real-life character that plays him. And the film is also about the reality of dreams themselves, of the difference between the perception of the cinematic in our lives, their real-life potential and their illusory, fickle nature, how they abandon us without cause or reason and leave us once again resigned to our grim reality. But, the film is also about the persistence of the dreams of cinema, of the cinematic, despite this, of their undying nature to persist as dreams and to shape our lives despite that we know them for what they are. And it is about the undying romance of reality, of its hard struggles and endless contingency and its own allure to anyone fortunate enough to have dispensed with basic necessity for a life of abundance and leisure.

It's hard to imagine that a film could deal with all of these issues and not only to deal with each of them separately, but to evoke the poetry of cinema to express them all simultaneously, to see them all in the complex, semi-stable state in which they actually exist in our lives, to see them precisely for what they are and no more. To strip-away the romantic of cinema, the romantic of reality, to see them naked for what they are and then, to see the re-emergence of romance despite that it has just been stripped away. And to accomplish this all while making a light-hearted, casual and humorous film. It is certainly a daunting undertaking and an incredible achievement.

The How

Pasolini wrote, back in the 1960's about the relative newness of the cinematic form, of its impoverished capacity to speak as its own language and of the difficulties inherent to a form in which the poetic possibilities of metaphor inherent in language and of one who speaks directly does not exist: where a film-maker is confronted with the need to make his arguments through the voices and images of others. According to him, the cinema communicates through the perspective of 'free indirect subjectivity', which is a statement that has an analogy in language of the form: 'He stood up slowly. He wasn't going to let them get away with it!' These are statements that operate according to the establishment of an objective situation that is then populated by a subjectivity, where we see an objective situation and then the subjectivity of character who inhabits that situation that, through a kind of poetic juxtaposition of perspective, or an articulation of the former from within the latter, expresses something more than each. The character acing erratically, as Deleuze points out, flailing around the screen, moving this way and that, establishes an objective fact that someone is moving around, erratically1. Confronted with an immobile frame, with a camera that refuses to move to follow his movements, it creates a new meaning: a judgment of madness, of a judgment contributed by the forced immobility of the camera that introduces a subjective dimension to the objective fact of his erratic movement, that he is crazy. The cinema, as a constant movement between these two poles, between the objective and the subjective, accomplished through the use of montage and other techniques, forms a language that allows for the emergence of the poetic potential in cinema.

But what about a film like The Purple Rose of Cairo that, while it employs little to no normally understood techniques of art-house cinema or experimental cinema, does not manipulate sound or image, or make use of an overt consciousness of the camera, but, rather, remains anchored strictly within the realm of conventional—although fantastical and complex—narrative? Pasolini described cinema's more primitive communicability (before the emergence of this 'camera consciousness and free indirect subjectivity) as the use of cultural cinematic images, of images that have been established throughout the history of cinema to the point of becoming part of the collective consciousness. These would be moments like the kiss in Casablanca that becomes a fixed image-sequence in cinema, re-made over and over again in different contexts to evoke the romance of certain moments. He describes the use of shots of train wheels and steam, to convey movement or travel by train. We can certainly imagine many others: sunsets and beach waves; planes taking off and wheels touching down with smoke; a cigarette being placed on an ashtray, a beer bottle dripping on the bar. The list of these kinds of established cinematic images is basically endless today, drenched as we are in cinema. And there are some interesting instances of this in the film, three of particular importance and upon which the significance of the film rests.

First, take this scene, which takes place in a music shop after Cecilia has met Gil Shepard, the real-life actor who plays Tom Baxter in The Purple Rose of Cairo film within a film for a date. She mentions that she used to play the mandolin, and so they enter to have a look at the instruments.

What is interesting about this scene is how, after Gil Shepard finishes playing the piano and the two start talking and he begins to profess again his love for Cecilia, the film becomes, for a few brief moments itself cinematic. It seems as if we are seeing, rather than two characters on a date, two people mired in the contingencies of real life trying to negotiate a relationship, we see simply the screen of cinema and two characters becoming one-dimensional and at the same time timeless cinema, like there is nothing else in the world at that moment besides these two people and their love. The cinema image in this moment that it appears to be Classic Hollywood cinema seems to flatten-out, to lose its depth, the complexities of the lives of the characters to dissipate and everything simplifies to the pure representation of a pre-existing cinematic image. This is the moment in the film where we get the hint of the possibility that this life between these two people might just be capable of transcending its differences and obstacles and becoming something transcendent.

Second, there is the situation that takes place after Cecilia has followed Tom Baxter (this, the movie-character) back into the cinema screen and the two of them go from filmic situation to filmic situation, from disrupting the normal scenes of The Purple Rose of Cairo film within the film, to occupying and redefining anew other scenes, as the only two characters there, writing their own version of the narrative into the film.

This is the scene where they walk into the empty Manhattan apartment, luxurious with shining floors and with a view on the city skyline:

Here, we see the reality of their lives again becoming cinematic, but rather than being a cinematic we can only sense almost imperceptibly and invisibly through its imitation of other culturally significant scenes, this scene is factually a scene from cinema. The two characters themselves have become cinema characters acting in their own movie. And where immediately preceding this scene they may have had the function of disrupting the normal cinematic flow (one character says, when she unexpectedly meets Cecilia in the group of people: 'who the hell is this?'), in this moment, they become the film themselves and, as they're shown in black in white, grainy cinema film that conveys the Golden Age of Classic Hollywood cinema, they become the cinematic image itself, actually.

Finally, this scene, near the end of the film, is when, having decided that romance with the movie-character Tom Baxter could never be real enough, Cecilia decides to go away to Hollywood with Gil Shepard the real-life actor that plays the Tom Baxter role:

Packing her bags and leaving the house, the entire scene takes on, again, the appearance of the cinematic as it once again mimics the convention of a cinematic image: the breakdown of relationship and the rushed packing of a single suitcase messily before escaping quickly from the house. The entire moment is dramatic, its as if their real lives have again become cinema, but that this cinema has become real, rather than merely a possibility. When Gil Shepard speaks to her in the music shop, the two appear cinematic, but this moment also has the feel of being something promised rather than real (she is still at that moment caught between two ideas of romance); in this scene, the same occurs, but this time we have the feeling that the cinematic has definitively entered into life, that Cecilia is joining the world she's only ever dreamed of joining and that this moment is just the first of many cinematic moments to come in her life.

These are three scenes where the cinematic mimesis of the scene, the way that it mimics culturally significant scenes in the history of cinema's production creates a new perspective on the film that expresses something of poetic significance. These are moments where our perspective, rather than being simply immersed in the reality of the film itself, as if it is something inhabitable and ordinary that we can see ourselves in, becomes something inaccessible and flattens out to one single dimension, to a surface of cinematicity. Each of these moments is a moment in which this mimesis of culturally significant films expresses something beyond what is in the film: when we see a moment appear to be cinematic, it also conveys to us all that meaning that comes with something being cinematic. It becomes something dreamed-of, something of fantasy or fiction, something otherworldly beyond the real, takes on the feeling of being an image projected on a screen, that we are sitting and watching: we become aware of our position as a spectator of film in these moments as they introduce subjectivity into the cinema experience (this is precisely Pasolini's 'free indirect subjectivity' of film).

But, this use of the cinematic perception goes beyond what Pasolini imagined for the communicability of traditional, more primitive cinematic images, as they existed in the 1960s. For him, and for what he describes, this type of mimesis is used simply for the construction of any kind of meaning at all from out of the chaos that the film-maker faces-down when he's forced to choose from the infinity of images available to him through which to construct his message. His focus was on the use of these scenes as a basic set of building blocks with which to construct a broader narrative: i.e., the images of the steam and wheels of the train to set-up a scene about travel since it has already been established that these scenes convey this understanding. His focus on the poetic potential of cinema and the evolution of the medium came from other techniques that he called a 'camera consciousness' and the way that the film-maker makes himself felt in the film. What we get in the case of The Purple Rose of Cairo is something else entirely: it is a form of cinematic consciousness, of a consciousness and perspective that arises as a result of the intentional imitation of the cinematic image within the film that itself constitutes a poetic moment within the film.

The What

Is it simply the use of a cinematic image, of the representation of a scene according to an already established sequence of images in the history of cinema within the normal flow of an ordinary film that explains how these moments achieve their poetic significance within the context of the film, or might there be something more fundamental upon even which the constitution of the referential cinematic images in this film (and other films, more generally) might rely? That is to say, perhaps it would be possible to articulate a theory of the cinematic that goes beyond reference to cameras, screen, film, film-grain, references to other cinematic images and all the other attributes specific to what we know today as cinema, an outline of a concept that wold take on the form of something like Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer (i.e., be an anatomy of the characteristics that constitute the cinematic and an historical archaeology of the way in which these modes of perception express themselves through the technology we know today as cinema) and would take the opposite approach of Lev Manovich in his The Language of New Media (i.e., as Manovich looks at the pervasion of a cinematic perspective into modern technology, to the use of camera flyovers in data visualization and over-the-shoulder camera-angles in video games, perspectives and self-perspectives from other areas of life, experiences, art-forms that are distinctively cinematic while not, technically being cinema). For while it seems clear that the representation of a scene according to a pre-existing cinematic image does reflect that moment into a broader cinematic consciousness from out of which a new form of subjectivity and poetic moment occurs, it also seems as if this is a rationalization written retrospectively back onto our memory of a moment that, in its present, is more than just a reference to another cinematic image, but itself expresses an essential quality specific to certain memorable scenes in the history of cinema.

If we could isolate two poles in the movement of perception within life, of perspective within subjectivity, as does Deleuze for film, we could say that it moves between an objective, third-person self-perception that sees itself as external to itself, to our own selves, and a first-person perception, involved and in the moment that sees only what is beyond itself, outside and external to itself, in the world. Further, we might say as well that moments of objectivity are also moments of anxiety, of calculation and thought, when something fails to work, when time slows down and stops, is over-determined by a time that has as-yet failed to end and that we must grapple with, experiment with in order to provisionally and through improvisation try to find resolution, a way of escape. Conversely, moments of direct, first-person subjectivity are moments when things 'just work', when life seems like its on rails, moving in just one direction and we can focus on the things it presents to us, dealing with them naturally as they arise; moments of peace, of joy, of being in the present, when the whole of existence becomes distilled in the form of an ever renewing present that encompasses everything, moments that we dream of, of total immersion that, when they happen, seem like life-as-a-dream moments, that we become aware of their rarity and the preciousness of having been graced by them almost immediately after they begin to recede. The question then is: how might these perceptions outside of the cinema correspond to a perception that arises within the cinema?

When Tom Baxter leaves the screen, the remaining characters in the film within the film become stuck in a form of crisis that mimics that of a real-life person: the film cannot continue without their other, admittedly minor character, and until he returns they simply lounge around their cinematic apartments discussing and debating what to do. And in this moment of uncertainty, these character themselves begin to consider alternative visions for their reality. Maybe they too should leave the screen, should unite together against the crushing demands of the studio and the demands of the film to perform their roles, day-in and day-out. Perhaps Tom Baxter is right to leave for reality: their work is too difficult and tedious and under-compensated to boot. And here, the cinematic projection of black and white life of these characters sitting around loses its quality of being cinematic: they seem like ordinary, bored wealthy people, just like the characters they play in the film they're wanting to act, but only now, their film-lives don't go according to their script and they're left, like the rest of us in reality, faced with the anxiety, contingency and the uncertainty of their futures. Only in the case of these people, the one-dimensionality of their actual existence and experience as movie-characters is called into question vis a vi the multi-dimensionality of the real-life problem they're faced with which makes them a source of comedy (perhaps they've just been 'on the screen flickering for too long' says one of them in a moment of cynical self-awareness).

In this way, the cinema characters of the film within the film mirror the the reality of Cecilia and her husband and their struggle: they're poor, she's a struggling waitress, he's a philandering husband, and they daily wonder how they'll survive. They live a life of contingency and anxiety, one whose time refuses to release them but, rather, holds them back, keeps them stuck in a moment they can't seem to escape so they can move towards a different, perhaps better future. This is a life of depth, of three-dimensions, where what we see (a smile for instance) isn't what it seems but betrays an inner struggle of some kind. As real people, we as spectators identify with this reality; and the spaces of the film that portray it seem to have the same kind of multi-dimensional depth of ordinary moments of life and to share its anxiety, complexity and contingency. These are real people who need real solutions, not just any old dream will do.

Which is why, from within this contingent reality, when we're confronted with the one-dimensionality of Tom Baxter, movie-character-become-real-life-person and his expressions of love and romance, we're justifiably skeptical (and so is the film, which becomes another source of comedy). For he confronts reality with nothing more than what's been written into his script and the situations he needs to act out and his experience of the way the characters he interacts with have been designed to respond. He pays with fake movie-dollars, thinks sex, as we've already mentioned, takes place in the darkness of the fade-out and can't imagine other, real people need to work to survive or wash their clothes and hair daily to stay clean. This naiveté becomes problematic for Cecilia as he pursues her in terms of her belief that he's capable of being realistic about their chances to succeed together. She feels the pull of the romance he offers, of the opportunity to join him in enacting the cinematic in her real life, the way he approaches moments as an actor would, charges them with cinematic sensation and the romance of Hollywood as he holds her close while wearing his safari hat. He is the man from the film, but quite literally just as deep as him, with no experience beyond it, none of the complexities, baggage, problems of a real person: none of the experience dealing with reality that would make his statements properly contingent on what he can expect to achieve in reality (which is basically nothing). He's like a child in many respects, which is both part of what makes him attractive to her but also what undermines his credibility as someone to take serious and who could really make their dreams together reality.

From within the context of the contingent and the dysfunctional the potential for certain moments to seem like possibilities for release on account of their seeming like scenes we've seen in cinema, that do have a happy ending, sometimes present themselves: times where we're confronted in daily life with these moments that seem like moments in a film. Tom Baxter holds Cecilia in her arms and speaks passionately to her of his love for her at the same time that life's troubles vanish and life seems like a cinema dream; the couple walks into a cinematic representation of a luxurious New York apartment and suddenly, rather than being two people lost and out of place within the film, exploring the montage of places and spaces, they become the film, are a living extension and reinvention of it at that moment (the other characters sitting around, bored and lost just a distant memory); and as Cecilia packs her bags to leave for Hollywood with Gil Shepard, throws her things into a suitcase, fights for the last time with her husband (and we believe it this time, significantly), she seems destined for better things now, she's on the right path, resolute and unwavering. These are the moments in the film that have this cinematic quality, when what we see seems reflective or referential of other cinematic moments, when it loses dimensionality, becomes flat and surface; these are also the moments when we see (at the very least, explicitly, according to the narrative) a life released into a new present from an old one, where anxiety dissipates and a dream begins. Is it just a consequence then, the simple result of the application of a technique that uses citations to pre-existing cinematic image-sequences that these moments seem flat to us, seem cinematic? Or is it not perhaps possible that these moments, rather than simply reflecting a pre-existing cinematic image (which they also clearly do), also directly express a moment of life as a dream, of the kind of functioning life-in-the-moment that we also dream of, stuck as we are within the contingency of reality? Moments that are factually more than simply references to cinema but are themselves moments of dreams that also reference or mimic cinema that, rather than being explained away by their cinematicity, have cinematicity as part of a more complex relationship to reality and dream2.

That is to say: that we see in the film, the filmed image of real lives becoming life fulfilling a dream that, we, as spectators, see occur just as we would if we also shared that dream. Its not just that Cecilia and Tom Baxter, as characters have properly imitated the cinematic image and, in so doing, created the kind of cinematic consciousness we've been discussing; but it is rather that the real-life Jeff Daniels and Mia Farrow who play them do, that in the course of 'acting' this sequence they fulfill their dreams as actors, to be there on the set with Woody Allen, an historic director, on an important film that seeks to expose the depths of the cinematic in life and, for a brief moment, their life becomes more than just an assemblage of written roles and learned personalities, but they become cinema themselves as they become the dream they've always imagined, becoming that historical one-dimensionality projected on a screen that they have dreamed of fulfilling all their lives. In this way, is it not possible that the life filmed itself has become dream is the reason that it appears to us as cinematic, rather than that it was portrayed as cinematic that it appears as dream?3.

Concluding

The cinema was always envisioned, from its inception, to be something other than reality. Film was black and white like our dreams; cinema chose for itself a frame-rate of 24-frames/second, which was too slow to capture the smoothness and realism of motion, but also fast enough to not appear like simply a sequence of photographs. Through these technical choices, film became something extra-ordinary, something surreal, something that provoked the imagination. But perhaps these techniques were always really unnecessary and the cinema could have accomplished its function as a dream-machine without them. Perhaps all that was eve necessary was to actually film dreams.

This is what Woody Allen has accomplished in The Purple Rose of Cairo. He has filmed dreams; but he has done so within the context of a broader objective: to show us the place and the role of dreams in our lives and to show us the relationship the cinema has to producing and sustaining them. It is through his film that we can achieve this new awareness of the functioning of Hollywood as a factory of dreams (which is what it's always called itself). And so what is his verdict then on these dreams and on the cinema's ability to produce for us dreams with the potential and possibility for fulfilling them in our own lives? Cecilia realizes the impossibility of herself becoming cinematic, of entering into a film and living a life with a film-character that could never become as real as the reality of its dream. Reality is too strict for such naiveté, and we could almost discount it at first sight, though it still puts up a respectable fight. But even her attempt to live a real-life dream, to throw her clothes hastily into a single suitcase and jump on a plane to Hollywood to live a life with a real movie actor4 falls flat and she's left standing there outside the movie theater alone, in disbelief, on the edge with her suitcase; and he's already left town immediately after the problems there getting his cinematic representation back into the screen were resolved and sits, as we see him, in his private plane reflecting on the life, the Real Life with her that could have been. For some, the contingency and tireless work of Real Life is a dream they can only, at certain moments temporarily, touch, before the exigencies of their reality sweeps them away to their own real-life dream-concerns. For others, a life of glamour and ease, of a life that just works and fulfills everything we ever wanted from it, seems like a mirage that's always beyond our reach. And if it comes, it is certain not to stay.

But we in the Real World always have access to those dreams: we can always go to town, sit in a dark room with other strangers, remove ourselves from the struggles of reality and see the dreams of others projected there for us, day after day, year after year. And so it is that Cecilia, despondent and totally abandoned by her dreams, perhaps out of boredom or sheer inability to think of any single other thing to do at that moment, re-enters the movie theater to sit again in darkness to see what Hollywood has in store for her, to see if there is anything that can assuage her pain. And as the picture moves, and the music plays, and the dancers glide from one edge of the screen to the other in perfect harmony, their exquisite dress and romantic movements begin to have an effect. And, despite that we can see through them, see their lack of depth and economic purpose, know the impossibility of our ever being a part of them; still, and resolutely in spite of this, we look at the screen in wonder and amazement as, for a few brief minutes anyway, we are again removed from our ordinary lives and elevated to dream.

A Few Loose Ends

We began with some statements of fact about The Purple Rose of Cairo. Through the course of exploring the film, we came to see these points from the perspective of our own experiences and to reflect on the significance of the poetry in the film not, as we began, as the result of this or that technique by a gifted film-maker, but as the result of the communicability of dreams themselves, that dreams filmed remain dreams even when seen by a spectator at the opposite end of the networks of film, sitting looking at the cinema screen. As a result we came to see these opening statements from the perspective of our own subjective experience.

Three new avenues for exploring cinema and the history of cinema seem to present themselves now. First, as concerns the philosophy of cinema and the exploration of the concepts proper to it and its unique form of communicability: we have differentiated a new use of the cinematic image that goes beyond its use as a building-block in the language of cinema towards its use as a kind of meta-commentary. Certainly, this insight is not really that new, other films have done the same (many Coen brother's films, for instance, the TV series Fargo, The Sopranos); but what is missing to date is an exploration of this phenomenon and technique that might find its use linked to a transformation and becoming-meta of cinema that has some consequence for the future directions of the evolution of the language of cinema. Second, and as we've already mentioned, there is the exploration of this kind of dream-perception which lies totally outside the scope of cinema that forms one mode of perception for us whose history of expression into and through the technology of cinema needs to be traced. No such study appears to have as-yet been undertaken. Third, there is the issue now of seeing the products of cinema in a new light: for while it has always been clear that Hollywood studios produced dreams, it could not have ever been stated with any certainty whether these dreams themselves were simply products of some sort of artifice or technique (which has always actually been the dominant narrative surrounding them)5. Seeing the dreams of Hollywood themselves as filmed dreams changes the focus of the problem from not how they might be artificially created, but to how they are transmitted through the assemblage of cinema, its methods of production, distribution and reception. It raises the question of what it means to quite literally share dreams in the moment of reception despite the objective fact of their being recorded much earlier. And it changes, perhaps, how we might look on the whole of cinema, not as objective technology, but as a subjective one, as a technology that structures our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to history.

Finally, its probably true that The Purple Rose of Cairo could have done with a much more simplified analysis without missing much of any of its value. The film says precisely what it means and it doesn't make a big deal out of it either; in fact, its a comedy. It's also not the first film to grapple with this topic either. Films like Nurse Betty, Galaxy Quest, and the Coen brothers' recent Hail, Caeser! (which is really the closest analogue, and we wrote about it here), and even Woody Allen's Radio Days (albeit, the imagination as relates to the radio, which is something he connects though to the cinema, as we wrote previously here) have made something of this problem as well. But where The Purple Rose of Cairo stands apart is by being the most complete expression of life lived amidst cinema. That it is the result itself of the lifetime experience of one who has lived cinema, is cinema himself (as historic writer, director, producer), should come as no surprise. And so, if anything has been accomplished (and perhaps counter-intuitively) here, hopefully it will have been to strip away the focus on technique and theory as a principle for film-making and analysis and put the focus on the lives behind the camera, and the lives behind the screen and the reality of the dreams that they express that isn't such a simple issue of desiring what seems the impossible goal of achieving a presence oneself on that screen, but something more complex.

And a Final (Self-)Critical Remark

At some point the thesis that cinematic moments appear cinematic to a spectator as a result of their being dreams lived within the context of cinema's moment of production remains a speculative one that does require further exploration (for instance, through honest, insightful conversations with actors). The alternative possibility that we haven't yet considered would be that the appearance of flatness that defines that cinematic image is the result simply of the one-dimensionality of the acting that produces it that makes it appear as if it is dream to a spectator because it expresses the absence of complexity and contingency of dream-moments through the focused intentions of their script. This would also seem to be more in line with what Woody Allen intended (it fits, for instance, with all the jokes about Tom Baxter's limited experience in real life and with the critical comedy around the characters left lounging around on the screen). It seems though, that this would only be enough to produce the appearance of the cinematic sequence: man walking here, doing this, meeting person, going on a trip, falling in love etc, all done according to a script, all part of a logical narrative sequence that gives it the impression of being a mechanical life (which, since it actually is, as captured photographs played back to us machinically makes sense). We still need to ask again: why do certain moments in this film, despite also being scripted, not appear cinematic? Cecilia and her husband's life is decidedly not cinematic; neither are most of the moments she shares with Tom Baxter, nor those with Gil Shepard. Perhaps scripting, acting and filming alone is not enough to produce the appearance of the cinematic (there is, of course, purely bad acting), but that some more complex interaction within the moment of acting a role occurs between the scripted character and the emotional and psychological investment required from the real life behind the role to take it to this next level of imagination and dream. In this case, while we would still be watching, as spectators, the expression of dreams through the roles the actors play, we would also be watching, perhaps, specifically cinematic dreams, or at least those that can only arise within the context of the cinema. So, then, would these be primarily empty dreams (from the perspective of the spectator, of Real Life) whose expression would evoke only the expanse and vastness of fame and recognition achievable through the cinema and the joy of occupying its central projective kernel6? Or might they be regular, Real Life dreams, as we've already proposed, that express themselves in the moment of cinema's production and coincidentally as a result of it? Or, perhaps, simply both?


  1. Deleuze for his part, takes this exploration of the linguistic and poetic potential of film to its end in his cinema books (Cinema 1 and Cinema 2). Specific to our problem here, he considers the way in which the movement between objectivity and subjectivity in film and the subjectivity of the poetic moment its dissonance creates itself can take on a perceptible intention on its own, how its movement can tend towards, on the one hand, a liquidity of movement, of a continuousness of movement that evokes, he says, a kind of maritime existence, of life in-between, on the sea where the only point of reference is other movement itself; and then how, in film such as those of Vertov, the frenzy of movement, the juxtaposition of perspectives in objects of all kinds, between objects and people can reach such a point so as to extend movement to its limits, to the limits of the universe to reveal the stasis of particles in space and the 'lines of flight' and escape that illuminate it, what he calls the possibility of cinema to express a gaseous-image, a molecular image. Certainly, experimental cinema has made the possibility of these kinds of expression visible to us, and they have been explored in detail, to the highest degree at which point the concepts inherent to the cinema itself arise for themselves, which is the entire endeavor and philosophical project of Deleuze.

  2. See the final section of this article ('And a Final Concluding Remark') for an alternative perspective on these dream moments that re-raises the possibility of their being the result of scripted acting and cinematic citation.

  3. Deleuze's second cinema book, Cinema 2: the time-image, describes an alternate mode within which cinema communicates: anxiety. In this article we've focused basically exclusively on the cinematic moments, their lack of depth etc but we could equally have looked at those moments of anxiety and of depth. According to Deleuze, once the predominant form of early cinema began to break down post-WWII with the collapse of social structures and institutions in post-war Europe, of the uncertainty about what to do and the right way forward, a new form of cinema began to emerge whose mode of communication was entirely different: while early cinema was based around what he calls the action-image, of the predictability of action to lead to consequence of the ability to link them together into sequences of cause and effect that drove a plot or narrative, post-war cinema began to express itself through what he calls the time-image. This is a cinema defined by characters who don't know what to do, who grasp for one thing then another, that behave erroneously and provisionally. And its through the repeated failures of these character that the spectator begins to become aware of the more important character of the moment in which these character find themselves: the time within which they are stuck and that conditions all their activity that will never have the possibility of escape so long as the time itself has not been exhausted and reached its end.

  4. Who has also fallen in love with Cecilia as a result of her adoration, perhaps and who introduces the validation of his greatest admirer into his life: another cinematic image, this time for the actor himself.

  5. Accounting for a film like James Cameron's Avatar within this framework, it seems, would be particularly interesting even though, at first glance, this kind of film, along with all other CGI-based films seems to present a particular problem to this approach.

  6. In this way we could imagine dream-images particular to certain cinemas: the vastness of recognition and the glamour of life of the Golden Age of Hollywood; or the absence of fame and the impossibility of glamour, success, or transcendence of ordinary life that might be characteristic of a more recent cinema that would include films like Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine; or the rugged individuality and self-reliance of the Western, what we see for instance of the cinematic in the Coen brother's True Grit. In this way, perhaps, through the emergence of the cinema, the structuring and categorization of dreams has become possible in this more evolved and differentiated way, but remains one that still rests on a fundamental dream-perception that cinema both mines and produces.