A BLAST FROM THE PAST - My 1973 Master's Thesis
VIDEO: A SYNTHETIC ART or Einstein/Eisenstein...it's all relative

I sat in my room with the radio blaring Bach, leafing through books, organizing my thesis. I saw it was eight o'clock and time for a John Ford western on channel nine. I switched the radio off, turned the TV on and returned to the books. It was then that I realized the bombardment of the senses that one undergoes today; the necessity of being able to jump from one level to another, to mix a variety of stimuli at one time.

It is the same type of skill that one needs in driving a car, while talking to a friend, with the radio on, jammming on the brakes, looking in you rear view mirror and then watching a nice girl walking down the sidewalk; all within three or four seconds. One must constantly reduce the amount of stimuli from one source, increase the amount from another and begin to add a third source that is just beginning. It may sound, in written, linear form to be disconnected, fractured experience but in actuality it achieves and upbeat continuity. It stems from natural understanding and acceptance of the world in which we live.

This then introduces the basic themes; the structure of contemporary experience and how that experience is translated into the narrative of film and television. The historical examination will then act as a prelude to a formal analysis of my tape.

"Art, on the other hand, has in the last hundred years turned into complaining. It's the expression of moral discomfort, unhappiness, incomprehension, but that is all. This complaining is based on a refusal to know the world; we are complaining because we are confronted by a world whose architecture we cannot grasp." 1

So spoke Roberto Rossellini in 1965, though his view of art of the last hundred years is surely a minority viewpoint to the majority of serious artists. Yet, this viewpoint has been held by a series of talented artists within the last fifty years, especially those involved with the narrative film. This attitude, however, has very seldom appeared in print, for many of these film directors felt little need to analyze their aesthetic position. 2

In France of the early 1930's there was a man of the theater who was profoundly dissatisfied with the state of theater in the Western World. It was Antonin Artaud, who through his studies in Oriental theater, especially of Balinese Dancers, the Japanese Noh Theater, Shakespeare and of direct observations of the theatrical rituals of the Tarahumara Indians of Central Mexico was brought to claim in his celebrated First Manifesto of the Theater of Cruelty,

"This empiricism, randomness, individualism and anarchy must cease. Enough of personal poems, benefiting those who create them much more than those who read them. Once and for all, enough of this closed, egotistic, and personal art" 3

Artaud calls for a public art, an art, which, instead of being remove from society, is an integral part of that society, as was the case with the various theaters that he found of particular interest. Artaud states that,

"It is not a matter of boring the public to death with transcendent cosmic preoccupation's. That there must be profound keys to thought and action with which to interpret the whole spectacle, does not in general concern the spectator, who is simply not interested. But still they must be there; and that concerns us." 4

The themes must be submerged, so as not to clutter the action, and in doing this the artist yields to "The essence of dramatic form..." as Stanley Kubrick says in a recent Time Magazine article,

"...is to let the an idea come over people without it being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to it for themselves." 5

This latter idea implies a belief in the audience to discover truths; and in a larger sense, the participation of the viewers in their discoveries becomes a public ritual. This then is a way of making art which depends, for a large part, on the artists faith in mankind, and unfortunately,

"It is not the intellectuals or the dilettantes who believe in this power of mankind. Nameless millions, engaged in bitter day-to-day struggle, believe somehow in a brilliant living future - insist it is impossible that men live and die for nothing," 6

as Fritz Lang said in 1948. This undercurrent of dissent among artists asks the same question as Jerome Robbins does,

"Why does it all have to be so dissected, separated, and alienated so that there is almost a conscious push to disconnect, " 7

As exemplified by Nam June Paik,

"...you have to define what you do against what they (popular culture) are doing. We want to make it more crude if they are perfect, we want to make it more boring if they are exiting - you know?" 8

This then brings us back to the original Rossellini quote about "complaining" and "not understanding the architecture of the world." But what exactly is this architecture that seems so elusive?

Once again, I think a quote from Roberto Rossellini may be instructive,

"The Renaissance is an immense fact in the history of mankind! Artists knew how to plunge themselves into a scientific reality, to appropriate it for themselves, to rethink it, and make it accede to the rank of superior art." 9

In the year 1905, Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity and in 1908, D.W. Griffith, in his film, After Many Years, used the parallel cut-back. I do not believe in the mere coincidence of these two facts. I believe that both men came to the same discovery in their respective mediums, through their genius and took another forward step in the evolution of human knowledge. They both discovered the time/space continuum.

It is very important that the phrase, time/space continuum, be used. The importance of "time/space" can best be explained by Herman Minkowski, the renowned German mathematician who states,

"...space and time separately have vanished into the merest shadows, and only a sort of combination the two presents any reality." 10

Griffith discovered the time/space relationship by combining two 'filmic' spaces or two shots of different locals in his 'filmic' time narrative, via the novels of Dickens, while a few years later, in Russia, V.I. Pudovkin was to analyze the relationship by saying,

"The film director has as his material the finished recorded celluloid...The elements of reality are fixed on those pieces by combining them in his selected sequence according to his desire, the director builds his own "filmic" time and "filmic" space." 12

While Dziga Vertov would express it in this way,

"Montage in Time and Space...They are lowering coffins of National heroes (shot in Astrakhan in 1918), they fill in the graves (Kronstadt 1921), cannon salute (Petrograd 1920) memorial service hats come off (Moscow 1922) These actions go together even in the ungrateful, not specially filmed material (See Kino-Pravda #13)." 13

In all of the above examples, time and space have absolute dependence upon each other. Each shot in narrative -sequence depends not only on the composition, lighting, etc. (its' pictorial values) but also upon its duration, and relative placement with the other shots. The shots cannot exist outside of the time relationship with each other, nor can the time have any relation without its dependence on the space inherent in each shot, and the time created by the series of spaces in their montage sequence.

Thus, if one were to alter the length of time of a particular shot, the filmic space would be changed. An example of this would be; a medium shot of a man at a desk, a close-up of the phone as it rings, the man picks up the phone, cut to the medium shot again to catch the action of the phone being raised to the ear, the man talks.

Now imagine a medium shot of the same man at a desk, cut to a close -up of the phone as it rings, the man picks up the phone but the shot lingers on the phone and only cuts back to the man after the phone is hung up. In the first sequence, at the close-up of the phone we may notice the type of phone but that is about all, in the second sequence the entire space surrounding the phone takes on a visual prominence that never would have been noted in the first, we notice the shape of the phone, maybe the kind of desk, something else we may not have noticed before but our entire conception of the space has been changed by the duration of our viewing.

One other example to illustrate this time/space relationship would be a long shot of a courtyard, a man starts from the left of the picture frame and walks across the courtyard, the camera remains still till he reaches the gate which is on the right of the frame; cut to a medium shot of the gate; the man emerges. Now the same opening long shot of the courtyard, the man begins across, before he is all the way across we cut to him walking to the gate and opening it.

The first sequence takes six seconds, the second sequences take three seconds. In the first sequence we experience the walk across the courtyard much as would an actual on-the-spot observer, yet in the second we also experience walking across that courtyard, yet the time has been compressed by three seconds; viewing this second sequence in the course of a film would not leave the audience feeling cheated. This due to the last part of the expression "time/space continuum."

Einstein postulates that,

"...all the phenomena of nature, all the laws of nature, are the same for all systems that move uniformly relative to one another." 14

While in a similar vein we hear Sergei Eisenstein in 1939 say,

"At last we have placed in our hands a means of learning the fundamental laws of art--laws which hitherto we could snatch at only piecemeal, her a bit from the experience of painting, there a bit from theater practice, somewhere else from musical theory. So, the method of cinema, when fully comprehended, will enable us to reveal an understanding of the method of art in general." 15

Who better than a movie director, who has to shoot the climax of his film first, then shoot a scene with a character actor as a young man one day, as an old man the next day, because the actor has other commitments, then go back and shoot his opening sequence in a California studio, then move to Alaska for some location shooting and to continue in this manner for a month and a half, constantly striving for an overall unity and continuity, can understand the practical applications of a space/time continuum? Thus the film director who may have naturally and without realizing the fact come upon this new way of looking at the work, just as Einstein,

"from his own concept of gravitation...attained a view of the vast architecture and anatomy of the universe as a whole."

With this in mind, we see that,

"For here-in-cinema for the first time we have achieved a genuinely synthetic art- an art of organic synthesis in its very essence..." 16

as Eisenstein states. So that in a remark by Willoughby Sharp,

"What I'm consciously involved in is devising a way that is structurally intrinsic to television." 17

we see a failure to grasp the architecture beneath the experience of this century and an insistence upon a viewpoint, which in view of Einstein's restructuring of old concepts, seems somewhat beside the point. With the addition of sound to film, the synthetic nature of film became more apparent, but a problem with time/space came up when a discrepancy was found between what was filmed and what the enlarged projected image conveyed.

Frank Capra found that in filming an early sound picture American Madness; the action, which seemed to be timed well when shot and view on a movieola, was , when translated to the big screen, slower and not as interesting. His solution;

"...a scene that would rehearse in on minute I'd (force the actors to) cut down to forty seconds. It did look faster when we photographed it, but

when we finally got it on the screen, there was an urgency about it..." 18

Howard Hawks also says,

"I've tried to make my dialogue go fast, probably twenty percent faster

that most pictures." 19

This discrepancy between 'filmic' time and "filmic" space was resolved by a simple ploy and yet behind this ploy, there is a natural understanding of modern experience.

This application of new techniques in a new aesthetic is best summarized by Sergei Eisenstein when he says,

"A place must be prepared in the consciousness for the arrival of new themes which, multiplied by the possibilities of new techniques, will demand new aesthetics for the expression of them new themes in the marvelous creations of the future." 20

This now leads me to discuss television, which I consider to be an electronic extension and enlargement of those attitudes and aesthetics which first produced narrative films and gave a continuity to the modern experience. In talking about television criticism, Marshall McLuhan echoes the above thoughts of Eisenstein,

"The main cause of disappointment in and for criticism of television

is the failure on the part of its critics to view it as a totally new technology which demands different sensory responses." 21

In his book, Understanding Media, McLuhan links television with relativity,

"In the ABC of Relativity Bertrand Russell began by explaining that there is nothing difficult about Einstein's ideas, but that they do call for total reorganization of our imaginative lives. It is precisely this imaginative reorganization that has occurred via the TV image." 22

This reorganization has occurred through the repeated viewing of television, by those who were open enough o accept a new technology and make this "electronic altar" a part of their homes. This "altar" becomes the focus of a ritualizing process which allows the individuals to become involved in an experience shared by millions, and yet never leave the comfort and safety of his won home. This electronically shared experience can then, as some future time, become a binding or unifying force between individuals who may have been miles apart during the actual program transmission.

Reluctance to accept he synesthesia of a time/space audio/visual presentation can be traced back to a typographic, photographic, verbal, one dimensional way of seeing things, which because of its one dimensional orientation cannot clearly see its way through he synthetic art of the time/space continuum. This "blame" can be seen in the writings of McLuhan and Rossellini, and in a remark to the point, McLuhan says,

'The banal and ritual remark of the conventionally literate that TV presents an experience for passive viewers, is wide of the mark. TV is `above all medium that demands participant response." 24

This participant response that McLuhan speaks of arises from TV's use of dramatic form, in the sense that Stanley Kubrick uses the phrase quoted earlier in this paper. restated the axiom could read, "never state what you can imply." 25 It is through this device that the audience is made to participate, and in television especially, there is an inherent capability of a mass, electronic ritual. Once in a while, this capability is made apparent in such national events as the Super Bowl or more dramatically in the case of President Kennedy's funeral, which according to McLuhan, "manifested the power of TV to involve an entire population in a ritual process." 26

Another interesting parallel between film and television exist in the form of the TV news report. In the news reports linking of disparate events, which gives them a new continuity and meaning, we see an echo of Dziga Vertov's example of montage in time and space.

The TV news report show the anchorman in the studio, then there is , by way of an electronic matting device called the chroma-key, a scene of the next story behind the anchorman, at the conclusion there is a cut on the scene in the background but the anchorman remains in the same position and the camera slowly pans away from the announcer and begins to zoom into the background which was not a slide this time but a film, taken earlier in the day.

The anchorman's voice narrates this section of film, so we still have a space/time link with the studio, then the next segment is a film with a voice over by the roving reporter, but the continuity is kept, as over the bottom of the screen the reporter;s name and the channel number are superimposed. The continuity is again stressed at the end of the film clip as the reporter repeats his name and the channel of the news report. Cut back to the shot of the anchorman as he narrates one more story and then runs down a short list of stories to come, to help reinforce the continuity over the commercial break.

Speaking of commercials, I would now like to introduce them by way of a quote from Andy Warhol,

"Whenever I watch a show without 'commercial interruption' I get itchy." 27

This reveals an attitude that I think is very instructive in the form of TV. I think that the commercials are one of the main reasons for the rhythmic vitality of television. TV commercials are, in a strictly formal sense, the most interesting moments in television or as McLuhan states,

"Most often the few seconds sandwiched between the hours of viewing, -'the commercials'- reflect a truer understanding of the medium." 28

Whereas, many shows on TV are based on a film aesthetic and sense of 'filmic' time/space, hence many people's annoyance with commercial interruptions, but in shows that fit in a television form, the commercials become less annoying and actually become a part of the program. The only times I have been truly annoyed with commercials was when they interrupted a movie and that is obviously because the movie was not made with the form of television in mind.

"Commercials are pick-me-ups;..." 29

As Andy Warhol says, through commercials quick paced, rhythmically vital, visually exciting, compressed-time seconds, we are made all the more aware of the beat of television. Television must go constantly all day and into the night, and sometimes the early morning; without commercials it would have no beat, it would have no rhythm. It would have a deadening beat of half-hours or hours or no beat or rhythm at all without commercials. An alternative would be to allow shows to be any length and then each week chart a new rhythm for each day, but that seems highly impractical, whereas with a set format which allows slights variation everyday we are assured that, just as Alexander Pope found endless variation with the end-rhymed couplet in poetry, we will find endless rhythmical variations on the TV everyday. Just as audiences learned to accept the parallel cut-back in Griffith's films and still retain a continuity, TV audiences have learned to accept "commercial interruptions" and not loose their continuity. It is through his structure that TV looks forward to the future.

When I first took a TV production course at Rochester Institute of Technology, I really had no idea what I was in for, because at that time I discovered a way of making Art, that fulfilled all my needs as an artist and as a member of a larger society. I did not realize until I was in the course for about a month, that I was being taught a way to make a way to see the world. The men who taught this to me, I do not think, ever considered their work in this light, but to them I am eternally grateful. Richard Schiekel, talking about Alfred Hitchcock, Raoul Walsh, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, William Wellman and King Vidor has said,

"They had witnessed the birth of the movies' technical conventions and those conventions seemed to these men as

natural as the conventions of written discourse seem to a professional writer. There is, simply, a way of doing in the movies which they absorbed almost unconsciously in their youth and saw no reason to analyze it." 30

This "way of doing" I will now relate to the decisions made in my production. Before I begin, however, I would like to also to mention D.W. Griffith and John Ford as the directors who were not mentioned above but who are my greatest influences.

The number one rule above all else is simplicity. Simplicity of form, simplicity of technique is repeated by all these men. John Ford talking to William Wellman in the early 1920's said,

"We're beginning to get too tricky. Moving the camera too much. You're doing more than I am. So let's stop it. Let's do what we used to do. Make the picture the simplest, easiest, nicest, most quietest, most natural way you can make it and stop all this stuff." 31

Howard Hawks repeats this sentiment,

"I was just going to shoot it as plain as I could shoot it." 32

and Charlie Chaplin, in the same vein states,

"Simplicity of approach is always best. Personally I loathe tricky effects." 33

In my production, I used one light, a strong backlight, which I knew from watching Italian horror films, would shine translucently through the girl's blouse and create a nice visual effect. This also had the effect of not lighting her face which fit into the story I was trying to tell, of remembering a general image rather than a specific person.

One camera was set on a long shot, the composition of the shot related to the composition of the drawings by a strong diagonal. One camera was a medium long shot, slightly closer than the first camera but behind the third camera, which was entirely on close-ups. This had the effect, when dissolving from two to three of a movement in, or out, if dissolving from three to two.

Camera one zoomed in slowly at the beginning, the climax and the end. Camera two did not move for the entire production. Camera three zoomed in a the climax and panned with the dancer if she moved out of frame, but because two was always on a black background the movement was masked and it appeared stationary.

"Quick cutting and dissolving from one scene to another are the dynamics of film technique,"

according to Charlie Chaplin. With this in mind, my cameras were stationary (also not zooming) nine-tenths of the time,, all movement was within frame or in the dissolves or cuts.

The drawings were repetitions of one composition, as was the slide. These were on a separate camera in the control room, camera four.

Ingmar Bergman says,

"The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion' I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect." 34

With this in mind, I knew that the music I choose would have to have the same structure as the final taping, I had decided to go with the music, on the beat, instead of using counterpoint. The final choice, Ralph Vaughn William' Pastoral Symphony, the last movement, seemed to be the best choice formally. I favor a cyclical form with the beginning and the ending on approximately the same shot because I feel it conveys a sense of things remaining the same , while at the same time it points up all the changes that have occurred. The opening dissolves into a log shot with a slight breeze rippling through her hair and clothes, the camera slowly zooms into a medium shot.

The ending is a superimposition of a close-up of the girl and a close-up of the man, the camera on the girl slowly zooms back to along shot, there is no breeze, the close-up of the man is slowly lost, the image of the girl lingers and fades to black. The memory, fresh when first remembered, looses some of its vitality in the process of remembering, especially, if in that process, we try and convert that memory into the self-conscious awareness of art. Yet it cannot be destroyed, it lingers, only to come again.

The taping must be planned out in advance,

"...however tiny and however short the pieces of film are- they must be written down in just the same a composer writes down those little black dots from which we get beautiful sound." 35

according to Alfred Hitchcock. The entire opening sequence, the climax, the ending and the short intense horn parts (about three altogether) were planned out, shot by shot, one after another. I used these planned sequences as the "tune" of the pieces, they were all variations on a cutting " theme" camera one, camera three, camera two, camera three, camera two, camera one, with camera four on the graphics, used as a variation on the "theme". This variation became a dominant factor in the climax and the ending.

The rest of the taping was improvisations off the basic theme. I had never done this before, but being familiar with the music of John Coltrane, heavily influenced my decision. Coltrane take s tune, My Favorite Things, for example, and through variations on that tune, he produces a rhythmically dynamic, deeply moving piece of music.

There were two factors which finally made up my mind to use this technique. The first being that I had, at this point, two years experience directing live productions and felt I had enough mastery of the studio situation to enable me to accomplish this. The second reason was that I had put so much preparation into this by memorizing the music, the dance and the planned sequences that I felt I had built up a solid enough framework with which I could improvise successfully.

The structure of the taping was introduction (which included the variations of the drawing s and slide), introduction of the main theme, improvisations on that theme, variations (the rather quick superimposition of the drawing), improvisations on the theme, the climax or the theme made bluntly obvious by straight cuts emphasizing the theme and variations on it, improvisations, anti-climax as the bluntness of the cut gives way to dissolves, and finally the conclusion which is a variation of the opening.

Through his structure I tell my story. The opening with the girl, allows the audience to take the perspective on the one who is remembering, this allows the audience to participate in a collective remembrance. The slow fade to black and fading to the landscape slide, do not break this continuity, but in the next step, the lap dissolve into the drawing, the audience is ushered into the world of the artist and it is the lap dissolve between identical compositions which achieves this without the audience realizing it. They accept the space/time of the artist as their own.

The memories are pleasant as we watch the dancer, but the voice over and the quick superimpositions of the drawing hint at something darker, more troublesome, yet the dancer draws most of our attention and we can shrug off the premonitions. It is at the climax when the close-up of the man bursts on the screen as the horns do in the music, that the audience realizes it has been looking in on someone else's memory, it is then that the theme is made evident, that memories, however pleasant they may seem, may have a darker side which may control us without our knowledge.

Once the audience realizes that they are seeing some else's memory, they then can be made to identify with the one who is remembering by cutting between the man and girl (his memory) so they realize that even though it is his memory, they may share it, in their new knowledge of the situation. The audience and the artist, both become aware of their susceptibility to an illusion that may be misleading. This awareness can only come about at the price of losing some, but not all, of the memory's vitality, as the final image, of the girl without any breeze reflects. But the memory lingers just as the image of the girl does.

Irving Thalberg, a Hollywood producer has said,

"Nobody has been able to say definitely whether picture making is really a business or an art...It should be conducted with budges and cost sheets, but it cannot be conducted with blueprints and graphs." 36

If the synthetic art that is the outcome of Einstein's' vision of the world is to follow his law of relativity, which says that,

"all the laws of nature, area the same for all systems that move uniformly relative to one another."

then the art of the future must learn to combine not only Art and Science, but Art and Business as well. This is happening already, as can be seen in this statement by Andy Warhol,

"Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist and I want to finish as a business artist. After I did the thing called "art" or whatever it's called, I went into business art. I wanted to be an Art Businessman or a Business Artist." 37

The synthetic arts are the arts of the future, they look forward with anticipation, no trepidation; they strive to combine all the arts and in doing so, reveal the fundamental laws which govern all the art The synthetic arts also bring the art back as a part of rather than apart from society. It embraces and utilizes all facets of society: religion, science, business and politics, thus revealing the relativity and continuity of all human endeavor.

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