The comedy of experimental cinema

American cinema, Blogpost, Canadian cinema, Experimental Cinema, Film reviews, Uncategorized

I can only say what I saw and heard (and felt and thought).

Over the last two evenings, I have attended two experimental film events. The first was a screening of Michael Snow’s La région centrale (Canada, 1971) at the Serpentine Gallery, which screened alongside the opening credits of Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1958) – with both being chosen by artist Lucy Raven, whose solo exhibition, Edge of Tomorrow, is currently on there. The second was a performance at Tate Modern of Tony Conrad’s 55 Years on the Infinite Plain (originally called 10 Years on the Infinite Plain when first performed in New York, USA, in 1972, and which has been growing in age ever since – now beyond Conrad’s death last year).

For those unfamiliar with either of these works, the former is a three-hour film shot on the top of a mountain in Québec, and which features images captured remotely by Snow using a robotic arm, to which Snow’s camera was attached, and which rotates in a long series of different directions. The latter is a 90-minute piece featuring ‘drone’ music and black and white strips that flicker on a screen from four projectors simultaneously.

Both experiences involve a fair amount of discomfort, not least because traditional cinema seats were not provided, with the viewer instead having to sit on a wooden stand (La région centrale) or on the floor (55 Years…). Standing is an option. But either way, one really feels the presence of one’s body as one tries to find comfort during the screenings (and live musical performance in the case of 55 Years…).

I am not an expert on experimental cinema. I have seen a fair amount, read a fair amount of literature about it, and also think about it (and occasionally write about experimental aspects of cinema that is otherwise not so overtly non-narrative as these two films).

I am driven to write about these back-to-back experiences, though, not simply to expose my ignorance of the subject (I can’t imagine that I shall say much that others have not written – or certainly thought – in relation to these films), but to convey some thoughts that I had while watching the films. Perhaps that is, after all, one of the things that a blog can do.

To get to my thoughts, though, we must describe what happens in the films. As I have already hinted, ‘not much happens’ from the perspective of someone looking for a film that tells a story. La région centrale features images captured by the camera as it moves round and round, back and forth, spinning upside down, moving in circles in all sorts of directions and more.

55 Years…, meanwhile, features a deep electric bass line (performed on this occasion by Dominic Lash), accompanied by violin (Angharad Davies) and long string drone (Rhys Chatham). At first one projector, then two, then three, then four fill the wide screen with the flickering lines, before all four projectors slowly begin to converge, their images overlapping, and then are turned off one by one, until only one flickering image remains.

Probably sounds pointless, maybe even dull, right – especially if one lasts 180 minutes and the other 90?

I do not think so. Indeed, quite the opposite.

The Snow experience induced in me so many different thoughts, which perhaps have at their core a sense of seeing the Earth as if through the eyes of an alien. Initially surveying the ground, the camera then begins to rotate in such ways that we are consistently being given new perspectives on our world – toying with it, twisting it, turning it, experimenting with it.

As María Palacios Cruz explained in her introduction, Snow deliberately tried to find a spot in his native Canada where no visible trace of human life could be seen (something that might recall my earlier post about the ‘American eye’ in relation to Le corbeau). In other words, he absolutely wants us to see the world from an inhuman perspective; to see the world ‘for itself.’

In the process, we begin to understand how as humans we often do not see the world ‘for itself’ but how it is ‘for us’ (and this is not necessarily a bad thing; we are driven to live and survive by our selfish genes, after all). By getting us to see the world ‘for itself,’ the world itself is made ‘alien’ to us, or we see the world as if through alien eyes. The film becomes a panoply of different ways to look at the world through the insistent movement of the camera – with the non-stop nature of that camera movement also bringing to mind the way in which our relatively static perspective of the world is perhaps key in bringing about our inability to see the world ‘for itself.’

For, the world is also movement – but generally we do not have eyes to see it. The rhythms of the world are perhaps too slow for us to detect. What Snow’s film does, then, is to bring to mind those rhythms. Not just Snow’s film, but by extension cinema as a whole is thus in part a machine to present to us something like ‘deep time’ – the long, slow rhythms of the world that extend further back than we can remember and further into the future than we can imagine (in other words, a world without humans). Perhaps this is why a narrative classic like Vertigo is also chosen to play in part alongside Snow’s film.

If Snow’s film takes us into the realm of planetary time, Conrad’s film takes us (or me, at least) into the realm of universal time.

Using black and whites strips alone, Conrad takes us into a realm whereby I am confronted not just with a world that exists far beyond the human realm, but with the way in which the world – the universe itself – comes into and out of being. If the world pre-existed humans by billions of years, and if it will outlive humans by billions of years (La région centrale), then Conrad’s film tells us that the universe pre-existed the world by trillions of years, and will continue to exist after the world has gone by trillions of years. (It exists beyond time itself, and beyond measure. Again, language becomes meaningless.)

More than this… 55 Years on the Infinite Plain tells us – in its flickering of white, or being, and black, or nothing – that existence itself comes into and out of being. That there is a beyond existence; that there is a beyond being; that there is a beyond ‘is’ – such that one cannot even express what we are describing since to say that ‘there is a beyond “is”‘ is clearly a contradiction in terms (how can not-is and is co-exist?)!

If language cannot suffice for the task of explaining what we see, then we enter into the realm of experience and of a new, different kind of thought (that also cannot be defined simply by what we ‘see,’ since it must be experienced, too).

What is the universe? But simply a flicker of light in an otherwise infinite blackness.

If 55 Years… takes us somehow beyond the universe, then it takes us into a realm not of a singular reality (a uni-verse), but into the realm of multiple realities. An alien perspective, or what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and physicist Aurélien Barrau might suggest is the necessary understanding that there is no world, but only multiple, infinite worlds.

As per the translation of their book on the matter: what is these worlds coming to? What these worlds is coming to (note the grammatical error; again, language does not quite suffice) is the co-existence of existence and non-existence. To invoke a different philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, being and nothingness at the same time.

Am I being pretentious? Possibly. I mean, people walked out of both screenings – and so clearly not everyone goes with these films. But at the end of 55 Years… the remaining audience members (perhaps as many as 100 people) sat in silence and darkness for about a minute. Finally, some applause – enthusiastic applause, some whoops of joy. Clearly they needed a moment to catch their thoughts, because this film had taken them somewhere different, somewhere special.

In other words, if to someone who was not there this all sounds like wank, to the majority of people who were there, this meant something – even if expressing it is and perhaps remains difficult. “That was absolutely fucking amazing,” said the woman sat next to me. I felt like dancing (and did nearly throughout 55 Years… – although I refrained from doing so).

Elsewhere I have written about how Hollywood presents to us narrative films that, even if they contain ‘puzzles’ for us to work out (my example is Inception, Christopher Nolan, USA/UK, 2010), they are still designed to be easy to consume and, by extension, not particularly challenging. I then suggest that films that do not involve narratives (my example is Five Dedicated to Ozu, Iran/Japan/France, 2003, by the late Abbas Kiarostami) can be quite challenging, even if there is no specific puzzle to work out – as we just see images of waves lapping the shore, or ducks walking along a beach, or a pond at night.

My argument in that essay is that common responses to Five… might include either ‘I got it after two minutes, so I do not know why I had to sit through that’ or ‘I did not get it’ – while people might easily say that they ‘got’ Inception (even though it is more than twice the length of Five…).

I suggest that there is not so much anything to ‘get’ with Five… (or Inception, or Vertigo – as its inclusion by Lucy Raven in her programme makes clear), but that one might ‘get into’ that sort of film by working at being an attentive audience member and beginning to marvel at what a wave lapping against the shore is and might mean (is it not a miracle that this happens?) as opposed only to marvelling at special effects and ‘mind-bending ideas’ (even though the leaders of the two largest energy companies in the world sit next to each other on an aeroplane and do not recognise each other).

(Besides which, whenever one says that one ‘got’ such a film after two minutes, they clearly do not ‘get’ it since part of getting it must involve experiencing the film in its entire duration, including the sense of slowness, and the different time or tempo of the piece. To demand that it be shorter is not to respect this otherness, but to apply one’s own rhythm to it, to curtail it, perhaps even to kill it.)

(Speaking of marvelling, I also found myself marvelling during 55 Years… about the fact that I can rotate my head. How is it possible that a human evolved from the mud of a planet that itself was a rock spewed from a star, such that it has a head that can rotate on a joint that sits atop a backbone and which contains eyes that can see and ears that can hear?)

To return from these loco parentheses: I make reference to my own essay not simply to continue to explain to a(n imagined?) ‘viewer-on-the-street’ that these non-narrative films might do something for us (and that thus people who might otherwise never go to watch such films might do worse than to give them a try), but also to correct what I wrote in that essay.

In that essay, I wrote that we might ‘get into’ films like Five Dedicated to Ozu by putting in some effort ourselves (rather than having nigh everything served up to us on a plate, as per Inception). However, now I think it would be better to suggest that we do not ‘get into’ but that we ‘get with’ such films (which is not necessarily to the exclusion of ‘getting with’ mainstream films; I believe that we can get with cinema as a whole – but don’t think that we should only get with the mainstream at the expense of the weird and the wonderful).

Why do I now want to say that we should ‘get with’ as opposed to ‘get into’ these films?

Well, in part this is to explain that getting a bit ‘pretentious’ (talking about cosmic things like a world without humans and a multiverse that exists and does not) is to get with what these films are doing, or at the very least what these films can do with us (it might also be an act of love if we were to say that we ‘go with’ these films – since coitus itself means to go with [co-itus] – as I have suggested here).

Furthermore, the preposition ‘with’ (a favourite of Jean-Luc Nancy) suggests not quite a disconnection from the world (seeing it through alien eyes), but also a connection with the world (seeing it ‘for itself’ – or from the perspective of a world that has seen so much more than humans and a multiverse that has seen so much more than our world).

Seeing through the eyes of the other, a kind of forgetting oneself, is also to commune with another – and in this case not just another human, but a whole other timescale (the entirety of existence) and space scale (a planet, a universe – as well, in the case of La région centrale when it shows us the land beneath the camera in close up, a rock, a patch of earth, a blade of grass). ‘With’ is to go beyond the self, to open the self up not only to the other human, but in the cases of La région centrale and 55 Years on the Infinite Plain, the inhuman.

Furthermore, ‘with’ always implies plurality, or a multiplicity of things and perspectives. For, one cannot be with anything or anyone if there is no thing or one beyond the self with which to be. With, therefore, suggests that we live in a multiverse, and that what these worlds is coming to is perhaps us, our understanding of the multiverse, and our place with it.

(The Conrad also suggests with in other ways – particularly the way in which my eyes when they move from left to right can make the flickers seem as though moving in that direction – before then moving in the other direction as my eyes move from right to left… That is, I am with the film in the sense that I co-create what I see; I see not just a different perspective, but a different perspective with my own eyes; I am entangled with the multiverse. This might seem to contradict the idea that I get beyond myself – but what perhaps really is exposed is not just the world beyond the self, but also the relationship between that world beyond self, and the self itself. What is exposed or revealed is our withness – and how the otherness of that with which we are is necessary for me even to exist and to have my sense of self/my perspective in the first place.)

I wish to end, then, by suggesting that these films do not just put us with the universe or multiverse. They put us with the medium of cinema, too, which opens us up to these new perspectives. I hear the 16mm projector rattle along during La région centrale, and I turn to see the projectors during 55 Years…. The experience of these two films is, then, to be with media, to be co-media, to be comedy.

What we can experience during these films is thus the comedy of the multiverse. When we find such films frustrating, we are perhaps taking them far too seriously (I personally found myself laughing regularly during both films as I marvelled at the possibility of anything existing at all). When we are serious, it is because we are rigid in our ways, in our thinking, and we are resistant to change. We do not become, we are not coming to, we are not with (perhaps we are solipsistically dreaming, a state of unconsciousness from which we can recover only by ‘coming to’).

To be less serious, to enjoy the comedy: this is not only a route to laughter and thus by extension happiness – it is perhaps also a route via with to wisdom (to be ‘other-wise’).

Long live experimental cinema. When screenings like these come along, I can only recommend one thing: get with it.

Spectre (Sam Mendes, UK/USA, 2015)

American cinema, Blogpost, British cinema, Film reviews, Uncategorized

Spoilers. And it’s long. Sorry.

The plot of Spectre is that James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers a secret society, Spectre, which is basically in charge of all world crime and terrorism, and which also has at its core a plot to develop a total surveillance society.

In some senses, the film is about information and quantification, against which it pitches memory and emotions.

For, if quantification is about measuring and thus giving to everything an extension/measurement, then memory is about quality and the irreplaceable intensity of experience (intensity, not extension).

The film is a fantasy, as marked in several moments in the film. It is also in some senses the last James Bond film, though Bond will almost certainly ‘return’ – as the end credits habitually announce.

Starting with the more mundane fantasy aspects, we can then build up to what I consider to be the more meaningful ones. We have:-

1. In the opening sequence, Bond attacks a helicopter pilot, who might well be an accomplice to the escaping Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), but who at this point in the film is – as far as audience members are concerned – just a helicopter pilot. He does later attack Bond. But since he is in the helicopter above a massive crowd of Mexicans celebrating the Day of the Dead, clearly Bond is not particularly concerned about innocent lives.

2. After inadvertently blowing up a building by shooting a bomb, Bond finds himself in a crumbling building. He slides down a collapsed floor, and then leaps on to a ledge – the remains of an already collapsed storey. The ledge collapses and Bond lands… on a sofa. The moment is funny, but also nonsensical; what happened to the collapsed ledge? why is the sofa not covered in the concrete that fell before Bond?

Perhaps correctly, one might already be thinking: this guy is taking this film too seriously. But these are already early signs that the whole of Spectre might be Bond’s fantasy. This is also signalled by the fact that helicopters, a collapsing building, and the motif of falling through a collapsing building all recur at the film’s climax. That is, the circular structure of the film not only signals ‘good storytelling,’ but its ‘neatness’ also potentially signals that ‘none of this is real.’ Or certainly, not realistic; who can have this sort of luck – both bad (the same things happen over and over again; the same things return) and good (the sofa, the final safety net).

Onwards…

3. Bond is involved in a car chase in Rome. At one point he finds himself stuck in a narrow alleyway behind an old guy in a small car past which he cannot drive. This gives evil henchman Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) a chance to catch him up, but ingenious as ever Bond simply uses his Aston Martin DB10 to push the old guy out of the way. But don’t worry – the old guy safely manages to come to a halt, only lightly boffing a bollard before his airbag punches him in the face.

A funny moment, except for two things, one of which we shall return to. Firstly, while stuck behind and/or pushing the old man’s car, we see Bond drive past at least two crossroads, down which he easily could have turned in order more successfully to flee Hinx. In other words, logic be damned for the sake of a good spectacle. Or rather, this is still all Bond’s fantasy.

Secondly, the film takes care to emphasise the fact that this old white Italian man survives Bond’s antics. Not so the no doubt various Mexicans who perished in the destroyed building in Mexico, and various other collateral victims of Bond’s antics throughout the rest of the film. The film, which as Bond’s fantasy also means Bond himself, believes a white European to be worth saving. Not so much anyone from the Third World.

4. Bond goes to find old rival Mr White (Jesper Christensen). He finds him in the basement of a house in Austria, where he is sat watching various television screens featuring… news coverage of disasters. This is straight out of South Park, and simply goes to signal that White is ‘evil.’ Given that this is a film that takes care to show us Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in espadrilles without socks and kissing a cat, why isn’t White making a cup of tea or something? Because this is a fantasy.

5. Personally, I also found ridiculous the white tie costume that Bond puts on for the dinner he has on a train with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Why dress up this way for a train dinner seems ridiculous to me. As does Hinx’s arrival. A fight ensues, and Hinx, who wears a weirdly flammable suit that goes up in flames after having a candle thrown at it, dies, in part through Madeleine’s help (she shoots him in the arm). After Hinx’s death, she asks – a line that telegraphs the next shot with such clarity that one wonders why there is no interception/unusual cutting: “What do we do now?” Cut to a sex scene (well, some rather prudish kissing anyway). The entire scenario is silly, especially since on the back of this one brief sexual encounter, Madeleine will shortly declare to Bond that she loves him. If knowing someone for about 48 hours and killing a third party is the recipe for love… then surely we are in a fantasy land.

6. The same goes for Bond’s seduction of Sciarra’s widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci). Bond kills two henchmen by shooting them in the back just before they finish her off (the reason for her necessary death not being too clear, except perhaps that she ‘knows too much’ – and apparently did not love her husband, or so Bond tells us anyway). And then he seduces her. Just like that. Because that’s what happens in real life.

7. Bond has injected into him some nanotechnology that means not only that Bond’s location can be known at all times (a phone can achieve this), but also his physical condition (the film never really explores this aspect of the tech). At first Bond convinces Q (Ben Whishaw) to lie about the information provided by the tech, before M (Ralph Fiennes) tells Q to destroy the files. Which is fine, if one wants to hide where Bond has been. The tech is still in his blood, though, and so finding where Bond is will be very easy for the film’s villains, since they can just track him using this tech. Which is perhaps the case, since Bond is found with ease at all times. But this does then beg the question why M would tell Q to destroy the records at all. (The film does not tell us that the baddies know where Bond is because of this tech.)

8. Bond is taken prisoner by Blofeld somewhere in the Sahara. Blofeld – dressed, as mentioned, in an oddly realistic way and rolling around on an executive (‘wheely’) chair – carries out some unnecessary dentistry on Bond before inserting a drill into what he says is Bond’s fusiform gyrus, the area of the brain in which humans stores memories for faces. Apparently Blofeld is not successful, since Bond remembers Madeleine instants later. Maybe Blofeld just missed. But this suggests something more strange…

9. The film climaxes in the old MI6 building, to which Bond is abducted by more Blofeld henchmen (who also die).

(Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Q are in a car behind M, who is heading to the new building for joint security agency, CMS. Cue the most redundant line in the film – from Moneypenny: “They’ve seen us, reverse,” she says before the henchmen shoot at the car, apparently grazing Q, though this is never confirmed to us. A real ‘no shit, Sherlock’ moment.)

Anyway, back to the MI6 building: Blofeld has had installed into it some weird ropes, suggesting something like a maze, as well as a bullet-proof screen, and a bomb. Just in case you didn’t know there was a bomb that might go off, the bomb conveniently produces a sort of ‘countdown’ sound, meaning that Blofeld also wired the ruined building with speakers just to remind Bond of the fact that he has a deadline: to find Madeleine before the building explodes.

Not only do we have pointless dialogue (Moneypenny), and a somewhat improbable scenario (rigging the building with speakers, for example), but the fact that Blofeld sets all of this up simply so that he can torment Bond suggests that the plot to obtain world domination is just persiflage, and that all of this really is about Bond himself. That is, it is Bond’s fantasy about being the centre of the world.

I insist that this is Bond’s fantasy precisely because I am not that concerned with making judgments along the lines of ‘the film is full of plot holes.’ It’s only a Bond film would be the obvious and correct response if that were my only intended task; of course the film is full of plot holes, since this is indeed ‘only’ a Bond film.

But while I have used the above ‘plot holes’ to begin my demonstration of the film as Bond’s fantasy, we can go a step further and show how the film seems not just to feature improbable moments of action that we can simply excuse by saying ‘but of course the film is a fantasy’ but which also seem to suggest that the film is not only a fantasy, but specifically James Bond’s fantasy. To wit:-

1. When Bond arrives at a Spectre board meeting, Hinx announces himself by gouging the eyes out of a rival, before Blofeld addresses Bond – suggesting that the entire meeting has been set up for Bond, and not really for the purposes of discussing evil and world domination.

2. When Blofeld shows Bond around his desert lair, he takes him and Madeleine into a room of henchmen at computers. (As if by magic, they catch on CCTV at that exact moment M discussing the closing of MI6 in London, with MI6 being subsumed under CMS, which is headed up by C (Andrew Scott) and who happens to be a Blofeld lackey as well as, we are told, old school friends with the Home Secretary.) At a certain point, the lights go off and everyone stands up and turns towards Bond. Some amazing choreography, which must have been practised beforehand (that is, in the fictional world Blofeld must have issued orders along the lines of ‘well, what’s gonna happen, guys, is that I’ll bring Bond to this point in the room, and then Brian, you hit the lights, and everyone turns towards Bond and stands up. It’ll really shit him up. Okay, shall we practice? Go… Keith, for Christ’s sake, no! I said turn towards Bond, not the wall. Someone take Keith and feed him to the sharks…). Failing such a moment having happened in the fictional world of the film, the moment again suggests that this all could be in Bond’s head.

3. “It was all me,” Blofeld soon confesses, in saying that all of his recent misdemeanours have been – in spite of words to the contrary – about Bond. Indeed, it turns out that after Bond’s parents died, it was Blofeld’s father who adopted Bond – with Bond surpassing Blofeld in winning the admiration of his father. That is, world domination really comes down to rivalry over daddy love between two kids, one British, one German.

4. Once Bond has been lobotomised, it is hard to tell whether anything is reliable anymore. Perhaps he has no memory for faces. Perhaps he has no memory. Perhaps this is all just a fantasy.

So, if you buy what I have said thus far, not only do the plot holes, but also some far more deliberate moments in the film seem to suggest that this all is or could be Bond’s fantasy. That saving the world in fact plays out in the troubled mind of the middle class British boy – described as being ‘blue eyed’ by Blofeld in a way that naturally recalls the features that in popular memory were the preserve of Aryans under National Socialism in Germany.

The question becomes not ‘is the film good or bad as a result of this?’, but ‘why does the film do this?’ Or rather: what is the film telling us by doing this?

So here we arrive at memory and intensity, which also relate in the film to issues of history, race, sex, the Bond mythology itself, and the medium in which the Bond franchise most powerfully exists, cinema (together with other audiovisual media).

When Bond comes around in Blofeld’s lobotomy chair, Blofeld is explaining to Madeleine about the moment Hinx took out the eyes of Guerra (Benito Sagredo) in the Spectre meeting that was not necessarily a real meeting, but which might in fact have simply been set up for Bond/been Bond’s fantasy.

It is not entirely clear what Blofeld says – we hear things from Bond’s perspective, a little bit unclear since he is still coming round. But basically Blofeld seems to be explaining to Madeleine that the mind exists separately from the body, and that when Guerra’s eyes were removed, he did not function properly as a human being anymore (so if you’re blind, you’re basically not human).

This separation of mind and body that Blofeld seems to be discussing is important (and contradictory, as I’ll explain below). It’s important because if the mind exists apart from the body, then everything might well be a fantasy, something in Bond’s head and which he is not really experiencing. Furthermore, if there is a mind that exists separately from the body, then this dualism suggests a reality in which we humans can see the world as separate from us (i.e. ‘objectively’). If our mind were entirely part of our bodies, and since our bodies are in the world, then this would suggest that our minds are a product of the world. A separate mind suggests the autonomy of humanity, which has conquered the mere body and thus conquered the material world, and which exists independent from the world.

I do not think that such a view of the the mind separate from the body is sustainable, although Spectre has an ambivalent relationship with this concept. I am strongly of the view that the mind is linked to the body, and that what the mind comes up with is linked thus to the world.

However, with regard to Spectre, the separation of mind and body is important, because the film also invokes the idea of voyeurism at times. Voyeurism is liking to watch things, but also liking to watch things as if separate from them, unaffected, disconnected.

Bond accuses Blofeld of being a voyeur, while voyeurism looms large in M’s dislike of C’s plan to instil the perfect surveillance system (the workings of which are never really explained). That is, the film characterises as bad those who are voyeuristic, those who believe in separation of mind from body, and those who believe, therefore, that they are or can be separate from the world.

“I said turn it off!” shouts Bond, somewhat redundantly, to Blofeld as the latter shows to Madeleine footage of her father’s suicide (Madeleine is Mr White’s daughter). He then tells Madeleine not to watch the footage and instead to look at Bond.

At this moment, we get a sense in which Bond does not want Madeleine to be a voyeur, someone who watches but who is not seen (because/thus suffering from the illusion of being separate from the world). Instead, she and he should share eye contact (the basis of their love?). Which happens as Madeleine does not watch the footage.

Similarly, M describes to C the process of killing a human being while looking them in the eye. Surveillance and drone culture supposedly involve separation and not connection. And with separation and not connection, one does not see the rest of the world, including humans, as connected to us, but as disconnected from us, and thus as something that one can treat as an object. In other words, Blofeld and C’s voyeurism is part and parcel of a dualistic view of the human, which feeds into a system of exploitation and inequality. Bond might kill people, but he does so knowingly, taking on responsibility for his actions… supposedly.

Except for the fact that, contrary to M’s argument, Bond does not take responsibility for his actions (unless being a heavy drinker is supposed to signify guilt and thus deserving absolution). As mentioned, Bond kills henchmen and likely also is involved in killing Mexicans without much of a care (he shoots Lucia’s would-be killers in the back). This is not someone who is connected with the world (looking his victims in the eye), but someone who believes it to be his playground, mechanically and uncaringly dispatching those who are in his way.

In other words, as a fantasy, the film is the expression of the privileged white, middle class and male European belief that one is separate from and superior to the world, which one can indeed treat as one wishes. Blowing up a Mexican building, nearly crashing a helicopter and so on: this is fine, especially when the older Italian driver is not killed, thus salving our conscience since those Mexicans and henchmen are not really real to us (Bond is a psychopath). Hence, in a similar vein, Bond’s treatment of women as playthings.

Perhaps this is made most clear when Bond says of his own life: “I don’t stop to think.” What Bond seems to be saying here is that Bond does not consider the consequences of his actions – he does not consider himself to be part of the world – but he considers himself to be separate from the world, and he has no need to think about what he does, since from his perspective it will always be correct. That is, Bond is a solipsist, someone who is selfish, and who does not consider the consequences of his actions, because he does not believe that his actions have consequences (he does not think he is part of the world) and because this may indeed all be in his head (a fantasy).

And yet, Spectre perhaps enacts the way in which the repressed – the reality from which Bond believes himself to be separate – in fact returns (‘returns’ will be a phrase to pick apart with some finesse).

Firstly, if Blofeld does believe in the dualism of mind and body (with the concomitant voyeurism and ability to exploit others that this entails), then he also cannot sustain such a belief in the face of the fact that he also lobotomises Bond. That is, it is by changing Bond’s material body that he changes Bond’s material mind.

Except for the fact that the lobotomy does not work. Does the fact that the lobotomy does not work suggest that, at the last, the mind is separate from the body, since Blofeld changes Bond’s body, but his mind survives, and he still remembers Madeleine even though he should not?

(In some senses, the forgetting of faces is important for fans of James Bond. That is, we forget that Daniel Craig is not Pierce Brosnan, is not Timothy Dalton, is not Roger Moore, is not George Lazenby, is not Sean Connery. We remember that we forget this, since everyone is always arguing over who their ‘favourite’/’the best’ James Bond is. And yet, we also properly forget the differences between these faces, since we go to watch the films regardless and believe that we are watching James Bond – even though the change of appearance would suggest that at least one of these Bonds is an impostor. In other words, cinema is a kind of lobotomy. A lobotomy that makes us believe that mind is separate from body – this is still James Bond even though that is a new face he has – which in turn makes of us voyeurs, separate from the world, forgetful, returning to the cinema, complicit with exploitation, happy for the trafficking of humans and contemporary slavery to happen… since without them the comfortable world in which we live would not exist.)

Back to whether the failed lobotomy suggests a separation of mind and body.

Well, I shall argue for something slightly different and paradoxical. And this is that the lobotomy does not work because Bond is indeed a solipsist and this is his fantasy, but that the lobotomy also signals the beginning of Bond’s return to reality – perhaps.

Why does the lobotomy not work? Not because Blofeld just gets his procedure a bit wrong. But because Blofeld is not carrying out the procedure; this is just Bond’s fantasy, with Blofeld a figment of Bond’s imagination.

This is signalled by the unlikelihood of Blofeld’s organising his entire criminal corporation around Bond – and visually by the way the two face each other through the glass wall, with Blofeld even (at one point) describing them as ‘brothers.’

As a figment of Bond’s imagination, Blofeld does suggest that Bond is a solipsist with a mind separate from his body. However, this solipsism is not sustainable, with Madeleine in fact signalling Bond’s re-entry into reality, a re-connection with the real world.

How is this so?

Madeleine Swann is a name clearly inspired by Marcel Proust, whose Remembrance of Things Past is a novel about the nature of memory. Swann is the name of the novel’s main protagonist, while it is the smell of a madeleine (a kind of French cake) dipped in tea that induces in Swann many of the memories that are the novel’s contents.

A high brow reference for a Bond film, no doubt. Nonetheless, Proust suggests the importance of memory, with memory being embodied, since smell – i.e. the influence of the real world – is what allows him to remember. That is, for Proust the mind is not separate from the body, with the human not being separate from the world; instead, the two are intimately interlinked.

Prior to the lobotomy, Blofeld explains that Bond will have no way to remember all of the women that he has seduced in his life, and that Madeleine will be just another woman. However, since Bond is a solipsist, what Blofeld is really pointing to is the fact that Bond doesn’t remember apart his conquests as it is (with characters like Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in Casino Royale, Martin Campbell, UK/etc, 2006, supposedly providing the odd exception). Women are, for Bond, simply objects (he views them ‘objectively’).

(Here the name Madeleine takes on a renewed resonance – this time with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (USA, 1958), in which Scottie (James Stewart) falls in love with a woman who does not exist called Madeleine, before forcing the woman who played the part of Madeleine, Judy (Kim Novak), to become not like Judy, but like Madeleine. That is, Scottie treats Judy as an object, with Madeleine being that object. In this way, Bond’s love for Madeleine might also signal that she is still just another woman, interchangeable with others, and not real, since Madeleine in Vertigo is equally a fantasy and not real.)

Interestingly, it is because Spectre begins to be involved in the trafficking of women and children that Mr White refuses to take part in the organisation, prompting Blofeld to poison him, hence his decision to kill himself with Bond’s gun when the two meet.

In other words, Mr White is signalled as a voyeur (watching the spectacle of terrorism on his television screen, with terrorism reduced to a spectacle on a screen and not involving real people; i.e. it is something over there, not part of a world with which we are entangled), but really he cannot go on in a world in which women and children are treated like objects.

(A Spectre henchwoman, Dr Vogel (Brigitte Miller), with shades of Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), describes in the Spectre board meeting that 160,000 women have successfully been placed in the ‘leisure industry’ – suggesting the trade of faceless women, a trade that is in part engendered by the likes of Bond who do not see women as individuals with whom to interact, but as objects to fuck. Indeed, M and C have an exchange in which C tells M that M stands for moron, to which M responds that C stands for… careless, because M has removed the bullets from C’s too-obviously-hidden gun. Of course, mature audience members will be thinking that C stands for cunt, because C is a bad character who believes in total surveillance, voyeurism and drone violence. That is, C embodies – paradoxically – the belief that women are just cunts to be fucked as opposed to real human beings, because C also stands for separation, objectification, exploitation, detachment, solipsism, Eurocentrism.)

As the daughter of Mr White, then, and as associated with Proust and Vertigo, Madeleine is the revival of memory within Bond – a revival that takes place at precisely the moment that Blofeld thinks he destroys Bond’s memory. Bond now remembers, is now enworlded, and is now capable (once again?) of love. Or so he says…

If we don’t remember anything, we won’t learn from our mistakes, and we just repeat ourselves. Things get repetitive as we forget what came before and do not change (although we may not be aware that there is repetition, precisely because we do not remember).

For Bond to treat women like objects is associated with amnesia, forgetting, not remembering. For him to learn to love, both by getting together with Madeleine and by not killing Blofeld, as happens at the film’s end, suggests that Bond starts to remember.

And yet what does Bond remember?

For, Madeleine Swann seems to be such a contrived character – she ‘loves’ Bond after a brief encounter – and Blofeld is Bond’s imagined evil twin. That is, Bond loves a fantasy woman who is not real (Vertigo strikes), while he keeps alive his evil other half. Meaning that there will be more Bond films as Bond wants to, but cannot quite change (he cannot really love, except to love a fantasy).

Perhaps this is why Spectre is a film that rehashes many tropes from previous Bond films, including a somewhat redundant series of references to octopuses that surely evokes Octopussy (John Glen, UK/USA, 1983). The octopus is oddly the symbol of Spectre (why not call it ‘octopus’?), while also featuring prominently in the opening credits. And then it does not really to reappear. Meaning that it is an empty reminder of former Bonds rather than a meaningful image/symbol (I am happy to stand corrected if someone has a good explanation for it).

I shan’t list all of the other Bond self-references. There are many.

But the point that I wish to make is this. Obviously, as viewers, it is because we have a memory of other Bond films that we can recognise these references. That said, on the part of the filmmakers it paradoxically also suggests a lack of memory, and a compulsion to repeat, since rather than doing anything different, the film recycles things that the series has already done time and again. Memory should be a tool to allow for difference, rather than a way of repeating oneself.

And yet, in not killing the baddie and in falling in love, does Spectre not learn and offer us something different? Well, yes. On a certain level. But if this is still just solipsism (Madeleine and Blofeld are part of Bond’s imagination), then Spectre suggests as a whole the haunting of the Bond series by the other, earlier Bond films, and its inability to move on from the past, in spite of its attempts to do so.

This inability to move on from the past, it is in some senses capitalism. Capitalism is defined by returns, for example box office returns. Things change under capitalism – we get new Bond films – but things remain the same, as we basically repeat. If we repeat, we forget. If we forget, it is because we do not carry memory with us. Memory requires us being in or with the world, and so forgetting is separation from the world. Separation from the world is what enables us to treat others as objects. Treating others as objects is at the core of capitalism, since it involves exploitation (the creation of hierarchies of human beings based upon socioeconomics, as opposed to equality among humans based upon the fact of sharing and being sustained by the same planet). The repetition of Bond tropes – even if we can recognise it – is thus capitalist; and Bond will return, then, even though Spectre threatens a new Bond who does not kill his enemy, who does no longer treat women as objects, but now who instead professes to love. This lesson will be forgotten – and so while Spectre threatens to be the end of Bond, it in all likelihood will not be.

C suggests in Spectre that information is the most important asset/resource, and that to have (access to) it is to have power. Indeed, information is the production of the very system of power and hierarchisation. For, information as computer data and quantification is extension, repetition, the compulsive fucking of women, the cynical killing of Mexicans (even if an old Italian guy is saved). Bond learns through memory not the extent of fucking (a list of women he has bedded), but the intensity of love. Which will be perhaps quantified itself – ‘another Bond film in which he falls in love’ – as opposed to Bond learning to love and going into retirement and there never being another Bond film again.

Bond forgets the women he has bedded. He forgets the Mexicans he has killed, as well as the henchmen. And the whole film comes down to being a dispute between rival boys, with Bond as the perfect Aryan.

Is it perhaps the case, then, that as Bond forgets these things, so Spectre similarly forgets, but cannot help itself from giving expression to, the hidden history of the world that has allowed Europe to become so self-absorbed and solipsistic that it makes films about boys squabbling and letting many others die in the process.

The Mexican opening. The Day of the Dead. The African desert. The considerably longer world history evoked by the presence in the film of a meteorite, suggesting that the world itself is not isolated but part of a bigger universe. The film cannot but point to a history of colonialism and the exploitation/theft that enabled Europe to become the centre that thought itself so powerful that it could treat others as objects. And this within a world in which it is likely because of interventions from outer space, in the form of meteorites, that the conditions were created for humans to emerge as a dominant species in the first place.

(Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz have met before, of course, in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, USA/Germany, 2009. This and the film’s Aryan politics might even suggest the return of the Holocaust as a repressed point in history. Furthermore, the constant references to ‘shit’ in the film also suggest the return of a repressed body in what otherwise might all be taking place in James Bond’s mind.)

In other words, Spectre seems to encourage us to forget world/planetary history, but it also cannot help but suggest it. As the film posits a dualist identity (signalled in the Bond-Blofeld and the Bond-Madeleine dyads), it also suggests a much more ‘schizophrenic’ enworldment.

Commercial cinema itself might be part of a compulsion to repeat/a compulsion to forget, since it also often involves a sense of voyeurism/separation (looking without being seen).

As much perhaps is demonstrated in that we are happy for Bond to be involved in the needless deaths of Mexican civilians and henchmen who, while not ‘innocent,’ are also contracted to work for evil. That we carry these views forward into the real world (we allow the deaths of many civilians in the name of combatting evil, while at the same time finding abominable the victimisation of our own people even though they might be considered, like a henchman, accomplices to the hierarchisation, separation and solipsism that is capital) perhaps indicates that the logic of cinema, voyeurism, separation from others and exploitation is not just shown within the film but also applies to Spectre itself.

Spectre is a film that consciously deals with these issues. I think ultimately it cannot help but be a product of the capitalist system from which it springs. But at the same time, since there is the world, it cannot help but show the world.

A smart and complex film (it is knowing about its issues), Spectre suggests that the whole film is Bond’s solipsistic fantasy while at the same time showing that the solipsistic fantasy of overcoming solipsism is the expression of the privileged white, straight and European male. Bond learns, but we suspect that he will return, that he is the real spectre. Who knows, though…? Perhaps the series will end and by remembering, we will learn to create something completely different…

Sorry for the rant. Bond as usual in many respects. But also a more self-conscious and knowing (‘post-modern’?) Bond than usual. Which in turn highlights precisely how the postmodern world is a western fantasy of globalisation (via exploitation, fantasies of tourism, the ability to kill poor people) that has at its core a mind-body dualism. Which in turn reminds us how untenable this dualism is in a world with which we are in fact always already entangled.