In Writing Degree Zero (1953), Roland Barthes attempts to take language back to basics. His discussions of representation, narrative, and history seem to be foundational for many of the filmmakers we watched for today. Barthes valorizes “a colourless writing, freed from all bondage to a pre-ordained state of language.” Barthes here seems to be proposing a kind of “neutral” writing that disavows the bourgeois character of narrative: “when the Narrative is rejected in favor of other literary genres… Literature becomes the receptacle of existence in all its density and no longer of its meaning alone.” To some extent, this neutrality is achieved in the structuralist films of the 60s and 70s through an emphasis on the material conditions of filmmaking.
In Ken Jacobs’s “Window,” we find a freed from the bondages of a preordained state of vision. The camera is never still, yet we never get the feeling that the camera and director are one. It is as if we are seeing the camera’s view from a window how the camera itself would look. I think it’s safe to assume that if it were conscious, a camera would “see” in a way foreign to us. George Landow’s “Film In Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc” foregrounds the aspects of the film strip that tend to be suppressed in narrative filmmaking. The imperfections serve to foreground the medium in a way that seems almost confessional. In this way, the film becomes, as Barthes suggests, the receptacle of existence in all its density (and imperfections). Kurt Kren’s “tv,” like Jacobs’s film, features a window. Kren, however, uses editing to subvert the narrative structure of the “contents” of the window. At times we see what appear to be three women, one women, a crane, and a father and a son passing in front of the window, but the repetitive and disassociating quality of the edits makes it nearly impossible to understand “what’s going on.” Perhaps, Kren might sight, film is “going on.” Peter Greenway’s “Intervals” presents a serious of heavily edited and intercut views from a stationary camera. The “intervals” of the title seem to be the duration of each shot. Like Kren’s film, editing plays a significant role in foregrounding the material qualities of film, but Kren’s film is more rhythmic, a quality emphasized by the soundtrack as well as the edits themselves. In “Berlin Horse,” Malcolm Le Grice interrogates the purity of vision, using negative images, superimposition, and coloring to explore visual perception. The variations in color give the effect that occurs when you close your eyes and press on the lids. It is as if the viewer is watching this film with his or her eyes closed. Sue Freidrich’s “Scar Tissue” presents a series of disembodied, often decontextualized appendages. A woman’s heel, a hand holding a cigar, a reflected profile. These images attempt to downplay the desire for meaning, perhaps seeking instead for viewers to begin to think about their own bodies in a different way.