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Giving Time: George Clark’s ‘Double Ghosts’ and the Alter-Politics of Film

by Fang-Tze Hsu

“The film shows when it says and says when it shows (I say that). Isn’t film then a language?
Yes, it may be a language, but composed solely of verbs.”

— Raúl Ruiz (1)

 

Cinema always tells tales of the others but seldom shares its own stories. “The story of cinema, then, becomes a story of redemption”, says Sven Lütticken.2 What is forfeited by this reticence? What can be redeemed by turning the camera lens towards the film camera itself? By addressing film as a time-based medium, the socio-economic life of film speaks directly to the labour theory of value in which the consensus of an exchange depends on a shared ruler of labour time. As a primarily time-bound experiential consumption, film not only demands time, but also subsumes time under a homogeneous measurement of the clock. As a Foucauldian dispositif that capitalizes time and affective responses, commercial or mainstream cinema renders its audiences into living labours who can be quantified by their units of time spent in the cinema. Indeed, reports about the average length of Hollywood cinema, from WIRED to Business Insider, exemplify the industrial aspect of cinema time. If “[c]apital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour”, capitalist cinema that is fuelled by orchestrated moments of climax is equally vampiric. This genre of cinema demands not only time but also the affective density of time.

How has the contemporary entanglement between an experiential sense of time and the commercial cinema’s sense of time altered our perception of history? In the age when the meaning of ‘age’ within the word image has been swallowed by a flood of imagery, how far have we been associating historical events with their visual representations rather than the historicity of the events themselves? In History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image, Sven Lütticken articulates his concerns with regard to the above mentioned questions by problematizing the notions of history and historical time, echoing Gilles Deleuze’s initial proposition about cinema’s radical potential of becomingness. By engaging with the synthesis of image and time via Deleuze, Lütticken reckons that cinema as a “liberated time-image” can emancipate historical time “by being the reinfusion of history with becoming”.3

George Clark’s ‘Double Ghosts’ is precisely an exhibition about filming the history of cinema, or—in Lütticken’s words—“a story of redemption”. With regard to what gets redeemed, one rightly finds the becomingness of history situated at the core of Clark’s approach to cinema. Yet, unlike his post-cinematic predecessors—Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), Ken McMullen’s Ghost Dance (1983) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998) to name a few—who disenchant film by exposing the mechanism of cinema from within, Clark carries on the cinematic task of historical materialism but updates its progressive linear narrative by following in Chilean-born French filmmaker Raúl Ruiz’s footsteps. Ruiz once mentioned that “[e]very film always involves another secret film”. Clark’s exhibition responds to this germinating capacity of film by giving the autonomy of time back to its spectator. In other words, instead of taking from its audiences as tokens of capitalist clock time, cinema can engage in the act of gift-giving to its audiences by being present and animistic.

‘Double Ghosts’ comprises three 35mm film works: Double Ghosts (2018), Inner Sage/ Outer King (2019) and A Mountain Inside a Cave (2019). Accompanying these three films, research materials, objects and items related to Raúl Ruiz provide extra context. A video work titled Diarios (2018) is also on display in this space. Through reading Ruiz’s diary entries in the year of 1995, Diarios resembles an undercurrent of creative synergy that flows through Clark’s films. ‘Double Ghosts’ takes as its point of departure Ruiz’s unfinished film Comedy of Shadows (1996). Ruiz visited Taipei to make the film, working with local crews and actors, and shooting the majority of scenes in Chin Pao San Cemetery, located in the northeast tip of Taiwan. Clark’s ‘Double Ghosts’ could be defined as practice-based research in which its theorization has pre-exposed itself to fluctuating factors. Without compromising its narrative autonomy to any given forms or genres, Double Ghosts (the 30-minute film which shares its title with the exhibition) assembles a series of asynchronous images and sounds. These are not merely representational with regard to the filming process but are visual and auditory witnesses of the filmmaking event. While the mesmerizing colours of the 35mm film that captures landscapes of Ruiz’s birthplace and other significant locales restitutes Ruiz’s presence through his inevitable absence, sound recordings of WhatsApp voice messages reify Clark’s presence as a silent, sympathetic observer (via his silence as a recipient who shares a pair of consoling ears with his audiences). The non-synchronous time between the seeable and the audible doubles the dialectical tension between the presence and absence, totality and incompleteness, temporality and durée. The fragmentation of Ruiz’s Comedy of Shadows turns into ‘messianic cessation’ as Clark walks through the woods of the germinating forest of films.

With Benjamin’s messianic conception of history in mind, I want to turn to Michael Taussig to think about animism in relation to historical time. Taussig writes that “with its love of rapid disappearances and appearances out of nowhere…, shamanic conjuring helps us understand a little better how this theatre of being presents being as the transformation of being into the beingness of transforming forms. That is animism. Anything but constant”.4 By taking a sense of incompleteness as his terrain of exploration, and mobilizing Ruiz’s aesthetic apparatus, such as a mirror, Clark forms an epistemological companionship with Ruiz. For instance, the mirror’s appearance can be seen as a homage to Ruiz, especially considering those who hold the mirror include Ruiz’s fellow filmmakers and Chilote compatriots. On the other hand, the act of mirror breaking in Clark’s film refers to an anecdote in the latter part of Ruiz’s life where he breaks seven mirrors in the hope of extending his life in order to make a film about Chiloé Island, his ancestral home. “That is animism. Anything but constant”. If Taussig implies that animism is a mode of perception seeking to connect rather than define, Clark’s ritualization of Ruiz’s mirror and mirror-breaking then reveals a mode of knowing history. It is via Clark’s performance of Ruiz’s past acts that the repetitive action finds a historical time in which the footsteps of people’s past never cease.

To inscribe the historical time in Clark’s film, to take the film away from the cinema and give the cinema back to history, Clark must also inscribe himself in the film as part of a collective pronoun of filmmakers. Since there will never be a complete History, the poten- tiality of such an incompleteness of history is pronounced through Double Ghosts. As an artist, curator, and historian, George Clark’s ongoing artistic endeavour speaks through his historicizing cinema. In order to sufficiently situate Clark’s practice within the context of cinema, one needs to envision Clark’s three different identities in the form of a trinity rather than in a unity of three independent entities. Without prioritizing one identity above the others, filmmaking as Clark’s act of historiography works in a termite-like manner that cuts through boundaries in all possible definitions. In the case of Double Ghosts, the project traverses not only physical distance but also imagination about the social lives and even the afterlives of cinema. The 18,209 kilometers between Chile and Taiwan therefore also signifies the common imagination of film history. In a sense, the notions of creation and history are not only predetermined by each other but also dictated by one another. Significantly, the question of what history is becomes reconceived as how history is done. In a sense, Clark’s Double Ghosts gives time to its audience and urges them to contemplate upon questions that are initially muffled by territory-bound understandings of history. For example, by asking what the history of Chile has to do with the history of Taiwan, one may encounter the fading political aspirations of socialism under the Global Cold War. By questioning how such an exploration of history then comes to define the creation of a work of art, one might ask if there could have been another cinema. By working through these propositions, we would be able to redeem the question of what politics is when one thinks of history in relation to cinema.

The acts of gift-giving and questioning are both constituted by the notion of reciprocity. These acts could probably be visualized through Bronisław Malinowski’s Kula ring, in which the notion of reciprocity comes in a full circle. Referring directly to a ritualistic event of itinerant cinema, which has largely been left out from the Western canon of film spectatorship, A Mountain Inside a Cave documents the event of an outdoor film screening where Clark screens his film Double Ghosts on a film projector in the car park of the Chin Pao San Cemetery. Appropriately, towards the end of A Mountain Inside a Cave, Clark runs a series of intertitles adopted from the Taoist prayer to complete his offering. It is through such an act of relaying alterity that an alter politics is rendered tangible. Rather than creating something new, Clark’s Double Ghosts bridges our presence to a historical time of cinemas—a cinema of offering. It is through his act of giving historical time back to the present that audiences reconsider politics not through meanings of resistance or critique but in moments of convergence and the persistent erosion of borders that transcends any given spatiotemporality. Here, Clark’s filmmaking speaks to what Ghassan Hage calls an ‘alter-politics’—a politics that grows not from opposition to or critique of our current systems, but from attention to another way of being, one that involves other kinds of living and nonliving beings.

 

 

  1. Poetics of Cinema 2, 2007.
  2. Lütticken, Sven, History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image, 2013, p. 40.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Taussig, Michael, ‘The Stories Things Tell And Why They Tell Them’, e-flux, July 2012, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61256/the-stories-things-tell-and-why-they-tell-them/.

    Fang-Tze Hsu holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from the National Univer- sity of Singapore. She is currently a Curator at the National University of Singapore Museum.