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The Use of an Illusion: Childhood cinephilia, object relations, and videographic film studies

The Hideaways (Fielder Cook, 1973)

The past decade has seen a dramatic expansion in the production of ‘video essays’, or what might also be called, more precisely, ‘Videographic Film Studies’.  We would like to begin to offer a theoretical contextualization for these multi-media works using ‘transitional phenomena’, a developmental concept associated with the British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott.  Annette Kuhn and others have also written about the relationship between transitional phenomena and cinephilia; but we focus less on films themselves as objects of study than on a particular spectatorial experience and its relationship to the process of writing criticism – or, in this case, making videographic criticism.

In his book Playing and Reality, published in 1971, Winnicott wrote of his project, ‘I am here staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby’s inability and his growing ability to recognize and accept reality.  I am therefore studying the substance of illusion, […] which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion… […]  We can share a respect for [one] an[other’s] illusory experience, and if we wish we may collect together and form a group on the basis of similarity of our illusory experiences’ (3).

Since film scholars are one such grouping, Winnicott’s words are a good place to begin.  It is clear that cinephilia – which is what we call our shared illusory experience – has re-emerged in our discipline as an object of study; but we believe that videographic film studies can enable cinephilia to function as a form of creative scholarly expression – a new kind of cinephiliac writing – because now, film scholars can ‘write’ using the same tools that constitute their objects of study: moving images and sounds.  This link between cinephilia and writing is worth focusing on.

Describing the cinephilia of Cahiers du cinéma, Paul Willemen remarked that cinephilia ‘sparks something which then produces the energy and the desire to write’ (235).  For the Cahiers group, this meant writing criticism, but as Willemen noted, they weren’t doing conventional criticism; they were doing written responses to films.  ‘What they were writing at that time was a highly impressionistic account; in T. S. Eliot’s terms, an ‘evocative equivalent’ of moments which, to them, were privileged moments of the film.

The next generation of Cahiers critics maintained this devotion, but staked out their own way.  In the 1970s, Cahiers editor Serge Daney stressed that the ‘cinema loved by the Cahiers – from the beginning – is a CINEMA HAUNTED BY WRITING’ (20).  Though insistent, his use of this phrase is also suitably ambiguous: while it refers to a specifically ‘cinematic writing’ (what the earlier Cahiers critics had dubbed mise-en-scène), it also refers to what Willemen was describing: the cinephile practice of writing criticism as an extension of – as an expression of – the cinematic experience.  In addition, for Daney and his cohort, working at a different moment from their predecessors, there was also the need to find a way to write a different kind of criticism, one that would enable them to stake out a place for themselves in film criticism’s history.

In our own ‘different moment’, we have the opportunity to find a new way to do criticism – one that uses images and sounds to ‘write’, and one that supplements interpretive analysis and explanation with a more imaginative, expressive, poetical discourse.  In 1975, Raymond Bellour speculated on that time in the future when people would be able to own movies the way they owned books and records.  ‘If film studies are still done then, they will undoubtedly be more numerous, more imaginative, more accurate, and above all more enjoyable than the ones we carry out in fear and trembling, threatened continually with the dispossession of the object’ (21).  Of course, the ability to play with, manipulate, and rework these film objects the way we can now was perhaps more than even a mind like Bellour’s could imagine.  Nevertheless, what he wrote then is still relevant – especially the imaginative and enjoyable part – even if he wasn’t dreaming of videographic essays.

We are interested in ‘writing about’ or ‘writing out of’ a particular spectatorial experience – one that we share and that we believe is generalizable.  Marijke de Valck asserts that cinephilia endures ‘precisely because it forms a bridge between the biographical and the theoretical, the singular and the general, the fragment and the whole, the incomplete and the complete, and the individual and the collective’ (49).  Let us explain how this portrait of cinephilia and videographic criticism links to Winnicott and object relations theory.

Winnicott wrote, ‘From birth … the human being is concerned with the problem of the relationship between what is objectively perceived and what is subjectively conceived of…’ (11).  For in addition to outer reality and an individual’s inner reality there is also a third part – ‘an intermediate area of experiencing, to which inner reality and external life both contribute’.  A perpetual human task – one that begins in infancy – involves ‘keeping inner and outer reality separate but interrelated’ (2).  Winnicott used the term ‘transitional phenomena’ to describe this intermediate area of human experience.

The most common childhood manifestation of this process is what Winnicott dubbed the transitional object – typically a stuffed animal, a soft toy, or a special blanket – which the child perceives as something both internally produced and externally selected (that is, both ‘self’ and ‘not self’).  The transitional object functions internally, facilitating the illusion of infantile omnipotence, while at the same time forming a bridge to the outside world, to the process of disillusion, and thus to the development of a shared reality.  In other words, the transitional object allows the infant both to maintain the illusion and to move toward disillusion.  Here are the special set of qualities that Winnicott says mark the child’s relationship to her transitional object:

  1. The infant assumes right over the object, and we agree to this assumption.
  2. The object is affectionately cuddled as well as excitedly loved and mutilated.
  3. It must never change, unless changed by the infant.
  4. It must survive instinctual loving, and also hating and, if it be a feature, pure aggression.
  5. Yet it must seem to the infant to give warmth, or to move, or to have texture, or to do something that seems to show it has vitality or reality of its own (5).

Winnicott wrote that, in young children, the working out of the relationship between inner and external reality is allowed a complex and conspicuous expression in ‘the natural and universal thing called playing’ (41).  Winnicott’s book contains a number of illustrative examples of how a child playing – independently or in engagement with the psychoanalyst – is enacting an expression of the negotiation between inner experience and external reality.  As with the transitional object, the place of playing ‘is not inside by any use of the word.  Nor is it outside, that is to say, it is not a part of the repudiated world, the not-me, that which the individual has decided to recognize as truly external, which is outside magical control’ (41).  Thus, playing, too, has a paradoxical status that involves the maintaining of illusion along with the process of disillusion, and it functions importantly as a means of communication, with oneself and often with others.  This play is often marked by a certain rhythm – one marked by intensification and relaxation; then redirection, followed by another spasm of intensification – a rhythm that we could say marks the shaping of ideas.  And while playing, children use objects, setting, situation, and their imagination to ‘stage’ or ‘perform’ their negotiation of the internal and the external.  In processing and enacting their own experience through play, they ‘write’ about it.

A number of film scholars have made links between film and transitional phenomena.  In her 2005 article, Annette Kuhn has considered ‘the particular sort of aesthetic experience that cinema is capable of offering’, and she draws an explicit relationship between transitional phenomena and cinephilia.  Kuhn reminds us that the negotiation of inner and external reality does not cease in childhood, but continues into adulthood, where this negotiation, as Winnicott, maintained ‘widens out into that of play, and of artistic creativity and appreciation, and of religious feeling, and of dreaming…’ (5).  As Kuhn writes, with artistic appreciation ‘the inner-outer tension lies between living in the everyday, inhabiting ordinary consciousness, and leaving everyday consciousness to enter a zone of ‘maximally intense experiences’ (402-3) – something cinephiles clearly recognize.

Ira Konigsberg has described our experience – the cinephile experience – in this way: ‘The screen creates an illusion of reality that is between objective and subjective reality, between what is out there and inside of us, that relates to our own intermediary state between wakefulness and sleep, between an attachment to objective reality and subjective reverie.  We are attached to the images on the screen in such a fashion that we regress to an early time in our childhood when we had a similar halfway hold on reality’ (880).  This ‘halfway hold’ could be magical.  Indeed, as Peter Wollen maintained, cinephilia is ‘the symptom of a desire to remain within the child’s view of the world’ (5).

But what we want to emphasize here is not so much the cinematic experience as transitional phenomena – which these others have already noted – but rather how our critical writing about cinema can more clearly reflect and even extend that experience.  While we cinephiles are familiar with these kind of ‘maximally intense’ aesthetic experiences that Kuhn and others describe, our scholarship has tended to repress them, or at least to back away from them, to keep them at arm’s length for the purposes of distanced, objective analysis and interpretation in a discourse marked by a full and firm hold on external reality.  What we want to consider is a form of writing that would not bracket off this internal experience; one that has as its goal, as Annette Kuhn has put it, engaging with it ‘at a public level without setting aside our inner lives, and thus our emotions and psychical investments’ (402): a scholarly writing that reflects our aesthetic experience, and one that, by activating the dynamic between inner and external reality, involves our own creativity.

Describing his own experiments in writing, Roland Barthes wrote that he sought to replace the scholarly ‘labor of knowledge’ (straightforward analysis and interpretation) with the more pleasurable and poetical ‘labor of writing’, which we might also think of as akin to playing.  For Barthes, certain favorite words stimulated writing, and he called these (appropriately enough) ‘transitional’ words: ‘analogous to those pillow corners and pieces of sheet which the child stubbornly sucks’ (130).  ‘When I say a word is beautiful’, Barthes wrote, ‘when I use it because I like it, it is never by virtue of its sonorous charm or the originality of its meaning, or of a ‘poetic’ combination of the two.  The word transports me because of the notion that I am going to do something with it…’ (129).  For Barthes, these words are like cinephiliac moments: they possess an intensity that – as Willemen put it – stimulates the energy and the desire to write.

The transformational development for cinephiles – who are stimulated by images – is that we now have the technologies available to us (like Barthes) to do something with those images.  As Laura Mulvey argues in Death 24x a Second, digital technologies such as DVD – which enables freeze frame, scan, slow motion, and random access – offers us the opportunity to isolate and replay such image-moments, to dwell still more deeply in the illusion in a way that prompts a renewal.  ‘New ways of consuming old movies on electronic and digital technologies’, she writes, ‘should bring about a ‘reinvention’ of textual analysis and a new wave of cinephilia’ (160).  But while digital technologies allow us new forms of film study and a new cinephilia, they also offer a new way of writing that cinephilia – one in which the cinephile plays with a source text as a way to think about it, and about her interaction with it, and to signal its value to her.

Videographic film studies has a special potential to show something about our relationship with our cinematic objects of study, for it enables us to explore and express, in a particularly compelling way, how we use these objects imaginatively in our inner lives; and it can also be used to present something sharable about those objects – some attained knowledge or understanding – however surprising its content or unusual its form. In the two autobiographical accounts that follow, we go on to examine individually – in words and video – our personal experiences of this object use and our adoption of videographic methods to explore them. We decided to focus, in good part, on our childhood cinephilia for these purposes, compelled, perhaps, by some of the surprising turns in our conversations over the last years about video essays, and also inspired by the following quotation from Serge Daney’s Postcards from the Cinema:

I know of few expressions more beautiful than Jean-Louis Schefer’s in L’homme ordinaire du cinéma when he speaks of ‘the films that have watched our childhood’.  It’s one thing to learn to watch movies ‘professionally’ – only to verify that movies watch us less and less – but it is another to live with those movies that watched us grow up and saw us – prematurely hostage to our coming biographies – already entangled in the snare of our history.(20-21)

by Christian Keathley

Like many cinephiles of my generation, I became interested in movies at a very early age.  Actually, I was initially very frightened of movies, and this fear lasted well into elementary school.  Until junior high school, I wouldn’t go to the movies casually the way my friends would.  But even well before this fear subsided, it was matched and soon superseded by an intense curiosity about movies.  For example, I recall one day riding in the car with my much older sister and her husband, who had gone the night before to see The French Connection.  I knew about the film – I had seen ads and read reviews – and I had a dozen questions for her about it.  The film came out in 1971 and I was born in 1963, so I couldn’t have been more than nine years old.  This story is not intended to point out what a precocious cinephile I was, but to note that, from very early on, my relationship to the movies was marked in a strong way by fantasy and imagination.

As I grew older, and went to the movies as often as I could, my ongoing relationship of fantasy and imagination with them was fostered by the simple fact of limited availability.  In these days before home video, when simply re-watching wasn’t an option, the pleasures of movie viewing were for me extended through reading – movie books and film criticism (Stanley Kauffmann, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, etc.).  This is how I first learned about cinema’s history.  I became a devout auteurist.  When I got to college at the University of Florida, I took film classes and got to see a lot of movies I’d only read about, and I got to read critics and theorists I’d only vaguely seen referenced: André Bazin and the pre-New Wave Cahiers du Cinéma critics, as well as others that were new to me: Peter Wollen, Noël Burch, Victor Perkins.  But I was also exposed to a trove of rich non-cinema scholarship, such as writings by Roland Barthes and Walter Benjamin.  But perhaps the most powerful intellectual reading experience I had as an undergraduate was the historian Carlo Ginzburg’s essay, “Clues: Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes.”  For me, the emotional/intellectual experience of reading this essay was comparable to seeing a great movie for the first time.  So, from my undergraduate years, I was having great aesthetic experiences (in the form of movies) and great scholarly/intellectual experiences (in the form of reading) that I regarded in an important way as similar, and soon I wanted to find a way to bring them together.

Guidance came from two mentors at Florida – Robert Ray and Gregory Ulmer – both of whom were engaged in experiments in writing.  When I returned several years after graduation to get a Master’s degree, they supported me in an important project: I produced a one-hour video adaptation of Ginzburg’s essay, “Clues.”  This project was modeled on Greg Ulmer’s concept of ‘mystory’ – a genre that brings together various discursive realms that are typically kept separate: the professional, the social/public, and the personal.  My video worked together these three: an adaptation of the first part of Ginzburg’s essay; the story of the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping; and my personal story of having been adopted.  (This last point deserves slightly more information.  From early in my childhood, my parents told me that I was adopted, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned that my birth-parents were my oldest brother and his high school girlfriend, and that I had been adopted by my paternal grandparents and raised as their youngest child.  I am sure now that I understood the truth well before I was told, but that I understood only unconsciously.)

In 1993, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and my M.F.A. film there was another essay adaptation – this time of Robert Ray’s essay “Snapshots,” which is about the crisis of legibility associated with 19th century urban modernity, the invention of photography, and the evolution of the detective story.  My 25-minute project consisted of 16 mm film and two video monitors running simultaneously.  Both “Clues” and “Snapshots” attempted to balance the respective powers of the explanatory and poetical modes.  As essay adaptations, they sought to borrow from their sources what I regarded as the extraordinary force of their information and ideas.  As works of art, they employed moving and still images, editing and pacing, sound effects and music, voice-over narration and text-on-screen, all for their aesthetic as well as their rhetorical value.

It was while working on “Clues” that I first encountered D. W. Winnicott.  His book Playing and Reality was recommended to me by my wife.  She saw not only the work I was doing, but the way I was doing it, and she thought there was a connection that I ought to be aware of between my process and Winnicott’s ideas (especially) about playing.  Not long after reading Winnicott’s book, while I was at the Art Institute, Dudley Andrew visited Chicago and presented at the monthly film seminar.  At dinner, after his talk, I had a wonderful conversation with him, mostly about the French New Wave.

Soon afterward, as something of an unofficial appendix to my application to the Ph.D. program at Iowa, I wrote Dudley a letter in which I suggested that we might think of the New Wave directors’ relationships to their treasured films as not unlike a child’s relationship to his or her transitional object.  As perhaps the first generation of directors unable to make films unselfconsciously, a generation weighed upon by cinema’s history and preoccupied with ideas of cinematic authorship, the New Wave filmmakers’ mixture of originality and pastiche, innovation and borrowing, resemble some odd combination of self and not-self.  It is a process of primary creation, but one that works by creating from what already exists in the world.  Further, there is the mixture of reworking a sacred object to make it one’s own, but lovingly mutilating it in the process.  As Winnicott himself had summed this dynamic, ‘the interplay between originality and acceptance of tradition as the basis for inventiveness seems to me to be just one more example, and a very exciting one, of the interplay between separateness and union’ (99).

After my letter to Dudley, I set aside this idea about transitional phenomena.  Also, I set aside multi-media production and focused on more traditional scholarly work.  I went to graduate school at Iowa and ended up writing on a dissertation about cinephilia (which hadn’t been much written about), and which then became a book.  Then, right around the time my book came out, Annette Kuhn published her essay in Screen, “Thresholds: Film as Film and the Aesthetic Experience,” that reignited my interest in transitional phenomena and its links to cinephilia.  Also around this time, having completed scholarly requirements for tenure, and feeling able to expand myself a bit, I returned to videographic work, where I felt the links to those two other areas quite strongly.  This work has allowed me to maintain and even strengthen my ‘imaginary’ relationship to the cinema, one that has been with me since childhood, and which I did not want to abandon in ‘official’ discourse.

As I indicated earlier, I was intensely frightened by movies when I was a small child.  The movie that brought me out of this fear, and into another intense (but far more pleasurable) emotion, was Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson (1960), which I would have seen on a re-release in 1969, when I was six years old.  It was thus a ‘transitional’ movie for me.  Further, it was a story about being lost on a journey away from home, only to find that the place where you were lost was home after all.  Though of course I wouldn’t have understood this at the time – at least, not consciously.  And there are other things that I didn’t understand and was confused by, just like any 6 year old, and there were still other things that I only half-understood, with the rest filled out by an imagination that thought it was getting things right.

by Catherine Grant

In 1992, in an essay collected in Postcards from the Cinema, Serge Daney wrote, ‘I clearly see why I have adopted cinema: so that it could adopt me in return and could teach me to ceaselessly touch – with the gaze – that distance between myself and the place where the other begins’ (35).  What a remarkable statement about film spectatorship, cinephilic experience and intersubjectivity.  Had I read it in 1992 I wouldn’t have understood it.  Indeed, I would probably have laughed at it as way too ‘touchy-feely’ for the kind of humanities scholar I had been trained to be.  I certainly wouldn’t have connected Daney’s use of the word ‘adopted’ to my own (part-) adoption story, one that I had learned about traumatically, incompletely, almost by accident, just under a decade earlier.

1992 was the year when, a literature Ph.D. in my first lecturing job, I began to teach university film classes seriously for the first time, the year when I actually did adopt cinema academically.  Even though I had loved watching films in the earlier part of my life, I had no real understanding about why I fell in love with cinema studies professionally at this point.  Part of it, certainly, was due to chance: I inherited (or adopted) the range of classes taught by my predecessor, which included a course on South American cinema about dictatorships and the ‘disappeared’.  But that doesn’t explain the passion with which I took up this task, or how it dramatically changed my academic trajectory, with cinema becoming the sole focus of my research almost ever since.

 I can see now that, unconsciously at least, I was drawn to something quite obvious in these first films I taught: their, at times, tear-jerking, melancholic stories, or stagings of truth-seeking protagonists pursuing (though not always finding) deeply suppressed knowledge about their missing relatives.  I watched, taught, and wrote academically about these epistemophilic characters and narrative structures without once consciously connecting them to my own autobiographical narrative of withheld information about family origins and whereabouts.  In an article published in 1997, for instance, I felt compelled to begin my study of a few of these films by crafting a clumsy epigraph from the following sentences (by Analia Penchaszadeh) – they weren’t about this cinema at all, but they seemed to evoke something so essential about the films, for me, that I couldn’t edit them out:

There is no symbolism for the ‘disappeared’. They were taken away without a trace. That was part of the terror tactic: the permanent anguish it caused the family. It is described like living with a ghost [sic]; they are not dead, but they are not alive either. […] [T]here are no monuments, no symbol […]; the ‘disappeared’ have no meaning.

This split-off state, in which I acted out relatively unprocessed traumatic experiences in my academic work, lasted for quite a long time.  Maybe it isn’t over. But at least at that point, and through much of the 1990s, my research into this particular cycle of films forged some kind of symbol for my ‘disappeared’ symptom, a projected space where my un-given-up ghosts lived, if not in ways that I could ever recognize them as such.

I remember the crushing feeling of embarrassment I experienced four or five years ago when I read Madelon Sprengnether’s brilliant essay on repetition compulsion in critical work – “Ghost Writing: A Meditation on Literary Criticism as Narrative” – an event that provoked the sudden realization that my interest in this foreign–language cinema may not primarily have been about its otherness at all. Sprengnether wrote:

The texts I am most drawn to at any given period of my life seem to be the ones that give form and expression to problems or issues I only dimly perceive in myself. In this sense they act as extended metaphors or objective correlatives, and my engagement with them an attempt through narrative to draw into consciousness some of the buried metaphors by which I live. (94)

How could I not have noticed that the same self-focus was true of most of my academic research choices?  After recovering a little from the initial narcissistic wounding of this moment of belated anagnorisis, it didn’t take too long to experience the forced abandonment of ‘the dream of total [scholarly] objectivity’ that it brought in its wake much more positively, as Sprengnether herself went on to do.  A Winnicottian, she also wrote: ‘to accept this condition perhaps is to be able to play in the unself-conscious world-making way that children do’ (97).

While Sprengnether found that the ‘act of writing itself became easier’ following this acceptance (94), for me it coincided with my embracing of the video essay form. Laura Mulvey had already influentially written about how digital affordances explored in film studies contexts offered space ‘for associative thought, [for] reflection on resonance and connotation, [for] the identification of visual clues, the interpretation of cinematic form and style, and, ultimately, personal reverie’ (146-7). For me, working through digitized film footage in my video editing program also opened up a ‘potential space’ in Winnicott’s sense, in which I was able, consciously, to ‘adopt cinema’ and be adopted by it in the way that Serge Daney had meant.  In this space I felt freer, at last, to encounter, to touch, those elements of the cinematic experience ‘which [resist], which [escape] existing networks of critical discourse and theoretical frameworks’, as Paul Willemen and Noel King put it (231), indeed, to explore my cinephilia in ways that produced ‘the energy and the desire to write’ (235), or, in my case, to compose videographically, producing new subjective objects by (subjectively) remixing (objectively) existing material.

After several years of prolifically making video essays about films, of enjoying playing with their particular modes of disclosure and ‘unconcealment’ (as I reflected in a 2014 article), I began to be drawn to using video practice to work through some verbally quite inexplicable (or, at least, difficult to explicate) but recurrent spectatorial experiences.  I started to mine the potential connections between personally charged cinematic moments to test out Mikhail Iampolski’s understanding of how, through the insertion of a ‘“source” of a cinematic figure into a film as its subtext, the intertext can also function as a generative mechanism’ (246).  While Iampolski wasn’t writing about literal forms of ‘insertion’, how better to explore such filmic connections generativelythan to remix them using the practices of audiovisual montage?  My earliest experiments, and this impulse, are described in my 2013 essay “Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies.”

 I didn’t fully explore in that text why I set out to do this, although I did mention an aspect of my adoption story for the first time in published work. But I was at least partly inspired by an encounter with the written work of Winnicottian psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas, specifically with his book The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, which is mentioned by Kuhn in her Screenarticle “Thresholds: Film as Film and the Aesthetic Experience.”  The ‘unthought known’ of Bollas’s title – a deeply resonant concept for me as soon as I came across it, rather like Sprengnether’s notion of the ‘buried metaphors’ by which we live – refers toheretofore inarticulate elements of psychic life’ (210).  Ian Hunt concisely describes this concept as referring to ‘the ways in which individuals may organize their lives around an event or a traumatic pattern of experiencing that, although at some deep level known, can only with difficulty be claimed for conscious thought’. For Bollas, the unthought known can be intuited, inter alia, in the déjà-vu experiences of  ‘aesthetic moments’, occasions during which ‘an individual feels a deep subjective rapport with an object […] and experiences an uncanny fusion with [it, with the sense] of being reminded of something never cognitively apprehended but existentially known’ (16).  As Ian Woodward and David Ellison write, this kind of experience

is a type of ‘spell’ that holds person and object in symmetry and solitude. In this experience of deep rapport, the person is provided with a feeling of fitting with an object. Bollas notes that this type of experience is often non-verbal, given its location in early childhood experiences [of parenting or ‘environmental’ idioms], and he argues that such experiences are difficult for even adult subjects to articulate precisely because they are reminders of past instances of integration and transformation between subject and object through the qualities of objects. (48)

The sense of uncanny recognition I experienced when I learnt that the unthought known might trigger powerful psycho-somatic aesthetic experiences was what set me off on the path that led to the below videographic study.  This video not only attempted to relate the (true) story of just such a (cinematic) aesthetic moment (one of a number that I have experienced in my life).  It actually provided the space and the form, across a production period lasting several years, in which I was able to articulate or, at least, to reproduce what, in the process of editing, I came to understand for the first time about this uncanny experience of connection.  Please watch it before you read on.

In his fascinating chapter “The Galleries of the Gaze: The Museum in Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia and Hitchcock’s Vertigo” (which I came across only after making the above video), Steven Jacobs notes Renzo Rossellini’s ‘eerie music’ (78), in passing, as he analyses Viaggio in Italia’s first museum sequence, the one I feature in my video.  This music was my starting point. I initially wondered if its specific qualities or technique were what set off my curious psycho-somatic reaction to that scene when I first saw the film, and on repeated occasions afterwards, long before I remembered a possible connection to a seemingly similar cinephiliac experience upon first viewing The Hideaways as a young teenager.  Even as I did remember this, I never suspected that there would be such a specific musical link between the two films, one that turned out to be extended by their similar use of traditional songs and folk music, which I also went on to feature in my video.  All I knew at the outset of my exploration was that I had to take a look at this childhood film that I only vaguely remembered because I could recall having an equally striking mental-physical reaction to it.  I discovered the musical (and all the other) connections solely by importing digitised footage from the two films into my video editing program and playing with it over and over again, moving it around, and endlessly experimenting with different montage combinations and timings.  My videographic musical comparison did indeed reveal the uncannily similar use in both films of a particular musical technique: modal scales (in The Hideaways,pentatonic scales, as far as I can ascertain, and in Viaggio in Italia whole tone scales).  These are scales that resist easy resolution, and, possibly as a consequence, are quite commonly used in films, I discovered afterwards, to figure uncertainty and uncanniness, as well as to signal flashbacks.  How curious to find that my experience of watching a film from the 1970s helped me to flash back to a film from the 1950s that I wouldn’t even see for twenty years, and vice versa.

But, aside from the held anxious-tension state of the tremolo strings in both films, or the poignant lyric (deeply so for an abandoned child) of the folk song that opens The Hideways (from Pretty Saro: ‘My love she won’t have me, so I understand’…), these very palpable musical connections may have turned out to be auditory ‘screen memories,’ or unconscious alibis, for my psychic association of the two films (as Victor Burgin indicates of some other attempts to understand traumatic cinematic connections in his remarkable book The Remembered Film [68]).  Watching it now, it is my video’s evocation of an environment of mystery and its distilled staging of processes of decryption and sudden discovery that gesture towards what was perhaps most at stake, for me, in this uncanny fusion: my first experience of a ‘magical’ connection to The Hideways, as a young teenager, specifically to the experience it offers of an unfolding investigation by its protagonist Claudia – a precociously ‘scholarly’ girl, as Vincent Canby wrote in his review for the New York Times, of roughly the same age I was when I saw the film.  After the scene in which the museum statue is revealed to her, it suddenly disappears from public display. Claudia’s resultant anxiety fuels her painstaking quest to solve the conundrum about the beloved artwork’s authorship.  She seeks out the only character in the know, the statue’s former owner Mrs Frankweiler (Ingrid Bergman), who finally chooses to stop withholding that information, bestowing it just to Claudia in the very last scenes of the film, thus settling the young girl’s (increasingly paranoid) anxiety that she might remain in a state of perpetual unknowing.

In my quest to understand the two films’ connections – to each other as well as to my ‘unthought known’ – I had to work through the production of my own, affecting, epistemophilic detective film, remixed from the component parts of the two original movies.  But my video also begs questions about whether there was an actual cinematic relationship between the two films, between their production histories.  (In her inspiring book Cinematic Flashes,Rashna Wadia Richards writes about how subjective insights and intuitions, such as these, can indeed lead to ‘cinephiliac historiography’ [26])  The intriguing similarities between the films are so striking that they cannot be just accidental, can they?  It may well be the case that The Hideways’ director (Fielder Cook), or its composer (the certainly voracious-sounding and, possibly also pseudonymous, Donald Devor, who seems to have only written the music for this one film), decided to have some musical fun with the unavoidable commonalities of two cinematic stories (the 1973 film, an adaptation of E. L. Konigsburg’s 1967 novelFrom the MixedUp Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) that feature museums, statues and then also cast Ingrid Bergman in a prominent role.  Yet, my video chooses not to enter the kind of explanatory territory where the above questions might be conclusively answered, or even explicitly addressed.  It remains within the realm of what Sprengnether calls ‘a refracted form of autobiography’ (97) – necessarily elliptical, suggestive, psycho-analytic. As Judith Butler writes in her brilliant discussion of Bollas’s work,

Full articulability should not be deemed the goal of psychoanalytic work in any event, for that goal would imply a linguistic and egoic mastery over unconscious material […]. The ‘I’ cannot knowingly fully recover what impels it, since its formation remains prior to its elaboration as reflexive self-knowing. (58)

Even so, this long, videographic journey to my mixed up files has been a revelatory experience in a number of ways, resulting not only in a tentative, aesthetically contingent solution to a long-standing personal enigma, but also, more importantly for me, in a piece of truly subjective, creative film criticism about the spectatorial experience – something I have never tried to write about before.  As Victor Burgin wrote of his exploration of remembered films, to which my own is indebted, in the end, ‘the question “What is the origin of this psychical object?” is of less importance in life and theory than the question “What use am I able to make of that object?”’ (72).

Works Cited

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