Uses of Philosophy



I recently read Dyrk Ashton’s essay “Reflections of Deleuze: An Alias-ed Critique of Truth”, a chapter of Investigating “Alias”: Secrets and Spies, edited by Stacey Abbott and Simon Brown (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007). Ashton uses Gilles Deleuze’s ideas, especially his remarks on reflections and the relativisation of truth, to analyse Alias (2001-6). This allows him to interpret the numerous aliases, many doubles, multiple images, and insistent distrust present in the series as illustrating Deleuze’s ideas. This is symptomatic of a common way of using philosophy (and theory) as something that can be simply exemplified by films and television series. The ideas are as serviceable as the works.

Last week, I finished writing a paper on The Addiction (1995) in which I employ a lot of philosophical references. However, this is a different case and a different use. The references are mentioned in the film or are clearly invited by it. As I argue, they play an essential role in any serious reading of this movie directed by Abel Ferrara. Reading The Addiction demands an engagement with philosophy.

There are other fruitful uses of philosophy. We may use certain concepts developed by philosophers because they clarify what we are studying in a film. See, for instance, how Catherine Grant has been using Henri Bergson’s notion of attentive recognition. In the first post, she declares after having discussed La amiga (1988) that “attentive recognition is, then, in this case, potentially a participatory notion of spectatorship. It requires of the spectator an act of memory, an act of imagination and an act of identification or empathy with a fictional character to ‘work’”. In another post, Grant extends her analysis to Vertigo (1958). This is not a mere application of a concept. Her perceptive analyses invariably result in a rethinking and redefinition of Bergson’s notion that illuminates how different films create moments of recognition and discovery.

O Moderno Paradoxal


O Passado e o Presente (1971).

A exposição retrospectiva sobre a obra fílmica de Manoel de Oliveira já abriu em Serralves a 12 de Julho. Lá estarei. Vai decorrer até 2 de Novembro e tem diversos eventos a decorrer em paralelo. Um deles é um seminário que vai ter lugar em Outubro, intitulado “Manoel de Oliveira: O Moderno Paradoxal”. Exactamente: o paradoxal cinema de Oliveira revela o primitivo como moderno. A luminosidade e a escuridão memoriais das origens do cinema habitam-no para revelarem coisas a (re)descobrir. É o passado e o presente.

Recalling the Rain


Partie de campagne.

This an excerpt from a conversation between Andrew Klevan and Stanley Cavell. It is worth reading the whole text attentively, but this moment is particularly telling of the way both approach film and films. The fact that the rain in Partie de campagne (A Day in the Country, 1936) was not planned does not mean that it is to be read as insignificant in the context of the film. They encourage us to attend to the film, to how the filmmaker integrates elements and gives them significance.

These remarks also resonate with me because Andrew, now at the University of Oxford, was my teacher (the most passionate and compelling teacher that I ever encountered, in fact). Partie de campagne was one of the films that we discussed in his Film Analysis course. So this exchange of words recalls to me not only Renoir’s great film, but the seminar about it as well:

ANDREW KLEVAN: I wonder why so many of the serious things we feel about films are mysteriously diverted when we speak or write about them. Why are our thoughts and words about film deflected? Anecdotes seem to be one of the many instances of diversion. I was just thinking of that anecdote about the Renoir film Partie de campagne...

STANLEY CAVELL: ...Yes. “It rained that day.”

KLEVAN: Actually that is not necessarily an unhelpful anecdote if it leads one, as it led me, to be even more astonished at how Renoir made use of the rain (on the water) in the film. Indeed, we are more alert to the complexity of its integration.

CAVELL: Exactly, but instead I have heard the anecdote used as reductive, by saying “Oh he didn’t intend to film the scene in rain. He was just lucky.” In that case one might say that wonderful filmmakers are perpetually lucky. How can that be?[1]


[1] “What Becomes of Thinking on Film?: Stanley Cavell in Conversation with Andrew Klevan”, in Film as Philosophy: Essays on Cinema After Wittgenstein and Cavell, ed. Rupert Read and Jerry Goodenough (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2005), p. 176.

39 Years Later


Notre musique (2004).

I await the end of cinema with optimism.


The Same


“For me, as a philosopher of art, a Kurosawa film and Friends (1994-2004) are the same.” Dominic McIver Lopes (University of British Columbia) said these words a while ago when he was at Kent. I wrote them on my notebook at the time with the feeling that I had heard a sentence that encapsulates my own understanding. I abide by the same principle.

As a philosopher of art, Lopes was defending his choice of popular art as an object of inquiry and a source of examples. This does not mean that there are no differences between, say, Ikiru (1952) and Friends. It just means that, in abstract terms, their similarities as instances of the art of the moving image are more relevant — and more persuasive.

Bordwell sobre Žižek


Slavoj Žižek (diz-se Jijek) já tem algumas obras traduzidas em português. A sua visita à Cinemateca Portuguesa relembrou-me que a discussão da sua contribuição para o estudo do cinema está a passar ao lado de Portugal. Talvez porque ainda seja cedo. Talvez porque Žižek seja apresentado como simplesmente “fenomenal” — como alguém cujo trabalho não vale a pena ser discutido ou questionado, mas deve ser apenas admirado. Pode ser que a moda passe.

Penso que as suas ideias mais interessantes nada têm a ver com cinema — por exemplo, as suas reflexões sobre a impregnação da ideologia. Mas as suas conclusões são muitas vezes inconclusivas e o seu talento argumentativo é intermitente — ele avança invarialvelmente através da “revelação” de paradoxos e desenvolve os seus pontos de um modo sinuoso. Basta compará-lo com Stanley Cavell — um pensador que também reflecte sobre o cinema que é mais denso, mas também mais frutuoso.

Como lacaniano, Žižek tem criticado abordagens empíricas ao entendimento do cinema. David Bordwell, académico central nesta tendência de procurar validações no estudo estílistico e histórico dos filmes, já lhe respondeu muitas vezes. Eis um ensaio acerca de The Fright of Real Tears: Krzystof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post-Theory (Londres: BFI, 2001) — e não só. É um bom texto, ainda que a espaços demasiado azedo, para iniciar uma abordagem crítica dos escritos e ditos do esloveno: “Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything”.

Lost and Found



The original cut of Metropolis (1927) has been finally found, 80 years later. Some stills from the 16mm print:



Chris Marker on American television series in 2003:

My necessity for fiction is fed by that which is by far its more accomplished source: the great American series […]. There, there is an understanding, a sense of narration, of summary, of ellipse, a science of framing and editing, a dramaturgy and a play of actors that do not have equivalent elsewhere, and especially not in Hollywood.

Worlds Apart


The part-time teachers’ office of the Film Studies Department of the University of Kent is a place where I spend a lot of my time. It is where I am right now. There are varied posters and cuttings on the wall: Volver (2006), Sex and the City (2008), Pulp Fiction (1994), À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960), et al. On the top shelf, I see books by: André Bazin, David Bordwell, Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, Sigmund Freud, Frederic Jameson, Christian Metz, V. F. Perkins, Slavoj Žižek, et al. All side by side.

Grande Televisão


Deadwood (2004-6), “Deadwood” (1.01).

Para o José, com um abraço (cinéfilo).