Good Manners


The X Files, “D.P.O.”.

In November 2006, Alain Resnais was interviewed by Positif apropos Cœurs (Private Fears in Public Places, 2006). He confessed that he was influenced by Wong Kar-wai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Arnaud Desplechin, and David Lynch, and above all [sic] he hoped there was something of the influence of Kim Manners. “He directed some 50 episodes of The X Files [1993-2002], and the virtuosity of his shot-breakdown technique and of his mise-en-scène, and the way in which he treated actors’ performances, all of it impressed me. He’s the best of the best. I’m not an expert in television series, but in Millennium [1996-99], The Shield [2002-08], The Sopranos [1999-2007], 24 [2001-], and others, I find the cinematic syntax more rich and inventive than in the majority of cinema”, he added.

There is a taste of the kind of provocation that reigned in Cahiers du cinèma in the years before the emergence of the French New Wave. Resnais knows, of course, that his voice — that of the director of Hiroshima mon amour (1959) — carries weight, even authority. I am sure some readers asked themselves: who is this Manners (whom Resnais pairs with Kar-wai, Hsiao-hsien, Desplechin, and Lynch)? And “classic” cinephiles surely thought: if he is this good, what is he doing on television?

I would not say that the episodes that he directed for The X Files are completely distinctive. Kim Manners deepens the expressiveness of the style of the series. This is what the best directors on television do; they are able to fulfil the potential of great series. In The X Files, images tend to be deep, shots recurrently use long lenses, framing provides new ways of looking at things. The world is turned into a very strange place at first sight, but the purpose seems to be to disclose this strangeness as a rediscovery of the mysteries of the world — all through an orderly point of view. This is why the series (and the films) have always privileged knowledge over closure.

For the first shot of “D.P.O.” (3.03), the camera descends into an empty car. There is a video arcade in front of the vehicle. The lights are on. We deduce that the owner of the automobile is inside, playing a video game. The episode tells the story of a teenager who has gained great electrical powers after surviving being struck by a lightning — an experience that he has been repeating. The movement of the camera from the sky to the ground mirrors the trajectory of a lightning. That is, the careful framing and the expressive camera movement convey the essential elements of the story in just one shot. You have to admire such economy and richness.