The crystals of time

The cinema does not just present images, it surrounds them with a world. This is why, very early on, it looked for bigger and bigger circuits which would unite an actual image with recollection-images, dream-images and world-images. This is surely the extension that Godard calls into question in Slow Motion, when he takes issue with the vision of the dying ('I'm not dead, because my life hasn't passed before me'). Should not the opposite direction have been pursued? Contracting the image instead of dilating it. Searching for the smallest circuit that functions as internal limit for all the others and that puts the actual image beside a kind of immediate, symmetrical, consecutive or even simultaneous double. The broad circuits of recollection in dream assume this narrow base, this extreme point, and not the other way round. This sort of direction already appears in links through flashback: in Mankiewicz, a short circuit is produced between the character who tells a story 'in the past' and the same person in so far as he has surprised something in order to be able to relate it; in Carné, in Daybreak, all the circuits of recollection which bring us back each time to the hotel room, rest on a small circuit, the recent recollection of the murder which has just taken place in this very same room. If we take this direction to its limit; we can say that the actual image itself has a virtual image which corresponds to it like a double or a reflection. In Bergsonian terms, the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is 'coalescence' between the two.1 There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or a postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned into the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture.

We recognize here the very specific genre of description which, according to Robbe-Grillet's requirement, instead of being concerned with a supposedly distinct object constantly both absorbs and creates its own object.2 Ever vaster circuits will be able to develop, corresponding to deeper and deeper layers of reality and higher and higher levels of memory or thought. But it is this most restricted circuit of the actual image and its virtual image which carries everything, and serves as internal limit. We have seen how, on the broader trajectories, perception and recollection, the real and the imaginary, the physical and the mental, or rather their images, continually followed each other, running behind each other and referring back to each other around a point of indiscernibility. But this point of indiscernibility is precisely constituted by the smallest circle, that is, the coalescence of the actual image and the virtual image, the image with two sides, actual and virtual at the same time. We gave the name opsign (and sonsign) to the actual image cut off from its motor extension: it then formed large circuits, and entered into communication with what could appear as recollection-images, dream-images and world-images. But here we see that the opsign finds its true genetic element when the actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image, on the small internal circuit. This is a crystal-image, which gives us the key, or rather the 'heart', of opsigns and their compositions. The latter are nothing other than slivers of crystal-images.

The crystal-image, or crystalline description, has two definite sides which are not to be confused. For the confusion of the real and the imaginary is a simple error of fact, and does not affect their discernibility: the confusion is produced solely 'in someone's head'. But indiscernibility constitutes an objective illusion; it does not suppress the distinction between the two sides, but makes it unattributable, each side taking the other's role in a relation which we must describe as reciprocal presupposition, or reversibility.5 In fact, there is no virtual which does not become actual in relation to the actual, the latter becoming virtual through the same relation: it is a place and its obverse which are totally reversible. These are 'mutual images' as Bachelard puts it, where an exchange is carried out/ The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind, it is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by nature double. Hence two orders of problems arise, one of structure, the other of genesis. First, what are these consolidates <>f actual and virtual which define a crystalline structure (in a general, aesthetic, rather than a scientific, sense)? And, later on, what is the genetic process which appears in these structures?

The most familiar case is the mirror. Oblique mirrors, concave and convex mirrors and Venetian mirrors are inseparable from a circuit, as can be seen throughout Ophuls's work, and in Losey, especially in Eve and The Servant.'' This circuit itself is an exchange: the mirror-image is virtual in relation to the actual character that the mirror catches, but it is actual in the mirror which now leaves the character with only a virtuality and pushes him back out-of-field. The exchange is all the more active when the circuit refers to a polygon with a growing number of sides: as in a face reflected on the facets of a ring, an actor seen in an infinity of twins. When virtual images proliferate like this, all together they absorb the entire actuality of the character, at the same time as the character is no more than one virtuality among others. This situation was prefigured in Welles's Citizen Kane, when Kane passes between two facing mirrors; but it comes to the fore in its pure state in the famous palace of mirrors in The Lady from Shanghai, where the principle of indiscernibility reaches its peak: a perfect crystal-image where the multiple mirrors have assumed the actuality of the two characters who will only be able to win it back by smashing them all, finding themselves side by side and each killing the other.

The actual image and its virtual image thus constitute the smallest internal circuit, ultimately a peak or point, but a physical point which has distinct elements (a bit like the epicurean atom). Distinct, but indiscernible, such are the actual and the virtual which are in continual exchange. When the virtual image becomes actual, it is then visible and limpid, as in the mirror or the solidity of finished crystal. But the actual image becomes virtual in its turn, referred elsewhere, invisible, opaque and shadowy, like a crystal barely dislodged from the earth. The actual-virtual couple thus immediately extends into the opaque-limpid, the expression of their exchange. But it needs only a modification of conditions (notably of temperature) for the limpid face to darken, and for the opaque face to acquire or rediscover its limpidity. The exchange is started again. So long as the conditions are not made precise there is definitely a distinction between the two sides, but they are indiscernible. This situation seems to bring us close to science. And it is no accident that it is developed in Zanussi as a result of a scientific inspiration. What interests Zanussi, however, is the 'power' of science, its relation to life, and first of all its projection into the life of men of science themselves.6 The Structure of Crystals clearly shows two men of science, one of whom shines and already possesses all the light of official science, pure science, whilst the other has withdrawn into an opaque life and obscure tasks. But, from another point of view, is it not the obscure face which becomes luminous, even if this light is no longer that of science, even if it becomes more like faith as in an Augustinian 'illumination', whilst the representatives of pure science become peculiarly opaque and pursue projects with a shameful will to power (Camouflage, The Imperative)? Zanussi is one of those authors who, since Dreyer, have known how to enrich dialogue with a religious, metaphysical, or scientific content, while still keeping it as the most everyday and trivial determination. And this success comes precisely from a principle of indiscernibility. Which is luminous, the clear scientific schema of a brain section, or the opaque cranial dome of a monk at prayer (Illumination)? Between the two distinct sides, a doubt will always remain, preventing us from knowing which is limpid and which is dark, considering the conditions. In A Woman's Decision, the two protagonists 'stay in the middle [milieu] of their fight, frozen and covered in mud, while the sun rises'.7 This is because the conditions echo the environment [milieu] too, like the weather conditions that we see again and again in Zanussi. The crystal is no longer reducible to the external position of two mirrors face to face, but to the internal disposition of a seed in relation to the environment. What will be the seed with which we can sow the environment, this desert-like and snowy expanse which is opened out in Zanussi's films? Or else, despite men's efforts, will the environment remain amorphous, at the same time as the crystal is emptied of its interiority, and as the seed is only a seed of death, fatal illness, or suicide (Spiral)} Exchange or indiscernibility thus follow each other in three ways in the crystalline circuit: the actual and the virtual (or the two mirrors face to face); the limpid and the opaque; the seed and the environment. Zanussi attempts to bring the whole cinema under the influence of these various aspects of an uncertainty principle.

Zanussi has made an actor out of the man of science; that is, a dramatic being par excellence. But this was already the situation of the actor in himself: the crystal is a stage, or rather a track [^ute], before being an amphitheatre. The actor is bracketed with his Public role: he makes the virtual image of the role actual, so that the role becomes visible and luminous. The actor is a 'monster', or father monsters are born actors — Siamese twin, limbless man -because they find a role in the excess or shortcoming that affects them. But the more the virtual image of the role becomes actual and limpid, the more the actual image of the actor moves into the shadows and becomes opaque: there will be a private project of the actor, a dark vengeance, a strangely obscure criminal or justice-bringing activity. And this underground activity will detach itself and become visible in turn, as the interrupted role falls back into opacity. We can already recognize the dominant theme of Tod Browning's work, in silent film. A fake limbless man takes to his role and has his arms really cut off, for the love of the woman who could not bear men's hands, but tries to recover his dignity by organizing the murder of a rival who is whole (The Unknown). In The Unholy Three, the ventriloquist Echo can no longer speak except through his dummy, but regains control of himself in the criminal project he pursues disguised as an old woman, even though he confesses his crime through the mouth of the man who was wrongly accused. The monsters in Freaks are monsters only because they have been forced to move into their explicit role, and it is through a dark vengeance that they find themselves again and regain a strange clarity which arrives in the lightning to interrupt their role.8 In The Black Bird it is in the course of a transformation that 'the actor' is struck by paralysis, when he was going to use his role of bishop in a criminal intent: as if the monstrous exchange suddenly froze. An abnormal, suffocating slowness permeates Browning's characters in general, in the crystal. What we see in Browning is not a reflection on the theatre or the circus, as we will see in others, but a double face of the actor, that only the cinema could capture by instituting its own circuit. The virtual image of the public role becomes actual, but in relation to the virtual image of a private crime, which becomes actual in turn and replaces the first image. We no longer know which is the role and which is the crime. Perhaps it needed an extraordinary understanding between an actor and an author: Browning and Lon Chaney. This crystalline circuit of the actor, its transparent face and its opaque face, is travesty. If Browning achieved a poetry of the unassignable in this way, it seems that two great films of travesty have inherited his inspiration: Hitchcock's Murder, and Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge, with its marvellous black backgrounds.

To such a varied list we should add the ship. It too is a track, a circuit. It is as if, as in Turner's paintings, splitting in two is not an accident, but a power which is part of the ship. It is Herman Melville who, in his novels, fixed this structure for all time. Seed impregnating the sea, the ship is caught between its two crystalline faces: a limpid face which is the ship from above, where everything should be visible, according to order; an opaque face which is the ship from below, and which occurs underwater, the black face of the engine-room stokers. But it is as if the limpid face actualizes a kind of theatre or dramaturgy which takes hold of the passengers themselves, whilst the virtual passes into the opaque face, and is actualized in turn in the settling of scores between engineers, in the demonic perversity of a boatswain, in a captain's obsession, in the secret revenge of insurgent blacks." This is the circuit of two virtual images which continually become actual in relation to each other, and are continually revived. It is not so much Huston's Moby Dick which gives the cinematographic version of the ship, but rather Welles's The Lady from Shanghai, in which the majority of the forms of the crystal-image are undoubtedly to be found: the yacht called 'The Circe' reveals a visible face and an invisible face, a limpid face that for a moment the naive hero allows himself to be caught by, while the other face, the opaque one, the great dark stage of the aquarium of monsters, rises in silence and grows as the first one becomes vague or blurred. And, in a different way, it is Fellini who discovers, beyond the circus-track, a circuit of the ship as ultimate fate. The ship in Amarcord already presented itself as a vast seed of death or life on the sea of plastic. But, in The Ship Sails On, the ship makes the face of a growing polygon proliferate. It initially splits in two according to the division of bottom and top: the entire visible order of the ship and its sailors is at the service of the grand dramaturgical project of the singer-passengers; but, when these passengers from the top come to see the proletariat at the bottom, it is the latter who become in turn spectators, and listeners to the singing competition which they impose on those at the top, or to the musical competition in the kitchens. Then the split changes its orientation and now divides the singer-passengers and the proletarian-shipwrecked on the bridge: here again the exchange is made between the actual and the virtual, the limpid and the opaque, in a Bartok-like musical device. Then, later, the split has '»ecome almost a splitting in two: the dark warship, blind and <losed-up, terrifying, which arrives to reclaim the fugitives, is actualized all the better because the transparent ship carried out ■is funerary dramaturgy in a marvellous circuit of faster and 'aster images where the two ships end up exploding and sinking, giving back to the sea what ends up as the sea, an eternally amorphous environment, a melancholy rhinoceros which stands for Moby Dick. This is the mutual image, this is the cycle of the crystal ship in a pictorial and musical end of the world, and, among the final gestures, the young maniacal terrorist who cannot stop himself throwing a final bomb into the dark ship's narrow porthole.

The ship can also be the ship of the dead, the nave of a simple chapel as place of an exchange. The virtual survival of the dead can be actualized, but is this not at the price of our existence, which becomes virtual in turn? Is it the dead who belong to us, or we who belong to the dead? And do we love them against the living, or for and with life? Truffaut's fine film, The Green Room, arranges the four faces which form a strange green crystal, an emerald. At one point, the hero hides in a little shelter with dulled windows with green reflections, where he seems to have a glaucous existence, where it is impossible to tell whether he is living or dead. And in the chapel's crystal can be seen a thousand candles, a bush of fire which is always missing a branch to make it into the 'perfect figure'. The final candle of he or she who has been able to light only the last-but-one will always be missing, in an irreducible persistence of life which makes the crystal infinite.

The crystal is expression. Expression moves from the mirror to the seed. It is the same circuit which passes through three figures, the actual and the virtual, the limpid and the opaque, the seed and the environment. In fact, the seed is on the one hand the virtual image which will crystallize an environment which is at present [actuellement] amorphous; but on the other hand the latter must have a structure which is virtually crystallizable, in relation to which the seed now plays the role of actual image. Once again the actual and the virtual are exchanged in an indiscernibility which on each occasion allows distinction to survive. In a famous sequence in Citizen Kane, the little glass ball breaks apart when it falls from the hands of the dying man, but the snow that it contained seems to come towards us in gusts to impregnate the environment [milieux] that we will discover. We do not know in advance if the virtual seed ('Rosebud') will be actualized, because we do not know in advance if the actual environment enjoys the corresponding virtuality. Perhaps this is also the perspective from which to understand the splendour of the images in Herzog's Heart of Glass, and the film's double aspect. The search for the alchemical heart and secret, for the red crystal, is inseparable from the search for cosmic limits, as the highest tension of the spirit and the deepest level of reality. But the crystal's fire will have to connect with the whole range of manufacturing for the world, for its part to stop being a flat, amorphous environment which ends at the edge of a gulf, and to reveal infinite crystalline potentialities in itself ("the earth rises up from the waters, I see a new earth . . .')."' In this film Herzog has set out the greatest crystal-images in the history of the cinema. There is an analogous attempt in Tarkovsky, continued from one film to the next, but always closed again: Mirror is a turning crystal, with two sides if we relate it to the invisible adult character (his mother, his wife), with four sides if we relate it to two visible couples (his mother and the child he was, his wife and the child he has). And the crystal turns on itself, like a homing device that searches an opaque environment: what is Russia, what is Russia .. .? The seed seems to be frozen in these sodden, washed and heavily translucent images, with their sometimes bluish, sometimes brown surfaces, while the green environment seems, in the rain, to be unable to go beyond the condition of a liquid crystal which keeps its secret. Are we to believe that the soft planet Solaris gives a reply, and that it will reconcile the ocean and thought, the environment and the seed, at once designating the transparent face of the crystal (the rediscovered woman) and the crystallizable form of the universe (the rediscovered dwelling)? Solaris does not open up this optimism, and Stalker returns the environment to the opacity of an indeterminate zone, and the seed to the morbidity of something aborting, a closed door. Tarkovsky's wash"* (the woman also washes her hair against a wet wall in Mirror), the rains that provide rhythm for each film, as intense as in Antonioni or Kurosawa, but with different functions, constantly bring us back to the question: what burning bush, what fire, what soul, what sponge will staunch this earth? Serge Daney observed that, after Dovzhenko, certain Soviet film-makers (or those from eastern Europe like Zanussi) kept the taste for heavy materials and dense still lifes which were, in constrast, removed by the movement-image in western cinema.12 In the crystal-image there is this mutual search - blind and halting-of matter and spirit: beyond the movement-image, 'in which we are still pious'.

The seed and the mirror are taken up yet again, the one in the work in process of being made, the other in the work reflected in the work. These two themes, which had run through all the other arts, had to affect cinema as well. Sometimes it is the film which is reflected in a theatre play, a show, a painting, or, better, a film within the film; sometimes it is the film which takes itself as its object in the process of its making or of its setbacks in being made. And sometimes the two themes are quite distinct: in Eisenstein, the montage of attractions already produced images in the mirror; in Last Year in Marienbad by Resnais and Robbe-Grillet, the two big theatre scenes are images in a mirror (and the entire Marienbad hotel is a pure crystal, with its transparent side, its opaque side and their exchange).15 In contrast, Fellini's<5'/2 is a seed-image, in process of heing produced, which feeds on its setbacks (except perhaps in the big scene with the telepath which introduces a mirror-image). Wenders's The State of Things is all the more in seed-form because it aborts, becomes dispersed and can be reflected only in the reasons which block it. Buster Keaton, who is sometimes presented as a genius without reflection, is perhaps the first along with Vertov to have introduced the film within the film. In Sherlock Junior, this is in the form of a mirror-image; on another occasion, in The Cameraman, it is in the form of a seed which arrives directly via the cinema, even though manipulated by a monkey or a reporter, and constitutes the film in process of being made. Sometimes, on the other hand, in the manner of Gide's Counterfeiters, the two themes or the two cases cross and join up, becoming indistinguishable.14 In Godard's Passion, the pictorial and musical tableaux vivants are in the process of being produced; at the same time the female worker, the wife and the boss are the mirror-image of what, nevertheless, reflects them themselves. In Rivette, theatrical representation is a mirror-image but, precisely because it is constantly failing, is the seed of that which does not manage to come to completion or to be reflected, hence the very odd role of the rehearsals of Pericles in Paris Belongs to Us, or Phaedra in L'amour fou. Yet another form appears in Welles's Immortal Story: the whole film was the mirror-image of a legend staged again by the old man, but at the same time stood on its own terms as the initial occasion which would make the legend itself germinate and give it back to the sea.'5

It was inevitable that the cinema, in the crises of the action-image, went through melancholic Hegelian reflections on its own death: having no more stories to tell, it would take itself as object and would be able to tell only its own story (Wenders). But, in fact, the work in the mirror and the work in the seed have always accompanied art without ever exhausting it, because art found in them a means of creation for certain special images. By the same token, the film within the film does not signal an end of history, and is no more self-sufficient than is the flashback or the dream: it ¡s just a method of working, which must be justified from elsewhere. In fact, it is a mode of the crystal-image. If this mode is used, then it has to be grounded on considerations capable of giving it a higher justification. It will be observed that, in all the arts, the work within the work has often been linked to the consideration of a surveillance, an investigation, a revenge, a conspiracy, or a plot. This was already true for the theatre in the theatre of Hamlet, but also for the novel of Gide. We have seen the importance that this theme of the conspiracy takes on in the cinema, with the crisis of the action-image; and it is not only in Rivette - an irresistible atmosphere of conspiracy spreads through Last Year in Marienbad. Yet all this would only constitute a perspective of very secondary importance if the cinema did not have the most powerful reasons for giving it new and specific depth. The cinema as art itself lives in a direct relation with a permanent plot [complot], an international conspiracy which conditions it from within, as the most intimate and most indispensable enemy. This conspiracy is that of money; what defines industrial art is not mechanical reproduction but the internalized relation with money. The only rejoinder to the harsh law of cinema - a minute of image which costs a day of collective work - is Fellini's: 'When there is no more money left, the film will be finished.' Money is the obverse of all the images that the cinema shows and sets in place, so that films about money are already, if implicitly, films within the film or about the film.16 This is the true 'state of things': it is not in a goal of cinema, as Wenders says, but rather, as he shows, in a constitutive relation between the film in process of being made and money as the totality of the film. Wenders, in The State of Things, shows the deserted, run-down hotel, and the film crew, each of whom returns to his solitude, victim of a plot whose key is elsewhere; and this key is revealed in the second half of the film as the other side, the mobile home of the producer on the run who is going to get himself murdered, causing the death of the film-maker, in such a way as to make plain that there is not, and there never will be, equivalence or equality in the mutual camera-money exchange.

' bis is the old curse which undermines the cinema: time is •Honey. I f it is true that movement maintains a set of exchanges or a,i equivalence, a symmetry as an invariant, time is by nature the conspiracy of unequal change or the impossibility of an equivalence. It is in this sense that it is money: in Marx's two formulations, C-M-C is that of equivalence, but M-C-M is that of impossible equivalence or tricked, dissymmetrical exchange. Godard presented Passion as posing precisely this problem of exchange. And if Wenders, as we saw in the case of his first films, treated the camera as the general equivalent of all movement of translation, he discovers in The State of Things the impossibility of a camera-time equivalence, time being money or the circulation of money. L'Herbier had said it all, in an astonishing and mocking lecture: space and time becoming more and more expensive in the modern world, art had to make itself international industrial art, that is, cinema, in order to buy space and time as 'imaginary warrants of human capital'.17 This was not the explicit theme of the masterpiece Money, but it was its implicit theme (and in a film of the same title, inspired by Tolstoy, Bresson shows that money, because it is of the order of time, makes impossible any reparation for evil done, any equivalence or just retribution, except of course through grace). In short, the cinema confronts its most internal presupposition, money, and the movement-image makes way for the time-image in one and the same operation. What the film within the film expresses is this infernal circuit between the image and money, this inflation which time puts into the exchange, this 'overwhelming rise'. The film is movement, but the film within the film is money, is time. The crystal-image thus receives the principle which is its foundation: endlessly relaunching exchange which is dissymmetrical, unequal and without equivalence, giving image for money, giving time for images, converting time, the transparent side, and money, the opaque side, like a spinning top on its end. And the film will be finished when there is no more money left. ..

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