Dennis Potters Bid For Immortality

The first episode in Dennis Potter's posthumously produced television drama series, Cold Lazarus, ends with a startling image a human head suspended in a large tank of blue liquid nitrogen struggling to open its eyes. In this moment, the newly 'awakened' head confronts a montage of image and sound projected onto a giant liquid screen. From this swirl of colour and form there suddenly emerges a close-up of Daniel Feeld -the dead protagonist from the prequel to this series, Karaoke. Here, Feeld,...

Mirror of the Soul

References to the face as a mirror of the soul are found in early Greek literature. The face was first conceived as a mirror of the soul by the ancients. The classical science of physiognomics is based on Aristotle's theory of the interdependence of body and soul, an assumption spelt out in the opening lines of a treatise on the topic justifying why there should be such a science Dispositions follow bodily characteristics and are not in themselves unaffected by bodily impulses. This is obvious...

Acting Like a Blind

In 1930, just one year prior to the release of City Lights, the German psychologist M. von Senden published his influential study, Space and Sight The Perception of Space and Shape in the Congenitally Blind Before and After Operation.iii An interpretive study of two centuries of research on the congenitally blind before and after operation, Space and Sight contributes to the theorization of space, while its purpose, the author writes, is to 'throw light on the full meaning of the task of...

When People See People

Channel Ten (Australia) reported on Paul Eddington's death by showing three short grabs - two of which were images of him as he had not been seen on television before.v The first was taken from the long running British television series Yes, Prime Minister, which made Eddington internationally recognisable as the face of Jim Hacker, Minister of Parliament. Here, Hacker explains If people saw people coming, before people saw them seeing people coming, people would see people. This instance of...

Space of Touch

The concept of habit is central to von Senden's study of blind modes of perception. Arguing for the specificity of blind perception of space, von Senden cites a well-known case of a fourteen-year-old blind and deaf boy recorded by the Scottish surgeon Wardrop in 1810. Wardrop reports that the blind and deaf boy had an unusual habit of creating circles with stones ' T he boy was observed to employ many hours in selecting from the channel of a river, which was near his father's house, small...

Forgotten Princess

In The Colour of Time Claude Monet, Virginia Spate explains how Monet's 'automatic' response to the death of his beloved wife Camille was to paint a picture of her dead face. Spate contends that Monet's action should not be interpreted as a desire to document his wife's existence, nor to record her 'true' nature, in the tradition of the death-mask or commemorative portrait.xv Rather, relying on an account of this event by Monet's friend Georges Clemenceau in which the artist describes his...

The Mask of Writing

I do not believe what writers say about themselves, except when they think they are not saying it about themselves. This is not necessarily because they have less probity than others but because the masking of the Self is an essential part of the trade. Even, or especially, when 'using' the circumstances, pleasures and dilemmas of one's own life Dennis Potter Karaoke, the first of Potter's two posthumously produced drama series reflects a number of interesting issues of recognition that arise...

The Underside of the Mask

A week or so after the news reports on Paul Eddington's death, ABC TV (Australia) broadcast a special edition of the BBC series Face to Face featuring an hour-long interview with Eddington. In this interview, recorded a short time prior to his death and shot entirely in close-up, Eddington was asked how he found the courage to appear 'as himself', meaning in his then current state of disfigurement. He said that he drew on his training as an actor. Bracing himself as one might don a mask...

Nothing to Mourn

In its coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack, television was much more than an information service. By inadvertently making us aware of the absences, silences and omissions of the event, television 'replays' the ultimate horror of terrorism namely, the threat of total oblivion, of nothing to mourn. As the site of a global experience of absence, an anxiety about not seeing, Ground Zero marks what Jacques Derrida (in another context) calls 'the loss of the archive', taking the threat...

Shock of Recognition

In the field of perception studies the face derives its special status from its conception as a unique pictorial experience.vi It is widely agreed by researchers in this area that recognizing faces is a more complex process than any other kind of pictorial recognition. One school of thought is that face recognition relies on a very restricted number of visual features and minimal differences in characteristics such as shape, texture, tone, and the relative positioning of facial features. Other...

America Remembers

In the months leading up to the first anniversary of September 11, the American state collaborated with community groups, families of victims and media networks to stage a mass mediated commemoration service of the victims of the disaster. The result was a global television event, titled 'America Remembers'. Three of Australia's commercial networks provided live, ad-free coverage, as did one of Australia's two state services. The remaining Australian commercial and state channels scheduled...

In the World of Time

Clearly, the face takes on a very different shape and function in the world of the blind. Eyes also serve a different, tactual function. When Diderot asked his friend for his opinion of what he thought eyes were, the man replied 'An organ on which the air has the effect this stick has on my hand'.x In these kinds of experience, the face is a tactile receptor of pressure changes in the air, of temperature, and other tactual forces. Blind experience of the face reminds us that face recognition is...

Pre Face

The face counts for nothing in film unless it includes the death's head beneath. There was a time in screen culture when the face was a spectacular and mysterious image. Writing in the early part of the twentieth century, film theorist Bela Balazs claimed that cinematic close-ups of faces - gigantic 'severed heads', as he called them -constituted 'a new dimension, an entirely new mode of perception' In the image-cultures of contemporary media, however, the face is anything but mysterious. The...

Recognition Spectatorsh

'Tender, haunting, imaginative, and innovative as profound as it is poignant.' In this tender, haunting, imaginative, and innovative work, Therese Davis broadens and deepens cultural theory, away from a 1990s focus on mass culture as pleasure, towards an engagement in the new millennium with the image's darker powers its capacity to reveal and engage with pain, illness, disease, blindness, trauma, death, mourning, loss, remembrance, melancholy. The Face on the Screen looks beyond the usual rush...

The Trauma of Nonrecognition

This second view of 'Mabo', in which we face the gap between the name and face rather than foreclosing it, opens the way for a different understanding of the name and naming. From this perspective, it is possible to 're-view' Mabo's life story through the lens of the history embedded in the name. As the film tells us, Mabo was born on the island of Mer, known as Murray Island, in 1936. He is the son of Robert and Paipe Sambo. When his mother died shortly after his birth, he was adopted by Benny...

Returning Home Mourning and Tragedy

The final section of the film is primarily a documentation of the family's renewed mourning and the re-burial of Mabo's body on his island home. Here, the narration becomes even more intimate as Graham explains that after the attack on the grave he had no choice than to continue filming. From this point onward we see that the film is very much a 'work of mourning' it repeats the scene of death as a way of working through it and inevitably moving beyond it. But it is also in this final 'act',...

The History in the Name

So far I have argued that the film's attempt to close the gap between name and face by offering us an image of Mabo as a tragic hero inadvertently re-produces the violence of de-facement. Or to put it slightly differently, as a response to an actual defacement the film's deployment of techniques of faciality becomes a form of textual de-facement the film gives 'Mabo' a face only to render it the face of a ghost, a death mask. But there is, however, another way of seeing the film that involves...

The Face of the Beloved

In One-Way Street Benjamin reflects on what is possibly the most intense instance of facial vision the face of the beloved.xvi He writes He who loves is attached not only to the 'faults' of the beloved, not only to the whims and weaknesses of a woman. Wrinkles in the face, moles, shabby clothes, and a lopsided walk bind him more lastingly and relentlessly than any beauty. This has long been known. And why If the theory is correct that feeling is not located in the head, that we sentiently...

Disaster Terrorism and Television

Fast-forwarding from the ancients to the age of terrorism, we discover that television plays a crucial role as a site of public memory and memorialisation in the face of large-scale disaster. This is more than ironic, for many argue that television is, if not the cause of terrorism, then certainly a major contributing factor to increases in terrorist activities.ii In 1946 a militant Zionist group orchestrated an elaborate plan to bomb the British military and administrative headquarters in the...

The Face as Magic Mirror

By the eighteenth century the image of the face as a mirror of the soul had been transformed I such a way that all radical aspects of animality were truly contained. This was due largely to the influence of the Swiss pastor John Casper Lavater's popular Essays on Physiognomy 1775-78 vi in which the human face is posited as no less than 'a magic mirror' of the face of God GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE, IN THE IMAGE OF GOD CREATED HE HIM. How exaltedly, how exclusively honourable to man...

Becoming Unrecognisable

I remember staying up through the night to watch CNN's live coverage of Yitzhak Rabin's burial service and how it was a speech given by his granddaughter at that event which brought me closest to the significance of his death.i The granddaughter explained to the world watching that the memorialising images of Rabin's face was not the face she knew. This was not her grandfather we saw on the screen. On the contrary, in death Rabin was, for her, unrecognisable - 'a smile that is no longer'. While...

The Face of Diana

While I was researching this book, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, resulted in a media event on a scale never seen before. Up until this point, I considered that perhaps Diana was the face of the media age. In a strange way, her death came to confirm this view. The event reached unprecedented global proportions when live television coverage of her funeral service was watched by an estimated one in three people worldwide, making it the then single most viewed event in human history.i...

The Violence of Defacement

About three quarters of the way into Mabo - Life of an Island Man, the metaphoric defacement of' 'Mabo' that the film seeks to compensate for is suddenly literalised in the shocking image of a racist attack on Eddie Mabo's grave. This attack occurred in June 1995, immediately following a Torres Straight Islander tombstone unveiling ceremony held in Townsville to commemorate Eddie Mabo and to celebrate the High Court judgement.xiv We learn that while indigenous and non-indigenous members of...

Mass Media as Face

In her study of the Weimar period in Sabine, Hake identifies a widespread critical interest in physiognomics 'in sociological writings on the metropolis George Simmel , in the morphology of world history Oswald Spenglar , in the first contributions to emergent film theory Bela Balasz , in metaphysical speculations on the body Ludwig Klages, Rudolf Kassner , and in a new theory of temperaments Kretchner '.xiv Hake speculates that in the destabilizing conditions of modernity physiognomy provided...

Faciality

It is argued that the invention of the camera in the nineteenth century reinvigorated the principles of physiognomy. And how The camera was crucial to the development and popularisation of influential positivist forms of social categorisation and subjugation, such as Francis Galton's programme of Eugenics and Cesare Lombroso's racist theory of criminality.vii Photography's apparent objectivity allowed for it to be easily applied in the service of social forms of surveillance and typification,...

Live History

The terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, New York, September 11, 2001 was a catastrophic event that even now commentators compete to make sense of. But whether critics see the attack as the end of postmodernism, payback for American dominance, God's judgement of American secularism or the beginning of a New World Order, they all agree that September 11 is a singular media event. In 'Notes on the Logic of the Global Spectacle' Jonathan Flatley argues that what makes...

Film as Prosopopoeia

When Mabo - Life of an Island Man was first screened at the 1997 Sydney International Film Festival, it received a standing ovation that lasted more than five minutes and was voted Best Documentary Film. Since then, it has won numerous other national and international film awards.iv It has also had a successful national theatrical release and has been screened on national television ABC in prime time on several occasions. Reviews indicate that this positive reception is largely due to the...

Face to Face

Mabo - Life of an Island Man makes Eddie Mabo recognisable to Australian audiences as a face, as the face of native title. But as I have tried to show in this analysis, coming face to face with another is never straightforward nor does the familiarity generated by this particular form of intimacy guarantee a non-hostile relationship. In May 1884, for instance, some five years after Queensland annexed the Torres Straight Islands, the cover of Illustrated Sydney News featured an etching, titled,...