Understanding the cultural and psycho-sociological implications of film is a common undertaking for image makers and theorists alike. Additionally, a critical consumer of the mass media should understand the mechanics of the filmic engine as well as the underlying motives of film. A central read in this journey is The Cinematic Apparatus (de Lauretis and Heath), which investigates both the technical and theoretical approaches to cinema analysis.
Film has a suggestive potential intrinsically requiring oversight. The “cinematic apparatus . . . produces ideological effects in social practice” (de Lauretis). Film, therefore, requires a reference point for productive analysis of the viewing experience. The ‘ideological’ has predominantly been used as this reference point (de Lauretis; Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions; Comolli). In the article “The Place of Visual Illusions” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”) we find an additional viewpoint “that questions the prospective position which sees an ideologically ‘correct’ film-making practice as anti-illusionist” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). In other words, Turim suggests that “films need to be seen and heard differently”, and that “the question of ideology and the cinematic apparatus need to be re-framed in the light of that viewing experience”(Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”).
Taking this perspective privileges the ‘viewing experience’ that is grounded in cognitive and semiotic understanding. However, the ‘ideological’ is still without a clear definition. In order to fully explore the definition of ‘ideological’ film as compared to the ‘viewing experience’ (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”) we should attempt to understand both concerns. In “Social Perspectives on Film Aesthetics” (Tudor) we find the argument that “it would be possible to pursue a purely sociological analysis” and “on the other hand, film aesthetics could be discussed solely in their own terms” (Tudor). Unlike Turim’s privileging of the ‘viewing experience’, Tudor’s work moves back and forth between the social and technical perspectives.
The filmic ‘ideological’ viewpoint is a constant point of criticism interrogated by film theorists. For example, in “Machines of the Visible” (Comolli) a “structuring disillusion which offers the offensive strength of cinematic representation and allows it to work against the . . . mystifying representations of ideology” (Comolli) is put forward. Turim elaborates that “the avant-garde has been encased in a rhetorical arsenal aimed at granting or denying these films power as tools or weapons in an ideological struggle”(Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). The techniques of the filmic engine are well studied. Turim leaves it up to the reader to define the ‘ideological’, hinting at her interpretations of its meaning. In fact, Turim helps us through this problem by making us aware that “if we come to these films only with a methodology aimed at reading them for signification, they will appear empty, mysterious” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). This is analogous to the Deleuzian perspective that, “the attempts to apply linguistics to the cinema are disastrous . . . Any reference to a linguistic model always ends up proving that the cinema is something else” (Mitry).
At the beginning of Turim’s article, we are taken on a playful journey of one young girl’s experience in a three-way mirror. The event is described as “uncanny effects of abstraction”, “the disappearance of recognition” and a “wavering uncertainty of image, place, and subject” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). The state of illusion provided by a three-way mirror is an anchor of reference for the illusion later in life of a “sculptural room composed of mirrors” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). Turim situates “the flashback” in her later writing as a “privileged moment in unfolding that juxtaposes different moments of temporal reference. A juncture is wrought between present and past and two concepts are implied in the juncture” (Turim Flashbacks in Film). Turim’s ‘illusion’ is illustrated with the ‘flashback’ childhood experience. It is therefore disjunctive to the ‘anti-illusion’ which is never illustrated for the reader.
With this level of interpretative meaning we can define ‘anti-illusion’ as ‘canon’ and Turim asks what is ‘anti-illusion’ just as Wollen asks “what is the ‘canon’ in film studies?” (Wollen). “Wollen then criticises the anti-illusionism of the avant-garde for proscribing ‘any heteronomous signification’” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”). Further to this semiotic perspective, “genuine film significations begin only with a way of showing things, organizing them relative to each another” (Mitry). Turim is apprehensive about placing a definite meaning on ‘anti-illusion’ and Wollen shares this concern about ‘canon’. “What would it mean, for instance, to ‘open it up’ when it seems so shadowy and amorphous?” (Wollen) Turim’s response would question “to what extent can the artist, using the camera as a medium, convert the landscape into fantasies?” (Turim The Films of Oshima Nagisa) and Oshima would answer with “he will try to use the fantastic to thoroughly negate reality” (Oshima).
In my first reading of “The Place of Visual Illusions”(Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”), I was convinced that Turim was attempting to share her unique perspective of ‘anti-illusion’ by describing a tangible ‘illusion’ state. However, upon investigation of this hypothesis I was proven wrong. Using my Sociocollectometer (Socio∙collecto∙meter – a voting machine) in a group presentation environment, I attempted to acheive a collective agreement of the illusion experience. Only sixteen percent of the time the entire group of thirteen people achieved consensus on experiencing common optical illusions. It was after this event that I realized that there was no definitive consensus to be had as to what an ‘illusion’ is. Therefore, I conclude that there is no common ‘place of visual illusions’, and furthermore I extrapolate that there can be no common ‘place of anti-illusion’. With these results, I empathise with the problem Turim faced with defining ‘anti-illusions’, and I challenge her definition of a ‘common’ illusion. She probably used the juvenile ‘mirror stage’ (Lacan) reference assured of its universality, but I hypothesize that this example of illusion is overly simplistic.
It is particularly difficult to make one common ‘whole’ understanding via several potential but unresolved parts because “one can obtain a domain of a single semiotic dimension only at the price of an initial act of abstraction” (Metz). Common in Turim’s work is the quest to understand “a type of film organized to create disjunction, a separation of the functioning of visual dynamics and representational coding” (Turim Abstraction in Avant-Garde Films). However, with “The Place of Visual Illusions” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”) we see a unique attempt for Turim to identify with the core of the ‘representational coding’ she has been known to investigate in her literature. In keeping with her works, it is perhaps more important to make the distinction between illusions (visual dynamics) and ‘anti-illusions’ (representational coding) than it is to suggest a definition for ‘anti-illusion’ let alone suggesting a “Place of Visual Illusions” (Turim “The Place of Visual Illusions”).
Comolli, Jean-Louis. “Machines of the Visible.” The Cinematic Apparatus. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. 121.
de Lauretis, Teresa “Through the Looking-Glass.” The Cinematic Apparatus. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. 187.
de Lauretis, Teresa , and Stephen Heath, eds. The Cinematic Apparatus. New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1980.
Lacan, Jacques. “Some Reflections on the Ego.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 34 (1953): 11-17.
Metz, Christian. Language and Cinema. Trans. Donna Jean Umiker-Sebeok. Approaches to Semiotics. Ed. Thomas A. Sebeok. The Hague, 1974.
Mitry, Jean. Semiotics and the Analysis of Film. Trans. Christopher King. London: The Athlone Press, 2000.
Oshima, Nagisa. Cinema, Censorship and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.
Tudor, Andrew. “Sociological Perspectives on Film Aesthetics.” Working Papers on the Cinema. Ed. Peter Wollen. London: British Film Institute. 10.
Turim, Maureen. Abstraction in Avant-Garde Films. Studies in Cinema. Ed. Diane M. Kirkpatrick. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1978.
—. The Films of Oshima Nagisa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
—. Flashbacks in Film. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1989.
—. “The Place of Visual Illusions.” The Cinematic Apparatus. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. 143.
Wollen, Peter. Paris Hollywood: Writings on Film. London and New York: Verso, 2002.