a slice of it to use and to keep

‘The frame of the camera detaches a block of the world from its surrounding context, and the frame of the screen temporally juxtaposes heterogeneous blocks.’[1] Thus the cinematic image both contains and lacks the outside world; each image is a ‘slice’ of the world. It could be said that what is off-screen informs what is on-screen to such an extent that all time and space is conjured.

With reference to Bergson, Deleuze says space and time are parts of the same thing, which is the durée or duration. The durée is a fluctuation of time and space in a larger vibrational whole. If applied in a filmic diagram, the durée could be the cinematic moment and its particular time and space: its perspective, slow motion, panning and duration relating to a larger whole that exists outside the scene, and informs it.

Abigail Child

In found footage film, ‘images of mass culture refer to an eternal illusory present’,[2] the vibrational whole that influences them. Thus, in Matthias Muller’s 1990 found footage film Home Stories, Doris Day’s image both performs its role of 90s spectre, looped and isolated, and its larger one, comprising former roles ­– the original film and its 1950s context, for example – that are always present also. Television and Internet technology make history seem ‘an accelerated cycle of continually regenerating, erasable images, one constantly consumed by another,’[3] in which any image is one of a pile of former and future reincarnations. Although one may well be liable to be consumed by another, the consumed always remains present, like a ruin or layer of palimpsest that can never be erased completely. In this way, past and present exist in one whole: a cycle. The present is treated as a series of historical ruins from the moment of its conception, and the past is made present again and again. As Lucy Reynolds says,

 ‘found footage is the palimpsest onto which layers of different history are already written […] It is as if a complete archive is contained within a single photographic frame, yet freed from the chronological constraints normally imposed upon it for the purposes of historical interpretation. In this sense, it might be considered a simultaneous archive rather than a horizontal one, compressing all the pasts of the film and its image into one frame.’[4]

Deleuze’s concept of time and space contracting and expanding within a fluctuating whole is recalled. Reynolds describes a shape that is less linear and horizontal than a form of ‘crystal-image’ in which occurs simultaneous compression and expansion.  Reynolds goes on to discuss Abigail Child’s 1989 found footage film Mercy (colour, 16mm, 10 min.), whose form is this simultaneous crystal-image that ‘reveals only an immutable present; all past and future have fallen away and can only be imagined’.[5] It is not that the past is lost due to Child’s appropriation of it; on the contrary, in being conjured, the past’s time and space mingle with those of the present. Past, present and future times and spaces are cannibalised, to borrow Jameson’s phrase, into an ‘imagined’ image – an imitation or projection, a simultaneous accumulation.

Alain Resnais

If found footage film corresponds with our tendency to hoard historical and present times and spaces in the form of images (to be owned and archived), then Alain Resnais 1956 film Toute la Mémoire du Monde (black and white, 35mm, 21 min.) illustrates this in both cinematic and architectural form. Resnais explores archives and looking, using La Bibliothèque Nationale as his subject. 
The film’s voiceover explains that ‘because humans have a short memory, they accumulate countless aide-mémoires’.[6] Like an eye hungry for material, the camera tracks over shelves and piles of books that have yet to be sorted. This creates an implicit metaphor for a ‘sea' of material, the Bibliothèque being a fortress against a tide that threatens to engulf it. Resnais also makes the Bibliothèque seem like a camera that selects what it lets in and keeps out, his roaming and panning shots focusing on the building’s circular ceiling windows that resemble apertures. The control over input/ output that the Bibliothèque has echoes Derrida’s assertion that information in an archive is information under ‘house arrest’.[7] In Resnais’ film therefore, the concrete subject (the Bibliothèque), the subject of looking/ archiving, and the film’s form of looking (the camera’s method of roving-filming) all concur with the idea that archiving images is a way of assuaging a hunger for accumulation. We have a desire to imagine and ‘image' the world, perhaps as a way of ‘slicing’ a piece of it to use and to keep. 

[1] Bogue, R (2003) Deleuze on Cinema London: Routledge p.42
[2] Reynolds, L (2006) ‘Outside the Archive: The World in Fragments’ in Ghosting: The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video Bristol: Picture This p.16
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid. p.18
[5] Ibid. p.20
[6] Orlow, U (2006) ‘Latent Archives, Roving Lens’ in Ghosting: The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video Bristol: Picture This
[7] Derrida, J (1995) Archive Fever (Mal d’Archive: une impression freudienne)