Bergala Notes from Paris Nov. 2010

Alain Bergala – Cinématèque – Paris: Friday 5 November 2010 MONTRER/CACHER

AB comments on the inadequacy of the terminology: hiding being too conscious or proactive a term for what is actually meant i.e. the decision to show and not show. But there seems to be no adequate alternative.

The concept is at the heart of every film-making decision/choice from the outset:

  • what is written/not written
  • revealed/ not revealed
  • visible/ invisible ref. mise-en-scene
  • what is kept/edited out
  • said/not said
  • heard/not heard
  • show of emotion/ or is it concealed? This aspect in particular follows what is fashionable: subtext could be as or more important than spoken word or what is seen

Forms part of ‘l’érotique du cinéma’ – a controlled unveiling of the scene for the benefit of the audience piquing one’s sense of expectation/curiosity: expose some, not all, of the scene, character, plot etc. Film makers must wield the power of suggestion: to suggest lies somewhere between showing/hiding.

National context affects what is shown:

Propaganda: showing and hiding decisions from the pov of a nation’s output – films to do with wars, fascism, imperialism are what a nation feels it needs to outwardly show and project, whereas what constitutes the hidden might reside more in the realm of political / ideological tracts eg. Bergman was criticised/reviled in his own country for displaying ordinarily hidden Swedish middle-class angst in the way of Kafka.

AB is very taken with the metaphor used by Bresson to describe the role of the cineaste – that reality must be torn asunder (“disloqué”)/ ripped apart/utterly destroyed with all the violence of a gunshot and then reassembled / reconstructed with the eye of a painter.

Introduces the notion of showing the audience the effect of an action before the cause / a reaction shot before showing the trigger for that emotion, the sound before the source.

Historical Context affects what is shown:

In terms of Western/Hollywood output, there are concrete and precise rules as to what can be shown: violence, nudity, sex, ‘monstruosités’ (distastefulness, morbidity, horror etc), the mores of society

Showing and hiding in questions of narrative:

AB emphasises the economical delivery of plot…where characters are explicit in some respects and more tacit/reticent in others, speak directly about x but hesitantly about y or reveal z later on.

There’s a universality about the concept of the secret in film-making (lots of refs. to the film ‘Tetro’ and the gradual revelation of family secrets) where the cineaste assumes the role of the arch manipulator. Showing isn’t necessarily always the truth. Some techniques to ultimately stimulate pleasure and entertainment:

  • showing something to hide something else
  • showing ‘everything’ and revealing at the end that this in fact isn’t the case
  • audience following every inch of the plot only to be tripped up at the end
  • hoodwinking the audience into noticing something too late
  • dramatic irony/audience complicity: showing to the audience something that is denied the actors or some of the actors but not others
  • not showing is sometimes more revealing: power of evocation / suggestion and empowering the audience to infer
  • the threat of an invisible, unexplained force

The enigma:

Things happen that make no apparent coherent sense – police dramas, Agatha Christie, Hitchcock – defies logic but in the end the puzzle is solved through a constellation of signs. An enigma alone is of no interest, there must be some secretive interaction between those who know and others who don’t eg. around questions of incest, shame, suffering, anguish, courage, past childhood experiences with present relevance in particular eg. ‘Atonement’, ‘Festen’. Secrets are a feature of childhood discourse. The moment of revelation often comes to the audience or actor in the form of a letter/document/object and what transpires is a pleasurable, complicit sharing of cultural capital.

The mystery:

The secret remains a secret, the solution is permanently unknowable, inexplicable. The heart of mystery is never seen. It is the highest vocation of cinema – to explore and show the unknowable (Lourdes) and appreciate that dimension and live with the uncertainty.


The New Wave favoured this film for its treatment of secrecy. Layers of secrets to unpeel. Lots of physical hiding on screen embodying hidden truths. Hiding and showing runs throughout the plot, direction, camera movement, dress, character etc. Enigmatic dangling dead body taking up half the frame for relatively long period. Showing the consequences of an action eg. a scream/reaction shot before the reason is made explicit.  Filming of people’s backs. Eroticism of the capricious dancing temptress, exposing bits of her body.  Uniforms as masks. Distance shots obscure the facts. Various levels of irony and awareness in the covert stagecoach kiss. Theatricality of the ‘revelation’ scene: framing & staging in the smugglers’ den. Fritz Lang deliberately didn’t make the boy startled by the skeleton, his task was to retrieve the jewel and press on with the narrative. Boy in the well sequence underground: symbolism of layering of obstacles to getting at the truth, grabbing at the brick/truth. Reinforced by physical exertion of the rope-pullers.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Observations ref. clips:

  • Not showing implies something is being denied, something is lacking and needs to be filled
  • Long shots deepen the element of mystery
  • Impact of filming specific characters with their backs turned, denying the audience its due
  • The illicitness of a distorted, muffled, overheard conversation, a half closed door. Balance of foreground / background interest
  • Surprise element/comedic value of a disembodied voice and the consequences of an “off” action coming into view
  • Showing without showing – sound only, shrouding action with curtain, shadows, limb of a body
  • Momentum and interest is maintained by strategically obscuring the naked body with objects
  • One ‘running commentary’ scene replaces another that you ‘should’ be seeing
  • Fly-on-the-wall style filming, ‘hidden’ camera filming of the everyday, we are privy to the apparent mundaneness of going up and down the stairs continually following the back of a character. Heavy door denies grandma the view of her grandchild, the gender of whom she rejects
  • Camera void of ceiling is filled with sound and characters’ faces come to fill the void in closeup. Only glimpses of the birds, lots of clamourous sound
  • Use of abstract sound and light to evoke mystery. “Off” action with the subsequent evidence of an unseen act of violence. Symbol of the bristling cat instead of “the thing” itself
  • Obscuring of actors’ faces arouses doubt and uncertainty as to motivation
  • Doubt and the evocation of the surreal through use of fog and mysteriously positioned bull
  • Shading in black and white, lighting, semi-darkness – fear of having one’s suspicions confirmed – semi-concealed monster, the hole in the bag. You want him to reveal himself but you don’t want to look. Horror genre.
  • Ellipses. Murder action replaced by landscapes. Making the audience wait for the result. The long sweeping preamble before the dramatic revelation: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ & ‘To Die For’
  • Sound characterises a space, what you don’t hear is significant, sound can cut out to signify enclosed space
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One Response to Bergala Notes from Paris Nov. 2010

  1. Pingback: The Cultural « Fashioning & Flow

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