Saturday, 21 February 2009

Objectivity, Soviet Avant-Garde and broken mirrors

There is a French superstition about mirrors. They say if you break one, seven years of misfortune would result.
It is probably a way to give surfaces some of the value - and power - only real things have.
Reflections are deceptive for sure, but does it mean they cannot be as elaborate as the reality itself?

A film recently watched, without any reference, happened to be in reality completely different from what I thought it was.

"The Female Journalist" (1927) is a Soviet Avant-Garde film currently screened at Tate Modern. If you just sit and watch it, it seems to be a short. The sequence is so perfectly structured that you can easily take it for a work in itself. Lev Kuleshov, the director, is filming a woman - the Female Journalist - walking alone through the corridor of a newsroom. Sheets of papers all around her are covering the floor, just like some pieces of dead news.
Next shots are fast moving pictures of printing machines and workers. Newspapers in the making. This regular, vigorous and living mechanics gives some contrast to the disturbed feelings on the journalist's fragile face.

She then comes back to her office and plays a morbid game with scissors. This particular scene is filled with tension. A crystal carafe on the table casts a harsh light in her eyes as she puts the blade on her neck. The viewer would later realize, as she is leaving the office and walks through the corridor again, that she simply cut her hair off.

The last scene of this both surreal (images of the depressed journalist) and realist (images of the industry) sequence is set in the same corridor. It reflects the first one - exactly like in a mirror. Though, instead of being lonely, the main character meets another woman who is cleaning up the floor. They briefly look at each other and shake hands. 

Watching this beautiful mute film twice - with no more information than the pictures displayed at the surface - made it a materialist metaphor for print journalism. In some way, the changing emotions of the Female Journalist would be nothing more than useless moods if there was no production system, machines, workers, etc. - materiality. 

This actually was a very subjective apprehension of this film related to nothing else, except a vague memory of Maiakovski's manifesto "A Slap in the Face of Public Taste" (1917). This sequence seemed to be all about politics, ideas and labour - and how individual moods, feelings are transformed, reinvented by concrete production. 

But getting out from the room - the real one, this of the gallery - I read a comment about the film and realized it has nothing to do with mirrors, moods, materiality or whatsoever. This interpretation was only based on what (my) imagination and subjectivity expected from the film.

From an objective point of view, this sequence merely was some part of a film telling the story of a journalist falling in love with a man holding an important position in the Soviet industry. At least, it is confirmed the scissors scene was about suicide!

According to Lenin's famous sentence, "Facts are stubborn things" but to what extent subjective interpretations are allowed to break what French poet and filmaker Jacques Prévert called the "terrifying pipes of reality"?

In which side of the mirror, at the end, is the Female Journalist?