May 6, 2012

Passage illustrated I - the 'Video Integrator'

Let's start with a film I have mentioned before: Die Einsteiger. This one is in German, but I have added English captions in a couple of relevant places.

In a nutshell, this has all the elements of what I call a trip into an instance of unreality. In the film's world, there are movies (such as the Western that happens to be in the video tape recorder in this clip). Movies are instances of unreality — imaginary worlds which belong to a fiction. And one of the characters in the film is an inventor who has built a device that lets you travel into such imaginary worlds. (Just as in dozens of other movies people have invented machines to travel into the past or the future, or into dream worlds, as in Inception.) Of course we don't have a clue how the thing works. (Just as we don't have a clue how time machines or 'shared dreaming' technology work.) But whatever the technical detail, we are supposed to imagine that, in the world of this film, there is a device that lets you travel into films-within-the-film, fictions within the fiction.

How does the movie convey that such a passage into unreality has just happened? There is a lot of blinking and beeping going on, of course. More importantly, we can observe that the device is somehow acting on the two people in the scene: the funny rotating radar screen seems to be scanning them; then for a moment it looks as if some wind or airstream is ruffling their hair, as if something is drawing them towards the device; finally they vanish from the picture. Let us call this the departure sequence. Note that it is a real, physical departure. It's not just that the two travelers close their eyes and imagine (or dream) themselves into the world of the Western. We take it that they are actually, physically moved elsewhere, and that they are now 'there' (wherever 'there' is, in terms of the spatiotemporal universe we inhabit), and no longer 'here'. They have no physical presence any more in the room out of which they have just vanished. If anyone would walk into that room, he wouldn't see them. For the time of their trip, they have been 'beamed' elsewhere.

In the world of the Western, there is a counterpart arrival sequence. Beforehand, we get some idea of the basic inventory in the Western's world from the images we see on the video tape: the houses are there, some Western stereotypes are rolling off (riding, shouting, and shooting), and one of the characters who is to appear later is shortly visible: the tough guy who will insist on their hanging lights a match by scratching it on a wall (something he will repeat just a moment on, when the travelers have arrived). All this we can watch on the television screen before the departure of the travelers. Then, directly after they have vanished from the room, we can see their faces on the video screen. It is as if we, the audience, linger for a moment longer in the departure lounge while the travelers have already done their trip, verifying, as it were, that they have safely arrived, by checking up the video tape, on which we can now see them. Only then the camera moves us (the audience) into the arrival scene as well. Beginning from that point, we're all in the world of the Western, and the events there unfold now. And now, of course, the elements that were set up earlier are repeated, so that we recognize that we're now in the other world. The tough guy lights his match again, we see the houses, there are people shouting.

Thus there are several elements needed to make this kind of scene work. First, there is both a departure and an arrival sequence; second, we have a setup-recognition structure; and third, there's a shifted transfer.

(To be continued.)

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