Sunday, August 19, 2007

Notes on HERE

by James Butler

I can't help thinking about Here in terms of its accidence rather than simply its substance, the physical aspects of its transmission. In particular, memories of the film are, for me, intercut with the feeling of the sharp cardboard of the 3D glasses at my ears, wondering about when was the 'correct' time to be wearing them.
Certainly, there were moments where the film clearly dictates conventional or anaglyphic viewing, but there are phases where one encounters uncertainty: how am I meant to be viewing this? This serves to establish a recursive loop between viewer and film, where the 'correctness' of the viewer's reading is continually called into question. Reinterpretation is perpetual. But the accident of its viewing for me - struggling to see the film around the bobbing and weaving head in front of me - reflects some of the strategies employed in the film itself: my struggle to see the film was not, of course, simply a question of my physical positioning but the strategies of multivocality employed in Here itself. The questions I am presented with as a member of the audience are manifold: do I interpret this in terms of what I know about its author(s)? Do I attempt to read it in the light of its theoretical position? Which elements of the film should precede others in an attempt to interpret? Is my act of interpretation an act of violence against the integrity of the film's hermeneutic? Indeed, is the film's hermeneutic circle closed or infinitely open?

There are several narrative media that operate within the film: the primary visual narrative of The Erpingham Camp itself, the narrative of the visual effects, editing and graffiti overlaid on the original, the textual narrative of the subtitling, the vocal narrative (which frequently diverges from those subtitles) and the protean musical narrative, which shifts between unifying the various strands and holding them in counterpoint and tension. It is important that the film is not soundtracked - that is, its musical narrative does not exist as a series of conventional tropes to prompt the expected emotional response in the viewer. There is no easy swell of synth strings, or reliance on traditional cinematic signifiers of love or heartbreak, but a musical palette that reflects the uncertainty, combativeness, strangeness or softness of the film's methodology. The multiplicity of the musical resources point up the mirage of corrosion and quotation that make up the texture of Here - and, in particular, the reliance on musical forms outside the normal purview of contemporary 'art' film for much of the soundtrack demonstrates what I read as Hollands' attempt to totalise his queer experience, and thus necessarily raise questions about how far totalisation is possible in any medium. It should be immediately apparent that a single voice, a single author cannot accurately reflect or encapsulate any theme: Here is not only an assertion of the death of the author, but an attempt to push the tissue of multiple voices to its limit.

We live in the age of the digital simulacrum. Contemporary culture places a reliance on the abilities of the digital world to accurately reflect life that can be best described as naìˆve, and sees the digital world as something that is simply inscribed: recording what happens in the 'real' world, a one-way transaction between the real and the digital, reactive rather than having its own agency.
Throughout Here there runs an understanding of the possibilities of the digital: that we are born from the simulacrum and of the strategies of representation its use, abuse and perversion open to us. This is most obviously evident in the corrosive, pixellated effect used to treat much of the original film, as if the singularity and purported unity of the primary text were being exposed and collapsing in front of us.
The extraordinary shift into three dimensions is a clear signifier of the depth and levels of meaning, articulated and unarticulated, that exist in the new, remixed text. The problem that immediately comes to mind is about the nature of graffiti: what does graffiti say except 'I was here', or even 'I declare my authority over this surface, this text; now I own it'? I, my, me. But the entire process of Here involves the explosion of the personal into the total: how does this fit?

The answer lies in the first part of our premise: that we are born from the simulacrum, from the intertext. In particular, all over the film lies the mark of the Father - in this context, on this level, Orton - and the graffiti, the very process of remixing, is an oedipal yell, an attempt at decapitation. And yet, of course, there is a persistence of vision: Orton's film is the very substance of what is being remixed, overwritten, and the process of overwriting necessarily participates in that original substance. This oedipal reaction is itself queered throughout the film through the obvious lovesong to Orton that makes up much of its verbal content, thematically parallel to much of Orton's own work, simultaneously scatological and deeply concerned with the avenues of identity through which sexuality comes to be expressed. In this sense, it's possible to read Here as the loving and inevitable oedipal hammer-blow to the head of the Father and a record of the new possibilities found among the shards of bone and fragments of voice.

But this interpretation doesn't totally circumscribe the film. In particular, one of the voices present in the film, at times significantly in the foreground, at others less evident, is the voice of loss, despair and heartbreak. This stands in a complex counterpoint to the voice of ferocity and stance of combativeness that characterises much of the visual effects work and sexual brashness: they both reflect, grow out of and rely on each other. One of the most emotionally cathartic moments of the film for me came at one of the transitory moments in the middle, where the various narrative strands(textual, musical, visual) come together, push out of the screen into three dimensions to ask the stark question: 'what if my life had taken another direction?' - the juxtaposition of this question with the various graphic and unashamed assertions of desire serve to undercut the distance and hardness of that other voice. This voice of heartbreak is evident through the film as a voice that is in love with the idea of the total, the unified, the singular identity but is equally aware of its impossibility.

One thing that is immediately apparent from the very beginning of the film is the importance of overwriting and revoicing, but nowhere is this more evident than the credits sequence, with the refusal of the textual or vocal narratives to line up withthe demands placed on them by the karaoke sequence on screen. This revoicing doesn't simply signify aural graffiti as an act of defiance, but an assertion of queer identity: the process of asserting such an identity is not simply a question of making the queer voice louder, but muting the dominant voices that always appropriate and overwrite queer voices. In this sense, it could not be enough to simply make one's own film, but employ the techniques of oppression in another way: now is our turn to put our words in their mouths. And yet this technique itself is already doubly strange: revoicing is always the act of the minority, of the oppressed, and Orton himself writes from a queer perspective. Again the oedipal theme recurs, but this time in the context of allowing a multiplicity of queer voices to emerge - queer voices that take delight in their contamination, that they are always already implicated within multiple lineages and networks of ideas. But this should not imply a happiness or comfort in these voices: not only do they articulate the anxieties of the interior and the discomfort of being found in someone else's mouth, but towards the end of the film reach even outside the limits of language. The voice escapes language into a scream: the scream is the primary ethical confrontation - it is an inarticulate cry of identity and anxiety at the same time, and the first signifier of new life. An infant's scream has many messages: notice me, feed me, take care of me - but also, who am I? where am I? what have you done to me? The scream is always the marker of an individual who has become subject to an extra-personal force.

Syllepsis in this film, the disjunction between the narrative strands at any given point, signifies a break, or an opening in its texture; similarly, the encroaching corrosive or explosive visual effects give the sense that it is visually opening out into something wider than itself. There is, therefore, an inevitable sense of space that pervades Here - not only a visual space, but a space in the texts of the narratives themselves, composed as they are of quotations and different voices.
This puts me immediately in mind of Benjamin's Passagenwerk, a palimpsest similarly composed of quotations severed from their original source, yet the two works are also entirely distinct. The feeling of space in Benjamin exerts no stress, whereas the feeling of space in Here looms massively over the entire experience, in part because the film escalates to a point of self-destruction a desire to simultaneously assert itself against the blank space and be absorbed into it.

It seems to me that Hollands is of the apocalyptic school of film-makers, and Here becomes a revelation of the absolute, collapsing the infinite stresses of identity into the immediate. That is its name, after all: it becomes a locus for everything in the queer experience of identity-shaping without attempting to reduce it to a single voice.
I found it utterly heart-breaking and entirely moving.