So What About Friendship?

Chris Fujiwara

At the limit of what can be experienced, at the limit of what can be called the present, at the limit of what can be shared in common, there we find the fragmentary, that which cannot be gathered together, that which eludes personalization, what also passes between, is not appropriated and is also not expropriated.

That which passes between: is this perhaps one definition of the cinema? What cannot be fixed in an experience or held in common: a dissolving form or form of dissolution. A higher definition of friendship than what we work with in real life? It might be more accurate to say that we encounter in cinema something that we cannot find in life, the form of a relationship.

Not by choice, nor by oppression or any restriction, the cinema undergoes a silence which is that of having too much to say, and therefore being unable to say anything in particular. The cinema undergoes a silence: that means, the cinema has an appointment with silence, which it must go underground to keep. And until the moment when the appointment is kept, there is nothing but misunderstandings and delays, and these misunderstandings and delays constitute the movement of narrative in cinema. Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight offers an almost perfect model for this movement, especially in its illusory and fore-written nature.

Cinema asks the question, always, of what can be represented; what is the utmost that can be represented, what is at the limit, what is marked by the limit or what marks the limit, what can take place only at the limit, where it comes into representability: the border between light and darkness, where representability comes to be or where it ceases to be, both in the same movement, which is also a stasis. This dual movement — coming to representation and ceasing to be representable — is cinema and is also the breakdown of cinema; the two are, have always been, the same.

Why cinema is not television: television is always moving toward a transmission and exists in view of a transmission, and thereby freezes itself in a certain transcendent permanence, but cinema is always a static movement or a moving stasis that is concentrated in itself and that goes neither toward a transmission nor any direct experience (or any present) but can end only in dispersion and in erasure. The cinema is erased and disappears even in being seen, because it is never seen for the first time. Jean Grémillon and Jacques Tourneur both spoke of this property of cinema, its being foredestined to vanish without a trace. Their films are exemplary because they dwell within the conditions of representation, because they deal with representability itself (and not merely what is represented), without any possibility of a transmission, never showing anything other than the absence of what is shown.

Cinema can occasion a community only in bringing others toward an encounter with the limits of representation (including representation of a community). So the cinema of community can only be a cinema of the absence of community.

Some of the most interesting films I saw at Cannes this year were films in which the imagining of a utopia, be it only the utopia of cinema and of childhood perceived from an absent place of contemplation (Mark Cousins’s A Story of Children and Film), or that of the prolongation of the destiny of the romantic couple through a degraded eternity (Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive), or a deferred utopia of the image confronting itself and presenting itself with a sterile perfection (Lav Diaz’s Norte: The End of History), or that of a fantasy image of purgatory, of people held back from entering a historical world that can only mean their dissolution (James Gray’s The Immigrant) — all these, and, also, in the Cannes Classics section, the rediscovery of Billy Wilder’s Fedora, in which the cinematic image devours the person who embodies it, and also devours those who produce and manage and promote it, cinema being nothing else but endless destruction (America eating its young, as George Clinton said) — films in which the imagining of utopia proves again that, whatever else is now supposed to be happening with cinema, the cinema is still what it always was, a machine of negativity and annihilation.

These films are also cartographies, films in which a certain mapping takes place, a tracing that goes on beneath the visible, linking the points of the visible, so that the image doubles itself with a sort of diagram. This happens in a direct way in the Mark Cousins film, in which the filmmaker draws out imaginary lines from inside a fixed shot of two children at play, the lines extending across several remembered histories of world cinema. And the movements of Norte and The Immigrant, these great historical trajectories, these biographies of suffering and separated people that cast a sharp light on the inner biographies of societies, are nothing but quintessential movements of cinema, doublings of a present image by an absent image, passages between movement and stasis, re-enactments of an origin that is kept at arm’s length and deferred.

So what about friendship? Two other “rediscoveries,” presented in new digital restorations at a festival that in some sense might be called the opposite of Cannes, Il Cinema Ritrovato at Bologna, where I write this: Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men and Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight — are films of friendship in which it is clear that friendship is never anything but betrayal, and that the question of how friendship appears, i.e., how it is represented, is strictly speaking only a question of timing.

What about friendship then? There is only the certainty that it will take time, that everything takes time, not that we count on reaching some destination that lies on the other side of this span of time which we must cross over (and which we deal with only so that we can put it behind us) but that the time itself is essential, that the time of the approach is the place of the relation; this neither-here-nor-there belongs to the essence of friendship as to the essence of cinema. The question of this time has always been essential to cinema: not the time it takes to understand a story or a problem, but the time of an approach to the other that distances the other, the time of a coming-toward-the-image, that belongs to the essence of cinema, in Wilder’s Fedora no less than in The Lusty Men and Chimes at Midnight.

In The Lusty Men, Ray erases the details, the surroundings of the film, in order to concentrate on the eyes of the characters, on their gazes, getting closer and closer to the faces of the people, to the pure expressiveness of these faces as they look at each other and look past each other, as they look at each other’s images. This tendency reaches its high point in the amazing moment in the final rodeo scene when Arthur Kennedy comes to look up at Robert Mitchum as the latter gets on his horse, and Ray cuts between progressively closer shots of the two men. This moment slows down the time of the situation, abstracting us from the narrative time. Because the shots are getting closer to the people, we can see the process of this abstraction from the space, both physical space and narrative space, and it brings us to something like a pure form of the relationship between the two men looking at each other.

The scene shows how Ray unfolds a moment in time and how, in being unfolded, that moment gets drawn out through the cutting and through the placement of the people, through consecutive views of a single movement. This drawing-out of the moment is carried to such an extent that the crisis we are seeing paradoxically becomes almost peaceful. As tense as the situation is, it is almost as if Ray has built it up to the point where the fears and desires of the characters are in perfect balance with one another. A kind of dramatic stalemate takes place, which makes the scene appear to exist outside the time of the narrative.

As for Chimes at Midnight, one could make a diagram of the whole film just in terms of the movements of Prince Hal and Falstaff toward and away from each other. These movements constitute, in cinematic terms, friendship, and they also constitute the betrayal of friendship. Throughout the film, a writing of time takes place that devours and destroys space — we see this at the end of the famous sequence of the Battle of Shrewsbury, where space becomes, not for the first time in the film, a kind of vacant irrelevance; as in many Welles films, people can pretty much turn up at any place at any moment; everything is a matter of relationship, that is (to resort again to this metaphor), the diagram, the inner logic of the characters’ interactions.

* The Korean translation of this essay is included in Magazine F (No.10) published on July 31 in 2013.