In Against Cinema (2010), cinema is regarded as a file and the cinematographic image as an object to be classified, catalogued and analyzed. By arranging images by type and extracting a single theme from among them – the moments in which actors are shown from behind in fiction films Alberto Cabrera Bernal comes up with a minimal structure that, when repeated assiduously, reveals the workings of the cinematographic device.
“In cinema, the actor is forbidden to look at the camera, that is, from addressing the audience head on”. I am almost tempted to look upon this prohibition as the distinguishing characte-ristic of cinema. It is an art that splits in two how things are seen: the spectator watches the actor, without doing anything else. He has the right and the obligation to watch; the actor, meanwhile, looks at everything except the spectator. A single glance from the screen, alighting on the spectator, would ruin the entire film” (1). This is so because the prevailing style of acting has been responsible for determining the position of the spectator, according to the model of the camera obscura, making it identifiable with camera. Acting as a voyeur, the spectator always remains invisible in the film. Seeing without being seen.
The number of shots taken of actors from behind outlines a minuscule plot: an actor on the run, attempting to escape without being detected, and the other, the spectator-camera, initiating the pursuit; a storyline that brings to mind Film by Samuel Beckett (1965) and the photographic series entitled Following Piece, by Vito Acconci (1969). The theme on which “Against Cinema” is based seems disjointed. The joining of images defies the rules of connection, upsetting the classic development of the plot. The film is spun together, unspinning itself. Its horizontal development shows us how cinema is created but, at the same time, it also denies it, as its title professes. Only the initial and final moments seem to respond to any compositional logic: the film starts off with a gunshot and ends with a final shot at the audience, in the style of The Great Train Robbery, by Edison (1903).
After a long sequence, illustrating the analysis of the shots of actors from behind, a revolver held by a hand, while the rest of the body is not visible, emerges right in the center of the frame aiming at the back of the actress and, subsequently, the gun is pointed directly at the audience. The spectator is now split in two, not knowing if he is in pursuit or if he is being pursued by the film. His position is so disturbingly similar to that of the actor, that he may even imagine that what he saw was, in fact, his own anxious body with his back to the projector light. This alarming identification is enough to ruin all cinema and reveal its tricks.
(1) Barthes, Roland: The Obvious and the Obtuse, 1982.
Review published by Celeste Araújo at Blogsandocs.