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The Green Garbage Bins of Gilles Deleuze

Luc Moullet

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[Translator’s Note]. I have made one important, but dubious, decision in making this translation, and that was to translate it colloquially. This is a dubious decision because I am not capable of writing English that sounds like a French intellectual talking casually, so instead I have tried for simple wording, English idioms and a lot of sloppy rendering to convey general sense rather than the specific sense of Moullet’s words. In line with this, I have used the English titles for films when they are better known in that form. I am very grateful to Adrian Martin for dumping Moullet’s idiosyncratic text on me and insisting that I would enjoy translating it. I am just as grateful to him and to Nicole Brenez, David Pellecuer and Brad Stevens for patiently and sweetly responding to my questions, quibbles and anxieties. This translation is for whoever wants it - and, always, Diane.

1. [Translator’s Note]. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movment-Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 217. All quotations from Cinema 1 will be from the Tomlinson-Habberjam translation, unless specifically indicated otherwise.


2. Ibid, pp. 217-8.


In the papers my students submit at Paris III I have very often found references to a certain Gilles Deleuze. Intrigued, at one point I went to the closest public library, where I borrowed the two works by this author consecrated to the cinema.

The Movement-Image and The Time-Image ... I thought that, in the first volume, I would discover discussions of Renoir (the ballet of characters in Rules of the Game [1939] or The Golden Coach [1952]), Ophuls, Mizoguchi, Fuller or Téchiné; and, in the second, analyses of the art of von Stroheim, Ford, Duras, Pagnol, Rozier, Leone – the great masters of time. Well, there was nothing of the kind. The very opposite, in fact. Ophuls is only cited in The Time-Image and von Stroheim only in The Movement-Image. Pagnol, Rozier and Leone are entirely forgotten.

For Deleuze, movement is not movement, and time - in a less aggressive way, however - is not exactly time.

The movement-image would be ‘the acentred set [ensemble] of variable elements which act and react on each other’ (1), the game being to go from one to the other. In this regard, you might think of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Apotheosis (1970), consisting of a single sequence-shot, a perpetual vertical travelling shot. This is not the movement-image, but the time-image (I will return later to this question).

Right. This definition would have been clearer if Deleuze had talked about dialectical forms of movement.

Then Deleuze enumerates several categories of the movement-image, notably the perception-image (‘set [ensemble] of elements which act on a centre’) and the action-image (‘reaction of the centre to the set [ensemble]’). (2) It is a little curious that these varieties of the movement-image refer to a centre, when Deleuze has defined the movement-image as an acentred ensemble. This is tough for me to understand ...



3. [Translator’s Note]. See Cinema 1, p. 15. The quoted words do not, in fact, occur in the Tomlinson-Habberjam translation and the film in question is cited as The Man I Killed, the title given the first release of the film, which was cut from ninety-four to seventy-seven minutes after a month and re-released as Broken Lullaby. The film was distributed in France as L’Homme qui j’ai tué, but Moullet specifically writes Broken Lullaby in English in this article.

4. Ibid, p. 217.


Deleuze gives us a precise example of the perception-image. In Broken Lullaby (1932), Lubitsch shows a group of standing men viewed from ground-level with the camera placed ‘under the missing leg’ of a disabled man, also standing. This framing seems utterly gratuitous. But a later shot reveals that it represents the point of view of a legless man. What we took simply as a mannerism is in fact the subjective vision of an individual. There is a movement in the narration, and in the consciousness of the spectator, which allows us to come to that conclusion. (3)

The affection-image, the second variety of the movement-image, is ‘that which occupies the gap between an action and a reaction, that which absorbs an external action and reacts on the inside’. (4) Foremost example: close-up of a face, reflexive (what are you thinking of?) or intensive (what are you feeling?). It is true that most often the close-up shows a face’s reaction in relation to what has happened in the previous shot, which is generally more distant, but this is an elementary technique, even a vulgar one (which can give magnificent results, but which is over-used by every hack). So you can’t write that the close-up constitutes a gap between an action and a reaction, since it is itself the reaction, since it contains within itself the reaction and that reaction moreover is situated almost always at the beginning of the shot.




And to limit the close-up to the value of a response to an action (which is discussed in great detail over twenty-five pages) ends up by masking other usages of the close up in a very reductive way - more innovative and creative usages, omitted in the discussion. If a film begins with a close-up or consists of a sequence of close-ups, like the Hungarian film The Princess [Adj király katonát, Pál Erdöss] (1982) or even Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), the close-up is not inevitably a consequence of an action or the absorption of an exterior action. More than one hundred of Gérard Courant’s Cinématons (unique close-up sequence-shots of faces) are without reference to a prior or exterior action. The same applies to a character in close-up who eats, brushes his teeth, bites his neighbour or thumbs his nose at the audience. The latter is even a case of an action which provokes a reaction, the exact inverse of what Deleuze suggests - contradicted also by a pillow shot close-up, or an insert shot, or a lyrical suite of short, more or less identical close-ups, or even a shot of a man who gets whopped upside his head in frame. In this case the gap between action and reaction is imperceptible, on the order of a twenty-fourth of a second. And the action is in no way exterior.

These two modes of supposed dialectic, which Deleuze completes by a discussion of the couple shadow/light are founded on a certain specificity of the cinema, aligned to its grammar, its technique (découpage, close-up, focal qualities, lighting). Now it is pretty evident that in the cinema dialectical lines go beyond such specificities. This is why Deleuze quite properly includes a third form of movement-image, called the action-image, which (just as you would expect) has nothing in common with the popular definition of action in the cinema. Here it is a question of a dialectic between individual and society, detail and totality, particular action and general situation. When the cineaste leaves the individual in order to pay attention to society, this is called ‘the small form’ (Lubitsch would be, then, the champion of that) and when it is the opposite it is ‘the large form’ - and thus the super productions of Cecil B. DeMille are evoked at this point. The distinction is maybe a little pointless. If Male and Female (DeMille, 1919) indeed begins with some very generous shots (the sky, the sea, the Grand Canyon, a quote from Genesis), within thirty second we have come to the mop, the broom and the water bucket, and we remain there for all the rest of the film except for - right in the middle - the Babylon sequence. Theoretically this is the large form, but that boastful beginning is so brief ... It’s the same problem in a lot of American films, which begin by briefly presenting a city (Beyond the Forest [1949], Pride of the Marines [Delmer Daves, 1945], The Seven Year Itch [1955]) before attaching themselves definitively to an individual’s itinerary. The comings and goings of the particular get tangled up together and frequently get inverted, which means that disentangling the small form from the large is like establishing the priority of egg or chicken.

In this catalogue of dialectic movements you will note a host of notable omissions, like those dialectics founded on work practices, overplaying and underplaying (Kazan), visible-invisible (Tourneur), genre and non-genre (Monte Hellman); on grander ideas, nature and culture (Boudu Saved from Drowning, 1932), city and country (Vidor), slowness and speed (Ford’s The Rising of the Moon, 1957), laughter and tears (Chaplin), present and past (DeMille), the trivial and the sublime (Godard), logic and absurdity (Buñuel, Hawks), love and action (Hollywood movies); or on ideological values, nationality and social class (The Grand Illusion, 1937), racism and tolerance (The Last Hunt, Richard Brooks, 1956), efficiency and justice (Touch of Evil, 1958); not to speak of those mediocre dialectics (good guys and bad guys, escape to Mexico or prison) that clog up the majority of screens. Some of these ought to rate a mention in this diptych with encylopaedic pretensions.

On the other hand, bizarrely wedged between the affection-image and the action-image, Deleuze has introduced a new category, the impulse-image, which belongs here like hair belongs in soup. Impulse, according to Deleuze, is aligned to naturalism where movement is created by the passage of human to beast (this pretty much proves that Deleuze doesn’t systematically reject dialectics with extrafilmic foundations, which he does leave out elsewhere for no reason).

This is a pretty fat hair follicle as well, since the bestial (in naturalism) is often set out at the beginning of films (Foolish Wives [1922], Yves Allegret’s The Cheat [Manèges, 1949]), and is thus not the result of a visible movement. But impulse and naturalism are actually two antinomic poles. For impulse - often the impulse of a character that echoes the impulse of the director - is a very long way from the principle of naturalism, which is that reality must be described with no interpretation deriving from the author’s mind. Thrill of impulse, chill of naturalism.






5. Ibid, p. 134.

6. Ibid, p. 135.


  On top of all this, the examples Deleuze has chosen are such as to baffle the reader. You would think that the film marked by naturalism that Deleuze was going to cite would include Kammerspiel films like Shattered (1921), Sylvester (1923), The Last Laugh (1924), Joyless Street (1927), Pagliero’s Man Walks in the City (1949), or The Cheat, or Renoir films like On purge bébé (1931), La Chienne (1931) or Boudu, Umberto D (1952), or Kastle’s The Honeymoon Killers (1970). Well, he does nothing of the sort. Naturalism turns out to be Vidor, Losey, Ray and Fuller - all, it is true, very dependent on their impulses. But who is further from naturalism than King Vidor? Only The Crowd (1928) and, to a certain degree, Street Scene (1931) could be classed as, let us say, realistic films. You could write about Vidor that he is romantic, lyric, delirious, excessive, idealist, much like Gance or Dovzhenko, with whom he is often compared. But the world of Ruby Gentry (1952), of The Fountainhead (1949), of Hallelujah! (1929), of The Big Parade (1925), is altogether unrealistic, even surrealistic. The pay-off is that Deleuze qualifies Duel in the Sun (1946) as ‘a naturalist Western’ (5), when it is really the acme of Hollywood artifice, of romantic Wagnero-Nietzschean lunacy. Even if in Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades (1958), which Deleuze describes as ‘a masterpiece of naturalism’ (6), the landscape plays a big part (as it does in Duel in the Sun), you would be right in supposing that Deleuze had committed the kind of astounding error you would have believed him absolutely incapable of and which a schoolboy would never have been guilty of. He has confounded naturalism in the manner of Zola, where the art intends to reproduce nature in all its aspects, even the most ugly and repellent, with the work of a naturalist, who studies plants, minerals and animals. The poverty of the French language invites it. He has put Emile Zola and Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Huysmans and Buffon in the same bag: he just had to do it ...  



There isn’t any other explanation: the bordello baroque of Wind Across the Everglades in the truculence of Cottonmouth as he calls to the buzzards in agony, ‘Come and get me: swamp born, swamp fattened’ is closely akin to the grotesque enormity of Jarry, Hugo, Rabelais or Céline, and has nothing in common with the scalpel of a Zola. Ray displays a lyricism that expresses connivance with even the most negative characters.

Other supposed bards of naturalism: Fuller (who doesn’t flinch from any improbability, and directed the craziest of all films, Shock Corridor [1963], which features a black man who is an activist for the Ku Klux Klan), and Joseph Losey ...

You could maybe accept the epithet ‘realistic’ for Stranger On the Prowl (1953), The Lawless (1950) or The Big Night (1951) – realistic to the same extent as a multitude of cheap American or Italian films are – which Deleuze does not cite. On the other hand, the examples that he does evoke - Time Without Pity (1956), Secret Ceremony (1968), Eva (1962), These are the Damned (1962), Mr Klein (1977), or The Servant (1963) - have nothing truly realistic, much less naturalistic, about them. The latter two are fables, and the others are linked (like certain of their characters) to a totally unreal neurotic frenzy.


7. Ibid, p. 130.

8. [Translator’s Note]. Ibid, p. 127. Tomlinson-Habberjam have ‘the difference between Stroheim and Buñuel is that in Buñuel the degradation is conceived less as accelerated entropy than as a precipitating repetition, eternal return’ [my emphasis].




  ‘There are nevertheless great differences between Stroheim’s naturalism and that of Buñuel’, claims Deleuze (7), who specifies that ‘the difference between Stroheim and Buñuel is conceived less as accelerated entropy than as a precipitating repetition, eternal return’. (8) The problem is that in Buñuel’s case there are indeed naturalism and repetition, but the two are never allied: naturalism belongs to the first phase of his work (Land Without Bread [1933], Los Olvidados [1950], El Bruto [1952], even Susana [1951] and The Diary of a Chambermaid [1964]), in a period when Buñuel did not have much in the way of financial resources and found it difficult to film anything other than reality. This naturalism bluntly rejects the repetition which will dominate his (financially better endowed) latter years (The Exterminating Angel [1962], Belle de Jour [1967], The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie [1972], That Obscure Object of Desire [1977]), and which almost totally expelled naturalism. There are certainly, here and there, very brief evocations of particular sexual perversions, the presence of toilets, vestiges of naturalism, but which are treated as oneiric or ironic elements, so that they have an uncertain, undefinable status, a no man’s land that itself remains totally foreign to naturalism.  

9. Ibid, p. 32.



10. [Translator’s Note]. The words on the cover to which Moullet refers are ‘L'image-temps ne supprime pas l'image-mouvement, elle renverse le rapport de subordination’: ‘The time-image does not suppress the movement-image, it reverses the relation of subordination’.


I will not linger further on the impulse-image, which constitutes by far the worst chapter of the Deleuzian diptych, so that we can get to the time-image.

Whereas up to now Deleuze has done his best to give us definitions of his neologisms, he is hardly so precise about what the time-image is. He defines time ‘as interval’ or ‘as whole’, (9) in short two extremes, day and night. The time-image: it makes me think of those green garbage bins into which, alongside the blue containers for old newspapers, the yellow containers for packaging and the white ones for bottles, you shove everything that does not belong somewhere else. You could make a negative definition for the time-image: it is everything that is not the movement-image or, more exactly, whatever is not subordinated to it (as is indicated on the cover of [the French edition] of Cinema 2: The Time-Image)(10), and which constitutes a centre, whereas the movement-image is in principle without centre. From the notion of a centre (‘interval’), which presupposes the existence of extremes, you pass to the notion of the ensemble, of a ‘whole’, which presupposes the non-existence of exterior elements. And the whole, that would be the result of montage, and that would also be time, because it is also montage which creates the time of the film. And the whole would be in direct relation to time. The whole and time moreover go pretty well together, since both - unlike movement - tend to escape us and to become indivisible and mysterious. We know almost everything about movement - if you relate this term (following the classic and non-Deleuzian definition) to space - above all since Magellan and Neil Armstrong, while past time is full of obscurities and we are always ignorant of the whole of future time, which - it is certain - will kill us.


11. Ibid, p. 29.



  A curious amalgam, this alliance of centre-whole-montage-time … Deleuze gets out of it with trickery. ‘Eisenstein continually reminds us that montage is the whole of the film, the Idea’. (11) But it is Eisenstein who says it. Sure, the guy is a genius, but does that mean that he is always right? You might recall that montage is maybe the whole for him (as for Godard, Resnais and maybe Welles); but it would not be always the whole for others, for his detractors, not even for him, Eisenstein. His last film, Ivan the Terrible (1943/6), is a masterpiece where there is not all that much montage work. Maybe Montage identified as the Whole is just a youthful idea of Eisenstein’s which he abandoned at the end of his life and which was born of the (fortuitous) fact that at the beginning of his career, what with rationing, he only had little bits of film at his disposal.  

12. Incidentally, how does one separate (except for documentaries and improvised films) that which relates to editing as montage from that which relates to editing as découpage? Oscars and Césars for editing always make me laugh. [Translator’s Note: découpage refers to editing as conceived of in advance by a filmmaker, and often set down in a screenplay or shooting script, and the latter to what you actually get in the film. In this footnote, it seems that his objection is actually to an award being given to an editor for something that might not always be the result of the editor’s work - that is, might have been planned out before the editor even saw the rushes by a director or writer or someone else.]




As to others ... Pialat’s A nos amours (1983) remains a very great film even if it is badly structured, badly organised at the level of découpage and, almost always, badly cut. (12) For certain meticulous filmmakers (of the René Clair type), the whole is more découpage than montage and is finished even before shooting. For a lot of the great creators the whole is more actors than montage (as for certain films by Doillon, Cukor, Ray or Renoir, who was probably the greatest, but who was not a very good editor). Greed (1925), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Woman On the Beach (1947) – and Que Viva Mexico! (1932), too – attain the highest levels even if their authors were not able to control the montage and have renounced the edited versions. And what of montage in films with just one shot or with sequence-shots of the Jancsó type?

Certainly, most often it is montage that creates time in the film (when it is not the sequence shot or the run-off of a short shot), but the time created in this way is time in the sense of tempo, of rhythm, of duration, of respiration, but almost never - contrary to what Deleuze maintains - time in the sense of the opposition of present and past, flash-back or flash-forward. This kind of time, Deleuze – playing with words as is his wont – classes among the sub-categories of the time-image. The relation of present/past, almost always previsioned in the scenario (DeMille, Godard, Intolerance [1916], Destiny [1921], François Premier [Christian-Jacque, 1937]), most often participates in a dialectic: it is the movement-image (except in certain films by Resnais).




You see that the time-image as Deleuze conceives of it in fact only exists quite rarely and often not where he has put it. Hegel told us that the whole is dialectic, and thus movement. Sometimes when you don’t perceive dialectical movement, it is because it is too subtle, too adroitly concealed. The director is a genius. Films like The Blind Owl (Ruiz, 1987) or Puissance de la parole (Godard, 1988) seem at first to be magmas (a term that fits them better than time-images), but an effort of analysis will clarify the lines of their dialectic fairly specifically. Pushing things a bit, I would say that the existence of the time-image only demonstrates the spectator’s inadequacy, even my own.

There is scarcely any time-image in the present-past equation (with the exception of Resnais) or in neo-realism, which Deleuze wrongly describes as the preamble to the time-image.


13. [Translator’s Note]. Compare Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Roberta Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 2, where the translation of the passage in which these words occur goes: ‘What define neo-realism is this build-up of purely optical situations (and sound ones, although there was no synchronised sound at the start of neo-realism)’. All quotations from Cinema 2 will be from the Tomlinson-Galeta translation, unless specifically indicated otherwise.


14. Deleuze has anticipated this objection, but he gets out of it with a pirouette: in the case of the Bergman-Rossellini films we are dealing with a ‘cinema of the seer [voyant]’ and not action any longer. A new category inserted into the time-image, the cinema of the seer … But Mr Smith and Mr Deeds are also seers, and they are right in the middle of the action-image …

  According to him, neo-realism is ‘the escalation of purely optical and sound situations’, (13) like a raw documentary. Now, in fact, if neo-realism, evoking the raw magma of reality, does offer certain documentary characteristics, it perverts them with the existence of a scenario, with music, with the intrusion of principal characters, with social significance, with pathos. The primary subject of neo-realism is the relation of the individual to the world, human to society. It is thus the action-image in a Deleuzian sense, just like classic American film. Only in rare instances are there no principal characters; identification is paramount (you identify with the De Sica’s bicycle thief and with his kid). And that very film (Bicycle Thieves, 1948) reflects the mood of the characters in compositions of luminous atmosphere, which is not so far from the expressionism studied in the affection-image. The individual (or couple) who feel themselves estranged from the visible exterior world, who struggle against it is a schema typical of cinema-action - you can find them over and over again in Voyage in Italy (1953), Europa 51 (1952), Stromboli (1950) (14), Germany Year Zero (1948), Rome Open City (1945), Bicycle Thieves. The neo-realism that Deleuze describes is an idealist neo-realism: what it ought to have been, but what it never actually was. Maybe there are some exceptions. Umberto D? The way I see it, the only real exception comes from 1968: Gian Vittorio Baldi’s Fuoco!, a magma based on impulse and apparently stripped of the dialectic.  



15. [Translator’s Note] St Sulpice is a famous church in Paris. ‘Sulpician’ has come to designate a style of overwrought, kitsch religious imagery.


Deleuze - delusive Deleuze - gives words significations that have nothing to do with their current signification. Okay. But the catch is that in the heat of discourse he reintroduces these words with their current sense and reinforces his theses in this way, assured of the approbation of the reader who fully agrees with the underlined reappearance of the word in its ordinary sense. If you follow Deleuzian logic, you are lead to recognise that The Bicycle Thief and Voyage in Italy remain perfect examples of cinema-action. But since there is little action in these films, you are all the more willing to exclude them from that grid. By the same token, you will be tempted to include The Ten Commandments (1956) within the large form of cinema-action, because it is a very costly and very spectacular film. But the large form is actually the passage from the general to the individual, and that doesn’t happen in this film, since Moses evinces no behaviour that individualises him and always acts as the perfect robot in the pay of the God of Christ. Since the film wallows in the general and never gets out, you could think that it wasn’t the action-image but the time-image, with the magma typical of the elevated spheres of conventional religious dogma and Sulpician stylistics. (15) However, I would not go there - for this very expensive film is based on a very impoverished dialectic thread: the Christian God against the Egyptian God. But I would willingly argue that a film crammed with action like Quest for Fire (1981), precisely because it is nothing but action is not the action-image (through the lack of a dialectic between particular action and general situation) - still less the large form - and that it is the time-image, for I experience it like pure magma. And finally, one of the best examples of large form cinema-action is not a superproduction but a relatively cheap film, Forbidden Games (1951), with fifteen minutes of very violent war without protagonists at the beginning and afterwards the intimate itinerary of a couple of small fry.



  Which is to say, again, Deleuze ties himself in knots with his contradictory definitions. We have seen this already with the past-present dialectic classically abused in the time-image when it is most often movement, and in the naturalism-naturalist duo: Paul, Emile (Zola) and Virginie. Or again when he talks about the crisis of the action-image, he refers exclusively to American cinema because it is a cinema based on action. Instead of talking about movement-image and time-image, it would have been better to talk about, for example, nelbugoz and dagmalouak, which would have avoided a lot of contradictions.  

16. [Translator’s Note]. The Time-Image, p. 137. I have added two commas to the Tomlinson-Habberjam translation which have the effect of parenthesising ‘crystalline’, as Deleuze does and they do not.   He does a chapter on the crystal-image. For him, the crystal is a multifaceted vision like Ophuls or The Lady from Shanghai (1948), baroque polyvalence. But a little later he talks of ‘pure, crystalline, optical and sound descriptions’. (16) The word crystal here designates purity, limpidity. Multifaceted and limpid: two very different senses.  


  This is akin to Godardian word games (minus the humour), transferred abusively from the artistic sphere to the philosophic sphere, which ought to be Deleuze’s.  

17. Ibid, p. 159.   In the same way, he ranks impulse in with the movement-image before contradicting himself, happily and unconsciously, by affirming it within the frame of the study of the time-image: ‘the whole is no longer the logos which unifies the parts, but the drunkenness, the pathos which bathes them and spreads out in them’. (17) It is right to bring the notion of impulse together with those of drunkenness and pathos, and thus to deduce that impulse is not the movement-image but a form of the whole and the time-image.  



At the end of the day, if you make an inventory of the stations of the time-image, you can define five sub-groups:

- The whole defined by montage, which is based (Deleuze recognises it himself) on prior dialectic movements and which, in general, can only servilely copy them;

- The whole defined by montage, which expresses itself by the creation of a tempo resulting from temporal dialectical lines (adagio-allegro), which Deleuze discusses very hurriedly, and which are also supported by montage;

- The whole defined by montage, which expresses itself by the creation of a tempo without dialectic: this is perhaps the case for Rozier, Pagnol, Leone, all forgotten by Deleuze, for Duras (whom he evokes in The Time-Image but always to cite dialectical movements between sound and image, between voice off and voice on, without discussing her work on the respiration of the film), and finally for von Stroheim (whom he limits, in a flagrant violation of commonsense, to naturalism without analysing the status of duration in his work);

- Totalising montage, which destroys - in the rarest cases - the dialectical vagaries of the scenario (Wild River, 1960);

- The whole defined by montage, and which excludes the dialectic; enter experimental cinema, Michael Snow, Serge Bard, Carmelo Bene, Garrel’s The Inner Scar (1971), The Woman of the Ganges (Duras, 1973), Kriemhilde’s Revenge (Lang, 1924), The Honeymoon Killers, The Age of the Earth (Rocha, 1980), Joan at the Stake (Rossellini, 1954) and also several spectacular turkeys in the manner of Quest for Fire and those gross American things (like the astonishing Evil Dead, 1983) that are just successions of violent acts.

In fact, those last three sectors alone make up the Deleuzian time-image, and are only very partially examined by Deleuze, who contents himself with some very pertinent remarks on Snow and Bene. It has to be said on his behalf that it is very hard to write about those films, which offer a smooth surface that does not lend itself readily to glossing.

The time-image thus essentially comprises films of ambition and films of high quality - which are fully worthy of being included under this heading - but which make up only a tiny fraction of the interesting films produced and an even tinier fraction of all the films produced. To separate the time-image from the movement-image, the magma from the dialectic, is thus a fairly pointless exercise (more so because the two are at times to be found in the same film). Even more pointless is to oppose them: that ends up like David and Goliath, 2D and 3D, man versus the Empire Brain Building. Whether it’s time or movement, with a centre or without a centre, doesn’t mean a whole lot.

And you have to be surprised that The Time-Image takes a hundred pages more than The Movement-Image. Deleuze must have been scared that his Time-Image was going to be too short, so he stuffed it full to bursting, laying things out in random order, it seems. The last three chapters of The Time-Image (thought, body and brain, components) overlap constantly, and these are the best ones (even though Ariadne’s thread traces a pretty devious path through some pretty arbitrary groupings: Doillon ranked only under the rubric of the body, for example). Deleuze does not spare the ink here in the attempt to stuff his things into just one of two big trunks.

In fact, you might think that the two titles are there because they sound good, to help Deleuze hawk his wares - an intrusive (and unconscious) MacGuffin, a little like the title Pierrot le Fou (1965) attracted cash and crowds to Godard’s film that never showed the celebrated homonymous bandit. The tragedy of Deleuze is that he crams his chapters full by injecting films and theses without regard to their topics, but also that he has to bugger things up (cf. Buñuelian repetition at the interior of naturalism, naturalism at the interior of the impulse ... ). Cram - you have to cram if you want to cover the whole of cinema in seven-hundred pages, and this is why you stick just one label - invariably the wrong one - on each item: Mizoguchi, small form; Ford, large form; Vidor, naturalist (along with the master of suspense, the Ozuian tatami shot, Fellinian fat girls). Still that pathological mania for classification. It’s also because Deleuze believes he is granting prestige to the cinema, for which it has utterly no need, by referring it to Bergsonian concepts. Of course it is actually Bergson, a philosopher without an audience (and a cinephobe), who benefits by this business. But extrafilmic thinkers adore this kind of equation which valorises them: not long ago some weird guy devoted a book to proving that Virgil foreshadowed the cinema because the writing in The Aeneid was like découpage.

Maybe you think I am too hard on Deleuze, but it is because his philosophic polish masks his real skills. Deleuze can be passionate, invigorating, if you clear out his stories about movement and time. Deleuze is like a Skorecki who thinks he is a Spinoza … The system is as void as the particular insights are exciting and stimulating (not always, but very often).

First off, this is perhaps the only theoretician of the cinema who relies exclusively on good films or ambitious films, from the immediate present (Syberberg, Straub, Jacquot, Eustache, Garrel) as well as from the past. Where Metz, Cohen-Séat, Marcel Martin and Arijon wallowed in turkeys, with him you are always in good company, with family. Deleuze is a cinephile, and he likes good cinema.

For another thing, he knows how to dig up the most interesting ways of looking at a film from somewhat overlooked journals like the old Cinématographe and Etudes cinématographiques, how to make a synthesis of the best citations from quite varied sources dealing with a single auteur.

And above all, how to express his own original, if generally oblique, points of view on films. It is often during desultory conversation, in impromptu remarks, where the most nourishing stuff can be found, badly classified and badly set out on the page in too few paragraphs (the final summary is often more useful for following Deleuze’s thought than the text itself), but what does it matter ...



18. [Translator’s Note]. The Movement-Image, p. 210. I am uneasy with the Tomlinson-Habberjam translation at a couple of points in the passage from which these phrases are taken, but I have only changed the last one, which reads, ‘the condemnation of the plot’ in their translation, and would be likely to give rise to misunderstanding here.

19. Ibid, pp. 93-94.


For example, there are some remarks offering a preliminary attempt at a synthesis that open horizons on the crisis of the action-image in America, linked to five factors: ‘the dispersive situation’ (multiplication of characters), ‘deliberately weak links’, ‘the voyage [trip/ballad] form’, ‘the consciousness of clichés’, and ‘the exposure of the conspiracy’. (18)

Or on von Sternberg: ‘light no longer has to do with darkness, but with the transparent, the translucent or the white ... The nets and the voile curtains of Sternberg are therefore quite distinct from expressionist veils and nets - as his soft focuses are from its chiaroscuro. No longer the struggle of light with darkness, but light’s adventure with white: this is Sternberg’s anti-Expressionism’. (19)



20. The Time-Image, p. 258.

  Or on Duras versus Straub: ‘An initial difference would be that, for Duras, the speech-act to be reached is total love or absolute desire … The second difference consists of a liquid quality which increasingly marks the visual image in Marguerite Duras ... the visual image, in contrast to the Straubs, tends to go beyond its stratigraphic or "archeological" values towards a peaceful power of river and sea which stands for the eternal’. (20)  




21. [Translator’s Note]. I am grateful to Adrian Martin for pointing out an exchange between Moullet and Godard which is implicit in this quote. In Cahiers du cinéma, no. 93 (March 1959), Moullet wrote that ‘morality is a question of tracking shots’. In July of 1959, in Cahiers, no. 97, Godard paid him a hommage of sorts by saying that ‘tracking shots are a question of morality’. Godard’s (dumb but cool) reversal of particular and general is a wonderfully apt illustration of the point Moullet is making about theories of the cinema.


Deleuze is a man for the particular comment, for comparison (rather Godardian), but not for totalising theory. To tell the truth, the latter is not a big thing in the domain of the cinema, save for that put together by cineastes themselves within the framework of their personal work. It is hard to imagine a global theory of literature. We tend to believe that there is one for the cinema because since its beginnings the latter has existed within a very restrained framework, and limited by financial contingencies as well. But the years, international development and the popularisation of filmmaking have destroyed any such totalising illusion. The general is a trap. Only the local, the particular, exists. Grand theories of the cinema are limited: an Open Sesame, an all-purpose formula, a key: Bazinian forbidden montage, Astruc’s caméra-stylo, ‘tracking shots are a question of morality’ (Godard)(21), the Agelian dialectic of a cinema of offering (cinéma oblatif) and a cinema of taking (cinéma captatif), the Pasolinian cinema of prose and cinema of poetry, the Hawksian camera at eye-level, Fullerian cinema-emotion – or, as Auriol put it, ‘the cinema is the art of making pretty things for pretty women’.

Originally published in La Lettre du cinéma, no. 15, Autumn 2000. Reprinted with the kind permission of Luc Moullet and Axelle Ropert. Translated from the French by William D. Routt.


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