Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dissolves: An Essay in Eleven Statements of 140 Characters or Less

For some time, I've been threatening loudly and publicly to write an anti-dissolve-as-transition screed. For one reason or another, I just couldn't seem to marshal together the arguments, evidence, and wit necessary to put these nebulous thoughts into a form that could be easily digested by other human beings. Wanting to get it all out there, however, a few nights ago I presented them in a series of eleven twitter dispatches. They are presented anew here, in the hopes that it might prompt some discussion. Don't be shy.

1. Montage vs. mise-en-scene; combination of elements vs. elements themselves; footage as raw materials vs. thing in its own right.

2. An image has integrity. Put one image next to another (timeline): integrity. Side-by-side (split-screen): integrity. Dissolves: none.

3. Neither image is its own thing, but rather a most monstrous and hazy amalgam, mutant, gestalt.

4. But a dissolve does not stand still in time; it is a transition. It is time. A way to show its passing. A way to bridge gaps.

5. A dissolve refuses to let go of one thing before grabbing another. It is then inherently sentimental.*

6. Ozu had no use for them. He understood that they untether the image from reality. Every dissolve is a lie.

7. As Schrader explained, Ozu's cinema is transcendent because there are no dissolves. Formality is key.

8. Film is image, film is time; Dissolves disrespect & misunderstand both. But film is also people, performances, gestures, spirits, essences.

9. Montage uses people/souls as raw materials to be reshaped and/or discarded. Mise-en-scene respects the actor & his space.

10. If dissolves are "montage plus", then they are implicitly dismissive of actors, framing, timing, writing. People. Art.

11. And so, yes dear ones, my argument against dissolves is an argument for mise-en-scene, formal control, space & time, acting.

Again, comments are welcome.

*-- Before this "piece" was written (twritten?), the venerable C. Mason Wells chastised my blanket condemnation of dissolves by pointing to the films of Sirk. And had he not done that, I would not have realized the inherently sentimental nature of the dissolve-as-transition. So, um, thanks, Chris! And, it should be noted, that Sirk uses dissolves quite well because he understands and capitalizes on this aspect.


Alejandro Adams said...

I don't find anything here particularly objectionable--it's fairly well-argued. But what would you make of Apocalypse Now, in which abundant dissolves are used to express the lack of firmness surrounding events, experiences, psychological states?

Tom Russell said...

I haven't seen APOCALYPSE NOW in nearly eight years; Mary hasn't seen it since at least the early nineties. So I can't quite comment coherently on it-- but that does sound like the film I remember seeing and, per number six, dissolves, like close-ups, are very handy at untethering a film from everyday reality/ are useful as a disorientation strategy.