Cinematic Transcendence From a Synaesthetic Perspective

(A Review of Michael Snow's Wavelength & David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper)

Kenneth Hemmerick

Originally published in Lonergan Review Number 6 - Canada's Film Century: Traditions, Transitions, Transcendence

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Cinematic Analysis - David Rimmer

A second and completely different aural trigger of cinematic transcendence can be seen/heard in the film Variation on a Cellophane Wrapper (1970) by David Rimmer. This film is structured in a similar way to that in which electro-acoustic music compositions are often organized. Communication theory initially began with the electronic signal. As the theory increased in acceptance, musicians began to see that the electronic signal itself was material with which they could work.

In 1948, Claude E. Shannon published his Mathematical Theory of Communication based on his work in deciphering electronic signal messages.40 Simply stated, in communication theory, the amount of information conveyed by the message increases as the amount of uncertainty as to what the message actually will be becomes greater. This was a revolutionary idea. A message which is one out of ten possible meanings conveys a smaller amount of information than a message which is one out of a million possible meanings. Entropy, in communication theory, is the measure of uncertainty, and entropy is taken as the amount of information conveyed by a message from a source. The more that is known about what message the source will produce, the less uncertainty, the less the entropy and the less information.

Edgar Varese, (1883-1964) is widely regarded as one of the first masters of electronic music. Rather than imagining structures of melodies and harmonies as such, he conceived of music more in geometric, sculptural terms. Blocks of sounds could be treated as objects to be turned, reshaped and projected through space - something of a 'plate tectonic.' Varese preferred not to call his work "music", but rather "organized sound.41

One strategy electro-acoustic composers use to organize their compositions is to play with detail, foreground and background.42

Rimmer visually uses the repeated pattern of a factory worker straightening out a sheet of cellophane in the same way one may straighten out a folded sheet before making a bed. This is the detail signified by its placement in the foreground or background, or transformation from one ground to the other. Visually, Rimmer places this detail, or information, in the respective fore and backgrounds through layering on top of, or underneath, colour, or its absence, and film textures. Similarly, the aurally detailed motif, gesture or information is foregrounded or backgrbunded through tape manipulation (splicing, looping, tape reversal, speed alteration, and amplitude and frequency modulations).

Rimmer is playing with visual and aural entropy. As the viewer comes to know more about the message the film will produce (a woman slowly and repeatedly flapping a large sheet of cellophane), the less uncertainty, the less entropy and the less information there is. Rimmer visually keeps the viewer's consciousness of the message at the line concept of our Duck/Rabbit analogy.

However, aurally, he uses music to enable the viewer/listener to have a cinematic transcendence. Repeatedly, when the visual image lessens in intensity, the musical gesture or detail moves closer to the foreground of the cinematic experience. When the musical detail wanes into the sonic background, the visual detail waxes in the visual foreground.

As such, Rimmer forces the viewer to shift between visual and aural modes of perception through their respective placements in the schemata of the perceptual foregrounds and backgrounds. Thus, this film is based on a visual and aural gesture being intellectually/intuitively, convergently/divergently, discretely/continuously, explicitly/tacitly perceived. Each time there is a shift in consciousness between these two modes of perception, a cinematic transcendence occurs and the viewer, if self-aware, is knowingly reposited into a mode of consciousness which moves him/her towards self-understanding. This mode of consciousness is called "responsibility" in Lonergan's system of self-appropriation.

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© 2006 Kenneth Hemmerick