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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Bernard Lonergan's System of Appropriation

The philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, in his Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, provides a clear description of how the knower comes to know the knower in experience.43 Simply stated, one's self-understanding requires a prescribed way of thinking which enables and activates the organizing principle and function of self-appropriation. Self-appropriation is transcendence in the most personal sense. Dr. Moira Carley has developed the following chart which outlines the progressive levels of consciousness which are stages of self-appropriation or transcendence.44

Levels of Conscousness What I Want / Desire My Question / My Task as as Knower
experience data be attentive
understanding intelligibility What is it? be intelligent
    Why is it?
reflection truth Is it so? be reasonable
responsibility good Is it valuable? be responsible

Throughout this film the viewer is confronted with visual and aural data or information. At this time, there are no questions. However, as understanding increases through the questions, what is it? and why is it?, the viewer is developing an intelligibility about the experience he/she is having. This leads to the reflective question, Is it true? This question in turn leads to the question. Is it valuable? In other words, Where am I in this experience, what am I learning, and what have I learned?

In both Wavelength and Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper, sound/music is used to trigger cinematic transcendence; transcendence being a shift in perception of the viewer/listener. Wavelength's visual movement is in the form of a zoom lens closing in on a stationary object. In Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper, visual movement is in the form of a stationary camera filming a moving subject/object.

Peter Harcourt, in a class lecture, defines parataxis as "a rhetorical term relating to the elimination of temporality and logical connective links." Wavelength's parataxical treatment of foreground, detail and background is different from that of Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper.45 It is a slow unfolding of these three elements. However, Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper approaches these elements catachrestically in order to startle or to shake the viewer/listener into awareness of detail, background and foreground.

(Harcourt describes catachresis as the "deliberate misuse of a rhetorical device - to startle, as in rap music.") In both films, the aural dimension plays a pivotal role in negotiating the shift between uncertainty and certainty, unfamiliarity and familiarity; a shift between duck and rabbit; a shift towards self awareness and the unravelling of perceptual and psychological masks. David Rimmer states, "the ambiguity of the content-message permits the viewer to experience and interpret the film in a variety of ways."46

This is the sense of freedom we have to explore synaesthetic activity in his work. Both David Rimmer's and Michael Snow's films evoke synaesthetic, or poly-modal sensory experiences to trigger cinematic transcendence in the viewer. Their works are a conscious intermixing of visual and sonic events, where the sonic is inexorably connected to the visual, and the visual keyed to the sonic. This play between the aural and the visual allows for a blurring of the bias of space concept over time concept and time concept over space concept.

Harold Innis in his Plea for Time states "the character of the medium of communication tends to create a bias in civilization favourable to an over-emphasis on the time concept or on the space concept and only at rare intervals are the biases offset by the influence of another medium and stability is achieved."47

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© 2006 Kenneth Hemmerick