Thursday, 12 August 2010

Double Dancing. Joseph Mankiewicz. The Barefoot Contessa

Double Dancing
Joseph Mankiewicz
The Barefoot Contessa

Gilles Deleuze

Cinema 2: The Time Image
Cinéma 2: L'image-temps

Chapter III. From Recollection to Dreams: Third Commentary on Bergson
Chapitre III. Du souvenir aux rêves (troisième commentaire de Bergson)

2c: The two poles of the flashback: Carné, Mankiewicz
2c: Les deux pôles du flash-back : Carné, Mankiewicz

What is reported is always a skidding, a detour, a fork. But, although the fork may in principle be discovered only after the event, through flashback, there is one character who has been able to foresee it, or grasp it at the time, whether he uses it later for good or for evil. Mankiewicz is brilliant with these scenes. It is not only Harry's role in The Barefoot Contessa; it happens in two important scenes in All About Eve. First, the actress's secretary-dresser has understood straight away Eve's deceitfulness, her split personality: at the exact moment that Eve was producing her false story, she heard everything from the next room, out of frame, and comes into the frame to give Eve an intense look and briefly show her doubt. And then, later, the devilish theatre-critic will surprise another of Eve's forks, when she tries to seduce the actress's lover. He hears, and perhaps notices, through the half-open door, as between two fields. He will know how to use this later, but he has understood at the time (and it is at different moments that each of the characters understand, thanks to a new fork). Now, in all these cases, we do not leave memory. But instead of a constituted memory, as function of the past which reports a story, we witness the birth of memory, as function of the future which retains what happens in order to make it the object to come of the other memory. This is what Mankiewicz has very clearly understood: memory could never evoke and report the past if it had not already been constituted at the moment when the past was still present, hence in an aim to come. It is in fact for this reason that it is behavior: it is in the present that we make a memory, in order to make use of it in the future when the present will be past. [...] It is this role of spy, or of involuntary witness, which gives Mankiewicz's cinema its whole force [...]. Hence the way in which we find in him the two distinct aspects of the out-of-field: an aside concerning the character who surprises the fork, and a beyond concerning the character who relates it to the past (sometimes the same character, sometimes a different one).[Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 49-50c]

Ce qui est rapporté est toujours un dérapage, un déviation, une bifurcation. Mais, bien que la bifurcation ne puisse en principe être découverte qu'après coup, par flash-back, il y a un personnage qui a pu la pressentir, ou la saisir sur le moment, quitte à s'en servir plus tard pour le bien ou pour le mal. Mankiewicz excelle dans ces scènes. Ce n'est pas seulement le rôle d'Harry dans «
La comtesse aux pieds nus », ce sont deux grandes scènes de « Tout sur Eve ».D’abord, l’habilleuse-secrétaire de l’actrice a compris immédiatement la fourberie d’Eve, son caractère fourchu : au moment même où Eve faisait son récit mensonger, elle a tout entendu de la pièce à côté, hors champ, et rentre dans le champ pour regarder Eve intensément et manifester brièvement son doute. Et puis, plus tard, le diabolique critique de théâtre surprendra une autre bifurcation d’Eve, quand elle s’efforce de séduire l’amant de l’actrice. Il entend, et peut-être aperçoit, par la porte entrebâillée, comme entre deux champs. Il saura s’en servir plus tard, mais il a compris sur le moment (et c’est à des moments différents que chacun des personnages comprend, à la faveur d’une nouvelle bifurcation). Or, dans tous ces cas, nous ne sortons pas de la mémoire. Seulement, au lieu d’une mémoire constituée, comme fonction du passé qui rapporte un récit, nous assistons à la naissance de la mémoire, comme fonction du futur qui retient ce qui se passe pour en faire l’objet à venir de l’autre mémoire. C’est ce que Mankiewicz a compris très profondément : la mémoire ne pourrait jamais évoquer et raconter le passé si elle ne s’était déjà constituée au moment où le passé était encore présent, donc dans un but à venir. C’est même en cela qu’elle une conduite : c’est dans le présent qu’on se fait une mémoire, pour s’en servir dans le futur quand le présent sera passé. C'est cette mémoire du présent qui fait communiquer du dedans les deux éléments, la mémoire romanesque telle qu’elle apparaît6 dans le récit rapporteur, le présent théâtral tel qu’il apparaît dans le dialogues rapportés. C’est ce tiers circulant qui donne à l’ensemble un valeur totalement cinématographique. C'est ce rôle d’épieur, ou de témoin involontaire, qui donne toute sa force au cinéma de Mankiewicz : naissance visuelle et auditive de la mémoire. D’où la manière dont on retrouve chez lui les deux aspects distincts du hors-champ : un à-côté renvoyant au personnage qui surprend la bifurcation, un au-delà renvoyant au personnage qui la rapporte au passé (parfois le même personnage, parfois un autre). [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985:71-73]

It is not simply several people each having a flashback, it is the flashback belonging to several people (three in The Barefoot Contessa, three in A Letter to Three Wives, two in All About Eve). And it is not just the circuits forking between themselves, it is each circuit forking within itself, like a split hair. [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 47bc]

Ce ne sont pas seulement plusieurs personnes qui ont chacune un flashback, c'est le flash-back qui est à plusieurs personnes (trois dans « La comtesse aux pieds nus », trois dans « Chaînes conjugales », deux dans « Tout sur Eve »). Et ce ne sont pas seulement les circuits qui bifurquent entre eux, c'est chaque circuit bifurque avec soi-même, comme un cheveu fourchu. [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985:68d]

the forking points are very often so imperceptible that they cannot be revealed until after their occurrence, to an attentive memory. It is a story that can only be told in the past. [...] This is what governs the three flashbacks of women in A Letter to Three Wives and Harry's recollections in The Barefoot Contessa. [Deleuze Cinema 2, 1989: 48d]

les points de bifurcation sont le plus souvent si imperceptibles qu'ils ne peuvent se révéler qu'après coup, à une mémoire attentive. C'est une histoire que ne peut être racontée qu'au passé. [...] C'est cela qui préside aux trois flashes-back de femmes dans « Chaînes conjugales», comme aux souvenirs d'Harry dans « La comtesse aux pieds nus ». [Deleuze Cinéma 2, 1985:70d]

Justify Full[This first clip opens with Harry at the Contessa's funeral. Harry flashes-back to when he first met the Contessa as a dancer. He goes to ask the Contessa to star in a movie he is writing and directing. Here we see her bare feet. Meeting Harry is an unexpected turn of events for the two of them, so in a sense it is a "forking" in the story. It is a memorable moment, and it leads eventually to the Contessa's death. Back while the event was happening, things proceeded with a lot of uncertainty and newness. This is also what makes it so memorable. In a way, it is a memory in the making.

Maria has a difficult relation with her family. We see Harry go to Maria's home to get her. Here again is a very important fork, left almost up to chance or whim. We see Harry sensing her future, knowing implicitly at the time this is a major fork for her. Yet he knows this only through the later flashback, looking back in retrospect. He describes it as his '6th sense'. He advises her not to go down this road, even while inviting her into it, as though he knew back then from his sixth sense that she was fated for a tragic end. Note again how she forks-off along a new path while barefoot.

The story continues to tell of Maria's early success. The flashback then returns to a shot of Harry at the funeral. The camera turns to the PR man, who begins his flashback. He tells the story of how Maria's father killed her mother. Maria defends her father in court, because her mother was tyranical to the family. Her testimony was a such a compelling performance, that her father got off the charges. Even though the PR man thought this event would ruin Maria's career, the success of her testimony made her an even greater star.

Then Harry recalls another forking in Maria's story. It is set at a party held in Maria's personal home.

Kirk the producer fights with a wealthy South American man during the party. The South American man invites Maria with him on a cruise. She originally was not going to accept the offer. But then during the fight, Kirk demands that Maria not go. As a forking act of defiance, she decides then to leave with the South American man, even though they never would have a romantic relation. Notice that we learn after her forking that her shoes were off, left in her back yard.

The flashback then rotates to the PR man, as he narrates the following events. While vacationing on the Riverara, there is another forking. Notice at the dinner how Maria has a premonition that something good would happen, a sort of sixth sense like Harry had. When the South American man scolds Maria, another man, the count, slaps him and walks away with Maria. The flashback narrations switch then to his voice. He recounts events happening one day while driving.

The count stops his car, hears music, and wanders into a gathering of peasants. Dancing there, barefoot, is Maria. The count sees her later at the casino, and we view again the scene where he slaps the South American man, and walks away with her. The count's family-line will come to an end if they do not have a child. However, what the count will not tell Maria until after they later marry is that a war injury rendered him unable to have children or even make love to her. The flashback narration then switches back to Harry. He recounts his visit to Maria in Italy. She describes her love for the count, but notes the strange fact that despite being together for six weeks of passionate love, they have yet to make love to one another. This again gives Harry an implicit premonition that something is wrong and that something bad will happen. "Looking back, I probably was not as worried then as I now think I was. But I do know I was filled with sudden uneasiness." In fact, immediately in the next scene, she is posing for a statue to be made of her, and it is the same one that comes to stand over her grave. Then they marry, and have two receptions, a peasant one outside for Maria's family, and one inside for the count's. Harry tells the count that his sixth sense makes him concerned about their marriage. Then Maria observes that she only sees Harry like this when he is writing a script, and one of his characters has taken a step by herself and he's not sure what her next step would be. Later, some time after the honeymoon, Maria and Harry meet up again at a hotel. Here, within Harry's flashback, Maria has a flashback of her own, to their weding night.

In this flashback to her wedding night, we see her learning of the count's war injury that made him unable to conceive children. As we return to Harry's flashback, we see him saying, "So that was it"; what he knew implicitly before, now becomes explicit through her flashback. Maria then explains that she is having a baby with another man. But her impression is that the count will be happy, now that his family-line can continue. She says she will tell him tonight, so Harry, worried, secretly follows her to the count's mansion. While there, he hears gunshots, and the count emerges carrying Maria's dead body. He says he killed her and the man she was with. Harry does not mention the baby.

While watching these flashbacks, we might have noticed an overlap. Both the PR man and the count remember the slapping scene when Maria abruptly goes-off with the count. It is not the same shot, however. It is shot from different angles. What is remarkable about this double-scene is that it illustrates two senses of Deleuze's concept of forking/bifurcation: 1) bifurcation's multiplicity and 2) bifurcation's disjunction. They are both part of the same process. The parallel bifurcation in Mankiewicz is seen in the fact that more than one person recalls the events. In the case of the slapping, we see that although it is one event, there are divergent versions of it. Deleuze illustrates this also with Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths." In our lives, we notice that if some event had happened differently, our lives would have gone down a very different path. A garden of forking paths would then be all these different alternate routes being parallel, and equally real, only we just happen to find ourselves along one of them. This might seem inconceivable, but this scene below shows one way Deleuze intends us to understand it. The course of events recalled by each character has a slight variation to it. The slapping event has at least two parallel but divergent lines of development. For every person recalling events, there is a different forking path in time. But also the slapping scene is an example of Maria's life taking an unforseen turn, a forking down a new path. This sort of bifurcation Deleuze illustrates with Prigogine's and Stenger's bifurcation theory. Unstable systems, when undergoing variations taken to a certain level, will proceed either of two ways, but there is no way to predetermine which way.

If we are willing to regard this diagram's divergent paths as equally real, then we might consider the forking being both an unpredictable shift as well as a parallel reality. This doubled scene, then, shows us the double-sense of Deleuze's bifurcation/forking.]

Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers. Order out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature. London: Heinemann, 1984.

Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers. La Nouvelle Alliance: Métamorphose de la science. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1979.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Transl. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London & New York: 1989.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinéma 2: L'image-temps. Paris: Les éditions de minuit, 1985.

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