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Cinema is Another Life  

Raúl Ruiz


This speech was delivered in French by Raúl Ruiz (1941-2011) on the occasion of his receipt of an Honorary Doctorate from the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon on 18 November 2005. LOLA thanks Raúl and Valeria Sarmiento for the manuscript.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends –


Today, under the guise of a thank-you, I want to tell a secret. The cinema, this art of light, exists. But if it exists, it is only due to the shadow that serves it as poetic support. It is this shadow – or rather, obscurity – that allows it to build (rather in the manner of a puzzle) an edifice, mental palace or labyrinth, in which there lives a wild beast, our animal double, a felgya as the ancient Vikings named it; and this beast watches us, waits for us, and prepares to devour us.


In order to incarnate itself, the cinema, this mechanical art, makes use of a quite practical tool known as a shutter. It is this marvellous obstacle that determines how we are to be invaded by the specific penumbra which is the blackness between two frames. And here is the secret: dear friends, when we see a minute of film, we see thirty seconds of cinematic darkness. Thanks to the shutter, there is implanted in us an obscurity where we find, nourished and nurtured, a type of counter-film or parallel film composed by ourselves – and which, in traits of shadow, composes an entire world, a small world comprised of our doubles. Ferocious doubles, naturally; but also fairly well meaning, human doubles, even if they sometimes end up being rather like jokers or tricksters. Saints, some would say, while others would call them sprites; doubtless the ancient Vikings would settle the matter with their designation Hamrs.


We must thus conclude that, whenever we see a film, we in fact see two films: the one we watch, and the one that watches us. This second film (just as we speak of a Second State) is, as it happens, the very same one that we see with our own eyes, an illusion based upon the retinal ‘persistence of vision’ with which certain, misguided positivists still persist. But our second film is created in the penumbra, in some sense ‘dreamt’. Made up of panic and bliss. An agitated dream in revolt, a turbulent mirror, as certain poets distracted by the paradoxical world of quantum physics would assert. A shadow film comprised of doubles, a doubling of the very film we are in the process of watching, composed of slightly dephased lines of dialogue from the film of light, phantom-landscapes, phantom-houses, felgyas and Hamrs.


And in this doubled world there lays a rather particular double, in fact the double of every one of us, active spectators. He is the one who looks at us as long as we are looking; it is he who wishes us good or evil, depending on the case. It is he who personalises, so to speak, this shadowy film. But who is this singular other? Our beloved Vikings, once again, would have called him the Hugr, namely the soul of each of us who, emerging from an obscure beyond, comes to meet us. Yes, dear friends, the cinema is another life.


Whatever kind of cinema, it goes without saying: in this art as in every art, there are always problems of dosage, of fine-tuning. But beyond all that, we can assert that, out of the numerous functions of vision that can be distinguished (there are at least thirty), two are particularly important in this context: fascination, and distantiation. Or: vertigo, and contemplation. Sometimes they alternate; sometimes they are superimposed. When there is distantiation, our eye wanders, no longer letting itself be carried away by intrigues; it separates out those things belonging to narrative and becomes ‘intelligent’, practicing a secondary heuristic (the term comes from the psychologist Henry C. Plotkin) (1), a reasoned deregulation of vision. But in this film (this kino) that concerns us, there is also ‘plot’, thesis, intrigue – and thus fascination. And this fascination transports us into the mirror’s turbulence, into disorder and dissipation; we are obliged to get lost in it. Seized, lost, tickled to death – we are in the eye of the cyclone.






1. See Henry C. Plotkin, Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge (Harvard University Press, 1997).

But this is an Evil Eye. In his treatise On Fascination, Henry of Aragon (1384-1434), the 15th or 16th Marquis of Villena, known as The Magician, thought he was able to assert that the Evil Eye, in order to spring into action, required our complicit gaze: so as to fall victim to the Evil Eye, there must first be a wish for evil, in our gaze, our malicious look. In fact, it is because King Charles II, ‘the bewitched’, wished for evil, according to the witch’s verdict, that the latter was able to enter the prognathous King’s brain – rendering him blind to the things of this world, and turning him into a lover of butterflies and baubles.


So: vertiginous fascination, and intelligent distantiation. Blind participation, and relative detachment (the concept derives from the sociologist Norbert Elias). Such are the two movements that propel the autopoetic penumbra.


But you will say, and rightly: how do we make an art from all this turbulence? How do we render this storm measurable; how do we submit the uncertainty of clouds to the certainty of clocks? Via the certainty of clouds and the uncertainty of clocks, the philosopher Karl Popper would retort – but his answer, I believe, is insufficient. Allow me to return to an old treatise on magic – some of you have doubtless realised by now that, since the start of this sotie, it has never been a question of anything but magic. In his book De vinculus in genere (‘A General Account of Bonding’), Giordano Bruno, political and public relations expert, counsels us in the following terms: ‘Anyone who has the power to bind must to some degree have a universal theory of things in order to be able to bind humans (who are, indeed, the culmination of all things)’. (2) OK. Universal theory, but of what? Culmination, but of what, and why? Culmination, or récapitulation in French, comes from the Italian translation; in the Latin text, it is epilogus quidam omnium. We must always mistrust translations, for sometimes they are too strict. ‘General theory’, according to the Italian text, is universalem rationem in the original. But who is this epilogue-man that universal reason must bind? Ourselves? Man of humanity? Or, rather, this obscene beast that our modern magicians name the ‘public’, the ‘audience’, this arithmetical man formed at the intersection of tickets bought and sold?





2. Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle and Unity, and Essays on Magic (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 145.

No, dear friends, I do not accept it. This culminating-man, this epilogue-man, this man to be bound does not belong to the film born in the shadow situated between two frames. That man is arrived at by way of the film of light. Our film, the one that concerns us this autumn afternoon, will remain when the other one has died with the end of its credits. Take heed: during the night that follows the film’s projection, each one of us spectators will watch the phantom-film, which we think we can predict, vanish in our sleep. Our three souls, the animal soul (the felgya), our innumerable doubles (the Hamrs), and our unique soul, will disappear, all the better to integrate themselves in this multiple film which is our life. And this holistic film, without start or end, has as its task to integrate the vast work of creation that we have seen but, above all, have dreamt. Creation, thus, becomes a process (the terms come from Sinologist François Jullien, but also Chinese Confucian Wang Fuzhi).


But let me, to conclude this autumn sotie, propose an optimistic note. I believe our film cannot really die like that. A penumbra does not have to be melancholic, and dream is not tristitia, that eighth deadly sin. I affirm, for my part, that in this dreamt film there is something which, at least for a certain time – the time of our lives – cannot die. I am talking about the bone structure of the dreamt work. Our beloved Vikings can, one last time, help us here: I am referring to their number four soul, the bone-soul. This soul that spins our dream-clouds and our clocks. This is the singular emotion – for which we have no name – that a film transmits to us. But what devil do we have here, in the penumbra of the brain dreaming this pile of bone? What relation can there be between the foreseen, quickly forgotten film and this Nordic soul animating bone? Let’s look closer. Bone leads to skeleton leads to the trace of a body. Trace leads to resurrection. The Resurrection of the flesh? You feel like laughing? In fact, flesh resurrects itself every seven years, a single point is all that’s needed. Whereas a film is completely there; we can resuscitate it at the flick of a switch whenever we like. So what forms the bone-soul? Let us see.


When we re-see a film, as I believe, we animate it, we exhaust it. We take it in, and note certain striking details: a kiss here, a gunshot there. The totality escapes us, hardly concerns us. Except when … except when the soul of the nocturnal film is present, dedicated to animating and resuscitating, in bone, the integral, living, solar film.


It is thanks to the bone-soul, this engorged cathedral, that the archetypal film can manifest itself. This soul, I know, has a long life. Why? I am unaware of the reasons. But from this inverted knowledge which is ignorance, I believe I can draw a modest superstition: the evident film, the film which (as positivists say) we have ‘really seen’, is comprised of material formed from celluloid and a film strip cooked up on the basis of a stew of horse bone: and because of that, my superstition tells me that this soul has a long, strong life; because of that, I know it will be made of old bones.




from Issue 2: Devils


© Raúl Ruiz 2005. Translation © Adrian Martin 2012.
Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.