Monday, November 14, 2011

The Freeze Frame in Source Code

(excerpted from a talk at St Andrews about David Jones' film Source Code. IMdB notes the cameras used in the film, analog and digital. The passage starts considering the properties of one of those)

The Phantom HD has a specific function in film production: the maximum speed of the Panasonic film camera is 50fps, that of the Phantom 555fps, giving it the capacity to record extremely small timespans, and to give the illusion of extreme slow motion on playback. This is the kind of technique used for filming fireballs of the kind repeatedly shown in Source Code, and almost certainly for the freeze frame that occurs at the climax. It is impossible not to evoke Laura Mulvey's critique of the digital freeze here: ‘film’s original moment of registration can suddenly burst through its narrative time ...The now-ness of story time gives way to the then-ness of the time when the movie was made...’ (Mulvey 2006: 30-31). Though I cannot do justice to her argument here, let's think through the function of the freeze in Source Code. Colter (the protagonist) has finally worked out how to fill his eight minutes: capturing the terrorist, wooing the girl, and creating a community (as much like the sing-song on the bus in Capra's It Happened One Night as it is like Groundhog Day) at peace and enjoying itself. A few minutes later, he will call this 'a perfect day'. The perfect moment – coinciding with the crisis back in the world of his mortal body – is arrested, almost certainly using the extreme speed of exposure of the Phantom. And yet, even at these extreme speeds, the structure of the image is bound to the clock function of the chip. Looking carefully at the language Mulvey uses, we can emphasise something explicit in the digital mode: she speaks of the time when the movie was made. This is not a moment, not a Husserlian Augenblick, instantaneous and whole. It is, most specifically, an image which is non-identical. Quite apart from its delivery as DVD or BluRay digital scan, even in the cinema, this shot is ontologically incomplete, even as it tries to capture the perfect moment perfectly executed. It is exactly time, time which can only exist as change, that is in the processes in which things become other than themselves.

1 comment:

Carl Looper said...

An alternative proposition is that identity is not to be found in the instant (or perhaps not just the instant). We can suppose another identity - not that which is altered by time, as if animated by time into "something other than itself" but another (an other) identity which time, if only partially, restores, an operation which changes something other than itself, into itself. Or tries to, but running out of time to do so, leaves behind a fossil, a mark, a trace, not of what it was, or what it had been changed into, but what it could be, given the time.