13 Ways Of Film According To Wong Kar Wai’s ‘Fallen Angels’


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZda7nWftQI]

1. The camera sees in camera vision (it’s not an ocular prosthetic).  The camera can distort, saturate, de-saturate, bend, juxtapose, speed up, slow down, shift color schemes.  But the camera does not come after the fact; it is not a view, a perspective onto the real, an inflection of what’s happening.  The camera is always and already present; this world is thoroughly cinematic.  This is quite different from the world of Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 films in which the camera is present (we actually see the camera at one point of The Idiots, à la Bergman) but remains a tool that captures the real, which records events, albeit from a perspective. The camera comes after the fact. If for von Trier, the camera is representative (even if subjective), for Wai, the camera is creative. (See Way #11.)

2. Film necessarily indulges the actual (whereas literature is pure fabrication).  Banality permeates and pervades the camera’s gaze as all the world, down to its most mundane element, presents itself to be viewed.

3. The banal is beautiful: slow shots of a woman tidying a dingy apartment are absolutely exquisite, even riveting.  It’s all so god damn beautiful.

4. Contiguity ≠ continuity. In the realm of the visual, disparate things often find themselves side by side.  (Writing has a more difficult time accomplishing this; each thing in a scene has to wait its turn to be presented, described, brought to life.  Through the cut-up, William Burroughs attempts to approach film’s all-at-onceness.)  For instance, Wai will show a scene folded in on itself via reflection: we see the view outside the window, the views reflected in the light of the window, as well as characters in mirrors all sharing the same visual space.

5. There is no metadiscourse.  No setting of the scene, who’s who and how they all relate. After all, the whole thing is in motion (see Way #11).  The world emerges allatonce, without any voice of certainty other than all the voices, all certain in their own way, in their own time.  This does not give way to chaos but rather to a proliferation of internal limits.  See Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva.

6. Film strolls, an ambience in the making. We might say that film is ambience, a relationship forged between and among parts (see Way #13).  But we don’t want to fall into the temptation of thinking this spatially. The film can cut at its own beckoning (See Way #1).  And yet the film itself is necessarily contiguous, even as the gaze is disrupted: sense can’t help but emerge, perhaps despite itself.  Lars von Trier cuts to the rhythm of an idea; his films involve emergent sense, but it is a sense constrained by ideas, big ideas: Ideas.  In both The Idiots and Breaking the Waves, the film’s visuals are beholden to characters responding to idea-driven situations: morality, freedom, madness, the presence of community in general. Dogme 95 films are akin to Cassavetes’ films in that they capture the emergent behavior of characters in certain situations: the visual remains beholden to these characters and their situations – situations which are themselves beholden to ideas of fear, loyalty, and morality.  In Fallen Angels, ideas are conspicuously – but neither stridently nor didactically – absent.

7. Reflection is a view.  The world is laid out, splayed; revelation is tempered by affect, not distance or depth.  Seeing a reflection is not the same thing as seeing it directly, but nor is it secondary: a reflection is simply another mode of revelation, a repetition of the thing without original.  A reflection is an image among images.

8. Film captures nothing; it puts things in motion.  Film is motion. In Wai’s world, things are on the move: city streets, people, the camera, the air.  There are no still shots; the camera is on the go along with the action. There is no distance between camera and world. Or rather the distance at once obliterated and maintained in the movement of the film (pace Merleau-Ponty’s elemental flesh and relentless chiasm).   

9. The film is the story. As the film goes, so goes the story.  Resolutions are temporary, characters pass each other, sometimes lingering, sometimes not.  In film, the story and human relations are touch and go (See Way #6).

10. Film characters live in film land; there is no such thing as acting. Everyone in the film not only looks good, they do everything cool, as if they know they’re being looked at.  And yet they’re never pandering. Wai’s characters live in a cinematic planet in which the visual reigns supreme, always and already beyond the pale of representation.  (See Way #1, #11.)  There is no wink nor is there acting. 

11. The film is the film; it endures. The film does not refer to action; it is itself the action, the event.  No symbols, no reality, just this here now. (See Way #1, #13.) Trust this stroll through the filmscape.  A place is a passing, a juncture.  In a world which flows such as Wai’s, in this film-event, we are nomads and moments are not spaces but durations.  As Bergson would say, film endures.

12. Truth lives on the edge of things.  Film may distort; characters may act as if being watched.  But this does not mean film isn’t truthful, that its characters are phony.  Wai’s films are pathos rich – and never schmaltzy. There may be deep truths; but the camera is indifferent to them. The camera follows the surface of truth, its affect and effects, am entire filmomenology.

13. Film is fundamentally aural.  Sound informs the visuals and vice-versa: the soundtrack functions as another element in the fray – there’s no love song during the romantic scenes, no telling opening song, no finale to sum things up.  In Fallen Angels, song functions architecturally, as a place where two characters meet in absentia as one character leaves a song for another on a bar jukebox.  The song does not sit above the film but is an inflected place within the visual landscape: it is the site of a relationship that will never be consummated.  The song becomes part of the filmscape.  The sonic is hence neither ornament nor strictly ambient but is another component within the cinematic vocabulary.  The film as a whole is the ambience, the relationship between and amongst parts, a symphony of elements (see Way #5).