‘One can never be simply aware of the act or fact of being aware; one can only be aware indirectly, through being aware of something. Awareness is in fact interest, attention, absorption: being taken up in the world.’
Chapter 4 – Beckett’s Musculature: applying unctioned rough ontological textures, a Philosophy of Touch and contemporary-phenomenological cinema studies to Film.
We will now use all that we’ve discussed, explored and defined to analyze Film directly. We will be using the terms defined in our theoretical framework, from Chapter 2, as sections under which to examine Film – all the while, referring back to philosophical and critical factors that reinforce Film‘s tactility – but we will also do this in the spirit of Steven Connor’s academic practice of Cultural Phenomenology, feeling our way through analysis.
I. Blurring of object & subject [watched and watching], affective touching & the tactile eye.
Tactility is where we will begin looking at how we touch on, are touched by, and feel the textures of Film and how that, in turn, blurs the object-subject relationship between us as viewer and participant.
In the first second of Film, we see a leathery skin that then opens to reveal an eye. Though much focus has been put on the eye of that opening sequence, in the opening and closing of that eye we can feel depth and folds of the leathery eyelid. This transposes [and transforms] into an outside wall of much the same texture – a long, panning shot is then given of the wall. This too lets us feel and breathe in the texture with our eyes as the camera invites us to caress what it sees.
At 1 minute 11 seconds, when the camera [referred to in the film script as E and hereafter by us as E] begins to follow O [played by Buster Keaton], a very distinct distance is kept between the two but due to the angle taken it feels as though E is reaching toward, and holding onto, O’s shoulder. This vestibular sense of a leaning forward affects us to reach for O and so we are touched through a desire to touch on. This also blurs the relationship between us as viewer and participant as we begin to lean into the body of the film and the for-itself world of the film progressively. O also blurs his subject with all objects in the film as he rubs up against them – walls especially and we will come to look at this more when analyzing inhabiting/escaping space.
The substance of the celluloid-film itself is a tactile object in Film, also. At various moments a white line will appear down the right hand side of the screen – some might say that this was a mistake but due to the production being done in 1965, this line could have easily been removed or filmed on better quality film. So then we have to see this line as a specific choice. It is as Enoch Brater says:
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Film is its period quality…Temporal location is crucial to Film, for Beckett sets out not only to re-create the ambiance of the late twenties but to incorporate the cinematic techniques in use at that time.
Indeed the cinematic techniques of the late nineteen twenties are evident in the white line, the scratches and the bobbles on the film. So too is the actual blurring filter, of O’s vision-perspective, that is applied to the lens of the camera a cinematic technique applied in order to enable our tactile eye and blur the subject-object relationship while encouraging us to feel further into the celluloid of the film and the world of Film. This is well put by Barker when she says:
…film obscures its objects…to make vision difficult and thus to invite the viewer to feel rather than see the film, to make contact with its skin. And we respond accordingly, touching back, concealing and revealing ourselves to the film and pressing ourselves against it. [My emphasis.]
Here Barker is discussing a movie from her explorations in The Tactile Eye but it applies to Film and all film, too. We can feel instant parallels here to Film. The obscuring of objects through O’s blurred perspective encourages us and makes O reach out and touch things in reciprocity instead of passively absorbing Film. O frequently pauses and checks his pulse throughout Film – another series of moments that encourages us to question what we are seeing and to feel further into the film’s body, especially when it is blurred from O’s perspective but not from E’s.
Directly tactile scenes and individual shots from Film are evident, also. Remembering that our definition of tactile refers to weight and pressure sensitivity in the hands, it follows that O’s aforementioned pulse-checking is just one of many opportunities for us to sense the pressure and weight being applied within, and without to us, Film. At 2 minutes and 36 seconds, an old woman descending the stairs fondles the flowers in her flower basket, then at 2 minutes and 44 seconds the camera follows the motion of her hand as it goes to and grabs the staircase banister. The weight of these movements, light and heavy respectively, are pushed on to us by the weight the camera bestows on them through its following – not only that but it is the focus on the hands that gives a real sense of the importance of tactility within Film.
O’s hands are also emphasized regularly for a further handling of tactility. When removing the material over his face, it is significant that O’s hand lingers in shot; as it is when he is putting sheets over things in the apartment, to rid him of their gaze, O rubs the sheet down to feel that it is in place and E sees only O’s hands several times over. This emphasis on the hands is significant not only for tactility’s sake. In presenting to us the pressure sensitivity of O’s hands, we experience an affective touch where we seem to feel what O feels while we are being encouraged to use our hands in feeling things out then instantly a blurring of us as viewer and actor in the film occurs. This continued phenomenological blurring of object and subject through touching is further weight to this essay’s argument.
Further, more vigorous affective touching takes place when O destroys paintings and pictures – O rips up a painting that has particularly large eyes and later destroys photographs of his history after encountering a picture of his contemporary-self looking directly at him. In seeing these objects destroyed from O’s subjective position, we are implicit in their destruction through O’s quick and forceful hand movements – especially since a moment before ripping up the photographs, O strokes one softly and we are blurred into a moment of tactile tenderness amidst the comedy and the tragedy.
Though seemingly tragic, the end of Film is touching – O puts his hands to his eyes then the credits end with a close-up shot of O’s other, cataract-ed eye closing so we end, as we began, with the leathery eyelid. In this ending we have: assured tactility as the O’s hands take the weight of his head and we feel the texture, not only of the leathery eyelid, but of the glassy depth to the cataract eye; so too do we have an affective touching because we are touched by O and the impossibility of escape from contingent-beings and Being-in-the-world; and the object-subject relationship is blurred here, not only in the watched and watchings’ shared tactility and affected touching but, through the answer to the question running through Film – namely, can we escape perception? Can we ever not be perceived? In us watching O being known, felt and watched by E, only forces us to come to know that O is E, the answer becomes a matter of Nothingness in spatial intelligence. It is as Brater says, ‘O’s attempt to remove all perception ultimately fails because he cannot escape self-perception.’
II. Thrownness of embodied-screen-space and Nothingness in spatial intelligence
Embodied existence is what gives O his inability to escape self-perception. As viewers, our thrownness (our projecting of our body onto O’s and the for-itself of the film’s body) makes us doubly aware of this embodied existence. So too does our spatial intelligence, even when sitting to experience a film. There are many moments in Film that upse(a)t our experience to make it more than simply watching.
O’s lowered body stance on entry then his abrupt upright change, then immediate pause give our own bodies an upthrust into the body of Film. In this early, short sequence of Film we are not only entering into O’s kinaesthetic experience of the movie but we are given a relative movement to follow and breathe in. Once following O in body and movement, we are weighted with the struggling scuttle of his movements which knock down a (working bench/a makeshift sign) a hurdle at 1 minute, 14 seconds only to walk the (railway sleeper) plank at 1 minute, 20 seconds. These points of upsurge to hurdle to walking could be a representation of growing from child to man and/or growing from not-entirely-self-conscious to self-conscious – what they definitely are are challenges to our bodies to feel the kinaesthetic and vestibular movements and the actual space traversed by O as well as an immediate sub-conscious analysis of the spatial distance between us and O. Even as the angle of E leans forward to reach for O, we experience that distance and that leaning reminding us of how we throw our bodies into the screen-space.
At times, initially 1 minute and 20 seconds in to be precise, O seems to have no spatial intelligence and bumps into a couple. When we see from O’s blurred perspective, there is little but the expected reaction from the couple but when the couple see E – and in so doing see us, the moviegoer – there is a reaction of revulsion. In seeing E and us seeing them, they experience ‘…a kind of shared coenesthesia, in which I affectively (nauseously) participate in the Other’s nauseated self-tasting… [they] get a taste of the Other’s taste of himself’ as Steven Connor describes Sartre’s understanding of phenomenological encounterance with other contingent beings. The nothingness detailed in Chapter 2 is now present here in Film, in the body of the film, in us and between us and the screen.
Once in the ‘maternal womb’ of the apartment, O feels less eyes on him and able to exist a little more freely – signified by his removal of the material covering his face. Once O has inspected the entirety of the apartment twice and removed all the eyes of the room, he falls asleep (at 14 minutes and 53 seconds) in a rocking chair; E then tries to move around to face O but (at 14 minutes and 59 seconds) O wakes up, sensing someone is trying to perceive him. O’s spatial intelligence kicks in even when asleep. Before that, he has measured up his surroundings and taken in the space in which he now exists – spatial intelligence is key to O when in the apartment, if not before. We too sense a heightened awareness of space in the apartment and especially as we are now given a different, far closer embodied-screen-space. When O is in the rocking chair, we see over his shoulder and when O has fallen asleep, the camera comes around his side as if we were side stepping around the chair. This encourages a thrownness, on our part, to get involved in the scene and sneak around the screen-space to see O; in large part, this has been encouraged throughout the film, not only by the camera’s placing and our haptic-philosophical approach but, by denying us access to O’s face. This distasteful encounter, though not entirely upsetting, does remind us of the nothingness present in being physically close to other contingent beings.
This nothingness and thrownness is experienced physically by O in Film in that he actually sees himself wholly and in the flesh watching himself. We are also thus physically thrown, both by our adjustment to E’s physical form and our entering into the film body, as well as our empathic upseating as O is taken aback enough to sit up in his seat. This is a scene with very short frame cuts – now that the camera is revealed as E, we can only see O seeing E and E seeing O – and this too upsets us due to its violent nature. We are thrown re-embodied into the body of the film via E’s new physical presence; our screen-space is now wholly in between E and O but due to the fact that E is O, our understanding of the previous screen space leaves us disembodied; our nothingness revealed, we are upset and upseated, much as O is at the end of Film.
III – Inhabiting/escaping space
Near the beginning of Film we are presented with a long, slow shot of decrepit tenements, and then O abruptly enters. Later, just before O enters a building, we are given a slow shot of an alleyway that eventually zooms in on O. All of O’s actions are either done with kinaesthetic struggle or sharpness. These actions juxtaposed to the slow, imposing shots of his surrounds represent the immediate difficulty in occupying a space, reminding us that we are always inhabiting some space or escaping what we consider one only to be in another but also representing the long struggle between inhabiting and escaping both the body and our environments. If we are watching ourselves watching, we are also pushed to feel ourselves inhabiting space – the aged tenements and dirty alleyway are very different from a cinema screening or even watching from the comfort of home and so Film encourages us once more to feel out our space as much as it encourages us to inhabit the world of the film. Yet our focus is supposed to be on the screen – here lies the struggle Film makes us consider.
In considering space and spaces, the space begins to inhabit the body as much as the body inhabits the space. Once in the apartment, O feels out the entirety of it with his tactile eye; looking around, he gathers a sense of space and inspects all the elements in the room; one of his first actions is to draw the blind and close the curtains but in order to do that he must make his way around the wall. O does so by feeling his way around the wall with his hands. I read all of these movements not only as further thrust for our haptic argument but also as an extension of that – O is actually feeling out his space, first with a tactile eye, then reading spatial intelligence with haptic-vision and then, when he is using his hands, he is blurring his sense of presence (his self) with that of his habitat. Yeoryia Manolopoulou hints at this in her essay on Film when she says:
The architectural interior may have clear physical boundaries, but the interior of vision oscillates between the eye and the gaze, physical and psychological relationships that constantly shift in space.
This constant shifting in space is relatable to the blurring of object and subject. If an apartment O is in is actually felt by his hands, does he not affect the apartment? And is he not affected by the apartment? Though O inhabits and affects the space, he still wishes to escape perception. Though his wish is answered with a resounding ‘no’, O’s inhabiting/escaping struggle is an essential part of the Sartre understanding of embodied phenomenology and so then contemporary-haptic-phenomenology.
IV – Relative time in everydayness and movement, encounterance and experience
Though we will come to it later in more detail, the camera lens too is embodied. So much so that its movements often feel as if they are being done in real-time – relative time in everyday movement, then.
In the opening shots of Film after we have seen the eyelid and eye, the camera looks slowly over the rough-textured wall for a full 20 seconds before lingering over the tenements for another 10 then moving slowly back over the course of another 20 seconds to the wall. This movement feels out the texture of the wall as if it were a person looking, moving their head slowly as to take in all of their surroundings. This is a phenomenological approach because, not only is the audience subject blurred with the camera object instantly in the real-time taken to absorb the surroundings but also because, of the relativity involved in understanding those opening shots – it is a human real-time movement to take in its surrounds in a slow sweep and also, as it is in black and white and the area is run down, we also assume that these are shots from a past time. A relative understanding of time is necessary here then – Beckett made Film in 1965 and so any viewer watching it has had to consider its 1920′s silent-film aesthetic and understand Film as relative to that but removed from it – this relativity is something we saw as necessary to phenomenology and contemporary-haptic-phenomenology.
In section II of this chapter, I wrote about the possibility that – when considering the odd physically upsurging nature of O’s entrance, the sign he knocks down at 1 minute, 14 seconds and the railway sleeper he walks at 1 minute, 20 seconds – it could be seen as a representation of growing from child to man and/or growing from not-entirely-self-conscious to self-conscious. As this whole series of events ends at 1 minute, 27 seconds with O encountering and bumping into other people, we could see this as a fitting end to the visual metaphor of growing from child to man because in O’s encounterance of others, he is also encountering the social world of adults and being perceived as a part of that world. This possible visual metaphor is specific to time as a relative concept because of its condensed nature – O is born into the world (of the film) and is fully-grown then thrown into the world, all in 1 minute 27 seconds. This is aided by knowing that Beckett wrote many of his works with philosophy in mind and the phenomenological term of an ‘upsurge’ is used, in different ways, by both Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. So then, O’s condensed trajectory is both his upsurge into the world of the film (his birth), and the upsurge of the world at him (his grown entering into encounterances with the adult world and others) and so fitting the experience of growth and the concept of relative time.
V – Reciprocity with environment
Film itself charts a trajectory of the continued blurring of object and subject through a focus on O’s environment. As mentioned earlier in section I, O rubs up against most surfaces he encounters to make sure that things are in place and affirm their position. Read earlier as a blurring of subject and object, this is also a form of O’s reciprocity with the environment of the world of Film. Without the walls that he rubs up against being there, O wouldn’t have a wall to guide him or an apartment wall to feel his way around. The reverse of this need for the environment is evident in the long slow tenement shot we see at the beginning because without it we would not understand O’s desire for the safety of the ‘maternal womb’ apartment and O’s environment would not be home to said apartment. Therefore a reciprocity with the environment within Film is established from the start.
Our own reciprocity with our environment, as cinema-goers, is continually challenged while experiencing Film. Throughout this chapter we’ve already explored ways in which Film draws us into the body of film but when it pushes us to be perceived, for example, when the couple first look at us in nauseous horror, it also upsets us enough to look around us at the other members of the audience. While in reciprocity with the body of Film we are also forced to consider how our cinema environment touches us as we affectively touch and are situated in it.
Even the camera in Film has a reciprocity with its environment. Not only the close up textured walls and the long tenement shots but, in order for E to face O in the apartment, it too feels its way around the walls of the apartment. This necessary touching on the walls by E conveys a utilization of – and therefore a need for – the wall that also breathes a life into the lens.
VI – Relative Being and the life of the lens
Not only is the reel of film embodied but so too is the lens – it has a life of its own. We will now evince this life in Film.
In the long, sweeping shots of the roughly textured wall and the decrepit tenements at the beginning of Film, the action of the camera feels as if it were a human – or an audience member – standing looking slowly down the street and turning our heads in the time that it would usually take someone to turn their head. It is a slow absorption of the body of the film – in texture, in colour, in weight and space – as well as breathing life into the lens by giving it a relative kinaesthetic reality. This weighted approach encourages us, as watchers, to lend our tactile eye to lens of the film and thus give it life.
By making Film in black and white, Beckett chose to convey the feel of the grit of the 1920s and the difficult struggle of artistic experiments tried then, as Brater says ‘Beckett’s Film displays a fascination with the technology of the camera lens linking it very closely to the more ambitious films of the twenties.’ This too gives us a relative life of the lens – its own chronology, from early experiments to the 1960s when Film was made, is one life layer but so too is it – when experiencing the body of the film in black and white. The black and white nature of the film gives us an instant dichotomy to consider – on or off, black or white, perceived or not. In its 1960s context, this question is answered as O’s question about the possibility of not being perceived is answered – with a resounding ‘no’. However it isn’t the answer that we want but the use of black and white that gives us the question. This question then gives the lens a history, a question and a resounding intent, all of the things needed for an experience of life.
The lens’ balance – or vestibular sense – is also evident in Film. As soon as O enters, it is thrown in a jerky fashion to the left and then a strict distance is kept between O and E, as if leaning in but also, as if this balance of distance and observation were broken then E may fall down, off-kilter. This not only conveys the thrownness of Being and embodiment, as discussed earlier, but also a sense of the exteroceptive forces on the lens and the very proprioception of the lens – in short, how it holds itself.
At 3 minutes and 12 seconds in, E sees directly from O’s perspective. This occurs many times throughout Film as indicators that O is E and vice versa. This ‘…surrealist habit of juxtaposing unexpected visual perspectives (E’s point of view colliding in montage with O’s)…’ is used to give the audience early warning that O is E but also to supplant O with E and give a new body to E, a new life.
A new life is what Beckett wanted for the actor playing O, also. Though Beckett had wanted Charlie Chaplin initially, he was very pleased that Buster Keaton could act for Film. The 1920s setting of Film required a 1920s screen star; given its 1960s filming, this choice was intended to transform the star – once a slapstick star, now Keaton was in a role as serious and as philosophically eerie as any of Beckett’s theatrical characters. The look that E gives O at the end of Film, though not negative, is one of portent. Thus the lens transforms Keaton from comedy figure to portentous perceived and perceiver.
 “..more candour than rigour, more curiosity than critique, more immersion…closer to the grain of experience than had often been customary…cultural phenomenology, would enlarge, diversify and particularise the study of culture…It would inherit from the phenomenological tradition an aspiration to articulate the worldliness and embodiedness of experience – the in-the-worldness of all existence.” Steven Connor, ‘Making an Issue of Cultural Phenomenology’, Cultural Phenomenology, <http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/cp/incipit2.htm> [accessed 13th June, 2010]
 Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. p. 75)
 Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye. (p. 23)
 See 8 minutes and 53 seconds into Film for a good, initial example.
 Brater agrees. Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (p. 78)
 Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (p. 78)
 Matthew Feldman & Ulrika Maude [eds.], Beckett and Phenomenology. (pp. 70-71)
 Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (p. 82)
 Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (p. 82)
 “…the camera and the cornea…Viewer and film share certain ways of being in, seeing, and grasping the world, despite their vast differences as human and machine, one blood and tissue, the other light and celluloid.” Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye. (p. 8)
 Enoch Brater, Beyond Minimalism. (p. 75)
 Ibid. (p. 75)
 James Knowlson, Damned to Fame. (p. 522)