Category Archives: verisimilitude

Gustave Courbet @190 and IoEA #47 and 48

Gustave Courbet @190

The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet

The Origin of the World (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Le Sommeil (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Le Sommeil (1866) by Gustave Courbet

Gustave Courbet (18191877) was a French painter who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting, best-known today paintings The Origin of the World, The Stonebreakers and Burial at Ornans.

He was one of the firsts to criticize Academic art and denounce the use of  pretexts for depicting certain subjects when he said that:

“I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor have I thought of achieving the idle aim of ‘art for art’s sake.’ No! I have simply wanted to draw from a thorough knowledge of tradition the reasoned and free sense of my own individuality. To know in order to do: such has been my thought. To be able to translate the customs, ideas, and appearance of my time as I see them — in a word, to create a living art — this has been my aim.” Gustave Courbet, preface to World’s Fair catalogue, 1855.

The Origin of the World is  IoEA #47 and Le Sommeil IoEA #48.

Crime scenes fake and true

Crime scenes by Melanie Pullen by you.

“Half Prada” from High Fashion Crime Scenes.
(c) Melanie Pullen (in the public domain as long as the orignal author is credited)

I find Melanie Pullen‘s High Fashion Crime Scenes[1] photo series by E-L-I-S-E. Pullen is a thirtiesh American photographer noted for her series based on the reenactment of true crime scenes.

I decide to investigate.

The first thought that entered my mind is that obviously, Pullen is influenced by the aesthetics of French photographer Guy Bourdin[2], especially his take on the aestheticization of violence.

I continue searching.

A trip to the Tomorrow Museum (searching for Pullen/Jahsonic) brings  Luc Sante‘s Evidence: NYPD Crime Scene Photographs: 1914- 1918.

I hear an echo of Weegee‘s work.

Can Pullen be classified as crime photography?

And then, the work of Ashley Hope![3] Her paintings are based on crime scene photographs of murdered women, exclusively. Transgressive.

A plate of soup, a girl, and a coffin, or, Lev Kuleshov @110

Lev Kuleshov, Russian filmmaker and film theorist @110

For Kuleshov (18991970), the essence of the cinema was editing, the juxtaposition of one shot with another. To illustrate this principle, he created what has come to be known as the Kuleshov Experiment. In this now-famous editing exercise, shots of an actor were intercut with various meaningful images (a casket, a bowl of soup, and so on) in order to show how editing changes viewers’ interpretations of images.


Kuleshov Experiment

Kuleshov edited together a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mozzhukhin was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl, an old woman’s coffin). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mozzhukhin’s face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was “looking at” the plate of soup, the girl, or the coffin, showing an expression of hunger, desire or grief respectively. Actually the footage of Mozzhukhin was the same shot repeated over and over again. Vsevolod Pudovkin (who later claimed to have been the co-creator of the experiment) described in 1929 how the audience “raved about the acting…. the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead woman, and admired the light, happy smile with which he surveyed the girl at play. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same.”

Kuleshov used the experiment to indicate the usefulness and effectiveness of film editing. The implication is that viewers brought their own emotional reactions to this sequence of images, and then moreover attributed those reactions to the actor, investing his impassive face with their own feelings.

The effect has also been studied by psychologists, and is well-known among modern film makers. Alfred Hitchcock refers to the effect in his conversations with François Truffaut, using actor James Stewart as the example (although Hitchcock mistakes Kuleshov with Pudovkin).

The experiment itself was created by assembling fragments of pre-existing film from the Tsarist film industry, with no new material. Mozzhukhin had been the leading romantic “star” of Tsarist cinema, and familiar to the audience.

Kuleshov demonstrated the necessity of considering montage as the basic tool of cinema art. In Kuleshov’s view, the cinema consists of fragments and the assembly of those fragments, the assembly of elements which in reality are distinct. It is therefore not the content of the images in a film which is important, but their combination. The raw materials of such an art work need not be original, but are pre-fabricated elements which can be disassembled and re-assembled by the artist into new juxtapositions.

The montage experiments carried out by Kuleshov in the late 1910s and early 1920s formed the theoretical basis of Soviet montage cinema, culminating in the famous films of the late 1920s by directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Dziga Vertov, among others. These films included The Battleship Potemkin, October, Mother, The End of St. Petersburg, and The Man with a Movie Camera.

Soviet montage cinema was suppressed under Stalin during the 1930s as a dangerous example of Formalism in the arts, and as being incompatible with the official Soviet artistic doctrine of Socialist Realism.

Here is Hitchcock explaining the Kuleshov effect:


Alfred Hitchcock

See also: continuity editing, shot reverse shot.

Introducing Dino Valls

Introducing Dino Valls
Dino Valls by Mujer Lagarto
Click for credits

Barathrum by luogo

Click for credits

Dino Valls is a Spanish painter born in 1959 in Zaragoza, presently living and working in Madrid. This self-taught artist studied Italian and Flemish masters of the 16th and 17th centuries and currently makes use of egg tempera.


Having previously obtained a degree in medicine, he is now one of the Spanish representatives of the vanguard of new figurative art[1], along with Odd Nerdrum in Norway and John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage in America where there is also the Lowbrow art movement, presided over by critics such as Suzanne G..

His work is also classified as fantastic art.

Here is an interesting YouTumentary with a soundtrack by Funkstörung.[2]

RIP Harold Pinter (1930 – 2008)

Harold Pinter is dead @78

Harold Pinter (1930 – 2008) is the man I know from his auctorial descriptive Pinteresque, his connection to the Theatre of the Absurd and his screenplay work on other writers’ novels, such as The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1980), and especially The Comfort of Strangers[1][2] (1990), one of the more devastating film experiences of the eighties.


The Comfort of Strangers

Outside of theatre, Pinter’s most popular lemma is the title of his play The Birthday Party, which survives to this day as Nick Cave‘s band The Birthday Party.


“Nick The Stripper” (1981) by The Birthday Party

Theatre of the Absurd

Harold Pinter is a defining playwright of the 1962-coined Theatre of the Absurd theatrical movement along with French Eugène Ionesco, British Samuel Beckett, French Jean Genet, and Russian Arthur Adamov. The movement’s avant-la-lettre predecessors include Alfred Jarry, Luigi Pirandello, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Guillaume Apollinaire, and the Surrealists. Other playwrights associated are Tom Stoppard, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Fernando Arrabal and Edward Albee.


I don’t know what to think of Pinteresque. I feel as if Pinter and Buñuel share a set of the same sensibilities but I wonder. If one does a Celebrity Deathmatch between Pinteresque[3] and Buñuelian[4], Pinter wins with 19000+ vs 6000+ for Bunuel. Which is a pity, because I find Buñuelian absurdism a fuller experience than the Pinteresque, Buñuel manages to add spiritualism, humor and sensuality to his work whereas Pinter seems to bog down in kitchen-sink-naturalism. But Pinteresque is clearly the winner here, with Wikipedia defining Pinteresque in their separate article characteristics of Harold Pinter’s work and clearly no Buñuelian counterpart.

The Pinter pause

Another interesting aspect of Pinter’s work is his use of pauses, typographically represented by ellipses. Pinter uses it to such an extent that it has gained fame as the “Pinter pause“, a theatrical technique used for example to great effect in the water dripping faucet seduction scene in The Servant (1963).

The following exchange between Aston and Davies in The Caretaker is typical of the Pinter pause:

ASTON. More or less exactly what you…
DAVIES. That’s it … that’s what I’m getting at is … I mean, what sort of jobs … (Pause.)
ASTON. Well, there’s things like the stairs … and the … the bells …
DAVIES. But it’d be a matter … wouldn’t it … it’d be a matter of a broom … isn’t it?

Still, I prefer my ellipses by Céline (although he shares Pinter’s pessimism), who famously used them in Death on the Installment Plan in 1936, and which then became his trademark style, giving innovative, chaotic, and antiheroic visions of human suffering. In Death on the Installment Plan, he extensively uses ellipses scattered all throughout the text to enhance the rhythm and to emphasise the style of speech.

An example of Céline’s ellipses:

“So I start moseying down the Boulevard Sebastopol, then the rue de Rivoli . . . I’ve kind of lost track. It’s so stifling you can hardly move . . . I drag myself through the arcades . . . along the shop fronts . . . “How about the Bois de Boulogne!” I says to myself . . . I kept on walking quite a while . . . But it was getting to be unbearable . . . unbearable . . . When I see the gates of the Tuileries, I turn off … across the street and into the gardens . . . There was a hell of a crowd already.” —Death on the Installment Plan

Indescribable, unspeakable, ineffable and inexplicable

The Aigiulle Blaitiere. c. 1856 by John Ruskin by you.

The Aigiulle Blaitiere. c. 1856 by John Ruskin

A painting by Thomas Hill dated 1870 by you.

A painting by Thomas Hill dated 1870

Reading the opening chapter of Ivins‘s Prints and Visual Communication[1] on the indescribability of things (and the need for photographic representations) reminded me of the garland and the Greek Anthology.

Googling for “indescribability” brings up this interview regarding the sublime, indescribability and mountain literature and mountain art.

The trope of unrepresentability is probably the commonest of all in mountain literature and art: the throwing up of the hands, the confession of the inadequacy of representation to catch the phenomena of the mountain world. I remember reading the journal of an Edinburgh bishop from the 1760s who’d gone on a mini-Caledonian tour. He writes: “I looked north and saw rank on rank of unspeakably beautiful…” He crosses out “unspeakably”—he’s obviously unhappy with it—and writes instead “mountains so beautiful I could not describe them.” Then he crosses that out, and we get four synonyms for “indescribable,” the first three crossed out. What’s exciting about Ruskin is that instead of acquiescing to indescribability, he tries to enact it, to let his art or prose take the forms of their subjects. In his drawing of the Glacier du Bois, near Chamonix, for example, the whole image is vortical; everything is being tugged by some centripetal force which has no apparent center but which is clearly at work. It’s hard to say what that force is, but it has something to do with time, a kind of deep time that is at work in that viewing moment. The glacier looks like a river in flood, in spate; the sun looks to have been absorbed by it, and there’s an inexplicably detached tree bole and root in the foreground. Even his curving signature seems to be vulnerable to the vortex. –Brian Dillon interviewing Macfarlane [2]

My love for subjects starting with un-, in-, a- and variants is great and started with with the notion of unfilmability. Notable related concepts to indescribability include unspeakable, ineffable and inexplicable.

They connote to absence, lacking, contrary, opposite, negation and reversal, concepts and tropes very apt to denote their positive counterparts.

For what is there to say on effability if one does not investigate its negative: ineffability?

The whole of this subject touches on representation in the arts and of course, medium specificity.

Older links to this subjects are general aesthetics and the sublime.

To end with a quote which I cannot reproduce verbatim:

Sex begins where words stop”. —Georges Bataille.

I’ve explored the previous notion here[3].

Any similarity to any person, event, or institution is intentional and anything but coincidential

In search of intentional and unintentional similarities in fiction


Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye, Uncle Tom) (1971) by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi

“All events, characters and institutions in this motion picture are historically documented and any similarity to any person, black or white, or to any actual events, or institutions is intentional and anything but coincidential.” –from the credits to Goodbye Uncle Tom, see fictionalization and fiction disclaimer.

Thus opens or closes Goodbye Uncle Tom of which a clip is listed above and it provides an excellent introduction to the tenuous relation between fiction and reality.

Addio zio Tom (1971) – Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
Image sourced here. [Dec 2005]

Two more quotes provide further food for thought:

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.” Fiction has to make sense – Mark Twain
“The mind of man can imagine nothing which has not really existed.” —Edgar Allan Poe, 1840

If we represent the relationship between fiction and reality on a sliding scale we find on the left hand side: fiction which makes no claim to reality. This kind of fiction is nowadays always preceded by the fiction disclaimer:

“Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

The above is sometimes preceded by “The characters in this film are fictitious,”.

This kind of fiction is helped by Poe’s quote in its theoretical approach. If done well, this kind of fiction is called the fantastique, that area of literary theory which provides us with an unresolved hesitation as to our position on the reality/fictitiousness scale. Another growth of this kind of fiction is the roman à clef a novel and by extension any sort of fiction describing real-life events behind a façade of fiction. The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include satire and the opportunity to write about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on scandals without giving rise to charges of libel.

On the right hand side of the scale we find fiction that does make claim to reality. This kind of fiction is nowadays usually preceded by the claim based on true events:

This kind of fiction is helped by Twain’s quote in its theoretical approach. Real stories are often so unbelievable that we need to make the claim that they are based on actual events.

As a narrator of fiction, one is always aided by this claim to capture the audience’s interest. This is true in the case of a joke (tell it as if it has happened to you), in the case of novels (Robinson Crusoe was soi-disant based on actual events) and film (Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was supposedly about Ed Gein)

A whole range of concepts falls into this category, listed under the heading fictionalization: faction, based on a true story, false document, nonfiction novel, true crime (genre), histories (history of the novel), stranger than fiction and mockumentary.

The funny thing about the right hand position on the fiction/reality scale is that the act of narrating alters reality by default. I always illustrate this point by going back to your youth. You had a brother or sister and you fought with him over something. You went to your mother or father or any other judge-figure, who gave you both the opportunity to tell the story. You both came up of course with a different version.

Which brings me to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect. If the act of perception alters reality, the act of telling a story alters reality. That is why I dislike films such as Schindler’s List because in this case, “real” documentary material is available. Maybe this is also the case for Goodbye Uncle Tom, but boy, I sure would like to see that film.

The near-encounter as plot device


The Edge of Heaven (2007) Fatih Akın

The near-encounter is a plot device I first spotted in the French film L’Auberge Espagnole but I had already seen elements of it in the romantic comedy Serendipity. The Edge of Heaven, the latest film by Gegen die Wand director Fatih Akın is constructed around this plot device.

The premise of the near-encounter is simple: Two people, who are supposed to meet according to the plot, cross each other without noticing. The audience is aware of the near-encounter, the fictional characters are not. An example from the film L’Auberge Espagnole: a protagonist is tying his shoelaces while another protagonist walks by. Due to the shoe lacing, the “shoe lacer” cannot see the other, and the other cannot see the “shoe lacer” because of his bended position.

The Edge of Heaven is highly recommended.