Deleuzian Film Analysis: The Skin of the Film

by Donato Totaro Volume 6, Issue 6 / June 2002 23 minutes (5719 words)

There are film theories, and then there is Deleuze. Film studies seems to be at a theoretical impasse of sorts, with old standby theories (Freudianism, Althusserian-Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Structuralism, Postmodernism) existing on faith alone, and co-existing with newer theories and methodologies that do not have much of a common point of debate (cultural studies, cognitivism, spectatorship, gender studies, reinvigorated auteur theory, semiotics, textual analysis). The field seems to be missing a BIG theory to unify intellects of varying temperaments, or at least put them within fighting range. If there is anything on the academic horizon that may have a chance to do this, it appears to be Gilles Deleuze. Unlike some of the rigid theoretical paradigms of old, where texts would come out bearing the inevitable stretch marks of well-worn interpretative patterns (Oedipal trajectories, machinations of the “Other,” class struggles, etc.), Deleuze is as slippery as a watermelon seed. This is no doubt troubling for thinkers of the scientific, rationalist and positivists bent, but the latter types of theories have never been the Godheads that spawn the major theoretical fashions (which is why, for example, Henri Bergson gets little academic respect in the field of philosophy, although that is starting to change lately, but has been one of the most influential philosophers among artists). This is largely because the majority of scholars gravitating to Film Studies (or whatever it has mutated to) are not from the mathematical or scientific fields, but from the Humanities (English Literature, the Classics, Philosophy, Art History, Political Theory, Cultural Studies) or what used to be called the Liberal Arts.

The name or context escapes me, but someone once said that North American academia is about a decade behind its Continental brethrens. Meaning that when the current cutting edge theory becomes ‘passé’ in its native country and is replaced by the next hot thinker/theory, it then makes its way across the Atlantic into North American academia. Which seems just about right with the case of Gilles Deleuze, whose two Cinema books, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image were published in their original French in 1983 and 1985 and translated to English in 1986 and 1989. It has been approximately ten years since then that English language books and articles on, about, or influenced by Gilles Deleuze have mushroomed, perhaps the nodal point being the publication of D.N. Rodowick’s Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine in 1997.

Another key factor in this time frame behind the influx of Deleuzian theory is the expanding universe of the internet as a source for legitimate scholarly research and writing. Although the number of refereed online journals is growing quickly, throughout the early 1990’s the internet was and continues to be a hotbed for young scholars to publish academic writing without having to wait the usual months or years with conventional refereed print journals. And in fact there is more serious online coverage of Deleuze on the internet than any other (film) philosopher (see links at end of piece for an idea). The fact that Deleuze himself was not systematic and has inspired similar writing has both its good and bad points. On the positive side, the range of subject matter and approaches in Deleuzian scholarship is exciting. The open approach taken by Deleuze (history and concepts as Becoming) has enabled scholars with varying interests to use Deleuze as a springboard. [1] On the negative, such a broad range of methodology and subject matter can lead to an ‘anything goes’ mentality (which would surely please Deleuze) that places the onus for Deleuzian potentiality squarely on the shoulders of writers and researchers, the true guardians of their own field. The best of the Deleuzian writing goes beyond the many existing pieces which concentrate on the pure explication of ‘core’ Deleuzian concepts (time-image vs. movement-image, virtual image, any-spaces-whatever, etc.), or a re-contextualisation of them.

What makes Deleuzian scholarship different from the earlier schools of theory that dominated film academia (present and past), and also a precarious film paradigm, is that Deleuze’s project was about concept building and thinking. Cinema was a means of doing philosophy. And the quest was not to come up with a totalizing film theory, or to reveal what cinema is saying, but what cinema is doing. Deleuze is not a thinker with a singular ‘theory’ that can be lifted and used as a critical/hermeneutical template (like Freud, Lacan, Metz, etc.). One must always keep in mind that when a philosopher writes about cinema it has always been to suit their own philosophical end. A classic case is Henri Bergson, Deleuze’s principal philosophical mentor, who used the analogy of how cinema takes static images and gives ‘false’ movement to them, to demonstrate how the modern mind ‘fragments’ reality into pieces and can only render a “false” spatialized account of reality (movement, change, time). With the case of Deleuze, his Cinema books suggest that cinema runs parallel with philosophy and responds to the history of philosophy. Though one must be leery of taking concepts intended for philosophical discourse into the field of cinema, the merits of such transplantation is that it can force completely new ways of thinking about cinema, or seeing connections between hitherto uncoupled terrain.

Which, for example, is what The Skin of the Film does, an English language, single-author (Laura U. Marks) film theory book which borrows its methodology liberally from Deleuze (as well as many other theorists). Marks’ writing becomes Deleuzian in allowing itself to be taken ‘off course’ (“rhizomatic connections”). Films become a source of knowledge, parallel to the written word, which are able to breathe and think and embody speculation and philosophical thought (what she calls, “non-visual knowledge”). She also relies on Deleuze’s philosophical mentor Henri Bergson to understand the role of the senses in cinematic representation and spectatorship. The function of the senses plays an important role in the book’s subject, which Marks calls intercultural cinema (from here on IC), meaning Canadian, U.S., and British films and videos made by people who, by either birth or migration, find themselves caught between their own minority culture and dominant Western culture. As author Laura U. Marks acknowledges, intercultural is a somewhat delicate term, bringing to mind current or past terms that define minority/majority power relations or transplanted cultures such as slavery, apartheid, postcolonial, First Nations, refuge, visible minority, exiled, émigré, multicultural, and Third World. Exactly how intercultural stands in relation to these other terms in unclear. However, Marks does not assign much conceptual weight to the term, but simply uses it to represent the experience of not being confined or defined by a single culture. Hence the term sets its net wide by encompassing not only the Diaspora (immigrants, exiled, displaced), but their offspring, and including (mainly) works directed by people with first-hand intercultural experience and some works directed by white/Western directors whose subject and style embody intercultural qualities (for example, Bill Viola, Chris Marker, Phil Hoffman, Stephen Frears, Alain Resnais, and Jean Rouch).

According to Marks, the condition of being in-between cultures initiates a search for new forms of visual expression and leads to the hypothesis that many of these works “call upon memories of the senses in order to represent the experiences of people living in Diaspora.” But unlike Western ocular centrism (the prioritization of the eye as a sense for acquiring knowledge, truth, experience), intercultural cinema embraces the proximal senses (smell, taste, touch) as a means for embodying knowledge and cultivating memory. Which is why Marks sees intercultural films as an attempt to counter Euro-American Western hegemony that proscribes a certain form of epistemology and mode of thinking as the ‘right’ one (i.e. rational, visual), setting the terms for “what counts as knowledge” (24). Films that counter the hegemonic memory bank employ what she calls the “archeological models of cultural memory.” This includes anything that counters or deconstructs the ‘official record,’ which can include works that employ fiction, myth, ritual, fantasy, and personal and imagined memory . The book’s philosophical background, while broad enough to include phenomenology and cognitive science, is sturdily dependent on Deleuze’s “cinematic philosophy” and Deleuze’s major inspiration, Henri Bergson. As Marks states, her exploration of IC cinema “draws out the political implications of Deleuze’s theory of cinema” (26). In the Deleuzian sense, the seeds of IC give birth to a new form of cinematic thought, one that values the proximal senses (smelling, touching, feeling) over the distance senses (hearing, seeing), and that attempts to evoke this sensorial field through particular formal and textual strategies. Marks refers to this new strategy as “haptic visuality.”

Marks relies here on an old standby of Big Theory, a form = ideology argument, showing how dominant narrative forms align with ‘official history’ and how memories not encoded through auditory or visual means can slip away from this official history (26). In doing so Marks renders a social and political determinism to the senses, what Donald M. Lowe calls in his sadly overlooked (in film studies) History of Bourgeois Perception, the ‘hierarchy of sensing’ [2]. However, Marks does not contextualize or mention how the primacy of haptic visuality relates to, for example, the shift in sensing hierarchy of hearing/touching over seeing in the Middle Ages, or to the primacy of seeing over the other senses from the Renaissance period on. In any case, Lowe (and others) are always quick to point out that, in any case, the sensing hierarchy is subservient to the simple fact that none of the senses are ever entirely autonomous. [3] Marks steers clear of making any large ideologically determined readings of the senses, but makes the more sensible claim that haptic visuality is a strategy more common to alternative visual traditions (tapestry, weaving, decorative arts, textile arts, embroidery, decoration, metalwork, etc.).

Marks derives this primary means of expression in IC cinema, haptic visuality, from the art historian Alöis Riegel’s “distinction between haptic and optical images.” (162). But how does cinema appeal to senses it can not technically represent, such as smell and touch, that is, what does haptic visuality ‘look like’? Marks defines haptic visuality as containing some of the following formal and textual qualities: grainy, unclear images; sensuous imagery that evokes memory of the senses (i.e. water, nature); the depiction of characters in acute states of sensory activity (smelling, sniffing, tasting, etc.); close-to-the-body camera positions and panning across the surface of objects; changes in focus, under- and overexposure, decaying film and video imagery; optical printing; scratching on the emulsion; densely textured images, effects and formats such as Pixelvision (Fisher-Price toy camera, used to interesting effect by Michael Almereyda); and alternating between film/video. The haptic image is in a sense, ‘less complete’, requiring the viewer to contemplate the image as a material presence rather than an easily identifiable representational cog in a narrative wheel (this vaguely recalls Marshall McLuhan’s distinction between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ mediums).

The force of the book is to argue that vision (or haptic visuality) can be tactile, “as if touching a film with one’s eyes.” Haptic vision is a more tactile-based, closer-to-the-body form of perception, where “the eyes themselves function like organs of touch” (162). As Marks explains, in optical visuality the eye perceives objects from a far enough distance to isolate them as forms in space. And with optical vision there is an assumed separation between the viewing body and the object. Haptic visuality is a closer form of looking, which tends to “move over the surface of its object rather than plunge into illusionist depth, not to distinguish form so much as to discern texture” (162). Like Rudolf Arnheim, who believed that cinema thrived on its inherent limitation of not being able to depict a perfect illusion of the world, Marks believes that intercultural filmmakers attempt to create memory-images out of the medium’s sensorial limitations (sense, touch, taste). The progression of the book is to move closer to the body: from memory-images, to memory-objects, to proximal sense memories. In many cases these hard to represent memories in themselves reflect a process of cultural blurring, loss, or longing that many intercultural filmmakers, for reasons of geographical or emotional distance, are struggling to negotiate.

Marks’ use of Deleuze is both methodological, employing a non-judgmental, open-ended approach to the films, while adapting certain Deleuzian terms to the body of IC cinema; for example “any-spaces-whatever” and “affection-images” as they appear in Deleuze’s time-image. The latter is especially important. The affection-image is an image that arouses an emotional or visceral response. The affection-image as it is used in the time-image moves away from dominant movement-image by refraining from following the affection-image with an obvious cathartic release (an action). Instead “the emotion or feeling opens us to the experience of time” (28). Which is closely linked to questions of memory and cultural displacement. But whereas Deleuze considers canonized Western classics nearly exclusively, Marks twists the corpus around to marginalized works. Which in itself reflects either great Deleuzian flexibility or an Herculean feat of transposition on Marks’ part.

In keeping with the Deleuzian influence, Marks’ epistemological contrasting of haptic visuality (touch, feel, taste) with conventional visuality (sight, hearing) is inspired by Bergson’s philosophical dualism (mind/matter, body/spirit, intellect/intuition), especially his duality of memory (habitual or cerebral memory versus pure memory or duration). The former, habitual memory, is at the service of every day, pragmatic needs and is recalled by what we see and need during the day to get through our quotidian needs. We see an orange traffic light and we know to slow down. As drivers, we hear an ambulance and we know to move to the side of the road. These are memories recalled by what we see and hear, we react to them instinctively, as in a brain recall. Pure memory comes to us in less structured, non-habitualized forms (sleeping, daydreaming, when our mind makes lateral connections that recall something entirely unrelated to our present situation, etc.). With habitual memory perception is conditioned by what is visible, opposed to pure memory that may come to us by other non-visual triggers. The former, like Deleuze’s movement-image, rational and linear, aligns to ‘official history’, while Bergson’s duration, like Deleuze’s time-image, unhinged and non-rational (at least on the surface), aligns to private memory (integral to IC cinema); or as Marks states it in Deleuzian terms, actual image versus virtual image.

Marks central premise, then, is Bergsonian: that memory is embedded in all the senses. Which recalls Proust’s famous madeliene in The Remembrance of Things Past whose fragrance elicits a floodgate of childhood memories. Marks claims that “memory is more like a minefield…than like the limpid reflecting pool that Bergson describes….”, and [Bergson’s pure memory] cannot acknowledge the traumatic effect of memory.” Marks then goes on to discuss Proust’s “involuntary memory” as being more in line with the memory structures of IC cinema (memories called upon by shock, trauma, non-visual means, etc.), that are more liberating and potentially political. But, as we shall see, Marks is off-base when considering Bergson’s theory of memory as part of her running critique of Bergson. [5] Bergson distinguished between two types of memory, habitual memory and pure memory. The former is stored in the brain (matter), the service-house of action, and the latter within consciousness. (Bergson is vague on where, if not in the brain, pure memory is stored.) Bergson believed that nothing is ever forgotten. Pure memories live on forever, but the brain, with the aid of perception, censors the memories and selects the one’s that are most necessary for immediate action. Habit memory dominates because it has more pragmatic, everyday value. Pure memory, like the fundamental self, is less called for and resurfaces during moments of disinterestedness (dreaming for example), or on the rare moments when it can serve as a helpful guide to immediate perception. However, as David Gross points out , there is a third form of memory alongside pure memory and habitual memory that Bergson hinted at but did not expand which demonstrates that he was quite aware of the potentially traumatizing effect of memories. In his essay “Bergson, Proust, and the Revaluation of Memory,” Gross describes this third memory as “unsolicited” independent memories that are disengaged from immediate action or perception. A person dominated by these unsolicited recollections would be overwhelmed by the flood of images and hindered in their ability to cope with reality (something that often occurs in IC). For some reason, perhaps because it did not serve any practical or immediate application, or was too radical a thought during a period where habit and efficiency were hallmarks of good citizenry (roughly 1880-1910), but Bergson did not develop this memory type any further. In fact Gross does suggest that Bergson’s undeveloped third memory may have been appropriated by Marcel Proust as “involuntary memory” for The Remembrance of Things Past (which Marks singles out). [6] In any case, Marks is right in pointing out that the notion of involuntary memory has interesting possibilities for cinema. [7]

Marks engages Walter Benjamin’s ‘aura’ as a way to further the theoretical link between art and tactility. Aura is a form of mimesis where there exists, in contrast to symbolic representation, an indexical rather than iconic relation of similarity between the subject and object. In social and cultural terms, Marks notes that this form of mimetic representation has been greatly estranged in Western, capitalist/industrial societies (though not exclusively); like, for example, capitalism’s subjugation of nature to industry and commerce. And, in more general terms, she cites other critics who have noted how capitalist cultures, through more consumer-friendly modes of advertisement and enticement such as symbolic visualization, “have alienated the ‘close’ senses such as touch and smell, while honing the visual sense until it required the character of a weapon.” [8] This reasoning, which equates the supremacy of the visual sense over touch and smell in Western capitalist culture informs the general thrust of the book’s premise and corpus selection. And although such a broad generalisation is open to debate, one with far too lengthy a pedigree to fully engage in this essay, Marks is clearly not alone in her claims. [9] But Marks is not asserting an absolute non-visual/vision sense hierarchy in the cultures represented in IC cinema. It is more a case of IC cinema serving as a (self-conscious in some cases) antidote to “…several centuries of European ocular centrism….” (144). As Marks points out, many of the IC filmmakers, while caught between two cultures, are either born, trained or live in the West, and subsequently critique ocular centrism from a Western intellectual and academic perspective (160).

While I would agree with Marks that the senses are cultural I wouldn’t then assume that as a means to make political, ideological or evaluative generalisations. And thankfully Marks sensibly refrains from making any totalizing generalisations about how a western or non-western culture experiences the world sensorially, since the mix of cultures, spread of cultural knowledge, and individual sensoria can overlap and create a sensorial hybrid (208-209). This is especially crucial to her corpus, since they consist of filmmakers who are caught in-between cultures, moving from their country of origin to a Western country, or in the case of second generation Westerners, attempting to balance their non-Western parental influence with the Western culture they are growing into. An important point for Marks is that the status of being in-between cultures does not always lead to works that are unabashedly joyous about sensorial cultural heritage, or without ambivalence. Such a video is described by Marks that is especially moving in its testament to inter-cultural status is A Box of His Own (1997) by Yudi Sewraj, a Montrealer born in Guyana. The first half of the video short is an account of Sewraj’s return to Guyana after a 20 year absence. In the second half Sewraj returns to Montreal and builds the titular “box” from which to sit and watch the video footage of his ancestral trip. The first part of the video, full of bright colors, and sensuous descriptions of food and weather (proximal senses) contrasts with the drab, non-natural existence of his Montreal apartment (distance senses).

Likewise, in IC cinema the truth of the visible is often contradicted by a voice-over, or made illegible by means of blurring or textual camouflage. Which is why in IC grainy, overexposed super 8 or video images or unclear imagery are often ‘trusted’ over clear images. So that, as Marks demonstrates, in Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988) an unclear image of the artist’s faraway mother calls up “volumes of images that are not or cannot be represented” (43). The ‘unclarity,’ ‘invisible,’ or ‘neutral’ image acts to trigger the spectator’s own pure memory out of the habitual, actual image. Hence in Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah/Black Audio Film Collective, UK, 1986), stock footage of Caribbean families arriving by ship in England is accompanied by haunting music that counterpoints the apparent joviality of the images. As Marks interprets, a sympathetic viewer (one of Carribean descent, for example) may draw from their personal memory of first-hand or familial racism in British society to counterpoint the apparent ‘visible’ truth of the image (a bit of pictorial ‘decoding’ reminiscent of Barthes’s famous semiotic reading of the photo in Paris-Match of the young ‘Negro’ soldier in military uniform saluting the French flag). [10]

I must confess to having seen only a handful of the films discussed in The Skin of the Film, yet her description of certain films and videos, and her basic textual theory (haptic visuality) has enlightened many of the films that have most excited me in recent years. For example, Iranian cinema, which is itself a Persian culture shaped by many other cultural forces (Turkish, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijin, Armenia, and Afghanistan). For example, Marks discusses a film by Indian-Canadian Shauna Beharry entitled Seeing is Believing in which Beharry attempts to get away from “the Western cultural emphasis on visuality.” In the film Beharry describes how she does not see her dead mother in the photos of her, but that when she puts on the sari worn by her mother, the memory of her mother comes washing over her (117). This also occurs in the Iranian film Gabbeh (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996), where women, through the tactile nature of weaving the tapestries (gabbehs), are able to invoke the carpet’s own ‘memory’ (the stories and fables that are woven into them). In Gabbeh the gorgeously colorful, hand-woven carpets curling under clear blue water bring to live the stories represented in their tapestry. And these stories, mythical and folkloric, are social not individualistic.

Hence Marks’ discussion of memory-objects relates to many films other than IC cinema strictly. It is this notion of memory embedded in the senses, this tactility, which makes Marks’ work open to many other films which still fit into, or expand, her notion of haptic visuality (knowledge through the invisible). Like, for example, the award winning Iranian film by Majid Majidi, Children of Paradise (1999), which features a blind boy as the central protagonist and engages a form of surrogate subjectivity by using extreme colors and natural beauty to transmit to the spectator how the boy experiences reality. Or The Wind Will Carry Us (2001), which presents nearly a dozen characters that remain invisible throughout the film but who we come to know nonetheless, an apt correlation to haptic visuality. As its director Abbas Kiarostami said in an interview, “I want to create the type of cinema that shows by not showing.” [4] Qualities of haptic visuality, such as sensuous imagery that evokes memory of the senses (i.e. water, nature), the depiction of characters in acute states of sensory activity (smelling, sniffing, tasting, etc.), close-to-the-body camera positions, and panning across the surface of objects, can be found extensively in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. For example, in Mirror (1975), where Tarkovsky’s childhood dacha becomes a fountainhead of memories for the narrator Andrei, or the sensuous, perpendicular, overhead tracking shots over water in Stalker (1979) and Nostalghia (1982)

The main point of Marks’ argument is to first demonstrate that the body has a visceral, mimetic relationship to the external world that is, like memory, both cerebral and emotional. And that therefore cinema, as part of the external world, can also embody a many-sided sensual experience (not just sight and hearing, but touch, taste and smell). [11] In fact cinema is perhaps the ultimate synaesthetic art, incorporating sound, voice, music, color, movement, narrative, mimesis, and collage in a fashion so visceral and emotive that it can frequently move spectators to think and feel beyond the sensorial limits of sight and sound. Cinema can invoke other senses through character actions and narrative and through synaesthetic effect (textures that recall touch, sounds and colors that arouse sensations; memory that is embodied in food, fabric, hairstyle, clothes, body odor, body movement, texture, and other qualities of proximal senses).

IC cinema is a cinema which exhibits a crossing over between at least two cultures (one minority, one majority), a state of being in between non-dominant cultures, or that can not be confined to one culture, and is usually made by people living in the culture in which they were born (7). Although the possibility of language alone as a condition of ‘minority status’ is not considered in The Skin of the Film, strictly speaking, a film made by an Anglophone in Quebec (or France for that matter) could just as easily be understood as “intercultural,” even more so if the Anglophone also happens to be of immigrant descent (coined Allophone, a term employed in Quebec to describe a person whose first language is neither English nor French.) As an Anglophone Québecois born of Italian parents I too often feel the joys, benefits, and pains of being in a cultural sea. Reading The Skin of the Film has made me realize that when one considers the make-up of a country like Canada, with such a large amount of first generation and second generation children of non-visible (or ‘less-visible’) Western minority origin (East/West European, Latin American, Jewish, etc.), and the many visible minorities from both Western and non-Western nations (Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Carribean, etc.), one could say that a great percentage of Canadian cinema, especially in the last ten to fifteen years, qualifies as some form of IC (to name more than a few, Atom Egoyan, Bashar Shabib, Paul Tana, Arto Parmegian, Peter Svatek, Marilu Mallet, Nick Curcin, Michka Saäl, Tahini Rached, Demetrios Estdelacropolis, Rick Raxlen, Karim Hussain, Diego Briceno-Orduz, Mitch Davis, Helen Lee, Cheryl Sim, Mina Shum, Hunt Hoe, Eisha Marjara, Shuibo Wang, Qi Cang, and Yan Cui). This is reflected in the large number of Canadian films and videos discussed in The Skin of the Film. But of course not every film made by the above filmmakers exhibit qualities of IC. The Quebec made, multi-directed film Cosmos (1996, Jennifer Alleyn, Manon Briand, Marie-Julie Dallaire, André Turpin, Atto Paramagian, Denis Villeneuve) is an excellent example of a film with a problematic fit with IC. While it clearly fits with Marks’ notion of IC, in the way it shifts cultural experience between and within its autonomous segments, it does not engage any of the noted formal qualities of haptic visuality. But some readers of the book, like me, may benefit by considering haptic visuality to a broader spectrum of films, and come to appreciate one’s well-worn films from this new perspective. Most strikingly for this viewer, the noted recent Iranian cinema that feature characters dependent on a tactile relationship to the world (Gabbeh, The Apple, The Color of Paradise, The Silence, Dance of Dust, The Wind Will Carry Us), the cinema of Georgian filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov, and the cinema of Russian filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky and Alexandr Sokurov. By explicating how cinema may engage all the senses (and sense memory), The Skin of the Film has given concrete form to something that film viewers have been unconsciously experiencing for generations.

This essay is an extension of a much shorter book review that appeared in the Canadian Journal of Film Studies/Revue canadienne d’études cinématographiques Volume 10 No. 1, Spring 2001, 106-109.

The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses, by Laura U. Marks. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2000.

Deleuze on the Web:

Deleuze Web ; Film-Philosophy; Deleuze and Guattari internet sources; Web Resources; Gilles Deleuze’s ABC Primer; Invisible Culture: Time and Work; Cinematic Thresholds: Instrumentality, Time and Memory in the Virtual’; ‘Images Without: Deleuzian Becoming, Science Fiction Cinema in the Eighties’; Cinema: Capital of the Twentieth Century;


1. As an example, recent Deleuzian essays include the following diverse areas: 1) gender, identity, and masculinity (“Deleuze in a Ruinous Context: German Rubble-Film and Italian Neorealism” by Jaimey Fisher, and “Naturalism, Immanence and the Primordiality of Class: Deleuze’s ‘Impulse-image’ and the “Baroque Intriguer in Joseph Losey’s The Servant” by Colin Gardner, in Iris No. 23, Spring 1997, 53-74, 109-128), “Into the Breach: Between the Movement-Image and The Time-Image” by Angelo Restivo in The Brain is the Screen ed. Gregory Flaxman, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 171-192; 2) feminism (“Cyborg Alice; or Becoming-Woman in a Audiovisual World”) in Iris No. 23, Spring 1997, p. 147-164, “Towards a New Nomadism: Feminist Deleuzian Tracks; or, Metaphysics and Metabolism” by Rosi Bradiotti in Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy ed., Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski (New York: Routledge, 1994); 3) psychoanalysis (“Hétérogénéité –Deleuze-Lacan,” by Eduardo A. Vidal in Gilles Deleuze: une vie phiosophique; and 4) African cinema (“The Roots of the Nomadic: Gilles Deleuze and the Cinema of West Africa” by Dudley Andrew in The Brain is the Screen ed. Gregory Flaxman, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 215-249.

2. David M. Lowe, The History of Bourgeois Perception. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.

3. Ibid., 1-16.

4. “Taste of Kiarostami,” David Sterritt, Senses of the Cinema, Issue no. 9, Sept-Oct. 2000, online at (

5. For example, Marks shows a lack of proper contextualisation of Bergson within both his time frame and intellectual evolution when discussing aspects of Bergson’s duration. For example, she notes, that Bergson’s concept of durée, (real time), dependent upon personal consciousness was “estranged from history” (a term she borrows from Walter Benjamin). However, Bergson’s understanding of duration was anything but singular, and in fact evolved throughout the course of his philosophical writing (1889 to 1932), moving from the concept of individual duration (memory/consciousness) to an all-encompassing, cumulative ‘universal’ duration. These changes were largely conditioned by intellectual history. For example, duration as individual consciousness/memory in 1887 must be seen as Bergson’s battle cry against an increasingly industrialized and mechanized society. Hence his duration, while expressed in individual terms, is still concerned very much with the social.

6. David Gross, “Bergson, Proust, and the Revaluation of Memory,” International Philosophical Quarterly 25 no. 4 (1985): 369-380).

7. For example, in a cinema outside Mark’s project, but not altogether dissimilar to IC cinema, involuntary memory plays an important part in three of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films: Solaris, Mirror, and, most prominently, in Nostalghia.

8. Writers she acknowledges include the British critic William Morris, Constance Classen (Worlds of Sense: Exploring the Senses in History and Across Cultures. London: Routledge, 1993; David Howes, ed., Varieties of Sensory Experience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991; and Anthony Synnott. “Puzzling Over the Senses: From Plato to Marx.” In Varieties of Sensory Experience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991, 61-78.

9. This question of how the hierarchy of the senses relates to political and ideological readings of art form and style has a long history. The classic film study essays for such ideologically determined readings of the cinema apparatus are Jean-Louis Comolli’s “Technique and Ideology: Camera, Perspective, Depth of Field” and Jean-Louis Baudry’s “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus,” both copiously anthologized, including Bill Nichols, ed., Movies and Methods 2. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985, and Philip Rosen, ed., Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. These essays (and others in art history and cultural theory) usually begin with the Middle Ages (supremacy of hearing and touching) and then trace the supremacy of the human eye (seeing) to the invention of single-point perspective in the Western Renaissance, and following it through to emerging capitalism and the philosophical belief systems of humanism and science, and eventually through to the Enlightenment and bourgeois society [the latter defined by Donald M. Lowe in his seminal The History of Bourgeois Perception as “…the society of Western Europe, especially Britain and France, from the last third of the eighteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century” (17). The amount of subsequent essays that dealt with ideological readings of vision and perception in cinema is far too many to mention. Debates over the relative merits of such ideological/cultural readings were feisty throughout the late 1980’s, culminating with Noël Carroll’s positivist critique of apparatus theory in Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. There is little use in covering familiar terrain. Which is probably why there is not even a hint of it in The Skin of the Film. However, the thrust of Mark’s central argument, though not dogmatically so, can be seen within these broad debates centered on ideologically determined film/art theory. The reason why, I think, The Skin of the Film circumvents this debate is due to its emphasis on the philosophical and cultural over the ideological (though these are not, of course unrelated). And finally, regardless of where you stand on the nature/culture division of the debate, The Skin of the Film does not stand or fall on it, simply because the films discussed clearly do reflect, to varying degrees, a concern with all the senses and how they embody memory. The book works as textual criticism irregardless of whether or not you are convinced by the implicit ideological thrust.

10. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. by Annette Lavers. London: Granada Publishing, 1973, 116.

11. Marks is here drawing on a notion similar to Bergson’s ‘image,’ a meeting place between the body and the mind, perception and memory, material reality and consciousness (to quote Bergson, “by ‘image’ we mean a certain existence which is more than that which the idealists call a representation, but less than that which the realists call a thing…(Matter and Memory. trans. by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Paul, New York: Zone Books, 1988, 9).

Deleuzian Film Analysis: The Skin of the Film

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 6, Issue 6 / June 2002 Essays   documentary   experimental   film theory   gilles deleuze   henri bergson   people_deleuze