Consciousness, says R.G. Collingwood, is “the kind of thought which stands closest to sensation or mere feeling. Every further development of thought is based upon it and deals not with feeling in its crude form but with feeling as thus transformed into imagination.”
On this definition Gene Youngblood launches his idea of synaesthetic cinema in his 1970 book, Expanded Cinema. The idea of a synaesthetic film with its images transforming continuously into other images for perceptual rather than dramatic effect makes me think of the Deerhunter Helicopter or Panda Bear & Pedro Maia Memory music videos. Distinct from narrative cinema, synaesthetic cinema is meant to be evocative rather than expository. A place between desire and experience, where an experience is being created. Synergetic in that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In narrative cinema the individual parts dominate the whole.
Youngblood’s most instructive examples of a synaesthetic cinema is Michael Snow Wavelength (1967) and Stan Brakhage Dog Star Man (1961). A severed sense is evoked. A feeling that does not need drama to be wound tight the chest. A sense from deep sleep. As Brakhage puts it, perhaps it is that “world before the beginning was the word”. As if over an ocean. Hovering. A place of synergy where change becomes increasingly likely.”Oceanic consciousness … that in which we feel our individual existence lost in mystic union with the universe.”
And so Youngblood moves on to polymorphic eroticism, of sexual consciousness that rides the rhythms of the waves without particularity or boundary, but of the feeling and the mystical unity of the whole. The criticism of eroticism in contemporary film is accurate. “Hollywood movies are teasers whose eroticism is a result of psychological conditioning that is not, fundamentally, the enjoyment of sex itself.” Hollywood reinforces puritanical notions of sexuality by how “they represent sex in various stages of ‘unredemption’ until the point of watching them becomes more an act of rebellion, of something ‘dirty,’ clandestine, without redeeming qualities, than the enjoyment of sex.”
But I’m not willing to give up narrative. Is not reconciling narrative cinema with synaesthetic cinema an act of synthesis in itself? I want to leave earth and the city for the ocean, for the seaside town, or the space station – worlds at the edge of the ocean – in order to return. In Tarkovsky’s Solaris, the cosmic ocean is a mirror of the city. Ebbs. Flows. The space between the reflection is the place, the space station. A rough sleep awoken by the cross shaped flare of its beacon. A sacred space of contemplation suspended between the worlds.
A deep sleep on board the station. Awake in the warm glow of the cosmic drone. The appearance of a woman passed away and still in memory.
Sartorius: So, as far as I can tell, they are constructed… While our structure is made of atoms, theirs consists of neutrinos. They seem to be stablized by Solaris’ force field. You’ve got a superb specimen.
Kris: That’s my wife.
Sartorius: Then take a blood sample from your wife.
Sartorius: It’ll sober you up a bit. … Are you qualified to perform an autopsy?
Kris: I’ve already told you – she’s my wife. Don’t you understand? It would be like cutting my own leg off.
Where Youngblood emphasizes the turn from the absolute for the unrealized order of chaos, Tarkovsky emphasizes the yearning for the absolute: “Aspiration towards the absolute is the moving force in the development of mankind.” Perhaps it is a matter of posture. Or a resignation. A resignation that carries forward the pleasures and also the pain.