Persona Non Grata Sonata

by: & Amber Jacobs , April 20, 2018

Persona Non Grata Sonata is a digital video essay (6’32”). Using sequences from Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) and Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978), it was made by Catherine Grant and Amber Jacobs in 2018. It was first screened at the British Film Institute’s ‘Ingmar Bergman: A Definitive Season’ event, BFI Southbank, London, January-March 2018, as part of Jacobs’ presentation at the ‘Bergman Family Values: A Cinema of Disturbed Attachment’ symposium, January 18, 2018.

The direct raw close up of the face and the voice like daggers speaks explicitly, brutally of and to the mother. It speaks of and to the woman who hates her child who despises the intrusion of maternity and the abject demand of the child’s wild dependency and love. There is nowhere to go.

Scenario

The hands of two women: one hand on top of the other.

A tower of hands. Two pairs of hands. Close up.

One woman begins to undo the tower. Opens up, unfurls the hand.

Underneath the hand is a photograph. A ripped-up photograph of a child.

The hands cover the torn apart image. The torn apart child.

The desire of the hands: shame, love, destruction, violence, guilt.

And then, the face.

The direct raw close up of the face and the voice like daggers speaks explicitly, brutally of and to the mother. It speaks of and to the woman who hates her child who despises the intrusion of maternity and the abject demand of the child’s wild dependency and love. There is nowhere to go. The look cannot be averted. She stares straight into our face as we stare into hers. No averting the gaze, no hiding. The hands will neither cover the face nor the ears. We have to see, we have to hear. The mother hates the child.

A close-up can move in so close it destroys the image and wrecks the frame, it fragments and breaks up legibility, it destroys focus and the readable. To move in so close creates distanceless proximity and a merge that promises intimacy as hiding and not being seen. You go so close to the face of the other there is no seeing or hearing just muffled out of focus collapse. Distanceless proximity. Bergman’s camera prohibits this false intimacy. This camera is precise in its nearness and closeness. Not too near, not too close, not too far. A close up, but one that forces the real face-to-face. The camera keeps the image in-tact and does not indulge and hide in the haptic or the visceral. It stays a precise distance in the close up that makes us have to look, see, be seen, heard, listen, look and hear. The mother hates the child and the hands are opened up. Disarmed.

Now a mother’s hands play on the piano. The fingers sailing over the keys like octopus’s arms. The daughter’s face stares into the mother’s face. The mother’s hands at the piano smother her with a sound that says I hate you and you will never be me or have me.

The hand moves to the face. Onto the face. A stroke turns to a murderous smother. The hand of care annihilates.

The mother hates the child. Look and listen. See and hear it. The mother hates the child.

Text by Amber Jacobs

Persona Non Grata Sonata is a co-authored video work in which we perform a cinephile comparison and stamp it with a feminist countersignature.

Note on the Video Method

There can be a variety of motives for looking askance at what is so imperiously handed down. […] When peripheralized attention is so willful, it can have the character of a psychological or even a political act. (Cardinal 1986: 113-4)

Persona Non Grata Sonata is a co-authored video work in which we perform a cinephile comparison and stamp it with a feminist countersignature. In the video we appropriate scenes from two films by Ingmar Bergman featuring pairings of female actors. Both scenes present dialogues (or monologues) in which the women characters speak of un/wanted children and abortions. Our two-handed video dissects its cinematic sources and radically doubles and restages sequences that already figure radical doubling and restaging.[1] We use a split screen method that turns on audiovisual rhythmical and rhymical interplay.[2]

Persona Non Grata Sonata is one of a number of videographic works of spatial montage that Catherine Grant has made about Bergman’s films to be screened at events to mark the 100th anniversary of the Swedish director’s birth on July 14, 1918.[3] Each of these works uses its multiple-screen form in the service of a poetic analysis through synchronous performance, a playing together of cinematic motifs, similarities, repetitions or variations that would otherwise only be meaningfully apprehended as such sequentially in the audiovisual time-based medium. In their double unfolding, across screens, of the already ‘profuse simultaneity of signifiers’ (Burch 1981: 29) in any single collection of frames from Bergman’s cinematic sequences, these videos also explore, as a compositional principle, art historian and theorist Roger Cardinal’s notions of the ‘haptic mosaic’ in pictorial culture. (Cardinal 1986: 127) They issue an invitation to the ‘mobile eye’ of the viewer to engage in intensified processes of ‘peripheralized attention’ (Cardinal 1986: 124, 114), in an accretional method of meaning-making through ‘seesaw scanning of the text, compelled by the very duality of the signs.’ (Rifaterre 1980: 165-6) As Cardinal has argued, such ‘decentered scanning can constitute a refreshing alternative register of filmic experience.’ (1986: 112)

In the act of feminist reframing and defamiliarisation (Ostranenie) intended by our work together [4] we offer a decentering and dismantling of Bergman’s originary thematics, by doubling them (duplicating and intensifying them), thus also performatively—multi-vocally—exploring, across both film sources, what Susan Sontag (2000: 73) argued about the construction of Persona and its ‘variations-on-a-theme form’:

The theme is that of doubling; the variations are those that follow from the leading possibilities of that theme (on both a formal and a psychological level) such as duplication, inversion, reciprocal exchange, unity and fission, and repetition. The action cannot be univocally paraphrased.

Text by Catherine Grant

Notes

[1] As Gwendolyn Audrey Foster writes of the first sequence that we dissect and replay in the video, ‘This scene is central in recognizing the subversive potential of the performative within Persona. In its repetitiveness and restaging, this sequence marks the production of a mode of representation that challenges referentiality itself, not to mention patriarchal-defined referentiality. (Foster 2000: 145) Of the second scene, Robin Wood writes (2012: 273), ‘The parallel with [the character of Elisabeth (Liv Ullmann) in Persona] is obvious. The Charlotte [Ingrid Bergman] of Autumn Sonata is virtually an elaboration of the “twice-told story”’. The latter phrase is Wood’s analytical label for the repetition-with-variation scene from Persona that we figure in the first part of our video.

[2] For some further notes on this method, see Grant 2013 and 2015.

[3] Another of these videos—Lesson (Catherine Grant, video, UK, 2018) also on Autumn Sonata—is already online here: https://vimeo.com/257277668.

[4] We have collaborated on an earlier video: WHITE [MATER]IAL (Amber Jacobs and Catherine Grant, digital video, UK, 2013), https://filmanalytical.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/uncontained-on-todd-hayness-safe.html


REFERENCES

Burch, Noël (1981), ‘How We Got into Pictures’, Afterimage, No. 8/9, p. 29.

Cardinal, Roger (1986), ‘Pausing Over Peripheral Detail’, Framework , No. 30, pp. 112-30.

Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey (2000), ‘Feminist Theory and the Performance of Lesbian Desire in Persona’, in L. Michaels (ed.), Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130-46.

Grant, Catherine. (2012). ‘Déjà viewing?: videographic experiments in intertextual film studies’, Mediascape : UCLA’s Journal of Cinema and Media Studies (Winter 2013), http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Winter2013_DejaViewing.html (last accessed 15 April 2018).

Grant, Catherine (2015), ‘Interplay: (Re)Finding and (Re)Framing Cinematic Experience, Film Space, and the Child’s World,’ [Video and text] LOLA, 6, 2015, http://www.lolajournal.com/6/interplay.html (last accessed 15 April 2018).

Rifaterre, Michael (1980), The Semiotics of Poetry, London: Methuen.

Sontag, Susan (2000), ‘Bergman’s Persona’, in L. Michaels (ed.), Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 62-85.

Wood, Robin and Richard Lippe (2012), Ingmar Bergman, Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

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