Thoughts on Interiors
(a brief conversation with Jake Arnott)
Can we talk about ‘treatment’? From my point of view, it means lying on a couch, reworking narratives until they enable a kind of action in the world... direction perhaps? E x
A ‘treatment’ is what a film or television production company will sometimes want from a writer before they commission an actual script. A scene by scene outline. Don't know why it’s called a ‘treatment’ but there’s something surgical, rather than therapeutic, about it. There’s no space for any extended narrative or character development, just a series of incisions and neat stitches…
So a treatment isn’t what you would do to an existing text? A novel, say? As in, ‘I’m doing a treatment of (on?) War and Peace, or I Love Dick?’ Can you be surgical from the outset? Doesn’t the surgical require a body (text) extant? Or is it a case of being surgical with imagination? (I watched Spellbound again… I love that there is an operating surgery in a psychiatric hospital, which in turn is more like a country club…)
Hmm, I’ m suddenly thinking of Suddenly Last Summer where Katherine Hepburn tries to persuade Montgomery Clift to lobotomise Elizabeth Taylor so that Liz will not reveal the sordid demise of Hepburn’s son Sebastian–he was torn apart (and partially eaten) by a ravenous gang of Spanish rent boys. The casting of Monty Clift is interesting. Founder of the ‘beautiful but terribly disturbed’ school of acting, it would seem that he fitted more the role of plat de jour for the crew of hungry hustlers than the sensible doctor type. But then he did play a young Sigmund in John Huston’s Freud: The Secret Passion (based on an original treatment by Jean-Paul Sartre!).
Partially eaten by a ravenous gang of Spanish rent boys? Have you just made that up???
I forget to tell him that I propose the screenplay as the film’s unconscious. I ask myself what on earth I mean by this, and realize that this intuitive, visceral, daydream of an idea is unviable unless it can be framed by language. Belief is useless: it must, instead, be flesh made word. What do I mean? I mean, perhaps, that films, images, texts, ideas, are not just things, but places: places, that through thinking, or indeed not thinking, to which we may go. Lacan, following and indeed quoting Freud, states of the unconscious that ‘whatever it is, I must go there…’1 What is then, this place, to which he must go? Both Freud and Lacan conjure the unconscious in spatial terms—not in the now populist conception of a vault or cellar where our darkest thoughts reside, a static repository, but as a dynamic, active space, whose borders are porous: an unconscious whose relations with the conscious are discursive, complex, and whose ‘topographical assumption implies a topographical separation of the ucs and cs systems, and the possibility of an idea being present in two places at once in the psychic apparatus—even regularly moving, if unimpeded by censorship, from one place to the other, perhaps without the first location or inscription being lost’.2 If the film is the visible, conscious outcome of a complex material and discursive process through which it is brought into being, then the screenplay is its repressed interlocutor, whose discourse is sublimated and disappeared in the endpoint of the screen.3
Situated between perception and consciousness, a voice is heard, as if from an adjacent room, rising.4A shaft of half-light fades, pierces, and such a long turning, an endless circle of square walls. Will you illuminate the choreography of this moment? I am so very sleepy now.
The mysterious object, the most concealed object inside, with those odd, aporic qualities ;a second topography…
Swimming! Fucking! (and a slow descent to fall between a bloody place…)
Restlessness and (T)witchery. That zone of shades where we know nothing of ourselves.
The stroke of the opening makes absence emerge: hungry, feral, stamping: remembering is gradually substituted for itself. This pulsation of the slit. Shadows.“Father! Can’t you see I’m burning!”
Where am I? There is only one method of knowing one is there, so you ask yourself where you are, what it is you are inside of, permeable to something analogous as light whose refraction changes from layer to layer. We cannot leave. This sliding away. We cannot refuse ourselves entry.
E— (angrily): Can I stop you there? I’m not sure that this is what you said would happen, what you stated you would be doing, what it was you wanted to do. What is this Interior? Where is the clarity and brevity of the location? From the very start you are breaking the rules. I must ask you exactly what it is you think you understand by this? What it is you think you are locating here? You told us that your aim was to begin to map a topography—the simplest binaries of location—an abstract movement between two spaces, a glance from interior to exterior and back again: nothing else…
J— (hesitant): I understand there is a space that…
E— (interrupting): But already these spaces are tainted by the voice—this voice ‘as heard from an adjacent room’. Why are you unable to keep out the voice?—your voice, if we are honest, if you could be honest, which I doubt…
J— (interrupting, now angry too): Perhaps there are no abstract spaces? Perhaps the voice is always there, even in the empty rooms? Anyway, there are always words, blurred and over-written. Silence as eradication will always fail…
E— (E and J are now talking across each other, tempers rising with each interchange): This focus on the ‘mysterious object’, it seems very convenient to me. You can use it for all kinds of evasiveness, yes? If the object is mysterious, you can say, ‘how then am I expected to know it, how can I be expected to evaluate the success of my understanding in terms that you will understand?’
J— (calm): We can understand that it is mysterious. That is itself an understanding.
1 Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p.33. As with all of Lacan’s ‘séminaire’, lectures transcribed by Jacques-Alain Miller, quotes are not accompanied by references to specific texts or page numbers.
2 Sigmund Freud, The Unconscious, p. 58.
3 Lacan, ibid, p. 33. Lacan states of the unconscious itself, that ‘its status of being, which is so elusive, so unsubstantial, is given to the unconscious by the procedure of its discoverer’. I play fast and loose with this statement by upturning it to frame an idea of the film being brought into being through a dialogue with its screenplay: its precursive, and self-erasing text.
4 Lacan, ibid. From this point on, all phrases in italics are taken from the chapter ‘The Unconscious and Repetition’.
Cocteau, Jean, La belle et la bête, 1946, France, 1 hour 33 minutes.
Frensham, Ray, teach yourself screenwriting, London: Hodder & Stoughton Educational, 2003 [London: Hodder Headline, 1996].
Freud, Sigmund, The Unconscious, trans. Graham Frankland, (London: Penguin Books, 2005) [Das Unbewusste, in Internationale Zeitschrift für ärtzliche Psychoanalyse 3 (4), 2015].
Goffman, Erving, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organisation of Experience, (Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press, 1986) [New York: Harper and Row, 1974].
Hitchcock, Alfred, Spellbound, 1945, US, 1 hour 51 minutes.
Lacan, Jaques, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques. Lacan, Book XI 1964, ed. by Jacques-Alain Miller, trans, by Alan Sheridan, (New York: Norton, 1998) [Le séminaire, Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, 1964, ed. by Jacques-Alain Miller Paris: Éditions du Seuil,1973].
Rancière, Jacques, The Intervals of Cinema, trans. by John Howe, (London: Verso, 2014) [Les écarts du cinéma, Paris: La fabrique éditions, 2011].
Romero, George A., Day of the Dead, 1985, US, 1 hour 40 minutes.