1. Text

      Visitor account by Anik Fournier of ‘A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture’, The Movies, Amsterdam, 12 June 2012

      Sven Lütticken
    2. On Tuesday 12 June at 7 pm, a new edition of Louise Lawler’s 1979 work A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture was presented at The Movies cinema in Amsterdam. If I Can’t Dance invited Anik Fournier, an art historian associated with the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, to note down her impressions.

        “So, what movie is it going to be?”
        The question hung in the air of the main theater at The Movies last Tuesday evening as the lights fully dimmed.

        For the first presentation of A Movie will be Shown Without the Picture (1979) Louise Lawler chose The Misfits (1961), and in another edition, The Hustler (1961). Dreading that I might be subjected to two hours of listening to an oldie- but- goodie I had never seen, I eagerly took in the first audio clues. Luckily, I did not remain guessing for long. The sounds of traffic and a rattling train quickly gave way to mental images of John Travolta’ legendary walk, inseparable from the beats of the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive which now filled the small art-deco movie theater with the energy of a disco.

        And there we sat. The large screen at the front of the room took on a weighty presence, crowned with what could faintly be perceived as two decorative wings framing a large speaker, as if to drive the point home that for this “screening” the audio register was going to carry the show. Settling into my seat, I looked down at my lap. Without the flickering of images I could not see the writing pad I had brought to take notes. Resigned then, I sat back to take it all in.

        I followed the narrative as it unfolded through dialog and song, and consciously fell into a habitual mode of questioning: “so, what is going on here?” Provisional thoughts came in the form of a temporal cluster. The choice of the movie roughly indexed the late seventies, the period in which Lawler first presented A Movie and the period in which the group of artists she is so often associated with, the “Pictures Generation,” was most active. In fact, a later bout of googling revealed that the year 1977 saw the creation of both the famous Pictures show curated by Douglas Crimp and Saturday Night Fever.

        As mentioned in the discussion in the café after the screening Lawler’s decision to cut the image right out of the picture occurred just as cinema’s configuration expanded to include soundtracks and music videos. Some thirty years later, her choice of this particular film, so emblematic of these transformations, can only be seen as self-reflexive. Taking Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977 – 1980) as a fitting example of a fellow artist dealing with “pictures” at that moment, clearly A Movie(1979 – 2012) also offers a critical reflection on the pleasure of looking structured by the cinematic apparatus (and most often around the female body) and the role images play in processes of subject formation in a media obsessed society.

        However, what is singular in her practice is how these questions play themselves out when the image is omitted all together. In Lawler’s work, desire structured through the look – of the camera, of the protagonists on the screen and of the viewer’s identification with both – is rerouted, and in a certain sense, liberated. Lawler’s intervention displaces the picture from a material entity with the capacity to capture the imagination, to an action performed by the viewer. Sound, then, acts as a cue to picture, that is to form mental images culled from memories of the cultural object.

        The range of screen/ image platforms through which we encounter and form memories of films has continued to expand since the first edition of A MovieKnowledge of a film is pooled from a variety of sources and experiences, from viewing and listening on an array of mobile devices to memories stored in the body. In this case, memories of being on a crowded dance floor with friends in a retro nightclub dancing away to the tight harmonies of the Gibb brothers come to mind.

        Certainly my experience of A Movie was as much an activation, and in many ways a frustration, of the imagination as it was of the body. Concurring with the enthusiastic statement of a female voice in the movie, sitting in the dark I realized how much I loved to watch Travolta dance. In fact, it struck me that I could not conjure a mental image of the main female protagonist. This is not to suggest that the fetishization of Travolta’s moves in this movie eschews normative constructs of gender in much mainstream cinema. To the contrary, without the image and its capacity to tame the imagination, the sexual violence of the film witnessed through the audio register alone, and especially the rape sceeene, was far more intense and disturbing than I had recalled it to be.

        However, subjected to the blaring of one great song after another with no possibility to unleash some of the energy onto the spectacle of a (Travolta’s) body in movement, and with my own body being confined to a theater seat, the effect was in certain moments hard to bear. The lyrics of “You Should be Dancing” resounded as an interpolation. Yes, I thought to myself, I should be.

        Sitting through A Movie unquestionably brought attention to the work sound does in a film, and arguably, in this film in particular. Beyond the affectual level, sounds took on a material quality, creating distinct spaces and situating me in relation to them in surprising ways: Brooklyn’s urban scapes were interrupted by the familiar sounds of supper around the family kitchen table. The sense of moving through a corridor flanked by a series of dance studios, each with their distinct music heard through the wall, contrasted with the sense of being fully embedded in a swarming dance club. Most poignantly, following Bobby’s fatal accident, a formidable sound scape drew me into Tony’s tormented inner state of mind.

        Still, two hours of listening to a moving picture in the dark is very long. With nothing to look at on the screen, I did spend much time looking at others, especially those in my immediate surrounding. As irritating as I tend to find the presence of others during my usual movie-going experience, in this instance, I was busy looking for signs of their reactions to the piece. For the most part, despite the absent picture, heads remained facing forward, sometimes bobbing to the music, sometimes inclined sideways, engaged in a conversation with the person next to them. Some heads tilted forward over phones and some backwards in a state of abandonment (or sleep).

        In many ways then, Lawler’s piece reflected and deflected modes of projection and identification with bodies on the screen, back to my own body; its memories, its desires, its boredom, and its awareness of its immediate context. It was an experience now stored in my body and one which I will not soon forget.

      1. Introduction
      2. Trajectory
      3. Texts
      4. Documentation
      A Movie – Sven Lütticken


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