Cine-sabotage for new ways of experiencing the city

Our graphical representation and understanding of space has been crucially influenced by the affirmation that the space is homogeneous. Thus, the geometric representation of the earth has affected the way in which we have converted our cities into contemporary geometrical illusions. However, many other theorists such as Michel Foucault in 1967 or Michel de Certeau in 1980 have advocated for another kind of spaces based on the heterogeneous sense of place. For Foucault and Certeau, spaces cannot be easily converted into Cartesian maps yet not everyone experience them in the same way. Here, spaces cannot be disassociated of its experiences, feelings, ideas, memories, and more importantly, the personal histories of an emotional cartography.

The experience of exploring a city by walking, moreover, has allowed many artists and writers to highlight what becomes imperceptible or invisible in daily (city) life. In Ein Flaneur in Berlin (1929), Franz Hessel considers the city as a universe of signs to decode, in which flâner (to wander) is presented as a new way of approving and rediscovering the big city. Thus, for Hessel, the art of flâner resides in the attention to details and the description of the metamorphosis of the cities as if they were a living body. Nonetheless, one must notice that the way to address and understand the city as a space to play and as an auto realization of the human existence can be also traced in Guy-Ernest Debord’s Theory of the Dérive (1958). Thus, its guidelines and strategic resources originated the creation of `psycogeographic maps´, which were able to produce a complete “insubordination of habitual influences” (Debord 1957, p.11). Moreover, `psycogeographic maps´ inaugurated the possibility of the Dérive as a mode of experimental behavior linked to the condition of urban society. To derive was “to notice the way in which certain areas, streets or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed” (Debord 1958, p. 23). Therefore, the Dérive, more than wandering around, was a recodification of urban spaces, in which the analytic interest of the urban flow becomes an accurate observation of “the precise effects of the geographic media […] about the affective behavior of human beings” (Debord 1958, p. 69). Where the old urbanism is characterised by its technology of separation, the Situationist International theorised a Unitary Urbanism founded on the premise that `real individuals´ emerge only out of environments collectively dominated from the bottom up. Unitary Urbanismhence signified the union of “the theory of the joint use of arts and techniques that participate in the integral construction of a medium in dynamic relation with certain experiences of behavior” (Debord 1958, p. 69) with the Détournement (literally translated as deviation), which would be used as the central strategy on the “integration of artistic products, actuals or from the past, in a superior construction of the medium” (Debord 1958, p. 69).

And here, Debord proposed that Cinema and city alike had to be `detourned´ and reconceptualised so as to provide a space for “encounters like signals emanating from a more intense life” (Debord 1958, p. 72). Accordingly, and like the city, the cinema had to ripe for theDérive as in Debord’s film Society of the Spectacle (1973),which can be understood as a sort of film editor’s derive through an illustrative oversaturation of spectacular ideology. However, it is in his film In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1979) when Debord uses space, spacing and general spatiality to reflect about the tension between smooth and striated spaces (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p 474). Moreover, it is in the process of becoming circumscribed by the anthropologic gaze of Debord’s film that the viewer him/herself can become confusedly implicated in the act of colonisation. Thus, by using a number of maps of Paris and Venice, Debord proposes that cities should escape its own singularity by means to construct its own peculiar spatial construction, which at the end should be a result of the derive.

Overall, Debord’s critique of the self-perpetuating commodity form of spectacular cinema opened a way to attack, from strategic localities, the spectacular subject creation. Can therefore cinema change our spatial perception of the city? Or is the perception of the city that changes our way of doing cinema? And here, as Debord argued, “if you want we can move on to a discussion” (Debord 1958, p. 120).

Photo: Frame Still from In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni, Guy-Ernest Debord, 1979.

Published in Cinematic Amsterdam