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Transparencies on Film Author(s): Theodor W. Adorno and Thomas Y. Levin Source: New German Critique, No.

24/25, Special Double Issue on New German Cinema (Autumn, 1981 - Winter, 1982), pp. 199-205 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 29/06/2010 23:41
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Transparencies on Film*
by TheodorW. Adorno

Childrenwhen teasingeach otherin theirsquabbles,follow the rule:no faircopycat.Theirwisdomseems to be lost on the all too thoroughly grownold attacked nearlysixty-year trashproducthe up adults.The Oberhauseners tion of the film industrywith the epithet:"Daddy's Cinema." Representatives of the latterin turncould come up with no betterretortthan "Kiddy's Cinema." This cat, as once againthe saying goes amongchildren,does not whenthe issue is the copy. How patheticto pit experienceagainstimmaturity of very immaturity that experienceacquiredduringthe adolescenceof the medium.Whatis repulsiveaboutDaddy's Cinemais its infantilecharacter, of manufactured an industrial on scale. The sophistry thedefenders regression insistson the very type of achievement conceptof whichis challengedby the the opposition.However,even if therewere somethingto thatreproach if films thatdid not play along withbusinessreallywere in some ways clumsier than the latter's smoothly polished wares- then the triumphwould be pitiful. It would only demonstratethat those supportedby the power of routineandhighlytrainedspecialistscoulddo betterin capital,technological some respects than those who rebel against the colossus and thus must of necessarilyforego the advantages its accumulated potential.In this comof cinema, uncertain its effects, is parativelyawkwardand unprofessional inscribedthe hope that the so-called mass media might eventuallybecome art different.While in autonomous anythinglagging somethingqualitatively behindthe alreadyestablishedtechnicalstandard does not rate, vis-a-vis the cultureindustry whose standard excludes everythingbut the predigested and the alreadyintegrated, as the cosmetictradeeliminatesfacial wrinjust kles - workswhich have not completelymastered theirtechnique,conveyand accidental,have a ing as a result somethingconsolingly uncontrolled liberating quality.In themthe flaws of a prettygirl's complexionbecomethe correctiveto the immaculate face of the professionalstar. It is knownthatin the T6rlessfilm' largesegmentsof Musil'searlynovel
* Basedon an articlein Die Zeit, 18 November1966, this in essay was published Theodor W. Adorno,OhneLeitbild(Frankfurt/M.: herein Englishwiththe 1967). It appears Suhrkamp, of footnote). permission Suhrkamp Verlag(translator's 1. Derjunge Torless(1965/66), a film by VolkerSchlindorff,basedon RobertMusil,Die
Verwirrungen des Zoiglings Tiirless (translator's footnote).



Theodor Adorno

were incorporated the dialoguealmostunchanged. into They are considered to the lines by the scriptwriters, which no living personwouldever superior havebeen ridiculed American critics.In utter,andwhich in the meantime by theirown way, however, Musil's sentencesalso tend to soundartificialas soon as they are heard,not read.This may be to some extentthe faultof the novel which incorporates type of rationalisticcasuistryinto the internal a of movement its textunder guiseof a psychologythatthe moreprogressive the Freudian Nevertheless, psychologyof the periodexposedas a rationalization. this is hardlythe whole point. The artisticdifferencebetweenthe media is thanexpectedby thosewho feel ableto avoidbadprose obviouslystill greater good prose. Even when dialogueis used in a novel, the spoken by adapting wordis not directlyspokenbut is rather distancedby the act of narration even by the typography andtherebyabstracted fromthe physical perhaps never resembletheir presenceof living persons. Thus, fictional characters no matter how minutelythey aredescribed.In fact, it empiricalcounterparts that may be due to the very precisionof theirpresentation they are removed even furtherfrom empiricalreality;they become aesthetically autonomous. Such distanceis abolishedin film: to the extent that a film is realistic,the semblanceof immediacy cannotbe avoided.As a result,phrases justifiedby the dictionof narrative whichdistinguishes themfromthe false everydayness of merereportage,soundpompousand inauthentic film. Film, therefore, in must searchfor othermeansof conveyingimmediacy: which improvisation surrenders itself to unguidedchanceshouldrankhigh among systematically possible alternatives. The late emergence of film makes it difficult to distinguishbetween and technique technologyas clearlyas is possiblein music. In musicupto the electronic period, the intrinsic technique- the sound structureof the work- was distinctfromits performance, meansof reproduction. the Film the equationof techniqueand technologysince, as Benjaminobsuggests on served,the cinemahas no originalwhichis thenreproduced a mass scale: themassproduct thethingitself. Thisequation,however,is problematic, in is film as well as in music. Expertsin cinematographic referto the techniques factthatChaplin eitherunaware or purposely was of thesetechniques, ignored of beingcontentwith the photographic rendering sketches,slapstickroutines or otherperformances. This in no way lowers Chaplin'sstatusand one can hardlydoubt that he was 'filmic.' Nowhere but on the screen could this of enigmaticfigure- reminiscent old-fashioned rightfromthe photographs start- havedevelopedits concept.As a consequence,it appears impossible to derive normsof criticismfrom cinematographic techniqueas such. The mostplausibletheoryof film technique,thatwhichfocuseson the movement of objects,2 bothprovocatively is in deniedandyet preserved, negativeform,
2. Cf. Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), pp. 41 ff.

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in the staticcharacter films like Antonioni's Notte. Whatever 'uncineof La is matic' in this film gives it the powerto express, as if with hollow eyes, the of originsof the cinema,the emptinessof time. Irrespective the technological aestheticsof film'will do betterto base itself on a subjectivemodeof experience which film resembles and which constitutesits artisticcharacter.A personwho, after a year in the city, spends a few weeks in the mountains abstainingfrom all work, may unexpectedly experiencecolorful images of over him or her in dreamsor daydreams. landscapesconsolingly coming These images do not merge into one anotherin a continuousflow, but are muchlike rather off againsteach otherin the courseof theirappearance, set of the magic lanternslides of our childhood.It is in the discontinuity their movementthatthe images of the interiormonologueresemblethe phenomenon of writing:the lattersimilarlymovingbeforeoureyes while fixed in its discretesigns. Such movementof interiorimages may be to film what the visibleworldis to painting the acousticworldto music. As the objectifying or recreation this type of experience,film maybecomeart.The technological of medium excellenceis thus intimately relatedto the beautyof nature(tief par verwandt dem Natursch6nen). If one decides to take the self-censorsmoreor less literallyand confront films withthe contextof theirreception,one will haveto proceedmoresubtly thanthose traditional contentanalyseswhich, by necessity, reliedprimarily on the intentionsof a film and neglected the potentialgap between such intentionsand their actual effect. This gap, however, is inherentin the medium. If accordingto the analysis of "Television as Ideology"3film accommodatesvarious layers of behavioralresponse patterns,this would imply that the ideology providedby the industry, its officially intended to models, may by no means automatically correspond those thataffect the If empiricalcommunications researchwere finally to look for spectators. problemswhich could lead to some results, this one would meritpriority. the of Overlapping official modelsarea number inofficialones whichsupply the attraction are intendedto be neutralized the former.In orderto yet by capturethe consumersand provide them with substitutesatisfaction,the unofficial,if you will, heterodox ideologymustbe depictedin a muchbroader andjuicier fashionthansuits the moralof the story;the tabloidnewspapers furnishweekly examples of such excess. One would expect the public's all since libido,repressed a varietyof taboos,to respond themorepromptly by thesebehavioral theveryfactthattheyareallowedto pass, reflect by patterns, an elementof collective approval.While intentionis alwaysdirectedagainst the playboy, the dolce vita and wild parties,the opportunity beholdthem to
3. T. W. Adorno,"Fernsehen Ideologie,"in Eingriffe: NeunKritische als Modelle(Frankfurt:Suhrkamp,1936), pp. 81-98. Based on an English-language original:"How to Look at vol. Television,"TheQuarterly Film,RadioandTelevision, VII(Spring1954),pp. 213-235, of and as of reprinted "Televisionandthe Patterns MassCulture,"in: B. Rosenberg D. Manning The White,eds. MassCulture: PopularArtsinAmerica (New York:FreePress, 1957),pp. 474488 (translator's footnote).



seems to be relished more than the hasty verdict. If today you can see in in Switzerland in CatholicRome, and Germany, Prague,even in conservative andgirlscrossingthe streetslockedin eachothersarmsand boys everywhere, then kissingeach otherunembarrassed, they have learnedthis, andprobably more, from the films which peddle Parisianlibertinageas folklore. In its the attemptsto manipulate masses the ideology of the cultureindustryitself becomesas internally as antagonistic the verysocietywhichit aimsto control. The ideology of the cultureindustry containsthe antidoteto its own lie. No otherplea could be made for its defense. The photographic process of film, primarilyrepresentational, places a higher intrinsicsignificanceon the object, as foreign to subjectivity,than autonomous this aesthetically techniques; is the retarding aspectof film in the historical processof art.Evenwherefilm dissolvesandmodifiesits objectsas muchas it can, thedisintegration nevercomplete.Consequently, does not is it its permitabsoluteconstruction: elements, howeverabstract,always retain values.Due to this something representational; areneverpurelyaesthetic they difference,society projectsinto film quitedifferently farmoredirectlyon account of the objects- than into advancedpaintingor literature.That whichis irreducible abouttheobjectsin film is itselfa mark society,prior of to the aestheticrealization an intention.By virtueof this relationship the of to concerned with society. There object,the aestheticsof film is thusinherently canbe no aesthetics the cinema,noteven a purelytechnological of one, which would not include the sociology of the cinema. Kracauer's theoryof film whichpracticessociologicalabstention compelsus to considerthatwhich is left out in his book;otherwiseantiformalism turnsinto formalism.Kracauer ironicallyplays with the resolve of his earliestyouthto celebratefilm as the discovererof the beauties of daily life: such a program,however, was a of to program Jugendstiljust as all those films which attempt let wandering clouds and murkyponds speak for themselvesare relics of Jugendstil.By choosing objects presumablycleansed of subjectivemeaning, these films infuse the object with exactly that meaningwhich they are tryingto resist. Benjamindid not elaborateon how deeply some of the categorieshe for withthe commodity postulated film - exhibition,test - are imbricated characterwhich his theory opposes. The reactionary natureof any realist aesthetictoday is inseparablefrom this commoditycharacter.Tending to the surfaceof society, realism dismisses reinforce,affirmatively, phenomenal any attemptto penetratethat surfaceas a romanticendeavor.Every meaning - includingcritical meaning- which the cameraeye impartsto the film would alreadyinvalidatethe law of the cameraand thus violate Benjamin's taboo, conceived as it was with the explicit purposeof outdoingthe provocativeBrechtand thereby- this may have been its secretpurposegaining freedom from him. Film is faced with the dilemma of finding a

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procedure which neither lapses into arts-and-crafts nor slips into a mere documentary mode. The obvious answer today, as forty years ago, is that of montage which does not interfere with things but rather arranges them in a constellation akin to that of writing. The viability of a procedure based on the principle of shock, however, raises doubts. Pure montage, without the addition of intentionality in its elements, does not derive intention merely from the principle itself. It seems illusory to claim that through the renunciation of all meaning, especially the cinematically inherent renunciation of psychology, meaning will emerge from the reproduced material itself. It may be, however, that the entire issue is rendered obsolete by the insight that the refusal to interpret, to add subjective ingredients, is in itself a subjective act and as such a priori significant. The individual subject who remains silent speaks not less but more through silence than when speaking aloud. Those filmmakers ostracized for being too intellectual should, by way of revision, absorb this insight into their working methods. Nonetheless, the gap between the most progressive tendencies in the visual arts and those of film continues to exist, compromising the latter's most radical intentions. For the time being, evidently, film's most promising potential lies in its interaction with other media, themselves merging into film, such as certain kinds of music. One of the most powerful examples of such interaction is the television film Antithese4 by composer Mauricio Kagel. That, among its functions, film provides models for collective behavior is not just an additional imposition of ideology. Such collectivity, rather, inheres in the innermost elements of film. The movements which the film presents are mimetic impulses which, prior to all content and meaning, incite the viewers and listeners to fall into step as if in a parade. In this respect, film resembles music just as, in the early days of radio, music resembled film strips. It would not be incorrect to describe the constitutive subject of film as a "we" in which the aesthetic and sociological aspects of the medium converge. Anything Goes5 was the title of a film from the thirties with the popular English actress Gracie Fields; this 'anything' captures the very substance of film's formal movement, prior to all content. As the eye is carried along, it joins the current of all those who are responding to the same appeal. The indeterminatenature of this collective "anything" (Es), however, which is linked to the formal characterof film facilitates the ideological misuse of the medium: the pseudorevolutionary blurring in which the phrase "things must change" is conveyed by the gesture of banging one's fist on the table. The liberatedfilm would have to wrest its a priori collectivity from the mechanisms of unconscious and
4. Antithese:Film for one performerwith electronicand everydaysounds (1965); first broadcast (translator's footnote). April 1, 1966 by NDR III, Hamburg 5. AnythingGoes (1936; Paramount), dir. Lewis Milestone, with Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman,GraceBradley(sic!) and others;songs by Cole Porter(translator's footnote).


Theodor Adorno

irrational influenceand enlist this collectivityin the serviceof emancipatory intentions. Filmtechnologyhas developeda seriesof techniques whichworkagainst the realisminherent the photographic in process.Amongthesearesoft-focus shots - a long outdatedarty custom in photography superimpositions, and also, frequently,flashbacks.It is abouttime to recognizethe ludicrousness of such effects and get rid of them because these techniquesare not in worksbut in mereconvention; grounded the necessitiesof individual they informthe viewer as to what is being signifiedor whatneedsto be addedin orderto comprehend whateverescapes basic cinematicrealism.Since these techniques almost always contain some expressive- even if commonarises betweenexpressionand place - values of their own, a discrepancy conventional of sign. This is whatgives these insertsthe appearance kitsch. Whether createsthe sameeffect in the contextof montage extradiegetic is and associationshas yet to be examined. In any case, such cinematographic tact The divagations require particular on thepartof thefilm-maker. lessonto be learned fromthisphenomenon dialectical: is technologyin isolation,which the to disregards natureof film as language,may end up in contradiction its own internallogic. Emancipated film production should no longerdepend of in uncritically upontechnology(i.e. the mereequipment its profession) the manner a by no meansstill 'new objectivity'(einerkeineswegs of mehrneuen Sachlichkeit).In commercialfilm production,however, the aestheticlogic in inherent the material caughtin a stageof crisis even beforeit is given a is chanceto really unfold. The demandfor a meaningful between relationship technique, materialand content does not mix well with the fetishism of means. It is undeniablethat Daddy's Cinema indeed corresponds what the to consumers rather it provides that themwithan unconscious want,or, perhaps, canonof whatthey do not want, thatis, somethingdifferentfromwhatthey are presentlybeing fed. Otherwise,the cultureindustry could not have becomea massculture.The identity thesetwo phenomena, of however,is notso assumesas long as it focuseson the aspectof beyonddoubtas criticalthought and production refrainsfrom empiricalanalysesof reception.Nevertheless, the favoriteargument the whole- and half-hearted of apologists,thatculture is the artof the consumer,is untrue; is the ideologyof ideology. it industry Eventhe reductive withthe low artof all ages equationof the cultureindustry does notholdup. Thecultureindustry contains elementof rationality an -the calculatedreproduction the low - which, while certainlynot missingin of the low artof the past, was not its rationale.Moreover,the venerable roughness andidiocy of suchhybridsof circensesandburlesque popular so during the lateRomanempiredo notjustifythe revivalof suchphenomena afterthey have becomeaesthetically sociallytransparent. and Even if considered apart

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from its historicalperspective,the validity of the argument consumerfor orientedart can be attackedin the very present. Its proponents depict the as betweenartandits reception staticandharmonious, relationship according to the principle supplyanddemand,in itselfa dubiousmodel.Artunrelated of as to the objectivespiritof its time is equallyunimaginable art withoutthe momentwhich transcendsit. The separation from empiricalreality which pertainsto the constitutionof art from the outset requiresprecisely that moment.The conformityto the consumer,on the contrary,which likes to is as masquerade humanitarianism, nothingbut the economic techniqueof consumerexploitation.Artistically,it meansthe renunciation all interferof ence with the syrupysubstance the current of idiomand, as a result,with the reifiedconsciousnessof the audience.By reproducing latterwith hypothe criticalsubservience,the cultureindustry this reifiedconsciousness changes all the more,thatis, for its own purposes: actuallyprevents consciousit that ness fromchangingon its own, as it secretlyand, deep down, unadmittedly are Thatis desires.The consumers madeto remainwhattheyare:consumers. thecultureindustry notthe artof theconsumer rather projection is but the why of the will of those in controlontotheirvictims.The automatic self-reproduction of the status quo in its establishedforms is itself an expression of

One will have observedthat it is difficult, initially, to distinguishthe fromthe mainfilm for whichone is waiting. previewof a 'comingattraction' This may tell us somethingaboutthe mainattractions. Likethe previewsand like the pop hits, they are advertisements themselves,bearingthe comfor like moditycharacter a markof Cain on theirforeheads.Everycommercial film is actuallyonly the preview of that which it promisesand will never deliver. How nice it wouldbe if, underthe present one circumstances, couldclaim thatthe less films appear be worksof art,the morethey wouldbe just that. to One is especially drawn to this conclusion in reactionto those snobbish class-Apictures whichthe cultureindustry forcesitselfto make psychological for the sake of culturallegitimation.Even so, one mustguardagainsttaking such optimism too far: the standardized Westernsand thrillers to say of the products German of humorandthe patriotic (Heinothing tear-jerkers cultureone matschnulze)-are even worsethanthe official hits. In integrated cannoteven dependon the dregs.
Translated by Thomas Y. Levin