Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Any Bird Whatsoever: on Fujita's Le Ciné-Capital: D'Hitchcock à Ozu

In his conversations with François Truffaut Alfred Hitchcock insisted that the birds in the film of the same name had to be ordinary birds, seagulls, ravens, sparrows, and not the more spectacular, and arguably more frightening hawks and eagles. This particular anecdote is relayed in Fujita's Le Ciné-Capital and in some sense it functions as the lynchpin that connects Deleuze's understanding of film, Marx's understanding of Capital, and revolutionary politics.

With respect to the former as Deleuze argues in Cinema One film, or cinema, represents a fundamental transformation of the way movement is depicted. Whereas before, in the ancient world, movement could only be depicted by extracting immobile poses that paradoxically conveyed movement through their own static nature by selecting an image that functioned as an icon: the lifted leg and arm for running, the drawn bow for shooting an arrow, the cocked arm for punching, or, in the pictures below, the sword frozen at the end of its arc for cutting. These immobile sections continue to live onto this day, forming the basis of everything from the crude stick figures representing activities available at a city park (fishing, archery, swimming, etc.) to the panels of comic books. They are in some sense a platonism of movement, representing movement by finding its ideal immobile image. 

Image from Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima 

Cinema effectively overturns this platonism, not just in that it is able to depict movement without freezing it, but because this movement is not made out of iconic poses but out of an assemblage of unexceptional moments, of stills made up of any image whatsoever. It is these images, sped up and moved, that create movement not by an ideal form but through an apparent flow of images that are a far cry from icons. The clearest example of the latter is to take a section of film or video of an action sequence and randomly hit pause or freeze it: nine times out of ten the image that one ends up with will not be an iconic still of the action in question but something awkward and hard to understand; for example, a fistfight looks like an odd dance or running looks like falling. This is another way to think about Muybridge's famous sequence of a horse trotting: actual movement does not resemble our idealized iconic image of it. This is in some sense the scientific or industrial aspect of film, the transformation of movement from an idealized form to a constant process of modification, but this is not the entirety. Any one who watches films is aware that there are breathtaking moments, truly amazing sequences, and images, but these qualitative moments of transformation are themselves made from the quantitative reduction to still images. As Deleuze writes, “Now the production of singularities (the qualitative leap) is achieved by the accumulation of banalities (quantitative process), so that the singular is taken from the any-whatever , and is itself any whatever which is simply non-ordinary and non-regular.” 

So here is our first point about any bird whatsoever, Hitchcock's film, which uses regular birds to create its moments of terror is in some sense a depiction of this production of the qualitative transformation from the quantitative reduction, of the exceptional from the mundane. One crow, even a few crows, on a jungle gym are not even worth mentioning, but at some point that it is hard to place the quantitative accumulation of ordinary birds becomes an uncanny and frightening image of attacking birds. As Fujita writes, "Cinema produces the surplus value of images: the extraordinary is produced from the collective work of ordinary images, in the same way that the color green is produced as the surplus value in the cooperation of yellow and blue, but in a differential relation." 

This brings us to the second transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary, and that is Marx's theory of surplus value. Just as film is made from the assembly of multiple interchangeable and ordinary images, capital itself is the accumulation of a surplus from ordinary everyday labor. Fujita is not the first to consider film production to be an allegory or even a homology of capitalist production: others such as Jonathan Beller have considered film, with its montage of scenes assembled in disparate locations, to be in some sense the image of capital. Fujita draws on Simondon and Marx's writings on cooperation to argue that capital has to be understood as an exploitation of not individual labor power, but the collective power of production. As Fujita writes, "the capitalist pays each worker for its individual act of work, but it does not pay for its preindividual labor power, that it consumes in combination with other workers in their transindividual cooperation. Under an apparent exchange of equivalent values operates an exchange that is unequal, asymmetrical, and exploitative." Or, as I put it elsewhere, capital can be understood as the commodification of the preindividual and the exploitation of the transindividual." 

To relate this back to film, or specifically the film in question, The Birds, it is worth noting that Deleuze cites The Birds very early in Cinema 1: The Movement Image. The first bird attack, on Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) as she crosses Bodega Bay is used to illustrate the relationship between the shot, what we see, and the whole, that which is unseen but implied in the shot. As Deleuze writes, 

"But the sole cinematographic consciousness is not us, the spectator, nor the hero: it is the camera—sometimes human, sometimes inhuman, or superhuman. Take, for example, the movement of water, that of a bird in the distance, and that of a person on a boat: they are blended into a single perception, a peaceful whole of humanized nature. But then the bird, an ordinary seagull, swoops down and wounds the person: the three fluxes are divided and become external to each other. The whole will be reformed, but it will have changed: it will have become the single consciousness or the perception of a whole of birds, testifying to an entirely bird-centered Nature...The shot, that is to say consciousness, traces a movement which means that the things between which it arises are continuously reuniting into a whole, and the whole is continuously dividing between things.”


In Deleuze's account of cinema the shot is a more or less bounded assemblage of elements, a bird, a boat, a person, but the relations between its elements is constantly interacting with a whole that exceeds them. Fujita makes the connection between this ontology (which I would argue is as much Spinozist as it is Simondonian) and that of labor under capital, every individual labor is simultaneously a part, a component, and part of a whole. It is part of the latter because it exceeds the former, because there is an irreducible pre-individual (or virtual) element to each part. In the world of film each shot always contains more than the elements that are first recognized, the bird is just initially part of the background, and it is this excess that makes possible the transformation of the whole.

Any image whatsoever can be combined to create a qualitative transformation in the whole, creating a remarkable point of transformation out of instances that are not in themselves remarkable. Any labor whatsoever, labor indifferent to and an excess of the subject performing it, what Marx called 'the capability of the species' (Gattungsvermögen), is assembled to create a quantitative and qualitative transformation in capital. There is a third possible synthesis and that is in the way in which elements combine in a revolutionary transformation.

This in part explains Fujita's interest in The Birds; it is in some sense a film about revolution, "birds of the world, unite!"as Fujita puts it. The ordinary everyday birds come together not just to produce a new image, but to change and invert the world. For Fujita the crucial image of this reversal is the shift from the caged birds that open the film to Melanie Daniels caged in a phone booth in the attack on Bodega Bay, the world turned upside down. This transformed an inverted world is produced by nothing other than the combination and synthesis of a bunch of smaller actions: it is the force of collectivity. 

I must admit that i have always considered The Birds to be lesser Hitchcock. Fujita makes a claim for its importance based in part on Hitchcock's remarks but also on its constitutive omission: we never learn the cause of the birds attack. The attack has no cause behind or beyond it, and exists solely on the surface as a accumulation of actions, sounds, and images. Fujita follows Deleuze's understanding of sense from Logic of Sense to insist on the superficiality of the attacks, resisting the temptation to posit some kind of cause, or to make the cause itself symbolic of the family plot, as in psychoanalytic readings of the film. In doing so he draws out the third sense, or meaning, of the ordinary birds, not the accumulation of ordinary images into a transformed scene, or the accumulation of abstract labor into surplus value, but the accumulation of little acts of resistance into revolution. The connection of film with revolutionary politics is not that of history, of the causes of the events depicted but of becoming, of a change in the sense or meaning of action. 

Of the three synthesis outlined by Fujita, the first two are most often aligned as the accumulation of images into spectacles reinforces and underlines the accumulation of labor into capital, the spectacles of the movies keep us coming back to work, but perhaps what keeps us coming back to the movies are those moments when that accumulation is interrupted, when we can glimpse a different sensibility, a different way that the pre-individual can become transindividual, can produce a collective. For Fujita the politics of film is less Leninist, organizing the masses, the Guevarist, proliferating the crisis of the cliches, one, two, many, bird revolutions. 


nomadicuniversality said...

"the color blue is produced as the surplus value in the cooperation of yellow and blue"?
So a color is produced from the cooperation of itself with another color?
Maybe "green" was meant here rather than blue?

unemployed negativity said...

You are right. It has to be green. I don't have the text with me now so I am not sure if that is my mistake or the books. However, I am not really sure if the color analogy works. Colors, at least colors as they are experienced, are qualitatively distinct. Deleuze's point is about the emergence of qualitative change from the quantitative relations. I guess that this works if we think in terms of colors in terms of light waves.

nomadicuniversality said...

Thanks! I made this question as I am working on a Greek translation of the above, so I wanted to be sure

nomadicuniversality said...

Thanks! I made this question as I am working on a Greek translation of the above, so I wanted to be sure

unemployed negativity said...

Oh, in that case I will check the French edition and see what it says.

unemployed negativity said...

I checked the blue was my mistake. The French passage is as follows "Le cinéma fait produire de la plus-value aux images: l'extraordinaire se produit comme plus -value dans le travail collectif des images ordinaires, de même façon que le couleur verte se produit comme plus-value dans la coopération du jaune et du bleu, mis en rapport différentiel."