Essays on cinematic narrative. The focus is a set of dynamics collected under the concept of folding, a related system of techniques to model agency and causality.


Published: 9 May 2012

I focus on film because it seems to involve the deepest ideas, the most minds and exhilarating speed of evolution. But what about novels, games, opera?

Opera. Where does opera fit? By most standards, opera is museum art, at least as usually produced. The idea is to recreate something that was created at least a century ago, possibly two, under the assumption that it was an apogee of intense purity. Only rarely, the assumption seems to be, does a virtuoso performer appear who can bring these treasures to life. Considered this way, for our intents opera is of interest for its historical importance only. That it still works for some people is merely an artifact.

A brief correspondance with opera maven Kharálampos Goyós has changed that for me, in part because it has convinced me that opera is a vital form with modernity and on-going evolution.

A question becomes then how it relates to the speeding cognitive culture of film? And then, what might we here do about it? A conventional definition has opera as narrative presented within the context of music. Musical structure binds and drives the long form, resulting in recurring themes and spoken parts sometimes presented in song. The staged effects complement the musical structure rather than the other way around (as is usual in film). This allows the creator to use the presumably more powerful internal touchpoints of the mind from music while inheriting all of the other devices available in stagecraft (or cinema).

If we are talking staged opera here. Goyós believes that the physical presence of the performers and audience (and of course the orchestra and sets) in the same physical space governs the experience, and that strikes me as true. The performers take risks that film actors cannot and that seems to matter as well.

I find that especially so in dance performances and wish I could combine somehow the advantages of flight that filmed dance gives me with sharing the actual shared space of the dancers. He goes further than I would in heavily weighing the conveyance of supplication in a performer: the inherent urge behind the need to perform and what it means when the person is right there asking you (and only that specific audience) to be let in.

Opera does have this built in notion of the ordinary fold: you never, ever fall into the visual reality of the world they are presenting as you often might with movies. You are always aware that what you are seeing are performers with outside lives, the more extraordinary the life the better. You always know that the scenery and staging are there to announce that they are fake evocations for you to complete. The development of the production as it unrolls before you is tuned to that very space, and that very audience, including you.

I agree with Goyós about this being reflected in Kieslowski, where the basic story itself is plain, even blunt, while he creates a second world of presentation that floats over the story as ephemeral lenses with their own structure, even their own narrative. And sound, space and immediacy is a part of that. My supposition is that the way we touch concepts via music in a geometrically structured way has a lot to do with this.

Even if we do not extend the study proper to opera, we surely need to consider it in something more than a historical context.

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© copyright Ted Goranson, 2012