Dorothy Carrington – A Woman of Two Worlds
Author: Clive Myer
Format: Beta SP
Duration: 28 mins
This film is part of a body of work linked to a practice-based PhD submission.
Through the primary question of the role of collective consciousness I set out to examine the place of the subject within nonfiction film with specific contextual reference to the myth of the individual, the writer and the written. The primary assumption followed was that the subject does not exist as unified predetermined being but as a complex composite process, interlinked in a post-biological society to the representations created within the social system. My concern was with systems of belief that might ultimately lead to a redefinition of the filmic diegesis, the mental referent through which we perceive the notion of the subject in representation and in the social world. Work in this field over the past two decades had become moribund within the terms of onscreen and off-screen narrative space and the intention was to contribute towards a reopening of the definition of the concept.
Of particular interest to this film is the definition of reality evident in Corsican belief systems commanded through the world of the Mazzeri, the dream hunters and death prophesiers of Corsica, who hunt in their sleep and kill an animal in whose face they recognise a member of their community who will fall ill and die within a year. According to my informants (at the research stage of the film), notions of certainty or uncertainty, reality or fiction, ‘real’ or the ‘unreal’ existed simultaneously in Corsican consciousness. There is no definitive division between dream and reality. Corsican bilocation raises ideas of duality, of the doubling of the persona. Relatives will testify that the Mazzere, usually an ordinary resident of the village, was to be seen in bed at the same time as they claimed to be hunting in the woods. Perceived as a useful premise for the work on collective consciousness and filmic diegesis I used this information to structure both the form and the content of the film. In the film the duality of the subject is tri-fold: Dorothy Carrington the writer with two backgrounds; the Mazzeri the harbingers of death who live in two worlds; the viewers (including the filmmaker) who live in the double diegetic world of representation and social interaction.
Jean-Luc Godard’s major work Histoire(s) du Cinema reopens the diegetic question through defiguration and reinterpolation. In other words he breaks down existing representation, seen as the purveyor of history and remodels it as a question of history, present and future. Chris Marker, in films such as Sans Soleil, questions belief systems by refocusing the narrative exposure verbally. In my film I attempt to bring into question the relationship between belief systems in the social world and that of the nonfiction cinematic belief system itself by taking a subject that is overtly imbedded in historicised myth, the pre-Christianic Mazzeri and intertextualise the narrator of the myth who is herself imbedded in the colonial history of her own background.
My personal research trajectory really began in the early 1970s as a student of Noel Burch. I was already working as an experimental filmmaker but became fascinated with structuralist theory and practice which lead to the cinema of deconstruction, an under-described decade in British independent cinema. Influenced by both avant-gardes in Europe and America a wide ranging body of work developed that includes the Wollen/Mulvey films and Film Work Group’s Justine, by the Marquis de Sade (Mackinnon/Myer/Perkins, 1976) in narrative fiction and The View From Industrial Britain (Myer/Perkins, 1982) in nonfiction. Dorothy Carrington, Woman of Two Worlds and its companion film Song of the Falklands are two 30 minute pieces that attempt to further this trajectory from the perspective of the false consciousness of the individual in the first film to that of society itself in the second.
I attempt to work within the field in which the cinematic problematic is focused. In this film, documentary both contemporary and historical, provide the framework for the investigation of diegetic assimilation. The film takes implicit critical issue with the heroic role of the subject in the British documentary movement of the 1930/40s. The title is referenced from the 1937 Cavalcanti film We Live in Two Worlds.
In my film the method taken to investigate collective consciousness is to penetrate implicit narrative at first and second level myth. This draws upon and defines the subject as socialised within primary and secondary myth, producing the living subject itself as a focal point of third meaning or ‘indescribable’ meaning as referred to by Barthes in Image, Music, Text. In the terms of my research the notion of myth resides in the space between the diegetic world and the social world. Aspects of distanciation are used within the film to draw out this space such as old Dorothy and young Dorothy in the shot together (00:00:40, 00:01:45, 00:06:00, 00:27:00) where Carrington tells the story of her life to her own past self, who in turn asks questions of herself in the future (we see both Dorothy Carringtons in the shot at the same time – but they don’t see each other) and aspects of the onscreen narration set on a parallel level to the narrative described, using the interviewer and interviewed with equal importance (00:15:25, 00:21:10). In the final shot and final words of the film (00:27:00) these two strategies converge in the superimposed voices of both Dorothys, the writer (old Dorothy) states “this is why I wrote this book” and the filmmaker, represented by the young Dorothy, simultaneously states “this is why I made this film”.
Aesthetic strategies of editing and sound also act to both draw in the viewer and empower their relation to the film through intellectual montage (ref. Eisenstein’s Film Form), contrasting elements of image and counter-image through picture and soundtrack. For example, the wild boar hunt (00:06:44) is of great significance to Corsican culture – the sounds of the beat, of running through the woods, of men’s breath and of scared animals play a significant role in pre-representational consciousness. This is unlike the English fox hunt where the crude symbolism of class and dominance suggest a worldly duality of master and servant, hunter and hunted. This particular montage sequence not only acts to contrast the two cultures of Dorothy Carrington but it is also a metaphor for her relationship to the question of Mazzerism and is the turning point in the narrative for her switch from her monoistic English biography to her Corsican dualistic ‘mission’.
Other practitioners in the field might wish to open the question of the position of the nonfiction filmmaker as philosophical interlocutor rather than auteur or ‘objective’ commentator. That it has been possible to investigate the place of the nonfiction film subject within a particular context should be seen as a positive contribution to potentially new forms of practice. Other practitioners may also be interested in taking forward and continuing to question the role of the diegetic through cinema practice-based research.
This is a self-funded piece of work. Versions of the film have been selected for the BBC British Short Film Festival and the Celtic Film Festival. The piece has been curated at the Catalyst Art Gallery in Belfast. It has been included in conference presentations at Exchange, PARIP and CAiiA.
In assessing the research the reviewers may wish to consider the success of the film in terms of the examination of specific aspects of collective consciousness, its reopening of the question of the diegetic space in nonfiction cinema, its position in reflexive cinema and the notion of ‘enterism’ within the specific cinematic and televisual form of documentary belief systems.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept subject to minor statement rewrite
This is an interesting film made to a high standard. At its heart it is a documentary biography. However it seeks to do justice to post stucturalist ideas about identity by refusing to offer us a subject fixed or defined. Instead the piece offers us a fractured self in which childhood and old age, the living and the spirit world are offered as simultaneous ways of understanding what it is to live. As such the attempt at research – how to not do a conventional bio doc – is clear in the film itself. It attempts to use the subject’s own writing and reflection to structure itself rather than a ‘director’s’ view. This relationship between form and content is further elaborated through the focus on the Mazzieri’s ambiguous rejection of conventional dualism.
The film is beautifully cut and grew on me on second viewing – the soundtrack is also excellent. However the statement makes little or no mention of the technical aesthetic dimensions of the piece.
Notes on the Supporting Statement
The statement is rather problematic. It appears to have been extracted from a longer piece and therefore doesn’t quite spell out the research work that the film is doing. The allusions and themes embedded in the statement are not quite present in this form. It could afford to be a little more clear and concise than the PhD style discursive prose that is not necessarily what the journal needs in this form. The research questions and methods need to be more foreground and it would be good to have some more information about the film’s distribution context and indicators of ‘quality’ therein.
Review 2: Accept subject to rewrite of statement
The film is a provocative attempt to undermine realist narrative, making suggestive links between the construction of the life of Dorothy Carrington and the sources for her anthropological interests in the Mazzeri, ‘the sonamubulistic dream hunters of Corsica’. It successfully interrogates the ways in which another culture may be made the ‘object’ of documentary/anthropological discourse by turning attention back to the anthropologist’s subjectivity and their own imbrication in the myths of their own culture and the determining influences of their own cultural background.
For the Mazzeri, ‘the real’ and the ‘unreal’ exists simultaneously, the author tells us and the hunted animal at the point of death becomes a man or a woman, and in the film, we are informed, the beast assumes the face of someone known to the hunter who is about to die. I found the film’s evocation of Carrington’s ‘magical’ relationship to the English landscape/nature of her childhood compelling prompting me to think about the kinds of psychic projections we make on to the natural world and thus ‘mythologize’ it in the way that, it is implied the Mazzeri, also do. I struggled however to link the author’s statement to the film, however, particularly in the second half, more of which was shot on location in
Corsica and seemed to rely on interviews, albeit shot as to foreground the process of interpretation by having the translator dominate the shot of the ‘native’ speaking subjects. I felt somewhat frustrated not to know more about who the Mazzeri were and the film did not reveal to me in what way they were ‘dream hunters’. Whilst I appreciated the intention to refuse an authoritative position of knowledge in relation to ‘Carrington’ herself, as a complex dualistic subject, and in relation to the culture she was investigating, I nonetheless wanted have more sense of what her work/writing actually consisted of – not least because presumably it was this that inspired the author to make her the focus of the piece, not only as an example of collective consciousness but as an individual. Also the absent ‘third person’ in the film is the author and the question is inevitably begged of what his relationship is to the Corsicans he is filming and how far this coincides or departs from Carrington’s past or present relationship to their culture.
Notes on Supporting Statement
The author’s statement is rather dense and elliptical and it only partially addresses what the film is actually doing as opposed to what the original intentions of the thesis (of which the film is part) were ie ‘to re-examine the notion of diegesis with particular reference to Emile Durkheim’s work on the conscience collectif’’. It would help if the statement could address how the film does this with detailed reference to specific sequences. I felt the author was wrestling with various theoretical frameworks which were the starting point of his investigation but which needed greater elucidation for readers/viewers unfamiliar with the concepts alluded to (as for instance in the passing reference quoted above to Durkheim). Terms such as ‘preconscious’ and ‘myth’ are used without a clear sense of how we are to understand the meaning of these terms, what kind of psychoanalytic traditions they might refer to and how it is intended the viewer should understand them in relation to the film.
I suggest the statement needs to be simplified to focus on two or three key issues that the film submitted is dealing with, maybe with a brief explanation of how the film relates to the thesis as a whole. There needs to be a more incisive discussion of the phenomenon of Mazzerism and how it connects relates to the aims of the video work – the analogies, if that is what is intended, between the having a belief system and the experience of watching a film need to be much more clearly argued and demonstrated in the film itself. It would also be useful to have more sense of the filmic context from which this particular film has emerged and its relationship to it – the British Documentary movement is alluded to but without an explanation of how the authors specifically engages with it. There is no reference in the statement to outcomes, quality, criteria as suggested in the submission guidelines.