The Solaris Effect

The Solaris Effect

Steven Dillon
Copyright Date: 2006
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/713444
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    The Solaris Effect
    Book Description:

    What do contemporary American movies and directors have to say about the relationship between nature and art? How do science fiction films like Steven Spielberg'sA.I.and Darren Aronofsky'sπrepresent the apparent oppositions between nature and culture, wild and tame?

    Steven Dillon's intriguing new volume surveys American cinema from 1990 to 2002 with substantial descriptions of sixty films, emphasizing small-budget independent American film. Directors studied include Steven Soderbergh, Darren Aronofsky, Todd Haynes, Harmony Korine, and Gus Van Sant, as well as more canonical figures like Martin Scorcese, Robert Altman, David Lynch, and Steven Spielberg. The book takes its title and inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 filmSolaris, a science fiction ghost story that relentlessly explores the relationship between the powers of nature and art. The author argues that American film has the best chance of aesthetic success when it acknowledges that a film is actually a film. The best American movies tell an endless ghost story, as they perform the agonizing nearness and distance of the cinematic image.

    This groundbreaking commentary examines the rarely seen bridge between select American film directors and their typically more adventurous European counterparts. Filmmakers such as Lynch and Soderbergh are cross-cut together with Tarkovsky and the great French director, Jean-Luc Godard, in order to test the limits and possibilities of American film. Both enthusiastically cinephilic and fiercely critical, this book puts a decade of U.S. film in its global place, as part of an ongoing conversation on nature and art.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79561-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Tarkovsky’s Solaris and the Cinematic Abyss
    (pp. 1-20)

    Psychoanalytic theory rose to such prominence in film studies because film seemed to demand an analysis of fantasy. Flowing across the screen, projected through the dark, come these dream images—idealized desires and ego-building identifications. Yet even as we watch and inhabit these fantasies and dreams, we have the underlying consciousness that these dreams are not true, that they are constructions, that “this is only a movie.” Lacanian theory, with its centralized concept of “lack,” seems perfectly fitted to address itself to this dream screen, a screen both full of desire and perpetually absent.¹ Dozens of models for cinematic fantasy...

  6. 2 Steven Soderbergh’s Tinted World
    (pp. 21-44)

    Fredric Jameson’s denunciation of Tarkovsky inThe Geopolitical Aestheticcomes in the middle of a chapter-length celebration of Alexander Sokurov’sDays of Eclipse(1988).¹ Here Jameson is especially taken with Sokurov’s yellow filter, which denaturalizes color and tonality. “The filter,” he writes, “desaturates images in such a way as to mute the autonomy of multiple colors inDays of Eclipse” (100). Jameson is so convinced by his description of Tarkovsky’s cinematic naiveté that he completely forgets what the movies actually look like. Tarkovsky’s “grandiose mysticism depended very much on a kind of naturalization of the coloring” (97). Thus Tarkovsky’s visual...

  7. 3 Aronofsky, Sundance, and the Return to Nature
    (pp. 45-76)

    The Solaris effect circulates through reality and artifice, between the non-reality of the simulacrum and the groundedness of experiential nature. The Solaris effect results in paradoxes of presence and absence; it emphasizes contradictions, hovering between life and death, fullness and nothingness. But many American films want only to come down on the side of nature in order to escape the contradictions of the cinematic condition. But in America there is no escape, and certainly not into the woods. Nature cannot conceal technology. And naturalism cannot conceal cultural imperialism.

    The last sequence of Darren Aronofsky’sπ(1998) returns us to nature—...

  8. 4 Mulholland Drive, Cahiers du cinéma, and the Horror of Cinephilia
    (pp. 77-104)

    David Lynch’sMulholland Drive(2001) was accounted a masterpiece by critics in America and Great Britain.Film CommentandSight and Soundboth putMulholland Driveon their covers. InSight and Sound, Kim Newman calledMulholland Drive“emotionally overwhelming,” and in the year-end polls, theVillage Voice, Film Comment, and the New York Film Critics all rankedMulholland Driveas the best movie of 2001. Such an outpouring of praise approached the limits of unanimity, a surprising response given the weirdness of the film and the awkward circumstances of its origins as a television pilot. To some extent, Lynch...

  9. 5 Spielberg’s A.I.: Animation, Time, and Digital Culture
    (pp. 105-140)

    Advances in digital technology gave a whole new look to American film in the 1990s. Science fiction special effects became more remarkable and more detailed. Films likeTerminator 2: Judgment Day(1991),Jurassic Park(1993), andThe Matrix(1999) each ushered in a new set of visual effects. Digital technology improved to the point that a viewer might rightly have suspected nearly every frame of every studio film, whether sci-fi or not, could have been digitally manipulated. All kinds of films have always contained special effects, from the glass shots of silent films to the back projections in 1950s taxicab...

  10. 6 Cinema against Art: Artists and Paintings in Contemporary American Film
    (pp. 141-172)

    American film directors like to say no to art. But the no means different things and comes from different places. There is the unthinking no and the thinking no, the negation spoken by the know-nothings, and the negation of the know-everythings. To directors who align themselves with producers, cinema is not an art, because if cinema is a business, then art spells only commercial disaster. If we must tell the story of an artist, then we will make that artist into every other kind of conventional hero and leave the art behind. Art will appear as intuition and genius, since...

  11. 7 A Plague of Frogs: Expressionism and Naturalism in 1990s American Film
    (pp. 173-208)

    In Paul Thomas Anderson’sMagnolia(1999) there is a now famous sequence in which all the main characters, one after the other, start singing along to an Aimee Mann song. They sing from entirely different locations, and two of them are nearly dead—it is an impossible moment. At which point Janet Maslin of theNew York Timescame quite unglued:

    The great uh-oh moment in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” occurs about two-thirds of the way through this artfully orchestrated symphony of L.A. stories. A song bursts out: it is heard first from one character, then from another, until all...

  12. 8 Situating American Film in Godard, Jarmusch, and Scorsese
    (pp. 209-232)

    This book’s presiding spirits have been Andrei Tarkovsky and Jean-Luc Godard. These two masters may seem to approach film from entirely opposite directions, but as the years go by it becomes more and more apparent that this is not the case. Descriptions of Godard’s most recent films—meditative, mystical, full of beautiful pictures—make it look as though Godard has developed through time into another kind of Tarkovsky. If I have shown that Tarkovsky is often as modern, as self-reflexive, and as knowing about his medium as Godard, then let me also emphasize the degree to which films like Godard’s...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-252)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-260)
  15. Index
    (pp. 261-265)