August 2, 2009
On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, 1959
The panning shot of an anonymous city street establishes the tensile, yet integral relationship between citizen and environment in Guy Debord's dense and minimalist essay On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time, describing the rows of generic apartment buildings as places of refuge from the constant social immersion imposed by the shared spaces of urban living. Like the market-based industries that propel the economy of these interchangeable cityscapes, social progress has also come to be measured by the mechanism of consumption, and by extension, leisure and recreation have also become commodities. In a sense, culture is not only a reflection of the present but an ingraining of the past, and as a consequence, cannot objectively reflect on the problems of the environment - the society - that cultivates it. This symbiotic relationship between culture and civilization is also contained in Debord's comment that one cannot challenge an organization without challenging its medium of exchange - its language. Visually, Debord reinforces this idea of language as currency through repeated use of interstitial blank screens that suggest both the hollowness of the mediated image and its implicated role as an instrument of social whitewashing. Perhaps the most telling of this compromise is the refiguring of the concept of social gathering from a forum of interaction to a marketing tool for selling beverages and reinforcing the notion of public (and often commercial) spaces as venues for exchanging ideas.
However, mediated images are not only relegated to the fiction of commercial advertisement, revealing itself in the realm of non-fiction in the way a filmmaker defines the scope of a documentary, where the subject is strategically (if arbitrarily) bounded into titrated, consummable sub-doses of a larger, unfilmable reality - a correlation that is reinforced through a similar suturing of a white screen with documentary footage of "real life". Within this paradigm, filmmaking - whether fiction or non-fiction - may also be seen as inherently a construction that, like the urban landscape, is created in the image of the society that consumes it, and therefore, is a tainted medium for creating social revolution. Rather than breaking away from the cinèma de papa that a liberation of cinema represents, the liberation of society requires the destruction of cinema itself as an enabling medium of social language, dismantling an apparatus of projected ideals in exchange for the tabula rasa of an amorphous and indefinable social ideal.