geometry as feeling

 

While there is great attention paid to cultural and technological processes of popular ‘action’ films and media in studies today, I believe it is still the assumption that ‘non-narrative’ scenes should be awarded more symbolic value than metaphoric. Supposedly they represent what ‘sells’, what captures the attention of ‘mass-markets’ and is ‘formulated’ to provoke trained responses. What concerns me is whether these statements encapsulate action choreography’s intentions, for in texts where it does it becomes a troubling tool of Hollywood spawned businesses, not only for its immediate financial return but in its dictation of what genres are suited for classes of audience. If it is the power to associate the representation of physicality as mere fantasy then the purpose of our basic biology is detourned into a simulatory business loop. Alternatively the visual representation of movement onscreen may be awarded a multiplicity of readings and allowed to signify its own independently governed physical worlds.

            This article will be a short review of expressive themes in metaphors of visual movement. It will attempt to place them in some context of narration and determine what Hollywood inspired devices exist to separate the two and place constraints on adaptability of technology and representations of imagination. Depatures from the observable physics of filmed world as illustrated in hand-drawn animation will serve to highlight mental recogntion of visual and geometric metaphors as an alternative to its symbolism within social and cultural phenomena implicating the viewer’s immersion into otherwise private worlds.

            The use of language usually implies the prescription of efficiency in the current communication. Whether passed down through historically driven rules or implied through the logical choice of associations, this efficiency itself is a value communicated to the listener along with the ‘content’ of its encryption. The phenomenon then of ‘data’ compressed into highly readable symbols is not lost on media artists who gain reputation and cultural capital through demonstrating their ability to manipulate visual images and montage to communicate ideas that in everyday life are usually constrained to verbal code in less-efficient dialogue between audience members. Since this is such a departure from the norm a token amount of viewer attention is usually awarded to such scenes in film and media. These artists, after all, are assumed to be specialists in this field of communication who invest private time into displaying polished public products. In the corporate battle, audiences attempt to be best informed as to which pieces to watch and how to interpret them best so as to not stray from the socioeconomic times existing outside the of theatre. Producers attempt to weave a maze with singular goals only at the exit so that funding may be continuous to see out the end of possiblities of the technique by implying there can be no better ‘complete’ representation of the base universal themes it prescribes through idealised goal-seeking methods of the heroes and heroines onscreen than what audiences and Hollywood is used to dealing with, that every release is a worthwhile confirmation of that eternal fact. Of course both behaviours bely the purpose of efficiency in communication. The viewer should not be wasting time. This condition cannot be met while they must pay attention to the boundaries created by investing companies between their product and the world around them.

            The language of visual representation then should not be distracting. It should not fulfill the agenda of any single investor in the medium, in punishing the viewer for living a life discontinuous with the aspirations of their interpretation as applied to role models around them. In this sense then, the role models on screen must acknowledge their language is detourned by base metaphoric formalas before they decide to exhibit unique properties. In this sense their individuality then becomes unconcerned by the possible cooincidents with theoretical frameworks since they already have made up their mind on what it is they want, or that as an agent to powerless to overlapping sources none of them perfectedly timed their appropriation of his/her mind. To soak up culturally aware icons of mythology and clinical methodology (outside intertexuality purposes) is to suggest that only one body at a time may take up this stage presence. In general, if the language is not open to more than revisitations by cultural and technological dialogue then it may as well never require the viewer’s presence. In some ways the efficiency of media representation is in the creation of signs for the viewer that what has been filled here by the detailed effort of producers is a story that through its demarkation of language is one extra reading that may be applied to previous texts and future ones, so that hopefully its detail may never need repeating again being implicit in the intertextuality of future representations.

            At this point I would like declare how this model may be directly analogous to visual representations used within such orientated film and media. Imagine the concept of a single text being a fork brancking in a given direction. If this is the ‘open’ model which lends its language and structure to any texts willing to subject themself to it then allow this fork to be translated along all axes of some archival space of media. Now consider what visual scenes might be included in this text. Should we have a character brandishing a huge weapon linearly exert energy into guiding it on to its target, or have only one bullet left and closing his/her eyes and firing and winning, this would barely be a fork and could be considered more of a straight line. Such a model may relate to other texts and fighting scenes but trivially since it employs a fundamental element of contact between two objects, i.e. being a straight line it can be superimposed on to any branch of any fork a text may choose to forge. In this since whatever detailed inscribed into the scene is simply luggage attached in almost all future texts no matter how that future evolves and cannot be said to convey ‘information’ significant in ratio to all the other straight lines in forks; if the viewer is to see this structure in every future text eventually it loses distinctiveness. Instead, should the character in fluid motion be simultaeneously opening and closing his or her avenues for pursuing the target by passing through cover and choosing a direction to appear behind it, propelling themself into the air and changing directional momentum by pushing against reappropriated environmental objects, feigning attacks by a variety of weapons, overshadowing the mindset of the target and to a degree the audience and only in the end narrowing down all of the combat options to the final choice evidenced by a split second framing of the character finding the right aiming position, we have a story information rich enough to allow that character to live through society after it. At each frame which reveals a decision made by the character, a change in path, a choice of target, a new branch is opened by the fork. This is to make no huge comment on what lies down that branch, but it is conceivably connected to the avenues the character continues to forge and deny. In fact, it is precisely by not commenting on what lies down the other avenues that the texts around it find some way to interact with the scene. On our space of text-archive which can translate this fork-structure parallel to or connected to scenes in other texts of similar scale and grant all the characters and stories the possibility in our processing of information that it is us, the viewer, who has actually been forced to make decisions with each opening and closing of avenues in the scene to accept that this character be allowed to be defined at all within our conception of a living entity in our own conception of physical space simply because we double guess exactly what that character does not know. What lies down those unchosen avenues are the ‘laws’ of physicality which allow the character to breathe and feel and the more of them which exist the more chance the viewer has at giving life-support to the character – through, of course, intertextual play. An all-knowing character simply is not feasible to conceptualise within the mind of anyone who considers that the state of this character knowing what would have happened without the viewer’s presence is unknowable. Finally, consider another visual option which omits all representation of the engagement, or only stills of the engagement at a handful of intervals, and opens up a chasm in temporality. the camera/frame will still be pointing at something and in some other way this will have to interpret the experience of time in relation to the significance of the encounter. This sort of intertextuality is calling on the dense representations of action scenes around it, working on a ‘high-level’ to piece together pre-made forks into a larger construct which through other appropriations of forks from other texts or from its own will offer a similar high-level fork to be examined against other texts with similar scales or as an enclosure for smaller ones. Though no decisions are evident on the mechanics of the engagement the signpost here is that commentary will be substituted in its place and the decisions then will rely on what impact this consequently has on the characters and story – the narration is still very much connected internally and in the presence of other texts.

            In all cases there is never a ‘necessity’ to convey information to the viewer through ‘brute-force’ representation of visual detail. Nonetheless there is a choice which leads to lack of information. Because this is not something which conditionally occurs by accident it becomes a tool of power relations and I believe can be read in the decisions of Hollywood-constructed formula. This is believe is the issue fundamental to the action genre as a means of reinforcing cultural stereotypes in that scene is created purposely lacking in decisions that the viewer is to look elsewhere – into the cultural signs onscreen – if they are determine its consistency with narrative/purpose. This may *sit in* for an ‘active’ participation however it will always be the last choice left with such a constructed scene and so a device which may be manipulated.

            If some models for intertextuality are so analytical as I have presented here, could this then bely the experience of communication which is the primary purpose of a text’s production? In trying to answer this I purposely expressed the intertextual models as direct analogies to what was represented visually in the film. This should represent the possibility of visual communication’s ability to encode within itself an installable interface fairly universal in its assumptions, opening with it the ability of action sequences to be openly linked narratively and with the viewer’s experience (and hence intertextually) with the decision to include each frame, and in this sense is a rich process of communication.

            One form which illustrates the theory behind recognition of visual metaphor by filtering out the immediacy of cultural symbolism is at animation. Created ‘from scratch’ it is a model of connecting representation directly with the artist’s ‘ideas’. Briefly I will add here one additional reason why cultural thematic background need not be a glaring distraction from the interpretation of visual metaphor; that death can symbolise more than biological end. ‘Action’ films traditionally incorporate the kinds of movement and implications of agency which I discuss in this essay however this is more of a stigma than prerequisite for composition. They come to mind for being a great resource of intertextual material including war films, cartoons, action games and media ‘reportage’ of historical and cultural physical conflict. The open model should not isolate other visual patterns from becoming recognisable and cross-referenced. Sport, digital space hacking  (like William Gibson’s sequences of ‘ICE’ penetration), illustrations of maths and physics and basically all material crafts (cooking!) have implicit methodologies of efficiency illustrated within them. Although they may be read as allusions to situations of greater magnitude (cooking?), if these are to ellicit similar responses then this would support the idea that the visual model embeds with it concepts of information relay detached from cultural and technological symbolism.

            Strictly this is the assumption behind all interpretation of animation when identifying ‘life’ within its artificial representations. However this leads to some free interpretation of what happens between the register of ‘picture’ in the mind to ‘object’. Specifically there is much one can do to reverse engineer the cultural/semantic meaning of drawn objects, bullets and explosions no longer mirror pure representations but can be accepted as wild and fantastic shapes and colours along mathematical pathways. If this were to be perceived during the experience of filmed space then it would somewhat detract from the ‘photo-realistic narrative’ condition the characters were in. This association then is the form of visual communication, a simultaneous journey and creation for the viewer as it was for the artist:

 

“For art (true art) artificially returns the viewer to the stage of sensuous thought – which is also the stage of a magical relationship with nature. When you achieve, for example, a synthetic blending of sound and image – you have subjected the viewer’s perception ot hte conditions of sensuous thoughts, where synthetic perception is the only kind possible – there is not yet any differentiation of percpetions, and our viewer is ‘rebuilt’ in accord with norms not of the present, but those of primordially sensuous perception – he is ‘returned’ to the conditions of the magical stage of experience the world, and an Idea, carried by means of such a system of influence, given form through such means – irresistibly controls emotion.” [1]

 

            In one sense the simplification of hand-drawn animation is an artist’s ‘filter’ to what thematic details should best represent the text. Construction-wise, this involves circling imagination around the eyes, sharpness of facial features; in a sense, our gaze saturates around the enclosed boundaries of these parts and collects at sharp corners like liquid. Accute and sometimes painful empathy can be made with any supposed awareness of a character of themself by questions of aesthetics. The flat shades of colour around line-art become the well from which all of our unfocused ideas of physicality and movement can be drawn out at will according to what the artist is illustrating in his/her boundaries between each polygon. It becomes clear that our everyday conception of physicality is in many ways ‘overdetermined’, not only due to psychological perception cues like convergence and closure but in the very solidness of dimensional form itself. We choose a convenient number of degrees of freedom to picture where this object is heading or how it will next reconfigure but when the story is instead being told to us issues of accuracy fade away and animation in its 2D depiction demonstrates that we only need reference symbols to mark states of transformation in order to analyse the decision making of each character. Sequence-wise, an artist may choose to exaggerate the focus of a character’s hair-flow in the wind, ascribing detail to that animation only with the rest of the scene still as a means of portraying a character’s consciousness or imply what parts of it they cannot reveal. Or, should more ‘effort’ be used to animate several parts of a scene simultaneously a dynamism is set-up between objects within a scene. These are the ways in which the visual language limits its vocabulary within any particular scene so that the viewer engage with their own background. This is a narration outside of textual narrative and breaks realist conventions of character singularity.

            As a minimalist technique then animation faces the same dilemmas outlined in the preceding model of intertextual sequencing – a generalisation of detail renders the scene invisible in the face of its countless incorporations in everyday movement. The intent of animation is not simply a matter of assimilation if it can produce consciousness towards its decisions of what is namely style. Experimentation with the form can produce exaggerated effects which inform the viewer ahead of the frame which direction an object is travelling, or produced a multiple possibilities as to its origins. Rather than attempt to assimilate all derivative paths of motion animation employs the overdetermination of frame to assume that the basic physical mechanics are well known to the viewer and focuses its extra detail on contextualising the characters’ presences within the scene.

            A short corollary in computer games – for the near future the state of technology will place constraints on what kind of models can be represented in 3D space. Games which ignore the the model of the exterior physical world around us and create texture and lighting effects which make the world look internally coherent manage to make the game look ‘stylised’. This can appreciate our acceptance since we won’t be distracted by attentions to detail in our mental expectations, and at the same time get to use our experience during the interaction to process our ideas in a framework which clearly saves people time in having to piece together themselves and yet can’t be accesssed in many other areas of the physical world.

            In employing the models of self-imposed limitations and uniqueness a demonstration of the sense extracted from the vivid style in an episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) can be made:

            Of all the choices available to it, the giant Eva unit crawls out of the geofront. We allow this, it is a walking empathetic being, and we are not going to let all of the considerations brewed during our education about machines stop this robot from looking around and investigating and changing directions and circling its gearbox. New life is on the prowl. As we watch this thing, every new move is an instinct refound, for how else to explain the prediction of leg servos absorbing the massive impact of jumping around, the concentrated effort of throwing a punch drawing energy until it can be unleashed at the last moment. The latency of a being’s movements tells all the stories. There is a sadness in the inevitability of its next move just as it is inevitable that the monster forced to be by itself during that delay before the instant it lashes out with its limbs. To be ‘in the rhythm’, in the channel of repetitive moments, to be by one’s self again, and again, and again, watching the land before you tear apart. This is the story the Evas communicate to us, it is a generalised silence that refused to be stopped by the generalised capacity of us viewers to grope the implications of a machine’s place on the field. It’s identity is formed by its pauses. And the design of its sinewy limbs only ‘stretches’ out this confession by the monster, Eva. They act like a questioning child when they have to bear the weight of the massive alien dropping from the sky. They ran so fast to get there and are immediately asked to follow up with my strenuous exercise. Why? Who is watching me, they may as well think. And for us viewers, the question becomes does the image of controlled robot become shattered in representations like Evangelion?

            Before I depart from animation as an example of form I would like to parallel the viewership of animation with the decision to theorise academically. The lack of realist physical representation in animation implies processes of psychological interpretation. The moment we recognise our perception is constrained to ourself alone we acknoweldge the instantaneous multitude of other indivduals’ experiences which will be equivalently complete. What are the odds of us recognising the same emotions from simply drawn images? How is it that we can extract a wealth of temporal information from a scene involving four frames? All of these questions points to a dynamic involvement of the mind not only piecing together the origins of its individual development but the co-existence of others who send messages that their history is built with the same code. With each ‘new’ re-simplified image don’t we have a chance of going further ‘back’ in that code’s upbringing? In this sense creative and minimalist form imply the same collection of thoughts about ‘progress’ as any external theory could.

            As an abstract conceptualisation of visual movement geometric metaphors can be identified as the mechanism with which feeling and empathy is recognised. Whether they should resemble anthropomophic movement or fractal recursion there is an innate consciousness made to mathematics in the rationale of desire. An arm reaching for an object can be exaggeratedly drawn taking a roundabout shape to create sense of the temporality of  a character’s pre-awareness and anticipation of imagined fulfilment. The motion of a jump may be sequenced in logarhythmic time to alternate states of deterministic consequence and ‘heightened’ decision-making awareness. An enemy mechanoid employing various calibre devices to deal with a library of situations is perceived as either a well-thought out or naturally evolved inhabitant of the playing field. An unfolding origami-style hexagonal entity conveys some sense of how it travels through space and makes its environmental assessment. Through sufficient demonstration of a character’s conceptial grasp for efficiency in physics, a pause in the midst of action can allude to all of them in the latent decision-making process. Many action anime like Cowboy Bebop (1998) and Ghost in the Shell use these examples. In essence, it is the geometry of movement’s mechanism which is behind the efficiency/suitability of an object and in a sense becomes the appraisal of the viewer as to how quickly they are being fed information. The ecstacy of ‘good character design’ or ‘good choreography’ can be a manifestation of the short timespan required for the mathematical possibilities at stake to be acknowledged by the scene. Similarly it can generalise the action beyond screentime communicating a sense of the narrative history and space instantly. Though also a byproduct of psychological cues the innate pattern recognition of audiences allows their ‘identification’ with screen to be mediated by possibilities of mathematical coherence as well as entropic ‘informational sources’ on a latent level of recognition, audiences can take the form of geometric shapes so that they may ‘enter’ the logical space and witness and interpret events on the narrative’s level. Subsequently they may choose to ascribe the geometric details on to their own physical forms to abstractly question how it might feel for a human body to find a way to be put through such motions. The indication of any sort of applied geometry to the ‘problem’ is a cue that the scene is a product (manufactured or otherwise) of naturalised drama, an investment of the time and effort of the producers, and in this sense geometrical metaphors as statements of self-prescribed efficiency can be connected with emotion.

            Aeon Flux can be heralded as an extremely self-aware philosophical treatise on the geometric influences of the environment on our perception. In particular the series exceeds at generalising ‘compressed’ senses of time through its interaction with causal geometrised space; in essence narration and spacetime become one knowledge with the viewer as pieces together implications of a scene’s past and future. In the opening to Aeon Flux’s video releases the character is descending through a shaft weaving through security traps. The speed with which she makes her moves from one platform to another is suggestive of Aeon’s ‘immersion’ into the environment, and the frames which we see of her mid-leap, body twisted and legs stretched perform an identifer of efficiency in the agent’s deployment. The point though is to show how she has not ‘blindly’ been inserted into the scene, as the various traps in the shaft are having an effect on her trajectory implying that she has not painstakingly avoided any influence of the environment but somehow has assessed its threat potential and been satisfied that she can enjoy some leeway in carelessness so that the environment ‘naturally’ slow-down the increased speed she gains at the expense of safety considerations. As the security system ensnares Aeon in a web at the very bottom of the shaft she is caught hanging neatly above the platform on which she wished to set her bomb. Time is literally stretched out to focus on being present when causality’s rate of approach is slowest at the very point it is nearest. All of the scene’s sequences and motivations become channeled into one and there no longer is any way to read the history ‘separate’ from its destination. Note also that this is specific information demonstrated as a result of narrative and natural processes and not as a segregated suggestion by the text. This is a complete defeat of any external agency by assimilating it into the framework of destination and evolution and is conveyed to the viewer exactly because it describes Aeon’s condition, having no place to actually ‘go’ and not even any freewill to improve the efficiency of her undertakings, she simply is made to ‘be’ but in the surrealist aesthetic of movement. Through the series we see neatly executed backflips into tiny slots, dislocations of artificial spines to weave through fences and recursive dilemmas outlining Aeon’s futile agency on the field. Another Aeon Flux short has her infiltrate an alien base, and having established that she is familiar in hurdling through complex cage-like patterns of obstacles in her training shows her being discovered by a spider-like alien who proceeds to shut off her exit with a similar cage of metal bars shot out from the corridor walls. With a smug expression Aeon re-establishes her proficiency in navigating the cage as the alien is left behind half-impressed for a second. We then see the aliens long legs put into action as it runs through the cage ‘web’ transparently and devours the main character. Despite our ideas and decisions in configuring scenarios the infinitely scalable nature of geometric design never allows us to triumpth over what can be communicated between perceptions. It is evident that after painstaking detail worked on geometrical recognisability and its successful parsing into viewer awareness, ‘knowing’ all the rules to the game yet still identifying an additional narrative space with questions of their own only speculates some ‘creativity’ beyond that which can be coherently (physically) ‘described’.

            Pattern recogntion here does not end with low-level mathematical rules but can be analogised to any academic spatial models, from Freudian (ego, super-ego) to physical (Pauli exclusion principle, Heisenberg uncertainty principle and quantum behaviour) each with their own ‘emotional’ implications. In general, visual media shares the same ‘open’ gateways as all metaphorical languages such as these; ‘classical’ narration could not exist without an interpretation of the circuits made through these various levels and the loss of originality with generalised logical systems and viewer-specific background determining the recognition of these high-level metaphors suggests narration’s situation within an intertexual and postmodern framework.

            Although I have outlined mechanisms with which visual forms can ‘overlap’ intertextually  they similarly describe formulas to close narrative by appealing to universalised (in this case ‘rational’) generalisations. The attempt to communicate an implied universal amount of information betrays continuity with the interpretation of narration to that point and will in some way by exhibited by a pause in the viewer.

 

“Thus, positive reception of the films of mainstream digital cinema depends as much on a fascinated spectator, immersed in dazzling and ‘spellbinding’ imager, as on identification with character and the machinations of plot and theme... If, ultimately, the spectacular aspect has always been viewed as subordinate to and in a sense subject to the control of a repressive narrative logic, this is precisely because spectacle is, in many respects, the antithesis of narrative. Spectacle effectively halts motivated movement. In its purer state it exists for itself, consisting of image whose main drive is to dazzle and stimulate the eye (and by extension the other senses).[2]

 

            It is true that spectacle is beyond efficiency (being geometrically inspired by division by zero) and causes disjuncture in narrative invitation. However it is a model contextualised again and again and due to this repeated usage has an extreme role in altering the duration of screentime over the body of media as a whole, should self-conscious examples spend time to foregrounding themselves in the viewer’s eye and so on. This has implications in the efficiency of the visual model as a distraction from the cross-referencing process.

            I believe the phenomenon of visual illusion (spectacle) has created a stuttering point in attempts to link imagery with cultural reference. This, like the dominance of action genre in ‘visual concept’ films, may be symptomatic of producers’ hesitations towards geometric metaphor playing the sole premise as described earlier. To ignore metaphorical narrations and treat violence as token symbolism of current social structure is to leave the viewer saddened that it might equate to entertainment and will either be expressed through distrust being so removed from everyday life (paternal/maternal model) or change of subject in conversations. Action genres then become literarily classified or privately entertaining. Either way this is not a reading which examines transcultural exchange. I will cite one more reading in this vain of thematic incompatibility with visual stimulus and suggest a counterpoint the argument.

 

The term “state of the art,” applied to science-fiction films, refers to effects. There’s no state of the art of storytelling, only different storytellers... Even in anti-technological moves such as THX 1138 and Silent Running, notes La Valley, wondrous special effects render their protests half-hearted, offering us such an intriguing spectacle of the new that the plight of the individual characters is subverted.[3]

 

            In Hoshi no Koe (2002), is the imagery the backdrop to the themes or are the themes a backdrop to the imagery, for the imagery is almost completely tied to character development and plot rather than to further the conception of scientific idea. High school, sunsets, streets, cockpit, these tell us about the places which we inhabit regardless of the ‘spectacle of theme’ and ultimately how it overpowers that which is universal in favour of what the individuals pilot in detailed space.

            Inside a designed space inner logic holds the ability to connect with any text that has been similarly coded and likewise connect to viewers’ ideas of how decisions imply possibilities rather than cut them off. Cultural symbolism then can only add to the narrative, not restrict it. The interpretations I have speculated come without unfolding the possibilities of surrealism as in Jan Svankmejer’s work or the diverse postmodern non-action genres of anime produced today such as FLCL (2000) or Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (1999). My reservation is made against the spectacular conversion of image into symbolism by means of depriving the image of narrative continuity, for this is a manufacturer of fashion. Ultimately movement can be freely interpreted as narration, for it is in the latency that all stories lie within.

 

 


Bibliography

 

Anderson, A., “Action in motion: Kinesthesia in martial arts films”, Jump Cut, no. 42, 1998

 

Darley, A., “The Waning of the Narrative”, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and ‘Spectacle in New Media Genres, Routledge, London 2000

 

Landon, B., The Aesthetics of Ambivalence, Greenwood Press, Westport & London 1992

 

O’Pray, M., “Eisenstein and Stokes on Disney: Film animation and omnipotence”, A Reader in Animation Studies, ed. Pilling, J., John Libbey & Company, Sydney 1997



[1] quoting Eisenstein, O’Pray, M., “Eisenstein and Stokes on Disney: Film animation and omnipotence”, A Reader in Animation Studies, ed. Pilling, J., John Libbey & Company, Sydney 1997, p200

[2] Darley, A, “The Waning of the Narrative”, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and ‘Spectacle in New Media Genres, Routledge, London 2000, p103

[3] Willis, D., “Variety: Complete Science Fiction Reviews”, quoted in Landon, B., The Aesthetics of Ambivalence, Greenwood Press, Westport & London 1992, p67,68

[4] Anderson, A., “Action in motion: Kinesthesia in martial arts films”, Jump Cut, no. 42, 1998, p1