Film

Authored by: Deborah Dixon

The Ashgate Research Companion to Media Geography

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409444015
eBook ISBN: 9781315613178
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042822

10.4324/9781315613178.ch2

 

Abstract

Scholars in disciplines such as media and film studies have time and again invoked a “geography of cinema,” by which is largely meant the political economic settings within which film is sponsored and produced, and the differential scales of activity exhibited by the entertainment industry, as well as the re-presentation of specific locations on screen, and the role of such scenes in setting the emotional tone for a character, culture, or plot device. Research emerging from geography, however, is arguably distinctive by virtue of the fact that “space” and “place” are at the forefront of their analyses, and, moreover, that film becomes a means of nuancing these terms, and of exploring new “spatial turns.” Certainly, and in concert with scholars outside of the discipline, geographers have looked to film as a case study, a metaphor, an analogy, a symptom, and a causal factor. But also, geographers have looked to cinematic film as a site for exploratory and innovative thought and practice around some of the discipline’s key terms, or “primitives.”

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Film

Introduction

Scholars in disciplines such as media and film studies have time and again invoked a “geography of cinema,” by which is largely meant the political economic settings within which film is sponsored and produced, and the differential scales of activity exhibited by the entertainment industry, as well as the re-presentation of specific locations on screen, and the role of such scenes in setting the emotional tone for a character, culture, or plot device. Research emerging from geography, however, is arguably distinctive by virtue of the fact that “space” and “place” are at the forefront of their analyses, and, moreover, that film becomes a means of nuancing these terms, and of exploring new “spatial turns.” Certainly, and in concert with scholars outside of the discipline, geographers have looked to film as a case study, a metaphor, an analogy, a symptom, and a causal factor. But also, geographers have looked to cinematic film as a site for exploratory and innovative thought and practice around some of the discipline’s key terms, or “primitives.”

In large part, this disciplinary interest is driven by a recognition of and desire to understand the “extent and reach” of cinema industries, its “globalizing” effects, and its role in “subject formation.” Whilst cinematic film as an object of analysis boasts numerous characteristics, there is no doubt that the primacy of the visual in all of these issues and more has also captured attention. Accordingly, whilst commentators have long bemoaned that for a quintessentially visual enterprise, geography is remarkably uncritical in regard to their own and others’ deployment of the image, at least one area of human geography has consistently addressed this very issue: cinematic geographies. This “minor” subfield has turned time and again on the question of how, where, and with what effect the image has helped to constitute, and confound, our own and others’ spatiotemporal imaginaries and materialities.

It is none too surprising, then, to find that some of the most contentious, as well as productive, conceptual lines of inquiry to emerge in geography have been played out within cinematic geographies. Some of these will be outlined below. It must also be recognised, however, that as with many topics considered to help comprise “popular culture,” there has also been a tendency within the discipline to eschew cinematic geographies as both marginal and ephemeral in comparison with the “real” terrain of (especially) economic and urban processes and practices (Aitken and Zonn 1994). Indeed, film itself has often been referred to as the “reel” counterpart to the “real” (e.g. Lukinbeal 1998; Zonn 1984; 1985). In arguing the case for the dissolution of such a distinction, numerous geographers have taken the opportunity to make a variety of conceptual points in regard to the mediated character of the “real” and the extratextual character of the “reel” (Benton 1995; Dixon and Grimes 2004; Gold 2002; Hanna 1996).

In this chapter, I provide an overview of the emergence of the cinematic geography subfield, noting a significant shift from film as a real-world mimetic, and hence useful teaching medium, to film as a complex social construct and material assemblage that “does work” on a variety of levels, from the ideological to the affective. Whilst providing a sense of the relevant literatures available, I also stress at key moments individual essays that speak to a conceptual, as well as methodological, engagement with space especially. I conclude the chapter by turning to current lines of inquiry that, whilst using film as an exemplar and symptom, promise to speak to broadscale debates across the geographic discipline.

An Emerging “Cinematic Geography”

Whilst film as a complex and important object of analysis became a feature of social theoretical writings early in the twentieth century – indeed, the early reach of the industry, and the societal impacts of film-watching, were taken by some as helping to define a “modern condition” (see Clarke 1997) – there is no doubt that within geography film was to become instrumentalized as a minor element in practitioners’ teaching strategies. The earliest disciplinary writings on film, for example, produced for the Geographical Magazine in the 1950s, were explicitly concerned with their utility as teaching aids, insofar as selected clips could re-present for students the “earth and its people” (Cons 1959; though see Sherman 1967). Indeed, film was superior to photographs in this regard, insofar as their capturing of movement as well as scenery would allow for an even more faithful experience of “being in the field” (Griffith 1953; Koval 1954; Manvell 1953; 1956a; Wright 1956; Knight, 1957). Some subsequent film analyses have echoed this concern over the fidelity of such representations, with a tendency to bemoan the “subjective” input provided by filmmakers, such that images are “distorted” and “misleading” (Liverman and Sherman 1985; Godfrey 1993). Whilst recognizing the pioneering work of Gold (1984; 1985), it is only since the 1990s – and in particular the publication of Aitken and Zonn’s (1994) genre-building, edited collection – that sufficient quantities of critically engaged research articles and books on this popular medium have been produced to allow for a disciplinary subfield to emerge.

Such efforts were very much influenced by broadscale debates within and without the discipline on the complex, socially constructed character of “popular culture” per se, and looked to interrogate film in terms of its content, form, and distribution, but also its efficacy as a particular medium of expression. Such efforts can be very loosely grouped into two bodies of literature and methodological practice. First, geographers already interested in ideological apparatuses turned to the work of the Frankfurt School, emerging in 1930s Germany, to understand the particular role of screened people and places, as well as the relationship established between the screen and the audience. The shooting as well as the content of such films, it was argued, more often than not served to divert attention away from the broader effects of the global capitalist system, such as a pervasive neoliberal discourse, toward viscerally exciting scenes of sex and violence, or a more benign concern with the melodramatic plight of the individual (Dixon 2008). What is more, it was argued, as people and place become part of cinematic production and screening, their individuality and uniqueness are subsumed. In response, some geographers were to urge the critical analysis of film as a consciousness-raising exercise (for example, Alderman and Popke 2002; Algeo 2007; Cresswell 2000; Lukinbeal 2002; Mains 2004; Youngs and Martin 1984). And yet, as Scott was to caution, with specific reference to the film industry, any analysis of culture as a matter of identity and power must take into account the potential for a heightened cultural differentiation, as well as a sustained resistance to a homogenized “cultural osmosis.” He writes,

Alongside the grim analyses of the Frankfurt School about the leveling and stupefying effects of capitalist culture we must set not only the resilient and creative reception that it encounters in many sorts of traditional cultures, but also the enlightening and progressive cultural forces constantly unleashed by capitalism. (1997: 15)

This more avowedly dialectical approach to screen-audience encounters certainly animated Harvey’s (1989) now iconic analysis of Blade Runner (1982), as well as Natter and Jones’s (1993) innovative analysis of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me (1989), which takes to task the role of General Motors in building, and then breaking, the town of Flint, Michigan. For Natter and Jones cinematic form as well as content is crucial, insofar as a documentary-style montage presentation does not sum up the tensions inherent in contemporary capitalism: instead,

It juxtaposes past and present, class perspectives of the rich and poor, views of capital as both a private and social power, and the seemingly impersonal laws of the economy against their personalized effects. The trope of irony which organizes the film’s stylistic juxtapositions does not permit a reconciliation of these differences, but instead exposes them as unresolved contradictions. It is between the positions thus revealed as unreconcilable that the viewer is forced to choose. (1993: 142)

Importantly, such a line of analysis can also burrow deep into the mythology of the film industry to uncover the embodied, labored production of filmmaking itself. Writing on the shooting of Walt Disney Studios’ live-action version of Rudyard Kipling’s: The Jungle Book in the city of Jodhpur, India, in the spring of 1994, for example, Robbins (2002: 160) observes how, “it is here, at the location of filming, where the industry acts in its economic and social moment, that the practices of colonialism, later encoded in film, are actually constituted.” Drawing on his own experiences as an extra on the set, Robbins describes the contempt for local people and place by imported US workers, and the broiling tensions emerging amongst the extras themselves, culminating in an attempted “strike.” In the following, we gain a sense of the banal bodily performances that enable such filming to take place, but also something of how the on-screen geographies of people and place that pop up on TVs across the globe, and in so doing appear to exist unto themselves, can be tracked back to a site-specific geography riven by all manner of tensions:

I suppose we should have all seen this coming. The extras had been meeting in the dining tent and planning a strike all night. The thought of all of those upper middle-class tourists going on the picket line for the first time, in India of all places, made me laugh. They complained about long hours and little respect. They go to all those movies and don’t seem to have any sense about Hollywood hierarchy. I must admit it is frightful seen in close-up. They were looking for a volunteer to represent them but I stayed well clear of that. Most vocal of all was this thick-necked, sort of dim, bullyboy with a strained cockney accent who had “had enough of these American bastards” pushing him around. He sprang on the guy between shots, while they were clearing the floor. His target was a belligerent big guy with a bellowing American voice and a pony-tail. When he wrapped himself around the guy’s neck, he was hollering “come on London boys!” trying to rally some kind of mass attack, but no one budged. The two of them were just spinning around in the middle of the courtyard, in a sweaty violent dance. By the time it happened we were all too exhausted to do anything, anyway. We just sat back, lounging in a wide circle. It seemed to go on forever. I suppose we all hoped they’d just kill one another. Some of the larger gaffers eventually pulled the two apart and then hauled the insurgent from the set. Someone turned on that Strauss Waltz, the one we’ve have been hearing all week and I was getting pretty sick of by this point, and the crew set up for the next shot, as if nothing had happened. (2002: 171)

Such a tracking back and forth between the on-screen and the offscreen, as well as the emphasis upon “revealing” such linkages, can be contrasted with the second body of literature to emerge. The increasing prevalence of post-structural theories in the 1990s had significant repercussions for how some geographers approached film as a site wherein meanings were articulated and disseminated. Largely concerned with debunking the truthstatus underlying key philosophical and scientific framings of the world, such efforts sought to bring to light the manner in which seemingly fixed and inviolate foundational terms – presence, essence, existence, cause, origin, substance, subject, truth, God, and “man,” – were necessarily related to a host of other discursive referents that gave them shape and import. Whilst geographers were also concerned with the relation between the on-screen and the offscreen, these boundaries were to be subsumed within a broader analysis of how particular objects, from bodies to landscapes, were highly complex, polycentric entities. Not only is their meaning and valence constructed via a range of discourses, but these discourses are themselves brought to bear though a range of mediums, from the eye to the camera. As Aitken and Dixon summarize these efforts,

To be sure, the camera records mass and motion, but the nature of those objects that appear off the screen is firmly located in the world of meaning. Similarly, the nature of those objects that appear on screen are just as embedded in social meaning. Accordingly, film geographers … look at: (1) how particular meanings are indeed ascribed to people and place as they appear on screen. This requires an appraisal of how cinematic techniques are used to present action, narrative and emotion. And (2), how the meanings of those people and places on-screen interconnect with meanings established through other mediums, including actually being ‘in’ a particular place. (2006: 327)

Whilst such an approach is predicated upon the differentially constructed character of objects, it must be acknowledged, however, that geographers have tended to focus on one such medium – the film camera – to the isolation of others. The motivation here is very much a matter of deconstructing how the film camera works to produce a particular spatiality on screen, by which is meant the relations between people and things, as well as between components of each such that particular meanings and emotions are evoked. Certainly, a slew of analyses have emerged that seek to interpret how various meanings are indeed evoked by particular filmic contents and techniques, such as jump-cuts that fracture space (Aitken and Lukinbeal 1997; 1998; Lukinbeal and Aitken 1998; Kirsch 2002), the juxtaposition of protagonists and landscapes (Bain 2003; Eriksson 2010; Fish 2007; Jansson 2005; May 2010; Selby and Dixon 1998), and even the invocations of racial othering and social distance afforded by lighting effects (Farish 2005; Natter 2002). Clearly, the space of a shot, or how the frame holds the action, is of great import to film narrative, sequence, and rhythm. In addition, camera techniques such as panning, tilting, and tracking define not only the space of the image but also perceptual position and perspective.

A prime example is Brigham and Marston’s (2002) “reading” of two Los Angeles–based films, Mi Vida Loca (1993) and Terminator 2 (1991) as expressing a millennial (post)modernity, including “the access, negotiation and endangerment of places: perceptions of placelessness and dislocation, and the fundamental importance of gender, race, ethnicity, and class to the construction of landscapes” (2002: 226). The task becomes one of decoding the iconography of each film in terms of camera shots, use of lighting and color, sound, and so on. These are firmly tied to an evocation of meaning, as the following quote, wherein the opening shots of each film are discussed, illustrates:

Terminator 2’s first image is of a L.A. freeway, overwhelmed by a sea of cars, with the passengers all trapped, exposed, and, perhaps most significantly, cut off from any perceptible destination or direction. The image cuts to one of “L.A. 2029 A.D.” where the landscape stretches into a vast wasteland, devoid of life. These aerial long shots of the freeway and the apocalyptic future landscape minimize human presence, figuring L.A. as an alienating space, reduced to the blue-black of ruin and the red of perpetual fire. Its particular condition is an outcome of global war, suggesting that this landscape is representative of a universal condition. Conversely, Mi Vida Loca’s opening sequence registers a different use of scale. The shot selection consists of close ups and medium shots that pan the landscape from within the city. The camera tracks the Echo Park barrio from ground level starting at the level of a car’s tires moving from the street to the cemetery to a string of stores with signs in Spanish and English. The camera gives us a vivid pastiche of the particular places that codify and coordinate this very specific landscape. Unlike Terminator 2, the pace is quick, indicating there is activity and life. The different shot angles are at a different scale, a “local” scale, emphasized even by the disorientating effect that could be caused by this cluster of shots.” (2002: 232)

Underpinning much of this work is an interest in querying the power relations behind the production of such meaning, wherein it is argued that some notions of what people and place are like have become much more “taken for granted” than others. The pervasive characterization of Nature as feminine and an encroaching society as masculine, for example, has been the subject of research in film geography (Lukinbeal 2005), as has the scripting of particular landscapes with a geopolitical edge (Crampton and Power 2005). The argument is made that these meanings are much more complex than prevailing cinematic representations of them; but also, that because films are read over and against other forms of representation, these are open to continual transformation such that “dominant” and “marginal” representations are in continual flux (Aitken 1994; Craine and Aitken 2004). Akin to Scott’s argument, noted earlier, on the dialectic nature of film, such representations can even be read as temporary resolutions that, when subject to critical scrutiny, reveal their fraught construction. And so Mains (2004b: 253), for example, in interrogating the discursive construction of the US-Mexico border, looks to how,

the creation of border narratives in cinema is interwoven with efforts to define space, place, and identity … [‘border films’ are] a means by which mainstream tropes of ‘Southern’ US regional identities are represented through anxieties over boundaries, tensions that at times provide challenges to dominant representations, particularly within more recent filmic renderings. (e.g. Lone Star [1996])

More recently, this line of inquiry has opened out into a discussion of how the meanings of those diverse places within which film-watching occurs – the cinema, the home, the car, and even the bus/train via the mobile phone – are themselves transformed though the practice of film-watching, a practice that is just as much about hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling as it is about spectatorship (Crang 2002; di Palma 2009; Hubbard 2003; Nicholson 2002; 2006; Tranter and Sharpe 2011). An excellent “harbinger” of this line of inquiry is provided by Smith’s (2002) exploration of the manner in which Robert Flaherty’s classic documentary Nanook of the North was exhibited in diverse venues in the decades following its 1922 release. In addition to the screening of various combinations of footage and voice-over narration, these exhibitions demonstrated considerable ingenuity in their efforts to engage the cinematic audience in a full-on sensory experience. Asserting the importance of “other Nanooks” circulating outside of the screened image, Smith details how,

Pathé Pictures produced a Nanook of the North to be shown in the theater, and a pre-packaged “campaign book” featuring posters and window displays, suggestions for press releases, and recommendations for local “tie-in” activities. To encourage local businesses to publicize Nanook of the North, the campaign book promoted “shop tie-ups” such as Nanook mannequins and igloos in shop windows, in addition to hiring someone to dress “like an Eskimo” and stroll about town with a sled on wheels. Movie exhibitors were encouraged to decorate their lobbies with arctic-like artifacts; it was suggested they “get the Eskimo atmosphere.” (2002: 112)

What is more, each exhibition was received in a differential, critical context. Whilst 1922 reviewers hailed the arrival of a new cinematic phenomenon – “the unfolding of the reality of a ‘natural man’ locked in a tragic struggle with the environment,” as Smith (2002: 101) puts it, a view echoed by Manvell (1956b) – by the late 1970s and the early 1980s the “innocent” filmmaker was firmly implicated within the context of the fur industry as well as the imagecrafting traditions of Hollywood.

Taken together, a readily observable feature of this line of inquiry is the tendency to mark a distinction between the terms re-presentation and representation, thereby critiquing a traditional tendency for the former to indicate the impossible, namely, capturing and reflecting – as in confining and mirroring – a real world referent in thought, language, and visual media. Yet, what was arguably brushed over in such work was an accompanying post-structural emphasis upon how such foundational terms also performed as pivots for an apparently all-pervasive discourse that sought to “name” all there was to the world. Whilst scholars interpreted the term discourse far beyond speech to include the inscription of social relations (and thereby the exercise of power) on and through the body itself, for example, this was very much a matter of assuming bodily behaviors and routines to be both intelligible and subject to interpretation, as with any other semiotic system. It is no small wonder, then, that for some film geographers the various concepts and ideas brought together under the rubric of “non-representational geographies” were an opportunity to rework film not so much as an object of analysis but as a complex site of assemblage, wherein various affects were engineered (Clarke 2010; Clarke and Doel 2005; 2007) and mobilized (Aitken 2009; Curti 2008; 2009; Lorimer 2010; Olund 2012).

To a large extent, this work has been inspired by a Deleuzian ontology that describes, not a world of similarities shared by static objects, but rather one in which all of materiality is continuously moving, mutating, and transforming, differentiating even from itself in a constant process of becoming. Aitken (2006: 494) provides a summary of Deleuze’s key points on cinema, which is dominated by a “moving-image” comprising,

(i) the perception-image that focuses on moving me from indistinguishable knowledge at the periphery of my universe to a central subjective perception, (ii) the action-image that is part of me perceiving things here at the center of my universe and then grasping the ‘virtual action’ that they have on me … and (iii) the affection-image … [The latter is a] movement of expression that carries stories between different levels of articulation; for example, between the embodied and the visceral, the moral and the valued, the mythic and actual.

For Aitken (2006), it is the visceral experience of watching scenes of masculine heroics, and in particular the tortured masculine face of Mel Gibson in Braveheart (1995), that is of interest insofar as it is this affect that allows for particular moral messages concerning the nature of good and evil to be proffered.

An extended example of this line of inquiry is provided by Aitken and Dixon’s (2011) exploration of the violent, oil-rich Western There Will Be Blood (2007), a film that has often been described as an incisive indictment of capitalist exploitation of both land and labor. They suggest that whilst it is tempting to consider how the screened image is “deterritorialized through the camera lens only to be reterritorialized with ideological intent through a variety of film-making techniques, from juxtaposition and ‘point-of-view’ and ‘establishing’ shots to lighting, sound, and narrative,” that this practice glosses over the shifting, mobile affect of such spectacles. Hence,

Films, buildings, plans, and other geovisual data are always representations, but they are also more than representation. And it is with this in mind-from the affective-that subversive feminist cartographies enable an opening of the political that is also and at the same time intimate and personal. With the movie over, we reflect on connections, rewind the moments that pulled us into new spaces of intimacy and appreciation. We discuss the anger, the fear, the love; we embrace the affective localities and reinvent the moving landscapes into something we use. We create a mapping of our own moving pictures: an intimate geography, a fragile landscape with political muscle. (2011: 203–4)

Here, then, is a geography encountered from the perspectives of movement and force relations: rather than structured, whole objects (the human, the screen, the film, the camera, and so on), there are continuously interconnecting multitudes of partial objects affecting and being affected by other partial objects, constituting – if only for a moment – assemblages that appear to cohere by working together, or initiating processes that are specific to that relation. Emotions, such as fear, excitement, boredom, and so on, are not the properties of individuals, but emerge from this process, and can be more usefully described as that part of affect that is recognised viscerally as well as intellectually. And so for Carter and McCormack (2006), for example, the visceral upheaval encountered by watching war movies such as Black Hawk Down (2001) does some form of work, principally, they argue, in regard to decontextualizing and downsizing war to (now nongeopolitical) individual heroics and terrors.

Future Directions

Whilst cinematic geographies remains a minor subfield, there is no doubt that film as an object of inquiry strikes a chord with geographers interested in all manner of economic, political, and cultural topics, insofar as film becomes a vehicle for the representation of these to a wide-ranging audience. Hence, while there are relatively few who would claim to be “film geographers” first and foremost, there are many who have written on film at some point in their career. Having said that, one can still discern an interest in film as a means of “pushing” broader-scale thinking on the nature of space. As a means of concluding this chapter, then, I want to identify two such lines of inquiry that have recently emerged, and that look set to provide food for thought for future efforts within but also beyond the subfield.

First, it is possible to discern the description of filmmaking, distributing, and viewing as a complex “site,” a term that has been recently deployed by some geographers as a means of denoting the composition of a flat, rather than scalar, ontology. Again inspired by a largely Deleuzian philosophy, work here seeks to portray sites as immanent (that is, selforganizing) event-spaces dynamically composed of bodies, doings, and sayings. These sites are differentiated and differentiating, unfolding singularities that “hang together” through the congealments and blockages of force relations, affording a distinct assemblage to emerge and reemerge. For Marston et al. (2007), Nollywood – in spite of its nickname – is usefully understood as just such a singularity, insofar as,

Unlike Hollywood, video films in Nollywood are made quickly, recorded on video equipment, and marketed directly to the consumer, initially on videocassettes and more recently in digital format. From the moment the camera begins to produce footage, a very different product is being created that possesses a visuality significantly different from more mainstream cinematic products. In addition, the representations of their content, the action and stories they record, derive from a range of video practices that are particular to Nollywood …. There are no national tours where stars hawk their new video films. But there are magazines, billboards, radio and television advertisements, as well as Lagos television shows devoted entirely to publicizing the video films and movie posters plastered throughout the city to advertise their upcoming releases. (2007: 54)

Other than emphasize the ontological diversity underpinning contingency, however, it is unclear at the moment as to what this particular empirical example adds to prior geographic analyses of emerging film economies (see also Featherstone’s critique, 2011). Nevertheless, film, perhaps because of its highly complex architecture of vision, once again provides the grounding for debates around geography as the study of relations between things; in this case, how we might theorize how noncompossible yet highly significant fragments are placed over and against each other.

An alternate discussion of site that does move beyond film as an extended example, however, is provided by Shaw (2010), who infuses the term with the notion of “event,” as outlined by Badiou. Here, film is a specific yet thoroughly intertextual component of popular culture capable of presenting the “cinematic idea”; this is the articulation of a paradox – namely the simultaneous appearance of the finite, which promises closure, and the infinity of being, which promises excess. Using the animated film WALL-E (2008) as an analogy, Shaw draws out the shock of encounter as, first, the singular hero’s lonely world of terrestrial reclamation is made anew by the discovery of a growing plant and the arrival of an EVE (or, “Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator”), and then, second, as the scruffy WALL-E (or, “Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class”) inserts himself into the clean, cosmic environment of Axiom, a spaceship that has allowed humanity to escape the polluted consequence of its actions. Each encounter draws attention to the beingness of a site that,

is “autonomous”. Unlike other multiples in a world that are indexed against the transcendental – indeed require the transcendental for their own worldy appearance – the site indexes itself, and is therefore autonomous and singular with respect to the world it finds itself placed within …. because the site is autonomous, it follows that it is inexistent with respect to the world: it is invisible to the transcendental …. the appearance of the site causes a world to reconstitute its transcendental because it is unable to absorb the ontological excess of the site. That is to say, the appearance of the site is the eventual subversion of appearing by being. The dialectic between appearing and being, or world and site, is the source of political torsion for Badiou, and in the movie WALL-E it is our metallic hero’s encounter with the world of the Axiom that animates this dialectic. (2010: 398)

For Shaw, if philosophy be a form of cinema for Badiou, then this is because philosophy itself “can only be understood as splayed across lived geographies Real and representational, and its ideas; as impure travellers in uncertain animations” (2010: 395). Moreover, this splayed geography makes us aware of the “topological relations that cinema feeds upon, distorts, and distributes” (ibid.), a point that takes us to a second line of recent inquiry.

The term “topology” has come to denote, for geographers, a “stretching” and “folding” of space that brings points into proximity, thereby allowing connections to be made between people and things. The “bodies” that constitute ontology are not contained within rigid time spaces, nor are they constituted as self-sufficient, self-reproducing entities. Rather, bodies are ‘stretched’ across space and time as they incorporate and shed energy and materials, and as they are affected in diverse ways by the environments they inhabit and traverse. There is no one set of connections, or network, along which this stretching occurs. Rather, and by virtue of its many re-assemblings, bodies are embedded in diverse networks, each constituted from other organisms and technologies, and each with its particular velocity, or speed, in relation to others. These networks cross over each other, fold and ‘scrumple’ as each constituent part is similarly stretched out.

Grounding their discussion via the “hyperlink cinema” of Steven Soderbergh, as well as a “haptics” of cinema viewing (Crang 2002) and the “intimate” philosophy of Luce Irigaray, Dixon and Jones (2012) observe that what is missing from such accounts is an “ontology of touch” that might account for and simultaneously “ground” topological geographies, lest they become one more imaginary spatiality. By its very name, an ontology of touch would focus on the material connections among mobile bodies; that is, the manner in which various materials and forces rub up against each other, interpenetrate, and reassemble at various speeds and intensities, such that diverse proximities and distances, contacts and connections are made and remade. Watching Contagion (2011), they note that,

There is a strong yet flat emphasis on networks throughout the narrative, during which the virus enters an already thoroughly interconnected socio-environmental-technological space, moves rapidly across transportation routes and the hosts and things that traverse them, and produces more networks as it stretches across space and time …. This stretched and scrumpled space is confirmed by a particular, visual repertoire. On-screen shots of computer-generated maps, with their emerging epicentres and lines of flow, appear intermittently; more often, we see footage of objects being touched by fingers, or people being coughed upon. To be sure, scenes show the ‘global’ spread of disease as a set of rapid flows – primarily as hosts move within and between cities – but these are constantly being interrupted, exceeded, overwhelmed by other points of connection, each of which becomes yet another epicentre. Slick surfaces are crucial points of passage, as the virus spreads from mouth to hand to object and back again. Contagion thus maps a viral topology that stretches and folds back on itself time and again.

In similar vein, Secor dwells on the feel as well as the imagery of The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Midnight in Paris (2011), and Inception (2010), insofar as “These films [can] be said to tap into our experience of the city as topological” (2013: 431). For Secor, however, it is the “topological subject,” following Lacan, rather than Deleuzian multiplicities, that is of interest; here, topological figures exhibit a twisting that constantly interiorizes the exteriors of subjects and exteriorize their interiors. And so Inception, for example, hinges upon the making “real” of a dream space, wherein,

Ariadne is the architect; that is, she is the one who designed the dream space, and so she experiments with her power by folding the city in two. The city that she appears, in the scene, to inhabit is thus inhabiting her; it is both interior and exterior to her. And given that Cobb is there with her (and his presence is not merely apparent – like the apparition of his dead wife that stalks his unconscious – but actual), this insideout city exceeds Ariadne’s subjectivity. Indeed, it is both exterior and interior to Cobb as well …. Given this division of labor, one could argue that despite the blatant topology of the folded city, in fact absolute space – space as abstractable from that which it contains – resurfaces in this strange fantasy of inhabitable dream space …. [Thus] the city, with all of its historical and geographical specificity, can be understood as the field within which power and desire are constituted. To be clear, the city in this argument is not simply “subjective,” something that each person has her own version of. It is not simply a projection of the subject – any more than the subject is merely an introjection of the city. The city and the subject instead are, one could say, distributed, splayed out, a Mobius surface that encircles its own limit.

It is appropriate, I think, to end the chapter by reference to this splayed out Mobius strip, insofar as geographers concerned with cinema, and the grounding of spatial thinking, continue to turn inside out not only the notion of on-screen and offscreen, viewer and viewed, spectacle and spectator, subject and object but also the narrative devices of previous cohorts of film geographers. As Secor notes, however, such a figure proceeds to encircle its own limit. And, perhaps, it is time for geographers to think more carefully about the conceptual thresholds of their field, and to consider what lies not beyond but outside of this surface.

References

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