1. The original experiment, from about 1920. It demonstrated that the apparent meaning of a filmed scene derives not from its component images but from what filmmakers call montage: the relation of the images to one another. There’s only one repeated clip of an actor emoting, but montage leads you to interpret the emotion variously as hunger, grief, or lust.
2. From 1922, a new set of shots.
3. Montage: an image appearing to show response. It did help me understand my own response.
For coloring in your own emotions, you might try this tool. It was made in a factory under the auspices of Strength through Joy (Kraft durchFreude), the Third Reich’s recreational and community-building arm. Under what auspices, do you think, could one of these black-and-white faces be retooled into yours?
In the Constantin Brancusi archive at the Centre Pompidou, the image linked here is captioned “Erik Satie, John Quinn, Brancusi et Henri-Pierre Roché, golf de Fontainebleau” and dated September 25, 1923.
Satie and Brancusi are the composer and the sculptor. History has decided on their behalf that they need no further introduction. Differing from each other as to hat and beard, they partake differently of their culture, but they occupy the hat-and-beard part of it in common. A century afterward, you too can know what they were doing with their hatted and bearded selves outside the image, and what that meant then and means now. There’s no need to ask permission; the request was made and granted before you were born.
But unless you’re a specialist, Quinn will need to be introduced. A lawyer who hated his work but made it useful to some modernist artists whose work he loved, he lives on in history honorably but secondarily, only as an annotation. Speaking not Quinn’s language but history’s, Quinn’s specialist footnote will say to us, “Quinn was one of the patrons who made James Joyce’s language possible.” It’s an explanation not worth trying to understand unless you already know James Joyce’s language.
And the tall man on the right? To the extent that Henri-Pierre Roché, 1879-1959, may be known outside France, he will be probably be known as the author of Jules etJim, ostensibly a novel with a title seen at speed as a historically famous movie’s credits roll. But in its pages offscreen, Jules et Jim is less a fiction than a fairy-autobiography: an aesthetic construction about the more or less actual Roché, the more or less actual German writer Franz Hessel, and the woman they both loved.
By contrast, the words embedded in this dust jacket demonstrate that their own tale (subtitled “The Woman who Loved Jules and Jim”) isn’t a story of a more or less actual Helen Hessel (“Helen, die Frau”) but instead a story of a Helen-image projected optically onto a screen. According to that story, the words Jules und Jim printed on their paper are only indices referring statically to a picture seeming to move.
But of course the moving picture has a soundtrack vocabulary, and a vocabulary is a multiplex always undergoing changes of the words through which it means. Franz Hessel’s parents were Jews who converted to Lutheranism, but that change reversed itself when the time came for their son to die in a Vichy concentration camp. Conversely, you and I probably wouldn’t be reading about Henri-Pierre Roché now if François Truffaut hadn’t happened to supplement our language in consequence of picking up a copy of Jules et Jim in a second-hand bookstore (Mary Blume, “The Secret Lives of Jules and Jim,” New York Times 25 April 2003, https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/25/style/IHT-the-secret-lives-of-jules-and-jim.html). And history can’t do a thing about any of that beyond turning up the lights in the archive, more or less at random.
But at least Photoshop is good about sliding the dimmers. So may I ask you to move to the bright side of the room for a moment and look with me at this Photoshop-renewed picture of a sex athlete standing head and shoulders above Erik Satie and Constantin Brancusi? In the image, he is in his own moment once again, and the story about the image is that when it’s annotated with words it seems to have been, just a moment ago, moving. The sense of movement will be an optical illusion, but while it lasts its Once upon a time words reverse themselves and seem to say what they once did say. Above us, once more, towers Henri-Pierre Roché in the knickered mode of 1923, and for him and for us the illusion is a word seeming to mean Now.
Between 1925 and 1958 it went through 36 editions (Veselá 105). Every time the party line changed, the author changed his story, and he kept changing it until death claimed him. Long before then, it had became a canonical paradigm of the Socialist-Realist novel.
And in after years the revisions underwrote rereadings, like this sample snapshot in time.
But passim, when their changeable language tried to change itself from dead to living through metaphors like “stormy blood,” it tended to mean words like “blood” as unchangingly as could be, in words that were themselves always stably dead. Liv Tadge’s translation (the 1981 edition quoted above) omits the word, but in the biology of Cement, cement is always to be mixed with blood. That’s one of the constants of this novel, no matter what the edition. When bodies are imagined as if outside the blood-red band of the spectrum, they are to be tinted a mere livormortis.
The contrast between red and unred happens to be a little hard to see in Raduga’s Cement typography, because the only color in its presses for that run was extratextual: the green of the page numbers. Everything else about the prose was a uniform gray.
In Gladkov’s time, movies too were generally monochrome. But the cement in this 1933 movie poster is not a single shade of Gladkov gray. It is radiantly spectral.
That’s because Mikhail Dlugach, the designer of the poster, did his work of envisioning under the lights of a different spectrum: one meant to illuminate a studio, not a library. Because they were created under that regime, the stairs that lead the eye upward from words to a smiling unspeaking face are Constructivist, and the shadow of the human that has been left behind by the ascent is Expressionist. The unspeaking face’s cosmetics too come from a silent repository: the cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But the dentistry that constructs its smile is the artifact of an aesthetic dating from long after the time of Tatlin’s tower and Wiene’s asylum. In fact, the poster suggests that the smile isn’t even attributable to dentistry. For that humble domestic science its scale is too vast. On the poster’s lavishly laid down slabs of color it erects itself like a heroic architecture, and as an architecture its relation in scale to the human is not 1920s Expressionist but 1960s Brutalist.
So think now, in the aftermath of the Brutalist era, of how the sound of your stormy pulse might have reechoed from the walls of a Brutalist bedroom where you and Comrade Dasha had shared the concrete mattress. One of the purposes of modern architecture since at least the days of Le Corbusier has been social control, explicitly stated as theory (in, for instance, Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture), and Socialist Realist fiction provided a way to translate the theory’s language of instruction from body to text. Raise your eyelids and grin, the translated schema instructs the body waiting on its postcoital cinderblock. Then look out the window, sight down the barrel of your rifle at that string quartet in the distance, and aim.
You may be able to see that the state of this image in the Library of Congress is a photographic print mounted on a paper backing, with the library’s acquisition stamp overlapping both sheets.
But you also do see that the composite photograph has lost definition and contrast. On the record, it has been going lost. With the aid of a computer, sight can begin bringing it home again to history and making the record’s words as readable again as they were when they flowed from the pen of A. P. Yates in 1893. Over the image, however, a gray new computerized disfigurement has settled in and begun blemishing what you see of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad’s engine no. 999, claimed to be the first vehicle in history to have reached a speed of 100 miles an hour.
In the library, a history of photography can help you understand what happened. In the 1890s, when negatives were large, photographers often retouched them with carmine paste. Painted over dark areas of the negative, this lightened the corresponding area of the print. Perhaps because May 10, 1893 was a cloudy day in Syracuse, or perhaps because the smoke from no. 999 was billowing too abundantly into the air, A. P. Yates encarmined a zone in front of and above no. 999’s boiler. On the print, that would have whitened the sky. But Mr. Yates didn’t want to risk whiting out any of no. 999’s beautiful metal, and so some of the original crud of 1893 remains in his artwork as a dark, angular halo.
With a computer under my hands, however, I can become Mr. Yates’s 21st-century continuator. Using a process that Photoshop calls cloning, I paint more carmine over the dark original of May 10, 1893.
And see: I have replaced the last trace of history in the image with the truth of art.
Think of me as a Venetian barber in a time of cholera, doing a little cosmetic work on Gustav von Aschenbach to make him attractive to the teenage punk who happens to be the god of history.