March 20, 2005
(Juxta)position. (Juxta)position. (Juxta)position.
Inspired by a recent post of Roy Edroso to search for some info on the montage sequence in The Parallax View I found this rather old article which makes some very good points about the power of creating meaning from juxtapostion:
What we experience in Parallax is a short film constructed of still images and printed text titles, cut to music in a montage style not unlike experimental films of the 1960's...
At first, Parallax' montage seems like one of these. Soothing music is heard behind harmonious iconographic images familiar from Life Magazine - style photo layouts. Pictures of sweet old ladies and hardworking farmers accompany the titles 'MOM' and 'DAD.' Similiar stereotypical images follow title cards for 'GOD', 'LOVE', 'HAPPINESS', and so forth. The music starts to become more upbeat and dynamic, and the visual pace quickens as the same categories are revisited with new visuals and repeats of the old ones. This is going somewhere, we can tell . . . Odd cuts slip in, that don't seem to fit the categories, either because they are too fast to 'read', or contain disturbing content - lynchings, children in peril, the blurred, frighful face of a terrorized woman.
Soon the images are coming too fast for us to 'categorize' them. Each image has its own emotional reaction, some of which raise the hair on one's neck - Nazis, for instance, next to the Pope. Confusion sets in as images are repeated in contexts which change their meanings. Photos of people having sex, and stacks of coins are pleasing against the title 'HAPPINESS' but become unsettling when juxtaposed with images of what seem to be torture victims and political oppression.
Also, identical pictures appear to change 'without changing.' The impression made by a sweet rural mother changes when placed before shots of filthy, impovershed children. When placed in a context of persecution, her very expression seems to change too - a sensitive viewer knows his reactions are being manipulated, sculpted by the cutting. A portrait of George Washington is distastefully intercut with Nazi iconography, which seems artificially crude until the portrait is revealed as being displayed on a wall side-by-side with a Swastika (of a Klan member?).
Just when chaos seems total, the montage maker brings a unifying theme to the forefront. Each wave of buzzword concepts has ended with the title 'ME.' 'ME' has been evolving, from a happy baby, to an abused boy, to the imprisoned victim of tyrants and racists. Increasingly disturbing groupings equate the American flag, Hitler, MacArthur, the Pope, and a comic-book demon. Images of poverty, sex, and racial murder tumble forward. Repeated flags and patriotic icons drive home the message that "America is in trouble, the family is in trouble." Only when 'ME' becomes a hammer-swinging Nordic avenger (the comic-book character Thor) does the ANSWER arrive to end all the ideological trauma.
As a youth, I taped The Parallax View from a television broadcast and watched this montage over and over, fascinated by the clever way it shifted and distorted (or revealed) concepts solely through the intercutting of words and images. The article cited above doesn't mention one edit I found particularly amusing, when images of motorcycle policemen, first appearing as symbols of authority and order, are shown in repeated sequence with nude male dancers, recontextualising the leather-clad cops as icons of gay fetishism; an attempt, I assumed, to tap into the viewing psychopath's insecurities about his sexuality as another path to arousing the confusion and rage necessary to create a suitable assassin/patsy. It was interesting to me that the montage's muddying of concepts such as "Enemy" (first Castro, Stalin, Hitler &c then the same images that had been earlier used to illustrate "Country" or "Home") were done in an essentially ideologically neutral way; presumably preferring to create a contextless anger that could be directed by the Corporation against any target regardless of their politics. Of course, the conceptual manipulation in the film is really quite crude; the real thing would be much less obvious than in the Parallax montage, which had to look like manipulation for the benefit of the audience viewing the film in which it appears. Still great fun, though; and I loved the way the music track maintained its basic melody while becoming more brooding to accompany the darker imagery.
(Punning titles considered and rejected for this non-post: "Juxtaposition, Ma'am", "Parallaxative" and "The Full Montage".)