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Themesicon: navigation pathArt and Cinematographyicon: navigation pathMulvey/Wollen
«Riddles of the Sphinx».
The Work of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen: Between Counter-Strategy and Deconstruction
Winfried Pauleit

The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical filmmakers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment. (Laura Mulvey) [1]

But cinema, because it is a multiple system, could develop and elaborate the semiotic shifts that marked the origins of the avant-garde in a uniquely complex way, a dialectical montage within and between a complex of codes. At least, writing now as a filmmaker, that is the fantasy that I like to entertain. (Peter Wollen2) [2]

1. A Rereading of Freud

The film’s title, «Riddles of the Sphinx», already signals that Laura Mulvey’s and Peter Wollen’s concept is based on counter-strategy. Here, Oedipus is not the hero; instead, the sphinx, whose story is further examined in the course of the film, is the centralfigure. Furthermore, the theme of the film is a complex analysis of patriarchal society, dealing both with the Greek myths and the everyday life of the 1970s. Mulvey refers in this film to the writings of Freud, in particular his interpretation of the Oedipal myth in light of the development of the child in the family triangle. In contrast, the film «Riddles of the Spinx»concerns itself with motherhood, that is, it is interested in the cultural nexus of a pre-oedipal or dyadic relationship between mother and child. This critical take on Freud basically follows the thinking of theorists like Luce Irigarary, who not only take issue with the weight Freud gives to the Oedipal triangle, but also question his idealization of the mother–son relationship. [3] But while Irigaray disposes of the Oedipal myth entirely, arguing that it only offers the mother/son relationship between Iocaste and Oedipus, [4] Mulvey and Wollen reveal the figure of the sphinx as «the forgotten [female] figure in an otherwise well-known myth» (Mulvey/Wollen 1977). Thus, Mulvey and Wollen develop the theme of their film on the one hand from a rereading of the myth. Against the patriarchal filiation formulated in Freud’s Oedipal complex, they use the

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image of the sphinx as a counter-strategy. The sphinx of the Greek myth is interpreted as a remainder and buried trace of an older, matriarchal culture, and as such in need of reinterpretation. At the same time, Mulvey and Wollen overlay the riddle of the sphinx from Greek mythology (not discussed any further in Freud interpretation) onto Freud’s discussion of femininity, explicitly introduced by Freud as «the riddle.« [5] This intertextual superimposition of the Greek myth onto Freud’s text «Femininity» represents the origin for the plural in the film’s title, «Riddles of the Sphinx». Even if the film by no means undertakes a reading of Freud, instead placing its emphasis on contemporary woman and her concrete everyday life, something like a «return to Freud» flashes up in the title, placing this filmic counterstrategy in close proximity to intertextual and deconstructive strategies. Up until now, this has gone without comment.

2. The Proximity to Deconstruction

Wollen already established this proximity to deconstruction theoretically a few years previously inrelation to Godard’s cinema: «The text/film can only be understood as an arena, a meeting place in which different discourses encounter each other […] [These] can be seen more as […] palimpsests, multiple Niederschriften (Freud’s word) in which meaning can no longer be said to express the intention of the author or to be a representation of the world, but must like the discourse of the unconscious be understood by a different kind of decipherment» (Wollen, 1972/1982, p. 87). In this essay, Wollen ordains Jean-Luc Godard the representative contemporary avant-garde filmmaker. He characterizes his strategy as «counter-cinema,» emphasizing its intertextual structure and its inscribed character as a palimpsest. At the same time, he points in passing to a radical shift within the text paradigm from author/director to reader/spectator. This turn in textual understanding corresponds to the poststructuralist text theories of Barthes and Derrida. As a conceptual reference point, however, Wollen names Freud’s psychoanalysis. At the same time, he imitates Godard’s discursive technique, inserting the concept Niederschriften as a discursive fragment of Freud in his own text, whereby he marks

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this word three times as a different discourse, first by not translating it, second by placing it in standard italics and third adding the indexical parenthesis, «(Freud’s word),» thus expressively distinguishing this from the usual forms of citation. Wollen here demonstrates in an almost didactic way his theoretic understanding of a different cinema as an open, multiple voiced discourse. The text then follows with a list that Wollen ironically terms the seven cardinal virtues, or the seven mortal sins of the cinema. [6] These elements can then subsequently be found in «Riddles of the Sphinx». At the beginning of her essay, Mulvey also admits that alternative cinematic strategies do not emerge from the void. «There is no way in which we can produce an alternative out of the blue, but we can begin to make a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides, of which psychoanalysis is not the only but an important one. We are still separated by a great gap from important issues for the female unconscious which are scarcely relevant to phallocentric theory: the sexing of the female infant and her relationship to the symbolic, the sexually mature woman as non-mother, maternity outside thesignification of the phallus, the vagina […]» (Mulvey 1975/1986, p. 199). [7] In Mulvey as well, the link between counter-strategy and deconstruction can be found at first in its relationship to psychoanalysis. Mulvey’s work of displacement then disseminates the singular femininity of Freud into multiple questions. That is, she adopts Freud’s term «the riddle of femininity» and derives from it an open-ended list of questions, which in the end are held together in the film’s title as «Riddles of the Spinx»(plural!).

3. The Cinema Complex

A look at the theoretical writings preceding the film’s realization might provide an initial impression of what Mulvey and Wollen intended with «Riddles of the Sphinx». In this project, they no longer sought «simply» to make a film, but rather at the same time also to thematize the «counter-cinema.» Thus, the conceptual approach is already set at the level of a «meta-film.» At the same time, Mulvey and Wollen not only merely focus on the traditions of avant-garde film (that would be a contradiction in itself). Instead, they envision the continuation of the story, that is, a «liberation of the

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cinema» as a whole, which also includes abandoning the difference between «orthodox cinema» (Hollywood) and the «counter-cinema» of the avant-gardes (Godard on the one hand and the Coop movement on the other) and attempts to obtain a new, different concept of the cinema that goes beyond Godard/Coop and Hollywood. [8] Mulvey writes, «The alternative is the thrill that comes from leaving the past behind without rejecting it […] in order to conceive a new language of desire.» (Mulvey 1975/1986, p.200). Wollen further specifies that «the cinema» (the general cinema of the future!) could be this new language of desire: «The cinema offers more opportunities than any other art—the cross-fertilization […] the reciprocal interlocking and input between painting, writing, music theatre could take place within the field of cinema itself. This is not a plea for a great harmony, a synaesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk in the Wagnerian sense. But cinema […] as a dialectical montage within and between a complex of codes» (Wollen 1975/1982, S. 104). [9] Wollen closes his essay with one notion of cinema, made up of a «complex of codes.» This formulation links him once again with Freud’s thinkingand concepts. In order to describe the totality of love and hate wishes of the child for the parents, Freud had (as part of an disagreement with Jung) adopted the general concept of a «complex of ideas» from the context of free association for his idea of the oedipal complex, At the same time, he reduces with this approach the multiplicity of the complexes to one central complex, the oedipal complex. [10] Although Wollen and Mulvey’s cultural critique speaks precisely against the reduction to a single oedipal complex, Wollen argues quite similarly to Freud with an accented displacement for a «cinema complex.» Not only the various discourses of the arts, which struggle against one another, could meet in this cinema complex. In addition, the most different concepts of the orthodox and the avant-garde cinema would also be sublated in this complex. The counter-concept to the Oedipal complex that Wollen develops together with Mulvey («Riddles of the Sphinx») still remains more open than the «cinema complex,» dependent on Freud’s terminology. In so doing, not only does the move from Oedipus to the Sphinx appear to be a shift in emphasis in terms of gender difference, but the shift

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from «complex» to «riddle» is also significant. While the notion of the cinema complex tends more in the direction of bridging contradiction, the riddle (etymologically: reading, deciphering, interpretation)—not of solutions - moves towards branching out and dissemination, that is, towards the heterogeneous and hybrid. This change in direction once again underscores the proximity of this project to deconstruction, as well as the emphasis on the significance of spectatorship as readership, promoted by feminist film theory.

4. The Film as Text Film

The film begins with a table of contents that encapsulates the numbered structure of the film in seven chapter titles in a single image. The spectators are greeted as readers and introduced to the order of a book, as if the film itself wanted to tell us in writing: this is a text film! This starting point is basically ‹borrowed› from Godard. In his article on Godard, Wollen discusses this chapter structure of a film as the first of the seven elements (one of the seven sins of the orthodox cinema) under the term «narrativeintransitivity» (Wollen, 1972/1982, p. 80f). Godard uses this strategy to introduce breaks in the narrative series. The first chapter of «Riddles of the Spinx»(«Flicking Pages») thematizes and illustrates the turning of pages. Not only in the introduction are we, the spectators, confronted with the order of writing, but also in the first part of the film. This is the completely silent part of the film, and seems as if in its silence it wanted to approach the medium of writing—or claim that the cinema, considering the colloquial use of «flick» for «film,» or «at the flicks» for «at the cinema,» derives from the turning of the pages as in a flick book. The flicking of pages lasts only one or two minutes, then stops at a page showing a photomontage of Greta Garbo as sphinx. With this, the first chapter ends and reveals the basic form of the Mulvey and Wollen’s cinematic conception. First of all, the basic elements of the cinema as movement (flicking) and standstill (still photograph) are exhibited in a paradigmatic way. Two different modes of reception correspond to this exhibition: fleeting spectatorship, which retroactively constructs a meaningful series of images, and the contemplative

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gaze, which more closely resembles a slow deciphering. At the same time, the elements that Mulvey uncovers in her analysis of Classical Hollywood film also appear: on the one hand, narration, which she aligns with depth and the male hero, and on the other hand contemplation, which she associates with superficiality and the female star. «Mainstream film neatly combined spectacle and narrative […] The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation» (Mulvey 1975/1986, p. 203). This gender difference in «orthodox cinema» (Wollen) is to be revealed and to be freed «into dialectics» (Mulvey). The first chapter of «Riddles of the Spinx» serves as a minimalist version or prototype of this critical endeavor.

5. Retaining the Female Star

While the gesture of page-turning is a familiar trope of avant-garde film (not only in the work of Jean-Luc Godard, but also that of Hollis Frampton, Heinz Emigholz and others), the static representation offemale film stars is a widespread motif, for example in the pop art of the 1960s. The image of Garbo that Mulvey and Wollen use to look back at the female star of the orthodox cinema, [11] was an entry in a contest held by the MGM publicity department, entitled: «Describe Garbo!» The photomontage thus already delivers a received and commented image as the product of the creativity of a moviegoer or fan, subsequently printed in various publications. [12] This prelude staged by Mulvey and Wollen in «Riddles of the Spinx»using Greta Garbo allows the three different cinema traditions, as Wollen conceived of them in the cinema complex, once again to be recapitulated and removed layer by layer. First of all, the photomontage serves as the equivalent for the means of the artistic avant-garde (the continuation of which Wollen saw in the Coop movement). [13] Secondly, Wollen and Mulvey's (indirect) citation of a film star in the film can be compared to Godard’s counter-strategies—Godard repeatedly worked with real stars or directors in his avant-garde films. Thirdly, the static image of the female star at the base of these layers belongs to the repertoire of the Classical Hollywood cinema, both

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within film itself, in what Mulvey describes as «freezing the plot,» as well as in extra-filmic contexts, as in advertising photography. In these levels of mediacy, Greta Garbo appears multiply distantiated, an apposite example of Godard/Wollen’s second counter-concept of «estrangement.» But what precisely is the meaning of this alienation effect, which Wollen, referring to Brecht, considers unnecessary of further comment? [14] In her essay, Mulvey commented extensively on the significance of the female star in the classical Hollywood cinema, and passionately called out for a challenge to this cinema and the destruction of its codes. [15] Of course, it is a common place that codes and/or images do not simply allow themselves to be destroyed. The analogy to iconoclasm, linked with the occasional revolutionary pathos in Mulvey’s writing, throws an additional light on the limited reception of her work. By looking at the use of Greta Garbo in the film «Riddles,» we can study Mulvey’s strategy of passionate detachment, which not only sought to liberate spectatorship and the camera, but also to work on the cinematographic sign. First of all, the image of the female star is retained. Mulvey’s othercinema thus by no means disposes of the orthodox cinema, but instead consumes it in a specific way. This corresponds to her notion of «leaving the past without rejecting it.» This retaining of the female star is remarkable in historical perspective, since the star system of the orthodox cinema only existed into the 1960s. In addition, it is apparent that Mulvey, despite the masculine point of view thematized in her theoretical writing, envisioned a specifically feminine mode of cinema reception, particularly in her film work—with the metaphor of the sphinx. [16] Mulvey’s cinema thus uses that moment of the contemplation of the female star as a citation and marks it as a discourse. This discourse is confronted with other discourses, the sphinx, which evokes the Greek myth and implies Freud’s discourse of femininity, but also her own film project, which at its very beginning refers to textuality. To that extent, it is a layering or perhaps an opposition of discourses.

6. From Director to Actress to Spectator

It is the second chapter that first begins to make a radical leap. At least at first glance, the character of

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this second chapter seems to correspond more to the practice of counter-strategy than deconstruction. In this part («Laura speaks»), we see Laura Mulvey sitting at a table. Reading, she explains the concept of the film and her thoughts on the sphinx, all the time directly addressing the camera. This is in fact a «reverse shot» to the shot of the first chapter, the reverse shot which really must follow the shot of the female star, Garbo. This «reverse shot» is not only delayed by the intertitle, «2. Laura speaks,» it is also of a fundamentally different nature, because it no longer can be read in the sense of a single diegesis, but instead allows linkages to various discourses. The image of Laura Mulvey functions in this shot at least on three levels: first as a director/filmmaker, second as a theoretician and actress, and third as a spectator/filmgoer. If we first consider her as a director/filmmaker, the association arises of a director of an avant-garde film à la Godard («Laura speaks»). [17] Making the director audible and visible serves to parody the relationship of director to star in the orthodox cinema, which takes place on the set (behind the scenes), best exemplified by the relationshipbetween Sternberg/Dietrich as reported in the film literature, a relationship of creator to creation. All the same, with the ‹appearance› of Mulvey, Godard’s counter-strategy of commenting on his own films within the films themselves is given a further shift. In «Riddles of the Sphinx,» the reverse shot to the female star does not show the male hero, nor his counterpart, a male director. Instead, in this film one of the central positions is occupied by a woman. This shot can indeed be interpreted as a revolutionary act; in a symbolic way, by means of example, the film attempts to reverse the patriarchal genealogy of Hollywood culture. [18] A second way to interpret this chapter reads Mulvey as a theoretician/actress («Laura speaks,» second function). Instead of decoding a reverse shot, this shot reads the transition from one actress (the Great Garbo, movie star) to another (Laura Mulvey, theoretician). This moment of erotic contemplation within the discourse of «orthodox» cinema (here the face of Garbo as sphinx) is overlaid or replaced by another discourse, feminist film theory (Mulvey, the speaking theoretician). The transition from the photomontage (a filmed still-photo) to the following

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shot («Laura speaks») thus undergoes a temporal extension in which the actress becomes «alive.» The theoretician Mulvey reads a kind of a sphinx manifesto, and her image alternates (analogous to the photomontage) with images of Greek or Egyptian sphinxes. »The sphinx is outside of the city gates, she challenges the culture of the city, with its order of kinship and its order of knowledge, a culture and a political system which assign women a subordinate place […] We live in a society ruled by the father, in which the place of the mother is suppressed. Motherhood and how to live it, or not to live it, lie at the root of the dilemma. And meanwhile, the Sphinx can only speak with a voice apart, a voice off […] which represents not the voice of truth, not an answering voice, but its opposite: a questioning voice, a voice asking a riddle.« [19] It is not the words of this manifesto that almost twenty-five years after the film’s completion still leave a strong impression. Instead it is the living presence of Laura Mulvey on the cinema screen in a sold out Kino Arsenal in Berlin on April 5, 2001 (at the conference «Eine andere Kunst, ein anderes Kino» («A Different Art, A Different Cinema»)that left a strong impression on me. This living representation is lost in a reproduction of a film still. Significantly, it is also not available during the later viewing of the film on an editing table. Why does the presence of this theoretician on the cinema screen cause a feeling that touches me, whereby I usually only perceive «real» female stars distantly as fading discourses? Surely, the «concretism» of the cinema in sound and image provides some elements of excess for which I am particularly receptive; [20] for example, the «sound of Britishness,» her reserved articulation or the daisies on her blouse, which due to the red tint of the now aging film seem singularly distant and auratic. It is possible that they—or I—succeeded in «redeeming» in her screen presence a myth and a form of visual pleasure less bound to a cinematographic code? This visual pleasure is bound instead to physical traces passed on from generation to generation, the direct access to these impressions having been made unattainable with the historicization of the Classical Hollywood cinema. We can also read this chapter in a third way, focusing on the level of spectator/filmgoer. Here, at issue again is a connection that constructs an

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extraordinary reverse shot. From the female star (on the screen) the shot reverses to a cinema audience, and, contrary to the conventions of the cinema, portrays the fantasy of a female, speaking spectator/filmgoer (Laura speaks, third function) visible and audible. [21] Accordingly, Mulvey and Wollen’s other cinema addresses three aspects of gender difference in the second chapter, that of the instance of the director, the actress and the spectator. All three levels appear again like the «palimpsest[s] or multiple Niederschriften» discussed by Wollen, in this case however attributed to the multi-voiced character of the Sphinx, that is, a female genealogy. The third alienation effect undertaken on the image of Garbo is aimed at this triple recoding. However, the new chains of association resulting from this triple recoding were already preformed in orthodox cinema as well as in the myth of the sphinx, or at least were conceivable. For this reason, besides the revolutionary moment, this recoding is characterized by a conservative moment, if in it something of the contemplation of the female star of Classical Hollywood was to be rescued in the film production of the 1970s and in its showing in 2001.

7. Mythical and Social Implications of the Sphinx

The third chapter («Stones») shows images of the Egyptian sphinx. The stone figures are worked on with filmic means; multiple generation filming, zooms, slow motion, extreme close ups. The shots emphasize the grainy character of the film material, and distort not only the stone of the sculptures, but also the physical reference of the filmic material, tending towards the abstract film of the avant-garde. Nevertheless, in their dissolved shadows these images also focus on the silent mouth of the Egyptian sphinx over and over again, as if this filmic mediation wanted to make the stones speak. Alternatively, as Roland Barthes put it in his ruminations about a detail in a film still (also a mouth, in this case that of an older woman), as if this filmic mediation sought to call up a process of direct signification beyond language and photographic representation, directly questioning embodiment itself. [22] The first three chapters are elements of a complex frame structure of the film. Only the fourth chapter narrates (and shows) the true story. The central figure of this representation is Louise, mother

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of a two-year-old daughter. Louise leaves her husband, Chris. We are told of her everyday life, her career, her situation as a single mother, and her relationship to her daughter Anna. Finally, Louise moves in together with her best friend. The structure of this chapter is quite strict: Louise’s story is told in intertitles, that is, the true narration is limited to a written text, scripted on a consecutive series of written boards. Inserted between the individual text boards are thirteen 360-degree camera pans (see excerpt). These shots break up the text flow and show Louise’s life in different places: kitchen, daughter’s bedroom, entrance to the apartment, nursery school, workplace, her workplace (a telephone switchboard), cafeteria, traffic, shopping mall, playground, her mother’s garden (presentation of the artist Mary Kelly in the editing room of her ex-husband), a friend’s room, the Egyptian Hall of the British Museum.

8. The Liberated Camera

Mulvey established that a skillful combination of narration and spectacle forms the basis of Hollywood film (Mulvey 1975/1986, 203). The structure of thefourth chapter of «Riddles of the Spinx» provides an alternative, opposite combination of these elements. The usual narrative flow of the images is reduced to one text. The camera pans cut up this text. The contemplative moments of «orthodox» cinema, limited to the female star, mutate into the true audiovisual design of strictly formal camera work. The pure representation of this camera view is given more value than the narration. Nevertheless, the formalist camera pans are positioned in such a way that they are at the same time able to capture some essential elements of the plot. In the third shot, for example, Louise is left by her husband, Chris. During the pan of the camera, one can first see him walking in the upper floor of the house, coming back down with a few things, then standing in the doorway of the house, saying good bye to Louise, finally placing his things in the trunk of a car and driving off, while Louise stands at the window with Anna on her arm (see film stills). The «liberated» camera in «Riddles of the Spinx» thus no longer turns to isolated erotic objects (like in Hollywood film), the function of which is subordinated to the narration. Instead, it places the representation of the woman; in

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this case that of the single mother, in the middle of its camera work. Visual pleasure is extended to both the social and psychic space of a multi-dimensional person (Louise).

9. Framing Structures and Cinematographic Codes

Chapters Five through Seven return back to the framing structure of the film. They correspond to the first three chapters. While chapters one, two and three represent the cinematographic codes with particular emphases, the Hollywood cinema (one), the avant-garde cinema of Godard et al. (two), and the avant-garde of the Coop Movement (three), chapters five through seven already offer commentaries on these historical cinematic developments. In Chapter 5, a formal reference is once again made to techniques of the coop avant-garde movement, like ‘optical printing,’ this time using color. In terms of content, the stone sphinxes are opposed to shots of acrobats, the living expression of female bodies. The acrobats here index the profilmic and the space beyond the linguistic articulation of the body. Chapter 6 again shows Laura Mulvey. This time, she listens to the recording of herown voice with a cassette recorder. Sound and image, which earlier (chapter 2) were bound to one another to form an impressive screen presence, now meet again, this time alienated from one another on two different levels. The magnetic tape represents a secondary inscription with emphasis on the spoken coding of a text, while the filmstrip in a certain way focuses on the primary inscription of physical presence. The fact that in this image a cassette player is introduced as the basis of magnetic tape recording allows us to think beyond the cinematographic. The cassette recorder already symbolizes a different access to inscription than film and photography. It anticipates the video recording with its almost immediate possibility of controlling the image. In addition, due to its inherent program structure, with its functions play, fast-forward, rewind, etc., the cassette recorder allows a different access to the recording than the cinema film. The cassette is much closer to the book, that is, the recording is indeed accessible as a text to read. It provides the cinema spectator with all the possibilities otherwise only made possible by the privilege of studying a film on a viewing table. Chapter

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Seven finally shows the image of a small maze game. A mercury ball must be led through a labyrinthine set of passageways to the central field. This game might be understood as a metaphor of the film as a whole, which sets representation over narration. The latter is not the driving essence of the film, but rather a labyrinthine forwards and backwards interpreted for the sake of representation. At the same time, this game symbolizes the «Riddles of the Sphinx», which do not seek to force out a truth, but rather pose questions, thus not moving in a straight line towards a finality (as the film drives towards its conclusion). Instead, at issue is a decoding of a text from a constantly new approach, a continually new attempt that extends beyond the straightforward course of the images.

10. The Riddles of the Cinema (Between Intertexuality, Redemption, and the DVD Format)

In our current understanding, the Sphinx is a puzzling, opaque being. In the Egyptian meaning, it also signifies «living statue.» This ancient meaning anticipates something of the «living image» of the cinema, whichwins its flux-character of becoming from static images, the apparatus of the cinematographer, and the participation and decoding of the spectators. To that extent, the title of «Riddles of the Spinx» could also be translated in an extended sense as «riddles of the cinema.» Peter Wollen had already tried to grasp this riddle of the cinema with his notion of the cinema complex. In the encounter between different codes, a cinematographic writing style emerges which drives the gesture of (type) setting and crossing-out in the struggle of images and codes in constantly new linkages and further dissemination. Wollen himself already alluded to the fact that this practice might extend beyond a countercinema and that it involves something more than a counter-strategy. If we describe the work of Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen from the 1970s instead with the French concept of deconstruction, this forces us to look especially at their intertextual work on and with the cinema. But the work on the codes cannot be summed up with the label of deconstruction. Far more than that, it today still allows itself be pushed in new directions, making legible more than revolutionary pathos or a cinematographic

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liberation struggle. Beyond the question of a concise conceptual characterization of these strategies, we can hold onto the fact that Mulvey and Wollen are obviously interested in a specifically cinematographic production of «intertexuality» that in some ways supercedes the textual paradigm. With this, they not only raise the question of the quotability of film, but also that of the essence of the cinema. The citational character (the various cinema references) of «Riddles of the Spinx»shows itself to be or reads not only as a ‹literal› or a ‹true to the letter› reproduction (what ever that might mean in relation to the cinema!) Beside the analogies to linguistic processes of signification, it also orients itself to that phenomenon of film that Kracauer called in 1960 «the redemption of physical reality» in relation to the photographic character of film. [23] However, Kracauer’s redemption, which includes the relationship between external reality and cinema, has been changed. Mulvey and Wollen’s relation to physical reality appears complex, as if through a shot of Laura Mulvey we could see through to older levels of experience (as for example the reception of a Hollywood star or the Greek history ofthe Sphinx) and as if the cinema could share these experiences both physically as well as textually. If Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s model of another cinema not only links various cinema traditions like riddles of the cinema, but also makes accessible the various discourses of the cinema (the photographic, the semiotic-intertextual, etc.) for an encounter and cross-fertilization, then this new concept of the cinema would have shown the chances it promises. However, the cinema today is no longer the medium with which Mulvey and Wollen could still link their hopes, and the film «Riddles of the Spinx»is not a frequent guest of the screen, but lies, difficult to access, in the archives. In addition the many advantages that Wollen listed for the cinema, it has a decisive disadvantage in its tie to celluloid, in that it cannot be opened up like a book. It would be a task for the future, especially for the film «Riddles of the Sphinx»—analogously to the publications of the literature —to edit a historical critical edition in DVD format that would place the work of Mulvey and Wollen in the context of their theoretical writing, or at least would make these writings accessible for study.

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The possibilities of this format could then also make the film legible as a «text,» a Lehrstück, or «teaching play,» to use a Brechtian term, or as a piece of «cinematographic écriture,» in order to use a vocabulary closer to the allusions of riddles and deconstruction. Such an edition, however, of course cannot provide the effects of the screen presence. For this, we still need the movie theatres and the cultural occasions that again allow such a film to become an event.


Translation: Brian Currid

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