Jul 18, 2015
Index1 (All reviews)
"...without precedent in the purity of its confrontation with the essence of cinema: the relationships between illusion and fact, space and time, subject and object. It is the first post-Warhol, post-Minimal movie; one of the few films to engage those higher conceptual orders which occupy modern painting and sculpture. It has rightly been described as a ‘triumph of contemplative cinema.'"
--Gene Youngblood, L.A. Free Press

Highly recommended for fans of Warhol's seminal works of structural film, "Sleeping" and "Taylor Mead's Ass."

Obviously for the uninitiated, this will just seem like academic wankery. Which is a shame because the film really says something very important about cinema and the way we consume film.

In a very self-referential way, the film explores voyeurism. For example, Hinako notes being "embarrassed" facing the camera, identifying the scopophilia associated with taking others as objects, noting that she is being subjected to the male gaze. As noted by Laura Mulvey, "At first glance, the cinema would seem to be remote from the undercover world of
the surreptitious observation of an unknowing and unwilling victim" (Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema, 1975). But here, our victim is not unknowing or unwilling; in fact, she seems fully aware that she is being watched, informing the viewers of their own voyeurism. And Hinako not only identifies, but also reacts to the viewers by covering her face.

Deprived of scopophilia, what are we to make of film as a whole? The remainder of the film seeks to tackle this question. The crux of the message of the whole film is in fact the central paradox (the paradox arising from the fact that the film directly contradicts what it prescribes) that ensues: that film is a fundamentally voyeuristic medium, but that the proper response is to eschew self-awareness and make the subject unconscious, to turn her into an unknowing performer.

Film has often been described as a passive medium. Sleeping with Hinako takes this paradigm and turns it on its head for the duration of this section: here, the subject is in fact passive while the camera alone is actively engaging with its surroundings.

Often-times, the descriptions of structural films are reductive. For example, Wavelength (1967) is not just a 45-minute zoom but uses a variety of sophisticated editing techniques: jump cuts, strobing, etc. Here, our subject is not only passive, but sleeping, which suggests an engagement with another of cinema's favorite subjects, the oneiric. The first dream sequence within the film, albeit self-indulgent, explores the ways in which viewers engage with films as inhabiting a real space and not merely a diegetic space (of course, as we regard this as a non-narrative experimental film, the diegesis simply does not exist). The second and third explore the ways in which cinema (the dream, the expression of a wish according to Freud) relates to reality, as both times Hinako appears in the same position that occurs at the end of the dream.

I will put aside this analysis for now to mention a number of in-jokes the film throws around. The mise-en-scene is sparse, but carefully chosen, for example, the recurring shot of the alarm clock, which has no hands, an obvious reference to Bergman's Wild Strawberries (the relevant piece of mise-en-scene appears within a dream sequence). The scene in which Hinako crawls on her hands (which occurs immediately after the second dream sequence) is a reference to the end of Keaton's Sherlock Jr. (which explores the way film informs our own lives).

We now arrive at the third section of the film, which attempts to rectify the central paradox mentioned earlier, as Hinako asks to look back at the viewer. The implied scopophilia on the part of the subject is, in fact, the self-awareness of self-reference. It is looking at cinema in the act of examining itself. This is parallelled with a shot of a row of stuffed animals (a subtle jab at the passive nature of film viewing). We also arrive at our fourth and fifth dream sequences that deconstruct the division between "reality" and "fiction" within the diegesis. Thus, we arrive at a way out of our central paradox, espousing the absolute freedom of cinema to do as it pleases, to look back on itself and to deconstruct dichotomies, while retaining the freedom to abandon self-awareness and explore the dream world.