avantgarde film biopolitics

a project organized by sabeth buchmann, helmut draxler, stephan geene
Against Dogma
Time Code as an Allegory of the Social Factory
by Helmut Draxler

Time Code, Mike Figgis' film from 2000, can be read to a high degree as a film about working conditions, as they have been discussed in recent years in association with post-operaist theory under the term "immaterial labor"#1 . Comparable in some respects with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001), Time Code is also a film about the work of filmmaking. Subject matter and self-referential aspects are closely interlocked in both films, but they can be interpreted very differently in both directions. Whereas Lynch's surreally alienated plot is still based on the grand production complex "cinema" and makes use of a specific mode of avant-gardist self-reference, in Mike Figgis' film an abyss of interrelationships opens up, in terms of both content and form, revolving around a small film production company. It hardly appears possible to bridge this abyss in terms of theory either. For this reason, I propose that this interweaving of relationships should no longer be termed "cultural industry" in this discussion, but rather "social factory", as Toni Negri and Michael Hardt use this term in "The Labor of Dionysus"#2 . This should make it possible to grasp the experimental narrative form of Time Code as a demonstration of different forms of labor influenced by post-Fordism and as self-reflection on digital, filmic production conditions at the same time.

Revealing the Mechanism

The camera slowly draws back from a horizontal close-up of the face of the singer. Together with her back-up singers, she can be seen almost in her full size. In the front, the console of a recording studio comes into view, and it becomes clear that we have been looking through a pane of glass; finally – with the camera still drawing slowly straight back – a large 35 mm camera appears on the left, operated by a cameraman and his assistant. Behind the back of the cameraman, the "invisible" camera, through which we are looking, pans up toward the left and shows an overall view of the entire apparatus of a major Hollywood studio with the sets, lighting and sound equipment. Cut. Onlookers stroll into the studio, there are friendly handshakes. The course of events is interrupted for a moment by a long, meaningful gaze between the young actress who has just arrived and the director giving commands through a megaphone from his director's chair. Then the next singer comes, similar images, but shorter and from a different perspective, the director sends for the producer, but an influential sponsor shows up behind him. The director says about the obviously worse actress, "She is the girl", and the two older gentlemen grin with satisfaction.

This scene from a casting session from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001), briefly recounted here, provides us all in the clarity we could wish for with an image of the cultural industry, as it has been repeatedly invoked since Adorno/Horckheimer's "Dialectic of Enlightenment" in keeping with the model of a Fordist factory: we see a large production apparatus, rigidly organized, hierarchical working relationships, and the decisive influence of mafiosi financiers in the background. At the same time, with the slow dissolution of the illusion and in showing the set, the slow camera pan demonstrates the avant-gardist form of self-reference that artistic confrontations with the capitalist cultural industry have always called for. "Revealing the mechanism", as the founder of the so-called apparatus theory, Jean Louis Baudry saw it in operation in Dziga Vertov's work in the emphatic showing of the filmic apparatus, was supposed to be capable of making the "dominant ideology" of capitalist societization collapse into itself.#3

In Lynch's film, though, showing the apparatus in "flesh and blood"#4 does not at all break with the illusion and the narrative. Instead, the self-referential motif remains illusionistically and narratively well integrated; the real narrative irritations take place later in the film at a completely different level, one that is more surreal and hallucinative. Thus the question is raised about the function of this kind of self-reference in the narrative context. The film critic Dana Polan pointed out in the 70s that self-reflectivity's claim of being per se a political and anti-ideological operation is not tenable.#5 Self-reference is found in popular cartoons and television series as well as in the avant-garde, and it ultimately depends on the context whether anything about it can assume a political function. He particularly accused the post-structuralist proponents of the apparatus theory of using self-reference merely as a formal schemata, thus consistently depoliticizing it in comparison with Brecht. The literature scholar David Roberts – in his dispute with Peter Bürger's "Theory of the Avant-Garde" – also emphatically maintained that forms of self-reference have been a constitutive component of theater and the novel from the beginning and do not herald its destruction at all.#6 In many cases, the illusion lives precisely through being perforated occasionally, or its irritating function consists of revealing various levels of reality.

The advantage of the apparatus theory was certainly that it provided a framework for institutional critique at all for regarding the cinema as an exemplary social institution, as a cultural-industrial factory of social desires.#7 In comparison with the tendentially overestimated possibility of self-referentiality inherent to this, however, the reference to production conditions and the constructedness of filmic images was not without contradictions and ambivalence even in the 60s and 70s. Several examples: in Alexandro Jodorowsky's "Montana Sacra" (1973) the director himself plays a guru, who leads his disciples to immortality on the sacred mountain. These turn out to be empty templates that Jodorowsky knocks over laughing, explaining that they had not discovered immortality, but reality instead. Then he calls to the cameraman that he should zoom back to get the spotlights, microphones and technicians into the picture. The liberating laughter of the group that ends the scene has been faulted by critics, which is not entirely unfounded, as a bad avant-gardist joke that robs the film of its bizarre force.#8 In any case, the subtlety, with which Godard had still transferred the illusionist and narrative device of continuity editing (e.g. the shot / reaction shot procedure) to the relationship between film crew and actors in "La Chinoise" (1967), was no longer attainable in the 70s. The infamous end of "Snuff" (1976), in which a camera is controlled as though by an invisible hand – with a movement very similar to the scene in Mulholland Drive – and seems to detach itself from the other camera slowing becoming visible, drawing back with a turning movement and thus creating the "scene" in which the director himself carries out his bloody act on an actress, is a good example of this. This "murder" in front of a filming camera transformed the self-reflexive motif of the "revealing mechanism" into an authenticity effect of a new type of "hyperreal" illusion.#9 In Brian de Palma's "Blow Out" (1981) as well, it works merely as a reference gag in the opening credits to show how the classic moments of the horror film, from the shower scene in Psycho to Michael Myer's creepy wheezing, have deteriorated into stereotypical elements of cheap television productions. It was Abbas Kiarostami in "A Taste of Cherry" (1997), who first dared to seriously probe the motif again. Here as well, in the concluding scene a long pan filmed in video leads from the "grave" of the hero, whose planned suicide is the subject of the whole film, to Kiarostami himself and his crew. Not only does this highlight the transition from a feature film shot in 35 mm to a behind-the-scenes documentary filmed on video, it also expresses different ways of addressing the audience, with whose expectations the film repeatedly plays. In the end, we learn nothing about the motive or success of the suicide, the questions of meaning are returned to the audience and simultaneously related reflexively to the film itself.#10

With Lynch the motif sets in shortly after the first half of the film. Since the music starts several measures before the image, the scene appears to be firmly integrated in the narrative context. No break is indicated at all. There is no charged, dialectical relation between illusion and reality, they differ only by degrees to the extent that they allude to different levels of reality, but there are already many of these in the film. In the same way, other conflicts crucial to the theory of the avant-garde, such as those between creativity and manipulation or between romanticism and cynicism, remain palpable as the characters' inner conflicts, but are not carried out in the image language. This imbues the figures with the slightly stereotypical, mysterious aura that is always the pivotal point for Lynch. Naturally there are also allusions to private complications between work and love, because of course we find ourselves here in "Psychodrama City"#11, and the obsession of the protagonists with their passions stands almost symbolically for their involvement in the Hollywood system. Themes that are addressed are the price particularly of sophisticated projects ("You would kill to get a role in it," is said shortly before the casting scene), predictable professional failure, and early suffering. Yet even when the view axis of work (the zoom from the depth) crosses that of desire (the exchange of looks between the actress and the director), work and desire always remain clearly identifiable as separate areas.

Staging and Improvisation

This is completely different in Time Code. Here a distinction can only barely be made between what is to be regarded as private life and what is already professional work. The film plays largely in a small film production company dominated by a busy coming and going. A casting session is to take place, and the production team wants to meet at the same time to come to a decision about an ambitious project, which is presented by a young director towards the end of the film. Yet this loose plot framework only serves as a backdrop for a dense network of relationships being woven. These suggest what could be meant by the term "immaterial labor": one of the actresses and the watchman are sniffing cocaine together. The masseur that treats the team during its inefficient meetings helps out with the screen tests. While the team is screening a scene, the producer and the other candidate for the casting are screwing behind the screen. The producer has in turn had the screenwriter write a role specifically for this candidate (as "bitch"), for which reason the casting agent nearly throws his arms around her, when he sees her. The producer's girlfriend leaves psychotherapy thinking about separation, and the first actress later makes a pass at her; the young director and her musical accompanist exchange a long kiss during her presentation, and the candidate's girlfriend tries to spy on her lover with a microphone from her limousine parked in front of the company. As she becomes suspicious, she nervously wanders around the car and bumps into the producer, who is just smoking a "post-coitus" cigarette. In the meantime, the team is waiting for the boss, and the secretary wanders through the walls with a stack of binders in her arms looking for him.

It would hardly be possible to spread out this rhizomatic network of relationships, here only cursorily sketched out, using traditional narrative techniques. Figgis uses a double split screen throughout the film and thus has four images available simultaneously. As a viewer, one feels hopelessly overwhelmed for about twenty minutes, until one has a reasonable grasp of the story and can enjoy deciphering the narrative, visual and acoustic links between the image fields. Each image field is shot in a single, long continuous take without a single cut, whereby all four image fields were shot synchronously.#12 The synchronicity is evident when the city is rattled by several light earthquakes and all four images shake and the figures seek shelter at the same time, and also in that the figures repeatedly move from one image field to another. This shows the dense interlocking of structure and content in the film. It is thus all the more astonishing that it has so far been discussed only in terms of its formal structure, as a kind of "multimedia experiment" in "digital filmmaking" (as which it was financed by Sony).#13 The DVD, which is in fact interactive, contributes to this, as one can listen to the soundtracks of the four image fields individually and independently from the original mix. In addition, the DVD also offers the first of the altogether fifteen filmed versions. The film was made using hand-held digital video cameras to follow the individual figures or groups through the entire film. With the amount of interaction, it is astonishing that they never bring each other into the picture – cameras are only visible as the characters' tools. This informal camera style, recently referred to both frequently and confusingly as "dogma" style, together with the actors' improvisations, imbues the figures with something very real. There is nothing mysterious or beautiful about them, their passions seem equally destructive and distorted. The entire film is extremely constructed and yet real, simultaneously staged and improvised. In comparison with the playful balancing act between mythically exaggerated oppositions, such as that between the blond and the black-haired woman with Lynch, in Figgis' film the multiple and fragmented oppositions, taken to an extreme and unresolved, are found pressed into a rigid formal corset.

In any case, this is not the cultural industry as we know it, the grand, glamorous and manipulative apparatus of a Hollywood studio. What we see is more of a little "dilapidated ediface"; the creative makes an appearance as small business entrepreneur in the midst of extremely informal and flexibilized forms of work and relationships. We would rather not know about the kind of work contracts that cover the work here. The team, elaborately composed according to technical, economic and intercultural responsibilities, also remains largely incapable of action without the boss – the hierarchies have not disappeared at all. And the promises of the "New Economy" are already showing their contradictory sides – the film was made in late 1999 – expressed in the burn-out and paranoia of the characters. Glamor is only to be recognized as a reflection in the way the figures are driven, hardly at all in concrete codes of behavior or style. What is most obviously different from the "factory model" of the cultural industry is the completely unspectacular location where the film plays: an office building that is no different from a thousand others like it. The coming and going of those involved emphasizes the everydayness and social assimilation of this production model. The few other locations – the psychotherapy office, the bookshop, an apartment, a limousine – remain tied to this model. To a certain extent, they are the requisite field offices of the production. This illustrates in a very specific sense what Negri/Hardt mean with their "social factory".

What impact does this production model have on filmmaking itself? Which codes of cinematic self-reference are available to Figgis, if he wants to avoid the classical-avant-gardist variant of showing the immediate means of production such as camera and set? Is there even still a set at all, or has it become identical with the social space? One of the myths of the digital is that cameras and computers will disappear from everyday life ("invisible computing"#15). Is the essence of digital self-reference thus to be found in its annulment? In fact, the entire film deals with production, it equates work and life as far as possible. It is hardly possible to imagine an outside any longer. The way the camera dives into these interweavings and interactions – Benjamin euphorically called it "penetrating" into life#16 - is inevitably confronted with a new myth of the authentic. Yet Figgis does not flirt with the authentic like Slacker, The Blair Witch Project or, in part, even The Idiots.#17 Instead the authentic is shown in the content as a dramatic or oppressive loss of horizon and formally framed in a complex narrative form beyond classic montage. Digital by itself, and John Belton#18 was right to this extent, says little: it is more a matter of a syncretism of various techniques, which could all be realized with analog means as well, but are now simply easier to use and place in an immediate connection. The different levels of split screens, continuous takes, the "authentic" camera work, which is actually derived from the documentary film style of Direct Cinema since the 50s#19, the elaborate and inherently already hyperreferential sound collages#20 result in a complex symbol with manifold possible readings. Content and structural moments ultimately only make sense in relation to one another. They condense into an allegory of post-Fordist production conditions, postmodern cultural theory and digital production means. Towards the end, the film finally talks about itself in the form of a parable. Is it therefore Brechtian cinema, a political film?

Everyone is a Militant

The thesis of the "social factory", as developed in post-operaistic theory, is rooted in the radical leftist movement of the "Autonomia operaia" in Italy in the 70s, which no longer sought to fight for better working conditions, but against work as a whole under the dominant capitalist conditions. It attempts to make comprehensible the shift of the capitalist creation of value from the classical factory regime, where it could take place in a certain location under controlled conditions, to the whole of social life. The movement is not interested in describing some kind of "post-industrial" state, but rather in showing that "the whole of society is permeated by the factory regime."#21 This means primarily that the classical distinctions of political economy between production and reproduction, or between productive and non-productive work, no longer apply. Goods-producing labor and distribution oriented to consumption by means of logos, labels and marketing are no more opposites than a disciplinary work ethic and hedonistic lifestyles. Here too, it is important to see that Negri/Hardt are not arguing for a shift from one pole to another, but rather that it is no longer a matter of meaningful distinctions.

At the same time, the "social factory" represents an attempt to provide a conceptual theoretical framework for various leftist and feminist theories on the theme of work that revolve around the relations of paid and unpaid work, of profitable and reproductive work (education, care, mobility, housework). This framework should reflect the antagonistic struggle between work and capital under the conditions of the Third Industrial Revolution (informatization, digitalization, neo-liberalism) with the aim of achieving a perspective that brings all these struggles together.#22 While a major portion of leftist criticism always hobbles "after capital", still seeking to address demands to the state, Negri/Hardt primarily want to turn the perspective around: it appears to them that it is no longer capital that is the motor of history, but rather resistance against dead, automatized and Taylorized labor – including the autonomous refusal to work in the 70s. This means that "immaterial labor" emerged in the intellectual, creative and emotional forms of communication of resistance (from factory agitation, tactical actions of the "Urban Indians", to communication guerrillas of free radios such as Radio Alice in Bologna). However, resistance has shown capital the way to turn communication and creativity into the pivotal point of a post-Fordist creation of value. "Immaterial labor": intellectual, affective-emotional, and techno-scientific activities, the work of the cyborg#23, have revolutionized productive forces, but have not been able to change the production conditions. This is its tragedy. For this reason, it has itself become a motor of neo-liberal, post-Fordist history. "We caused Berlusconi in 1977," admits Negri.#24

Despite the defeat of 1977, however, the progressive aspects of these struggles should not be overlooked. For the raw material of "immaterial labor" is the subject itself. This subject is no longer leeched as in the Taylorist system, alienated into the total dehumanization of a storehouse of machine replacement parts, but is instead recognized as techno-scientific subject, cyborg or societal worker in its "creative subjectivity". This new "function of new worker subjectivity that directly sets values"#25 generally indicates the productive function of the subject, which is, however "controlled in the disposition of power, of which it is the expression."#26 This means that capitalist power still continues to dominate "living labor", but now only from the outside: it is no longer possible for it to penetrate and discipline this labor. In other words: post-Fordism cannot close itself into a new system. The productive forces have already created the conditions for communism, only the production conditions are still capitalist. However, capital has lost its productive function entirely, it only operates now as a parasitic predator. Whereas the thesis of the cultural industry still presumed a transfer of the economic model of the factory to the area of culture, with the aim of thoroughly "colonizing" everyday life and thus orienting it to the interests of capital, for the "social factory" this state has long since been reached, although this can certainly be no reason for sentimentality. For the more the situation comes to a head, the greater the probability of getting rid of the parasites. To a certain extent, this is Negri/Hardt's "principle of hope". A "high degree of consolidation of collective subjectivity"#27 is to emerge by means of the new forms of communication – specifically the meanwhile famous "multitude" as the global opponent of capital.

What is interesting about this theory in any case is that it allows production to take place everywhere, throughout the entire social space. Not only does this mean that the distinction between economy, politics and culture as separate, independent areas is not very meaningful, it also allows for understanding all everyday behavior as labor and thus part of the tradition of the struggles between capital and labor. Therefore, this consistently antagonistic approach – capital can never completely eliminate its adversary, but rather continuously produces it anew – can dispense with an alarmist invocation of totalizing circumstances and offer itself in the same breath as a political perspective outside the realm of identity-political ghettos.

What remains astonishing, however, is how consistently and unbrokenly "the subject" and "living labor" emerge from these struggles. Capital seems to have no hold on them, but rather contributes to the production of their authenticity by providing the stage for resistance and struggle. From the antagonism between capital and labor, the motor of all dialectics, the undialectical per se is to emerge – the Nietzschean idea, conveyed through Deleuze, of the "positivity of desire".#28 May Dionysus appear. At the same time, however, all that has been borrowed from post-structuralist theory – the dissolution of binary oppositions, rhizomatic networks, Lyotard's immaterials, etc. - become inconsequential after a certain moment. The point is certainly not an unconditional decentering of the subject, a merciless intensification of capitalist de-territorializations. Whereas Deleuze/Guattari's schizo#29 was still a thoroughly fragmented subject that found its revolutionary potential in expending itself in machinic concatenations, here we find a kind of Beuysian variant of the anti-Oedipus: everyone is a militant.

This emphasis on "living labor", which, with all its untenable vitalistic charge, can only provisionally be brought under control from the outside by capital and state apparatuses, can be compared well with Foucault's theories of the "microphysics of power" all the way to "governmentality".#30 Power has long operated in them from the inside, determining how and under which conditions we can comprehend or must design ourselves as subjects at all. A disciplinary power external to human beings is increasingly succeeded by a regulative power of control, still promoting and not limiting the most bizarre designs of the self on the part of individuals. The whole of society has become "productive" here as well and is hardly subjected to repressive coercions any longer. However, the coercions function more subtly now, as dictates to acquire the technologies that allow one to appear as an economic, political or desiring subject. Specifically the "living" as bio-power in this conception has become the center for the regulation of population, sexuality and ultimately also economy; it decisively defines the criteria of inclusion and exclusion in modern societies.

Sauve qui peut la vie

Despite these necessary qualifications, the thesis of the "social factory" represents an excellent analytical concept, which can be applied to Time Code as well. Even where this theory seriously unravels into the realm of the speculative, it at least provides a serviceable starting point for further differentiating questions of the neo-liberal constitution of the subject and the meaningfulness of everyday life, which are not only important for this film. What is crucial to this is the idea of grasping every social act as labor. The background for the development of this kind of concept of "immaterial labor" includes, for instance, Felix Guattari's attempt to contrast the classical Marxist terms of use and exchange value with the antagonism of desire work (as the social adaptation of individualistically conceived Freudian dream work) and normalization work (the work of teachers and police).#31 In comparison, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, oriented more to the theory of object relations than the drive theory branch of psychoanalysis, have introduced the aspect of relationship work.#32 In addition, a large portion of feminist and alternative discussions from the 70s and 80s was motivated by striving for a higher valuation of the unpaid, collaborative reproduction work exploited by capital. By themselves, all of these concepts are expansions of existing ideas struggling for the recognition of "life" as labor, whereas the thesis of "immaterial labor" already presupposes this recognition. The quality of this thesis is in showing how emotional care work and techno-scientific competence are linked, how communication and value-defining creativity, in general the developing productive forces (Marx' "general intellect") and the social imaginary work together. This thesis becomes quite congenially idealistic where it seeks to grasp these connections no longer at the level of exploitation and discipline, but rather as a source of authenticity, resistance and social autonomy. However, the link between the "social factory" and emotional and productive self-exploitation cannot be covered in this way. This is essentially the crux of Time Code.

In fact, the film presents the most diverse "forms of labor". In the left top image field, Lauren, the girlfriend of Rose (referred to above as the candidate), pursues work on her relationship throughout the whole film, but in an extremely paranoid form of control and surveillance. Rose herself cultivates contacts important to her career – in the classical form of sex work; for Alex, the producer and burnt-out workaholic, sex is part of desire work, phantasm of dropping out and heading for Tuscany and producing children, which is as desirable as it is impossible. Then we have the regular security and reception work, primarily in the lower left image field, the masseur's care work, the committee and presentation work, and finally the psychotherapeutical repair work at the top right. The casting session clearly assumes a decisive position. Not only do the entangled strands of the plot in all four image fields relate to it, the casting session also seems to express a specific, contemporary cultural code as "selection work".#33 This primarily reveals the pressure of the social imaginary, the way in which the opportunities and coercions of neo-liberal self-design are connected. This is indeed a matter of a "creative imperative"#34 not only to find or be the right one, but also to be oneself in the right way, or at least to be in the right place at the right time. Pressure to conform and the threat of exclusion converge in the dictate of authenticity. Whereas in Mulholland Drive the casting session is only an occasion for showing the corruptness of the Hollywood system, in Time Code it seems to be the dominant, yet extremely precarious wish machine of the "social factory". It embodies the crucial threshold, access to the world of film, which determines visibility and belonging, the possibility of being perceived outside the realm of everyday relationship torments in the dominant social imaginary. Yet casting itself has become an everyday occurrence. By filtering wishes, it becomes the actual fulfillment of wishes, from which the distorted desires of almost all the characters can be read. The promise of a possible escape from everyday chaos becomes the condition for this. The self-designs of the characters on both sides accordingly present themselves as self-tormenting and, most of all, disarmingly humorless. What is pleasurable appears artificial, merely a habit, and the conversation between Rose and Lester, the casting agent, at their first encounter is one of the best moments of the film in this respect.

"Life", as it is depicted in Time Code, is consequently a tangle of unresolved relationships and fatal ambitions. No one has a place that they only need to fill. There is nothing but urging, operating or brooding, but no one knows why or wherefore. There are no positive wishes. Even marginalized desires such as lesbian sexuality#35, multiculturalness, drugs or collectivity, which were once intended to embody the new revolutionary subjectivities to a high degree, seem extremely detached, trapped in typing and the same cliches as the coerced norms of days past. If life does not simply take place, and can thus not be simply documented as such, if it is always pressing on to somewhere else, ultimately altogether suspended in the imaginary, never finding closure in a new symbolic or social order (such as communism, for instance), where and how can it be covered cinematically then? Perhaps it is helpful to recall the problem that Vertov poses in "The Man with the Camera": shooting a film, editing it and finally watching it in the cinema are only different facets of everyday actions like sport, work, mobility. Equivalences are dominant everywhere: between the people, the machines, the apparatuses and the institutions. The cameraman himself (Kinoki) comes into the picture as a flaneur of socialist everyday life. In fact, he "penetrates" into life with the camera and actually creates it on the cutting table: among the most touching scenes in the film are the momentarily halted portrait shots, which suddenly begin to smile. This is more than just the fascination of film for what is alive in the moving image, it is a veritable cinematic creation myth. The steep angles, breakneck camera positions and daring montages are, as Manovich rightly says, "effects with meaning"#36, because it is the true construction, the avant-gardist demonstration of cinematic image devices that first makes "life", real or liberated life, "living work", visible. This is the utopian core: the close interlocking of documentation, media reflection and media activism.#37

For us today, the film most clearly demonstrates that life itself can never be authentic, that producing exemplary authenticity#38 is instead one of the foundational myths of the modern understanding of art, regardless of whether this authenticity is sought in the person of the artist as genius, in the work or the referents, such as everyday life, which is approached with different aesthetic strategies like realism or documentation, or in specific attitudes like a certain coolness or street credibility in video clips.#39 For Figgis, too, the everyday is the political, the site of production and the social imaginary. Yet nothing about this is reconciled or charged with concrete utopian notions. Therefore, he cannot simply "penetrate" into this life or animate it using his own constructions. The authentic would be the untrue. This is also why the "digital disappearance" of the cameras cannot be understood as a sufficient mode of cinematic self-reference. A little like Godard's "Sauve qui peut (La vie)" (1979, Time Code is a post-revolutionary film. In Godard's film it was also a matter of turning the video studio into a pivotal point of everyday "prostitution", of merciless private and professional failure.#40 By fictionalizing everyday life, staging what is improvised, and finally charging the sublime aesthetic of Direct Cinema with melodramatic elements in a kind of docu-soap – which led to the criticism of a bad story – Figgis succeeds in fixing life that is constantly seeking to go somewhere else in a dense, allegorical construct; he depicts what is random and transitory as something necessary, what appears at first glance to be purely individually psychical as something societal, and conversely what appears professional as something thoroughly motivated by drives. At the same time, though, Figgis meets the characters with a certain sympathy. The film does not take a position outside the events or above the figures. It does not judge their ambition, their paranoia, their weakness and indecisiveness. When Lauren finally leaves her limousine and strolls impassively through office rooms in search of Alex, finally finding him during the presentation in the meeting room and shooting him, the story reaches its melodramatic climax, but at the same time it is one of the most unheroic deaths in film history. Even as he is gasping for his last breath, his cell phone rings and Alex makes plans for dinner with his girlfriend. And even as the director continues to film Alex as he dies, this does not have the effect of a paparazzi-like indiscretion, but rather of a quasi natural continuation of her presentation.

Self-Reference as Alienation Gain

Yet what do the depicted activities of a film production company have to do with the production of Time Code? To what extent can the story be read as self-reflective? Which other equivalences are there between the activity of filmmaking and "uncontrolled life"#41? How can filmmaking be understood on the one hand as an "independent", experimental production form, and on the other hand as a detached and cynical business? And what happens with the inevitability of the overlapping of labor and life? The film balances on a thin line between what it shows and how it shows it. It is the nuances of this difference that matter. By having the young director talk near the end of the film about her project, which is reminiscent of Time Code in many details (split screens and continuous takes outside montage), Figgis introduces a level of parodic self-reflection#42 that is, in fact, revealing. With regard to the project, he has Alex say, "This is the most portentous crap, I've ever heard," leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether this relates more to the director's declamatory form of presentation or to the film one is just watching. The story works as a parable of a possible film that would be similar to Time Code but not identical with it. The parable relates to what Time Code could also be in comparison with conventional narrative film, namely "portentous crap". It plays with a possible failure of its own film and allows Figgis, who cleverly anticipates a predictable complaint and includes it in the plot of the film, to be simultaneously experimental and "cool". This form of ironic self-reference does not produce a winking agreement with the existing circumstances, though, but rather forces us to process the difference.#43

In analogy to the four image fields, we could speak of four closely interlocking myths that Time Code works through. The claim of film, which has been postulated again and again since the beginning, of creating life, penetrating into it, capturing it or "taking it by surprise", could be seen as the foundational myth. This relates to another myth, specifically the myth of this "life" itself, everyday and authentic being beyond capitalist alienation, as it appears in a multitude of political, theoretical and pop-cultural narratives.#44 The myth of digitality, of which the elements of interactivity, real time#45 and non-linear narrative form were used to market the film, can be seen as an expansion of the principle cinema myth. And finally, there is also the myth of Hollywood, which classically appears to be diametrically opposed to everyday life, but is posited here, regarded as a work relationship, on the same plane with this life. This is also why the revealing dialectic of illusion and being does not work, because "being" is just as mythically constituted as illusion. The relation to the mythical can therefore not be defined as a purely enlightening relation, but rather as an interplay of being involved and gaining distance, of reference and differentiation, whereby the stance from which the film argues is not located outside the realm of the mythical. In a sense, the film even makes use of the mythical, but without becoming completely absorbed in it. It draws attention to what is living, spontaneous and improvised, showing it at the same time as something extremely constructed, whereby the characters' inner pressure and the rigidly formal framework of the film correlate well. Authentic camera work is employed and topicalized at the same time; in their non-conformism the characters appear extremely conformist – they present themselves, so to speak, but the great detachment conversely affirms their glamorous potential as well. It is thus not a matter of a new dogma here, but rather of the correspondences between the What and the How, ultimately of the possibility of critique outside a paranoid discourse of truth, which has again and again appealed to the myth of the unmediated and non-representable, the authentic, as source of critique since Rousseau.#46

The constant movements between a spatial inside and outside in Time Code can also be taken as a model for the way the film sees itself as part of a "system" of social conditions and circumstances, attempting to make specifically this involvement the point of origin for possible distanciation. At the same time, self-reference still provides the crucial starting point for whether and how "something" may be read as critique. Yet self-reference functions here neither as a formal mechanism that could explode the narrative, nor as a quotation-like, postmodern reintegration into the narrative, as is the case with Lynch, where the film studio is mythically charged as a very special "location". Instead, it functions as something that I would call a multiply graduated or differentiated, anti-idealistic praxis. It is anti-idealistic in the sense that the contradictions, which result from one's own entanglement in the depicted and topicalized social circumstances, can be understood as potential and starting point for critique. As the classical form of self-reference is extended on the one hand to the entire film – in fact the film deals with nothing other than the economic, social and emotional conditions of filmmaking – and different levels of referentiality are introduced on the other hand, located along a thin line of literalness and reference, and since it is partially left up to the viewers how directly or seriously they want to be taken, Figgis succeeds in allegorizing self-reference itself. Although Time Code is thus not a didactic play in the Brechtian sense, it is still a political film. In other words, the non-linear narrative, as it appears in the fourfold image, in the sound design, in the profile of the characters, in the manifold references and citations, and in the parable, can be taken as an allegorical mode, the aesthetic and political potential of which reaches beyond the level of the merely depicted. At the same time, the film's close interlocking of content and form are not only merged into one "image", but the multiple differences between the What and the How of what is depicted turn the concrete aesthetic experience itself into a level of critique. Taken seriously not only in this respect, the film can be read as a critique of the authenticity of filmmaking, as a critique of the authenticity of life, and as a critique of "living labor" – the total convergence of living and working. In this allegorical image, however, the "social factory" does not appear as an automatic generator of resistance, but rather as a compulsion, in which "we all" are in over our heads, and which only laboriously allows gaining distance. For this reason, I would suggest that the film should not be taken as a one-dimensional lament over the hardships of neo-liberal individualization, but rather as a strong statement for more distance in alienation. Instead of "living labor", Time Code leads to "alienation gain"#47 as the fundamental precondition for critique and anti-idealistic aesthetic experience.

1 On the concept of immaterial labor see: Toni Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato, Paolo Virno, Umherschweifende Produzenten. Immaterielle Arbeit und Subversion, Berlin 1998

2 Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt, Die Arbeit des Dionysos. Materialistische Staatskritik in der Postmoderne, Berlin 1997, p. 14 (English: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, The Labor of Dionysius: A Critique of the State-Form (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1994))

3 Jean-Louis Baudry, Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus, in: Film Quarterly 28 (Winter 1874 –75), p. 46

4 ibid., p. 47

5 Dana Polan, A Brechtian Cinema? Towards a Politics of Self-Reflexive Film, in: Bill Nichols (Ed.), Movies and Methods: An Anthology: Volume II, 1985, p. 611 – 672

6 David Roberts, Marat/Sade oder die Geburt der Postmoderne aus dem Geist der Avantgarde, in: Christa and Peter Bürger (Ed.), Postmoderne: Alltag, Allegorie und Avantgarde, Ffm. 1987

7 With the term self-reference I refer neither to system-theoretical aspects, although self-referentiality is attributed to art there per se – "The function of art is to provide the world with an opportunity to observe itself – allowing the world to appear in the world" (GLU, p. 108) – nor to the discussions of Peter Bürger's thesis that the avant-garde is to be understood as a "self-criticism of the institution art". I am more concerned with how concrete practices are or can be asserted as critical practices. On the relationship between film and "artistic" institutional critique, see: Gregor Stemmrich, Heterotopien des Kenematographischen – Die "institutional critique" und das Kino in der Kunst von Michael Ashers und Dan Grahams, in: Gregor Stemmrich (Ed.) Kunst/Kino. Jahresring 48. Jahrbuch für moderne Kunst, Cologne 2001, p. 194-216.

8 James Hoberman/Jonathan Rosenbaum, Mitternachtskino. Kultfilme der 60er und 70er Jahre, St. Andrä-Wördern 1998, p. 103

9 Cf. Helmut Draxler, Der Autor als Schlächter. Bildsprachen der Gewalt und die cinematische Wahrnehmungssituation im neueren Horror-Film, in: Texte zur Kunst, Heft 43, September 2001, p. 93 - 106

10 Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, Abbas Kiarostami, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/02/kiarostami.html

11 The Byrds, Psychodrama City, 1966

12 Hitchcock experimented with continuous takes in Rope (1948). The film consists of eight approximately 10-minute takes with no cut. The cuts between these takes are hidden in zooms on the back of one of the actors, which become monochrome surfaces; on this see: Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, 1983, p. 323 ff; Brian de Palma referred to this in a long take at the beginning of Snake Eyes (1998); Vertov already used split screens, in the 70s Brian de Palma especially probed their use in terms of the possibilities for narrative technique. Split screens and continuous takes are accordingly eminently filmic devices and have little to do with video and digital technology.

13 "TIME CODE is an audacious and innovative multimedia experiment that breaks new ground in filmmaking. Breaking away from traditional 'linear' type of feature production, TIME CODE helps usher in a new age of digital filmmaking – a motion picture shot entirely with hand-held digital cameras." Chad Salvatore, Questions with Mike Figgis, July 12, 2000, ; Wolfgang Ernst, on the other hand, insists on the difference between the cinema and DVD version, cf.: Wolfgang Ernst, Nur ganz kurz, Vortrag zur langen Time Code Nacht in den Kunstwerken, Berlin 2002, manuscript

14 Being able to follow people with a hand-held camera founded the myth of direct cinema in the late 50s, cf.: Wilhelm Roth, Der Dokumentarfilm seit 1960, Munich and Lucerne 1982, p. 11

15 Donald A. Norman, The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution, 1999

16 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in: ibid., Illuminations, London, 1999, p. 227

17 Richard Linklater, Slacker, 1990; Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project 1999; Lars van Trier, The Idiots, 1998. Whereas Slacker and The Blair Witch Project completely entrust the proof of the "authentic" to the shaky images, The Idiots is certainly a more complex case: the characters play "idiots", they are therefore not "authentic", yet this playing becomes, with support from the shaky camera, the actual, subversively understood proof of authenticity at a second level. This reproduces the fundamental myth of authenticity, namely the projection phantasm of the non-authentic to the allegedly authentic, all the more consistently.

18 John Belton, Digital Cinema: A False Revolution, in: October 100, Spring 2002, p. 98 – 114; also: Tanja Michalski, Quo vadis, Wackelkamera? Was verspricht die digitale Filmtechnologie?, in: Texte zur Kunst, Heft 48, December 2002, p. 190 f

19 On the enthusiasm aroused by the hand camera and synchronized sound about gaining access to "uncontrolled life", see: Wilhelm Roth, Der Dokumentarfilm seit 1960, Munich and Lucerne 1982, p. 8 - 25. Richard Leacock's retrospective description of the situation around 1957 almost reads like the concept for Time Code: I need three or four completely silent camera that can be taken everywhere and do not need cables. I also need one or two equally silent tape recorders, also mobile and without connecting cables, and all the apparatuses have to run completely synchronously", in: ibid., p. 11

20 Figgis not only directs the gaze with the sound, but the music itself, for instance the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony, popularized by Visconti's Death in Venice, generates a compact field from the reference character and melodramatic background music in the context of Time Code. On Figgis' history as a jazz musician and the "musicality" of his film compositions in general, see: Dominik Graf, Die Musik und ihr Code. Wie der mutige Regisseur Mike Figgis seine Filme komponiert, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29 August 2002, p. 12

21 Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt, op. cit., p. 14

22 On feminist criticism of Negri/Hardt, see: Susanne Schulz, Aufgelöste Grenzen und „affektive Arbeit„. Über das Verschwinden von Reproduktionsarbeit und feministischer Kritik in Empire, in: fantomas. magazin für linke debatte und praxis, Nr. 2, Winter 2002, S. 13 - 16

23 Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt, op. cit., p. 14f

24 Toni Negri, Die Niederlage von 1977, in: Primo Moroni, Nanni Balestrini, Die goldene Horde. Arbeiterautonomie, Jugendrevolte und bewaffneter Kampf in Italien Berlin 1994, p. 428

25 Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt, op. cit., p. 141

26 ibid., p. 144

27 ibid., p. 141

28 Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, Das molekulare Unbewußte, in: Anti-Ödipus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie, Ffm 1979, p. 365 – 380; G. Deleuze/F. Guattari/G. Jervis u.a., Antipsychiatrie und Wunschökonomie, Berlin 1976

29 Gilles Deleuze/Félix Guattari, Anti-Ödipus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie, Ffm 1979,Kapitel IV, Einführung in die Schizo-Analyse

30 cf. Ulrich Bröckling/Susanne Krasmann/Thomas Lemke (Ed.) Gouvernementalität der Gegenwart. Studien zur Ökonomisierung des Sozialen, Ffm. 2000

31 Félix Guattari, Wunsch und Revolution. Ein Gespräch mit Franco Berardi (Bifo) und Paolo Bertetto, Heidelberg 1978, p. 52f

32 Oskar Negt/Alexander Kluge, Geschichte und Eigensinn, Nördlingen 1981, Kapitel 11: Beziehungsarbeit in Privatverhältnissen, p. 863 – 1000

33 The casting session might be considered comparable the way DJs play records or with curating in the art field, which would make it a thoroughly modern mode of production outside the realm of modernist "new creations".

34 Marion von Osten, Be Creative! Der kreative Imperativ, Museum für Gestaltung, Zurich 2002

35 It would also be interesting to compare the respective representations of lesbian sexuality in Mulholland Drive and Time Code. Whereas Lynch revels in the visual codes of eroticism, lulling viewers with voyeurism and violating taboos in electrifying moments of tension, with Figgis there is nothing to see and nothing to expect.

36 Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, Mass., 2001, p. 243

37 Peter Wollen still saw a "sign of ambiguity" in Vertov's film in 1975, which could be read as "an uncertain wavering back and forth between the ideology of photographic realism and formal innovation or experimental film", in: Peter Wollen, Die zwei Avantgarden, in: Gregor Stemmrich (Ed.), footnote 7, p. 170; today the reception is even more disparate, for instance between the editors of October, who cling to the constructivist project (October 100, Editorial), Lev Manovich, cf. footnote 36, and Maurizio Lazzarato, Videophilosophie. Zeitwahrnehmung im Postfordismus, Berlin 2002, who emphasizes the media-activist aspect.

38 In the context of the transition from a reception aesthetic to a production aesthetic and ultimately an aesthetic of genius in the late 18th century, Lionel Trilling aptly formulated this circumstance: "Now that art no longer needs to be pleasing, one expects it to provide the intellectual substance of life. For the artist this means that, regardless of whether he asserts his complete autonomy and views his audience indifferently, hostilely or disdainfully, he has the certainty that he alone can give what the audience most profoundly needs.", in: Lionell Trilling, Das Ende der Aufrichtigkeit (Sincerity and Authenticity), Ffm., Berlin, Vienna 1983, p. 95

39 Here I refer to a lecture by Deborah Schamoni, Was soll das? Das Authentische in Musik- und Werbeclips, 17 December 2002, Merz Akademie, Stuttgart

40 However still within clear polar structures like city and country, factory and household, wish and sex. Nevertheless, Sauve qui peut (La Vie) is certainly the film that most precisely anticipates the issues of Time Code in between love, work and cinema, cf.: Lothar Kurzawa, Bilder der dritten Art. Zu Rette sich wer kann (Das Leben), in: Jean-Luc Godard, Liebe, Arbeit, Kino. Rette sich wer kann (Das Leben), Berlin, 1981, p. 105-133

41 Cf.: Wilhelm Roth, op. cit., p. 11

42 Cf.: David Roberts, op. cit., p.

43 On the problem of ironic distanciation, see: Diedrich Diederichsen, Die Leute woll'n, daß was passiert. Wege aus der Ironiefalle: Für eine Wiedergeburt des Politischen aus dem Ungeist der Freizeitkultur, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 October 200, p. 46

44 The question arises of the extent to which critical discourses revolving around the relationship of art and life, the concept of "life praxis", for instance in Peter Bürger's writing, or even the concept of "everyday life" in Henri Lefebvre's "Critique of Everyday Life, co-constitute this myth as a vitalist counter-meaning in the context of modern bio-politics and the information-theoretical constitution of a "genetic code". On the historicity of the concept of life, see: Lily E. Kay, Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code, Stanford, CA, 2000, p. 40ff

45 On digital myths in general, see: Lev Manovich, op. cit., p. 49 – 60; on the myth of real time in particular, see: John Miller, No more Boring Art, in: Gregor Stemmrich (Ed.), Kunst/Kino. Jahresring 48. Jahrbuch für moderne Kunst, Cologne 2001, p. 76

46 In fact, Rousseau's expositions on theater can almost be read as an anticipation of apparatus theory and institutional critique: "'One believes to assemble for a play, but there everyone is separated from everyone else, one forgets friends, neighbors, relations, to dwell on fairy-tales, mourn the sad fate of those long dead or laugh at the expense of those still living.' Instead of this "play closed in itself ... for which a small number of people is held captive in a dark cave, fearfully and impassively persisting in silence and inactivity", there should be free and festive assemblies 'in the fresh air and under the open skies', where nothing is shown." Quoted from: Lionel Trilling, op. cit., p. 67

47 Cf. Stephan Gregory, Späße unter Aliens. Vom Entfremdungsgewinn zur Lustverordnung, unpublished manuscript, 1995, p. 8: "Detached from liberating social practices, the alienation consciousness began to have children and produce various operations of individually setting up house in discomfort, which is to be called here – in analogy to Freud's illness gain – 'alienation gain'. What this means are the game moves of life economy, which make it possible to reach a certain arrangement with 'alienation' in the case of ongoing discomfort."