Andy Birtwistle

Douglas Gordon and Cinematic Audiovisuality in the Age of Television: Experiencing the Experience of Cinema

At its birth at the end of the nineteenth century the cinematic image had the status of novelty, its very newness contributing to its value as a fairground attraction. Fifty years later, at the height of cinema’s popularity in the West, the cinematic image had become ubiquitous, familiar, transparent. While the stories and stars of popular cinema may have given audiences a taste of the extraordinary, the medium itself had in some sense become ordinary – normalized as the dominant form of moving-image entertain- ment. The post-war growth of television displaced cinema from this posi- tion, and by the late twentieth century it was the video image rather than the cinematic image that had come to dominate popular moving-image culture. It was the electronic image that had now become ubiquitous, familiar and transparent, recasting the status of cinema once again, and offering the opportunity for the cinematic be read and experienced in new ways.

It is in relation to the changing status and shifting perceptions of cine- matic modes of audiovisuality that I would like to consider the work of artist Douglas Gordon, thinking in particular about the ways in which his work renders visible and audible qualities of cinematic materiality and cinematic experience that are fugitive in popular cinema. Thus my concern here is with what Gordon himself has described as ‘the way we experience the experience of cinema’1 – an experience constituted not only by specific codes of representation and modes of exhibition designed to produce a particular type of spectatorial attention, but also by qualities of sonic and visual materiality that engender particular forms of affectivity.

My analysis of Gordon’s exploration of the cinematic is underpinned by two key observations: first, that the vantage point offered on cinema by his work is that of the electronic age. This is clearly evidenced by the use of video projection in a series of works that rearticulate Hollywood films, beginning with 24 Hour Psycho in 1993. The age of video is also signalled in Gordon’s work by the figure of television, which can be seen to weave its way through a number of his film and video projects. For example, in Feature Film (1999) and Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) Gordon establishes a dialectic between television and cinema that, I will argue, serves as a means by which the artist is able to engage with the specificity of cinematic experience.

The second observation I bring to my analysis of Gordon’s work is that those qualities we term ‘cinematic’ do not derive solely from the image. Discussions of the cinematic often focus on the visual aspects of cinema,

Visual Culture in Britain ISSN 1471-4787 print/ISSN 1941-8361 online # 2012 Taylor & Francis

102 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

but, while not ignoring these, I would also like to consider the role played by sound in creating a sense of the cinematic, and the ways in which sound-image relations are formulated within particular modes of filmic representation. While much of Gordon’s early video work dealt directly with the cinematic image through the rearticulation of Hollywood movies, later projects have engaged also with the sonic dimensions of cinematic experience. This shift of focus has clearly been a conscious decision on Gordon’s part. He states, ‘Between 1993 and 1997–8 most of my video and film work was silent and this unbearable silence was what got me inter- ested in looking specifically at the musical or audio component that had already been used in film’2. Gordon’s explicit concern with the cinesonic therefore necessitates a consideration of what might most appropriately be termed ‘cinematic audiovisuality’.

Working with these ideas, I would like finally to consider the ways in which Gordon’s film and video work allows us to think about some of the temporal dimensions of spectatorial experience. If, as suggested above, Gordon’s per- spective on the cinematic is refracted through the electronic, then the effects generated by his work may be understood as both technological and tem- poral. That is to say, changes in technology, such as the shift from the photographic to the electronic, serve also to mark the passage of time. Gordon’s articulation of one medium through another thus has an important temporal dimension that I would like to explore in terms of the ways in which the nature, status and perception of the cinematic change over time.

In the first part of what follows my aim is to focus on issues and ideas emerging from Gordon’s work in video, before moving on to a more detailed analysis of Gordon’s film projects, and in particular Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Understandably, much of the critical reaction to this film has focused on its status as a film about football and as a portrait of one of the sport’s greatest stars. Thus the Observer’s film critic Jason Solomons has described it as ‘the greatest film about football ever made’3, and this it may very well be. The film might, however, also be read as a meditation on cinematic affect and cinematic materiality, and in this respect sits comfortably with Gordon’s creative engagement with cinema, articulated first in 24 Hour Psycho. By reconnecting Zidane with Gordon’s other work, and by looking beyond themes such as fate, guilt, trust, memory, madness, deception and doubling, commonly used by writers to navigate the artist’s work, my aim is to situate the cinematic itself as one of the key elements of Gordon’s praxis.

Framing the cinematic

In addition to the ebb and flow of cinema’s popularity over the course of the twentieth century, shifts in the status of the cinematic might also be modelled in terms of proliferation. Removed from the darkened space of the cinema itself, the medium’s images have circulated in a range of industrial and cultural contexts, to be consumed and appreciated in a variety of different ways. Hence we might read Hitchcock’s famous image of the eye of Norman Bates, spying through a hole in the wall of the Bates Motel – interpreted as a visual metaphor for cinematic spectator- ship itself – as an example of popular cinema of the 1960s. Here we have an

image taken from the director’s most commercially successful film, a low- budget shocker that grossed $15 million in its first year,4 and with which, in the words of Ian Christie, Hitchcock ‘reinvented himself as a director of the 1960s and godfather to the stalker/serial-killer genre’.5 We might also see in this image, thanks mainly to the critics of the Cahiers du Cine ́ma, the work of an auteur, a masterwork of cinema, in a film that Andrew Sarris described as ‘the first American movie since Touch of Evil to stand in the same rank as the great European films’.6 At the same time we might also see in this image a familiar of late night TV schedules from the late 1960s onwards: a hoary, weather-beaten, taken-for-granted old classic that made its way onto mass market VHS in the 1980s, and thence to DVD a decade later. And, finally, by way of Douglas Gordon’s 1993 video installation 24 Hour Psycho, Hitchcock’s film enters the gallery, where the images of a once popular form of cinema take on the aura of the art object. Here, as Christie puts it, ‘Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho invites us in to ‘‘visit’’ Psycho as we might a ‘‘classic’’ in a museum’.7

In each of these incarnations, the same image assumes a different status, as it is read, experienced and valued in different ways. The figure of television clearly plays across these shifts and transformations, and Psycho is perhaps particularly interesting in the way that it refracts the televisual through the cinematic. The film’s pared-down, minimalist qual- ity, which stands in stark contrast to Hitchcock’s previous films of the late 1950s, signals the fact that it was shot largely by the TV crew that made Alfred Hitchcock Presents, then in its fifth season on CBS as Psycho went into production. Three decades later, Gordon’s critical appropriation and rearticulation of Psycho also owed a debt to television and its technology. Gordon has described how the idea for 24 Hour Psycho first came to him when playing about with his brother’s video recorder and collection of VHS tapes late one night when he could not find anything to watch on television.8 In another account of the project’s genesis, Gordon has described how he began to search through an off-air recording of Psycho to see if the television transmission of the scene in which Norman spies on Marion Crane undressing differed from that presented on the commer- cially released VHS.9 Furthermore, in Gordon’s installation Psycho finds its way into the gallery space by way of video projection from a VHS tape, rather than the screening of a film print. Despite the influence of the televisual on Hitchcock’s film, and the fact that it is rearticulated electro- nically in 24 Hour Psycho, at some level Gordon’s appropriated image still speaks of cinema, referring us to the cinematic image and to cinematic experience, but without necessarily adopting the modality of cinema itself.

In slowing Hitchcock’s film to the rate of one frame every two seconds, Gordon drains Psycho of its familiar narrative drives and pleasures, fore- grounding instead aspects of the film’s cinematic materiality, rendering opaque what was once transparent, confronting the viewer with images that were previously fleeting, immaterial and transient. Arrested in this way, what is on show is not just Psycho but also the cinematic image itself. A number of critics have viewed Gordon’s use of slow motion as a way of revealing something in the film that was not previously visible. For example, Amy Taubin, locating 24 Hour Psycho within the traditions of

Andy Birtwistle 103

104 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

avant-garde film practice, suggests that through the use of slow motion, ‘We become aware of the intermittency of the film image and the fragility of the illusion of real time in motion pictures’.10 Similarly, Laura Mulvey, working with the notion that ‘video and digital media have opened up new ways of seeing old movies’,11 states of 24 Hour Psycho that the ‘work creates a dialogue between the film and technology to discover something that is not there in the original as screened but can be revealed within it’.12 For Mulvey it is essentially the return to the still image that generates new modes of temporal experience for the spectator, through the restoration of the indexical power of photographic representation: ‘By stilling or slowing movie images, the time of the film’s original moment of registration suddenly bursts through its artificial, narrative surface’.13

Taking a slightly different approach to Gordon’s slowing of Psycho, Philip Monk suggests that the repressed mode of temporality restored to the viewing experience by the use of extreme slow motion, and the dilation of narrative that results, is that of real time: ‘Gordon’s intervention diverts us from the usual patterns of watching movies, where real time is nullified in the spectacle.’14 In each instance, what the critics see in Gordon’s use of slow motion is the release of a potential that, while inherent in the original material, does not constitute a fundamental or significant element of main- stream cinematic experience.

In each case, these writers propose ‘new ways of seeing old movies’ formulated in opposition to the modes of spectatorial engagement asso- ciated with classical cinema. Nonetheless, one might also think of Gordon’s revelatory use of slow motion as a stripping back and laying bare of qualities of the image that are fundamental to the experience of popular cinema but which, under normal viewing circumstances, have a tendency towards transparency. Put simply, Gordon’s work lends opacity to the popular cinematic image by removing it from cinema – removing it from the flow of a narrative that demands transparency, from the modes of articulation that create this transparency and from the spectatorial normal- ization and habituation that guarantee this transparency. In order to fulfil its primary function of narration, cinematic materiality must necessarily be ignored and forgotten. What Gordon does, in a simple but powerful way, is to frame the cinematic image of popular film, restoring its materiality and placing its qualities on display. Drained of narrative and sound, with movement severely reduced, and devoid of classical cinema’s normal articulation of space and time through editing, Psycho is here reduced to only the cinematic image. And, although Gordon’s rearticulation of Hitchcock’s film takes an electronic form, nevertheless some qualities of the cinematic image remain even when viewed through the filter of video. Thus while certain aspects of the materiality of the cinematic image may be lost or obscured in the move from film to video – such as the grain of the photographic image or its relatively high contrast ratio – Gordon’s appro- priated image still speaks of cinema. In part this is owing to the familiarity of the source material, but qualities of the cinematic are also conveyed through mise-en-sce`ne and those aspects of cinematography that are not completely lost in the transition from celluloid to videotape.

It is perhaps tempting to locate 24 Hour Psycho within the traditions of avant-garde film practice, as both Taubin and Monk have done, since Gordon’s work seems to demonstrate the ontological reduction of cinema to its essential elements and the desire to restore duration to cinematic experience that characterized structural film practice. Even so, there is perhaps something else at work here that is not quite captured by this particular critical context. Whenever one media technology loses its dom- inance, is eclipsed or replaced by another, we witness a moment during which the passing technology becomes fetishized – a moment at which the status of its images and sounds, and even their perceived qualities, begins to change. Thus, while the origin of scratching with vinyl has been var- iously backdated to the work of Pierre Schaeffer in the 1940s, John Cage in the 1930s and Dziga Vertov in the 1910s, turntablism itself might more properly be seen as a cultural phenomenon of the CD age. In the age of crisp digital CD sound, the technology associated with vinyl, and the sounds that the medium produces and reproduces, became the focus of intense interest for a certain group of artists. No longer ubiquitous and no longer inaudible, in the post-analogue digital soundscape the sonic signa- ture of vinyl’s materiality is heard and appreciated in new ways. In the same way, perhaps, Gordon’s return to the popular cinema of the past represents a fetishization of the cinematic image in the age of video.

The effect created by this foregrounding of the cinematic can surely be understood to occupy a central position in Gordon’s project to examine ‘how we experience the experience of cinema’. In popular cinema, we are rarely conscious of cinematic experience, or the materiality that serves as its foundation, wrapped up as we are in a film’s action, its story, and in identifying with its characters. With 24 Hour Psycho, however, Gordon takes a step back from this experience, viewing it from the outside. In so doing he creates a work that is not about cinematic experience, but rather one that is fundamentally constituted by that experience – or, more pre- cisely, a distillation of certain elements of it. This framing and foreground- ing of the cinematic is a consistent aspect of Gordon’s work, linking together what may sometimes appear to be quite diverse projects. For example, the concern with the cinematic image, central to 24 Hour Psycho, also plays through a number of other works that draw on and rework popular Hollywood films. In 5 Year Drive-By (1995), conceived as a companion piece to 24 Hour Psycho, Gordon slows down John Ford’s 1956 film The Searchers so that a full screening would last the five years of the film’s story, with each frame remaining on the screen for approximately sixteen minutes. Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1995–6) reworks three sequences taken from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 film Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, while Between Darkness and Light (After William Blake) (1997) features the simultaneous projection of William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist and Henry King’s 1943 religious drama The Song of Bernadette. In Through a Looking Glass (1999) Gordon excerpts the famous ‘are you talking to me’ sequence from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, while Otto Preminger’s 1949 film noir Whirlpool and Rudolf Mate’s 1950 noir classic D.O.A. provide the source material for left is right and right is wrong and left is wrong and right is right (1999) and De ́ja` vu (2000) respectively. The

Andy Birtwistle 105

106 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

scrutiny to which each film is subjected by Gordon is not a cinephilic celebration of the classic movie nor is the gaze cast upon these films that of the auteur critic. In each of the projects the techniques used by Gordon – in particular multiple projection and use of slow motion – lay the films bare to a new kind of scrutiny: that previously associated with the art object rather than cinema.

While these works clearly engage with the cinematic image, other pro- jects seek to locate that image within the broader context of cinematic experience. For his 1999 film project Feature Film Gordon hired the con- ductor James Conlon to re-record Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo. Shooting on Super 16mm film (subsequently blown up to 35mm for theat- rical screening), Gordon used three fixed cameras and two moving cam- eras to film Conlon in close-up conducting the music, focusing in particular on his hands, forearms and eyes. At seventy-five minutes the theatrical/single-screen version of Feature Film runs the length of the musical score, and features only shots of Conlon, accompanied on the soundtrack by the newly recorded music. Here Gordon clearly fore- grounds Vertigo’s soundtrack, but a pared-back version that leaves only Herman’s lush orchestral score to stand for the original film. Stripped of the narrative support lent by dialogue and sound effects, and the image track of Hitchcock’s 1958 original, the music stands for itself as much as for an absent other.

The shots of James Conlon, conducting the unseen orchestra, not only direct us away from the original film, but also serve to remove narrative drive. The visuals are repetitive, the image track formless, creating an almost ambient visual experience. Conlon’s gestures are certainly dra- matic, but they do not constitute drama, having no narrative function. What we witness here then, is a kind of blank feature film – something that looks and sounds and feels like a feature film, but one that is almost entirely drained of what we might normally refer to as ‘content’. This blankness is communicated by Gordon’s choice of title, which signals generic form rather than thematic or narrative content. But in the absence of this content Gordon allows us to taste cinematic experience all the more keenly, setting up a direct encounter with both the cinematic image and a sonic vocabulary guaranteed to provoke an almost Pavlovian response in the listener. After all, what could be more cinematic than a Bernard Herrmann score? However, these images and sounds are not divorced from one another, but are synchronized, and thus what we encounter in Feature Film is cinematic audiovisuality.

Televisual and cinematic audiovisuality

While Feature Film is shot on film, the motif of television plays an important role in the gallery version of the project. In contrast to the theatrical print of Feature Film, the video installation version runs at 128 minutes, the actual running time of Hitchcock’s film. In those moments in the original film when there is no music – a total of fifty-three minutes in all – Gordon cuts from Conlon to shots of an empty auditorium. This longer version of Feature Film is projected in the gallery on a large 16:9 screen hung from

the ceiling; but in an alcove in the gallery wall Gordon installs a smaller, TV-sized projection of a VHS tape of Vertigo formatted for television. Although the videotape of Vertigo is projected without sound, the film’s ‘original’ soundtrack can be heard in the gaps in Conlon’s recording of the Hermann score, although, according to Raymond Bellour, ‘at such a level that one senses its presence rather than actually hearing it’.15 Philip Monk accounts for the tinny, indistinct presence of the film’s original soundtrack by explaining that during the recording session it was relayed over a small monitor speaker, acting as a guide for the conductor, hence becoming audible when the orchestra fell silent.16 The relationship between these two projections and their associated soundtracks clearly constructs an impoverished televisual experience in comparison to the full-on, engaging cinematic experience signalled or implied by Gordon’s own film.

Some of the techniques used in Feature Film, and the dialectic Gordon sets up between television and cinema, are further developed in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, co-directed with the French artist Philippe Parreno. Here, throughout an entire match played between Real Madrid and Villarreal at the Estadio Santiago Bernabe ́u on April 23, 2005, thirteen 35mm cameras, two high-definition video cameras with powerful tele- photo lenses and one hand-held Super 16mm camera were trained almost exclusively on Zine ́dine Zidane. The film’s subtitle has prompted a num- ber of critics to analyse Gordon and Parreno’s work in relation to issues of portraiture, and in particular how the portrait might be understood in an age of media celebrity fuelled by television. Michael Fried,17 situating the film in relation to those traditions of portraiture that construct the subject’s apparent unawareness of the processes of representation as an index of truth, sees Zidane as a film that lays bare the tension between the repre- sented absorption of a subject engaged in a task to be fulfilled (in this case, playing a game of football) and the function of the genre as a form of self- presentation. In this way Fried reads the way in which the film fore- grounds the apparatus of film and television as a sign of the theatricaliza- tion of which Zidane, as a celebrity performer, must be fully aware. For Paul Myerscough the film demonstrates the very impossibility of provid- ing any meaningful insight into its subject: ‘the gala ́ctico, like any modern celebrity, is available to us only through his mediation, and the more pervasive his image, the more frustratedly we recognise that he remains finally opaque, unreachable’.18 Elsewhere, Martine Beugnet and Elizabeth Ezra not only examine Zidane in relation to issues of portraiture, but also consider its status as an experimental film dealing with popular culture, and the way in which the film reflects on the place of memory in an era of commodified mass communication.19

In each of their analyses, these various writers acknowledge Zine ́dine Zidane’s status as a TV star, examining the ways in which the footballer’s mediated image relates to the issues of representation signalled by the film’s subtitle. While these readings undoubtedly provide productive means by which to engage with the film, there are perhaps other ways in which the motif of television could be understood to function within the work. As I have already suggested, Zidane might be read as a meditation on cinematic affect and cinematic materiality, and in this respect relates

Andy Birtwistle 107

108 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

directly to the creative engagement with cinema developed by Gordon in previous projects. While much of Gordon’s video work has explored the cinematic image through the rearticulation of Hollywood films, however, in contrast Zidane can be seen to explore cinematic audiovisuality and cinematic experience through a dialectic that the film sets up between cinema and television. The importance of this relationship is foregrounded by the film’s opening image, in which we are presented with the Universal Studios logo mediated through a television screen. While the studio logo speaks of cinema, the visible scan lines of the television picture and the strobing that results from shooting a television screen on film establish the materiality of the video image as an important dynamic in what is to follow.

Following the opening shot, the film cuts to another video image – that of the football match itself being broadcast on television. The camera then gradually zooms in to reveal the individual red, green and blue sub-pixels of an LCD TV screen. The colours that play over this image form an abstract background to the film’s opening credit sequence, accompanied on the soundtrack by the Scottish post-rock band Mogwai. At the close of this sequence the camera zooms out, returning us to the television cover- age of the football match, now accompanied on the soundtrack by the voice of a Spanish sports commentator. Up until this point we have seen only images relayed via television. However, approximately four and a half minutes into the film, Gordon and Parreno suddenly cut from the video image to film. Even when watching Zidane on DVD rather than in a cinema, the transition from the video footage to shots originated on film is dra- matic, the change of medium inscribing itself powerfully on our conscious- ness. The televisual image presented here is a blurry, low-resolution image, with a low contrast ratio and limited colour range, while the sound- track accompanying it is highly compressed, thin and reedy. In contrast the 35mm footage presents a high-resolution image with a high contrast ratio, short depth of field and a broader, more subtle colour palette. These qualities, combined with the rich, full, almost overpowering soundtrack, make a huge impact on the spectator. At the point of transition we are struck by the visceral, affective power of cinematic experience, momenta- rily overwhelmed by cinema’s materiality and the sheer power of its audiovisuality. It would be easy to see this montage, and the contrast it sets up between the two media, as an audiovisual restatement of the familiar claim that television is somehow inferior to cinema, offering an impoverished audiovisual experience in comparison with cinematic experience, which in contrast is understood to be immersive, enveloping and oceanic, locating us in what Philip Brophy has termed the ‘cinesonic womb’.20 This reading does not do justice to the sensory play between the media forms orchestrated by Gordon and Parreno, which not only struc- tures the film, but is also central to its affective impact. In total, the film cuts to video and then back again seventeen times. In addition, during the half- time interval the directors cut away from the football stadium to a series of video clips taken mainly from television news reports and Internet web- sites. What we witness in the repeated movement between video and film is a kind of Brechtian interruption, a change of gear. Nonetheless, its

purpose is not Brechtian: it is not designed primarily to awaken or re-awaken intellectual engagement, but rather perhaps to renew sensory impression – to renew our awareness of the affective dimensions of the cinematic, to renew our awareness of the qualities and materiality of the cinematic, thereby allowing us to ‘experience the experience of cinema’. Without the video to cut away to, we would soon enter the phantasmic world of cinema, losing ourselves in the football match, as cinematic image and cinematic sound rapidly become normalized, transparent and inaud- ible – in the same way that when we watch a black and white movie we usually forget that we are looking at a monochrome image only a matter of moments after the film has begun.

The film also works against this bracketing or deadening of sensory awareness by continually changing the nature of the sound mix and reformulating sound-image relations. Televised football matches tend to mix sound from numerous points around the pitch, resulting in a fairly homogeneous, soupy mush that in any case serves as a background to the voices of the commentators. In this respect sound-image relations con- structed by televised football coverage have the effect of distancing the spectator from the space of the pitch itself, locating them, rather, with the pundits in the commentary box. Central to cinematic experience, however, at least as formulated in popular cinema, is the construction of a narrative space into which the spectator is drawn as an invisible, omniscient voyeur. Gordon and Parreno draw on the conventions of continuity editing to construct cinematic space in this way; for example, through the use of point-of-view shots. Thus at one point in the film the directors cut away from Zidane to a close shot of part of the lighting rig illuminating the stadium. Having established this space, the film then cuts to a shot of Zidane, resting during a brief pause in the game. During this hiatus he looks up, off-screen, and we then cut to a shot of the lighting rig, now constructed as Zidane’s subjective point-of-view. The use of this device, which draws the viewer into the film’s narrative space, and creates spec- tatorial identification with the figure on screen, is a common feature of cinematic modes of representation, but is entirely absent from live televi- sion coverage of sport.

In terms of sound, the use of Foley effects21 works both to construct narrative space and to draw the spectator into it. There are many such effects used in Zidane, including the sound of players spitting, the scuffing of boots on grass, the sound made by individual players running across the pitch, players breathing and so on. These are sounds that almost certainly could not be heard from the vantage point occupied by the cameras on the periphery of the pitch nor above the din of the crowd – and certainly it would not be possible to isolate these individual sounds from the dense soundscape generated by a live football game played in front of 72,000 spectators. Consequently, Foley sound has been added during post- production, allowing the directors to vary the sound mix, and thus to control the positioning of the spectator within the narrative space of the film. Zidane’s soundtrack also features the judicious use of automated dialogue replacement (ADR)22 that, like Foley sound, has the effect of drawing the spectator into the film’s narrative space. So, for example,

Andy Birtwistle 109

110 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

when Zidane confronts the referee following a penalty awarded to the opposing team, we are able to hear him say, in a quiet, controlled manner, ‘You should be ashamed’. Under normal circumstances it is unlikely that speech enunciated at this level would be audible from the sidelines, where the film crew are located, and certainly not with the high degree of clarity it possesses here. Similarly, at one point in the film, we are able to hear an individual member of the crowd shouting to the players, her voice fore- grounded against the background of chanting and clapping generated by thousands of other spectators.

Through changes in the sound mix, the point of focus within the narra- tive space – established in part by the use of Foley sound and ADR – is continually shifted, the film’s sound design sometimes directing attention to the crowd, sometimes to Zidane. Furthermore, again drawing upon the conventions of cinema rather than live television, sound is used subjec- tively to suggest Zidane’s point of audition or psychological state. For example, approximately five minutes before the end of the first half, the soundtrack changes from the whistling and cheering of the crowd to a much quieter, less dense mix, in which the noise of the stadium falls away, to be replaced by the sounds of a group of young boys playing football, punctuated by the occasional barking of a dog. The spatial signature of the recording used here indicates perhaps a game played on five-a-side foot- ball court, or in a street, the sounds of the ball being kicked and the shouts of the boys reverberating within a more enclosed space than the stadium we see on screen. These sounds are synchronized with the movement of the players, so it appears that they emanate from the game being played in the stadium. What we are listening to here is clearly not to be understood as Zidane’s literal point of audition. Rather, the use of sound suggests psychological rather than spatial perspective, as if we are hearing, perhaps through the filter of memory, Zidane as a young boy playing football in the backstreets of Marseilles. The possibility of this form of representational latitude is in fact set up earlier in the film, in one of a series of subtitles that appear to record Zidane’s own thoughts on the experience of playing football: ‘When you are immersed in the game, you don’t really hear the crowd. You can almost decide for yourself what you want to hear … I can hear someone shift around in their seat. I can hear someone whisper in the ear of the person next to them. I can imagine that I can hear the ticking of a watch.’

Returning to Gordon’s concern with ‘experiencing the experience of cinema’, like the cuts from film to video, the film’s shifting soundscape helps to maintain spectatorial awareness of the film’s audiovisuality through the inscription of difference. A similar effect is also created by the modal variation introduced by the subtitles. While the assumption is that these report Zidane’s own words, perhaps taken from an interview, unlike normal subtitles they do not translate speech audible on the sound- track. The ‘silence’ of these subtitles, their intermittent nature and the fact that they carry a semantic rather than a sensory payload, all help to create a gentle modal turbulence, a change of gear that temporarily disengages the spectator from the film’s immersive audiovisuality. Although this text appears to fulfil a documentary function, and thus apparently contributes

to the film’s portrait of Zidane, the documentary status of the subtitle sequences is subtly undermined by the use of upper-case letters and the directors’ careful selection of particular sentences. Gordon and Parreno’s decision to capitalize this text lends a weight and import to these subtitles that renders them something other than a mere translation of Zidane’s own words, and serves to align them with Gordon’s extensive body of text works. The problematization of authorship that results (who is speaking here – Zidane or Gordon?), which is of course common in Gordon’s work, lends the titles an opacity that is absent in those modes of film practice where text is used simply to translate speech. Consequently, this use of subtitles creates a double form of distanciation – first, in the move from sound and image to text and, second, in the status of the written text as something other than pure reportage or translation. In this way, the film’s subtitles contribute not only to Zidane’s material heterogeneity, but also inscribe difference into its affective register, the resulting montage once again working to renew sensory impression.

Football and the cinematic

Zidane could be thought of as being situated at the intersection of three ‘forcefields’: cinema, television and football. The last lends itself particu- larly well to Gordon’s continuing engagement with the cinematic. For most of the film’s ninety minutes Zidane is not, of course, in possession of the ball, and, since the cameras are almost exclusively trained on him, the action of the game takes place outside frame, elsewhere. This absence drains the film of a narrative that might otherwise disrupt the foreground- ing of cinematic experience that is central to Gordon’s project. Nonetheless, each time Zidane looks or moves in a particular way, or breaks into a run, there is a palpable sense that something exciting might happen. But, of course, this rarely materializes into anything more than a few tackles or passes. Thus the spectator is presented with action that has the feel of drama, but which does not in itself constitute drama; that is, Zidane presents an empty drama that echoes Gordon’s previous film, Feature Film. In following one particular player, Gordon and Parreno over- write the narrative rhythms of popular cinema with those of the football game itself, constituted as it is by brief moments of intense activity punc- tuating longer periods of time spent waiting and watching. But it is these longer periods that constitute the greater part of the film, and which create the conditions in which cinematic experience, and the materiality which supports that experience, become foregrounded.

Not being a football fan myself, it could be argued that I am able to construct Zidane in this way only because I am naturally disengaged from the game and uninterested in its players. Nonetheless, during discussion of the film at a recent conference,23 colleagues interested in football reported the experience that viewers have of ‘hitting the wall’ some forty minutes into the film. The use of this sporting metaphor surely signals the sense of fatigue that results when the football fan’s interest in the supposed ‘content’ of the film is exhausted – that is, when the film fails to sustain spectatorial engagement in its representation of the game

Andy Birtwistle 111

112 douglas gordon and cinematic audiovisuality

being played or its portrayal of Zine ́dine Zidane. Thus, even for the spectator interested in football, the film may, at times, take on the feel of an ‘empty’ drama or, alternatively, a documentary with little to say about the game and its players. The imposition of a rhythm alien to the material he is working with is, of course, a device used by Gordon in many of his video installations; for example, in his use of extreme slow motion or multiple projection. But, while the rhythms of the football game displace those of narrative cinema, the mode of expression employed by the directors is very much that of cinema. The use of close-ups, point-of-view shots, Foley sound, ADR, music and so on creates a powerful cinematic experience – but, importantly, one that is devoid of significant narrative content. In this respect the film operates in a similar way to Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967), in which the almost complete evacuation of memorable events renders visible both the film’s materiality and the passage of time itself. Whereas Snow’s work has been seen as a radical reduction of cinema to its essential elements, Gordon’s work, here and elsewhere, seems to foreground cinematic experience – and, importantly, that associated with popular cinema. And it is in rela- tion to this focus on cinematic experience that the figure of football plays its most important role. In the same way that the image of Norman Bates spying on Marion Crane has been read as a metaphor for cinematic spectatorship, so perhaps the figure of Zidane playing in the football stadium seems to articulate something about cinematic experience. That is, the sense that Zidane is surrounded by the crowd, enveloped in a shifting, oceanic, sometimes overwhelming sensory experience, seems to express something of the immersive quality of that experience we loosely term ‘the cinematic’. At the same time, as traditional distinctions between cinema and television become increasingly eroded, Gordon and Parreno’s film may be seen to address aspects of contemporary televisual experience. While television is most often thought of as a domestic medium, to which we give only intermittent attention, the development of home cinema, and the live video transmission of arts and sports events in cinemas, puts these distinctions into motion, in particular by rear- ticulating television as an immersive experience. The film reminds us that most fans now watch football on television, and, when important games are screened in sports bars and pubs for a large group of fans, the experience of watching may indeed be deeply immersive.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait can be seen and heard as an attempt to address the materiality of cinematic audiovisuality in positive terms. In Gordon’s films, cinematic experience and the materiality that serves as the foundation of that experience constitute the artwork itself, or at least an important part of it. And, in the process of focusing on those qualities of cinematic experience that are fugitive in popular cinema, Gordon’s work demonstrates how the status of the cinematic and even perhaps even its perceived qualities are subject to change in the era of the electro- nic image; an era in which the images of a once popular form of cinema may take on not only an increased opacity, but also the aura of the art object.


1 Douglas Gordon, ‘An Apology as a Short Story/A Short Story as an Apology’, in Douglas Gordon: Kidnapping, by Jan Debbaut, Douglas Gordon and Francis McKee (Eindhoven: Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, 1998), 138.

2 Katrina M. Brown, Douglas Gordon (London: Tate Publishing, 2004), 92.

3 Jason Solomons, ‘Get set for Palme Sunday’, The Observer, May 28, 2006,

cannes2006/story/0,,1784494,00.html (accessed March 6, 2011).

4 Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (Chichester: Wiley, 2003), 600.

5 Ian Christie, ‘The Odd Couple’, in Spellbound: Art and Film in Britain, ed. Ian Christie and Philip Dodd (London: BFI, 1996), 44.

6 Review of Psycho originally published in The Village Voice, August 11, 1960. Reprinted in The Village Voice Film Guide: 50 Years of Movies from Classics to Cult Hits, ed. Dennis Lim (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2007), 210.

7 Christie, ‘The Odd Couple’, 44.

8 Brown, Douglas Gordon, 24.

9 Gordon comments, ‘in the part where Norman (Anthony Perkins) lifts up the painting of Suzanna and the Elders and you see the close-up of his eye looking through the peep-hole at Marion (Janet Leigh) undressing, I thought I saw her unhooking her bra. I didn’t remember seeing that in the VCR version and thought it was strange, in terms of censorship, that more would be shown on TV than in the video, so I looked at that bit with the freeze-frame button, to see if it was really there.’ Quoted in Amy Taubin, ‘Douglas Gordon’, in Spellbound: Art and Film in Britain, ed. Ian Christie and Philip Dodd (London: BFI, 1996), 70.

10 Taubin, ‘Douglas Gordon’, 72.

11 Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (London: Reaktion Books, 2006), 8.

12 Ibid., 101.

13 Laura Mulvey, ‘Stillness in the Moving Image: Ways of Visualising Time and Its Passing’, in Saving the Image:ArtAfterFilm,ed.TanyaLeightonandPavelBu ̈chler(Glasgow:CentreforContemporaryArts; Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University, 2003), 86.

14 Philip Monk, Double-Cross: The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon (Toronto: The Power Plant/Art Gallery of York University, 2003), 60.

15 RaymondBellour,‘TheBodyofFiction’,inFeatureFilm:ABookbyDouglasGordon(London:ArtAngel/ Book Works; Paris: agne`s b., 1999), 2.

16 Monk, Double-Cross, 162.

17 Michael Fried, ‘Absorbed in the Action’, Artforum International 45, no. 1 (2006): 332–5, 398.

18 Paul Myerscough, ‘Short Cuts: Zidane at Work’, London Review of Books 28, no.19 (2006): 22.

19 MartineBeugnetandElizabethEzra,‘APortraitoftheTwenty-FirstCentury’,Screen50,no.1(2009):77– 85.

20 Philip Brophy, 100 Modern Soundtracks (London: BFI, 2004), 2.

21 Foleyrecordingistheprocessbywhichsynchronoussoundeffectsarecreatedinasoundstudioduring post-production. Foley artists perform these effects, such as footsteps, movement of clothing, opening and closing of doors, etc., while watching edited footage from the film. This allows the sounds produced to synchronize very precisely with the picture. By replacing the original production sound, recorded during filming, the use of Foley recording not only removes the ambient noises that feature on location recordings, but also allows emphasis to be placed on particular sounds within the overall soundscape of a scene.

22 Automated dialogue replacement (ADR), sometimes referred to as ‘looping’, is the process by which dialogue recorded on location is re-recorded in a sound studio during post-production. This involves repeatedly playing the picture in a loop so that the performers can synchronize their speech to the footage shot on location. ADR guarantees an audibility of dialogue that may not be a feature of the production sound recorded during filming, where the clarity of speech can be compromised by factors such as the level of ambient noise or the distance of the performer from the microphone.

23 The Big Screen vs. The Small Screen, February 16, 2011, Canterbury Christ Church University.

Andy Birtwistle 113

Copyright of Visual Culture in Britain is the property of Routledge and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

random generator