Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Overhearing Altman (Deadpan)

The status of the voice in Robert Altman's 70s films (*Nashville* and *3 Women* in particular) frames us in a shower stall with a tiny ceiling like in the film *Being John Malkovich*. Our voices, doing the voices, overburden this frame, with stupid presence not refusing to be anything, to hear anything in a tone or a forward looking gesture of the hand. So spectacle whispers in our ears, convinces us we are everything. The status of the voice is a present that is everywhere, whose origin is nowhere--not even in Emerson or Jonathan Edwards or Anne Hutchinson for that matter. The body becomes a boom mic, an earpiece, a gun (always a gun). The body becomes this voice that is present everywhere in being nothing--Stevens' "sleeveless" fluttering, his "backward motions" of any actor's hands; Creeley's "The plan is the body. The plan is the body. The plan is the body..." like the mind talking to itself through the dark feedback loops of its interiority. I never really liked Robert Altman's films until recently with all their obvious ironies and satire and manufactured candidness (his signature tracking shot both surveillant and intimate), but out of all American filmmakers from the 70s he most anticipates Reagan as a problem of the mediated, imagized body. The body that is nothing but expression, the voice that is only voice--whether 'valley pop' or 'folksy'. The body that is only body--"wholly body" (again, Stevens)--only an image of the body. A body always anticipating being an image. That is American. Robert Altman, I don't want to be a body if the body has to first be an image of itself, rather than itself. I don't want to be contentless--discontented, literally. This year, this month, October 2008 before a presidential election, there is nothing but the image of the body and the voice under total scrutiny not for what it says but for how it says it. The only *sensible* rhetorical strategy (as Patrick Durgin commented last night) is an end game "ascesis" of word and gesture, expression versus what is said. These overheard performances of us.