Natalie Portman and Self-Censorship

Now that the cat is out of the bag about the Cyberporn class, the university is bracing for potential rabid close-mindedness. Seems to be in-season these days. Someone suggested that I police my blog and decide what to delete. I suggested that no matter what it was, deleting things would likely only make matters worse.

So, I was going to post about encountering an extracted and edited scene from Closer available on the web that has Natalie Portman’s character in a fairly risquee scene. I was going to talk about how the extracted scene, which contains none of the dialog, or context, is decidedly unerotic to my eye, while the bittersweet place of the scene in a film that manages to do bittersweet really well was far more erotic and engaging. That is — imagine this! — what makes someone or some situation “sexy” in not just naked bits, but a whole concert of context, of style, of voice, of humor, and of character.

I was going to try to weave this into a bit of a film review, and a bit of a commentary on how Ms. Portman was banking some outstanding performances that she would probably need in order to shield herself from the inevitable slings and arrows after the release of the Empire of Clones, or the Clone Jedis, or whatever. I was going to tell you to ignore what the people were saying as we filtered out of the theater (“What is Hollywood thinking these days!” “I told you we should have gone to see Bridget Jones.”) and go and see a film that will definitely not leave your spirits floating, but will make you feel.

Instead, I find myself measuring words in a way I don’t normally; waiting for the other shoe to drop. I recognized, at the outset, that people might see the content of the class as provocative. I guess I just didn’t realize how unwilling people would be to even talk about online porn. It is still very much a taboo within some circles.

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  1. Posted 12/11/2004 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    The extracting of the scene sounds a lot like the Kuleshov Effect, as explained by a colleague here at SIMS, danah boyd:

    Lev Kuleshov
    was a Russian filmmaker. Because of the political climate of Russia, he
    was left without access to actual film. Instead, he constructed films
    by splicing film and telling his story in a collage-esque manner. In
    addition to his style of film, he’s known for something called the Kuleshov Experiment.
    In this experiment, an image of a man’s face is shown juxtapositioned
    with various other images immediately following. Viewers thought that
    the man’s emotion changed even though it is exactly the same shot.

  2. Posted 12/11/2004 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Joe: Thanks, yes, I think this very close to it. Though Kuleshov (who was first brought to my attention by the always informative Taso Lagos) perhaps missed some of the much larger context; the unique extensions not only within the text of the film, but the narrative superstructure and substructure of how the film is experienced. That is to say, while manipulating — either diachronically, as Kuleshov did, or synchronically — the world of the film will necessarily alter both its intended and actual interpretation, it is not clear to me that this necessarily narrows the semiotic range. Films do not come with brackets.

    Non seq here… The other thing Kuleshov managed to show is that the editor (and perhaps director) is far more important than the actor. The degree to which this is really the case will be revealed once (and I believe it is “once”) we have synthespians that are indistinguishable from “the real thing.”

  3. Posted 3/9/2005 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Just to say: it’s not strictly clear what Kuleshov’s experiments actually were. Various associates and even Kuleshov himself gave different accounts of them at different times, though always with the same essential point; were they all the same shot, or were they a series of shots wherein the actor was looking at various tableaux, rearranged and mismatched? Was it even an “actor” or just stock photos? The point remains the same, but we shouldn’t let one account ossify into history–the fact is that any account of it is disputed.

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