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Hey, Girlfriend!

sellotapeIn the cinema films are edited before they get to you. You can’t do anything about it. But what would you do anyway? Editing is a hard thing to criticise. It might be the least criticised aspect of a multi-disciplinary form in which casting, acting, dialogue, good bits, plots and stories, sets and setting, costumes and music tend to receive more attention than lighting, camera movement or sound design. Or hair.

Editing is among the least critiqued because it is premised upon being unobtrusive to the point of invisibility. Its unshowiness depends on seamlessness – transitions from shot to shot should not, on the whole, be readily describable as such. The seamlessness, in turn, encourages the view that the passing of time in a film resembles its passage in everyday reality.

This reality effect is based on a grammar that only exists within films. We know that films are put together in jumbled time – film crews shoot the end of the film on Monday because that’s the only day they can get those particular cars, horses, valleys or actors, then, for similar reasons, they shoot the beginning of the film on Tuesday. The actors quickly get used to this and develop appropriate but peculiar skills. The jumble produces a jumble of shots which, thanks to the grammar and, of course, the script, will be assembled into legible, coherent sequences.

With live television broadcasting, editing is carried out on the hoof. As you watch, sequences are being put together. You can, in this situation, mount small local complaints. You can say out loud “This Jubilee on the river thing, with lots of boats, singularly lacks good shots. These people should go to Film School, or at least watch more films.” Nobody cares that you said this but the point is made: a reality effect that is put together on the hoof will fracture from time to time.

This doesn’t mean that you suddenly see through the effect to a more definitive, hitherto concealed reality beneath. You will, more likely, gIimpse parts of an apparatus that usually serves to maintain the effect that an effect is not being maintained.

Editing is not only a matter of withholding ‘bad’ shots – often editors and directors conclude that something is missing and will have a range of strategies to compensate for this. Which is where tennis comes in.

tennisballs2pic-1Television coverage of championship tennis is, we can deduce from the way it is shot, basically flawed. The flaws stem from an impoverishment at the heart of the sport rather than a failure of imagination within the teams who produce the broadcast material. An abiding anxiety about the lack of anxiety evinced by the players is evident in the vocabulary of types of camera shot that typically constitute a sequence of play.

Despite the profusion, in our culture, of fictional narratives depicting struggles between men in which images of women may be absent for the entire duration of the artifact, and the innumerable broadcast instances of team sports coverage in which women are wholly absent for, say, both halves of those games thus structured or for, say, the duration of those comprising a number of successive innings, there is clearly a state of enduring crisis in the broadcasting of tennis that requires regular, radical intervention. The interventions, in the form of a species of camera shot, are radical not because they extend our understanding of the finer technical points of the sport but, instead, function as a narrative implant that, at first glance, has nothing to do with tennis.

In common with the broadcast presentation of most sports, the atmosphere and excitement attendant on tennis tournaments is enhanced by means of crowd shots and coach (or, in other sports, manager) shots, expert commentary and telling detail shots – the umpire conferring with a line judge, the relacing of shoes, the obsessive adjustment of racquet strings, for example. It is difficult, however, to think of a sport in which the girlfriend shot has acquired such importance.

fpib6f3fw5h2ngvlargeThe girlfriend shot caters to anxieties about the possibility that male tennis stars are not heterosexual, not properly socialised and not human. The shot also assuages the fear that tennis is obsolete insofar as all that can be achieved within its terms has been achieved. If the latter is the case then the peaked sport will tip over into a protracted but inevitable death characterised by decadent cultism of the body and baroque embellishment of the microkinesics of technique.

A friend who likes tennis explained that all the top seeded players differ in the matter of their skills by the tiniest of quantities. Winning is not an expression of superior play but superior focus. Any of these guys can play exceptionally well most of the time. Any of them could beat their nearest rivals and all of them do so from time to time. We are no longer watching games of skill, the sport has dematerialised and must be appraised as a war of nerves, a battle of wills etc etc.

These considerations are widely understood and have consequently divided the tennis audience into two camps; those who nostalgically crave a contest featuring a wide vocabulary of skills in addition to the power serve and those who find a source of fascination in the posthuman unearthliness of pure intention. In the latter group the fascination consists in a ceaseless process of research into the question of whether the star players actually experience stress at all. If they do not experience it, is it, nevertheless, still to be found somewhere within them, screened from consciousness? Or is it possible that there is simply no stress within them – have they taken a tip from the machines and sealed the the system so that it cannot be degraded?

Both possibilities are attractive. The achievements of those without emotional experience are considerable and new opportunities are emerging daily. Even those who may not wish to achieve can envy the unruffled demeanour of he or she who runs the gauntlet as if it were a velvet glove.

A handful of top tennis players can allay suspicions about their machinic qualities by being likeable in some way. This need not involve acknowledging their errors – displays of regret and irritation may fail to be ‘all too human’ and often suggest instead ‘coding malfunction’ and are therefore probably best suppressed. Likeability may consist in having a pleasant face, like Djokovic, or using a number of different facial expressions – all of which, needless to say, should be related to an event or a state of mind.
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Having a girlfriend is tops, obviously. Having a highly focused mother will not appeal to everybody but an attractive girlfriend will solve a number of problems. It also introduces new levels of difficulty, however. While the presence of the girlfriend suggests not only that the millionaire player has a life, inhabits an emotional spectrum that includes the possibility of love and subscribes to the master template for all known relationships, namely heterosexuality, a certain amount of disowned anxiety is projected onto the female companion.

Her function is not merely to lay to rest uneasiness about the possible emotional vacuity of her partner but to fill in the expressive gaps in the partner’s repertoire. Where he does not, if he can help it, react to feelings of tension, trepidation, imminent loss, the vanquishing of a weakling etc, she will throw the emotional shapes on his behalf, thereby rendering legible the humanness of the struggle which otherwise might start to resemble computers playing chess together or an experiment in the command and control of humanoid drone vehicles.

The funny thing is that the girfriends almost invariably succumb to a sort of Stockholm syndrome wherein they appear to feel almost as constrained as their boyfriends. In what may be a bid for consistently ladylike behaviour, the girlfriends, isolated by the cameras every couple of minutes, suppress their faciality to within a few degrees of the range evinced by the partner they are gamely attempting to magnify to a human scale. The gravitational pull of gristly hypermanliness proves irresistible.

Posthumanists with an eye on sport would find the progression from blood to circuitry inevitable and predictable. Meanwhile tennis in its early phase of decay will, despite the assiduous application of the girlfriend shot, tend to the preconditions of mechanised warfare just as gamification – the applying of the principles of video gaming to non-gaming situations – facilitates the development of military drone guidance.

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