Part of the reason 8 Weeks of Art and Madness was originally conceived was to hopefully bring to a larger audience bodies of work which, because they contain art, and madness, in some form, reflect something about both, but also to penetrate the difference in the vernacular understanding of these terms and to return them to the undifferentiated continuum of production, or creation, or what the neo-platonists called 'the one', which Plato called "The good" and said was 'beyond being'.. In a way, this is tantamount to saying that being, any kind of beingness is a madeness, whose exact origin is ineffable, or beyond the essence of the result, and when you think about it, could certainly lead, and has to a good deal of madness through the centuries, in various forms, but language too is a madeness, and so everything we can possibly give life to as an idea in words is at a double remove so to speak, because 'beyond words' can still be spoken as words, and so the gap still gets taken up in the progression of production. It is certainly odd to consider all this under the rubric of a film which has been grouped many times with something called Vernacular cinema, which in its simplest definition could be said to be "obvious cinema". A cinema whose metaphysical values are cognate only with the movements, characters and events as they are presented in the film itself, or for the most part, a non-symbolic cinema. But 'The One' let's say always has other ideas..
Let's take for our starting point in this sojourn into non-obvious cinema, the opening title sequence itself where the killer's hands, we assume they are the killer's hands because of the black gloves, but that's because we've been conditioned by vernacular cinema to see that, but what if they are really the hands of the surrounding blackness, what if the killer's hands are the hands of 'the one', or 'the good' as Plato called the creative principle.. For Plotinus, the first principle of reality was an utterly simple, ineffable, unknowable subsistence which is both the creative source and the teleological end of all existing things. Okay, so does it end there? Not quite, there is something in the frame, a pale lavender artefact which appears to be a section of the lightbulb which illumines the killer's desk, and by the way, IMDB let's us know that every instance of the killer's hands in the film wearing black leather gloves are Argento's own hands. That pale closed arc is a clue to our non-obvious cinema. In a mere 3-4 frames the pale closed arc-like form exhibits a very thin line from its tip to the letter Z in the name of Eva Renzi, or the character known as Monica Ranieri, the wife of the gallery owner, who seems to be the only victim in the famous gallery scene of the film, but what does the shape remind you of?
Well, if you said, Brancusi's bird in Space, then you are probably about as non-obvvious as I am, and that is the other thing it could well be, an I, eye, or 'The One'.. And so what is another way of saying 'The Bird with the crystal plumage'? Could it be The bird with invisible plumage? or The bird with no wings? certainly. In mathematics the letter z is often used to connote the 3rd dimension of space, if the bird is I, or 1, with Z that makes IZ, or is, or the linguistic copula coming straight at you right out of space, like a knife, or a victim.. Maitland McDonagh, in his book-length study of Argento, has pointed out that even in its own time, relatively unsympathetic viewers when asked were impressed with the remarkable scene with the double glass doors. McDonagh writes, "The power of this image transcends its function in the narrative". He then goes on to see the scene as a species of reflexivity wherein the image in its incompleteness is a trap serving to draw us in, but then stopping us in a hermeneutic limbo, a space where knowing and unknowing are both present in equal if cryptic amounts. Later in the film, a knife with a similar shape to bird in space is used against Sam Dalmas, which he dodges, but even then we notice that this bird in space knife is black, all black, and that in missing Dalmas he has tapped into a vein of exposed water, not something likely to happen at all when you think of it, another nod to a non-vernacular reading. Has the killer, or the artist tapped into pure creativity, which is in effect pure destruction, ie, the one. This idea isn't so far fetched when we think back to the grotesque character of the art displayed in the gallery which can be read either as gruesome or sphinx-like.
At this point, it might also be appropriate to touch on the sphinx like history of Brancusi's original bird. In 1926-27, Bird in Space was the subject of a court battle over its taxation by U.S. Customs. In October 1926, Bird in Space, along with 19 other Brâncuși sculptures, arrived in New York harbor aboard the steamship Paris. While works of art are not subject to custom duties, the customs officials refused to believe that the tall, thin piece of polished bronze was art and so imposed the tariff for manufactured metal objects, 40% of the sale price or about $230 (over $2800 in 2010 U.S. dollars). Marcel Duchamp (who accompanied the sculptures from Europe), American photographer Edward Steichen (who was to take possession of Bird in Space after exhibition), and Brâncuși himself were indignant; the sculptures were set to appear at the Brummer Gallery in New York City and then the Arts Club in Chicago. Under pressure from the press and artists, U.S. customs agreed to rethink their classification of the items, releasing the sculptures on bond (under "Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies") until a decision could be reached. However, customs appraiser F. J. H. Kracke eventually confirmed the initial classification of items and said that they were subject to duty. Kracke told the New York Evening Post that "several men, high in the art world were asked to express their opinions for the Government.... One of them told us, 'If that's art, hereafter I'm a bricklayer.' Another said, 'Dots and dashes are as artistic as Brâncuși's work.' In general, it was their opinion that Brâncuși left too much to the imagination." The next month, Steichen filed an appeal to the U.S. Customs' decision which he won and the duties were refunded and dropped.
There are several other clues in the film to our non-obvious cinema. In the gallery scene there is an immense bird claw whose summit terminates roughly into a giant capital letter T in the same way that our light bird was connected to the Z in the titles.. Isn't 'The One' Transcendence itself, or is it Time? or if that's too remote or non-vernacular for you, then I suggest you try finding the name of the sculptor who made these pieces. If you can find it, then you must be a better detective than me, or just like Sam Dalmas, 'the great hope of american literature, now writing manuals on the preservation of rare birds..' But are any of these things really built on purpose into the film? perhaps not. but what does Tom's friend say when he picks up the newspaper? he says, "Ah, The usual garbage".. or is it kitchen utensils, or Hospital supplies? I guess it's all fairly obvious at this point. Can you find the Bird in Space in any other scenes of the film? Are we all rare birds in space? Like the film, these questions of non-obvious cinema must, like this very film, remain conspicuously inconsistent, or at least that's part of the fun in detecting them..