– Autumn/Winter 2004

The Death Drive

Laura Mulvey

For there are films which begin and end, which have a beginning and an ending, which conduct their story from an initial premise until everything has been restored to peace and order, and there have been deaths, a marriage or a revelation; there is Hawks, Hitchcock, Murnau, Ray, Griffith. And there are films quite unlike this, which recede into time like rivers to the sea; and which offer us only the most banal of closing images: rivers flowing, crowds, armies, shadows passing, curtains falling in perpetuity, a girl dancing till the end of time; there is Renoir and Rossellini.1

The relationship between cinema and narrative has a richness that might suggest the fulfilment of an ancient destiny. The magic lantern and other pre-cinema entertainment had tried, with varying degrees of success, to make stories move. But from the point of view of an imaginary spirit of fiction, the cinema was an extraordinary, transformative gift. Cinema could bring to storytelling much more than the illusion of life. The affinity is structural: the story's drive that takes the stillness of a beginning through to the altered stillness of an end, through its multiple processes of change, is echoed in the cinema's duality, between movement and stillness, within movement itself as ceaseless change extended through time. Its stasis, the still frame of the celluloid strip, echoes the stasis of order and the finity that Rivette associates with Hitchcock, its mobility echoes the infinity that he associates with Rossellini. These attributes are, of course, present in any single shot but a shot also acts as a pivot, carrying cinema's mobility into the encompassing movement of narrative. On the

  1. Jacques Rivette, 'Letter on Rossellini', in Jim Hillier (ed.), Cahiers du cinema, Vol.1. The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New-Wave, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, in association with London: British Film Institute, 1985, p.194

  2. D.N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997, p.69

  3. Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot. Design and Intention in Narrative, New York: Vintage, 1985, p.91

  4. Ibid., p.47

  5. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I. The Movement Image, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, pp.22-23

  6. Ibid., p.42

  7. Sigmund Freud, 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' (1920), in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol.XVIII, London: Hogarth Press, 1954-74, p.38

  8. Ibid., p.95

  9. Garrett Stewart, Between Film and Screen. Modernism's Photosynthesis, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp.48-49

  10. Ibid., p.39

  11. G. Deleuze, op. cit., p.77

  12. Ibid., p.80

  13. Ibid., p.83

  14. Ibid., p.84

  15. Jonas Mekas, 'Interview with Peter Kubelka', in P. Adams Sitney (ed.), Film Culture Reader, New York: Praeger, 1970, p.291

  16. Ibid.