The threat of cinema's juxtapositions has been lying heavily on my mind--a growing suspicion that there was only one art in the cinema: that of the confidence-man, smiling as he gives me what I desire--which melts to less than nothing as soon as he departs. A bleak prospect--but I am rescued by Melies, who brings a wall of posters to life, pouring soup and affections--and imprecations--on one another, receding as the police threaten this harmless chaos--then breaking free of their paper bonds, the police now caught on the wall. Can one be innocent and sly? Is this cinema's saving--well, if not "grace," then talent--or at the best its gift to the viewer?
Melies' three-minute game of living cups-and-balls is awkward in execution, but (as with so many of his conjurations) it engenders subtleties, gaining in delicacy and ingenuity the more I contemplate them. The posters are like the motion-picture screen itself, a fleeting glimpse of mysterious things--all right, perhaps a mere prank, waiting to tweak our noses and run off--but effecting magic, as it draws us within the frame, the viewer becoming the subject of viewing. It is a picture-within-a-picture--and more: a picture-within-a-picture-within the picture in my head, the same that I have always seen, its invitation to come closer sometimes a promise, sometimes a threat. And while I am not always happy with the man I see in the frame (disconcertingly familiar as he is), I give him his freedom.
I seem to have written myself into a strange place, where for a nickel I am both Adam and the Maker, the object and the agent, allowed to do as I please--as long as I can pay. (The moralist in me wonders, with some grounds, whether that nickel will be enough, or whether the cinema will exact a higher price for all this freedom. For now, no matter: the thing is as obvious as it is potent, and as long as I keep up my guard--there's the rub, as someone famous once said--I should be able to keep the cinema in its place. Where that is, I'm still discovering.)