Volume 2 - Issue 4 - Editorial

lilja-4-ever-lukas-moodysson.jpgLilja 4-Ever, Lukas Moodysson, 2002

Leaving the cool to the constellations

“Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.” – John Berger

With these words, Vertigo’s last editorial, on diversity, was anchored. The implications of his challenging observation are again explored throughout this issue, as we concern ourselves with what is told, the way in which it is communicated, and with its place in a world seemingly spilling over with stories.

However, despite the passing of the once dominant ‘grand narratives’, when it comes to the largest frameworks of our global economic, social and political order, an all too singular tale still gets most of the airtime.

Monocultures are always imperial, whether wheat strains, trading systems or divinities, but they are also vulnerable, because the (often blatantly manufactured) absolutes they claim to offer are so obviously partial and exclusive. The impossibly complex reality in which we move, admirably fulfilling the Chinese admonition to ‘live in interesting times’, is one defined on the ground by its plurality. Nevertheless, threats to this diversity and difference are very real – the daily headlines confirm that.

And the dangers do not only lie in international affairs. Hollywood (can we read instead ‘the global moving image industry’), so evidently – and historically – imbalanced, is not predisposed, structurally or philosophically, to genuine multiplicities in theme, voice, form, financing, production, distribution or exhibition. And yet, it is on the various screens of our cultural environments that the most compelling stories of our age are played out, their glow and aura the contemporary incarnation of the tribal fire or kitchen hearth, with their play of forms and casting of shadows.

This industrial delivery is what, of course, sets the image tellers apart from their oral forebears. And, while it offers a reach beyond the dreams of our ancestors, it comes threaded with ‘interests’ and agencies (with their ambiguous roles and influences), concessions and even risk of erasure, as Julian Petley, with his analysis of the devastating GATS scheme reveals (Michael Chanan, Robin Macpherson, Ben Slater and Circuit Films develop the business picture in significant directions).

However, the generational similarities outweigh the differences. The storyteller is still the voice of the group, however widely dispersed it might be (as Tilda Swinton notes). Stories still celebrate the commonly held and the different (allowing us to be ourselves within the larger grouping). They tell us how we live behind the news. They allow us to breathe together, to share a common rhythm of being and to test our dreams against experience. Stories are the cities of the world; they are landscapes peopled in the mind, ear, heart, eye and mouth by possibility and all nations. They are journeys, providing roads into the future, places to rest and to reach.

Telling tales with pictures might require particular tools, maps and legends – Lynne Ramsay, Malcolm Mowbray, Desperate Optimists, Dieter Kosslick and Stephen Daltry all reflect distinctively on the nature of scripts, considering beginnings, middles, ends and prompts, ‘but not necessarily in that order’ – yet these are skills that can be learnt by any disciplined apprentice. Far more significant is the individual and collective ability rewardingly to read the world for its larger, more resonant truths and then to communicate those in a way that acknowledges the unavoidable subjectivity of the camera, its selective eye (however concealed the guiding hand) while not betraying either maker or material. It’s not a question of blurring fiction and reality (Richard Wright’s thoughts on recent animation shows how productive that can be). Rather more important is whether integrity and rigour or compromise and the casual are leading the dance. If models of the former are required, then consider the work of Andrew Kotting, Hanspeter Ammann, Kate Adams or Katherine Meynell.

Such committed personal parables of healing and distress are of course as equal in the creative tussle between culture and the social as any broader canvas. Indeed, where the individual’s passage exemplifies a larger concern, then the authority they occupy can be unmatched. Such is the case with Jamal, the asylum seeker in Michael Winterbottom and Tony Grisoni’s extraordinary In This World (that his own life has now taken on the quality of his previous ‘fiction’ only underlines the complexity of relations between image and experience).

It is also evident in Lilja 4-Ever, Lukas Moodysson’s overwhelming drama of sex trafficking. The sense of a character trapped in a story they cannot rewrite or escape is heart-rending in the extreme. But while both are deeply painful narratives (because ‘true’), they nevertheless reveals the unseen ‘other’ to us with a force that cannot be ignored. And they give this stranger a face and a name and a reason. What do the soundbites – interdependence, community, sustainability and the like – mean in the street, on the lived and conflictual earth?

Stories can tell us. They are important. They can save lives. Tell the right story at the right time and people might survive.

The committed storyteller seeks to affect change (think here of Conscious Cinema, Franny Armstrong, Artlab, Neighbourhood Watching). Image activists, they intervene culturally to reveal the overlooked, to help as yet unbodied justice and potential into being, locally and internationally. Dissent, disobedience: against omission and the manufacture of consent. Against the image as a weapon of mass distraction. Bringing something into the light to challenge the propaganda of ‘fear’ often artificially generated around it by administrations. There is no neutrality here. As has been noted elsewhere, “inaction is not an option… you’re either with us or against us”. Doing nothing sometimes is to side with structures and groupings intent on primary damage.

In such struggles, the image is increasingly a site of great contest. History is clearly one such territory, as Kieron Corless, Christopher Roth and Guillermo de Carli explain. Who indeed gets to tell the tale? But the future, and whose it might become, is equally charged. The stakes are huge and probably growing but so too have the democratic possibilities of technology fully to represent the peoples. To tell their extraordinary stories. But is there really an alternative? This is what Joseph Brodsky says, “the more goods you acquire, the more money you have, it’s just going to make it more boring… Try to stay passionate, leave the cool to the constellations. Passion alone is a remedy against boredom.”[1] And you won’t be alone. As Sufi poet Rumi observed, almost a thousand years ago: “there is a community of spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise.”

“There is a community of spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise.” – Rumi


[1] from the Nobel prize-winning poet’s address to graduates at Dartmouth College, quoted by Donald Sutherland in Mark CousinsScene by Scene (2002, Laurence King).

The editorial board would like to thank all the contributors to the current issue. Vertigo welcomes feedback and dialogue on any aspect of the publication or its contents and actively seeks pieces (image- or text-led) for consideration. It also welcomes active contact and collaboration from those individuals, organisations or institutions who share its concerns and intentions. In either instance, please first email or write to the addresses given.