“Esse est percipi.” To be is to be perceived. This statement by Irish philosopher George Berkeley is obvious yet somewhat disturbing. You cannot do a single thing without it being observed, and therefore judgment being passed on it. What is there is seen, evokes some emotion, and is then evaluated. The implication that nothing we do goes unnoticed plays a crucial role in the short silent film Film, inspired by Berkeley’s words and directed by famed theater director Alan Schneider. The screening of the film was preceded by an introductory background of the time period in which it was created, and a rather daunting warning that the audience could leave if we became too uncomfortable with the pictures on the screen. The irony of that disclaimer was revealed when discussing the atmosphere in which the film was made; controversy over the appropriateness of literature, theater, and cinema was at an all-time high. We consider ourselves to be an extremely accepting society in present day, however we still have to warn an audience of homosexual content such as in the prologue of sorts to Film, Un Chant D’Amour by Jean Genet.
Both films appeared to be superficially comical upon first glance; the man throws his cat outside just to have it race in and return to its bed by the time he turns back around. While the simple humor and rhythm of the films was entertaining, it soon gave way to the compelling underlying theme that is the basis of the screening: utter loneliness and an inability to come to terms with oneself. The present comedy very thinly shields the characters’ battles with their own most captivating fear, clearly seeing themselves. The “perceived,” as the screenplay author Samuel Beckett puts it, are quite simply afraid to be seen, by anyone including themselves. This fear is illustrated through fascinating roving camera angles way ahead of the times for a 1960’s film, and through imaginative perspectives from all characters involved. While these abnormal camera angles make watching slightly uncomfortable, they make for an interesting take on perception, which is of course the main point of the film. The quickly changing perspectives experienced by the audience definitely draws them in to the plights of the imprisoned men in Un Chant D’Amour, men in love and day dreaming of being together, while being sexually abused by hypocritical guards. The men’s day dreams are drastically contrasted with their reality, and shown through a “peeping tom” view that enunciates the difficulty of staying hidden, even in one’s own thoughts. The man in Schneider’s Film clearly fears being seen, comically covering anything with eyes, including his pet gold fish and even his own mirror. The mystery of what exactly these men are so afraid to be seen by provides suspense to the point of irritation until the unsuspected, if somewhat confusing, reveal is made.
While Film can be considered “cute” with its innocent humor, and Un Chant D’Amour undoubtedly metaphorically artistic, neither film can be fully appreciated unless you are willing to put some serious thought into its underlying meaning. So if you are looking for something thought provoking and rather abstract, consider attending the rest of the A Door Ajar Series, but if you are in the mood for some light entertainment, this may not be the right show for you.