The thin image
In intercultural cinema there is an additional, more overtly political suspicion of the image, given that its clichés bear the weight of dominant history. For many works of intercultural cinema, then, the image is barely a beginning, and any extension into narrative must be hesitant, or suspicious. (Marks 2000: 42)
Writing on cinema in 1983, Gilles Deleuze conceptualised the ‘thin image’ as an aesthetic tool of resistance. In 2000, Laura U. Marks revisited his writing in relation to intercultural cinema. The thin image, comprising out-of-focus, grainy, or underexposed images, is the opposite of the cliché. Clichés are to be avoided, not because they are unoriginal but because they reiterate stereotypes and hegemonic ways of looking and integrating visual information. What is at stake with a cliché becomes more real the less privilege a subject can claim in society.
Decontextualising stereotypes is thus the work of the thin image. Where cinematic conventions order our ways of seeing – beyond the level of content – the decontextualised image works on the same level as deconstruction. When an image is denormalised, it has a chance of being seen beyond the references that discursively surround it. Marks (2000: 46) writes, ‘The optical image defamiliarizes the cliché by severing it from its context. The resulting image looks rarefied and abstract compared to the thickness of clichéd images. But it is really the cliché that is abstract. It perceives from the image only what is useful in the terms of causal connections.’
Experimental images that do not claim to tell ‘the whole story’ can appeal to people whose subjectivities are regularly unacknowledged in society. Documentary subjects are thus approached experimentally by film-makers who document unrecoverable histories. Thin images can stand in for official images, which are often unavailable to intercultural film-makers. Marks notes that access to official documents in postcolonial countries is often more easily accessed by privileged outsiders.
In Palestine, for example, in 1948 (the year known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’), 750,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their homes to make way for the formation of the State of Israel. Generations of archives and memory objects were systematically destroyed by a new Israel eager to cultivate the appearance of a ‘land without people’. Edward Said (1992) makes the point that the actual conditions upon which the State of Israel was founded – that of forcefully displacing nearly one million people, and destroying their homes, villages, and belongings – has never been officially adopted into either academic or political discourse in the West. Until now, those expelled from their homes have never been allowed to return. In light of this context, my use of the thin image becomes more evident.