Affective Character

The final reflection on the practice illuminated an additional facet of affective atmosphere: despite not deliberately constructing fictional characters through scriptwriting or directing, a sense of fictional characters seems to have emerged from the films made on the basis of affective atmosphere. As much as the viewer is, arguably, hardwired to read for meaning and story, the sense of a character is also likely to emerge from this process of spontaneous viewer interpretation, especially as the bodily presence of the performer is precisely the element that links the chain of events together – and which embodies the narrative. However, the sense of character is shaped further by the editing process, which, by focusing on selecting the most captivating moments of performance, gives a certain level of consistency to the performance, which would not be apparent from the raw, unprocessed quantity of film material. Even if not consistent on the level of narrative (or communication of coherent meaning), the moments of performance that stand out are unique and singular, yet also consistent with each other, to the extent that they forge a thread of affective relations and affinities of behaviour throughout the film – and constitute the sense of a character. Furthermore, it is precisely the indeterminacy of signification of the human body (a signification which in film relies so heavily on the narrative context constructed through editing)* that primarily constitutes film performance – especially performance where a specific narrative or dramatic intention is missing to start with. Therefore, even if the editing process does not aim to construct a narrative or dramatic context, it is bound to be read that way to a certain extent. And while this does not quite amount to a coherently communicated story, it nevertheless seems that a sense of fictional character emerges from the film structure as a source of narrative. 



*This indeterminacy was theorised by Lev Kuleshov (in what is known as the Kuleshov effect), who experimented with combining close-up shots of an emotional reaction to something (revealed through a subsequent reverse angle point-of-view shot). The sense of emotion in the close-up shot changed depending on what point-of-view shot was used, all the way from ‘dismal’ to ‘cheerful’ (Kuleshov 1974: 192). However, Kuleshov himself later recognised that such manipulation is not always possible, for the ‘film material is so varied, so complex, that the quality of films never depends entirely on montage’ (195). Deleuze subsequently took this notion of ‘complexity’ even further when he claimed that ‘the famous Koulechov affect [sic] is explained less by the association of the face with a variable object than by an ambiguity of its expressions which always suit different affects’ (1986: 110). What Deleuze means is that the expressions of the face are governed by such affective variety and ambiguity that – rather than representing some basic, unambiguously defined emotion, which, when viewed in the context of another shot, can be transformed into a different clear-cut emotion – it can contribute to meaning in many different contexts.

The journey gives the film a narrative unity, but that is not quite a fictional unity, and in fact the journey, as filmed, is a real documentary aspect of the film, since the trip has really taken place. However, the sense of character that emerges from it is inherently read as fictional, and holds a promise of a story – a subtext, a context, or a backstory that are not quite revealed in the film, but which nevertheless seem to be there. It is a layer of fiction – a product of affective atmosphere – that constitutes the impression of a fictional character through the process of editing. It is the becoming in the present moment, which is inherently aesthetic ­– as if already an image – that constitutes the sense of performance (and fictional character) through the affective atmosphere method. Perhaps it is in the relationship between the performance and the process of production (the camera) where the performance resulting from the affective atmosphere fundamentally differs from the conventional categories of both fiction and documentary. On the basis of my practitioner experience and insights, the documentary method can be understood as knowing you are being filmed or not knowing you are being filmed, as your ordinary self; the making of fiction instead relies on pretending (acting) you don’t know you are being filmed, while representing a fictional character. The affective atmosphere, meanwhile, rests in being affected by the act of being filmed – giving rise to an impression (without representation) of a fictional character, while also giving rise to a sense of fluctuation between reality and fiction, between the true self and the other – being both and neither at the same time.