A Kind Of Stopwatch
Through the frame, we may be entering The Twilight Zone, specifically the episode A Kind of Stopwatch. Stopwatch‘s McNulty is an arrogant but pitiable bigmouth–a man that Rod Serling’s claims “holds a ten-year record for the most meaningless words spewed out during a coffee break”–who loses his job and in a low moment, is given a stopwatch with the power to freeze time. He, true to form, uses it to his own advantage, playing tricks and robbing banks, until the watch breaks and he is left alone in a time-frozen world. In a panic, McNulty, the God of his own time-frozen universe, screams “Somebody move! Talk! Say something! Help!” But it is to no avail, and he is trapped in a cold, silent, lonely world. Looking at this film via frames, we are trapped here along with McNulty, in a world where vibrating strings cannot even make a sound.
But back from our analysis to the frame itself, the focus on temporality extends beyond our particular obsession. Had Carol Reed or Graham Greene or Orson Welles or whoever dictated the creative ordering behind this introduction read much philosophy, they would have undoubtedly stumbled upon Martin Heidegger’s ambitious 1927 Being and Time which lays out an understanding of temporality, as well as setting the groundwork for most of contemporary philosophy. Heidegger lays it out like this:
The existential-temporal condition for the possibility of the world lies in the fact that temporality, as an ecstatical unity, has something like a horizon . . . The unity of the horizontal schemata of future, Present, and having been, is grounded in the ecstatical unity of temporality. (Being and Time, Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 1962, pg. 416)
We begin this story, as you will see, in the Present, in a city that has already fallen victim to the having been. The impressive temporal feat, is really in the plot of the film itself, which centers so much on the past–The first two thirds of the film are an investigation into the death of Harry Lime, the city is recently peaceable, carrying with it the scars of war. Every pile of rubble or antique architectural oddity, with which this film abounds, screams of the past, yet it is a film so vibrant and full of action. Suspense and anticipation cling to these characters and for that, of course, we need the future, that which may come. Without the future, there can be no suspense, and this film is nothing if not suspenseful.
So these strings dancing with vibrations across the credits screens can be seen as a visual representation of the film’s temporal form. The strings are the “horizontal schemata” which starts at the plucking of a finger, continues with the vibrating reverberation of the string itself, and ends with the anticipation of what note may come next.
As a brief postscript, our analysis thus far seems to paint this as a film particularly involved in the British Film Industry, from its approval from the British Board of Film Censors to its time-image juxtaposition of the London Film logo. Though it was named by the British Film Institute as the best British Film of the 20th Century, it is also a film set in an internationalized Vienna starring American actors playing Americans in Vienna. The curious notion of this film’s Britishness seems in question due to its very content, but the 62-second rhythm is, thus far, pulling out its Britishest tidbits.
Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324. For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.