Wednesday, 12 September 2012

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Breaking Bad: "Gliding Over All" the invisible lines and immaterial connections (This being another one of those visual rhetoric posts.) In the previous post, I claimed that the titular reference to Whitman's "Passage to India" suggests that the central concerns of "Gliding Over All" were related to connectedness. I outlined the way in which the camerawork allows the audience to peer into Walter's mind and observe him connecting the fly to Mike's body by the power of intently staring. In retrospect I realize my claim is based on a manner of reading a visual text that's not intuitive, and that I only do it because I've trained myself to. The full version of this argument can be found here, but for now a single image from it should suffice: That yellow arrow obviously isn't painted on "The Calling of Saint Matthew." (I can personally attest to that.) I put it there to describe the eyeline match between the man at the table and Jesus. When we look at his eyes, we see that he's looking at something and follow his line-of-sight. Is that line-of-sight in the painting? I would argue that it's an invisible element that exists in the painting. Our eyes aren't inventing that line-of-sight, they're merely following it. The practical effect of this argument is that I see invisible lines all over my television. When a character stares at something I see the line shoot from his or her eyes and follow its trajectory. The longer the character the stares, the greater the intensity of the line, and the more thoughtful the act of staring seems to become. The classic example of this are the scenes in Antonioni's Blowup in which Thomas uses his photographs to recreate the geography of the park in his apartment. Here's the fence on the back wall: Here's Thomas staring at the unidentified man on the right wall: What happens next? Thomas follows the unidentified man's eyes to the photographs of the fence on the back wall. Staring at the unidentified man led Thomas to follow the invisible lines shooting from his eyes which in turn compelled him to further "blow up" the image of the fence. In this sense Thomas is a figure of the audience: we share his desire to know what the man is staring at. This is an elaborate way of making a simple point: I see invisible lines and you do too. (You just didn't know you did.) The particular significance of those lines for "Gliding Over All" is that—as in Blowup—they function as tangible evidence of otherwise intangible thought processes. The staring is the physical equivalent of the technology Whitman celebrates in "Passage to India": it is the canal through which ships can pass, the train tracks upon which locomatives can traverse, the underground cables through which messages can travel. It's an invisible medium with the potential to be made meaningful because of what can move through it. In this episode it seems as if director MacLaren is intent on making Whitman's point in as many ways as...

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