Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Of all things, I have to give a cinematic presnetation of Before Sunrise in a half-hour. AHHHHH!!!! It should be fun, crazy romantic wayfarer that I am.

Here's the (much slaved over) notes for my lecture:

The Viennese linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once noted that, “If eternity is understood not by endless temporal duration, but by timelessness, than he who lives in the present lives eternally.” I find the rudiments of this quote germane to the cinematic ethos richly espoused in Richard Linklater’s Gen-X gabfest Before Sunrise, partly because the film was shot around Vienna at dusk and partly because, from a linguistic perspective, the movies dialogue serves as the uniting thread sewing the dual-protagonists multi-layered sentences into one pulsating heart.

This notion of eternity as “Timelessness” is evident in Linklater’s late-night café scene. Early in the film Jesse employs the notion of time as a method (or bullshit flirtatious rhetoric) of cozening Celine off the train, beckoning her to consider his talkathon invite as “Time travel from then till now.”

"Think of it like this. Um, uh, jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriagedoesn't have that same energy that it used to have, y'know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life, and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me. y'know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, uh, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favour to both you and your future husband, to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy."

As the café scene convenes Jesse and Celine have already spent five hours together peeling into the other’s swiftly changing view of the planet. They have kissed twice. They have lured the audience into the film through witty chatter and magnetic expressions. The crisp cinematic camera angles at times seems to linger heavily on the “other”, granting generous close-up’s on the brow of the respective listener. The two lovers are slowly beginning to inch towards that monumental precipice of love and leap off. But there are still social apprehensions harbored in this dreamworld dalliance (remember, they just met). Akin to the linguistic games of fellow Viennese philosophers Celine institutes a cunning rhetorical game of her own where, over cold-coffee and lackluster late-night service, Celine pretends to phone home to Paris, informing her best friend the reason why she is not on the train. The scene works partly because of the superb almost spontaneous acting. Without warning Celine starts addressing Jesse as if he really “is” someone else in an effort to discover what her really thinks bout her as an individual. Jesse (shocked, almost confused at first) playfully responds and the result is an epiphanic troika where both actors and the audience are arguably elevated.

The scene starts with cinematic flashes of a Viennese café in the nocturnal hours. There is a table of late-night revelers sobering up after a night of hedonism. There is a shot of a three german philosophers talking in very calculated nods. There is the perfunctory shot of an American yuppie grousing about the service. The entire café is engulfed in stale cigar smoke. Finally a close-up of our lovers meddling with their doctored mochas.

Celine: Okay, now I’m going to call my best friend in Paris who I’m supposed to have lunch with in 8 hours. Okay?

Jesse: (confused, in love) Okay?

There is confusion of Jesse’s behalf. The camera focuses solely on Celine, who is holding out her thumb and pinkie up to her ear and mouth, mimicking a young child and a game of telephone. She begins to reverberate her lips in buzzing drones.

Celine: Pick-up. Pick up the phone.

The camera intermittently skips and focuses intently on Jesse’s confused facial reactions. The clattering din of the café gradually wanes and we are left with simply the two protagonists trying to connect via “playing” a game of telephone. True to the verisimilitude of the film, Celine begins to whiz away to her friend in her idiomatic French. There is more confusion and more flashbacks and eventually Jesse (pretending to be Celine’s friend suggests, “A-uh-I’ve been working on my English, recently, do you wanna talk in English. Just for laughs?”

What follows is a delightful discourse accompanied by cinematic close-ups and dialogic pauses inserted for dramatic effect. Celine avails her phobias and anxieties by play-phone to her best friend in Paris (played on the spot by Jesse) and Jesse, in return dials home to the United States and talks with his best friend (played on the spot by Celine).

The result is an indelible feeling of love and timelessness sculpted by the bonds of dialogue. Both actors are pretending to “be” somewhat else and in the process they “grow” as a singular couple. The culminating finale of the café scene happens when Celene, (Pretending to be Jesse’s best friend from home) declares, “Us men are so stupid. We don’t understand anything about women. They act kind of strange. The little I know them.”

The implicit irony is appreciated and the camera lens zooms back into the smoky dusk of the café, leaving the audience momentarily alone, wafting in this pocketed timeless dream world they have somehow found.


daku said...

OK, D, but tell us about Joe Propinka. you are leaving us in the dark like ol' Linklater. will we hear again about Joe in 10 years time, at your book signing?

arya said...

great essay even though i didn't understand half the words (smiles). yeah, what of joe schmoe?

arya said...

how did it go?

David Von Behren said...

Speech went great!!!! Thanks for inquiring!!!! Maybe someday I'll be giving a lecture and see a familiar face slip in the last ten minutes and be like, "Shit...I think I know how this story is gonna end!"

Regarding the elusive Joe Propinka scenario all I can say is that....yeah, I could say alot of things, but maybe, if we're VERY lucky Joe will see his name shinning radiantly like the Bat Signal in the skyline of my BLOGG and know that finally, after all this time, it is his cue to unmask. So without further ado, presenting.......Joe Propinka!


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