Becoming Camera To Record Everything

by Brian Bergen-Aurand

There is no doubt that at this point in history the neurotic, the pervert, and the psychotic cannot be adequately defined in terms of drives, for drives are simply the desiring-machines themselves. They must be defined in terms of modern territorialities. The neurotic is trapped within the residual or artificial territorialities of our society, and reduces all of them (les rabat toutes) to Oedipus as the ultimate territoriality–as reconstructed in the analyst’s office and projected upon the full body of the psychoanalyst (yes, my boss is my father, and so is the Chief of State, and so are you, Doctor). The pervert is someone who takes the artifice seriously and plays the game to the hilt: if you want them, you can have them–territorialities infinitely more artificial than the ones that society offers us, totally artificial new families, secret lunar societies. As for the schizo, continually wandering about, migrating here, there, and everywhere as best he can, he plunges further and further into the realm of deterritorialization, reaching the furthest limits of the decomposition of the socius on the surface of his own body without organs.

~Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972 (emphasis added)

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Documentarians and Film Essayists James Leong and Lynn Lee turn toward fictional film–still with an essayist’s point of view–in Lianain Films’s latest production: Camera.

In this cyborg thriller, Ming is a surveillance specialist obsessed with recording everything, mapping all the territorialities he traverses. His makes an ideal point of view through which to frame the story of unethical medical and technological experimentation against the backdrop of real estate rezoning and renewal schemes of contemporary Hong Kong, in particular, and rampant urban demolition and redistribution globally. Interestingly, though, as much as the elites desire a perfect surveillance system, so does Ming, who has a video camera inserted to replace his blind eye. After the operation, Ming can record everything that happens to him.

Ming is then paid to follow Clare, the daughter of one of the powerful elites. Ming and Clare fall for one another, leading them to confronting Clare’s father and discovering the history that haunts them both.

The film’s images and ambient sound recall a mixture of Hong Kong art house cinema and Techno/sci-fi noir films. As I watched, I thought a good deal about Wong Kar-wai and Lee Ang and the Hollywood film Minority Report (2002), which is also concerned with questions of the links between identity, blindness and insight, and prosthetic eyes. The deployment of ambient sound, especially, made me appreciate even more what documentarians bring to feature films. [ALERT: SPOILERS FOLLOW.]

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As we watch Ming record and playback everything that happens to him, we might recall Dziga Vertov’s essay film/documentary Man With a Movie Camera. (One online review explains “the film’s Chinese title [Ngaan Gei] translates literally as the Dziga Vertov-sounding “eye-machine”.) However, Ming is not so much a man with a video camera as he is “becoming camera” throughout the film. In fact, we might even ask if the film’s English title isn’t eponymous. Isn’t Ming becoming Camera throughout the film? Might we not refer to him as Ming/Camera or even just Camera, as Clare’s father implies in a late scene where he refers to Ming as a “freak”? And, might this becoming camera, in part, motivate the final section of Camera?

At least twice in Camera another character refers to Ming as a pervert. I don’t think this is a minor point to the specific character nor to the thematics of the film overall. He is labelled a pervert for wanting to record everything. He is called a pervert for following the girl. Ming’s perversion is always mapped onto his relation to his camera, to his location as Ming/Camera. The pervert desires to be seen–to have recorded everything that he does. The pervert does not desire (too much or too little) but threatens a well-established system of desire, crosses boundaries of propriety and property. The pervert takes the game absolutely seriously and strives off in search of territories beyond the blank spaces of the map even. Ming perverts vision and the techniques of surveillance. He desires to record everything that happens to him, flattening the very territoriality of his desire. By recording everything, Ming/Camera threatens to destroy the proper topography of the system. No highs. No lows. No highlighting of titillation, no erasure of boredom. Only a flat world of everything. (His occasional looping does complicate this flattening.) This new cartography is Ming/Camera’s perversion–his transformation of energy.

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Ming/Camera’s transformation of energy–the perversion of surveillance by flattening its purview–challenges categories such as “voyeur” and “exhibitionist,” as it is the camera’s look that is put on display, as it is surveillance itself which is brought to light, put under inspection. Here, by the end of the film, the question becomes who has the right to look and to be looked at, as the camera may well also become a tracking device–as well as a device for tracking shots. As Ming/Camera records everything and everywhere, the record traces everything and everywhere he has been. The record doesn’t so much reveal as it remembers–and remembering may be even more important than seeing in this film.

As Camera turns away from seeing toward remembering, it also reminds us of the links between blindness and voice that haunt the images here. The fact that Ming uses verbal commands (ever touchscreens) to interface with his computers and video monitors raises certain questions concerning the primacy of the visual and the haptic in relation to blindness and insight. It is sound and speech that return in the end–in the ping of the motion detector, the voice-over of the news announcements, and the soundtrack over the credits at the end. In this way, Camera left me wondering about the relation between seeing and hearing with regard to testimony and memory.

You can see the trailer for Camera here.

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