Films Blancs: Luminosity in the Films of Michael Mann

Davide Panagia


This paper is a study of the place of luminosity in the films of Michael Mann and the way in which luminosity is not a tool of illumination but a radiance that signals the bodying forth of appearances. The event of luminosity in Mann's films is an attempt to re-imagine the conventional value structures that create a link between film and indexicality, as if his admiration for the photoreal effects of film belies an insistence that the advenience of an appearance (a central conceptual category I elaborate) is what eventuates when objects ingress between reference and expression, between realism and dream. By using the most advanced high definition digital cameras to film his nightscapes - and his movies more generally - Mann defeats the illuminatory and transcriptual demands of a filmic iconography that rely on the power of light to tether a representation to a thing in the world. In doing so, however, he neither refuses nor rejects the power of representation as such. His picturing of luminous nightscapes in cities, for instance, transubstantiates the objecthood of urban spaces so that the iridescence of the lights makes the city feel at once vivid and unlike any object that might exist in the world. I conclude that Mann's commitment to filming luminosity presents a problem to the dominant methodologies for the analysis of aesthetics and politics that offer a moral theory of the image. Michael Mann's films, finally, offer an alternative to the moral theory of the image: a politics of appearances rooted in the experience of advenience.


Michael Mann; Jeff Wall; digital; ethics of appearances; advenienc; Roland Barthes; light; Michael Fried; photography; Thomas Demand

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