The Carmen Horse
The First Frame of Each Shot from Lana Del Rey’s video Carmen: Part III
The Turin Horse is about the heaviness of human existence. How it’s difficult to live your daily life, and the monotony of life.
–Béla Tarr, on his film The Turin Horse
For example, the problem of what it means to die. I know concerning this what people in general know about it; I know that I shall die if I take a dose of sulfuric acid, and also if I drown myself, or go to sleep in an atmosphere of coal gas, and so forth.
–Søren Kierkegaard, from Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846)
The chance entrance to the city before it disappeared. Thoughts hanging like bodies from ropes. The image seems to have been taken from inside a moving car, but this is staged. The windshield wipers are props. The highway is front-projection.
The white bank of information, flecked with clues. It is a glimpse of what is to come. Kate suggests it might be a multiple generation loss image from the Hotel Terminus.
A woman in white falling through the sky. What keeps her from ever reaching the ground? Faith.
“Without risk there is no faith. Faith is precisely the contradiction between the infinite passion of the individual’s inwardness and the objective uncertainty. If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.” — Søren
The color of dried blood. Trace elements of the crime.
There is no possibility of bringing this image into focus. In fact, the image itself is unsourced, and depending on which version of “Carmen” you watch, it is either there or not there.
According to the time code from the raw version of the video, this shot was taken and inserted into the video after it premiered in April 2012.
Here, her eyes look into the camera, which is not the camera that took this image.
Until 1999, the sign read Midtown Tunnel, not Tun. The font was smaller. Kate suggests that this moment is meant to suggest the entrance into the heart of darkness, though like most of her readings, this is dubious.
The blank billboard. “Man, that billboard’s never been blank,” says Kate.
The man holding the cup in the background reappears with his back to the camera in shot 70.
One of several clues so obvious that it’s easy to dismiss as a clue. Taken literally, the sign reads: Brooklyn Bridge is Above You.
One of only four or five “real” shots in the video. “Perhaps,” according to Jean Baudrillard, “there will one day be fossilized vestiges of the real, as there are of past geological ages? A clandestine cult of real objects, venerated as fetishes, which will take on mythic value.” (Kate scoffs at Baudrillard. “He was a man of weak-tea theory,” she claims.)
Another altered shot, but why? The lights have been changed in post production from red to green. On no level of understanding does this make sense. “Hey,” says Kate, “and where are the shadows for the vertical lane dividers?”
“But if it is the misfortune of our age that it has too much knowledge, that it has forgotten what it means to exist, and what inwardness signifies, then it was of importance not to apprehend sin in abstract terms.” Søren
A complete red herring, as the shot was neither taken in Manhattan nor in any way connected to the story beneath the story that the “Carmen” tells.
This is the first image in the video that gets to the truth of things. “There it is,” says Kate, pointing to the red leader, actually touching it on the screen with her finger. She detects motion in the reel. But of course that’s not possible.
A supposed flashback, Del Rey’s swiftly turning face, as sad as any shot of Antoine Doinel circa 1959.
During the gap between shot 65 and this one the camera has tilted down slightly.
In the analog version of “Carmen” this shot appears in color. Baudrillard once wrote that “with everything losing its distance, its substance, its resistance in the indifferent acceleration of the system, crazed values are beginning to produce their opposites, or to eye each other longingly.” That last bit, that’s what Kate’s doing to me right now.
See shot 60
Not from 1969 the moon landing, although it certainly recalls that moment. The crime in question has already happened and there’s no doubt that this image captures, in distortion, the aftermath.
Slyly frame, this shot recalls a discarded scene from Julien Donkey-Boy that was intended to appear at the 74-minute mark until it was pulled by none other than Herzog himself, because, according to the rough audiotape, it “reveals too damn much.”
Kate’s reaction: “In that poem you put me in I was never treated as badly as this.” It should be said that she hates the color green.
The image that cannot–must not–be shown. Every narrative conceals a secret, no matter how small.
“It’s beautiful,” says Kate, “but should you include it?” She feels we have strayed too far from Lana Del Rey. But it’s the video that’s strayed, not us, I remind her, gently.
There is action now. Cars. They seem to be real, i.e., not front projected. Søren: “What reality is cannot be expressed in the language of abstraction. . . . Abstract thought can get hold of reality only by nullifying it.” And all that.
Again with the camera. Looking in the wrong direction, either by intention or coercion.
Kate’s notes: “Two shots, spliced together. And where is E. P.?”
Another late shot, added to the video a full month after its premier, putting in the furthest reaches of the video’s meaning. Kate’s still gone. Her notes for this frame: “Is this a text or a text?”
In the early 1990s, just prior to the advent of DVDs, media scholar Anne Friedberg, in her book Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, wrote that the VCR is a “privatized museum of past moments, of different genres, different times all reduced to uniform, interchangeable, equally accessible units.” Kate says that those were the “bold” days of theory, when scholars felt compelled to make sweeping arguments as a bulwark against the hegemony of the image. But isn’t that what we’re trying to do now, Kate, with our “Carmen Horse” project? I ask. Kate smiles and shrugs. “I guess,” she says, chewing her nail.
Information about this shot indicates that–as is true of most but not all of the other “black and white” images–the image is in fact RGB color.
Shots #104 & #105
These shots–impossibly–were taken simultaneously, with the same camera.
The scene of the crime, digitally degraded and softened, as if 0s and 1s could somehow lose their binary distinctness. The color of blood, trapped in amber, warmed by sun. Kate doesn’t think we should write about this one. She’s superstitious.
Kate: “The fleck in the upper right quadrant is not an accidental imperfection but is fact the subject of the shot itself.”
“But when you look at blogs, where you’re most likely to find the real info is in the links. It’s contextual, and not only who the blog’s linked to, but who’s linked to the blog.” –William Gibson, Spook Country
Kate: “But what if the whole point of the video . . . what if everything we thought was supposed to mean . . .” She doesn’t need to finish. We’ve both been thinking this since the beginning of the project, telegraphing it through glances, silences, the in between spaces of the frames. But now that she’s said it, our bad end is coming into focus.
The music beginning at this point–Gymnopédie No. 1–by French composer Erik Satie, published in 1888, is a sly bid to throw us off track by false direction. Satie’s 1923 postcard to Pierre de Massot remains, for its reference to the Hotel Terminus alone, a source of, well, sources.
Identical to shot 114. “The first time that’s happened. Huh,” says Kate. She wishes she hadn’t said it, but it’s too late. It was too late the moment we accepted this assignment from Mr. Bennetts.
The extermination of the image.
The slight turn of the head from shot 111. She is either complicit in the crime or its victim. “I don’t like where this is going,” says Kate, referring either to the “Carmen” video or, more likely, to us.
She is on the other side, in the open, swirling, either running from or for the camera.
Centered now in the frame. I ask Kate for some quotes, some “secondary” sources, something substantial against the fragility of our theory about a secret crime encoded in this video.
The switch to color only makes things worse. We are on the other side of the fence?
“God, she is facing forward like J-Horror. Her hair,” Kate says. I pour her a drink to calm her. Then one for myself.
“That is not Lana Del Rey.” Kate is insistent. She is shaking. “The red triangulated claws / Kate’s Kate makes.”
A dreadful realization, too late: it is not that we have been watching the video, but the video that has been watching us.
Her left foot, in all its overpixillated beauty. The crime, endlessly deferred. Pause forever.
Kate: “There’s no way we’re getting out of this, is there?”
The end of the line, as they say. The video is stuck on this image, looping. Forced shutdown.