Peter Whitehead
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The Fall
The Fall

The true nature of The Fall is only clear when seen in the context of Whitehead's entire life and oeuvre.

 Whilst it can be analyzed very rewardingly in cine-theoretical and socio-political terms (although this has been all too lacking over the years - John Ryle's article being the prime exception), it is better seen as the revelation of a deep cartography, of the mytho-poetic arrangements of its protagonist's trajectory through the visible world. The tri-partite structure of the film mirrors Whitehead's own lived trinity of experience and the film entire serves as the mid-point in his examination of the form and significance of the all-seeing eye: From the microscope of Perception of Life to the visions of Egypt, from the magnified unseens of a cell through the material into the invisible meta-patterns of belief. It also serves as an oblique prologue to his later explicit interrogations of sexuality and as a coda to his society life, his time at the event centre.
 The film starts with a ceremonial immersion into the feminine, a loosing of control, the cameraman engulfed in a kaleidoscope of image-moments as he arrives in NY to film its breathing. Here we are in the eye of the 60's project, Godard and Mcluhan the presiding deities, their messages taken to liminal extremes. Perhaps it is true that this is the most edited film yet made. But The Fall not only shows the cut, the split. It is about rupture. It is a tracking-shot through fissures, a sonar raking tectonic grate. Lensing in on assassination, civil disturbance, police brutality and the director's own subsequent breakdown, it documents division, absence, gulfs. While it removes the artificial separation of realities and fictions, it probes the space between intention/ideal and the manifest outcome of event with ceaseless precision. Whitehead's attempts in the second section at a mastery of the winds around him, an editing into reason of the chaos, are inevitably doomed, and the only course left open to him is the undelineated committment to the flow of things that he explores in the final sequence, the student occupation of Columbia University (which includes the suitably accidental appearance of an activist called Paul Auster) and the ensuing police invasion.
 The belonging inherent in the collective act, where image and word fuse in deed, regardless of the outcome, is the unavoidable (and desired) end-zone of the film's internallogic. In keeping with the explained premise, the pivotal incident of the film, the most 'real' moment, the central distress, is the police violence against the students (and PW himself as he tried to leave the building). This is not shown, except in result, effect, after-image. Whitehead is constructing before us the burning memories of the decade's end. Inevitably, the film-maker, independent but operating from within, now sees the moral authority of the system collapse. This collapse echoes and charges his own. Literally out-lawed, he carries disorder, and is ritually dismembered, a pre-requisite to his journey away from the social into falconry, and its greater connection. In this sense, it is entirely apt that the film's final image is that of Whitehead's face on the editing monitor, pixellating into space and light, a mirror of the atom and the galaxy, a reincorporation into flux and an anticipation of the consciousness of light that is the birth of Horus. The Fall therefore is a spectrum shift across a threshold, a necessary culmination that finds its sequel in an altogether different form, no longer a cinema of projected shadows, more of solar concentration.
Entropy, June 1997