Connecting the two unlikely figures of Marilyn Monroe and Darth Vader, this article argues that air might offer a previously ignored alternative to the chthonic narratives of sexual reproduction that are especially popular in the psychoanalytic imagination. Borrowing from Luce Irigaray's argument that Heidegger has “forgotten” the pre-Socratic element air in a philosophy that privileges materiality and vision, I examine popular films that feature air, and in particular breathing, as a central trope. Because of an emphasis on the more obviously material aspects of visual images, the invisible, ubiquitous element of air has been wholly ignored as a medium for ideas. Yet despite being challenging to read, air gains power because of its relative invisibility, and after being transmuted by breathing into a legible cinematic sign, it marks sites where otherwise imperceptible ideas become liminal. Through close readings of The Seven Year Itch, Blue Velvet, Three Little Pigs, and The Empire Strikes Back, I track the range of meaning found in cinematic breathing, from the figurative presence of erotic breath in pornography to the literal associations of air and environment in animation.
Kevin L. Ferguson; Panting in the Dark: The Ambivalence of Air in Cinema. Camera Obscura 1 September 2011; 26 (2 (77)): 33–63. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-1301530
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