In a recent article in Film Comment, “Seconds,” Kent Jones writes about those “fugitive moments” that draw the viewer’s attention away from the filmmaker’s prearranged plan. He mentions several instances of such moments, from “a long blonde in a short-sleeved black crinoline dress with a glass bead necklace, a permanent wave, and shaded John Lennon glasses who introduces herself by craning her long elastic neck into the frame” in the Pre-Code Warner’s comedy Two Seconds (LeRoy, US, 1932), to the “lonely, conservatively dressed girl bathed in red lights” who sits at the corner of a bar in Little Italy in Mean Streets (Scorsese, US, 1973), or a young girl in a white dress leaning against a storefront window, who looks straight at the camera in D.W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley (US, 1912). All of these people are extras, are not actively part of the movie’s plot, “minor characters” in the terminology of Alex Woloch’s book, The One Vs. The Many: Minor Characters and the Space of the Protagonist in the Novel (2003) (or Hollywood Unknowns, as Anthony Slide groups extras, bit players and stand-ins in his recent book). So what Jones has done here is elevate the status of these extras to that of protagonist, if only for a stolen moment, inquiring into their physicality (the first is saucy but homely, the second attractive but not quite pretty, the third a “coarser, working-class cousin to the Darley Boit sister staring at us from the shadows in John Singer Sargent’s famous 1882 group portrait”), psychological make-up (most strike him as lonely), motivations, hopes and fears (they all seem to share some private longing). The attraction these people hold for Jones is for a large part the result of their being “real,” by which we mean that they aren’t necessarily “playing” (there is little character-space for them to play in), at best they are behaving or posing, like the girl in Pig Alley. Moreover, Jones sees an “absolute parity between actor and character, the kind that happens rarely with stars.” I don’t necessarily agree with the final part of that assessment – the greatest stars, as Richard Dyer has shown, are those whose created persona most perfectly fits who they “really are” – but I take his point about the faux documentary aura of the extra’s screen image. “Aura” seems the appropriate term here, one that fits both the ontological “realness” of these apparitions and the setting in which they appear, unique surroundings both real and studio-made that tell further stories about a medium that is both lifelike and dreamlike, a “material ghost” as Gilberto Perez famously dubbed cinema. Aura is what Walter Benjamin thought movies were missing, given that they were an art form – if they were that – produced in an era of industrialization, of “mechanical reproduction,” creating copies without an original that lacked the “cultic” value of a single masterpiece that could only be viewed in its material reality in one specific spot designed for its enshrinement. At the same time, photographs – and by extension movies – seemed to create for Benjamin a different type of auratic presence. In his Kleine Geschichte der Fotografie (1931), Benjamin grants that a last refuge for the cult value of the picture can be found in “the cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead,” in the daguerreotypes of the dead or the long gone that did not have any artistic ambition other than to conserve: “For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty.” Although the philosopher regrets the pictorial ambitions of later forms of photography, he does find a residue of cultic value of remembrance in certain portrait photographs, like David Octavius Hill’s picture of a fishwife from New Haven (ca. 1845). Hill’s picture is as stylized as the decorously posed girl in Griffith’s tableau of the Lower East Side life in Pig Alley, or Scorsese’s red-filtered light in Mean Streets, but what Benjamin finds much more fascinating than aesthetics are the specifics of the gaze and demeanor of the woman portrayed in the picture: “In that fishwife from Newhaven, who casts her eyes down with such casual, seductive shame, there remains something that does not merely testify to the art of [David Octavius] Hill the photographer, but something that cannot be silenced, that impudently demands the name of the person who lived at the time and who, remaining real even now, will never yield herself up entirely into art.”
Similarly, Kent Jones seems to demand the name of the girl in the Griffith picture, the example that seems to work best here, because of the three she is the one undoubtedly gone the longest. The fact that she stares back at the viewer, at us – apparently, Griffith was trying to evoke the effect produced by onlookers looking into the actuality cameras – only seems to increase her allure. In Kleine Geschichte Benjamin cites the elder Dauthendey’s comment on the daguerreotype: “’People were afraid at first,’ he reported, ‘ to look for any length of time at the pictures he produced. They were embarrassed by the clarity of these figures and believed that the little, tiny faces of the people in the pictures could see out at them.’” Perhaps the fear these people felt was less about being pinned down by a picture’s gaze, than about the fact that the figures looking at them in a photograph were looking at nothing, thinking of nothing, feeling nothing, which is what the photographer asked of them, but which, detectives that we all are, only increases our curiosity. If Preminger’s Laura (US, 1944) is the ultimate necro-noir in that together with Dana Andrews’ detective we fall in love with a dead girl, with a picture of a dead girl, it seems as if cinema, in its more-than-art-ness, turns us all into necrophiliacs. Perhaps I am exaggerating, and perhaps I am rendering in vulgar terms what is actually a more sacral encounter. In terms that are a lot more mystical than the playful discourse we have come to associate with him, Roland Barthes refers to photography as literally an “emanation of the referent.” What Barthes meant is what Susan Sontag also found primary about photography: “A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture.” But wasn’t it Sontag who wrote that instead of a hermeneutics, i.e. interpretive criticism, we need an erotics of art? And is this what is covered by the attraction Kent Jones feels towards the lonely girl in the bar in Little Italy, “attractive but not quite pretty,” or even – for shame – the unlikely flash of Edwardian glamour on the Lower East Side? As David Thomson reminds us, “in searching commentary on films there needs to be some way of accommodating the fondness, the rapture, the attraction (there are other words) the writer feels for an actress, without ever having met or spoken to her.” Thomson is writing about his attraction (there are other words) to Nicole Kidman, but even as one who is part of the business – the professional film critic – with at least hypothetical access to the object of his desire, the kind of fondness he is writing about perhaps works best as a pure hypothetical, as a meeting in the dark, during which the “viewer’s shyness, modesty, or responsibility was dissolved.” And perhaps it works even better if the subject of one’s longings is dead. Or if the subject of one’s crush is the movies themselves. This condition, “movie love,” the falling in love not with actors but with cinema itself, was first diagnosed, Sontag claims, in the 1950s in France: its “forum” was the legendary film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, its “temples” were the many cinémathèques and clubs specializing in films from the past that sprang up. Their love of cinema changed the outlook of these cinephiles, not only in moral terms – “One can’t live without Rossellini,” says one character in a movie by honorary Parisian Bernardo Bertolucci, and meant it – but also in terms of actually looking at films. According to Paul Willemen, the Cahiers critics were less doing criticism than that they were responding to films, were recreating on the page privileged moments of the film. And these moments weren’t always the one the less infatuated moviegoer would remember. Truffaut, for instance, remembered Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefers Blondes (Hawks, US, 1953) holding a tiara behind her back, “crowning her most important achievement,” as it were. Kent Jones remembers that girl sitting in a corner in Mean Streets, a girl other, again less amorously inclined patrons, never see. In a letter to Rohmer, Truffaut wrote: “Cinema is the art of the little detail that does not call attention to itself.” But it doesn’t stop at description. For the Cahiers critics the whole meaning of a scene, nay of the whole picture, lay hidden in that one seemingly indifferent detail, like Marilyn’s tiara and its connection to the movie’s message about materialism, which it was the critic duty/vocation to disclose from among a wide variety of such details that might not mean anything. Similarly, Kent Jones is convinced that the girl in the bar “crystallizes the movie’s powerful undercurrent of aloneness.” Now this is something else entirely from a mere celebration of the contingent nature of movies. This is auteurism (and, significantly, Kent Jones chose two of his magic moments out of the movies of two emblematic auteur figures, Scorsese and Griffith), and a theory of mise-en-scène as the auteur’s magic capability to control and make resonant seemingly contingent details. Usually, this goes hand in glove with aesthetic appreciation and judgment, as in Manny Farber’s famous provocative suggestion that Bogart touching a fire hydrant in Hawks’ The Big Sleep (US, 1946) is one of the quintessential moments of forties cinema, or indeed, Truffaut’s claim that Hawks having made accessible the meaning hidden in Marilyn’s crowning achievement is precisely what makes him a great moralist. Of course this works both ways, as the critic’s talent for discovering these hidden meanings, for celebrating the surface-as-depth of a movie, is what makes him worthy of fandom, makes him into a connoisseur, a privileged member of a cabal of similarly gifted peers. For many of us this is the image cinephilia conjures up: a game played by those in the know. But there is a third way.
By taking the most organized, formalistically patterned filmmaker – Eisenstein – and heeding Sontag’s call for a substitution of hermeneutics for erotics (actually, the influence went in the other direction), or better, for a knowledge effect instead of knowledge, Roland Barthes showed how a relationship towards images based on pleasure – Barthes was no cinephile, but he did know a thing or two about love and pleasure – could yield productive results for anyone, not just the initiated (inversely, he showed that even the “text” itself, let alone its auteur, were unimportant, but that does not need concern us here). In “Le Troisième Sens” (1970), Barthes turned movies back into pictures because herein, paradoxically, lies the “filmic.” The reason for arresting the image is that film is committed to a “logico-temporal order,” and that its “reading” is therefore always restrained by this order. What Barthes means, in the simplest of terms, is that film is primarily a narrative medium, in which the narrative construction really disguises, controls, limits, however you want to describe the hold narrative has over the image (call it “ideology”), the truly “filmic,” which is contingent. The irony is that Barthes proposes we turn movies into pictures to escape authorial control, whereas photography, as Robert Ray suggests, was based in the early nineteenth century rage for legibility, classification and control. But this irony is only a superficial one and was soon replaced by a more profound one, when photographical pioneer Henry Fox Talbot discovered that his medium was plagued by a “fascinating irrelevancy,” recording incidentals disinterestedly despite of its operator’s intentions. The same is true for movies (an apocryphal story about the movies is that the patrons of one of the first films ever made, the Lumière brothers’ Le Repas de Bébé from 1895, were more interested in the wind moving in the trees than in the cute scene itself), Barthes suggests, despite the over-determinedness of its narrative systems, be they classical Hollywood or Soviet Constructivism. Alternative to the “informational” and “symbolic” levels of meaning in a picture (both photograph and film), Barthes distinguished a “third meaning,” that “seems to open the field of meaning totally, that is infinitely.” Because in this kind of game all cards are wild, Barthes wants to stress less the analytical value of the reading he proposes than its ludic aspects, which he associates with “puns, buffoonery, useless expenditure.” Let’s take an example.
From a sequence in Eisenstein’s Potemkin (SU, 1925), Vakulinchuk’s funeral, Barthes isolates a photogram, a still of a tearful old woman. Neither the woman’s facial expression nor her gestural figuration of grief are what necessarily interests Barthes: all that still belongs, he feels, to “the full signification, to the obvious meaning of the image, to Eisensteinian realism and decorativism.” What Barthes calls “the penetrating trait,” he situates in the region of the forehead: it is the low headscarf that strikes him, especially in conjunction with the closed eyes and convex mouth, becomes it seems to him like a disguise. Contrary to the Cahiers critics, however, Barthes does not make the leap back from this “penetrating trait” to full signification. Rather, he confesses being somewhat ashamed of the “scandal” he imposes on a classic representation of grief. Later on, in Roland Barthes par Ronald Barthes, he would call this “scandal” by its real name, a “perversion,” insisting that “the pleasure potential of perversion is always underestimated.” The perversion Barthes is guilty of, which he proposes as a research strategy is, of course, fetishism: the overestimation of value, in economic terms, the overestimation of detail in heuristic terms.
When Barthes develops his notion of “Third Meaning” in his book on photography, Camera Lucida (1980), he emphasizes the physical, bodily experience of his perversion by writing about what “pricks” him outside the received meaning (the “stadium”) of an image. The experience of this “punctum,” that shoots out like an arrow (cf. the “penetrating trait”), that pierces, is involuntary, outside the viewer’s conscious control. In this the experience of the “punctum” resembles that of Proust’s mémoire involuntaire, triggered by bodily sensations (the taste of a madeleine). As Barthes contrasts studium and punctum, Proust differentiates between two registers of memory, recollection and remembrance. The former are memories that can be called up at will; the latter, however, are much more powerful because they indicate that “the past is somewhere beyond the reach of the intellect, and unmistakably present in some material object (or in the sensation which such an object arouses in us), though we have no idea which one it is.” Like Barthes, Proust was no cinephile, so he did not reflect on the possibility that memory could be triggered by a material ghost, by the cinema. This is exactly what Gilbert Adair, a full-blown incarnation of the type, has done in his Myths and Memories (1986), a book inspired by both Proust and Barthes, in which he lists his memories of life and movies, remembering apocrypha like the color of Cary Grant’s socks in the famous crop-duster sequence from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (US, 1959). In a later book, Flickers (1995), he adapted this approach, and Barthes’ punctuation of a movie by rendering it as time-less photographs, to the historiography of cinema, taking one still from one film for each of the first hundred years of cinema. The collection of stills, of moments, Adair has collected in this book – “ostensibly peripheral details with which one finds oneself just as fascinated as with any of the film’s characters and which may remain lodged in one’s memory longer than most of the codified parameters by which the medium is supposed to communicate its fund of meanings” – resembles both that of Benjamin’s collector, detaching an object from its functional value, and the products of a Surrealist game of irrational enlargement. Here, as an example, is the entry on Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (US, 1956):
Two men sitting in an automobile. Two men outfitted in the felt hats and boxy, double-breasted suits and soberly immaculate collars and ties that, for most of us, have come to evoke the Hollywood cinema of the thirties, forties and fifties rather than any real, still recollectable time or place. This photograph, I admit, isn’t “interesting”; its composition isn’t eye-fetching; it might have served indiscriminately to epitomize scores of thrillers and dramas and police procedural movies made in Hollywood between, let’s say, 1930 and 1960. Precisely. For it’s perhaps time to acknowledge the extent to which the textural specificity of the American cinema is contingent upon what might be called its “urbanality”. Putting it more crudely, it’s all very well talking about The Ten Commandments and Gone With the Wind and Casablanca and Rio Bravo, but what going to the cinema during those years really meant was watching near-identical men in near-identical suits and hats sitting in near-identical apartment rooms and bars and black, bulbous automobiles; was watching movies that were, paradoxically, like nothing so much as books – books without illustrations. And therein, in a way which is difficult to communicate to the uninitiated but which no true cinéphile will ever need to have explained, can be found the medium’s metallic poetry.
Adair reveals himself to stand midway the Barthesian fetishist and the Cahiers critic-as-cinephile, confessing to his inability to put into words what any true cinephile needs no explanation for. Barthes had similar problems naming the fragment productive of a “third meaning:” “I read, I receive (and probably even first and foremost) a third meaning – evident, erratic, obstinate. I do not know what its signified is, at least I am unable to give it a name.” For the cinephile this inability to put into words does not pose a problem – he knows because he loves: Barthes’ “lover” is characterized, amongst a manifold collection of other traits, by an “explosion of language,” during which the subject manages to “annul the loved object under the volume of love itself: by a specifically amorous perversion, it is love the subject loves, not the object.”
In his polemical piece for Film Comment on the formation of movie canons, “Canon Fodder,” Paul Schrader similarly combines the auteurist’s position with the Barthesian heuristic stance. Asking by what standards or criteria movies are to be judged, Schrader sums up classic aesthetic standards of beauty and unity of form and subject matter, next to categories like “strangeness” and “repeatability,” borrowed from the canon explorations of Harold Bloom. Most interesting for our purposes, however, is the standard he proposes of “viewer engagement.” With this criterion, Schrader is claiming that the great film interrupts the viewer’s passive attitude to the medium to fully engage with it, encourages him to “reach into the screen and move the creative furniture around,” thereby “coming to conclusions the film can’t control, reassembling the film in a unique personal way.” The great film, Schrader argues, allows for this sort of creative reassembling, nay encourages it. When shifting focus from great films to their reception, defining a film’s greatness by its – individual, collective – reception, he seems to imply a canon of viewers to go with one of art works. “Reassembling the film in a unique personal way,” as Adair has done in Flickers, suggests a way to think about cinema that is faithful to the medium’s ontology: the subtitle to Siegfried Kracauer’s The Theory of Film, “The Redemption of Physical Reality,” speaks volumes here, suggesting a non-abstract immediacy in our hermeneutic relationship to film, as Miriam Hansen points out in her introduction to the re-edition of this classical work of film theory:“What is at stake [in cinema] is the possibility of a split-second meaninglessness, as the placeholder of an otherness that resists unequivocal understanding and total subsumption. What is also at stake is the ability of the particular, the detail, the incident, to take on a life of its own, to precipitate processes in the viewer that may not be entirely controlled by the film.” The cinephile’s or the “film addict’s” (to use Kracauer’s term) tendency to fetishize fragments of a film, either individual shots or marginal (often unintentional) details in the image, especially those that appear only for a moment, celebrates a subjective encounter with the fleeting, evanescent character of the film experience. On the other hand, Schrader’s invitation suggests a new sense of film historicity and therefore also a new sense conception of canon formation. In his Theses on the Philosophy of History, Kracauer’s Frankfürt colleague Walter Benjamin offered a way of thinking about singular moments from the past that could not be linearized by traditional historicism. For that purpose, he introduced the notion of historical materialism, a form of writing capable of “blast[ing] open the continuum of history” and excavating an alternative understanding of the past from the “flashes” that cannot be contained in any pre-existing discourse.More than mere “buffism,” the cinephile’s fetish can inspire an alternate or “counter”-history (Thomas Elsaesser’s term), one that would mine undeveloped or unconsidered points of entry: “all those histories that might have been or might still be.” In her book on The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Mary Ann Doane writes about “contingency” as a reflective concept opening up precisely such possible (counter-) histories: “Contingent is what is not necessary and not impossible; as the negation of necessity cinematic contingency participates in the resistance to systematicity and hence, ironically, becomes susceptible to systematicity; but as the negation of impossibility, contingency can become a reflexive concept – it could have been otherwise.”
If Adair’s intention, like Benjamin’s, like Barthes’, like Proust’s, is to “blast” open the continuum of history, allowing “flashes” of insight to take form, or, alternatively, building an alternative history based precisely upon these “flashes,” the flashy metaphor is aptly chosen, given not only that Benjamin – like the Surrealists – would find in photography, specifically in its tendency to reveal the unstaged, the fortuitous, the indeterminate – the perfect metaphor for his nonlinear historical temporality, but also that, as an image, it belongs to a genealogy.
Like Benjamin’s “flash,” Jean Epstein’s photogénie is “a spark that appears in fits and starts,” eschewing narrative continuity. “Photogénie,” suggests Epstein in “Le Sens I bis,” a discussion of cinema’s conceptual revolution that anticipates both Benjamin and Barthes, is the quality of the “filmic” that Barthes wanted to liberate from its spatio-temporal enclosure. Like Barthes, Epstein holds little truck with narrative: “The cinema is true; a story is false…the cinema is ill-suited to the rational framework of the novelette [or that of the theater for that matter] and indifferent to it.” Instead, “it offers moments of a wholly distinctive flavor.” Epstein then goes on to describe a peripheral, essentially non-narrative moment from a lost Sessue Hayakawa movie, The Honor of His House (1918): ‘He [Hayakawa] crosses a room quite naturally, his torso held at a slight angle. He hands his gloves to a servant. Opens a door. Then, having gone out, closes it. Photogénie, pure photogénie, cadenced movement.” By taking as an instance of pure cinema a melodrama he rejects as “an improbable yarn: adultery and surgery,” Epstein revises the history of cinema as an art form, fragmenting films in a Barthesian way and rejecting both the early cinema as a “scientific trick” or a “holiday diversion for schoolboys,” and the theatrical tradition that produced canonized films like Caligari (Wiene, DE, 1920), in favor of films in which “nothing very much happens,” but in which “the humblest detail sounds the note of drama that is latent.” But what is photogénie really? Again, “The words are lacking. The words have not been found.” Echoes of Barthes again (and of Adair): “One runs into a brick wall trying to define it.” “What would Paracelsus have said?” Epstein asks, referring to a man who was both a physician, astrologer and occultist. Although Epstein never tells us precisely what it is – there is no language – he does elucidate that it can only be produced through the lens of the camera. The lens lays bare what the human eye cannot discover directly, thereby launching a tradition of revelationist thinking about the camera eye’s inherent capabilities for disclosing reality, from Dziga Vertov’s “kino-eye” to Walter Benjamin’s formulation of the “optical unconscious,” the camera revealing aspects of reality that register in our senses but – like Proust’s involuntary memories – never quite get processed consciously. So, essentially, Epstein’s aesthetics is an automatist one, attributing the camera’s disclosure of photogenic moments to its automated registration of a reality that, shall we say, too “full” to be grasped by the human eye, let alone processed by our limited cognitive capabilities. What Epstein loved about the camera’s capacity to enlarge (“The close-up is the soul of cinema”), for instance, he shared with Louis Aragon, who, like Schrader, used to think that selected objects or parts of the décor in a shot or scene could become “remotivated,” and focused on the way film could isolate and magnify objects through framing especially in close-ups, or with Walter Benjamin, who compared the cameraman to a surgeon, “penetrating deeply into the reality web,” “zooming in to pry an object from its shell”. But more important even than the camera’s analytic properties to the conception of photogénie, was that the image contain or be in motion. Movement is the essence of cinema, Epstein decides contra Barthes, the constantly changing quality of photogénie is of the essence (“Until now, I have never seen an entire minute of pure photogénie”), perhaps captured best by the image of a smile slowly appearing on a face seen in close-up, nay the anticipation of that smile. And remember Hayakawa’s moment: “cadenced movement”. Here Epstein reveals himself to be a child of his time, obsessed with rhythm, both in music, dance and pictorial art – “Since the end of the nineteenth century, above all since the beginning of this century,” wrote Jean d’Udine in Quest-ce que la danse? (1921), “there has been much and constant talk of rhythm, in relation to all matters and often to matters to which it is irrelevant” – and preferably in the synthesis of these arts, the cinema. Rhythm is perhaps what the filmmaker can contribute to a photogenic reality that is captured automatically, and was central to Epstein’s conception of cinema as it was to that of his colleagues and collaborators, Gance, Dulac, L’Herbier, although what rhythm is exactly is as vague what photogénie is, or what mise-en-scène was for the Cahiers critics. Andrew Sarris talked about mise-en-scène as a product of “magical powers” that allow the viewer “to get more out of a picture than is put in by a director” (and this from the Great Auteurist himself!). “The cinema,” Epstein concludes, “is essentially supernatural” (a material ghost). Because of this, “the atmosphere is heavy with love.”
Film Comment used to include in its poll of the best films of the year a kind of alternative (counter) canon composed entirely of contingent moments. “Moments out of time,” this Adair-like collection of fondly remembered bits and pieces was called. Going through these moments now is bringing the films back to mind a process of what both Barthes and Benjamin call “anamnesis,” evoking narrative less than atmosphere, “aura”: “a tumbleweed in L.A.” bringing back The Big Lebowski (Coen, US, 1998); “The squeaking of the plastic chairs under the investigators as they interview the suspect,” reanimating Fincher’s Zodiac (US, 2007)–what they meant, mean now, could have meant and could still mean. These moments, although they need little explanation for the cinephile in the know, are idiosyncratic, in that they rely upon the critic’s personal recollection of non-canonical moments in a movie (from Renoir’s La Nuit du Carrefour (FR, 1932), Godard remembered especially the “purr of a Bugatti”). But sometimes the love of a particular moment is shared, love is somehow “in the air,” which does not always produce a joyful feeling in the cinephile who wants to keep this cherished treasure to himself. In Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse, Barthes writes about “Identification”: “The subject [in love] painfully identifies himself with some person who occupies the same position as himself in the amorous structure”. Let’s see if this story “pricks”: In Acting in the Cinema, James Naremore writes about his enjoyment of Cary Grant’s physical grace during the crop-duster scene in North by Northwest; he enjoys Grant’s smooth stride, the “sprinter’s pump in his arms”. But Naremore’s contemplation also extends to other, “apparently mundane” things: “For example, I have always been fascinated with Grant’s socks, flashing out elegantly from beneath the cuffs of his trousers as he dodges bullets from that low-flying plane”. Naremore was amused to discover that Raymond Durgnat had admitted to a similar preoccupation. This amusement turned to the onset of anxiety when he found out Stuart Byron had opened the Village Voice’s 1985 edition of the annual “World’s Most Difficult Film Trivia Quiz” with a multiple-choice question: “In the crop-dusting sequence of North By Northwest, the color of Cary Grant’s socks is a) blue, b) orange, c) red, d) yellow.” The correct answer is a, Naremore concludes, while in fact it is neither: Grant’s socks are brown. But that is not what is important here. Important is the fact that Grant’s socks keep reappearing in cinephiliac memories: “I remember the colour of Cary Grant’s socks in the celebrated ‘crop-dusting’ sequence of North By Northwest: sky-blue,” writes Gilbert Adair as entry 126 in his list of Myths and Memories. Does it matter that both Adair’s book and the Village Voice quiz appeared in 1985? Or does it matter more that Raymond Durgnat and Adair belonged to the same cinephiliac coterie? Or is the colour of Cary Grant’s socks simply the first entry in our canon of movie moments?