:: Article

Picture Cycle

By Nicholas Rombes.

Masha Tupitsyn, Picture Cycle (Semiotext(e), 2019).

This review takes the form of Masha Tupitsyn’s remarkable essay-collection Picture Cycle, which is to say it takes the form of her own words, words which cut through the noise of our time with precision, clarity, and elegance. Jean Baudrillard once said that “as for ideas, everyone has them. What matters is the poetic singularity of the analysis.” Tupitsyn’s singular essays shape shift between analysis, intervention, critique, and lyric essay, meeting her subject matter where it needs to be met. Tupitsyn makes the familiar unfamiliar once again and, at their best, her essays return and transform their subjects back into the strange, unfamiliar, unknown things they once were when we first encountered them. As a writer, what rang most powerfully in my ears as I read this collection was the power and beauty of Tupitsyn’s words at the level of sentence, and so I’ve created a pathway, of sorts, through her book, chapter by chapter, selecting keywords from each one to give you a sense of their scope, followed by brief passages from each chapter.

Famous Tombs: Love in the ‘90s.
Keywords: Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp, Lars von Trier
What one discovers as one gets older is that being able to live without people is the requirement of life: living without the people you said you would not and could not live without; living without the people who said they would not and could not live without you.

Ever Since This World Began.
Keywords: Judy Garland, Dorothy, Deleted Take, Fakery
It’s the song [“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”], leaving us with so much to wade through, especially in an era of extra-features and culture as tell-all. An era when everything resurfaces, returns, doubles — comes back.

Behind the Scenes
Keywords: Olivia Newton John, Nancy Allen, John Travolta, Brian De Palma
Sometimes I thought about the way film boys kissed film girls and wondered if film girls and film boys did things differently — kissed differently — offscreen. Does one act a kiss the way one acts everything else in a movie? Kisses are always vérité. Kisses are how actors blur the line. How much of a person is in an actor and how much isn’t?

All an Act
Keywords: John Cusack, Robert Altman, Donald Westlake
As viewers we often have one foot in a film and one foot in reality, so when it comes to the stars we love, we look to the fiction or we look to a way out of it, depending on which outcome is better. This adds a new layer to the cinematic fold.

The Authentic Personality
Keywords: Ben Lerner, Jennifer Lawrence
Actual and acting are analogous, for what is actual when acting is not just a condition of being human, but an increasingly daily requirement for being human?

David Bowie & Mark Zuckerberg Play with Time
Keywords: Alien, Networks, Loneliness
In The Social Network, Zuckerberg uses the technology of Facebook to express what it means to live in a Facebook world. It is about using while using, as well as being the kind of disembodied body you need to be in order to live a Facebook existence.

A Sentimental Education
Keywords: All the President’s Men, Jean Baudrillard, Luce Irigaray
What you see is not as important as what everyone sees. Less is not more. In the age of social media everyone is fighting to get their private self to matter to everyone. And while there is still some shame and dishonor in exposing the private, especially for women, in the digital mediasphere, the real disgrace is being invisible.

I Touch Myself
Keywords: The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, Possession
When I was alone, I was Ralph being alone. I was acting alone. Because movie stars offer such powerful affirmations of belonging, when it came to Ralph, I could belong to his not-belonging because even as an outsider, he belonged to a commonality of representation. He belonged to the screen.

Mixed Signals
Keywords: Pretty in Pink, the 80s, Commodity, Avant-Garde
I preferred it when only people like Steff [James Spader in Pretty in Pink] could afford to wear Lacoste and Ralph Lauren. People with real money, wearing clothes that signified there actual socio-economic position in the world, because it allowed me to know my place in the world. It represented a dissonance.

Analog Days
Keywords: New York
In the movies, more than anything, people want to be known. In real life, people are willing to remain inscrutable.

Keywords: Lisbon, Red, 250
Romantics are people who do things even when no one is looking. Even when there is nothing in return.

Mourning and Melancholia
Keywords: Freud, Texting, Voicemail
I remember you said if you were on a safari I’d be the first thing you would kill.

Time for Nothing
Keywords: Screens, Pasolini

The ‘70s are like vinyl. They had a texture. They sputtered.
There was a silence that startled the music. The music had scratches. The circle got worn, in time. By time.

Keywords: Love
Love is the word that never gets you anywhere. Love is what you do when you fuck. Love is what you fucked up. Love is what never happened again. Love is what no one means.

I Give You My Word
Keywords: Love Sounds, Tonal Affect
The phone calls of friends and ex-boyfriends were also on those answering machine cassette ribbons, now warped. I liked the way you could pull a tape out of its player, find the ribbon stretched out and mangled, and wind it back in with a pencil.

Picture Cycle
Keywords: Heath Ledger, Michelangelo Antonioni, Celebrity Death Cult
In the post-cinematic age, vulgarity, excess, and corruption move from off-camera to on-camera. Delighting in the technique of exposure, we no longer fear that something must be hidden in order for it to succeed. That hiding has any cultural or monetary value.

Devil Entendre
Keywords: Horror, Power, Concealment, Pleasure
Unlike the complicated hell of life, movie hell offers avenues of escape. So-called straight genre horror films tend to be more optimistic than ambiguous post-war horror: there is usually an end to suffering, an antidote to hell. A way to kill the monster and restore order.

The Rights of Nerves
Keywords: Failed Art, Marriage, Neurotic Fear
Jack’s [Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, in The Shining] manuscript is a de facto record of the futility of a woman’s work when that work is investing in one’s husband’s failed artistic pursuits at the expense of one’s own livelihood and survival. If Jack’s work has been for nothing, then so has Wendy’s, whose incalculable work has been being the wife of a difficult male artist.

On Robert Bresson
Keywords: Passion, Form, Aloneness
Because I was so struck by how much [Denis] Cooper loved Bresson, I kept trying to love him too. I kept Cooper’s love in the back of my mind as a revelation I might come to have in my own time.

Everything Better than Plot
Keywords: Long Shots, Long Takes, Absence
If a movie is not a plot what is a movie? What is the everything better than plot that [Albert] Serra refers to? A movie is sounds, trees, colors, faces, human voices, buildings and streets. . . . A movie is how it’s discussed, how it is desired, when it is watched. A movie is offscreen.

On Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette
Keywords: Gossip, Denial, Appearances
Coppola always humanizes; she sentimentalizes the elite. The people do not have their noses pressed up against the glass of that world: More like: the glass keeps the people entirely out of view, out of the film, with nothing on the other side of it. There are no outsiders in Coppola’s films, only insiders.

Love Story
Keywords: Sadness, Quietness, Time
The ‘70s were about disillusionment too. You watched everything break down, then you faced it, asked questions, and decided whether you wanted to go on. Disillusionment in the ‘70s was the equivalent of morality. Did you want the world to go on? Did you want to go on in the world?

Lost Highway
Keyword: Love
With music, you can hang your feelings up and look at them, and so can other people.

Nicholas Rombes is author of the novel The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio) and the 33 1/3 book Ramones (Bloomsbury), as well as the director of the feature film The Removals (Two Dollar Radio). His work has appeared in The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Filmmaker Magazine, where he is a contributing editor. He is a professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy, at the corner of Six Mile and Livernois, in Detroit, Michigan.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 7th, 2020.