FILM / The Last Detail: Gilbert Adair remembers the sequence modern movie-makers won't wake up to

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The Independent Culture
WITHIN the extreme narrative ambiguity of Belle de Jour one scene at least can safely be construed as a dream: when Catherine Deneuve is pelted with mud by her husband's liveried flunkies. As might be expected of such a master of elegance, discretion and sly, silky simplicity, Bunuel has recourse to none of the codified techniques (slow motion, skewed angles, time-lapse cinematography) that most other directors would have employed to alert us to this abrupt shifting of gears. We know that Severine has been dreaming because her unsuspecting husband suddenly asks her what she's thinking about.

Oddly, the images I most vividly recall from my first, adolescent attendances at film society screenings were from dream sequences: from Dreyer's Vampyr (a first-person viewpoint from inside a coffin), Melville's Les Enfants terribles (a cadaver laid out on an outsized billiard table) and Hitchcock's Spellbound (for which the director commissioned Salvador Dali to devise a cluster of characteristically Dalinian image-bites). In Hollywood, indeed, the dream sequence tended primarily to be associated with the whole Forties rage for Freudian (or freudulent) interpretation, as in a film noir like Farewell, My Lovely, in which Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is knocked unconscious straight into the unconscious. These were the Dream Factory's own dreams.

Yet the traditional dream sequence has become something of a lost art in modern movie-making. Kurosawa's Dreams apart, the very last were perhaps those moments in Coppola's Rumble Fish and Kasdan's Grand Canyon when characters float blissfully over their home towns.

Why, then, has the cinema ceased to dream? In reality, it hasn't; but the technical processes cited above, and the flamboyant visual aesthetic that they generate in their turn, have so infiltrated the mainstream that it's hard to know how one would distinguish a dream from the movie's 'reality'. What, after all, could Batman's dreams be like when Gotham City already looks the way it does? Or the Terminator's? Or Barton Fink's? The fact is that those directors most disposed to exploring the unconscious have simply cut out the middle man: nowadays more and more movies are dream sequences.