Sunday, July 17, 2011

La terra trema

One of the most persistent motifs of male iconography, the boating stripe paradoxically intensifies and desta-bilises perceptions at the same time. In a contemporary image from couture, it exemplifies these effects on every-thing it touches, most proximately the viewer's eye.

In world cinema the discoverer of the boating stripe is Sergei Eisenstein; its settler is Luchino Visconti. He resorted to it in two masterpieces which frame his oeuvre, La Terra Trema and Death in Venice. Impregnably aristocratic yet valiantly radical, Visconti was the natural custodian of a style which is internally redundant and outwardly traditional, yet diagnostic.

The stripe's capacity to emphasise the implicit character in diverse human conditions, is remarkable in a seemingly inflexible device. Not three feet separated from each other, two men may be more exposed, not less, in its adoption, and yet the stripe is not simply dichotomous. 

Its penetrability, rather, allows the radical to adopt it without self-contradic-tion. And because it holds the gaze beyond its usual half-life, its support of expression is more than proportionately magnified. Imagine Tadziu in a solid shirt; he dissolves, not Aschenbach.

Couturiers exploit some of this, painters a great deal of it, either in their own mode or on the canvas. A sweet and pleasing fantasy is, however, only one of its elements. Visconti brought the boating stripe to dramatic narrative, and one doesn't need to ask why. That we feel all its power to unsettle our assumptions is enough.

i, iv  Dirk Bogarde as Aschenbach, Death in Venice

vi     Sicilian cast as crew, La terra trema


  1. Another exemple of boating stripe : the illustration of the first edition of "Le Condamné à mort", Jean Genet :

  2. Thank you vm for this recollection. I was a little surprised that we didn't see the stripe exploited in Fassbinder's 'Querelle', now that you mention it. But my subject was Visconti in a brief way, to link the ambidextrous stripe to his own inventive perspectives. Not a necessary point of view, but it flickered through one's mind as an amiable Sunday contemplation. :)

  3. A wonderful wonderful film, in which the boating striped is full of all sorts of guilt and innocence. On the other hand like the Indian Sari for women the boating stipe knows no discrimination between rich or poor

  4. Dink, dear - that is not an 'on the other hand', is it? It sounds more like an 'and furthermore may I point out this suggestive coincidence' kind of thing. But I am just learning Canadian, I admit. You must test one with more of it.