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Still Dots #31

Second #1860, 31:00, Image © Studio Canal We find ourselves still mired in the police-infested apartment that we have been stuck in for the last three frames. Here we find ourselves in the eye of the cop-storm. Holly and Anna have retreated into some dark corner of the apartment (the tea kettle in front of […]

Second #1860, 31:00, Image © Studio Canal

We find ourselves still mired in the police-infested apartment that we have been stuck in for the last three frames. Here we find ourselves in the eye of the cop-storm. Holly and Anna have retreated into some dark corner of the apartment (the tea kettle in front of Anna says “kitchenette”) for a brief moment of privacy, and the only MP visible is a fuzzy figure whose white helmet could seemingly disguise him as a lamp. In this police-free oasis we see a moment of unaccustomed gentleness from Holly. With no sign of the bravado that spices every interaction between Holly and Calloway, he leans in close and asks if there really is anything wrong with Anna’s papers. They are, of course, fake, and as she has just admitted to Calloway, they were procured for her by Harry, but she neglects to mention their origin to Holly.

If we’ve watched her cling to pictures she dug out of the corners of Harry’s apartment and beg imploringly that the police please don’t confiscate her love letters, one can only imagine what it must be like to have her papers confiscated. This little piece of Harry that she has carried with her every day, on her person, will be taken from her forever. Holly’s silence seems to speak volumes about his understanding, yet the gentle lean to whisper into Anna’s ear seems to communicate his real intention. Harry, his best friend and her lover, is dead, and as he tiptoes around the grief, he is falling in love with Anna himself.

In a letter he wrote to architect Bernard Tschumi, Jalal Toufic wrote “All love affairs happen in foreign cities” (Undying Love or Love Dies, The Post-Apollo Press, 2002, pg. 2). If we take this phrase at face value, we can see the implications already spinning into place. Holly is indeed in a foreign city, and though his interest in her has been in no way hidden thus far, it is in this intimate moment that we really see the affection that has grown between them. All of his blustery accusations and bravado aimed at Calloway were simply in service of protecting Anna, like any gallant cowboy would. And his intimate whisper of, “Anything really wrong with your papers?” says within its implications, “you can trust me,” and “we are close enough to share secrets.” While Holly sat with Kurtz at the Mozart Café, was he thinking of how different it would be to sit gazing longingly at Anna? Do the Vienna streets bring up images of the two of them walking hand in hand in Holly’s mind? Whatever his thoughts, Holly is suddenly and truly in love.

Anna, however, is a different story. The truth about her papers, which Holly thinks to mean she returns his affections, is not complete. Her papers, like everything else she holds dear, are reminders of Harry, not sparks of a new love for Holly. And while he is in a strange and foreign place and has set his sights on Anna, she is in her home, thinking about the lover she has lost, and not interested at all in finding a new one.

The frame itself is a striking illustration of the affair. Holly, for whom all of this city is new, has fixed his sights on Anna, while her eyes gaze forward and down, away from Holly. And what is it that she is staring at down there? A shot—from the point of view of Anna’s Landlord—will soon reveal that her eyes are gazing past the tea kettle in her hand, and straight at the windowsill where a kitten lies purring. A kitten that Anna will later say “only liked Harry.”

This moment marks our first interaction with Harry’s kitten, who Anna has been staring at longingly. Image © Studio Canal

And this brings us to a larger topic than the love triangle we have been gradually sketching. After Baron Kurtz’s tiny, bug-eyed, mini-me, dog, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that animals play some important role in the world of The Third Man. Here we are introduced to our second major animal character, already important as a romantic stand-in for Harry, and recipient of Anna’s loving gaze. But considering that this is a story of intrigue, secrets, lies, murders, and everything noir, it should not come as a surprise that those who can see and hear but never speak might be important in this film. As a kitten who loved Harry, this little beast might be the only one who knows his real secrets. What really happened to Harry Lime?

Cats, notoriously aloof creatures that they are, seem like adept secret keepers and spies, and we can be assured that if this kitten could talk, Calloway would certainly have taken it into custody as early as the inquest. But therein lies the question: does this kitten know everything or nothing? Are the secrets that its  vertical-slit eyes hide simply reflections of our own secrets? Jacques Derrida wrote a book inspired by precisely this question, The Animal that Therefore I Am. Inspired by a moment of modesty when appearing naked before the eyes of his own cat, Derrida wrote:

“Since time, therefore.

Since so long ago, can we say that the animal has been looking at us?

What animal? The other.

I often ask myself, just to see, who Iam-and who I am (following) at the moment when, caught naked, in silence, by the gaze of an animal, for example the eyes of a cat, I have trouble, yes, a bad time overcoming my embarrassment.

Whence this malaise?

I have trouble repressing a reflex dictated by immodesty. Trouble keeping silent within me a protest against the indecency. Against the impropriety that comes of finding oneself naked, one’s sex exposed, stark naked before a cat that looks at you without moving, just to see. The impropriety [malskance] of a certain animal nude before the other animal, from that point on one might call it a kind of animalskance: the single, incomparable and original experience of the impropriety that would come from appearing in truth naked, in front of the insistent gaze of the animal, a benevolent or pitiless gaze, surprised or cognizant. The gaze of a seer, visionary, or extra-lucid blind person. It is as if I were ashamed, therefore, naked in front of this cat, but also ashamed for being ashamed” (This Animal that Therefore I Am, Critical Inquiry, volume 28, no. 2, winter 2002, pg. 372.).

While this passage paints a moment of self-inquiry, of seeing one’s own nakedness reflected in the eyes of a non-comprehending animal, it is also a portrait of the Derrida side of the interaction, and not of the cat. As he says, his cat stands in, not for itself, but for the other, or even The Other. The other (and The Other) is a figure that is, by its own definition, unknowable. If one could understand the mind of the other, then they would cease to be an other, and so Derrida’s cat and his embarrasment at being seen naked, and even his embarrasment at that initial embarrasment are all a part of Derrida, not the cat.

Harry’s cat, however, is as real a character as any that have been written in a screenplay and portrayed by actors. This cat is written by the same human hands that wrote Harry, Holly, Anna, Kurtz and this city of Vienna itself. Since this is a character that is a cat, rather than the supremely unknowable and other animal, we can know his secrets just as we can know the secrets of Milo or Felix. He is only a mute to us, not an other, since this cat figure is just the human image of a cat and we, the viewers, are humans. But still, the nude/naked secrets of Harry’s life might be hiding somewhere behind this cat’s eyes.

This cat holds even more terrible secrets than Harry’s, from “Hausu” (1977). Image © Janus Films.

Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.