Thursday, April 28, 2011

Relax, Turn Off Your Mind, & Float Downstream

So this week, the films we watched in cinema were all focused on the film at the simplest level: that of the frame. The films either used the element of the flicker film or paid close attention to the use of the individual frame and speed. The thing that struck me this week was the experience I gained from watching these films. As my professor said, these films are the "yoga of cinema." Each person mediates on them in their own way and comes from them with their own interpretation. And while most films are like that, I feel like these films are that much more individualized because there is no narrative structure to guide the viewer. Each person completely creates their own perceptions, so I realized for the first time while looking around the class that every other student was thinking something different about the images on the screen. I just thought that was kind of cool.
Also, this week was the exact opposite of last week. While last week in class we focused on new kinds of narrative structures, the films this week in no way even attempted to have a narrative, they were much more open ended. 
Also also, this is my last journal entry/post about avant garde films!
Serene Velocity, Ernie Gehr (1970)
This film takes an ordinary hallway (one from my university in fact) and with a stationary camera zooms in and out, capturing all the distances of the camera. The pulsing motion created by the movement of the camera for me brought back echoes of previous films, specifically Paul Sharits' T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G. I did not know that I even remembered that film, but somehow watching Serene Velocity the repetition of the word "destroy" came into my head, sounding to the rhythm of  the movement on screen. Also, since I have been in this hallway before, I could hear the sounds of the hallway and the echoing of footsteps and people talking. It was a strange combination of sounds going on in my mind, especially since the film itself was silent.
Market Street, Tomonari Nishikawa (2005)
This film was made by a professor in my university (seemed to be a theme this week) who I will actually have next semester for my video production class. This film showed images of San Fransisco flashing by pretty quickly. I felt like I was in a car looking out the window at the landscape as it went by. Sometimes the car flipped and the images turned upside down. I really liked how the film stopped abruptly because it was like the car had paused at a red light to let people cross the street. It reminded me of a cartoon where the car is going very fast but stops just in time to let the little old lady/cat/small child cross the street before driving away. This film had a more interesting subject matter because it was not just one room, it was a changing landscape shot in multiple directions and layered in different ways.
Mothlight, Stan Brakhage (1963)
This film was interesting because Brakhage taped moth wings and plant life to the film itself. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between which was plant and which was animal, they all look the same at the most basic level. There was a very natural feeling about this film, it seemed very organic and textural. It seemed almost like looking at slides under a microscope. The way the film transitioned seamlessly from plant to animal parts really speaks to the interconnectedness of nature, especially on such a basic level.
What the Water Said #'s 1-3, David Gatten (1997)
I think the concept of this film was the most unique. Gatten placed the film stock into crab traps and placed it in the ocean at all different times of day and tides. The images on the film stock are a result of the natural weathering that occurred in the water. I think if I did not know how the film was made, I would have just seen it as another film with scratches on it. Due to the fact that I know how it was made, it added another element to the film. I found myself questioning how the film had gotten that way. What caused that color? What was the ocean like that day? All these things heightened the experience of watching the film for me. The sound created by the ocean was very interesting as well because some days it actually sounded like the ocean whereas other times it sounded more like popcorn in a microwave or other garbled sounds. It brought the viewer that much closer to the source of the film. I could almost imagine the ocean as I watched the film and what it must have looked like on that specific day and time.
The Flicker, Tony Conrad (1965)
This film was an experience to say the least. I found myself thinking of a roller coaster early on in the film because it started slow and then built up in speed. I found myself focusing not on the screen itself, but on the exit sign to the left of the screen. It seemed like it was moving due to the flashing screen and the neon green color of the lights added a new element to the film. For awhile I sat transfixed; I literally could not look away from the screen despite the burning of my eyes. I lost sense of time and location. There was this great sense of lethargy created as well. It was a very strange experience. I like how Conrad describes his film. He say that, "it is a space you can enter-in the way you can enter the narrative space of a regular Hollywood cinema" (MacDonald 67). You never really think about cinema as a space, an actual location. Sure, in watching a film with a good story the audience is drawn in and forgets the world around them. It is only when the lights come up that we realize what has passed. Conrad is drawing attention to this fact by constructing this very specific space in for the viewer to become involved. Since there is no narrative and the mind is permitted to wander, there is more of a sense of awareness of the space being created.
Source: MacDonald, Scott. "On the Sixties." A Critical Cinema 5

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