A terrific show last weekend: Michael Snow came to town to screen three recent films/videos and talk about them. The film I was taken with most was Triage (2004). Let me briefly describe it and then I’d like to use it as a springboard for some general reflections. One question I’ve been asking myself in the past week is: What exactly are the various perceptual effects of single-frame films?

* * *

Triage is a collaborative work that consists of two side-by-side simultaneous projections. Snow and fellow Canadian Carl Brown each made a film that was exactly 30 minutes long. As in a Surrealist “exquisite corpse” game, the collaboration was “blind”—neither knew what the other was doing.

Snow introduced his half of the work by saying: “My film is built fundamentally on having a different image on each frame.” He subtitled it “King Philip Came Over From Germany Singing.” Perhaps that rings a bell from high school Bio? It’s a mnemonic for the scientific classification system of Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species.

The film consists of single photographs of: rocks, minerals, fishes, insects, flowers, reptiles; as well as single-frame photos from pages of newspapers, phonebooks and porn mags. Also: close-ups of colored car surfaces and frames of pure color. As Snow put it: “It’s 24 frames of Everything.”

* * *

What struck me were the film’s structure and the ‘effects’ of that structure. Each section of the film collected together a burst of images of a particular type, e.g. fish, or erotica, or cars. For example, all the pictures of fish were cut together, a different one on each succeeding frame. This had an interesting perceptual effect.

In most films, no two sequential frames are completely identical, of course, but they are often very close. Which causes our faculty of “persistence of vision” to kick in. But in Snow’s single-frame film, each frame is different, thus frustrating the attempts of our internal perceptual processes to create an impression of continuous motion. But (and here’s the interesting part) because Snow groups similar imagery together for minutes at a time, two things happen.

First, an afterimage effect causes us to superimpose, in the mind’s eye, several images together to create, for example, ‘composite’ flowers or fish or sex acts. More abstractly, the eye starts blending colors on successive frames to conjure (it seems to me) new colors that never quite exist in the film’s images to begin with!

Second, the single frames also cause the viewer to unconsciously create movement, e.g. construing or constructing an up-down-or-sideways swimming movement of a ‘composite’ fish upon seeing 24 successive images of different fish in the duration of a single second.

So the real subject of this film seems to be: How do single-frame images get apprehended, combined and synthesized into something new by an act of the viewer’s creative participation, via the workings of human perceptual processes?

I’m wondering: Are there some key single-frame films in the avant-garde repertory? And do they create a variety of perceptual effects? I know that flicker films might also fall into this category. (Tony Conrad lives and teaches here in Buffalo but I haven’t seen The Flicker yet.)

* * *

An interesting paradox at work in Snow’s films. On the one hand, he is deeply interested in the basic mechanisms of the cinema, unique and specific to the art-form. He’s devoted entire films to sustained exploration of the zoom (Wavelength), panning (Back and Forth), and moving camera (The Central Region). On the other hand, being an accomplished musician, painter, sculptor and photographer, his work is also about the interpenetration of art-forms. (Think of So Is This, in which the viewer reads text on the screen, one word at a time, for the entire length of the film. It’s both like reading a book and profoundly not.)

In the mid-70s, Snow founded an experimental music ensemble called CCMC that is dedicated to “spontaneous group composition.” The group’s members are Snow on piano, Paul Dutton on voice, and John Oswald on alto sax. The video Reverberlin (2004) shows them in performance, but here’s the twist: the image track and sound track are records of different musical performances by the same players. So, for instance, we see Snow playing piano but hear a different recorded performance by him. Which prompts the question: How exactly are seeing and hearing related to each other? Is one more dominant than the other when we are watching a film?

Just as in the case of Triage, it struck me that the viewer’s senses and perceptions want to synthesize the image and sound tracks into a unity whenever possible, even if that unity occurs only fleetingly and in the viewer’s mind, not in the work itself.

* * *

I have a close friend who was a poetry prof for 35 years. Although he’s been retired for a decade, he can still recall hundreds of poems in perfect detail, with effortlessness and clarity. I’ve always envied this, and would love to be able to do it with the works of my favorite filmmakers. (This familiar litany of mine can also be found in the posts “The Cinema In Your Head” and “Re-Viewing Films.”)

I’m anything but technologically au courant. My TV is over a dozen years old, and I use both my record player and VCR regularly. But a couple of weeks ago I picked up a portable 10-inch DVD player for my desk. It hasn’t exactly altered my viewing practices, but it’s offered something supplemental, a new modality of viewing that’s both productive and fun.

I’ve been taking brief breaks during the day and watching a couple of DVD chapters at a time on the portable. Probably because of this ‘discontinuous’ viewing manner, I’m finding the narrative to be less ‘absorptive’ than if I watched the film in a continuous, immersive fashion. The mise-en-scène and cutting are leaping out and registering more vividly. I’ve only been revisiting films I’ve seen before (and want to remember better), which may also have something to do with my heightened sensitivity to film form on the portable. Also, it keeps the computer, which I’d occasionally use before for viewing film excerpts, free for other work. Just curious: Does anybody else watch films ‘discontinuously’ on computers or portables?

* * *

A few links:

— Michael Sicinksi on the NYFF Views from the Avant-Garde: part 1, and part 2, both at Greencine. Also: a clutch of reviews including Eastern Promises and The Ex, at his own site.

Craig Keller, at Cinemasparagus, on Antonioni’s The Dangerous Thread of Things.

Dave Kehr in the NYT on The Jazz Singer.

Zach on James Gray’s We Own the Night. Gray’s The Yards (2000) is one of my favorite American films of the decade so far (thanks to Andrew for turning me on to it), and I’m eager to see the new one tonight.

— Personal reflections on experimental cinema from Jen Macmillan at Invisible Cinema.

Jim Emerson puts together an essay-experimental short film for Matt’s Close-Up Blog-A-Thon.

— ‘Quiet Bubble’ Walter on Frank King’s Gasoline Alley and John Porcellino.

Jim Tata on the role of fiction editors and the writing of Raymond Carver.

Doug on women animators at the National Film Board of Canada.

— via David Hudson: at Sight & Sound, some filmmakers (Olivier Assayas, Bruno Dumont, Paul Schrader, Eugène Green, and Aki Kaurismäki) answer questions on why Bresson is important to them.

Drawing: “Wavelength” (1967)

Comments (49):

  1. Anonymous

    October 23, 2007 at 12:04 am

    Girish, thanks for this post about Michael Snow; it’s good to get your thoughts on a filmmaker I’m unfamiliar with.

    Regarding this issue about watching films discontinuously on a portable computer: I do this on occasion, particularly if I’m writing about a film and want to check something or go through a scene again. But I also do it sometimes when I’ve been thinking about a film and certain images or sequences keep coming back to me. I’ll then sometimes have the DVD so that I can re-watch those images or sequences, and in the process certain aspects of the film become more codified both in my memory and also in my understanding of the film.

    Every once in a while I feel a little “guilty” about this — in the sense that each “discontinuous” sequence is really part of a larger whole, but I also find that I can sometimes appreciate a film more by isolating parts of it.

  2. Joasia

    October 23, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Paul Sharits is also famous for using/exploiting the perceptual phenomena of the flicker film. Specifically I’m thinking of his 1968 film T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, though there are many. Did you see the program I co-curated in Buffalo (2004) on the work of Sharits and Polish artist Robakowski? I’d like to send you the program if you don’t have it. As for watching films a little at a time, it’s also interesting (to me at least) to watch the chapters on a disk in random order — another thing that DVDs are good for.

  3. Andy Rector

    October 23, 2007 at 2:01 am

    hello Girish!
    at a double feature screening of WAVELENGTH and EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE ZOOPRAXOGRAPHER, Thom Andersen said that his film was a kind of critique of continuity of vision/movement that even films like WAVELENGTH put their faith into. Though when I later met him and asked him about the idea, he didn’t remember having said it — so it wasn’t a main principle for MUYBRIDGE or anything. MUYBRIDGE isn’t a single-frame film, but it somehow lucidly analyzes perceptual processes AND ideological content in the single frames of Muybridge’s experiments, while also being mindful of his (Andersen’s) own means of “animating” and presenting them — a whole physical examination of the appartus. He often makes rigorous poetic/mathematic/musical use of inserted black leader to achieve this.

    That’s a great drawing of WAVELENGTH, Girish!


  4. girish

    October 23, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Thank you, Michael, Joanna, and Andy.

    Michael, you said: “I also find that I can sometimes appreciate a film more by isolating parts of it.”

    I think so too. I think that for too long I believed the “whole work” to have an almost sacred unity that we disrupt at the peril of destroying the delicate ‘synergy’ of its constituent parts (including duration). But I’ve moved away from that belief, esp. for re-viewings.

    Joanna, I so regret that I was out of town and couldn’t attend the Sharits program you curated in ’04. I would love to look at the program; I’ll write to you about it.

    Andy, I hope you’ve been well! Those are fascinating comments on Eadweard Muybridge Zoopraxographer. I haven’t seen it (or Red Hollywood) and would love to do so.

  5. jmac

    October 23, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Hey Girish, Many thanks for the link! And I love your drawing from WAVELENGTH too. I saw TRIAGE at the MoMA a few years ago, and it rocked my world. (Michael Snow also seems like such a cool, down-to-earth person.)

    Your questions about the single frame technique and perception and consciousness are very in-depth. It’s a technique that I’ve become accustomed to seeing, and I haven’t questioned it myself. Good questions! 🙂

    I can suggest a few other film artists to check out. Jonas Mekas uses this technique, and his work might be easier to find on-line or in distribution. Also, Fred Worden and Ken Jacobs really explore perception and consciousness in their contemporary flicker works. I bet UbuWeb has some of this material in video format & text. Also, I remember reading an essay by Peter Kubelka, where he explains a mathematical, timed approach to editing and how that effects our perception. If you research any of this, please report back on your blog! 🙂

  6. Anonymous

    October 23, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Excellent description of Triage, Girish. I almost feel like I’ve seen the film after reading that, and now I want to see it too.

    As for discontinuous viewing, we have the technology to manipulate the viewing experience so why not try it? That said, I prefer watching an entire film over bits and pieces. I’ll sometimes break long a movie into episodic viewings over a week’s worth of lunch breaks, but only if I’ve seen the film already. And, like Michael I’ll definitely watch a film discontinuously if I’m researching or writing about it. I don’t know about there being a sacredness to the whole but I suppose that’s the intended viewing experience. Imagine Scorsese handing you his latest feature and saying “nah, just watch chapters 3, 6, and 26.” 😛 Thought provoking questions, Girish, as usual.

  7. Anonymous

    October 23, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Except for a bed, one chair and a small table, I’m currently living without furniture. Everything I’ve been seeing lately has been on my trusty laptop. The one advanage is that I can stop the film to do screengrabs when I see a particularly striking image.

  8. Michael Guillen

    October 23, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    Which causes me to ask about the legality of same. Screengrabbing that is, for purposes of online journalism.

  9. girish

    October 23, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you–Jen, Thom, Peter and Maya!

    Jen, thank you for all those valuable suggestions. They are just what I was hoping for. And I promise to report back on my findings!

    Yes, Snow’s a very cool guy. Smart as a whip and with a playful, cheeky side. He was wearing an alarming bandage around his head. When I asked him about it, he laughed and said it was for others’ benefit, not his own. He said that he had totalled his Toyota truck in Toronto and had an ugly-looking abrasion, not a real injury.

    I only hope I’m half as curious and engaged and active when I’m 78.

    Thom, I’m looking forward to reading the responses on your post asking for Louis Malle recommendations. I’ve been meaning to check out the documentaries myself (and also Lacombe Lucien).

    Peter, that sounds like a living definition of the spartan cinephile life (just the essentials–bed, chair, dvd player…).

    Maya, I unthinkingly assumed it was fine and legal but now you’ve got me wondering.

  10. Anonymous

    October 23, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I’m assuming screengrabs are covered under fair use laws, as in quoting a text. If there was a problem, the studios would have let us known about it by now.

  11. acquarello

    October 24, 2007 at 2:09 am

    I don’t know that these films are necessarily “key” single frame films, but some of Kurt Kren’s work comes to mind, particular the Actionist films. I can’t say I’m keen to see some of those films again, but his Structuralist films are pretty good.

    Also, some of Peter Tscherkassky’s films fall in this category, like Motion Picture where he exposes a blow up still from the Lumière brothers’ Workers Leaving the Factory (I think, it’s been a while) onto strips of 35mm reels so that he creates motion through physical location/distance rather than time (something along the lines of Virgil Widrich’s experiments in interchanging time and displacement in t-x transform). Both Tscherkassky and Widrich are Kubelka disciples, and it shows in their work.

    Rose Lowder’s films also fall into this range. She shoots frame by frame using intervals, then after she finishes the roll, goes back and shoots using another interval. So for instance, she’ll specify four frame interval, then start with every third frame, then shoot every first frame, then shoot the fourth, then go back and shoot the second…each time, varying something like focus or exposure, a little bit like Markopoulos. Her work in progress Bouquets series is an example of this.

  12. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 2:20 am

    Acquarello, I’m always amazed by how much you’ve seen and written about, the sheer range of it all. Thanks for those suggestions. Those process details are always so fascinating, esp. in a-g cinema.

  13. Doug

    October 24, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    I guess there are two kinds of images we might see and “creatively participate” (excellent notes on that phenomenon, Girish): representational and nonrepresentational, including Brakhage and many others. I wonder if we’re apt to perceive such things as movement and orientation in images that are less representational?

    One of my favorite screenings of late is Oskar Fischinger’s 1927 Walking From Munich to Berlin, in which he traversed the 620-mile distance over a couple of months and filmed his journey one frame–or sometimes a few frames–at a time. I absolutely love it, not only in the way Fischinger crafts a sense of rhythm from the images, but also the documentary aspect combined with the high-speed abstraction. It’s really something to see.

  14. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Doug, that’s an excellent question you pose about the differences in the way we might perceptually approach representational and non-representational imagery.

    I mentioned in the post that Triage was a collaborative work. Snow’s film was on the right side of the screen and Brown’s on the left. Snow’s images were representational and in rich color; I was so transfixed by them that I spent 90% of my time on Snow’s half of the screen.

    Brown’s film was also full of single-frame activity; in fact Snow said that he asked Brown to join him because of Brown’s interest in single-frame films and his expertise and knowledge about photochemical processing. Brown’s film was almost completely full of non-representational imagery (blobs, streaks, splashes–all a product of photochemical processing). In retrospect, I should’ve devoted equal time to Snow and Brown’s films.

  15. HarryTuttle

    October 24, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Unfortunately the DVD viewing, remote control deconstruction frame by frame, didn’t improve film criticism in a good way. I’d think that critics would have access to a closer contact with the film material, that they’d want to get into details… but today, they are less interested in form and details than before, it’s all about plot and actors and catch lines and overarching themes…

    – If we appreciate a film more when deconstructed, while it was meant to be seen as a whole in a single experience, then does it mean the filmmaker failed? And do filmmakers make films now meant for a DVD player experience?
    Jan Kounen did this in his latest film 99F : there is a ticker line running at the bottom of the screen saying “you’ve chosen to watch this film frame by frame…” and the line runs so fast we can’t even read it anymore in theatre, the forthcoming DVD release become necessary to know what it said. (it’s the first time I see an intentionnal online reference to DVD viewing)

    One of the segment in the arty-porno omnibus Destricted is made of single-frame captures from porno movies, sorted by positions. It’s beyond objectivication of sex…

    – How can we look at single-frame films made for the 24fps flicker on a video at a 25fps rate? Also are we meant to pause on a frame to take a long look at the content, if the filmmaker wanted us to see it only 1/24th of sec in the middle of a visual orgy?

    I remember acquarello’s review of Motion Picture. I said it wasn’t cinema, precisely because there was no perceptual continuity, which is the point of the projector. And that’s my opinion about “single-frame films”, it might be “performance art” using a film projector to create a stroboscobic slide show, but it doesn’t generate the illusion of time and space that makes cinema.
    I mean, they may explore the process of the human eye, and the retina remanency (eidetic memory), but what can we extrapolate from this to understand better the process of movies? I’m not sure they work at the same level at all.

  16. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Dave Kehr: “Three films that Kubrick shot open matte — “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “The Shining” — and which have previously been available on home video, at Kubrick’s insistence, only in 1.33, full frame transfers, have been reformatted for anamorphic widescreen, at a ratio […] that would be closer to the way the films were originally seen in theaters, but Kubrick apparently had his reasons, as mysterious as they may be, for releasing them to video the way he did.”

    — A question for cinephile bookhounds: Andrea Picard, in her program essay for the Zanzibar films series, refers to a new book called The Zanzibar Film and the Dandies of May 1968 by Sally Shafto. Does anyone know who the publisher is? I’d like to be able to put in an ILL for the book. Amazingly, Google appears to turn up no reference to this book on the Nets at all (except for Andrea’s mention).

  17. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Thanks for those comments, Harry.

    “And that’s my opinion about “single-frame films”, it might be “performance art” using a film projector to create a stroboscobic slide show, but it doesn’t generate the illusion of time and space that makes cinema.”

    Harry, I’m not sure that cinema is only about generating “the illusion of time and space” (and nothing else). That seems an unnecessarily restrictive way to define this art form of enormous potentiality.

    Single-frame films are simply one more type of work that can be produced by employing the cinematic apparatus. On both a general level and on a more specific level (single-frame films), I think I’m interested in the question: What are the (countless) ways in which the cinematic apparatus interacts with human perceptual processes?

  18. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    “I remember acquarello’s review of Motion Picture. I said it wasn’t cinema, precisely because there was no perceptual continuity, which is the point of the projector.”

    Harry, one might make the argument that this “perceptual continuity” (invisibility of individual frames) then led to other forms of invisibilities (of film form, means of production) that resulted in the codification of the ‘rules’ of narrative cinema. Once thus codified (thanks to the implementation of these ‘invisibilities’) the cinema thus became ideally positioned as something that could be exploited for maximum economic gain on a large scale.

    I’m not sure I agree with the normative notion that creating “preceptual continuity” is the only (and natural) objective of a film projection.

    To use your phrase: “The point of the projector” is, IMO, simply to project images.

  19. Anonymous

    October 24, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    I’ve never been able to see any of Snow’s films. Your description of it makes TRIAGE sound especially fascinating, Girish, and the replies of jmac and Acquarello make me realize how woefully ignorant I am of experimental cinema–Kubelka, Lowder, Tscherkassky are all new names to me, and some of these methods for exploiting the contrast between film’s physical discreteness and its appearance of continuity had never crossed my mind. I wonder if the single frame technique might not best be conceived as a sort of “micro-montage”.

    In an interview with him that I looked up, Kubelka made some strong arguments that film and video are different art forms, but I remain unconvinced. Like most people who make this claim, Kubelka seems to regard the film/video distinction as analogous to the distinction between painting and photography (or painting and sculpture). But wouldn’t it be more sensible to regard film and video as different media or technologies both of which can be used to make movies (in a sense of the term broad enough to include television)? The difference would be similar to that between tempera and oil painting. No one sensibly argues that tempera is “real” painting and oil is something else, even though they have different properties and are not capable of the same effects.

  20. ZC

    October 24, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    Really quickly–Girish, did you try here for book info–maybe you can email Shafto about the information yourself?

  21. girish

    October 24, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Excellent–thanks much, Zach!

    dm494–I’ve been meaning to read some Kubelka interviews myself. Still kicking myself for missing a personal appearance (with screenings, demonstrations, lectures) he made in Toronto a few years back.

  22. acquarello

    October 25, 2007 at 2:04 am

    Regarding Motion Picture, suffice it to say I disagree with Harry on this because I think Tscherkassky’s approach is quite a legitimate one: it approximates how we view cinema or any other art form in general. We see the “big picture”, then if we connect with it, we look for the details that combined to create what we just saw (ironically, this fits with the continuous vs. segmented DVD viewing argument also). Tscherkassky lays it out for us in a systematic fashion: big picture, then frame by frame detail. What’s interesting is that we don’t recognize the original, we just see the abstraction of several forms. So in a way, he’s showing us that the way we have learned to study art is not really how our brains work when we actually study/observe art. We’re seeing/processing something else entirely.

    Anyway, I think when Kubelka talks about the materiality of film, he’s also reinforcing the idea that each film projection is essentially a unique experience because the physical properties of the medium invariably change with time, exposure, dust, wear and tear, etc., while video – especially DV – is reproducible without degrading the original. So basically, there’s a kind of limited shelf life dynamic in watching film that isn’t necessarily true of a video where there’s nothing physical to manipulate. So, rather than two physical media, it’s more like an argument on fine art vs. digital art, I think. Is a mouse like a paint brush? One applies the medium directly, the other interpolates approximate (virtual) location, color, illusion of texture… That’s not to say it can’t be done well, but there’s definitely a different arsenal of skill sets and brain functions that are being used to create.

  23. Donal Foreman

    October 25, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Girish,

    I think others have covered the whole single-frame film thing quite well, but I just thought I’d point you towards a few more things that might help:

    I saw a series of experimental film programmes in Berlin this summer at the Arsenal Kino, curated by Maria Morata. A few of the programmes focused specifically on this kind of film so you should find a few more films worth seeking out there.

    You can read the outline of the series here or read my blog about it here.

    I was also recently at a festival in Italy, the Lucca Film Festival, which should really be an obligatory pilgrimage for anyone who loves avant-garde cinema). This year Michael Snow was the guest of honour (that bandage is weird, isn’t it?), and as well as screening a series of his films, the local gallery had an exhibition of his installations—including TRIAGE, APRIL 22, 2004, a single-take video recording of a screening of TRIAGE. Have you heard about it? It’s basically like watching the original, except an audience applause at the end and you see a few people walking out! But it’s also essentially an authorised digital version of a single-frame-based film and although I wasn’t bothered by it at the time I wonder what kind of a perceptual difference that actually makes.

    A guy called Pip Chodorov, an American filmmaker based in France and head of a-g distribution company Re:Voir, was also at Lucca, and he’s refused to release films with a lot of single-frame elements on DVD (and has actually convinced Snow not to do so) because he thinks the compression effectively destroys the meaning of the film. The phrase he likes to use is, it’s like “photocopying a painting”…

  24. Anonymous

    October 25, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Acquarello, Kubelka’s remarks about the materiality of film sound like a sort of nostalgia for the handling of film, for loading it into a camera, etc. Besides, magnetic tape obviously degrades over the course of time, so his argument about the physical event of screening doesn’t apply to all forms of video. It’s reasonably clear that there are different skills involved in “filming” with video, but does this show that the difference between film and video is just like the difference between painting and photography? To me it seems like quite a stretch. To tweak one of my examples: acrylic is much more flexible than oil–it’s easier to manipulate and it doesn’t involve a lot of mess–but that doesn’t mean acrylic paintings aren’t actually paintings.

    On another topic: since “cinematic” is used to label what distinguishes film from other art forms, what could be more deserving of the title than single frame films? And since motion is, mathematically, change of position (space) with respect to time, works like Tscherkassky’s and Widrich’s must be cinematic in the sense of jointly organizing the temporal and the spatial.

  25. HarryTuttle

    October 25, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Ooops. Above where I typed “intentionnal online reference to DVD viewing” it should read “onscreen”.

    I understand your “inclusive” definition of cinema, but it doesn’t seem to me to restrict its potentiality to define its nature. If it’s not only about time and space, then what else is it about?
    You’re right, my phrase “the point of a projector” was very vague! I meant a proper “cinematic” use.
    When you make clay spaghetti with a meat grinder, to use your own words it’s “one more type of work that can be produced by employing this apparatus”, but it’s not food. There might be many equally interesting ways to use a film projector, but the nature of the resulting product does not automatically fall under the ontological nature of the art form called “cinema”.

    The fascinating theoretical questions in your post demand us to define what is “cinema” very precisely. That’s what experimental cinema does, it challenges the limits of the medium. But when does it cross the line?

    legitimate for what? For him, of course. But does it relate to the mechanical apparatus (projector and video scan), or does it relate to cinema itself? What is the nature of the “painting” art form? Is it the paint brush or the resulting canvas?

    it’s precisely all about that “organisation”, mathematical or not, of space and time, and the level of continuity between each interval. Is it random change of form caused by the apparatus itself or is it an external “kinetic form” that happens to be captured by the apparatus?

  26. HarryTuttle

    October 25, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. Michael Guillen

    October 25, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Girish, I’ve developed a working relationship with Documentary Educational Resources specifically to highlight and feature the “Screening Room” series which aired on ABC’s Channel 5 in Boston from 1973 to 1980. The show gave important animators and experimental and documentary filmmakers an opportunity to discuss their work and show it to a large urban audience. Moderated by Robert Gardner, these are thoroughly fascinating discussions, and though it was not among the first handful of episodes I requested from DER, you can be sure that in my next batch, I will request Gardner’s interview with Michael Snow.

  28. ZC

    October 25, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Maya, I have long wished those Gardner talks would pop on on GoogleVideo or Ubuweb …

  29. Noel Vera

    October 25, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Hi, girish, so have you seen We Own the Night, then?

    Went to watch it, thanks to your recommendation (I didn’t like The Yards–but that was years ago; I suppose I have to re-view it). It’s impressive. Easy to bring up mention of Coppola’s first two Godfather films, but those had a pop accessibility this one doesn’t even try to attempt.

    Zach’s comments are spot-on, I think (I haven’t read Chaw’s review, only I didn’t think the dialogue was bad at all); I’d add that the women especially Eva Mendes’ Amada seemed impressive. Essentially sidelined by the affairs of men, hers and others, she starts out as a passive sexual object, turns gradually into a pillar of fierce support and loyalty, and when things don’t bend her way, ultimately rebels and leaves (and more–but that’s part of the plot). It’s the classic pattern of the gangster’s wife, but particularized, going in not quite the direction you’d expect.

    The mis en scene is impressive. Even the use of handheld camera–and they praise Greengrass for his? That’s hard to believe.

  30. acquarello

    October 25, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    I tend to agree with you about Kubelka, dm494, I get the impression that he puts a lot of stock into the “sacredness” of film because there is something almost alchemic about physically working with film (scratching, tinting, exposing…). It’s part design, but also part serendipity. I wonder also if part of the resistance is the wholesale labeling of filmmaking for what we really mean as image-making.

    Harry, by legitimate, I mean within this context of image-making. I hate to sound all Bazinian, but this question fundamentally goes back to the “What is cinema?” argument. What Tscherkassky offers in the film is an unorthodox way of seeing something iconic and immediately identifiable. The fact that it loses its identification when it’s deconstructed in this manner suggests, as I mentioned earlier, that our trained way of seeing is flawed because there’s something else cognitively at work in this process.

    Anyway, Searle can explain this process much better than I can, but I think this also ties into Farocki’s work on the meaning(s) of aufklärung where you basically have “synthetic sight”. I think the question of what it means to “see” goes back to that question of what the brain is doing when it “sees”, which is what Tscherkassky’s film touches on. Our brains are making a distinction between cognition and recognition when we see the iconic image presented in this manner.

  31. girish

    October 26, 2007 at 2:54 am

    Thank you for the comments, everyone!

    Donal — I’d never heard of the Lucca festival until Snow mentioned it last week. It sounds great.

    Funny you should bring up the videorecording of Triage. Snow showed his works in the following sequence: Triage, The Living Room, Reverberlin. The latter prompted a wave of walkouts. When Snow came back on he was asked how he felt about the walkouts to which he self-deprecatingly replied that he was getting a little bored himself! But anyway, after Reverberlin, he asked (almost pleaded, it was funny) if he could show a little bit of this videorecording of Triage made at the Goethe-Institut in Toronto. So he played about half of it for us. It was getting a bit late in the night (Snow actually came on and did a Q&A after every film as the evening proceeded) and I was starting to tire; I can’t seem to remember exactly how the videorecording registered differently from the original, in perceptual terms.

    And thanks, Donal, for those links. I look forward to following your blog. Your thesis on politically radical filmmakers of the 60s (like Robert Kramer, whose work I’ve never seen but have wanted to) sounds interesting.

    Maya — That Gardner series looks awesome. I’d never even heard of it.

    Noel — I loved We Own the Night. And Zach really nailed the film in his post.

  32. girish

    October 26, 2007 at 3:13 am

    Some reading:
    David Hudson has a post on the new issue of Frieze, which contains an interesting piece by James Benning. It begins:
    “Every so often I teach a course at California Institute of the Arts entitled ‘Looking and Listening’. Each week ten or 12 students and I go somewhere to practise paying attention. We spend a whole day crossing an oilfield, an early morning watching the sky gain light, ten hours on the local buses or a night along 5th Street in the homeless section of downtown Los Angeles. We find looking and listening to be a political act, our differences in perception reflecting our individual prejudices. Occasionally I am asked to teach this course elsewhere. Last spring I did it in Mexico City. After spending the day in a large industrial area, I asked, ‘What did you see and hear?’
    Michael Sicinski‘s NYFF a-g post at Greencine, part 3.
    David Byrne has an obituary post for Jean-Francois Bizot.
    David Pratt-Robson on NYFF.
    Kristin Thompson on Variety‘s “slanguage.”

  33. Brian Darr

    October 26, 2007 at 9:10 am

    That’s a nice set of links, as usual, girish. Thompson’s piece is interesting. I enjoy Variety’s unique word usage, as long as it’s confined to the rare occasions when I read Variety. It can drive me batty when I see certain of their terms like “helmer” and “scripter” falling into use in blogs and message boards though. I can’t say why it just rubs me the wrong way.

    The Benning piece is pure poetry. Sicinski’s on the other hand is simply overwhelming in the way it makes me realize how much I have to learn. In a wonderful way, of course (I really appreciated how he contextualized a film I’d seen a few years back and loved but almost forgotten, Vincent Grenier’s Tabula Rasa). But it’s frustrating.

    I still have yet to see any film by Michael Snow, and am very disappointed for having missed a screening of Wavelegnth with Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity a few weeks back because it conflicted with my work schedule.

    I don’t think I’m personally qualified to answer what single-frame films might be “key” to “the repertory.” But the three films I’ve seen that come to mind after reading this post are a) Fischinger’s Walking From Munich to Berlin (seconding Doug). b) Bruce Conner’s Looking For Mushrooms, which is not strictly a single-frame film but uses a mixture of single frames and short snippets to create, at least in the 3-minute version, an effect not terribly dissimilar to the one you describe Triage to utilize. And c) Tomonari Nishikawa’s Market Street, which is probably too recent to be considered “key” yet, but I loved it and expended a few words on it here.

  34. girish

    October 26, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    Brian — Years ago I remember purchasing Scott MacDonald’s terrific primer on avant-garde film (from 1993; part of the Cambridge Film Classics series edited by Ray Carney). He devoted one chapter each to 15 films (and their makers), which became my uber-list for tracking down a-g screenings. I’ve still not managed to see most of those films. I want to see Serene Velocity; I know it’s at ubuweb but can’t bring myself to watch it in that format (yet).

    Let me cut and paste the list of 15 films from MacDonald’s book:
    No. 4 (Bottoms) by Yoko Ono, Wavelength by Michael Snow, Serene Velocity by Ernie Gehr, Print Generation by J. J. Murphy, Standard Gauge by Morgan Fisher, Zorns Lemma by Hollis Frampton, Riddles of the Sphinx by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, American Dreams by James Benning, The Ties that Bind by Su Friedrich, From the Pole to the Equator by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, The Carriage Trade by Warren Sonbert, Koyaanisqatsi by Godfrey Reggio, Naked Spaces – Living in the Round by Trinh T. Minh-ha, Journey from Berlin/1971 by Yvonne Rainer, The Journey by Peter Watkins.

  35. acquarello

    October 26, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Completely unrelated, but Ed Gonzalez and Kevin Lee are running the NYC Marathon for the cancer patient support charity, Team Continuum, and with nine days to go, Ed is still lightly under his donation goal. So as someone who usually got picked next to last in gym (just before the kid in crutches), I’m waving the pompoms from the sidelines and rallying folks to this noble cause. (I’ve linked their names to their donation pages.)

  36. girish

    October 26, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Ah, cool. I knew about Kevin but not about Ed.

  37. HarryTuttle

    October 26, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I wonder what Bazin you refer to, because in his reflection on the origins of cinema, he specifically opposes “analysis” (deconstruction of motion) of the Muybridge-like and “synthesis” (reconstitution of motion) of cinema… Two branches of a common interest in visual perception, which will give 2 types of art forms, IMHO, the former leads to single-frame films, the latter to perceptual continuity.

  38. acquarello

    October 26, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    I thought I was being clear when I referred to Bazin in the context of the fundamental question of ‘What is cinema?’. It is a philosophical question, one without a definitive answer, only the development of theories that hews closest to the viewer’s own expectations from it.

  39. Brian Darr

    October 26, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Girish, I checked that book out from the library once, and could’ve sworn it was Powaqqatsi, not Koyaanisqatsi, that represented Reggio. Either way, it would be the only film from the list I’ve managed to see as yet.

  40. girish

    October 26, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Nice memory, Brian! It’s Powaqqatsi all right, I just checked the book on my shelf.

  41. Brian Darr

    October 26, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I remebered because I hadn’t seen Powaqqatsi at the time either. Though since then I had the fortune to see it at the Symphony Hall with Glass and co. providing live musical accompaniment. That was a treat.

  42. HarryTuttle

    October 26, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    You refer to his foreword then. Why everyone is so sure that single-frame films are actually “cinema” if there is no answers?
    A-G experiments invite us the reconsider what we understand of cinema. The point is not to check who’s in and who’s out. I thought it was interesting to discuss what the essence of cinema might be, and what happens when films are made without that core…

  43. acquarello

    October 27, 2007 at 1:36 am

    Harry, that’s just it, it’s the same recurring debate of what cinema is. It makes for an interesting exercise in Socratic dialogue, but I don’t think this kind of throttled, limited interaction responses that’s part and parcel of online posting is really the right venue for it. There’s just too much parsing involved that it loses focus quickly.

    Anyway, I was going to say that coincidentally, I had just started reading Trinh T. Minh-ha’s book, Woman, Native, Other after seeing Naked Spaces: Living is Round last week. Trinh really has a knack for decontextualizing (for lack of a better term) ethnographic images. She films from a perspective of “hybridity” (as she calls it) that’s both privileged (as a person from the West) and dominated (as a person from a once-colonized country), so the way she shows a culture is quite unique. She doesn’t shoe-horn African culture into common perceptions (and misconceptions), or take on the role of enlightened/bemused observer, or exoticize it. It’s as though each time the viewer begins to form “conclusions” about what is being seen, she’ll radically change course and cut to something else.

  44. girish

    October 27, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Acquarello — I’ve not seen anything by Trinh yet but I remember Bill Nichols mentioning her declaration, in Reassemblage (1982), that she will “speak nearby” rather than “speak about” Africa. So, instead of seeing ‘transparently’ through the documentary into the subject (which makes it easy to form the “conclusions” you spoke of), she seems to be drawing attention to the problems and issues of representation itself. (Nichols used this as an example of the “reflexive” mode of documentary.)

    He also refers to Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) and cites two tactics she uses to do the above: (1) employing extreme close-ups of faces that nevertheless leave some part of the interviewee’s face out of the frame so we don’t get to see the entire face; and (2) suddenly revealing part way that some of the interviews might’ve been staged.

    Even just reading about her work is fascinating. I picked up a book by her called The Digital Film Event a while back but I haven’t started reading it yet.

  45. acquarello

    October 28, 2007 at 2:55 am

    Hey Girish, yes, I remember that quote well from Reassemblage, the film is chock full of these great “sayings”, both observational and from African proverbs. Another one that I remember distinctly is how in only (then) some twenty since the end of colonialism, it was enough time for people to think of themselves as underdeveloped. She makes a really salient point about how designations like third world and underprivilege are really societal “codewords” for justifying domination over a culture.

    Oh yeah, those multi-part reveals in Surname Viet, Given Name Nam are pretty amazing. There was one where we see just a fragment of the woman’s face as she tells her experience during the fall of Saigon, then shift to the side and we see the back of a second person’s head who may be her interviewer (there’s a similar version of this in the cover of her Cinema Interval book), then another shift back (with a lighting change) and we see what appears to be a natural setting with the appearance of dead branches, then finally, a pull back so we see her in what appears to be her bare apartment, presumably somewhere in the West (the dead branches are a dried flower arrangement). So in this one sequence, we go from what appears to be first person testimony, to mediated interview, to re-enactment, then to a more “distanced” testimony, knowing that she is telling her story in (apparent) exile. It’s an amazing sequence.

  46. girish

    October 28, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    That sounds really great, Acquarello. I can’t wait for the opportunity to see Trinh’s work (and read her writings).

    What you say about “designations” is very true. It might also apply to “stereotyping” (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity), which has a social functionality rather than being based on a naive error of perception. It’s really a covert mechanism for social control. The writer Alice Walker called stereotypes “prisons of image.”

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