whiteonwhite: algorhythmicnoir (Eve Sussman, 2011)
Time at odds
Hollis Frampton proposed that art occurs when things or objects or ideas are no longer functioning. This idea is useful: I propose Time is no longer functioning: moving too fast, too tight, too layered, too many, too much, too most, too mannered, too mediated. My twenty year old students say it and we all feel it —we live as if in a scene from Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera— we have become the machine. Or the machine is us. What comes to mind from the exemplary 1928 montage: the scene where a row of young women at the telephone company, complete with headphones, sit plugging in every second, repetitive hand gestures in a hectic, lively interplay that is a technological dance, a mechanical choreography, a model of brain synapses at play —and/or a prophetic vision of the future internet. Indeed the I-phone has become part of the body, part of our «extended mind». We are tethered to our machines. If we acknowledge socialized time is in throes, collapsed, splintered, networked and tweeted—let us see this fact as an undercurrent or aside/below my list of what for cinema might be needed.
Petition by Zhao Liang, at Anthology Film Archives, January 2011. I see a condensed version: two hours instead of five. Time collapsed before I see a frame. Twelve years in the making, Petition reveals a dark vision of China; its citizens petitioning their government in Beijing to seek redress for wrongs done by local officials back home. Grainy, seedy with guerrilla style visuals, Petition is wrenching as we witness the brutality of the government and how this enacts on the citizen. The lines outside the petitioning office are long, and dangerous: the government encourages security officers to beat-up petitioners. Two people are killed on a train track while fleeing officers. Others are destroyed internally. Zhao threads the story of a woman and her daughter throughout the film; we witness the growing self-destructive compulsion of the mother. Jobs are abandoned as the petitioner dedicates her life to a forlorn attempt at justice. Waiting on lines, camping out in a shanty town know as Petitioners Village, sleeping under bridges, is the reality of these lives. A stunning denunciation of the Chinese economic miracle and a tale in which ones sympathies are twisted.... the radicals become crazier as injustice triumphs.
«I remember quite clearly one of my middle-school teachers telling me that I was a stone with sharp, jagged edges, but that I would turn into a smooth river stone as I grew older», Mr. Zhao said. «During the years while I was making this film, I felt like I was getting sharper and sharper instead».
The New York Times, January 13, 2011
Christian Marclay's The Clock at Paula Cooper Gallery, NYC, is the echt time piece. Both a trick —the piece synched to the audience’s clock time— and a tour de force, The Clock selects from the history of film (mostly Hollywood and Europe with a smattering of Japanese works) to create a 24 hour synchronized installation. Marclay is particularly good with aural cuts, moving from film to film; he started his career as an art musician playing records on a turntable strapped to his body (as if guitar). Here he cavorts with Leone and Hitchcock, famous and less famous soundtracks, to create a weave, layering music and dialogue across wrong films as he circles round cuts from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly to Paris drawing rooms via New York City night streets. Marclay had previously created a telephone piece, montaging Hollywood films: the ring, the pick-up, repetitive conversation (hello hello) and put-downs, slam-downs. Here the work aims higher. He again is indexing our cultural underbelly, fantasy world, our time. But this piece raises more questions: Do we live in cinema time? Is cinema us? How is time counted? In the drama of others? in stories of cultural myth? And then, we experience another kind of time altogether, waiting two hours standing in line in Chelsea on a mild midwinter day, the people massing, stretched, streaming round the block, populous.
Bela Tarr presents A torinói ló October 2011, at the New York Film Festival: a dark reverse creationism, complete with visiting gypsies and a gift of the Bible. Is there shelter here? Not. Moving through days in which a terrific storm has arisen, a man and his daughter eke out the hours, eating, putting away their horse, drawing water from a well (that will soon run dry). A landlocked Job, the story allows them escape but lo, they have nowhere to go and return back, into the doors of home. Perhaps like Tarr, who (returned to Hungary after shooting in Marseilles) swears this will be his last film. The wind is oppressive as foley, with A torinói ló materializing the metaphor of time and storms amidst an old and worn country. Here folly is grandeur and sadness; the days mount light to dark, dark to light, time stroked in the circling globe. We are the little people, looming.
Ben Rivers’ feature Two Years at Sea premiered at Visions October 2011, is a less metaphorical undertaking, but equally full of folly and sadness. Sophisticated sound/image cutting sharpen the experience. I had admired Rivers’ Ah! Liberty previously, but here there is a leap as he returns to Jack Williams, an older man he had previously filmed in Scotland living in solitude (though there is a holiday house occasionally spied in the distance to shake your certitude). The film opens with Jack walking in the snow and his daily excursions come to include a chair, a mattress in the trees, a raft. In each of these situations, Jack falls into the landscape, suffused into nature. It turns out Ben suggested he build the raft and raise a cabin high in the trees. One had sensed/seen this fiction within the sequence because of an impossible real-time cut. I think the strength of the piece is not in these fictional contrivances but rather in the quotidian as reality. No melodrama: a body reads or cuts down a tree or walks in the woods or takes a shower. The piece could end on the pond, man stretched out on the raft as in a fairy tale, or rather a religious conversion, awaiting the touch of God. Rivers instead returns to snow and winter, concluding with an 11 minute Arri shot of the man’s face lit by reflected flames from fire. The constant play of light, the man’s implacability, his innocence of a kind, are haunting —the human face become anonymous object, timeless, in this landscape.
Another kind of timelessness appears in Eve Sussman’s whiteonwhite: algorhythmicnoir, shown October-November at Cristin Tierney Gallery in Chelsea. Known for her 89 seconds at Alcazar, (the imaginary scene before painting of Las Meninas), Sussman here examines indeterminacy, shooting in Kazakhstan. Her eye is that of a painter: raves, restaurants, oil refineries, bleak city structures, combining color with black and white, perfectly lit clouds and smoky shakey nights, bodies and faces barely relinquishing their Soviet heritage. These documentary images are combined with less successful, sweetened-up, and awkwardly acted (directed?) fiction. All the shots are then sequenced in endlessly different combinations by a computer algorhythm, enabling a live edit. Organizing tags include «snow», «blue», «future» and «mugging,» and show up on an adjacent monitor, so that the audience can watch as the computer programs the show; interestingly we note the computer can reject a piece if it has appeared too soon before, so this is a controlled aleatory process. The idea is the that the story never repeats and never ends —to mirror the fiction—of someone trying to escape the country without passport or money— to process. The result is conceptually brilliant, a Kafkaesque enclosure, claustrophobic within the submission of will to politic, and machine. Nonetheless, emotion too is flattened, except in occasional scenes of gestures and faces. Time wins.
A Shape of Error: All year long watching and editing but perhaps December 2011 and preparing for the Rotterdam Film Festival could/should mark some kind of date. This is imaginary home movies of Mary Shelley that I have been editing, after shooting the previous year in Rome. Time is splintered along its core. The real is not seen as solid nor continuous. Time swells between the 19th century and today. At its best, this is time travel, a portrait of the creator of babies and precocious science fiction; Frankenstein and his Monster move among us. Time might be quotidian but Melodrama is Life. Mary Shelley and her writings cannot be melted into the landscape, nor can the Romantic era be easily flattened. Instead they sit boiling hot, social, eruptive, doubling, various, percussive, golden, moving in a calendric of seasons from October through July, from fall through the white heat of summer —the Shelleys’ eight year exile in Italy collapsed in celluloid— imaginary and fateful. The world here is rhythmic and percussive, different from the «real time» or mechanistic expressions of time in the films I have mentioned previously. If time is shattered in the real, do we need and want a contrived and simulated real in its stead?
A Shape of Error (Abigail Child, 2011)
«One expresses one’s age by what one does not accept about it».
Mike Hoolboom’s Lacan Palestine (2011) takes up the challenge. Mixing and unmatching footage from Cecil B. deMille and television documentaries plus digital material from contemporary video artists, he creates a grab bag of de-contextualized images and sounds, stitching it together with voiceover reflections by Mike Cartmell. Here the monologue of a Canadian colleague discussing politics and psychology grounds the mass of hurtling images. Everything —the Pharaoh crying for his dead son, the dead Palestinians, the ruined orchards, the crying crowds, the slaves from history— are as worthy of our sympathies as anyone else, anything else. I question this …the unloosed decontextualization —even as it makes sense ideologically, «works» in a comic book fashion in this film and to Mike Hoolboom’s credit makes one think of the Talmudic saying— that whosoever destroys a single soul, it is as if he had destroyed a complete world —so that the massive universalizing and decontextualiztion here might indeed be A True Way. No! Nothing so simple in this sophisticated repertoire of humor and hellish images, fire and brimstone, faith and conflict, ambiguous, spectacular, silly: its power to report and horrify intact.
Child NYC. February 10th, 2012