Very few prints have been made of the films we saw this week; probably because they were, for the most part, frankly, unwatchable. Projected for us off of actual film reels (courtesy of the BFI), they were also the most unique films this sometime columnist has yet seen, aside from the one in the Tate a few years back with the guy covering his bollocks in ketchup, but that was just shit.
The focus of the lecture was divided between two artists: Michael Snow and Paul Sharits. Credited with being the forerunners of the modern concept of installation art, they were huge in the sixties as either the saviours of cinema (Sharits particularly), or other-media artists getting too big for their boots. Another term for them is structuralist film makers. A typical example of their work, and the first film we saw, is Wavelength by Snow. We see a room. Someone puts a wardrobe in it. They leave. Someone comes in and plays the Beatles. They leave. Someone comes in and drops dead. They stay put. Someone else walks in and comments on the body. They leave. All the while the camera slowly zooms in on the far wall. It comes to a point. The end. Did I mention this lasts fifty minutes?
Ok, my description is oversimplified. The lens also changes colour and brightness, and there is a high humming in the background. And that, literally, is it. Welcome to experimental cinema. Another example is Snow’s Standard Time; five minutes of a camera swinging back and forth horribly reminiscent of a night involving far too much vodka. Now that is pointless. It feels like someone experimenting with their camera for the first time, although Snow was actually well established by this point. Nevermind.
Sharits takes a slightly different route; he’s more concerned with the idea of ‘flicker’ cinema. That is, in one interesting example: Piece Mandala/End War, cinema designed to induce epilepsy in the viewer. Yes. Scientifically designed to give you epilepsy. The actual image consists of a flickering dot, then flickering shots of people having sex, then back to the dot. Watching it, the screen does seem to grow to swallow your peripheral vision in a way I’m not at all sure I liked. Perhaps this is the beginning of the epileptic experience. Also in this rather bizarre niche market is Sharits’ T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, with more flickering (and the word TOUCHING slowly being spelt out over the duration) across flash images of a cult poet cutting his tongue off with scissors. This lasts twenty minutes.
Sharits’ back catalogue also includes Word Movie (lots of one frame words flash up in a pattern of sorts), Inferential Current (someone makes a ‘bebum’ noise with their lips for ten minutes) and 3rd Degree (Shots of a woman catch fire in the projector and burn), but, for the real connoisseur, there is his epic S:TREAM:S:S:ECTION:S:ECTION:S:S:ECTIONED . Even the title is a Magnum Opus. Over forty five minutes we see slow shots of water running dissolve into other shots of water running, while lines gradually divide up the screen until we can’t see anything. Even Andy himself, something of a fan of these types of films, finds this one hard to watch. An IMDb keyword for the film is ‘patience’. Finishing it, I felt like one of those wankers who sat through Warhol’s 8 hour Empire (a single shot of the Empire state building, for those in the know). It really is very boring.
So far, I’ve been rather disparaging. So what, if anything, is the value of these films? Well, T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G gives you audio hallucinations, which is always fun, and Wavelength manages to tell a story in a completely unique way. As a fellow film student and Hashmarker said to me afterwards, what is impressive is that, in a film devoid of anything else, whenever the slightest thing does happen it becomes very interesting. When the woman comments on the body, I’m sure everyone in the audience was transfixed, even though she was a horrible actress and spoke shit. Now that must be talent, or maybe even genius. Even more impressively, no one walked out either. So points for holding an audience in a very unique way.
This aside, all that I can really take from these movies, although they were interesting, is a vague sense of satisfaction that someone can actually make a movie of someone going ‘bebum’ for ten minutes and be critically acclaimed for it. In some odd way, it seems to confirm that everything you ever thought about the nature of the world was, in fact, true. Expect more affirmation next week.