Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Encounter: "Hello" Song

Christian Marclay’s Telephones is a fun piece. In the approximately seven-minute long installation, we see clips of characters from popular films answering the phone with the greeting “Hello”. This reminded me of an I-pod commercial that uses a similar gimmick. I later found out, during a short investigation, that this is actually matter of some dispute, with Marclay feeling a tad “ripped off” by Apple. They certainly took a cue from him, but what sets him apart is that he’s not trying to sell a product and his work is considerably longer.

I found the sound in Telephones particularly interesting because of the length and continuous play of the clips. It was fun to watch the familiar clips as they went by, but after a while I began to ignore the visuals. I just closed my eyes and listened for a bit to the sounds of telephones ringing and hellos. Though the aural stimuli are much less varied, I was reminded of the sensation I felt while listening to Ximm’s work presented in class by Glen Bach. To me, Ximm’s work began as just sounds, but it quickly built into something more, and through its length it became more like music. Bach and many of the students commented that they felt the same way. So, after a moderate duration of denying myself the visual stimuli, Marclay’s piece had a similar (though admittedly less pleasant) effect. The rhythm of ringing and hello’s created its own little song.

After opening my eyes, I wanted to watch for a bit more because, as I’ve said, I found the piece fun. At this point, another idea occurred to me; the characters all appear to be conversing with one another. It’s a great correspondence between and through the boundaries of each other’s films. This makes them seem real; as if they were once lonely, stuck within their own worlds, but now they can break through and finally communicate.

Telephones differs from Cantor’s Deeparture in that something is created by the sounds instead of the lack of them. However, when considering my last paragraph, the two pieces maintain some similarity. Deeparture presents two creatures in a light as we have never seen them, just as Telephones gives us a new dimension of the film characters.

Encounter: Silence and our Projected Feelings

Of all the installations at the Haggerty Museum, Mircea Cantor’s Deeparture is certainly my favorite. The piece involves shots of a wolf and deer in a plain, white room. The linearity of such a piece should seem obvious; the wolf acts as predator and the deer as prey, but this is not the case. The animals seem to try hard to ignore one another and both seem to become fatigued by it. Deeparture played on my expectations. It made me thoughtful and uneasy. The explanation for the way I felt resides entirely within me because the silence of the piece gave me nothing to work with. By which, I mean, that the silence allowed for no emotions to be projected aurally.
Being the sensitive person that I am, I was initially nervous for the deer when I saw it standing in same room as the wolf. It would be within the nature of the wolf to attack the deer, but it never did. Tension never mounts through devices of the film because nothing ever really changes. The animals walk around, never making any sound, never interacting. Yet, I felt myself becoming tenser as I watched. The panting of the wolf, the fleet sounds of his footsteps, and any distressful sound made by the deer are muted. These would all help add tension, but they just aren’t there. I suppose my tension resides in my expectations for the work and in my expectations about nature. The silence allows me to project my own feelings and anxieties onto the scene because it presents me with none. After a few minutes of viewing, my anxiety peaks and I come to realize that my expectations are not going to play out. The wolf is shot lying down, panting, next to the profile of the deer. Both creatures are not in their natural environment. The white box affects the nature of their relationship. Perhaps their drives are not as inherent in them as they are dependent on their surroundings.
This piece differs greatly from Christian Marclay’s Telephones (separate post) because it depends on silence and careful watching, while Marclay’s work depends on the aural signifiers of the film collage. Telephones is entirely about sound and its association with the collage of films that make up the piece. We react to the sounds of the films and the way they change the meaning of what we’re watching. In Deeparture, silence allows us to make meaning of what is going on in the film.

Journal: Film Education

The John Potts article “What I Owe to Hammer Horror” from the 47th edition of Senses of Cinema ( caught my eye because of the idea of owing something to film. Also, I feel I am too young to have been acquainted with the Hammer Horror film, yet the genre is too recent to be part of the more accessible classics (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff etc.), thus I was curious to know what could be learned from them.
Potts was born and raised in a small Australian town. He juxtaposes his memories of this town with his memories of the Hammer vampire films of the 60’s and 70’s. His town was closed off to foreign, non-British influence, possessed little semblance of a social hierarchy and was lacking in mysterious landscapes. It is primarily for these reasons that he was drawn to the Christopher Lee films. They showcased all the elements that his upbringing lacked. Essentially, they taught him about Europe and a world different from his own.
Due to what Potts presumes as a lacking budget, the movies were filmed in Germanic regions. What most struck him about the settings were their lush forests and beautiful landscapes, populated by old-world churches. Since these were very much unlike those of his youth, they intrigued him. He states later in the article that when he made his first visits to Europe, these are precisely the things that he searched out. Another mystery of the films was their portrayal of social class relations. Dracula is an aristocrat and he physically drains the peasants of their lives. An idea like this was foreign to Potts as the member of a simply middle-class town. This education was valuable because class differences are typical in most parts of the world. He even recounts a visit to a small Yorkshire town where a pub owner was busying himself for the arrival of a lord, at whose arrival all the villagers would gather. At times, the ideas presented in the Hammer Horror films seemed not to apply, but instances like this always brought them back. These films gave Potts a heads-up concerning the world outside his small town.
This idea of being taught by films is important to me. I am also from a small town and I’ve never been outside the country. I wish I could afford to travel far and abroad, but at the moment I’m stuck an hour drive from where I was born. I watch films from all over the world. In them, I’m given the chance to look into foreign eyes and foreign lands and see the world outside my own. Granted, I can’t take the elements of these films for fact in all cases, the lack of their validity would at least teach me something about their society. If I were to travel to Europe, I would probably act in much the same way as Potts. I would seek out the old-world and the lush forests and the small town people because these are the things are most mysterious to me when watching films about the region. I think I have a similar infatuation with Pott’s homeland of Australia. Peter Weir’s The Last Wave educated me in the social problems of the country that exist between the whites and the aborigines. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition has a similar effect, while also introducing me to the harshness of the outback. Since viewing that film, there is no place I’d rather explore. In a time when travel costs are so high, sometimes the only way to educate ourselves in the world around us is through film.

Survey: Looking Back

Filmmaking today is nostalgic.