REVIEW: Camera in the Mirror: Response to Migrating Forms Programs 3 and 4

Camera in the Mirror: Response to Migrating Forms Programs 3 and 4
written by Conor O’Brien, The Living Gallery

Screenshot from Ian Cheng’s “bbrraattss.” Taken from his Vimeo channel.

Screenshot from Ian Cheng’s “bbrraattss.” Taken from his Vimeo channel.

The mirror is a threat to the film illusion. In the presence of a mirror, the camera is in danger of being revealed; it is timid: approaching the mirror cautiously, and angling itself in such a way that it remains hidden. A familiar and relatively harmless object in daily life, the mirror is an absolutely subversive, destructive force in the world of film; painstakingly avoided for those films that aim to keep film illusion undisturbed. The familiar technique of horror films is to use a mirror to reveal the monster. A character is in the bathroom with the mirror angled toward his/her face. The mirror is then turned suddenly and the monster is revealed to have been standing there, behind the character the whole time. This technique is meant to heighten the shock of the reveal, but because it remains within the fantasy of the film, this revelation of the monster ultimately comes as a relief. It is a displacement of the true threat: the mirror suddenly angled in the other direction, revealing that a camera has been standing behind the character the whole time. The shock of this revelation stems from realizing that your experience is being manipulated, forced through a lens over which you have no control. It is the shock of looking into a mirror and seeing, in place of your own reflection, a different reflection, the eye of a camera.

In Stephen Broomer’s “Pepper’s Ghost,” shown at BAMcinematek’s Migrating Forms Program 3, the camera remains in the center of the shot through the film’s entirety. According to the trailer posted on Broomer’s Vimeo channel, the film is shot in two rooms separated by a two-way mirror used for “psychological observation studies.” Throughout the film’s 20 minutes, Broomer and assistants create optical illusions using the two-way mirror, colored gel paper, and other objects in the rooms, lights, curtains, as a kind of meditative, guttural chanting plays over these shots. In one shot, Broomer seems to stand behind the camera next to a window. As he pulls down the window’s curtain, his image gradually fades away, and what seemed to be him standing in one room was revealed to actually be his reflection on the mirror from the other room. Broomer claims in the trailer that the mirror is transformed into a “mysterious tunnel.” The film seems to be about the kind of funhouse effects that are achieved when, instead of being timidly avoided, the mirror is surrendered to; when both mirror and camera are allowed to respond to each other.

Gina Telaroli created her piece “Amuse-gueule #1: Digital Destinies,” by playing a copy of the 2009 movie “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp on an old television and using a Blackberry (with, she claims, poor zooming capabilities), recorded the same 12 minutes of the movie four times, at four different levels of zoom, and these recordings are played simultaneously. The television frame is in the center of the shot, but because four different versions of the film are playing at the same time, the images seem to float out of and around the frame. By using “poor” recording technology, the Blackberry recordings draw attention to the materiality of digital film: images of the appropriated film become fuzzy, blown out, distorted, non-referential abstractions; the images are rendered material, reduced to their material qualities: light, transparency, color, form, movement.

Telaroli and Broomer’s films are similar in this way: they are explorations of the elements of filmmaking most films attempt to subdue. These are the mechanical elements, the materials and techniques of film that make up the film illusion. Rather than trying to work around the “inferior” recording technology of her phone, Telaroli emphasizes it, and as a result the images in her film burst with overexposed light, unsubdued and unconstrained.

Many of the other filmmakers in the program are also interested into playing around film’s material production. Andrew Lampert presented a restoration of the original print of Roger Altman’s film “The Long Goodbye,” which Lampert claimed to have purchased for $20 from a magazine. The piece highlights the process of colorizing black and white footage, the idea behind which is that color film is better because it is closer to reality and colorization aims to enhance the illusion of reality on film. As the piece progresses, the fact that the film was artificially colored becomes increasingly obvious: colors become less natural and float free of any reference point.

Shambhavi Kaul’s film “Mount Song” shows shots of several artificially constructed sets of forests and temples. Devoid of human form, the artificial scenery becomes alien and disorienting. The two films by Ed Atkins, “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths” and “Even Pricks,” also the artificial construction of film, focusing specifically on the digital creation of images used so frequently in bigger budget film. The film’s title “Even Pricks” repeatedly flies at the viewer in different forms reminiscent of the title sequences of action movies. Computer constructed human and animal forms appear in undefined spaces to speak in often interrupted bits of dialogue. As in Kaul’s film, this emphasizing of artificiality becomes strange and disorienting: the images remain vaguely familiar, uncanny because we are used to seeing (often unconsciously) these techniques used in film, but we are not used to the heightening of their artificiality. Ian Cheng’s film “bbrraattss” is a short 3-minute clip of two computer generated figures, a humanoid rabbit and hunter, moving around and bumping into each other in a white space, their bodies twitching, bending, twisting in unnatural ways. The animation resembles a glitch in a computer game, a limitation of computer generation that is meant to be hidden or subdued. But, as with the other filmmakers, it is the “glitch” that interests Cheng, and the resulting film is both nightmarish and slapstick, unsettling and absurd.

The narrator of Benjamin Tiven’s film “A Third Version of the Imaginary” calls film an “amnesiac medium.” The film documents the Kenya Broadcasting Company as a narrator speaking in Swahili, talks about film and language. He claims that the word “image” does not exist in the Swahili language, the closest word is ‘taswira,’ which is more accurately translated as ‘vision.’ “Image” is an imported concept. He explains that at the television broadcasting company, films deemed significant are stored and preserved and those that are not important are filmed over. The narrator thinks about whether the filmed-over images still exist somehow beneath the new images. He thinks of this as being a kind of “guilt” that haunts the footage, that the old images refuse to be completely suppressed. The film ends with an employee of the broadcasting company playing footage of 1973 Independence Parade, but due to some technical problem the footage is distorted and discolored. The narrator explains that they were originally not allowed to film the screening of this footage, but since the images that were being projected were distorted, they were given permission to film.

Tiven’s film comments on our complicated relationship with images. Photographic and cinematic images are not objective. A photograph of an object, no matter how little it is influenced by the hand of the photographer, cannot be looked at in the same way as an encounter with the same object in the world. Images always contain some ideology. But the images of the Independence Parade in the film loose their power as ideological instruments, become useless as such, because of the technical difficulties which make the viewer aware of their artificiality. Such is the move of many films shown at Migrating Forms: to make the viewer aware of the power of images as ideological objects, to show them the reflection of the camera within the image.

Advertisements

REVIEW: BAMcinématek’s Migrating Forms (12/15/13)

BAMcinématek, Migrating Forms, December 15, 2013
written by Kristen Bisson, Social Media Assistant, The Living Gallery

Last night I went to see both Migrating Forms Program 3 (7:00pm) and Migrating Forms Program 4 (9:30pm). It was absolutely fantastic. Here’s a list of the films that were presented:

Migrating Forms Program 3 (Information Source)

  • “45 7 Broadway” (Directed by Tomonari Nishikawa) 2013, 5min
    An analog portrait of Times Square’s LED present.
  • “Mount Song” (Directed by Shambhavi Kaul) 2013, 9min
    Half-forgotten spaces are reconstituted into an eerily familiar cinematic new world.
  • “A Third Version of the Imaginary” (Directed by Benjamin Tiven) 2013, 12min
    An exploration of the material facts of video and film at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.
  • “Juan Gris Dream House & Popova-Lissitztky Office Complex” (Directed by Jon Rafman) 2013, 2min each
    New York premiere. Two entries from Rafman’s Brand New Paint Job project, which uses famous paintings to wallpaper 3D models of houses and offices.
  • “Amuse-gueule #1: Digital Destinies” (Directed by Gina Telaroli) 2012, 12min
    New York premiere. “An experiment in superimposition and cinematic mediums that ebbs and flows through a fractured layering of images” (MUBI).
  • “El Adios Largos” (Directed by Andrew Lampert) 2013, 11min
    Archivist and artist Lambert presents a speculative restoration of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.
  • “Pepper’s Ghost” (Directed by Stephen Broomer) 2013, 19min
    New York premiere. Inspired in equal parts by Michael Snow and your local haunted house.

Migrating Forms Program 4 (Information Source)

  • “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths” (Directed by Ed Atkins) 2013, 13min
    “…Pictures the digitalization of existence from the inside, in all its cold alienating surrogacy” (Art Agenda).
  • “bbrraattss” (Directed by Ian Cheng) 2013, 3min
    Ian Cheng dissolves and re-choreographs a rabbit fight into an abstract motion study.
  • “Even Pricks” (Directed by Ed Atkins) 2013, 8min
    “… The culmination of a series connected with depression, in both the psychological and the physical sense of the word” (Lyon).
  • “Swallow” (Directed by Laure Prouvost) 2013, 12min
    Inspired by the artistic and sensuous traditions of Italy, Laure Prouvost presents a collage of a recent Mediterranean idyll, syncopated to the rhythm of her own breath.
  • “Critical Mass” (Directed by Kerry Tribe) 2012, 25min
    Continuing her career-long investigation into personal and historic memory, Kerry Tribe presents a restaging of Hollis Frampton’s groundbreaking experimental film Critical Mass. Tribe’s reinvention features a single virtuoso take of two actors delivering the lines originally edited by Frampton into a rhythmic, disjointed pattern.

A number of my favorites from the night included: “Mount Song” (Directed by Shambhavi Kaul), “A Third Version of the Imaginary” (Directed by Benjamin Tiven), “El Adios Largos” (Directed by Andrew Lampert), “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths” (Directed by Ed Atkins), and “Even Pricks” (Directed by Ed Atkins).

The set and fog in “Mount Song” reminded me a lot of The NeverEnding Story’s set and aesthetic, with a little Lord of the Rings thrown in there. I thought that was awesome. It had that dark, starry, fantasy, hidden-in-the-forest landscape and feel to it, and there was a little village, a full moon, and no humans in sight. No creatures really of any kind. Unless you count the fog as creatures. In “Mount Song,” the fog felt activated, as if they were the characters of this short story. They moved, we followed, they traveled, and there was even what looked like an epic dark/light fog battle at one point. There were other possible characters, which took the form of little shining lights traveling at fast speeds across the landscape. The explosions, quick cuts, and set, as I said, reminded me a lot of the fantasy movies of the mid-80s, like The NeverEnding Story. I could have sworn that at one point, in one particular scene from “Mount Song,” we might surely see Falkor dip over top the thick fog bank under the starry sky. Loved that this short film, “Mount Song,” was done in 2013 and accomplished that aesthetic extremely well.

“A Third Version of the Imaginary” (Directed by Benjamin Tiven) was extremely interesting. It featured a library of VHS tapes, the covers all black with white labels, with a man looking through them, apparently trying to find something specific. From listening to the narration, you would learn about different concepts of video, image, memory, and meaning, including such ideas like “video is an amnesic medium.” The narrator spoke about how when film is recorded, how much time, production, money, etc, goes into it, and then it appears on an inexpensive and ephemeral piece of technology like a VHS, stored, and that even the original film is not saved because it is used to make the next film. The narrator explained that in Swahili, words like “video” are inherently attached to a medium, and understood this way, but that there is no “naturally occurring word” for “image” since that word is so detached from any specific medium. The film is an interesting introduction and investigation regarding how technology and language changes and informs each other, simultaneously changing ideas and concepts about the world around us, and ourselves.

I had never seen The Long Goodbye, so my experience with Andrew Lampert’s film “El Adios Largos” would probably be very different had I seen the original. The opening credits still showed the original people for The Long Goodbye, but then for certain credits, Lampert had added his own right next to the originals, so that there were two directors, instead of one, etc. (All part of the humor!) The part of the film Lampert used was the beginning scene, where the main character is feeding his cat, trying to give it human food, then going out at 3:00am to buy it cat food, then trying to fool it into thinking it’s eating its favorite brand, etc, but this cat knows better. The main character also interacts with his female neighbors, who are apparently baking brownies and cookies and whatever at 3:00am. (Why not.) This version of the film, which Lampert had found and used, had been dubbed in Spanish. So, he had it subtitled back into English. And, since the film had been in black and white, Lampert added color to it, often in blocks, shapes, with shifting and imprecise borders, moving, warping, etc. In his talk after the screening, he said had researched to figure out what colors kitchens, etc, were in the 70s, and worked with those color schemes in this piece. Overall, his film, and his talk, were both hilarious, interesting, and lots of fun.

For both of Ed Atkins’ pieces, I was intrigued and captivated by the poetry, the visuals, and the sounds. I was very interested in how he manipulated the 3D animated characters and objects, the repetition of themes with variations each time, the text (in various fonts, colors, styles, etc) and the poetry, the still images mixed in with animated elements and narration, etc. Sometimes, the text, the poetry, had the same font, style, and sound of an epic movie trailer, with all the emphasis and energy that comes with it. His films were amusing, thought-provoking, and inspiring. Definitely worthy of multiple viewings. Anybody interested in animation, either as a viewer and a maker or both, should see these films by Ed Atkins. Quite amazing!

Overall, a really great night with really great short films!

I will be going to the following film screening:

Conor O’Brien, also of The Living Gallery, will be going to this screening:

Please, go check out BAMcinématek’s film series, Migrating Forms!
Let us know in the comments about what you’ve seen or plan to see.