Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ebbs and flows

Most often immersed at work, I have become quite shit at seeing films at the cinema as much as I want to. I take some classes at the film school every now and then and we show everything on DVD, never on film. I don't know of any cinema clubs or geekfests that are showing anything but digital versions of all the rare finds. The accessibility of beautiful old bits of film on DVD or over the web is a beautiful thing, but I definitely miss the tactility of spooling something up. It is the tactility that an artist like Tacita Dean employs in her projected 16mm. It's a sculptural, aural addition to the film itself to experience, at the edge of consciousness, a small humming machine, clicking and whirring in the corner, or behind a pane of glass, with light that ebbs, or dissipates towards the edges depending on the intensity of the globe...

A few years back, a friend and I - while working at an organisation with a large film archive - collected as many flickers and chinagraph sworls, countdowns and light pulses from the beginnings of 16mm reels, as we could get our hands on. Below are a few of my favourites... (and I note the irony of having these as a low res digital file)

This weekend past, we used this archive as a basis for making some interstitial film sequences for an event called 'Seven Songs' which brought together artists like John Cale, Sinead O'Connor and Meshell Ndegeocello with some of the artists of the Black Arm Band to perform a suite of seven songs each. These seven songs - which in the end were covered from artists as diverse as L7 and Bob Marley - were made up of:

First song
A song to covet
A song to share
A song by Leonard Cohen
Two songs of their own
A song to leave behind

The idea of covering a song doesn't really have an equivalent in cinema. But, for our interstitial films, we brought in scenes - thinking of them as quotes, or covers - to play in between songs. Along with the flickering lights, ebbs and flows, countdowns, we screened scenes from Millenium Mambo, Simple Men, Mirror, Last Life in the Universe, Beau Travail, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, La Haine, Samson and Delilah. It was a small, good thing. Nothing flashy or showy, but kinda like playing your friends a song from your favourite album. They were, it's true, a bit overshadowed by the stadium filling performances of Cale, O'Connor et al.

There have been projects like Gus Van Sant's 'Psycho' I suppose, or maybe Hal Hartley's 'Flirt' ('covering' his own film in three ways) and maybe projects like Asian Dub Foundation's rescoring of 'La Haine' or a live performance of 'The Tracker' soundtrack by Archie Roach; but it does seem like a missed opportunity to not have an understanding that we can 'cover' film in the same way that implies a love of the original work and not plagiarism. To 'cover' something in the film world is seen as stealing, as plagiarism, not as love or tribute or dedication. I wonder how this can be shifted? I wonder what you'd have to do to ensure an audience your 'borrowing' or 'recreating' is not outright theft. Even the disdain heaped on American remakes (witness the grudging nods of consent and approval for 'Let Me In') is a good sign of this ingrained belief that once something is rendered into an image it is forever complete... it can't be remade or remixed or rejigged in new ways for new audiences or new viewing experiences.

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