Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A different direction

As well as continuing with the phasing work, I’ve been experimenting with different approaches to found film. The first clip in this post is taken, again, from ‘The Shining’, but rather than phasing the clip, I’ve removed the character from the shot. Hopefully this would direct the viewers attention away from the character to the rest of the shot. Although I’ve found in the few test pieces I’ve made, that instead of looking at the remainder of the image, the viewer focuses on the changing shape of the blocker, finding that the most interesting piece of the shot. But perhaps this can be made useful?

The second shot is again concerned with phasing, but this time the image is entirely computer generated by myself. This removes questions of authorship and ownership, but I found this one of the most interesting aspects of my work. So I’m not sure whether it’s such a good idea to remove this. Most apparent in this piece is the relevance of sound to image. They are more connected here because I have constructed the work, and synched them up myself, before the process had begun. Also, because I have controlled everything in the piece, the process is much more structured than in any of my other works (something I must go into in later posts).

The Shining

I’ve been using ‘The Shining’ by Stanley Kubrick for about a week now, and, although it’s a very good film, and beautifully shot, it doesn’t seem to lend itself to looping or phasing. There is a lot of camera movement in the film: panning, zooming, or following characters, which makes any repeat seem awkward and forced (rather than comfortable, natural and fluid).

Two of the clips in this post are from the few static shots in the film, where Mrs Torrence finds her husbands ‘All work and no play…’ transcripts. Here the two films work quite differently. One layers the words until they become meaningless, while the second maintains our sense of terror as long as possible (albeit in a different manner from the original). The first (layered) loop works quite well as it slowly stagnates the terror of the moment. In the original the sheer volume and repetition of the work is shocking, while in my version, this initial shock is ground down, until the viewer forgets their previous reaction.

The second piece utilises the parallel device first used in ‘The Sting’ pieces. Both shots show a slightly different shot of the papers being leafed through, the speed of each clip increases by increments, imperceptible at first, but slowly becoming apparent. The suspense is played upon and drawn out by speeding up the image and sound.

The final piece in this post is from a scene towards the end of the film, where Mr Torrence is breaking into the bathroom. I was worried about using this scene, especially the “Here’s Johnny!” part, because it is too iconic, and far too obvious (and would’ve turned out crap). Can you imagine that line being repeated and phased? It’d be too embarrassing (for me and the viewer). What sets the axe scene apart from previous work I’ve done, is that it still uses the entire framed shot, there is no cropping or altering in the editing program. Instead different portions of the frame are looped at different rates, shifting in and out of sync with one another.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Godfather (part II)

Continuing from the previous post…

The first screenshot in this post is of, again the restaurant scene. I chose this scene again and again because it is a classic of the cinema. There are so any interesting shots in it, and it is such an important turning point in the film, that it seemed begging to be toyed with. This was one of the first ‘Godfather’ pieces I made, using the same looping technique as I had used in ‘The Sting’. Here piecing three clips of Al Pacino’s eyes together and running them at different rates. The train/subway sounds in the background are interesting, and overlap to form a ‘wall of sound’, something which I’d like to look into in greater detail. The drones and tones really interest me. Anyway, It works well, but I’m worrying about everything being in three’s all the time. Although these are all intuitive decisions, I can’t help but feel like I want a change! So, it’s ok, but needs something else to give it a sparkle.

In the second piece (again three!!!), I tried altering colour and brightness scales (a trick I had used in the machinery video’s to some success). Unfortunately, the soundtrack to this film ruins it, as there are strings and then the sound of the girl tripping on the road. The strings should be binned, and I’m sure I could do it on the computer, I had simply lost interest by the time I had gotten to this stage. The threefold clips, phasing, and soundtrack had gotten to me too much.

The third piece is again taken from the garden bench scene which I had taken two films from in the previous post. This time concentrating on Al Pacino’s head, and making a more concerted effort with composition and styling. Here it really pays off, as there is a genuine interest to the piece, and it also remains aloof. Without all of this surrounding footage, you wouldn’t realise that it was taken from such a lofty film as ‘The Godfather’, would you? AS with the other garden bench clip, I tried to fit on some post-production and soundtrack, deciding after much work that it simply wasn’t necessary, and the clip spoke for itself on its own!

The final clip in this post was, once more, taken from the restaurant scene. In fact I think it’s identical to the clip used in first film of this post, yet by rearranging it and stylising it, it becomes a different entity. This looks almost like a drawing. Not like the cartoon-film of the previous post, but a proper drawing, repeated and looped. It is a lot more subtle than many of its counterparts, which, I feel makes it a bit more interesting. Again, it’s reinforced in me the idea that I can change these famous scenes, and alter them to my own ends. But to what degree I am not so sure. Is it important for the viewer to recognise the film or not? Should I state which films the clips came from? Does the origin of the clip place a predisposed meaning or emotion upon the piece from/by the viewer?
I’m not sure of any of these, but hopefully I’ll try to resolve some of these issues during the week, and post something next weekend.
This week I will mostly be using clips from Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’.

The Godfather

This week, as well as producing/collating/completing 'Film Art as a Gradual Process', I've been working on clips from 'The Godfather' film. The first four are shown above.

The first, is perhaps misleading. It shows a clip of Michael (Al Pacino) in the restaurant, just before he shoots two men. It was basically an experiment in some of the effects I can use in final cut pro. In this instance, making the image very stylised, almost as if it has been taken from a comic book. I experimented with different masks, and variations in the background colour before I decided on this one. Because it is visually very different from the original, it raises questions of authorship and meaning. Is this my work, or have I reinterpreted Coppola’s original, and which is the original, as he didn’t use this technique in the film. It’s raised more questions than it’s answered, but I’m quite happy with it, and it’s shown me that I can take my work in a new, different direction, if I want to.

The second work above is probably the most effective example of phasing I have produced to date. Sitting on a garden bench, Al Pacino stretches one leg out, and then returns it to it’s original position. The three clips run at 100%, 95% and 90%, and the video is very visually pleasing when watched back. I added a soundtrack and after effects, but these seemed unnecessary when provided with such a perfect clip. Having said that, the soundtrack was very basic, and I may add another, better suited version in the near future, so as to give it a sense of completion. But when I’ve used a clip of such clear repetitive quality, it seems a shame to add anything to it which might distract the viewer from the simply visual pleasure of the piece.

The third piece, taken from the same clip as the previous, simply a ‘more zoomed in’ version of the garden fence, was an experiment in removing the recognised image from the work. Seeing this video it would be impossible to tell that it had come from ‘The Godfather’, so I was wondering whether it would work as a purely abstract piece of film. The phasing and sync’s didn’t quite match up, which I’m a bit disappointed about, but there is a visual presence to it, which some of the other, character led pieces, miss out on. Perhaps with a little more time spent on it, I might develop something very worthwhile, but it seems at the moment, I’m moving along at such a rate that I can’t stop and go off on a tangent. Something to come back to though!

The fourth piece is perhaps the most out of character (and away from my intent (projectwise)) piece is the one with Al Pacino, searching for the gun in the bathroom of the restaurant, where he is about to kill two people. The three bands of footage show the three separate shots in the sequence, which plays with narrative a lot more than any of the other films I've produced.
The top shot loops him coming in to the bathroom, the middle loops him coming in, and him finding the gun, while the third loops him coming in, finding the gun, and leaving the bathroom.
This is the main point of worry, as it opens up a whole new can of worms, which I'm not yet ready to explore, there being still so much more to look into involving repetition and phasing. However, I wanted to make a short piece based on some of the understanding of film structure I've developed over the writing of my dissertation. This being the result.

The fifth piece was, again an experiment with a split screen, much like the work I did over the summer involving machinery. Unfortunately it seems to be a step backward, as I didn’t put nearly as much thought or consideration into the making of this as I had done for the machinery version. The left and right of the car simply run at different rates until they sync up again. As there is no common image to both sides of the screen, apart from the car (which always stays a very similar distance away from the camera), there is nothing to tie the two sides together and provoke the visual interest of the machinery piece.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Paragraphs on FIlm Art as a Gradual Process

Paragraphs on Film Art as A Gradual Process

By process I do not mean the process of film-making, but rather films that are,
literally, processes.

Though I may discover filmic processes and arrange or compose the footage to run through them, once the process is set up and loaded it will run by itself.

I am interested in films which display perceptible processes. I want to be able to clearly see and hear the process happening throughout the duration of the film. To facilitate such closely detailed viewing, a filmic process should happen extremely gradually.

When I structure film as a gradual process, the idea or concept (that is; the loops, phasing or sync patterns in the piece) is the most important aspect of the work, all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is typically autonomous. Processes, in any medium, can give one a direct contact with the impersonal and also a kind of complete control, which are not often compatible. By a kind of complete control I mean that by running this material through this process I completely control all that results, but also that I accept these results without change or personal input.

The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. It is a priority of any artist to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator and because I am an artist who is concerned with filmic processes my work is often dry, understated and laconic. Looped footage by its nature is very repetitive, rhythmic and hypnotic. Despite this however, there is no reason to suppose that I, as the film process artist, am out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional impact, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.

Film material may suggest the type of process it should be run through (content suggests form), and equally, a process may suggest what sort of material it should utilise (form suggests content). This might appear subjective, yet the decisions made involving form and content are intuitive and based on one’s prior artistic knowledge and the experience of working with filmic processes.

Ideas are discovered by intuition. What the film looks like isn’t too important (although, again, its visual layout is decided intuitively). No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea, as it is the process of conception and realization with which I am concerned. Once given physical reality the work is open to the perception of all. The work of art can be perceived only after it is completed.
Since the function of conception and perception are contradictory (one pre-, the other post- event), I would compromise my idea by applying subjective judgment to it. If I wish to explore the idea thoroughly, then arbitrary or chance decisions should be kept to a minimum while personal taste and style would be eliminated from the making of the art . The work does not necessarily have to be rejected if it does not look well. Sometimes what is initially thought awkward will eventually be visually pleasing.

To work with a preset plan is one way of avoiding subjectivity. It also eliminates the necessity of designing each work in turn. The plan would design the work. Some plans require many variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite. In each case I would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the chance, and the subjective as much as possible. This is the reason for using a method.

If I carry through my idea and make it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. Realisation and the state of exhibition of a filmic process is not the main issue. A film is interesting when it’s an interesting film, regardless of its space, place and location. Instead, the idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps between conception and realisation: sketches, drawings, failed works, models, studies, thoughts, conversations; are of interest. Ideas may also be stated with numbers, photographs, words, or any way I choose, the form being of very limited importance.

The form, instead, becomes the grammar of the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work. Using complex basic forms disrupts the unity of the whole and causes confusion. Using a simple form repeatedly, narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity on the arrangement of the form, it also helps the viewer focus on the whole rather than the part. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means.

I’m interested in composed or arranged process and rolling film that are one and the same thing. We all watch the process together since it’s clearly visible, and one of the reasons it’s so visible is because it’s happening extremely gradually.

Even when everyone sees what is gradually unfolding in a filmic process, there are still enough variables and ambiguities to satisfy all. These variables are the impersonal, unintended by-products of the intended process; the shifts of timing between disparate loops, phasing in and out of time with one another, patterns of loops creating a rhythm and pulse, providing the viewer a glimpse of order, before moving on once more, continuing the process.

Viewing an extremely gradual filmic process focuses my mind to it, but it
always expands to more than I can make coherent visual sense of, and that makes it interesting to watch that process again. The area of every gradual (completely controlled) process, where one sees and hears the details of the image and sound moving out away from plans, occurring for their own visual and aural reasons, is what makes filmic processes captivating. When a process invites my sustained attention, minute visual and aural details become perceptible. In their original context these details were imperceptible, redundant or superfluous to the narrative intent of the director, yet by separating and repeating them, the smallest movement or sound is imbued with fresh meaning and impetus. Because some of the material I use is from popular cinema, some scenes or characters will be familiar to viewers, there is already an identity, an emotion, stamped into the image. By looping the shot, the original sentiment projected onto the piece by the viewer slowly dissolves to nothing. Characters become nothing more than moving shapes and form, nothing so definite as a ‘person’, simply items of interest. The original meaning becomes obsolete, and instead the viewer must reconsider the work in a fresh context.

When the time scale of repetitions is altered over a gradual process, the minute differences in speed, imperceptible at first, become more and more apparent as loops shift in and out of phase with one another.

If loop A is running at 100% and loop B is running at 95%, they will re-synchronise after A has repeated 19 times and B 20 times. Likewise, if loop C is running at 90% it will synchronise with A after 10 repeats (loop A will have completed 9 repeats) and B after 19 repeats (loop B will have completed 18 repeats). Questions arise when one considers when the loops will all re-sync together, or whether this will ever happen, or even if this needs to happen for the piece to reach its conclusion? Does the viewer need such a resolution to the work? And surely, once I have set up the process, if there is no sync, I should ‘accept all that results’ without concern. There is a realisation that, just as the different loops have shifted out of sync, they may at some point come back together, the disparate parts will re-synchronise. It is the excitement before such a moment, then realisation post-event that this was simply just another moment, that provokes a response.

While viewing and listening to gradual filmic processes one can participate in a particular liberating and impersonal kind of ritual. Focusing in on the process makes possible that shift of attention away from he and she and you and me outwards towards it.

***Based on the articles ‘Music as a Gradual Process’, Steve Reich (1968, Writings about Music. New York: New York University Press, 1974, pp. 9 -11.) and ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, Sol LeWitt (Art-Language, 1, 1 (1969). [Reprinted in: Ursula Meyer: Conceptual Art. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.])***

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Sting

Over the last week I’ve been working entirely with ‘The Sting’, or to be a little more precise, a 20 second part of it (in which Paul Newman shuffles cards). It’s been quite good to restrict myself to a limited amount of material, as it’s forced me to develop my ideas and the concepts behind my work in a lot more detail. And I’ve come out with 6 videos which have, in some cases been quite successful. They fall into 2 basic categories; those films based on layers, and those which play parallel.

The first videos of both these categories are, in essence, the same piece. However, in one the clips are superimposed over one another, and in the second one they are displayed separately, one above the other. Both films comprise of two clips, one runs at 100% while another runs at 90%, linking up every 20 revolutions. I’m not sure that either of them are particularly successful. However the layered piece has a kind of ‘slow-motion’ effect to it, as one of the clips is slightly lagging. Problematic in both works is the composition of the piece. Small hands in a large green expanse doesn’t look particularly exciting, so I thought in the next few films I’d like to enlarge and crop the image to create something with a bit more excitement and dynamism.

Sting 3
Video fans out to form a rough square shape (thought not perfect), out of sync again, yet this time quite unconvincing. Here I’d frozen the first frame of the clip, so as to delay each subsequent loop. It’s just a bit messy, but I’d gotten to the stage where I realised I wasn’t interested in specifically rotating things. I think that alters the viewers impression of the clip. It becomes a different piece because it is moving in different ways to the original clip.

Sting 4
It took me a very long time to make this piece, mostly because of the amount of time it took to render 5 strips of video. I was also worried about its structure and whether it’d loop the way I wanted it to. The 5 lines run at 100%, 98%, 96%, 94% and 92%. And while they would all sync up with one another at some stage in the timeline of the piece, they would never ALL sync at the same time. I made a few spreadsheets to calculate how long the piece would have to run to complete the full cycle, but got bored when the numbers went up too high and far away (I suppose the film would have to run for 3 or 4 days to fully loop and sync). Instead I looped them one at a time, whenever they got back together with the 100% loop. So that’s how I finished it. There’s a 20 minute and a 6 minute version of this one.

Sting 5
Similar to the first couple of films, I added a third loop and separated the colours in the three loops. I was beginning to enjoy starting with a single loop and then spreading it out, altering the timescales, waiting for them to come back together and bringing the different loops back to a single one (although it sounds a little simplistic and formulaic if I put it like that).

Sting 6
I wanted to see how cropped and enlarged I could make the loops and came up with quite a confusing and muddled piece. I changed the timeframe in a different manner in this piece (something which developed from listening to Reich’s ‘Four Organs’). Instead of having a constant 90% or 95%, I gradually slowed one of the loops down, first 90%, then 80%, 70% right down to 10%. This wasn’t successful, but perhaps I’ll try it again with a different clip, or differing crops.

So it’s going quite well. I have a few more ideas about where to go from here, concerning a greater involvement in composition. So I’ll see where that goes in the coming days.

Final Sting Still