Critique – ‘Sea Change’ (2005, Joe King & Rosie Pedlow)

Sea Change is a short artistic film with high production values that takes a documentary-like approach to presenting it’s aging subject – a caravan park coming to the end of its final season prior to the caravans being taken away to make way for a housing development.

Filmed in 35mm and involving a fair-sized production team including Director of Photography Peter Ellmore and Composer Simon Allen, both of whom deserve a decent share of the credit, the film establishes a deceptively simple tracking format from the onset. In fact, several tracking shots taken along the same 300m run over the course of several days are used as the project’s raw material. The edit moves between shots taken using separate zoom levels and different times of night and day – thus a sequence is presented that on the one hand is a linear progression and on the other jumps back and forth in time and space.Sound design is used to accentuate mood differences created by this progression, often ‘spiking’ in sync with dramatic changes of luminance, a technique also used by King and Pedlow in their more recent offering, ‘Strange Lights’ (2010).

The subject matter is endearingly human, and although narrative is not formally employed, some sense of people’s lives, characters and stories is captured as the camera moves – the old man coming out of his caravan with garden gnome-like effigies in the window, the woman walking a dog both seen almost purely in silhouette, the children waving sparklers in the night air. There is a sense of frailty, renewal and place memory.

Artist and lecturer Janet Hodgson – comments “Here is a wobbly balance between the prosaic and the romantic crafted with precision . The subject of a caravan park has been treated with an apparent formal distance to render it the subject of reflection for 5 and half mins. Ideas of class, of time, of memory , of light and of cinema, as we see through the windows at night peering into others lives, as they pass as does the film”.


Critique – ‘Robinson in Space’ (1996, Patrick Keiller)

‘Robinson in Space’ follows a format established by director Patrick Keiller in ‘London’ (1994) and also in earlier shorter works. On the surface, the film comprises of a pastiche of short static shots taken across the UK (mainly England) accompanied by the words of an unseen narrator (Paul Scofield) who is Robinson’s traveling companion. The fictional story is used as a vehicle to deliver an almost ‘state of the nation’ type cultural and economic synopsis of modern Britain which includes statistics such as import/export figures per port. The narrative (entirely written by Keiller) merrily skips between fact and fiction with reference to events that take place in works of literature that share the locations featured in the film. In this way many more terms of reference are introduced than would be possible with the format of a straight economic/cultural essay (which the film mimics). Alongside writers Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, Keiller has taken his place in the development of a very British form of Pyschogeography that has flowered since the 90’s. In interview with Andrew Stevens of 3am magazine (July 14th, 2010), Keiller acknowledges this development although shuns the actual term ‘psychogeography’. Of the film, he says

Robinson set out with the idea that the UK is a backward, failing capitalism, because it has never had a bourgeois revolution (the ‘Nairn-Anderson thesis’, also alluded to in London), but by the end of the cinematography this had given way to one in which the familiar (and enduring) manifestations of the ‘problem of England’ are revealed as symptoms, not of failure, but of neoliberalism’s success. The UK’s economy may have been unpleasant to live with, but its unpleasantness was not the result of failure.

Critique – ‘Decasia’ (2002, Bill Morrison)

Morrison, B. (2002) Decasia: the story of decay [DVD]. bfi.
A silent film produced to be shown alongside the original music score of the same name, crafted of decomposing historic film stock where the artifacts created by the decay process are as much subjects of the film as the images themselves. Featuring corrosion and nitrate smears, this is a film about how film dies. Comprising historic, mainly pre-war film stock which contributes to the feeling of the identity of the subject matter being obscured by both time and physical decay. Director Bill Morrison talks in interview about the film being in part a response to the universal construct of an illusionary sense of permanence developed in order to mitigate the inevitability of our own mortality and that of our current form of society. Michael Gordon, composer, talks about the sense of ‘covering up of beauty’, as if the film artifacts are a veil.
I have personal experience of watching film artifacts develop in real time as I used to project loops of old 8mm stock in dance clubs – sometimes the loop would catch on the spool and the heat of the bulb would destroy the film. The result would be seen as pinpricks quickly turning into amorphous blobs overrunning the frozen frame. As far as I know, Bill Morrison did not deliberately damage the film stock used in the making of Decasia. This action would perhaps create a film with an entirely different sense of purpose.

Critique – ‘Proximity’ (2006, Inger Lise Hansen)

Produced in 2006. The film is deceptively simple, establishing a shot format from the onset that does not change throughout its near 4 minute duration. There are very slight variations to scene composition, but essentially the film is a series of upside down images of beach and sky stitched together as time lapse. There are no sudden changes, although there is an almost pastoral dynamic. The odd upside down car zips along erratically (thanks to the manual time lapse technique) on what must be a road near to the inverted horizon point, a few distant people scurry back and forth similarly. The only camera movement is sideways which results in interesting perspective play as features such as striations in the sand are seen from progressive view points resulting in some classic visual distortions. The upside down-ness of the film is possibly it’s killer feature – as our eyes adjust to the initially strange image and stop trying to invert it, we become disoriented and begin to see an opposite geometric arrangement – almost an Escher-like illusion is created. Like a word that is repeated over and over again until it sounds meaningless, the viewer is led to question the very essence of what they are looking at – inverted beach and sky or abstract form?

Upside down images must be particularly resonant to our subconscious brains as the image that gets projected onto the back of the retina throughout our lives is actually upside down – it is somehow left to the ‘software’ of our brains to rectify this ‘hardware’ deficiency. Perhaps it is this neural ‘software’ that Hansen is targeting?

All time lapse has a feeling of de/reconstructed time and Proximity certainly promotes this dimension although the idea of scenes being presented in order brings a certain sense of comforting familiarity which helps the viewer to mitigate the disconcerting effect of upside down film! There are 4 distinct scenes – what looks like a sunrise scene followed by 2 brighter and a final darker scene in which drops of water seem to appear in the sky portion of the image making it look more like a sea lapping the beach.