Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hummingbirds, Etc.

Last Saturday night I made it out to Jennifer MacMillan and Bradley Eros' Millennium Film Workshop program "Aerodynamics of the Hovering Hummingbird: Science, Cinema, and Ways of Seeing." The program--three and a half hours of science and cutting edge moving images!--had its peaks and valleys, content-wise, but was a nicely conceived and ambitious undertaking. I wanted to write some brief comments on what might have been my three favorite films/videos of the evening.

Liquid Crystals, by Jean Painlevé (1976), is what it is--a beautiful work of scientific cinematography by one of the field's foremost practicioners. I'd like to see it again.

Presepe, by Bruce McClure (2004). I'm still not 100% sure what was going on with this screening, but it was essentially a four-projector affair where clear 16mm strips where run through to create a flickering and slowly changing image that looked something like this for 12-14 minutes:

What made this interesting is, partly, the contrast it held to the lushness or the impressiveness of some of the other science/scientific images of the night, which were there to amaze--McClure's piece of 'expanded cinema' didn't impress itself on one's retina by means of extraordinary imagery or colors, or interesting recorded footage. It was all about the moment-to-moment presentation of minute changes of black-and-white, and the concomitant optical experience. The "science" content wasn't recorded, it was being created as we watched it. (Another not-quite-cinema work that did this in the program, Zach Layton's Electroencephalograph Functions (Brainwave Manifestation), did nothing for me, I have to admit.)

Then there was the film by Jmac herself, The Garden Dissolves Into Air. This project (which is "super 8 to 16mm to video") sets stills from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden edited at what feels like a steady, mathematical tempo to a 'soothing' soundtrack. The dissolve transitions from image to image make for a certain dreamlike status (in the program notes Jennifer mentions an affinity for Odilon Redon, "where the marvels of nature become part of the dream world"). There's a segment of flickering motion at the end--in the still shot format, when used judiciously and fleetingly, this can be a momentous technique (as in La Jetée). The colors are gorgeous. But what ultimately resonated for me was the way the video captured something about the transcience of the photographic image as put to rhythm (the rhythm of the cinema), but because it was slowed down and pulled away from chonophotographic sequence--no longer a 24fps illusion but a multi-second, edited-image dissolve rhythm--it evoked something almost primordial about the origins of cinema's powers, and the alternatives to "capturing" (and exhibiting!) nature other than simply recording and playing it at the standard speed.


Ryan B. said...

this sounds fascinating. i wish i'd heard about this beforehand. as it is i hardly see any new experimental filmmaking

jmac said...

Z, I am so honored to see your writing on the Aerodynamics program. So beautiful! You know what inspired me most to make The Garden Dissolves into Air? Well, I am a photo editor in college textbook publishing, and the summer before last I worked on a Biology book with 1,000 photos that had to be turned over to Production in a period of 3 months. It was insane, and I never let people here at work forget it. :) Anyway, after this experience, I've been obsessed with nature photography & just nature itself! And after reading your post, I thought about how narrative film is about interpretation and feeling, where experimental film is about observation and feeling. I'm a bit out of my realm with all this, but just a thought . . . Why did you not like the EEG brainwaves? I did not want my video to go on after this one, I loved it so much. I am really into live image processing right now. It's much more exciting.

What did you think of the physicist, Peter Steinberg?

Thank you for attending the show! You rock!

Zach Campbell said...

Ryan--in a week or two we should catch the Chinese avant-garde programs at Anthology.

Jen--thanks for the explanation of your film's origins. I'm not totally sure why I didn't respond to the Layton piece; the night was long at that point and I couldn't find my way "in" to the work, maybe?

Peter Steinberg's lecture was very interesting (as was the theremin performance: I'd never seen one played in person before). I thought Steinberg fit in to the program of artists/filmmakers very nicely.

jmac said...

Cool. That makes perfect sense. I'm a little excited about my film program. :) You are the best writer, Z!