Monday, April 18, 2011

Railway Journey

"the limitations of the camera itself are also used innovatively, Martin is using a hi-8 consumer camera that has a built in auto-iris, the camera struggles to expose high contrast images, between strong highlights et deep shadows causing the iris to open et close continuously. Martin uses this restriction creatively, he renders the pulsing dilations et contractions of the iris as a rhythm, a heartbeat, but it also has a blinking quality, like a sleepy eye, slowly opening et closing, the intervals getting longer, slower, heavier, before finally remaining closed.  ... Martin significantly rotates his continually moving/train-tracking images, reorienting the horizontal nature of the landscape/horizon so that it becomes vertical. in doing so he makes the images flow upwards, as if they are streaming out of a film projector."  (m.d'd!) (apologies for inconsistent coloration in this quote - a blogger bug, I think)

"The nineteenth century's preoccupation with the conquest and mastery of space and time had found its most general expression in the concept of circulation,which was central to the scientistic social notions of the epoch." (Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Railway Journey)

"Responding to the journal’s publication of Eadweard Muybridge’s newly published photographic motion studies, Marey writes: “I was dreaming of a kind of photographic gun, seizing and portraying the bird in an attitude, or, better still, a series of attitudes, displaying the successive different motions of the wings…” The technique Marey has in mind, of course, is the “proto-cinematic” technique he would come to call chronophotography: the depiction of movement in successive instantaneous photographs. What he was dreaming of amounts to the ability to shoot a bird, not to kill it but to capture its living, vision-confounding motion and convert it into legible, fixed image sequences. The passing into obsolescence of older meanings of “flicker” thus marks a contemporaneous shift in the way movement and time could be viewed. Since the bird’s incomprehensible flying movements have become reducible to a number of arrested instants, its body ceases to move. Once it had been seized over and over, cinema proved it could bring the bird back to life, so to speak, by spinning the image sequence back into motion." (René Thoreau Bruckner, in a brilliant essay)

"There are good reasons to use transportation as a foil to our symbolic model of communication.  For most of human history, any definition of communication that separates symbolic action from movement is nothing more than an anachronism.  Writers interested in the history of the idea of communication have often noted the associational connections between transportation and communication that held sway until late in the nineteenth century.  As both [James] Carey and John Durham Peters point out, in previous moments, communication meant - among other things - transportation, movement, connection, and linkage.  "Steam communication" was travel by train, and a door could form a "communication" between a house and the outdoors.  At some point in the nineteenth century, the words "intercourse" and "communication" also traded connotation with one another. ... Even our central terms for symbolic action gesture toward a concept of communication as a subspecies of movement.  "Metaphor" comes from the Greek for "to transfer" or "to carry."  "The word metaphoros ... is written on all the moving vans in Greece," writes Bruno Latour."  (Jonathan Sterne)

Raya Martin's short film Track Projections intrigues because it draws out a rhetorical connection to film - and to filmed time/space - even while it was shot on video.  The bulk of the film consists of sideways "tracking shots" from a train window, and their abstract, running verticality recalls a Brakhage.  (In the more pictorially recognizable passages, it's like early Brakhage, but at times it resembles the later hand-painted works.  But I've all ready spent too much time comparing this film to Brakhage.)  The blinking & flickering, which the first author quoted above has noted, suggests the effect of a celluloid flicker though we may not see it projected on film. 

This is not to say that Track Projections masquerades as a film or that it erases the distinctions between film and video technology - instead it's a feature of the film's rhetoric, it gestures toward film, and to a whole technology of segmented, standardized movement, celluloid strips & train tracks, and not just the "illusion" of photography carried over into chronophotography, but also the "illusion" of continual time, produced through the fragmentation effect of individual frames (seen, or unseen, as flicker).  For Martin, perhaps, these illusions are in fact allusions, part of the repertoire of techniques to incorporate or evoke ...

Track Projections (Raya Martin, 2007)

3 comments:

Andy Rector said...

Thanks for this! Wonderful texts...

and I wasn't aware of the film at all, let alone its availability.

Although I have no authority to say since I've only seen 4 of Raya's films, TRACK seems to formally sum up his work in compact form: the frontal pose of misery at the beginning, the mix of anachronisms made new by the slightly old techniques rewrought, and finally... the subjectivity of a child...

I believe the textures in the middle part of the movie were achieved by videotaping zoomed in at an extremely high shutter speed -- hi8 was/is capable of a lot of interesting information at those speeds!

Zach Campbell said...

Andy, I've seen only three RM films (and two of them very short - Ars Colonia and Track Projections - the other is Autohystoria), so I have less authority still. But your suggestion that it's a decent "summary" (or exemplary) work seems a fair description to me.

More Martin, and more Philippine cinema generally, here at EL in the near-ish future, I think ...

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