Friday, March 09, 2007

Ernie Gehr's Still

Eight shots, nearly identical reframings of the same storefronts (a furniture store, a restaurant with a sign above that says 'soda - lunch') as viewed from across the street. On one major level Still is an exercise or investigation into the differences to be wrought from a single root image--differences in color, light, shadow, grain, movement, and even the accompaniment or counterpoint of sound (the latter shots/passages have a soundtrack with them, a loud roar of traffic, wind, and people; it sounds like New York). The color progression from shot to shot, as the images seem to go through a seasonal progression (check out the leafless tree in the first shot or two, winter; then some more leaves as there appears to be slightly more saturation to the color; you notice the tree gets fuller, the red brick gets bolder; the thick jackets and hats on the humans passing by fade away). The lines of shadows along the street and storefront, differing with each segment and consequently with each minute reframing, draw an ever-changing grid over that same root image.

Still is a film about this kind of inscription upon an Ideal: the inability to nail down a single definite image; the suggestion that any ideal is really a compromise between all empiricals or particulars. What Gehr did was double expose his film, letting transient action (people and moving cars) appear as ghosts, so that people drift along the sidewalk translucently, and we're not sure if a car really "exists" or not at a given moment in a given spot. Sometimes the film is funny about this--such as when a person crossing the street in the time of one exposure "runs into" a car of the other exposure. (Or when two cars "hit" each other.)

Whereas Still is about comparisons between different times, and the imagistic frissons between them, I felt that the other film on the program, Snow's One Second in Montreal, is about the carving into a hundred tiny pieces a single unitary or cumulative moment-image-idea. (P. Adams Sitney has linked this film to concerns in the aesthetics of animation.) Richard Foreman wrote of Still,

"Memory, memory--the seductive memory of the mood and atmosphere of summer morning, afternoon and evening--the burning and obsessive desire I myself have always had to somehow frame and "make solid" those elusive quiverings--Gehr has succeeded in making what I believe to be the first "objectification" of atmosphere film, in which the objects and relationships between them end up RADIATING the mood which heretofore I had only been able to think of as a "container" rather than the contained."

I think this echoes a lot of my response, the key word in this passage being "radiating," as the sort of energy of the relationships, as time overlaps itself, between objects (or rather images) is what matters. Snow's relationships in Montreal strike me as more cerebral, more sheer in time and constructed according to a linear progressive kind of accumulation. Can anyone who has seen these films corroborate, or did they get a different feeling altogether?

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