Pervasive visions

Mood Contrasts

It’s a weekend of codecs, torrents and strained eyeballs, which begins by diving headlong into the world of machinima. The first season of Red vs Blue clocks in at just over an hour of sub-Kevin Smith wisecracking from different-coloured suits of armour holding their weapons low. Almost all the narration and humour are carried by the dialogue: it’s amazing how few and rudimentary visual anchors are needed to tie you into plot and character. When I check in on the latest episode, some of the same jokes are still going strong. It gets slightly more bizarre with incompetent French pilots Bill et John in their clapped-out planes, and the stuff that comes out of Second Life is predictable, though technically very impressive (flying camera-avatars), but the stuff I really love is the ‘expanded machinima’ (I’m not sure it actually counts as machinima) movies shot on a Game Boy camera: Electrelane’s Film Music video by Stephanie Bolt and Eric Lesdema and The Pellucid World, with beautiful blocking, pixellation and contrast. They’re part of a continuum forming in my head of low-res moving image on which Japanese Freeware’s HTMovies and Jim Campbell’s LED movies currently showing at Kinetica have been lodging recently. Paradoxically, Film Music looks a lot better in a high-res quicktime clip than it does in YouTube’s muddy Flash player.

Then it’s off to Hoxton to be peppered like a swiss cheese by Christian Marclay’s Crossfire at the White Cube. Walking into a black cube with floor-to-ceiling screens on all four walls, out of darkness come the first flashes of packing heat: cartridges slotted in, bullets thumbed into chambers, a row of rifles picked up one by one. Then come the first shots, growing into a sustained volley, all shots aimed directly at the camera and into the centre of the room. There’s a pause to reload: casings shucked, new magazines notched, and then four minutes or so of sustained hellish gunfire. Some faces are recognisable: a glimpse of Arnie, Takeshi’s laconic shots downwards. Most are cops or robbers, few are soldiers. Several people roll sideways across a room and pop up as the same woman, firing vengefully. A woman walks from screen right to screen left and anti-clockwise from screen to screen around the room, slowly and deliberately circling us (someone’s brought their child into the gallery in a pushchair). All are the same: the flash, the fire, the amplified boom of movie gunfire, aimed directly at the camera. Rhythms of sound and vision develop: syncopation, beats, until the fire starts to fade. A few last desperate shots echo out, and it’s dark again.

Last stop is Tate Modern for the first Pervasive Animation screening attached to the weekend conference, one of those lovely century-spanning genre-bending programmes that the Tate ever-so-occasionally do very well indeed. Paul Sharits’ Word Movie is ear- and eye-warping word-origami: a male voice and a female voice recite in a monotone texts about neuro-chemical responses and poetic qualities respectively as each frame flashes a different word: blinking quickly brings the words out, and one letter on the screen remains constant for up to a second at a time, spelling out further words through the middle of the film. There’s a welcome Mary Ellen Bute, Mood Contrasts (pic), which starts off with smoky ink in water and playfully develops using patterns created by an oscilloscope, but the Themersons’ The Eye and The Ear remains as tedious, didactic and obvious as the last time I saw it. The programme finishes up with Tim MacMillan’s Ferment, five minutes of original timeslice moviemaking as far from the Matrix‘s ‘bullet time’ as you can imagine: scenes of everday life from death to birth, people frozen in kitchens, cafes and lounges with the occasional spectacular burst of spilt water or firebreathing: genuinely experimental filmmaking.

Home in time for the lunar eclipse, a dusky brick blob floating through the trees behind the house and up on Sunday for documentaries: the repetitive insinuations Loose Change doesn’t need to be watched as much as listened to in the background, and We seems to be coming out somewhere between Koyanasqaatsi and a music video.

Back to the Tate for more animation, and a more adventurous second programme. Takashi Ito’s Spacy and George Griffin’s Step Print both build up from simple patterns towards complexity: explaining to the eye what to see before reiterating and and elaborating. Spacy zooms from a wide-shot of a school gymnasium to the same wide-shot mounted on a podium, then again, to different podia, the floor and then out, culminating in a hysterical strobing vortex. Step Print documents its own setup, animator and overhead camera, before overlapping sheets create a multiplicity of fascinating colours and shapes. Cathy Joritz’s hilarious Negative Man takes a reversed out instructional film of a social worker explaining how to deal with a ‘difficult’ client and lambasts him with scratched-on animation, like defacing a waiting-room magazine at twenty-four frames a second. Bob Sabiston’s Snack and Drink uses rotoscoping to the same effect as in Waking Life: freewheeling and hallucinogenic graphic interpretations of a short piece of documentary footage about an autistic boy’s journey to the store. Lillian Schwartz’s Googolplex is reminiscent of (and predates the final version of) Len Lye’s Free Radicals in its stark black and white and use of tribal drumming, but is much more complex and regular: massively complex overlaid binary patterns that look and feel like an overwhelmingly incomprehensible flood of data.

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