Monday, February 05, 2007

Camera Dances


Went yesterday to the Cog Collective screening of works by John Porter. The pre publicity outlined John’s status as Canada’s king of Super 8. A title John has earned through making Super 8 films for almost 40 years in which time he has made over 300 of the blighters, had over 70 screenings in which he only ever shows original films, not prints and certainly never DVDs.

The first part of the screening consisted of John ironically (and with many apologies) showing a compilation DVD of work by a number of filmmakers from the One Take Super 8 festival in Saskatchewan in Canada. The premise of One Take is that each filmmaker gets a single cartridge of Super 8 and then shoots and does any transpositions and edits in camera before passing the film to the festival organiser unprocessed. The festival then gets the film processed and so the opening night is the first time that the filmmaker gets to see their magnus opus.

The One Take idea has a certain charm and, anyone who has made Super 8 films can recall the childlike excitement of seeing the mustard yellow packets from Kodak landing on the hall mat full of promise. Sadly though there wasn’t much of interest going on in many of these works and there often seemed too much of a revelry in Super 8's inherent filminess but not always much else. 

Then we moved on to John Porter’s own films which were in a wholly different class from the compilation and though John was keen to emphasise in his commentary that this or that shot could only have been done on Super 8 what was inherently interesting about the work had less to do with it having been shot on Super 8 (or 16mm or, even video) and far more to do with the relationship(s) between camera, subject, filmmaker and time. As such though it is probably a categorisation that John would run a mile from his films are very much within the structural materialist tradition. The time lapse used in pieces such as Landscape, Santa Claus Parade and particularly Amusement Park all cleverly undermined the illusion of representation so inherent in mainstream cinema and like the early films of John Smith were also simultaneously poignant and beautiful.

More interesting still though were the following sequence of films in the Camera Dances section where the relationship between (film) maker and movement was choreographed in unpredictable ways. In Down on Me, a camera on a long length of fishing line is lowered by am accomplice down from rooftops and bridges towards the filmmaker standing below. As the camera descends it spins and twirls causing the ground and the image of John waiting below to rotate. However as John begins himself to rotate, matching they movements of the spinning camera so he starts to appear static and centred against a twirling background. It’s a real nice self-effacing anti illusion illusion, simultaneously compelling and transparent. Moreover here we have a film in which rather than the filmmaker’s unseen hand guiding the camera it is the camera turning body that is leading the filmmaker.

Similarly in Cinefuge 4 & 5 where the camera is attached to a long cord and spun round the head of the filmmaker we get a similar illusory paradox depending on whether the filmmaker is himself rotating or not, causing the ground to seemingly turn up and over itself.

The last piece shown called Scanning 5 took the ballet between camera and projector to a different level; it involved the very simple technique of using a small hand held projector to project onto the walls and ceiling of the room; the movement of the projector following the original camera motion. So for example as the camera pans across a park following someone walking, the projector is panned across the wall, a small rectangle framing the figure. This highlighted the selectivity of the frame as cut-out from the wider world of possible vision and after a while began to create the illusion that the surfaces of the screening room where is some way impregnated with image, and it only needed the projector to reveal them.  

I will admit here a certain uncomfortable déjà vu, for buried deep in my notebook is a drawing for an installation(unexecuted) in which the movement of a camera was to be replayed by a rotating projector. My own idea though involved a computer-controlled system whereby the rotation of the original camera and of the projector were to be controlled by some nightmarishly complex servo system that would perfectly synchronise the two movements. Such frame-by-frame accuracy would be needed to stop the installation slipping out of sync but here we had the much more simple technique of the filmmaker simply moving the projector with his arm in memory of the original camera motion. A very effective pas de deux.

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