Tuesday, September 10

White Epilepsy - Everything/Everything by John Bradburn


There has been much written about slow cinema. Possibly too much. It’s a taste thing certainly. There is apparent within small factions of the cineaste community a type of extreme sport mentality or you could even compare them to a group of drunk alpha males in a curry house. Bring me the slowest thing you’ve got! They then force down something that is just slow with out any concerns for the millions of flavours and textures than duration can allow for.

This is a sort of messy preamble into my discussion of Phillippe Grandrieux’s new work – White Eplilepsy – and the fact that it takes the notions of slow to a new extreme as well as being the kind of wonderfully and willfully experimental cinema we see all too little off (and outside of the Edinburgh Film Festival and the DVD I was sent by the production company the chance of seeing it is very slim indeed). This is a film of a single evolving event. Two naked figures, one male and one female, are involved in an interaction in some deep woodland. I say event because this moment is never clearly described. It seems violent so it may be a fight but it seems so stylized it may be a dance. The act seems to have some importance so it may be ritual. Both figures are intimately close so is this some strange foreplay? What can be said for certain is it is slow in every sense of the word. This event is all the content of the film and it is presented in a very slowed down image – every gesture has literally been stretched to breaking point. Even the sounds of breath, shouts and contact have been so elongated as to become almost inhuman. This film may have little narrative but what this film gives me is a wonderful space to explore elements of collective and personal unconscious.  This may be the slowest most minimal work I have ever seen but it is also one of the most beautifully crafted and considered films I have seen in a very long time.  To continue the probably misguided analogy in the first paragraph – this is a film full of the flavours, textures scents possible through durational cinema. It is not just slow.

Persona: Time & Proximity by Keifer Taylor

Persona: Time & Proximity

To this day the close-up remains a unique aspect of the cinematic experience. On the big screen its nuanced details and poetic properties widen our anthropological understanding and breathe life into inanimate objects. In abstract terms the close-up holds a strong affinity to time. In her intriguing (though maddening) article ‘The Close-up: Scale & Detail’, Mary Ann Doane believes the close-up is “always at some level an autonomous entity” operating “synchronically rather than diachronically.” As a synchronic element, which hinders narrative progression, this intimate component creates a “temporality of contemplation,” allowing the audience to examine the subject in frame. Ingmar Bergman’s volatile 1966 feature Persona contains a plethora of close-ups of its voiceless protagonist Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann). Two scenes in particular relate to, and contradict, Doane’s argument of the close-up as a separate, synchronic entity.
From the eerie vacuity of Ullmann’s face in the psychiatric ward to the climactic sequence of dual-sided revelations Persona denies clear explanations. Having watched the film innumerable times I have managed to untangle threads of its complex web of enigmas whilst revelling in its opacity. If the typical dose of hyperbole demonstrated by many actors was present then the meaning behind  Ullman’s spiritless visage could be easily deciphered. Doane highlights the inherent opposition between “exteriority and interiority” suggesting that there is always something beyond our visual understanding. When confronted with an indefinable stare in close-up, the spectator is encouraged to contemplate its presence on screen and “dismantle it as a pathway to the soul.” Thus the face itself becomes a sight of subjectivity, granting viewers a bottomless supply of interpretations.
Analogous to Doane’s statement, Bergman himself exalts film as the only art form that “goes beyond ordinary consciousness” into “the twilight room of the soul.” With the taciturn Elisabet, including the unhinged nurse Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson), Bergman employs the camera as a tool that transcends the exterior limits in order to reveal the characters’ hidden imperfections.