I went to the PG Study Day at St. Andrews University yesterday and gave a paper, which aimed to reason why slow films cannot evoke justified responses in a movie theatre audience. Instead they should be screened at alternative venues, such as galleries. I have discussed this issue elsewhere on this blog.
In the Q&A session afterwards, a point was raised, which is so simple that it is often overlooked. It is, in fact, another straight-forward reason why the term ‘Slow Cinema’ is incorrect. Ask the generation of people who grew up with films by Tarkovsky, Janscó, and similar directors. They would tell you that the term SC is ridiculous. No one has ever termed these films as slow in the past.
I very much agree to this. There are generations as well as areas in the world where the term SC is a dead end. It is a Western concept and yet another framework we use in order to make sense of what we see. Strangely enough, we forget what the directors say, and no one has ever spoken of Tarkovsky’s slowness at the time. It had never been highlighted as being exceptional. If you search now for writings on Tarkovsky, you can suddenly find it everywhere. We have a new framework called SC, so we can go back and analyse all films through this lens – that is what film scholars do (and they shouldn’t!).
Technically, there are no differences between the late Angelopoulos and today’s slow films. Nor are there, pace-wise, major differences between Béla Tarr and Miklós Janscó. It is not the films that have changed. It is us.
In his fabulous book Art and Time, Philip Rawson argued (correctly, I find) that an artist’s perception of time influences his artwork. We can take this a little further. I argue that one’s perception of time influences one’s reception of an artwork. And here we are again, with the old discussion of digital media increasing the pace of our life. I don’t mention this to blame the new media. Not at all. Rather, I try to illustrate what exactly we need to consider when talking about slow films, and it might not be the films at all that should be in the centre of attraction. Perhaps, we should put a close-up on the viewer and his pace in life, not that of the film.