The Power of Time

People who prefer slowness in their lives argue that we’re all slaves of the clock. Those who can’t live without the constant rush of adrenaline argue that this is grossly exaggerated. However, the concept of being a slave of the clock has a history most of us may not at all be aware of. There are three aspects to it (I will do this only briefly here, more details in my actual thesis):

1) Christianity was the first religion that was focused heavily on doing religious services at the ‘correct time’. This was initially indicated by sun clocks, or water clocks, until the mechanical clock was invented. The pursuit of religious services became more rigorous and were a must for devoted and time-obedient Christians. In a way, then, it was from the beginning the clock that ruled when to pray (Aventi 1995; Landes 1983).

2) The mechanical clock was an ideal instrument to exercise power. Take Charles V of France, for instance. At the end of the 14th century, he had a clock installed in his palace, and requested that all other clocks be adjusted to his time. With that being the case, he also ruled when his inferiors were allowed to do certain things. They were thus enslaved by the clock (and by Charles V) (Scattergood 2003).

3) Finally, the power of time on a larger scale; colonialism. European powers introduced mechanical clocks to those countries they conquered. The technically advanced clocks were seen to be an ideal example to show the superiority of European cultures. I mentioned elsewhere that Lav Diaz explained that the Filipino’s perception of time had changed when the Spanish colonisers conquered the islands and introduced the mechanical clock. In a way you can apply my second point from above here; the ruling power introduces her ‘time’ and the colonised have to obey (Geißler 2012).

In general, the mechanical clock allowed it Man to detach time from Nature. This meant that he was in control, and what would prevent him from using this tool to exercise power on his fellows to secure his dominant position?

Part of the landscape

The invention and widespread use of the mechanical clock in the middle of the last millennium has not only changed our understanding of time. It also altered our perception of time and space as entities. In the 15th century the minute hand was added to the clock face, in the 1690s the second hand helped to measure time in even smaller intervals. The clock became a symbol of Western efficiency, of the hunt for profit and productivity. Nature, which had long been a satisfying time teller, was gradually replaced by technology. Karlheinz Geißler, having researched the history of time measurement and its effects on society, argues that while time had long belonged to God, Man seized this power with the invention of the mechanical clock.

With an artificially created time, the ‘mean time’ which consists of 24 equal hours as opposed to ‘temporal time’ which is based on nature and its seasons, we have also altered our perception of space. I think we can agree on the fact that the clock was a decisive factor in the Industrial Revolution, in the speeding up of Man’s activities. It is telling that David Landes stresses the term ‘watch’ for portable clock, emphasising that time is something we need to pay attention to at any moment.

In any case, let’s consider for a moment an argument by German writer Heinrich Heine, who, in 1843, was saddened by the locomotive “killing” space and leaving us with nothing but time. Geißler explains this in more detail. If we sit in a train, we travel through space, but we don’t stop at a place to rest. We merely rush forward in order to travel through even more space. We, the passengers, are therefore not part of the landscape anymore. We merely travel through it. We’re independent of space in a way. All that is left is time, and our view on the landscape, but we’re not part of it anymore.

This separation of time and space is more evident than ever before these days. In manipulating natural time, we have disconnected it from space. This is obvious in films, which use flashbacks and flash-forwards. Time is something we have control over, it’s something we can manipulate to our liking. With that, space changes, too. In Fergus Daly’s wonderful documentary “The Art of Time“, Russian director Alexandr Sokurov explains that he attempts to re-connect time and space. Sokurov is one of the many ‘slow-film’ directors. His film Russian Ark is perhaps a great illustration of this, a film made up of a single long-take, therefore ‘recording’ time as well as space in their natural appearance.

The very characteristic of slow films in general is a way to return to the pre-mechanical clock, pre-Industrial age era in that it is concerned with the natural way of time and space. It is about returning the control over time, and therefore over space, to nature. Just as in the era prior to the mechanical clock, we simply watch what is happening. We’re no longer sitting in a train speeding past the landscape. We’re part of it again.

Norte – A slow step towards public recognition

It looks as though Norte was good but not good enough for a prize at this year’s Cannes festival. A couple of people are surprised. Yet, knowing Lav Diaz, he most likely doesn’t care. He makes films not for awards, but for cinema. And this he did. I’m personally very happy that I can call him my ‘research subject’ 🙂

Although, I may, in fact, have to re-think this, because he crossed my plans. Norte seems to be different from his previous films I study for my research. His previous oeuvre led me to a unique approach to Slow Cinema. And now, he’s using colour in his film, and sweeping camera shots – this kind of goes against my plan. Thou shalt explain…

Anyway, colour or black-and-white, static or moving camera – I’m looking forward to seeing this latest masterpiece of his.

Let me give you a few extracts from reviews I’ve read since Thursday. These won’t contain spoilers, promised!

“Those who entered Diaz’s world swam somewhere else than the Riviera for those brief hours, and were rewarded with quite possibly the best film there.” (Daniel Kasman for MUBI)

“They took their seats, the lights went down, the movie came up, and I sat there. Two-hundred-fifty minutes later, the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life. (Note: I’ve actually never clapped for a movie before.)” (Wesley Morris, Grantland)

“By comparison, the four-hour Norte is a miniature, but it’s also an accessible film, a superb piece of focused narrative that’s more immediately coherent than such digressive pieces as 2009’s Melancholia.” (Jonathan Romney, Screendaily)

In fact, it’s difficult to give you more than this because they all agree on the fact that Diaz’s film was magnificent. I’m glad that he had this experience, and I’m sure that Norte will be accepted at other festivals, too. If you want to read full reviews (which contain spoilers, beware!), you can find links in my Slow Tweets to your right.

As for the award, I’m a bit 50-50 about it. Of course, I would have liked to see him getting the award, or any award in the Un Certain Regard section. It may have been a bit too much all at once, though. I think the effect of his work for cinema will be more effective if he slowly creeps into people’s cinematic world and mind.

I want to end this brief entry with something Lav said in a recent interview with Keyframe. This says it all about Slow Cinema – why write a 80k thesis about it, if you can fit it all into a few sentences?

One of the greatest struggles in a human life is against time. We confine ourselves to some routines, we think it’s time—and it’s not, it’s just action. But if you think of time, it’s just about death and mortality and so are my films. I struggle with time but also respect space; they go together. For them to harmonize in my praxis I need to do long takes or one take. I’m trying to be truthful. I don’t want to manipulate time or space. I’m trying to subordinate the idea that [in cinema] we’re just following the characters. Look at the world, take your time! It’s all about seeing. Many young people don’t necessarily respond to that. ‘It doesn’t fit into my schedule.’ That’s a very important line nowadays.

Norte premieres at Cannes Festival

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, this entry will be no more than a summary of today’s news. For everyone else: this is what slowness is about (sometimes).

Lav Diaz’s new film Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan premiered at the Cannes Festival today at 11am. It’s nominated in the category Un Certain Regard. I know how excited everyone was, especially Hazel Orencio, one of the actresses. It was nice to follow them virtually on their first ever trip to Cannes.

Slowness on the red carpet is a rare image, and indeed, I have to admit that the Norte team looked like the most interesting of the ones I have seen throughout this festival.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the film was four hours and twenty minutes long. Quite a short film for Lav Diaz. But Diaz explained in an interview with Salon Indien (2012) that there is no time, in terms of time doesn’t matter. A five minute film can be as good as an eight hour epic, and I fully agree.

It looked very much as if Norte shook the audience. Jonathan Romney, who coined the term Slow Cinema in a film review in 2004, wrote on Twitter: “Lav Diaz’s NORTE, what a triumph. Raskolnikov in the Philippines, beautifully controlled storytelling with an apocalyptic final left-turn.” And Nick James (Sight&Sound), who actually isn’t very fond of slowness in film said: “The 4-hour Lav Diaz NORTE is worth every second. Finally something transcendent. Amazing.”

The team received a five-minute standing ovation, which, I guess, says a lot. I haven’t seen the film, but I know Diaz’s style. That he received standing ovations for it at the Cannes festival is a wonderful achievement. Apparently, there are distributors interested in Norte. I hope that he can strike a deal, so that we can finally access Diaz’s films (legally).

From Painting to Drawing?

I have to admit that it sounds odd to bring drawing into my research. I have long argued that painting is the most appropriate art form some slow films can be compared to. Things have developed since I posted my first entry on this blog, and while I am still convinced that painting will be the focus in my thesis, there is something else that has caught my attention.

Jianping Gao (1996) argues that ‘painting’ means ‘to apply colour’. At least, this is our Western understanding of it. Indeed, my Oxford dictionary tells me that “paint” (noun) is a “substance applied to a surface in liquid form to give it colour“. Gao explained that there has traditionally been a difference in the west between paintings and drawings, the former incorporating colours, the latter being predominantly monochrome. This is, in fact, a fine line these days as art in general lives of mixing and merging concepts. However, do think for yourself: what do you associate with ‘painting’?

Perhaps the colourful works by Impressionists come to your mind. Or those of the Romanticists. No matter what period we’re looking at, I can almost guarantee you that you have ‘colour’ in your head. Maybe we could argue that Western painters wanted to create an image of the world, which comes as close as possible to reality. True, especially the Impressionists applied colours according to their own interpretation of the world. However, colour in general heightened the realistic effect of the paintings. The world was colourful, so the painters depicted it accordingly.

I’ve repeatedly mentioned analogous characteristics of Lav Diaz’s films and painting. The one thing I have never thought about was the absence of colour. Not in this context anyway. I did analyse the black-and-white system used in his films, but I never thought about whether it would make sense to apply the concept of ‘painting’ (applying colour) to his films. I’m not saying that his films are drawings, though if we looked at the definitions mentioned above, it would be true.

The main concern is that I can obviously not go ahead arguing easily for painting. While Diaz’s films show many similarities, and while all the points in my research make perfect sense, the term ‘painting’ can be controversial if not defined properly. Lesson learned.

The next step on the Slow Ladder

A few weeks ago, I have posted an entry about the success of the local Slow Art Day here in Dundee. I still feel like going back to the McManus and take an even longer look at one of the paintings. It has drawn me in so much that I can’t let it go anymore. I learned a lot about looking slowly and giving your eyes time to wander.

In general, the day had a positive outcome. I’m very proud of being an official volunteering member of the Slow Art Day group from now on. I will be the host outreach in the UK and help them with research projects they are starting. This is exciting for me. The UK was home to quite a few participating museums this year, but there could be more, and more people could benefit from looking slowly at art. I will try my best to increase the number of museums and galleries taking part in next year’s event.

In other news: Lav Diaz is on his way to the Cannes festival. He and Hazel Orencio, the lead actress in Florentina Hubaldo, had a farewell dinner with friends. For me, it is an obscure thought…slowness on the red carpet. But I will get used to it! There are more details about Diaz’s new film Norte emerging, though only in French. The film is about a man who is wrongly convicted of murder and put into prison. He comes to find his prison life more bearable, but his life is changed by a mysterious event.

To me, this sounds like a must-see film by Diaz again. It is the longest film shown in the category Un Certain Regard this year at Cannes. Surprisingly, this film doesn’t seem to be in black-and-white. The two screenshots that are available are in colours. I’ve never seen a Diaz film in colour, so I’m keen on finding out if the feel is different, and if yes, how. The colour should reduce the degree of simplicity. Poverty may not be as clear as it is in black-and-white either. But this turn to colour makes it even more interesting to me. It’s new, I’m excited.

Norte will be screened on May, 23rd at 11am (local time). I’m waiting for the reviews and from news from both Lav and Hazel, and will post updates here.

Slow – The Film

It’s been quite a while now that I got totally excited about Bovines, a French (slow) film about cows, made by Emmanuel Gras. It sounds ridiculous, but the film was amazing. I’m still fascinated by the beauty in each frame. Slow looking is not just about art, it is about everything in our surrounding. I guess, cows are a good example for this. We take them so much for granted that we don’t perceive their beings anymore. The last time we did that properly was when we were little and still explored the world around us. We have stopped doing this. Now we wonder what could possibly be so interesting about cows that you need to make a film about them. Well, Bovines gives you the answer. I strongly recommend this film.

There is now a smaller version of slowness in (German) cinemas. I’m speaking of Slow, a film made by Sascha Seifert, which depicts quite fittingly the life of snails. When I saw the trailer, I loved it instantly. It looks like a peaceful slow film about life in nature; the embodiment of slowness, far far away from mechanical clocks which have caused so much trouble that we now have to step back and create events like Slow Art Day to remind us that we’re moving too fast. Anyway, the film will be out in Germany on May, 23rd this year. Unfortunately, there is no release date for the UK at the moment. It would be great to see this at a festival one day. I’d love to make this happen.

Cows, snails…who’s making a film about sloths? You can always be slower. (Perhaps this is my destiny. I shall think this through…)

Looking slowly

I hope that you slowed down a bit yesterday, on the International Slow Art Day. It was a lovely thing to do, and I can’t wait for next year. I have to admit, though, that I toy with the idea of setting up a personal Slow Art Day in about six months – a whole year without slow looking is too long!photo2

We were eight people at the McManus in Dundee. Slightly less than I had expected, but it was an ideal number for the discussion of our experience that followed the art viewing. The artworks I have chosen were “Pictish Artefact No 3”, “Island“, “Fairy Tale or Summer Incident“, “Moorland and Mist“, “Love’s Young Dream” and “Demon Mask”. I chose the different types of “art” deliberately. Especially the demon mask is an artefact you would normally only pass by. I had done so several times before, and I can say for sure that it was worth looking at it in more detail.

Even though I study slow films, and have been arguing for a while now that they appear to be static, I had troubles at the beginning to stay with an actual static image for five minutes or more. For me, it was an entirely different experience. Similar to Slow Cinema, you have to learn how to look slowly at static art. No painting will attract you in the same way another one does, or even appall you. It is thus important that you find your way into it and learn how to look at it. From an angle, from a distance, standing up, sitting down – if you do this, you will realise (slowly) that the painting in front of you changes whenever you change. I had a particularly striking example with “Moorland and Mist”. The sun that came through the rooftop windows had a considerable effect on how I experienced the viewing. Once the sun disappeared behind clouds, the painting evoked a different atmosphere.

photoUnfortunately, I could find only a tiny image of “Island” for this blog. This was my favourite, and that of the group. I suppose it is the ideal painting for a day like this. It seems like a minimalist painting at first sight. If this was a film frame, I would say that it was empty and didn’t contain a lot of information. But because you weren’t distracted by dozens of objects and colours, it was a perfect painting to stay with for a long time. I could have stayed for an hour.

It was by all means a valuable experience, and I’m glad that I signed up to be a host. I merely wanted to find out what this was all about and how it feels to look slowly at art. Thanks to all attendees!

I’m keen on hosting the event at Stirling University next year and will post a registration link here once the event page is up and running.

To return to my actual topic, Slow Cinema, Catherine Grant from Film Studies for Free compiled a good list of writings on Slow Cinema. Worth checking this!

Slow Cinema at Cannes 2013

Apichatpong’s victory over the recently more and more Americanised Cannes Festival happened before my time as a slow fanatic…

So I see yesterday’s news as a fantastic thing: Lav Diaz’s new film Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History) made it into the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s festival. Congratulations to Lav & team. What a wonderful achievement for them! It’s going to be his first trip to Cannes. With four hours and twenty minutes running time, I find this film to be quite short for his type of film-making, but it’s nevertheless quite a bite for a possibly untrained jury to watch. Apparently, the producer was very keen on submitting the film for the festival and good on him! I hope that Norte will also come to the UK at a later date. I have a feeling that it’s a good one. (Has there ever been a boring Lav Diaz film??)

Unfortunately, Tsai’s new film Diary of a Young Boy didn’t make it into the line-up this year, although there had been rumours it could be. It would have been nice, but, here again, I hope his film will get its release at a later date.

As I haven’t posted something fascinating lately, I leave you with a great interview of Lav Diaz, conducted at last year’s AV Festival. Research-wise, the project is moving forward, though I feel as if all my ideas for the thesis have been and still are being squeezed into abstracts and papers. It’s good. It helps me to develop ideas. But I can’t wait to sit down and expand on this writing. Before that, however, I’ll attend the Postgraduate Research Conference at Stirling University on 8th May, and the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network Conference in July in Norwich. Summer will be writing time for me. I plan to submit a decent draft of my first thesis chapter at the end of the summer. This should result in a few more blog entries 🙂

Reminder: Slow Art Day

It is so close. Twelve days, and we will celebrate the art of looking slowly. At art. Hence again the reminder that registration for the event in Dundee (Scotland) at the local McManus Gallery and Museum is still open.

The event takes place on 27 April 2013 from 11am to 2pm. After an initial meeting, participants will enter the gallery and look at at least five artworks for at least ten minutes. A list with the names and locations of the artworks will be circulated via email closer to the day.

Once we have spent roughly an hour immersed in art, we will meet up for a pub lunch and discuss our (slow) experience. You don’t need any knowledge of art in order to participate. Only patience and commitment.

It is important to me that you register on my eventbrite page as this will facilitate emailing you the list of artworks and further information about the event. Thank you!

Hope to see you on 27 April 2013 here in Dundee!