Nothing

Certainly, I could leave this blog post blank and let you do the thinking. This is what “nothing” is there for; it allows you to fill in the gaps that others have left, deliberately or by accident. “Nothing” can be liberating.

What brought me to this post is a film I saw last night. In Praise of Nothing by Boris Mitic is is a satirical documentary about Nothing. Narrated by Iggy Popp, it’s a humorous take on our lives, on how we deal with others, with difficulties, or even with nothing. But the film also invites profound thinking if you do more than just let the film wash over you. It contains beautiful long shots, minimalist shots in most cases, a kind that one finds regularly in other slow films, although I’m not yet entirely sure whether or not I would classify this film as Slow Cinema. In the end, it matters little because In Praise of Nothing contains a lot that made me think about the more general nature of slow films and also returned me to a book I had read as part of my doctoral research, but which I have, if I remember correctly, never reviewed as such on this blog. I’m speaking of François Cheng’s Empty and Full (or Vide et plein – Le langage pictural chinois in the original French).

François Cheng’s work teaches us a lot about how to look (at something), and how to appreciate nothingness, absence and emptiness which is so common in slow films. As Iggy Popp tells us quite rightly in In Praise…, “I (nothingness) am in every shot.” And it’s true. There is always en empty section in a film frame, or even in a painting. Even seemingly “full” paintings have their areas of what I would call rest. We struggle seeing this nothingness because we have gotten used to the capitalist idea that nothing(ness) means non-profitability. Non-profitability in turn is not desired, and so everyone needs to create something in order to fit into this system, in order to take part. Nothingness often only plays a role when we are exhausted from the capitalist hamster wheel and need to slow down. Then people flock to meditation where they often learn that nothingness is profitable after all, just perhaps not in monetary value.

What I feel more and more, especially now with film submissions I receive for tao films, is that slow film directors, just like Chinese painters during the Song dynasty period, for instance, use nothingness (either through a rigorous absence or positioning a certain something in the off) in order to express the state of their soul, or that of society, or even that of the world. The films are an expression of the soul; they’re not necessarily factual or try to teach us. Cheng puts emphasis on the importance of the soul throughout his work because it is key to reading (traditional) Chinese painting (but also slow films, I find). I have never felt so many souls, have seen so many takes on the human condition than in the films I have seen for tao. They go further than the classic Slow Cinema canon we know. They genuinely align themselves (unconsciously, I’m sure!) with what Chinese painters have described all along as how they approach their work and what they intend to show. And this has nothing to do of being aware of the painters’ desires at the time, or not. It’s about putting oneself into a mindset that favours nothingness.

According to Cheng, nothingness is a crucial means to create a relationship that blends us with nature, as well as the artwork and the viewer. It is not so much that we become one, but that we become aware of the other while acknowledging that whatever it is, it is our creation. That means that, again, whatever it is it is part of us, we’re part of it. When we speak about cinema, this element of nothingness might come through strongest in experimental films which present you with little else than slowly moving blurred images. It is the idea of an experience in which we create the meaning because the director has given us nothing; how to read his/her images, how to respond to them, how to make sense of them. These films leave you with nothing, and we blend into it because only when we see such a film is the film really complete. We play an essential role.

I have mentioned several times before the concept of a “vertical axis”, which Maya Deren so wonderfully described in the context of poetic film. In Chinese cosmology it is exactly there (as opposed to the horizontal axis which is all about fullness) that nothingness and fullness interact. Fullness always comes out of nothingness, while nothingness lives on in fullness. Again, we have this blending, this dependency. And again, this is, in a good film absolutely the case as I have seen so many times in the last five years of writing for this blog and in the last two years of my watching film submissions for tao films. There is a real understanding of this interaction between nothingness and fullness that allows one to contemplate, to think, sometimes to marvel at images. it is those times “where nothing is happening” that the real fullness of a scenes comes to the fore because suddenly we notice crucial aspects of the scene we’re seeing at the moment, or others that have already passed and return to our mind. But this can only happen in nothingness and not while being bombarded with fast-cut scenes in an action movie.

There is more in Cheng’s book, but I will return to this another day as I know that not everyone likes long-reads 🙂 For now this shall suffice to give you food for thought, and do try see In Praise Of Nothing. It’s a lovely film!

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

My, my, my…another strong arthouse film this year. And another one which is too good to be written about, if I’m honest. There are films which cannot be described in words. Sebastian Mez’s Postcards from the Verge (2017) is one of those films, a film that, like postcards, takes you on a journey into a different land. That land or these lands, to be correct, are Israel and Palestine.

The film starts with a black screen and no sound. After a while, the image of a fire burning in the far background of the black frame shapes up. The camera remains with the fire, lingering on it, focuses on it. This very first shot gives us an idea, a feeling, of what the next seventy odd minutes will be like: they will invite us to observe, to be in the very moments the director proposes to be in.

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

Mez’s film consists of chapters. Each chapter has a very specific aesthetic, especially visually. The first chapter stunned me because it felt as though I was looking at something through a third eye. The frame was structured in such a way that it gave the impression of an eye through which you observed, in wide angle shots, the landscape of Israel and Palestine. The director uses a stark black-and-white contrast for most of his frames, a contrast that is, for someone who loves black-and-white photography as much as I do, a real pleasure to look at. It’s the sort of visual aesthetic that makes my heart jump.

For a very long time in the film, there is nothing but images. Mez shows us the landscape of conflict, a conflict that has been ongoing for several decades, and which seems to find no end. There is one frame that struck me. It was a landscape shot, a slow pan, if I remember correctly, but perhaps my memory tricks me. What is important is that there is a tank in that landscape and because of the director’s use of high contrast black-and-white, you don’t see it at first. To me, this is a very good depiction of this conflict. Violence, and everything that embodies it, has become part of the fabric of those countries. Wherever you go, there is military; in the streets, at checkpoints, etc It has become normal, and no one sees it anymore. Just like you might not see the tank in that very frame because it is no longer standing out in a region that is in constant upheaval.

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

At some point a voice over comes in. The voice over disrupts the contemplative nature of the images and comments on the conflict. But it’s not going into details. It’s a simple observation: “I think peace will be difficult to find because we want the same thing. The Jews want Al Aqsa to destroy it and build their own temple on it, and the Arabs want Al Aqsa to pray.” The viewer is left with this thought, an idea that seems viable but that goes beyond the complex political circumstances that we have come to know. It is an observation from the inside, with a take on the conflict that goes beyond the violence that saturates our thinking.

Mez lets us alone with this thought, and continues his visual journey through the landscape of conflict – in a letter boxed super-wide angle (does that even exist?), for example. The effect of this is interesting. The wide angle allows us to breathe. We can easily shift around our gaze on a horizontal axis. At the same time, however, the letter box around the image contracts it. It limits our gaze on a vertical axis. And the (metaphorical) vertical axis is the one of feeling and experience (if we think back to Maya Deren’s thoughts on the subject). A contracted vertical axis in a film about a conflict where feelings are numbed…

Postcards from the Verge – Sebastian Mez (2017)

Which brings me to the film’s fourth chapter, titled Vivid Memories. Overall, the film is like a photo album, and this becomes most evident in Vivid Memories. The frames are almost still images. Or perhaps they are still images. Or maybe Mez uses super slow-motion. In any case, these images are an embodiment of remembering, of vivid memories, just as the title of the film’s chapter proposes. The frames felt like memories. They reminded me of parts of Chris Marker’s La Jetee. There is something tangible in those images, often dreamlike, blurry at first, then becoming clearer with time.

With Postcard from the Verge, Mez has created lasting images, postcards that stay with you. The final chapter of the film speaks about silence. In fact, it doesn’t. This chapter is quiet, almost completely silent…

Default Setting: Bored

Just last week I read Jakob Boer’s interesting paper “As Slow As Possible: An Enquiry Into the Redeeming Power of Boredom for Slow Film Viewers” (2015). I’m partly immensely grateful for this paper. I’ve lamented for a while that Slow Cinema scholarship is running in circles and there’s very little new material that comes out of it. We’re still discussing mainly the subjective issue of (slow) time and its roots in Neorealism, which isn’t exactly true. Based on Matthew Flanagan’s PhD thesis, Boer, too, refers to these roots.

His paper is an investigation into the aspect of boredom, also often discussed in the context of Slow Cinema. But Boer’s paper is a philosophical take on the issue and therefore makes an interesting point within Slow Cinema studies. It’s clearly audience centred, which I find particularly vital for the study of Slow Cinema. Slow Cinema is a form of cinema driven by experience for the viewer. I personally think that you lose the whole experience of slow films if you try to read them exclusively through the lens of film theories. As scholars, we’re obliged to do it, but it’s not always helpful and maybe (hopefully) Slow Cinema teaches academics to back down a bit, ease up on theoretical framework-thinking.

What is Slow Cinema? A genre, a movement? Neither? Boer takes the stance that Slow Cinema is a genre. The most widespread term is ‘movement’. I haven’t really made up my mind and, in effect, it doesn’t matter that much. It only does in scholarship, so that we can put these films into already existing categories. The viewers possibly don’t waste a minute about those things. If there’s one thing that Slow Cinema really does is visualise the extreme differences between academic and viewer, and the former often forget that they’re also the latter.

What strikes me in Boer’s article, but not only in his, is that it is assumed slow films create boredom by default. Boer does consider the positive effects of boredom, such as creating contemplation. But it seems as if you have to be bored first, and then, if all goes well and the boredom turns out to be positive, you reach a state of contemplation. Contemplation is seen in the context of boredom. Can I not contemplate a film or an image, say a painting, without getting bored? That is the ultimate crux here: Boer’s paper is, among others, based on Heidegger’s thinking on boredom. Because this literature is there, it feels as though we have to make Slow Cinema fit.

But isn’t it a fact that Slow Cinema challenges existing literature? I’m wrapping up a thesis on the way Lav Diaz’s slow films challenge both Slow Cinema and Trauma Cinema. You can make it work, but you need to be a bit creative. I do believe that slow films do not create boredom by default. If it was like this, it would mean that people would only go see those films because they wanted to be lazy. It reminds me of this well-known media model of the passive spectator who merely sits in his/her seat and the messages are injected straight into his veins…or his brain, for that matter.

When I read Boer’s paper I had this very model in mind, wondering whether active spectatorship has ever been considered. I don’t think that someone who’s bored is actively engaged in a film. And yet, for most slow films you need to be actively engaged in order to grasp the meaning, the narrative, the twists and turns. There’s more happening than writers often make readers believe. But rather than many different forms of action happening in time, Slow Cinema depicts often only one action. And yet, lots is happening, but not necessarily on the time-axis. It’s more about depth. I mentioned Maya Deren in one of my early posts. She talked about poetry being vertical (rather than horizontal), because it describes and investigates themes in depth. For me the vertical means depth, the horizontal is the surface. Slow Cinema is vertical, and you have to be actively engaged in order to dig your way into the film. Even contemplation can distract in that matter. I know that myself – give me a beautiful photographic shot and I forget the narrative.

I think a study of boredom would perhaps make more sense for films like Warhol’s Empire or similar video art. I don’t think it’s applicable to slow-film viewers who watch fictional narratives or docs. They do not see Lav Diaz’s films to get bored. They want to go on a journey, and if your journey is boring, then you have clearly done something wrong.

Slow Cinema at the Museum!? (Paper)

Expanded Cinema Conference – St Andrews University – 3 April 2013

Introduction

Slow Cinema – this phenomenon of increased slowness and minimalism on screen has been repeatedly discussed throughout the last decade. Nick James’ and Jonathan Romney’s articles in the Sight & Sound in 2010 are perhaps the most known recent examples of public debate on the issue. The focus usually lies on the use of long-takes in slow films, which often provoke a debate on boredom and suffering on the side of the viewer. There are, however, many more aspects that are worth highlighting and I want to illuminate one of them here today; the exhibition of slow films.

Tsai Ming-liang is one of the most prominent slow-film directors. His films The Hole (1998), Goodbye Dragon Inn (2003), and I don’t want to sleep alone (2006) have propelled him into public awareness. His particular style – the striking opposition of lonely, slow-moving characters in bustling cities, combined with humoristic elements and musical interludes – has become a trademark that has attracted not only cinephiles. The French museum and gallery Le Louvre commissioned a film by Tsai Ming-liang as part of their Films by the Louvre project; a project that aims to showcase the museum’s audio-visual productions. Visage was the result of this collaboration; a slow film commissioned byand shot in a museum. Released in 2009, Visage is now part of the museum’s permanent collection.

On the other side of the planet, the director of America’s Walker Arts Center commissioned a film from Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose popularity increased over night with the reception of the Golden Palm for his film Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives. Apichatpong had produced several films in the past, most notably Blissfully Yours (2003) and Syndromes of a Century (2006). His latest short, Mekong Hotel, was screened at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. His short film Cactus River for the Walker Arts Center was released in autumn 2012 and can be watched on the institution’s website. I would like to give you two more examples of these directors: Apichatpong produced the short film The Palace in 2007 for the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Tsai’s It’s a Dream, also made in 2007, had been acquired by the Taiwanese Fine Art Museum and was added to its permanent collection. In an interview with Noah Buchan from Taipei Times, Tsai points out that

“It’s the first time that I sold a video installation to a museum and this is the first time for a Taiwanese museum to buy a film as part of its collection. The Louvre was the first in the world to collect film. These events signal that we are now looking at film as a form of art.” (Tsai Ming-liang, quoted in Buchan 2010)

He goes on to say that “gradually, my movies find a home, and that is the museum.” (Tsai Ming-liang, quoted in Buchan 2010). There is a movement towards gallery spaces evident, in particular by Eastern slow-film directors. I propose that this is not a coincidence. Rather I suggest that it has, in fact, a plausible reason, namely the undeniable similarities between slow films and static art, which blur the line between moving and non-moving art, and therefore also question current exhibition practices. Let me elaborate on this point.

Slow Cinema and the Static Arts

Obviously, it needs to be stressed here that there are significant differences between moving images and static art, embodied by the aspect of rhythm as well as the exploration and representation of time. Slow Cinema is of interest in that several slow films merge the two forms of art, blurring the line between kinesis and stasis. I want to highlight three perspectives here:

First, although it had never been officially included in this category and therefore never really seen as such, film is a kinetic art form for two main reasons. By the sheer fact that film is made of moving images, kinesis is imperative. Without kinesis, we would not speak of moving images. In addition, film represents objects of movement, or objects suggesting movement. The representation of kinesis in art is not exclusive to film, however. Frank Popper (1968) traces the history of kinesis in art, with particular reference to the depiction of dynamism in static art forms, such as painting and sculpture. His study reveals that movement was a recurrent theme as early as the mid-19th century in the artworks of Impressionist painters. In part, this can be linked to the Industrial Revolution, when new means of transport, thus of movement, became major symbols of the time. Popper points out that Impressionists were keen on depicting kinetic objects such as railways, horses, water and dancers (Popper 1968: 11) The chosen motifs conveyed a sense of movement, and had been used time and again in later art movements. Especially in the early 20th century, Futurist artists picked up the aspect of movement and heightened its presence in their work. Speed-embodying objects such as cars or trains inhabited a special role in Futurist art.

Of interest to us in this context is the balance between kinetic and static objects in slow films. A close study of films directed by Lav Diaz from the Philippines, for instance, reveals that dynamism is largely absent. His films contain only few elements, which imply movement. One of those rare examples is an ox cart in Heremias Book I, but this one gets stolen early on, so that movement for the owner of the cart is greatly reduced and slowed down. If Diaz represents other objects of movement, such as cars or motorcycles, he does not make them visible to the eye. Interestingly, we can only ever hear them as off-screen sounds, but they are never in any way directly connected to the protagonists. The static camera as well as the little movement of characters within film frames further reinforce the sense of stasis.

With regards to this, I would like to point to a statement of experimental filmmaker Maya Deren. Contrasting cinema and static art, she writes that cinema is

 “a time-form, and [therefore] it is really rather more closely related to music and dance than it is to any of the spatial forms, the plastic forms. Now it’s been thought that because you see it on a two-dimensional surface which is approximately the size and shape of a canvas … that it is somehow in the area of plastic art. This is not true.” (Deren, quoted in Jackson 2001: 51-52)

The validity of Deren’s argument cannot be denied. Indeed, film is a time-based art form, just as music and dance are. They share the characteristic of evolving, of developing in time. All three are rhythmic art forms. The limit of Deren’s argument is reached when we try to apply this to Slow Cinema. Due to the common absence of dynamic objects, as we have seen, as well as the lack of camera and character movement, slow films appear surprisingly static, and therefore less time-based; an aspect, which distinguishes slow films clearly from music and choreographic dance.

A third aspect to consider is the use of sound in film. Michel Chion’s study Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (1994) contains hints as to why slow films embody stasis. Chion argues that films, similar to human beings, are vococentric (Chion 1994: 5). Research has shown that humans tend to focus on speech first, before their attention switches to other sounds around them. Moreover, our ears are said to react faster to external stimuli than our eyes do. This suggests that the extent, to which speech is used, alters the pace of the film. Slow films contain only little dialogue and music is scarce, a fact that slows down the reading process of the film considerably, as the viewer is dependent on his or her eyes. Combined with little character and camera movement, the cinematic frame appears static and thus has to be read in similar ways to paintings or other forms of static art.

To recapitulate, then, slow films share characteristics with static art forms based on the almost complete absence of kinetic objects or kinesis in general, and the lack of rhythmic speech or music, which demands our eyes to view a film in similar ways we would view a painting.

Lav Diaz and the Art of Painting

To take this a little further even, I want to demonstrate briefly now just how pervasive the aesthetics of static art are in slow films.

In an interview, Lav Diaz made a case in point. He said:

 “My films are just like paintings that are just there. Nothing changes. You can watch it for eight hours, and you can have a more fulfilling experience. Or you can leave the house, go to work, and when you come home, it is still there.” (Diaz, quoted in Baumgärtel 2007)

Diaz’s quote is evidence for my earlier proposition. He describes his films as paintings and reasons this by pointing to the almost static nature of his cinematic work. There is more to this, however, and this will facilitate an understanding of why slow-film directors such as Tsai Ming-liang are leading a renewed displacement of film; from the movie theatre to the gallery.

One major aspect to consider in the study of the relationship between slow films and paintings is the role of landscape and the treatment of nature. Bo Jeffares writes, “[a]s man’s urbanizing programme has increased and his control of his wild surrounding become more extreme, the kind of innocent interest in rustic life … has become an escapist obsession.” (Jeffares 1979: 6) Much similar to landscape painting, the focus in slow films lies on rural areas and nature. This is a key element of Slow Cinema, which only few filmmakers deliberately ignore. Elaborate shots of a landscape force the viewer to linger over what he sees, and thus slow down the narrative progression. The landscape is, what we could term the ‘argument’ in the language of art theorists. It inhabits a dominant role and becomes a character in its own right. It is an interesting point as landscape and character function as a mirror for one another.

A second link to painting is the way characters are framed. Photography popularised the close-up, especially of human faces. It was the key novel feature photography has introduced to the Arts. Nevertheless, painters remained generally keen on illustrating the whole picture, setting the character against his natural surrounding. You have to search really hard in order to find a close-up in a slow film. Filmmakers tend to approach their subjects in much similar ways to painters.

Overall, then, combined with earlier remarks on slow films as being similar to static art, the framing of characters in long-shots, shying away from close-ups, and the presence of landscape which acquired a special place in art in the, what Sherman Lee called, the ‘materialistic’ 19th century (Lee 1962: 3), Diaz’s films can, similar to a vast range of slow films, be read as static paintings.

Slow Cinema at the Museum

How does this affect the reception of slow films, then? Incorporating aesthetics of still art, such as painting, can Slow Cinema evoke a justified response in a movie theatre audience?

It is of interest here that Thomas Elsaesser has described Slow Cinema as the “musealization of the cinema” (Elsaesser 2011: 117). The screening of slow films in cinemas turn movie theatres into sites of contemplation, which has formerly been the case only of galleries and museums. Elsaesser’s point is crucial, yet I propose to read it in a different way. It is more intriguing to speak of slow films as exhibits, which demand a different venue. Reasons for this can be found in studies of video art.

Video artists have long combined aesthetics of static art with those of moving images. A good example is Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho in which he slowed down the original Hitchcock movie in order to extend the narrative over a period of twenty-four hours. It is so slow that movement is barely perceptible. So is 24 Hour Psycho a film, or is it still art?

Michael Newman argues that moving image art recontextualised cinema. It has introduced “a new dimension of reflexivity because of the frame provided by the institution of art and its history.” (Newman 2009: 88) In a nutshell: we associate galleries with contemplation, and cinemas with entertainment. The venue shapes expectations as films, or any other kind of art, are experienced in specific contexts. Therefore, Newman correctly stresses that “once the moving image is placed in the gallery it is implicitly experienced in relation to art that does not move: painting, sculpture, and photography.” (Newman 2009: 96) Having established to what degree slow films share characteristics with non-moving art, it appears evident that the gallery space, as Tsai Ming-liang pointed out in an interview, is the most appropriate venue.

In her study of gallery films, Catherine Fowler argues that “gallery films are different from cinema films, and that if shown in a cinema they would not achieve the vertical expansion that takes effect in the gallery.” (Fowler 2004: 338) Similar to Chinese art, which sees vertical expansion as a method of in-depth analysis, slow films put the same emphasis on depth. This is a prominent element in gallery installations. In fact, in a study of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films, Jihoon Kim speaks of “cinemas of the gallery” (Kim 2012: 129). Although slow films are not gallery films per se, I argue that Slow Cinema can be described as a cinema of the gallery. One example from personal experience: The screening of Diaz’s eight-hour epic Melancholia (2008) in Newcastle in March last year took place in a cinema. This, however, was not experienced as such. Sitting on comfy sofas and leaving the auditorium from time to time in order to grab a coffee or give my eyes a break, made it feel as if I had been in a gallery or a museum, a venue which offers me to return to an artefact when needed, and taking a break when desired. Yet, this film was part of a festival at which slowness was celebrated. The movie theatre as a venue implies that the viewer sits down and stays seated until the end of the screening. But this widely accepted and adopted cinema-behaviour-code is not even something the filmmakers themselves imagine. As Diaz points out:

 “I don’t believe in the concept that you have to sit in the cinema for two hours and watch a story that is compressed in this period of time. Cinema can be anything. My films are not purposely done for the cinema anymore.” (Diaz, quoted in Baumgärtel 2007)

Apart from the blurring line between moving image and static art, there is one additional intriguing factor. Tsai Ming-liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz – these slow-film directors talk openly about the link between slow film and gallery, or slow film and painting. It is remarkable that these directors are from the East, a region whose philosophy has traditionally seen time as irreversible and continuously flowing. This perception of time has influenced people’s artwork, and art tends to be contemplative, following Buddhist and Taoist teachings of a higher understanding. I believe there is a link between this and the push towards alternative screening venues. But further research needs to be done in order to explain this phenomenon fully.

[If you want to use parts of this paper for your own research, please reference it appropriately. Thanks!]

Poetic Cinema

I have recently watched Jia Zhang-ke’s wonderful and impressive piece I Wish I Knew (2010), and a thought popped into my head. First of all, I highly recommend Jia’s work. The World is an equally impressive work, so is Still Life. As he told JP Carpio in an interview, Lav Diaz admires Jia for his dedication to making films his way without letting his work be influenced by the state.

Anyway, there was this fantastic slow shot fairly at the beginning of the film, which struck me.

I Wish I Knew (2010)

It triggered my interest in photography, and my curiosity as to how various art forms are connected to form a unique experience for the viewer. This is especially true but not exclusive to Slow Cinema.

During my research, I have come across Maya Deren and her contribution to the Film and Poetry symposium in 1953 at which she caused controversy with her remark about film having a horizontal and a vertical axis. The vertical axis is the poetic axis. It’s the axis of mood, of feeling. It is the axis that allows the viewer a more in-depth perspective on the artwork.

If I follow the strand from the film and poetry symposium, I cannnot help thinking that Slow Cinema should, in effect, be called Poetic Cinema.

Poetry is a very personal work. It comes from the soul of the artist, and is often an expression of an artist’s deep feelings for something; his or her love for someone, or for a country, for a specific region, for the moonlight. There is an endless list.

We all had to recite poetry at school I suppose. If you think back to that time, what exactly comes to your mind about the way you recited poetry?

It was surely a slow recital. And it was a slow recital because only slowness would have transmitted a sense of the artist’s soul, of his feelings, even of his thinking. If you rushed through a poem without taking your time to read through the lines and without trying to grasp the artist’s soul in it, then you missed the entire piece. You may have read or recited a poem, but you haven’t actually lived it. This reminds me of a lengthy scene in Diaz’s Encantos when Teodoro recites a poem written by Hamin, the main protagonist in the film. It’s a long sequence, and it fits exactly to my way of seeing Slow Cinema: it’s Poetic Cinema.

Besides, whenever documentaries are ‘slow’, we call them ‘poetic’, and not slow. So why should feature films be treated differently? They share the same aesthetics.

A matter of kinetics

I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I intend to draw parallels between Slow Cinema and the static arts. I also established a link between slow films and painting, and gave a reason for why this was possible. Apart from Michel Chion’s work on vococentrism in film, however, there is an additional aspect, which allows for my approach.

Kinetics, or Kinetic Art. The term “kinetics” implies motion, movement. Kinetic Art has become particularly prominent in the 1950s. Kinetic sculptures – sculptures with moving parts – were specially widespread. In his book Kinetic Art, Frank Popper (1968) explores the history and the development of kinetic art. He starts off with revealing how Impressionist painters had depicted movement by focusing on elements such as boats, horses, railways, etc.

What I find interesting in this context is the fact that film has apparently never been seen as a kinetic form of art, despite it’s being kinetic in itself, being comprised of moving images. Characters move on screen. So do objects. And if you think of video, the spectator moves, too. (Am I thinking things too easy here?)

Anyway, experimental filmmaker Maya Deren said that film was much closer to music and dance than to the plastic arts. In general, this cannot be denied. Film and music / dance are time-based art forms. Therefore, they have in common the characteristic feature of development in time. They’re rhythmic.

But what happens to film if you slow it down? Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho is a good example here. Gordon slowed down every frame of Hitchcock’s original, so that the film plays over 24h. The movement in the frames is barely perceptible. Slow films are not quite that extreme. However, most of them employ a static camera work, and characters move slowly or not at all (hence, they appear [almost] static).

Further, few of the films depict objects that convey the meaning of movement. I focus on the films by Lav Diaz at the moment, and movement (or kinetics) is almost non-existent. Say, you can hear cars and motorbikes, but you hardly ever see them. If I remember right, Heremias Book I has been the only film to date that featured cars and motorbikes. And an ox cart. But that one gets stolen.

Apart from this diversion, though, Lav Diaz’ films are more static than kinetic, more painting than moving image, therefore more related to the plastic arts than to the time-based art forms, like music and dance.