Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, and the Imaginary

By Ron Burnett | Go to book overview

3
From Photograph to Film Textual Analysis

The Disappearance of the Image: Wavelength

At the end of Michael Snow's film Wavelength, a photograph visible at a distance but obscured comes into view. This is after forty-five minutes of slow movement from one end of a long room to another, generated by the telephoto movement of a camera locked into a fixed position. Incrementally, as it fills the frame, the photograph reveals itself to be an image of the ocean taken from a cliff. As the film ends, the photograph fills the screen. The waves are still, frozen in time.

Wavelength is about the time and space of images, about the way images can simultaneously be everywhere, irrespective of the conventional constraints we place on what they picture or how we relate to them. The film interweaves time into this picture of arbitrariness—such that sequence and duration, essential to the integrity of storytelling in the cinema, are unveiled as formal devices. Formal in the sense that they are the product of a melding of technology with aesthetic concerns—formal because they represent structure without a fixed signifying architecture. It is this capacity to engage movement, stillness, time, and space, to mix them up and rearrange their very premises, that distinguishes film as a medium from photography. Wavelength theorizes about the impact of that separation and in so doing plays a game of cat and mouse with film history, film practice, and image theory.1 "A persistent polarity shapes the film. Throughout, there is an exploration of the room, a long studio, as a field of space, subject to the arbitrary events of the outside world so long as the zoom is recessive enough to see the windows and thereby the street. The room, during the day, at night, on different film stock for colour tone, with filters, and even occasionally in negative is gradually closing up its space as the zoom nears the backwall and the final image of a photograph upon it—a photograph of waves. This is the story of the diminishing area of pure potentiality."2

____________________
1
Some of these issues are examined by Regina Cornwall in Snow Seen:The Films and Photographs of Michael Snow, ( Toronto: PMA Books, 1979).
2
P. Adams Sitney, "Structural Film", Film Culture Reader, ed. P. Adams Sitney ( New York: Praeger, 1970), 332.

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