Academic journal article CineAction

The Irrepressible Rush of Marie Menken's Go! Go! Go!

Academic journal article CineAction

The Irrepressible Rush of Marie Menken's Go! Go! Go!

Article excerpt

In transit across the Brooklyn Bridge, cables and railings whirr and weave, interrupted by lampposts beating across the frame. Now in Manhattan, window grids pulse and ripple. Reflected sunlight off the metal of cars and trucks, strikes the screen. Wooden crates, iron railings, construction barriers flutter by. Blocks of stuttering bricks and windows are punctuated by foreground figures--pedestrians, cars, broad sides of trucks--popping in and out of frame. Sometimes the frame of the car window from which Marie Menken is capturing these single-frame samples hovers in view. A flurry of images mark out the density and clutter of vendor's wares. A collage of urban signage stamps its imperatives of grabbing and directing attention; these signs fly at the screen too quickly to be read, leaving viewers instead with their collective impact of attraction. Immersing its viewers in a collage of urban texture, colour, and pattern, this opening sequence foregrounds intensity and rhythm over portraying clear, representational images. Back through the criss-crossing patterns of the bridge, suddenly the camera rests at the edge of the Hudson River. What is the rhythmic presence of modern urban life? What compels us to go-go-go?

New York visual artist and avant-garde filmmaker Marie Menken (1909-1970) made over twenty short films between the years 1945 and 1968. Though she is often praised for her liberating influence on major artists such as Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, and Andy Warhol, writing on her own work amounts to a small collection of essays, chapters, and lectures. Perhaps Scott MacDonald said it best when he stated that "Probably no woman who has had as significant an impact on American cinema as Marie Menken has remained as little celebrated." (1) Menken's body of work offers a unique cinematic vision that is marked by innovative camerawork, colouristic complexity a poetic sensibility, and innovative rhythmic compositions. Another aspect of her work, and the one I would like to focus on in this meditation on her film Go! Go! Go! (16mm, 11min, 1962-1963) (2) is the way she makes productive use of the limits of the film form. Though a great deal more can be written about this film, this paper reflects on an irrepressible rush made present in filmic and urban intermittent motions, as well as the phenomenon of engrossment in Go! Go! Go!.

Irrepressible Rush

Through time-lapse and pixelation camera techniques, time is condensed in Go! Go! Go!'s depiction of the rhythms of New York city life. Cinematically flows of movement that normally remain imperceptible from within the density of urban experience are rendered visible. Let me demonstrate this aspect of the film by describing the phenomenological presence of some of its sequences. Looking down from a towering height at an intersection outside the Radio City building, the massive time-scale of the city takes over the viewer's perspective. Clusters of tiny people and cars accumulate and release in the intermittent pulse of intersecting traffic flows. Pedestrians and vehicles appear in miniature like collections of similar items spilling out from a factory production line. From this perspective I feel I could reach down and scoop up a handful of these little figures like the way I might scoop up a handful of figurines or tiny toys in a dollar store bin. Time appears to move at the monumental scale of the city, and the general, anonymous, intermittent motion of traffic flows becomes clearly perceptible. The rhythm and pulse of this activity takes precedence over individuality as the scurrying collections of people and cars build up and burst forth. The imperative to rush, to push forward, to go, becomes palpable as an imperative built into this space and these rituals of movement. Cinematically, the frenetic pulses and streams of activity that the city produces that are drawn out from the density and thickness of urban life. The seriousness and the end-goals of these activities are suspended from this vantage and instead we are able to view the movement itself and reflect on the compulsion to rush. …

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