Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Photographic Memory: Diary of a Viewer

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Photographic Memory: Diary of a Viewer

Article excerpt

Imagine a theorist1, following the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, postulating a lost civilization whose sole purpose was photography. Under its regency every photograph that ever needed to be taken was taken. The camera was as ubiquitous as Cocteau's pen had been in writing our culture. After every possible photograph had been taken the civilization disappeared. This civilization was later hypothesized by a doctoral candidate in Rochester, New York.

Next, photography became a resource to be mined. Any number of happy family photographs could be found to represent such. The tourist destinations had been covered from all angles, wars documented, and the future appropriated by science fiction. Nothing was sacred.

The entire history of world cinema now similarly seems to have covered all the bases, there may no longer be any need to pick up a camera, create a scenario or even employ actors. Still, the sheer abundance and craft of industrial productions has created a resource of raw materials to be mined for the exercise of artistic process.

American film artist Gregg Biermann appropriates sections from classic Hollywood movies, digitally restaging them to create dark interior psychologies and histories of cinematic space, extracting new meaning from within meaning.

"My work comes out of the avant-garde tradition of film as a visual art... Avant-garde cinema is an important and relatively young artistic project [(in which]) the development of new tools has often determined artistic innovations. Consequently, I've looked to new technologies to discover vast unspoiled frontiers."2

In Labyrinthine (14 min., 2010) Biermann transforms Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) into such a frontier, using digital imaging technology to restage the film as an architectural work, something constructed within a spatially enclosed whole. Biermann's cinema is algorithmic, in that his films follow a set of commands to their conclusion.3 Here, narrative progression is replaced by a formal reconstruction of the picture and sound elements. The episodic coagulates into simultaneous instants of time, almost as a moving still-life picture. The source material is reduced to its essence as an experiential rendering of the dysfunction at the core of the original, transforming the source from neurosis to an infinite sublime, a sublime reached through mechanical computation.

"In Labyrinthine, forty-one shots are excised from their original sequence in Vertigo. They are reorganized so that there are five repetitions of each shot moving from the first shot forward and then two repetitions coming from the end of the sequence backwards ... I set something in motion and the work very much propels itself. I love the feeling that some sort of overarching design or organizing intelligence that we don't quite grasp is responsible for the progression."4

Here, the tidal relendessness of endlessly advancing frames of appropriated images, jump cuts and fluid transformations lend the aural and visual qualities of a seascape to an urban landscape where space and time are distorted from linearity toward parallel infinities. Such a place, as a prison officer in Chicago once told me, is easier to get into than out of.

The matter from which Labyrinthine arises is a photoplay that conforms to nineteenth century narrative conventions, which are not in themselves inherently cinematic. Industrially produced commercial narrative films merely appropriate cinematic processes for the purpose of mass entertainment. They are melodramas that do not entertain speculation of dieir immediate cinematic space. Biermann admits such speculation by re-setting Vertigo in non-linear time. As Jimmy Stewart's character grasps for something already lost, we are drawn into a time shift, a momentary blip drawn out over 14 minutes, in which time may stop and replay itself, advancing and repeating in discontinuous steps. We enter an arena of cinema as a philosophically speculative medium. …

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