26.2.13

The Cinema of Ontology


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from Wide Angle Vol. 15 No. 1


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19.2.13

Cinema Now No. 1


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Cinema Now No. 1 (1968)

[Pt. One]


[Pt. Two]


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4.2.13

Michael Snow


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GENERAL INTRODUCTION: 

     "Very few filmmakers have had as powerful an impact on North American independent cinema as Michael Snow. Indeed, five of this volume's interviewees (Ono, McCall, Noren, Benning, and Mulvey) talk specifically about him, as do several of the interviewees in Volume 1. The impact of Snow's work-and of the breakthrough 'Wavelength' (1967), in particular-is a function of the fact that Snow came to filmmaking, not with extensive experience as a moviegoer-conventional cinema never seems to have been of particular interest to him-but as an accomplished musician , painter, sculptor, and photographer, for whom the movie camera and projection space were new artistic tools to explore. While it was not his first extended film-that was 'New York Eye and Ear Control' (1964) - 'Wavelength' established him as a major contributor to the development of critical cinema.  
     In 'Wavelength', Snow demonstrated a new approach to cinematic
space and time, and, at least by implication, declared his independence from the reliance on narrative in both conventional and independent cinema, as well as from the exploration of the personal that was characteristic of so many of the films of the sixties. 'Wavelength' defined a new kind of 'plot,' one closer to the geometric sense of the term than to its conventional meaning in film. Snow divided the focal length of his zoom lens into approximately equal increments and zoomed, at intervals, from the most wide-angle view of a New York City loft space to a close-up of a photograph on the far wall. The relentlessness of the viewer's journey across the loft is wittily confirmed by periodic nods in the direction of conventional narrative: near the beginning of the film , a woman (Amy Taubin) directs two men who move a bookcase into the space ; they leave and the woman reenters with another woman; later, a man (Hollis Frampton) staggers into the loft and falls dead in front of the camera; he is discovered by Amy near the end of the film . This series of events allows 'Wavelength' to critique the cinema's traditional reliance on story. While a mysterious death in a film would normally be a lynchpin for melodrama , in 'Wavelength' the death is enacted precisely so that it can be
ignored during the remainder of the film. Not only does the camera fail to stop for the death , the film overwhelms whatever interest we might have in the fledgling narrative by providing the eye and ear with continued stimulation of a very different order: as we cross the space by means of the periodically adjusted zoom lens, Snow continually changes film stocks , filters , and the camera's aperture , so that the loft becomes a visual phantasmagoria. And after the opening passage during which we hear 'Strawberry Fields Forever' ('Living is easy with eyes closed') on Amy's radio , the sound of a sine wave increasingly dominates the soundtrack, ironically building toward the "climax" of our recognition that this film relentlessly refuses to conform to the 'rules' engendered by the tradition of narrative cinema.  

     In the years since 'Wavelength', Snow has continued to make films that defy conventional expectations (and he has continued to work in a variety of other media) . In film after film , he has explored the capabilities of the camera and the screening space and has emphasized dimensions of the viewer's perceptual and conceptual experience with cinema by systematically articulating the gap between the experience of reality and the various ways in which a film artist can depict it.
     In 'Back and Forth [<-->]' (1969) the pan is the central organizational principle. The continual motion of the camera from right to left to right across the same classroom space (during the body of the film) becomes a grid within which Snow demonstrates the wide range of options panning offers. 'One Second in Montreal' (1969) uses a set of still photographs of potential sculpture sites in Montreal as a silent grid within which Snow can focus on the viewer's sense of duration: we see each photograph in a single, continuous shot for a different period of time-at first for longer and longer, then shorter and shorter durations . 'Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film' (1970) uses the repeated presentation of slides of early Snow paintings, filmed from the side of the auditorium in which they're projected, as a grid within which he can dramatize the 'interference' created when artworks in one medium are reproduced in another medium.  'La Region Centrale' (1971) extends Snow's interest in the moving camera.  A complex machine designed by Snow enabled him to move the camera in any direction and at nearly any speed he could imagine as he filmed the wild , empty terrain north of Montreal : the resulting film immerses the audience for three hours ten minutes in an experience halfway between a landscape film and an amusement park ride . The epic 'Rameau's Nephew' by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (1974) uses a set of individual filmic actions to explore as many variations on the concept of synch sound as Snow could imagine. 'Presents' (1980) compares different ways of composing film imagery with a moving camera. In 'So Is This' (1982) Snow uses a grid of one printed word per shot to develop a fascinating exploration of the distinctions between reading a text and experiencing a movie.  'Seated Figures' (1988) is a landscape film made up of repeated tracking shots of landscapes filmed from a camera looking vertically down from a position a few inches from the ground. And in 'See You Later/Au Revoir' (1990) extreme slow motion transforms Snow's standing up and walking out of an office into a gorgeous motion study. Together, Snow's films provide one of avant-garde film 's most elaborate critiques of cinematic convention.  They are an inventive and productive artist's revenge on film habit.
     While Snow remains known primarily as a filmmaker in the United States, he has continued to demonstrate that he is, above all , an artist for whom the cinematic apparatus is one of many sets of tools with which art can be made. Even during his most prolific years as a filmmaker (1964- 1974) , Snow maintained his interest and productivity in other media , and in intersections between media. The confrontation of audience expectations and assumptions so important in Wavelength and other films remains central in 'The Audience' (1989), a set of sculptures commissioned by Toronto's new Skydome stadium: the individual characters in the two groupings of representational figures (baseball fans) confront the patrons entering the arena in a variety of provocative ways."


(Scott MacDonald in A Critical Cinema 2)

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FILMOGRAPHY:

A to Z (1956)
New York Eye and Ear Control (1964)
Short Shave (1965)
Standard Time (1967)
Wavelength (1967)
Back and Forth (1969)
One Second in Montreal (1969)
Side Seat Paintings Slides Sound Film (1970)
La Région centrale (1971)
Rameau's Nephew by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (1974)
Breakfast (Table Top Dolly) (1976)
Presents (1981)
So Is This (1982)
Seated Figures (1988)
See You Later - Au Revoir (1990)
To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (1991)
The Living Room (2000)
Prelude (2000)
Corpus Callosum (2002)
WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don’t Have the Time) (2003)
Triage (2004)
SSHTOORRTY (2005)
Reverberlin (2006)
Puccini Conservato (2008)

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WRITINGS ON SNOW:


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[NOTE: CLICK IMAGES TO READ DOCUMENTS]

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Toward Snow by Annette Michelson


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first chapter from Snow Seen... by Regina Cornwell


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from Film Is by Stephen Dwoskin


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RAMEAU'S NEPHEW... by Joanna Kiernan


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Teaching Wavelength by Michael Zyrd


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Beyond Mere Illustration... by Thomas E. Wartenberg


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 from Screen Vol. 22


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from Millennium Film Journal Nos. 4/5


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 from Millennium Film Journal No. 43/44


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 Michael Snow's "Wavelength" by Bruce Elder


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 from Avant-Garde Film: Motion Studies by Scott MacDonald


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from Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies

 
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 from October No. 113-114


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from October Vol. 8

 
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from Art in America 82


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 from Artforum Vol. 12 No. 3


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 from Abstract Film and Beyond by Malcolm Le Grice


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SNOW ON FILM/VIDEO:


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WRITINGS BY SNOW:

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INTERVIEWS WITH SNOW:

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 from A Critical Cinema 2 by Scott MacDonald


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 from October No. 113-114


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 from Journal of Film and Video Vol. 57 Nos. 1-2

 
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from Canadian Film Reader


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From Film Culture No. 46


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from Film Culture No. 49


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"I always think of the medium's possibilities.  That's why it's interesting to work in many mediums.  For example, holography can do things that no other medium can.  What things?  My films, video installations, and photographic works (which include carousel slide works) are related, but they are all kind of 'purist' in that they try to get something specific out of the medium." (Michael Snow)

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