Pièce Touché (1989/Martin Arnold/Austria) 15' ++++
Everybody likes to play around with the backward/forward slo-mo wheel on a video editing table, but Martin Arnold, genius of the Austrian experimental scene, takes it to sublimation on a custom optical printer of his own making. He works with foundfootage in B&W, here it's a clip of 18 seconds from Joseph Newman's The Human Jungle (1954), decomposed in a back and forth stop motion increments, stretched out to 15 minutes. Unlike his later masterpiece Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998), this first experiment doesn't distort the original voices of the onscreen characters, the soundtrack emits a locomotive beat resulting from the sequential interspreced frames. Thus the manipulation is purely visual in this piece, dealing with the fluidity of motions, either existing in the original continuity or created by means of mirroring, loops, reverse and any combination of all three.
The base material is a classic plan of an american middle class family: a woman sits in an armchair back to the door and reads a magazine as her husband comes home, kisses her and walks across the room in one pan. With his scientific system of frame duplication, "one step back / two steps forward", Arnold slightly animates a freeze frame with impersceptible movement. The woman starts to tremble in an epileptic convulsion as the door freneticaly opens and closes by itself. The slow motion decomposes every little expressions on her face, and the delayed loops trap the husband between doors unable to stop from banging the door like an obsessive-compulsive disorder. By a clever manipulation of adjacent frames that are the secret of the motion picture illusion, Arnold preserves the continuity of the moves originally filmed, therefore insuring the credibility and coherence of the seamless alterations. The two characters immortalized on film in a given scene become the helpless puppets of a machiavellian demiurge controlling the normal flow of time. Like for the door episode, the kiss is the center of attention and the mouths repeat an approach that seems bound to be repulsed until it explodes into a strobing flurry of electric shocks. Taking advantage of a certain symetry in the plan composition, a mirrored footage, horizontally then vertically, is also interlaced in the cataractous loops, which cleverly allows to double an apparent motion, started on one side, and pursued by a mirrored copy in reverse. This manipulation of pure motion reaches abstraction according to the duration of the loop. On a brief loop with a double mirror on a one-character medium shot, the kaleidoscope deceptively makes coexist alternate realities in one place, at a 24 frames per second rate, in the form of a 4-faced, 8-armed monster.
What is just a fun game of editor explores the microcosme of repressed possibilities contained in a banal plan and its 400 frames, ridiculing cinema conventions through a critique of the classic narrative form. The editing manipulation opens a whole potential of subverted meanings from the same footage, altering the impressions we get from images we are subjected to. It's like an extrapolation of the Soviet Montage theory adaptated to micro motion continuity, where the juxtaposition of frames with a common internal dynamic issue a different action according to the order of association: linear or alternative, successive or discontinued, backward or forward, confrontation of reflective directions. This little style exercice proves how easy it is to generate a language from any given footage, creating new shots, new camerawork, new stories without filming new material. Somehow negating the role of performances overwhelmed by a dominating montage.
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