Friday, March 16, 2012

Movie Day: Michael Snow's WVLNT (Wavelength For Those Who Don't Have the Time)

WVLNT (Wavelength For Those Who Don't Have the Time) was released by Michael Snow in 2003. It is the severely truncated version of his seminal formalist film, Wavelength (1967).

Here is a copy of the full film as it aired on Italian TV.

Of the original, Snow said:

The film is a continuous zoom which takes forty-five minutes to go from its widest field to its smallest and final field. It was shot with a fixed camera at one end of an eighty-foot loft, shooting the other end, a row of windows and the street. Thus the setting and the action which takes place are cosmically equivalent. The room (and the zoom) are interrupted by four human events, including a death. The sound, music and speech, occur simultaneously with an electronic sound, a sine-wave which goes from its lowest (fifty cycles per second) note to highest (19,200 c.p.s.) in forty minutes.
In his rather lovely book, Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture, Bruce R. Elder made the following useful statements about the film:

At its very heart, and central to all the issues it raises, is the fact that Wavelength, is a film that works with and is structured by the tensions between anticipations evoked by the predicability of the film's course of development and strengthened by its extended duration and the feelings that seem opposed to those elicited by the forward momentum which that sense of anticipation elicits. Paradoxically, the latter impressions are also elicited by the extended duration of the film, as well as by the extraordinary colour effects which are introduced and which act to rivet attention to the moment. The opposition between forward-looking temporality and an instantaneous one involves the same dialectic as that between drama and photography. It is the conflictual relation between these two features of the film that makes this film structurally a drama.
The differences among past, present and future moments depend upon where within the temporal continuum we are situated (the analogue offered by the film is how far the zoom is extended). This is a concept of time shared by most Canadian Idealist philosophers. Unlike the British Idealists who tended to deny the reality of time and things in time, they argued for a reconciliation of time and the eternal which denied the reality of neither. For John Watson, and most other Canadian Idealists, time and change were modes of a reality that was changeless and timeless and could ultimately be understood only by seeing them from the vantage point of the eternal or an absolute reality. Snow's use of realistic imagery of timebound forms, on one hand, and of simple, diagrammatic forms which subsume such imagery in a realm of the timeless and the eternal, on the other hand, implies a similar reconciliatory view of the relation of the timebound to the timeless; for him, as for Watson, an interest in the eternal does not deny that things in time are real.
Furthermore, a zoom-shot is essentially an adjustment of the frame, not a change in point of view. A zoom is a continual reframing and not a camera movement. By using a zoom rather than a tracking-forward shot, Snow can highlight the significance of the frame. Concern with framing is widespread among Canadian artists and is related to the impulse to limit and control a frightening environment. A desire to go beyond the contained world (suggested by the push towards the other space evoked by the use of the zoom) and the terror of succeeding (implied in the way Snow associates the concepts of the transcendent and the unreal), is an evident source of tension in Wavelength, as well as in <—>. In that respect, his work has strong roots in a longstanding Canadian tradition.

Elder, R. Bruce. Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture.
Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1989.

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