Gary Patrick Harvey
Eye of the Story
Feb, 19, 2016
A Meditation on reality as it is captured or simulated.
Where can you find the truth in a moving image?
In Masculin/Feminin, Godard tried from a filmmaker’s lens to capture the experience of French youth. However, according to the lead character Paul’s statement at the conclusion of the work, he recognized that one cannot achieve a wholly objective truth through interrogation but instead through behavioral observation. Perhaps if the camera were hidden and there were no audience or interviewer, to coax a response, this might be possible.
I found myself fixated on a very short moment in a scene featuring a woman known as Miss 19 or “A Consumer Product” in Godard’s intertitles. I will not hide from my fixation on finding truth within the films that I watch, perhaps a reflection on my preference to achieve truth in my own work.
In any case, I suspect the moment I studied was captured by chance. The moment lasts approximately 10 frames, assuming the film has been shot and played back at 24 frames per second.
As this woman, Miss 19, is being grilled on her feelings about contraception during the 6 minute long take she grows tense, reluctant. In a brief moment of honesty, perhaps seeking a safety net or an escape from Godard, she glances directly into the camera. This seemingly insignificant ‘mistake’ is a definitive acknowledgment which cannot be hidden without losing the freshness of the shot. In the whole of this film no such glance is seen in this way before or after. A truth. Yes there is the truth of the tension, the insecurity and reluctance seen in the body language. But by looking ever so briefly into the camera she is breaking the fourth wall. She is acknowledging to the viewer that, in fact, we are seeing people pretending before a camera that is pretending to show us reality, in a simulated real time. We are seeing her honest desire for an escape from this line of questioning and from being on camera to answer it.
Godards long take and this truth that jumps out from it recalls, to this viewer, Andy Warhol’s screen tests of the 1960’s; in particular, that of Ann Buchanan (1964.) The subject, a mutual friend of Warhol and Allen Ginsberg, is the subject of one of these long takes; her mostly still face appearing before a fixed camera. The demand upon the viewer in Warhol’s long takes is to simply watch and wait. With no narrative or even technical movement of the camera, the film, 4 minutes in length, elicits a temporal, and literally indexical experience from the viewer as it seems. The viewer is forced to set down all expectation of the filmic form as has been established through it’s evolution as a storytelling device and just observe; observe and project their own story upon Ann’s face. To the viewer who has the patience of mind, one might be able to experience the world of Ann’s face, the world through Ann’s face; noticing the most subtle of twitches or swallows. For that viewer the grand crescendo is that of the welling of a tear that finally falls from her eyelid down her cheek. And perhaps you will find the same feeling arising in you. To the viewer agitated by the lack of action on the screen, the piece is performed within the viewer’s mind, in the stirring elicited by the anticipation of something to happen; and perhaps consequently missing the action on screen entirely.
Experimental pieces like this strip away the fundamental elements of the filmic form as a storytelling device and regardless of intent, expose the sensory illusion of film; the suspension of reality within a viewer. While you may have judged the Ann Buchanan screen test as reality, what you in fact saw was falsified evidence. Warhol shot his screen tests at a faster film speed then they were shown; shot at 24fps, played back at 16 fps. What you felt was a projection via a suggestion, like Paul’s failed objective experiment in Masculin/Feminin,