Other ways to watch a film

What is it you are looking for in a film experience? Story? Characters? Comedy? Drama? How often are you fulfilled by any of these? Are these the only aspects a film can provide? Is a film not a film without them?

In my last post I mentioned briefly about ways to listen to music more satisfying and fulfilling than the conventional linear-progression format we are so used to. The same can apply to film, an epiphany I reached after watching the DVD MIC.MADEIRA by Simon Whetham and Hugo Olim (sample above). I bought the DVD at the Merzbow concert, as Simon Whetham was one of the opening acts whom I thoroughly enjoyed. MIC.MADEIRA is a project where Simon Whetham stood in various desolate areas around Madeira with microphones, recording sounds of nature plus various insides of metal poles and rails. From these he put together a 40 minute collage, and collaborated with Hugo Olim to make a film from it. I'm not sure what the film is exactly, my best guess is that it's multiple exposures of microscopic water droplets, varying in and out of focus. There is constant movement, constant focus-pulling, and eventually a split-screen where both sides are moving opposite directions (EDIT: Hugo describes how it was made in the comments below). There are points where it seems to be VHS-like static interference, which is either in sync with the sound, or is creating a sound, I can't tell, but it blends seamlessly into the film experience on the whole. But to analyse what it is and what it means would be missing the point entirely. The film is a kind of form, that doesn't rely on narrative, explanations or structure. There are no faces, characters or expressions to follow. The form this film takes is the purest form that film can be: the minimalist expression of form itself. I'm going to embed other films by Hugo Olim as examples of my discourse, but even narrative films can be appreciated in the same way.

To go back to my opening question, perhaps everyone will have their own answer, and that's fine, so here I will provide an answer of my own. What I look for in a film experience is to have sensations invoked. Film is perhaps the most powerful medium for doing so. It doesn't take as much effort on the viewer's part (not like reading a book or a poem). A photograph can invoke, but it's limited to a visual sensation. Music and sound can invoke, but it's limited to an aural sensation. The combination of image and sound opens up a world of possibilities, with a limitless catalogue of feelings to invoke. There is nothing more thrilling than reacting to a mixture of different emotions, especially contradicting emotions and dichotomies!

It is a mistake to think invocation can be brought forth through narrative only. A story is the least important aspect of a film, if it has one at all. This is a problem with especially American audiences and youthful critics. In response, film makers are creating sterile, space-less, disposable flicks with too much emphasis on plot, leaving no room for atmosphere or feeling. The photography can be beautiful, but leaves much to be desired when it's not given room to breathe. At the bottom of the barrel are modern action-genre movies, that don't so much as give plot but plot "markers"--the pregnant wife, the villain kicking a dog, etc--as a means to carry us over from one action set-piece to another, designed to be consumed and forgotten, like a factory-made can of soup.

It is a particular nature in our culture, especially Western culture, to be oriented towards a goal. All our lives we are in need of getting somewhere, it makes me wonder if we will ever know when we get there at all. It's understandable that we may not be satisfied with where we are, but with the attitude of always wanting to go somewhere, can we ever stop to appreciate being where we are? Isn't the journey just as important as destination itself? I think it is, in fact, I know it is. And this is why I choose not to aim for goals, but for roles. I choose the journey, not the destination, and I give myself all the time I need to stop and look at the scenery along the way.

I would like to repeat a paragraph from my last post, only retool it to apply to film: Strip away all the superfluous ingredients, and what do you have? It's just light and sound, playing in a pattern, playing together, to create an atmosphere. Things like "narrative" and "structure" are just theoretical, they exist as an explanation to what makes an audience respond to film, but they come after, not before film. Film doesn't have to be a linear progression, it can be crystalline, it can be realised as you are watching it, without concern for a beginning or an end. It doesn't have to be watched with just your eyes and ears, it can (and should) be felt, emotionally and even physically. You don't have to watch for the events to happen, there exists a space between events, which is just as important. And there is also framing, the effect of silence and darkness, as the images and sound continue ringing in your memory, sometimes for days.

I'd like to end with one of my favourite YouTube videos by animator Don Hertzfeldt. It's called "Watching Grass Grow" and it's a timelapse of about two years of banal, seemingly endless work on an animation, but every now and then the fruits of his labour show when it all comes together in the camera tests. I haven't seen the final animation, but I enjoy witnessing the journey to it all the same, without needing a final destination.


  1. hi,
    my google alert linked me to this page....

    i'm pleased that you enjoyed the dvd! regarding your question about how the film was made - what you saw was a live feed taken from a microscope, which was connected to my computer to allow the use of some digital effects. the materials under the microscope were gathered in madeira during our field recording trips.

    thanks for your feedback, i appreciate it.
    bests from madeira island,

    1. Thanks Hugo! Keep up the good work.

  2. You might enjoy theme #8 of the www.unmute.eu online project - Alexander Wendt & Jasper Leyland : Lit (2012)

    1. Thanks! I'm enjoying it thoroughly.