B-Film Creative Practice Colloquium

I was lucky enough to be able to attend this brilliant event co-organised by Jemma Saunders, Nina Jones and Ella Wright at The University of Birmingham. Aside from some really interesting (and provocative) discussions about the precarity of being a practice based PGR we were also tasked with an audio-visual exercise during the afternoon session. The prompt was a 60 second clip from Underworld’s music video for Rez (chosen by Dr Richard Langley), and how we responded to it was entirely up to us. Below is my effort followed by a few thoughts on the process (Warning – first video does contain flashing images).

We had a few hours to tackle this but I’ll happily admit to wandering off almost immediately to have a look at the department’s Moviola (my first time seeing one in person).

When I did settle down to ‘work’ I ended up reflecting on the discussions we’d had that morning and I wanted my video to try and comment on those somehow. Questions about rigour, about written statements (this being one!), about the origins and precursors of what we (some of us) call videographic criticism, and also about the limits of what we might consider scholarship. So this is, in the end, a product of that thinking.

I’ve left the music track untouched and replaced the visuals with edits from Michael Snow’s 1971 film La Région centrale. The footage is sped up about 3000% with the colour inverted to better match the original visuals and feed into a 90’s VJ aesthetic. But I also wanted to try and replicate a little of what Snow did with the soundtrack of his film which is entirely composed of the computer tones being fed to the motion control camera he used to shoot the footage. In my video I try to imagine how Underworld’s ‘computer tones’ might have directed Snow’s camera (and what chaos might have ensued!)

On the train home from the colloquium I realised there was another angle on this; taking the Underworld track, slowing it down, and putting it under Snow’s film (see below). The music track is at 1% original speed and I was enjoying it so much I ended up letting it run for 3 minutes. Thanks to all at B-Film for a great day (follow them on Twitter)

First/Final Minutes

A new video essay experiment which owes much to the ‘First and Final Frames‘ project created by Jacob T. Swinney. Check out the original ‘First and Final Frames’ video here. SPOILER ALERT – this video includes the last minute of a small selection of films (list at the bottom of the page).

I have been thinking for some time about how good the Videographic PechaKucha is as a deformative excercise (if you want to know more about the PechaKucha you can read this excellent piece by Jason Mittell, and watch a selection curated by The Video Essay Podcast here). The instructions for making one are reasonably straightforward;

Our videographic variant consisted of 10 video clips of precisely six seconds each, coupled with a continuous minute-long audio segment, all from the same film.

From ‘Scholarship in Sound & Image: A Pedagogical Essay’ by Christian Keathley and Jason Mittell

And yet the permutations arising from this brief description are many. I enjoy immensely that it deals with an uninterrupted minute of audio and have been mulling on how I might adapt or adjust the format in some experimental fashion in keeping with the sound led goals of this lab. First/Final Minutes is something of that response, where I’ve paired a film’s first minute of sound with the last minute of picture, or vice versa (basically whichever combination I found most interesting). I’ve selected the minutes based on when I felt meaningful sound or picture was starting/ending. Generally the selections avoid credits, opening or closing, but it is very much my personal take where the cuts happen.

The exercise reminds me of (and perhaps is also partly inspired by) one of the first pieces of undergraduate film writing I did about Peter Weir’s ‘Dead Poets Society‘. As part of a rambling, and somewhat aimless discussion about the film I mentioned that Ethan Hawke’s character Todd has to be encouraged to stand up at the start of the film, but chooses to stand on the table by the end. It’s funny to me now that this is a perfect videographic moment, and yet at the time I was limited to one VHS player and one TV screen, so I never got to see the moments occur side by side.

First/Final Minutes features the following combinations of sound and picture.

Terminator 2 – First minute sound, last minute picture. Any sync in this is entirely accidental (and a little creepy)

The Worst Person in the World – First minute picture, last minute sound. The songs lyrics seemed to suddenly mean something else as I watched and listened.

Minority Report – First minute sound, last minute picture. Cruise’s expression shifts dramatically for me in this one.

All the President’s Men – First minute picture, last minute sound. The teletype and the helicopter.

Berbarian Sound Studio – First minute sound, last minute picture & first minute picture, last minute sound. There is so much I love in this; the tape reels melding, the tape click which starts and stops the clips, the journey Toby Jone’s character makes through the 2 minutes.

The Double – First minute sound, last minute picture. Again, sync is accidental and ominous.

The films included are those which happened to be on my editing computer at the time. I imagine many more interesting combinations await out there.

Se7en Payne’s Constraint

This experiment was inspired by this post by Alan O’Leary for The Video Essay Podcast where he writes about Matt Payne’s video essay ‘Who Ever Heard….?’

For me, ‘Who Ever Heard…?’ is an example of ‘potential videography’. It offers a form that can be put to many other uses even as its formal character—its use of repetition and its ‘Cubist’ faceting of space and time—will tend to influence the thrust of the analysis performed with it (but when is that not true of a methodology?). 

Alan O’Leary On Matt Payne’s ‘Who Ever Heard…?’ 2020

I wanted to see how this form might respond if I made my clip choices purely on sonic grounds. This was also another opportunity to explore the ‘malleability’ of the multi-channel soundtrack. Most video editing software will allow you to pull apart the 6 channels of a 5.1 mix and edit them separately. To me this is a fundamental sonic deformation, where the editing software allows access to the component parts of the films sonic archive (riffing extensively on Jason Mittell here).

For my ‘Payne’s Constraint’ I decided to top and tail my sequence with the same image of Somerset in bed, accompanied by a different channel selection from the soundtrack each time. The opening shot uses just the surround channels which are carrying rain at this point, but on the way back round I used the front left and right channels from the mix where the sound of the city invades Somerset’s bedroom (and consciousness). The other sound selections are less intentional than this, I picked sounds that were interesting, or odd, but that also contributed to the sonic whole that was coming together. It’s worth pointing out that after I added the 4th or 5th clip Resolve refused to play back any video so, much like with the Surround Grid, this ended up being a piece which was fashioned without really understanding how it would work visually until I could render it out.

A few sonic takeaways from this;

  • There is a lot of thunder in this film, but no lightning
  • There is very little sky (excepting the final desert scene) but there are helicopter and plane sounds throughout
  • Low oscillating sounds are prevalent in the soundtrack. Lorries/trucks and air conditioning contribute to this, but room tones also move within the soundtrack, rather than being static ambiences.
  • There is music in here that I was never consciously aware of before. Here’s ‘Love Plus One’ by Haircut 100, which I found burbling in the background of the cafe scene (clip 14 in my video).

The Double Sound Stack

This work is deeply indebted to the Film Visualizations of Kevin L. Ferguson and the process he describes here (well worth a read).

Two videos this week, but neither of them are the actual ‘output’ from the experiment. The one above is an annotation where I’ve labelled each sound I can hear in this clip from The Double (2013). (I could be much more forensic with the labelling but I’m happy with this for now). This video is interesting on its own, and the annotation deserves some more investigation, but for this experiment, it just feeds the next bit, so on to the process video.

And the result of all this is…..

There is so much more to be done with this, and so many questions to consider. How would a whole film look? Where would I fit all the annotations? Will my computer cope? How else can I view this output? Definitely more on this to come.

PS Thanks to Alan O’Leary for suggesting the name ‘Sound Stack’.