It is simple enough to begin with the fact that all films have some sort of setting. Whether avant-garde or not, films take the viewers somewhere. It might be just one place; a classroom, a wall, or a high school gym. It might be of many places; a hundred different areas of a metropolis, the path of a freight train or an array of factory buildings. Where and how the filmmakers choose to take us is just as important as other components of filmmaking – storyline or lack thereof, background/context and subjects. In four different films made in a period extending from the 1960s to early 2000s, Go, Go, Go! (1964) by Marie Menkin, Spacy (1981) by Ito Takashi, Energy Country (2003) by Deborah Stratman, and Castro Street (1966) by Bruce Baillie, filmmakers tamper with different methods of effect to change our perspective on setting and architectural space, as well as elicit the importance of place in avant-garde film.
Go, Go, Go! takes eleven minutes of sped-up travel throughout New York City in the 1960s. Because the video is silent, it allows us for our prime focus to be on the path of travel Menken takes us on. As viewers without background knowledge, we are unaware if there is any significance to the locations Menken journeys to – moments include a graduation ceremony, a body builder show and a debutante ball. From its title, it is clear that Menken is suggesting a whole lot of action at once. There is no single character; if faces appear on screen we see them for moments until Menken moves onto another location. All of the subjects in the video have one thing in common – going about their lives, whether it is participating in work or in free time. Go, Go, Go! shows the actions of constantly moving forward over an unspecified amount of time in a large place. When the film ends to the sun setting, we can assume that Menken perhaps took up recording the twelve hours (give or take) of daytime. The speeding-up effect warps our perception of time in a city that is already so fast-paced.
In Spacy (1981), filmmaker Ito Takashi uses stop motion imagery to complicate our understanding of what The film begins slowly, so we can easily see the space used, but every frame is interjected with a black frame. Once the film speeds up, we are intensely moving through a gymnasium in what seems like an endless loop. Takashi navigates the viewers on the idea of perspective and creates an illusion of space and time. Spacy is an example of video that utilizes a single space to show impact on how setting can be moved or changed. The setting itself is not necessarily an important component, whereas how the setting is used and affected is. Takashi also uses a hypnotic, overwhelming electronic track to strengthen the intensity of this everlasting cycle. The rhythm and speed of the video becomes so consistent that it makes it easy to forget that the film is composed of photographic images rather than a recording. When it ends, the image of Takashi reiterates the message from the very beginning that this is all a carefully constructed illusion from photos.
Energy Country (2003) uses setting as a key part of storyline. By using themes that focus on capitalism, the economy and the oil industry in America post 9/11, Stratman creates a non-linear narrative film in the means of video collage, set in Texas. Although time isn’t visually tampered with in this film, time is an important component of context – a time after a devastating attack that immediately impacted how America functions. America’s reliance on the usage of oil and our relationship with the Middle East, which shifted incredibly after 9/11. The film uses scenes of businesses, factories, sprawling land, construction, and air pollution, and also uses voiceover to confront religion and terrorism in America. Energy Country uses time and space to affect us all – if we are American viewers, these themes impact our lives even if it is not inherent direct. When the end of the film depicts people setting fire to the American flag, we see the bitterness of this land that is essentially a near-dystopia; that is an “Energy Country.”
Bruce Baillie’s film Castro Street (1966) uses time and space in a much more natural, omniscient way. He exhibits a number of manual editing techniques such as montage, overlaying of scenes and using sound to show the activities happening on Castro Street in Richmond, CA. The footage, mostly of freight trains and the construction around it, is almost relaxing – time acts as a montage for place, rather than a determining factor for how the video should be perceived. Some shots are close up or edited so that we aren’t really sure what we’re looking at, but by context we can make small assumptions about the workplace of cargo trains and the transportation business, which also includes some scenes of nature. As told by the text in the beginning of the video, Baillie sought to create a magical universe from footage of normalcy. Architectural space is used here as not a defining element, but how the space can be positively distorted to create anew.
- How can time be used as an architectural space? How can time influence an architectural space or setting?
- In Spacy (1981), how does Takashi create an overwhelming environment when using only one setting? What components of videography contribute to the intensity of the video and why do you think Takashi found use in these methods?