Thursday, 19 April 2012

Images 25 - Perception and Existentialism at 204 Spadina

The Images studio space at 204 Spadina Ave. was packed to the brim last night as the festival's party space became a studious gallery built for projection and illustration.

Armed only with a single lightbulb, pre-recorded audio effects on an iPod, and three coloured filters, Steve Kado's 30 minute Turning Away Part of the Light: The Future of Cinema ruminated on the deception of images on film. A film reel, which runs at 24 static frames per second and is fed through a projector equipped with a rapidly (and imperceptibly) cutting shutter and gate, creates the illusion of movement through a continual process of remembering and forgetting. Half of every film we've ever seen in a theatre, Kado tells us, is darkness. For every 1/24th of a second that our eyes perceive an image, there is another 1/24th of a second that our eyes perceive darkness. Our minds, which are able to remember decades' worth of memories, become victim to a process of cheapening remembering and forgetting. Why, Kado asks us, do we watch films in this way? Why do we let our minds forget when they can be used as sharp tools of remembering?

Kado uses his simple setup, in which the artist gives his lecture while switching between coloured filters held in front of the light at differing intervals, to question traditional notions of the narrative cinema. He draws from Plato, from Heidegger, and from Rodney Dangerfield (yes, you read that correctly) to create an optic in which the cinema will no longer be a cheapening, ever-illusive "representation" of reality. Kado's charming demeanor and deadpan approach inject humour into a thoughtful performance, drawing his audience in and making interesting some difficult cinematic theories.

Though he does not make direct reference to them, Kado's performance reifies some of the more complicated ideas put forth by experimental filmmakers like Peter Kubelka, Paul Sharits, and the (in)famous French Situationist Guy Debord. Kubelka proposed that a film should be connected through the use of "strong articulations." A strong articulation refers to the constant perceptual change between every frame in a film reel, opposing the sort of mind-rot that occurs when seeing a "shot" in a narrative film. A weak articulation occurs between frames in which very little is different in each frame, such as when we see a person walk from the left to the right side of the screen. Every frame (1/24th of a second) shows just a little bit more movement until the character finally makes his/her way to the other side of the screen. In films like Kubelka's Schwechater or Sharits' Ray Gun Virus, however, there is a constant perceptual change 24 times per second. Different elements are held for more frames (a weak articulation) to introduce and accentuate an attention to the smaller, more rapidly firing differentiations (a strong articulation). The mind is forced to remember, to perceive, to not forget, and works as a kind of companion to Kado's well-articulated conclusions.

It is fitting, then, that Images chose to screen Jodie Mack's The Future is Bright directly after Kado's talk. Mack's film follows in the tradition of material/structural flicker artists in that it is composed of strong articulations, rapidly firing colourful patterns to a static soundtrack, but follows more along the lines of a work by Peter Tscherkassky in its discovery of perceptual patterns. Though no narrative is discernible, the picture works to reify most of Kado's central ideas and is also very pleasing to watch. A cinema of pain it is not, and was a rather comforting conclusion to a very in-depth discussion.

The main attraction of the night, a talk/performance about The Third Man by Erik Bünger, was captivating. Focusing on the staying power and manipulative possibilities of song, Bünger uses the character Harry Lime's infectious theme from Carol Reed's seminal noir piece to launch into a staggeringly researched and humourous investigation into the demonic, theological, and philosophical possibilities of a catchy tune. Using clips from sources as varied as The Sound of Music and Night of the Living Dead to music videos by Kylie Minogue and 14th century illustrations of the Pied Piper, Bünger uses his own power over his audience to frame this discussion in its own existential paradigm.

For all its exaggeratedness and farcical possibilities, what lies at the heart of this outlandish discussion is an introspective look at one's past to understand their present. How can a song get stuck in our head? How do our precognitive experiences shape us as we grow older? If a song our mother sings to us in the womb shapes us in our future as adults, what power do we really have over our destinies or our future? Finally, why is sound so important to us, and why does it capture us so wholly? These are big questions, and though not all are answered in any conclusive manner, the journey through is more than worth the price of admission.

Photo credits go to Malmö University, Steve Kado, and the Images Festival. Special thanks to Jodie Mack for uploading her short piece to Vimeo for all of us to see. 

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