the potential energy of the kinetoscope

in my estimation, film is the most complicated and challenging art form we have. this is what keeps me coming back to it over and over again. on their own, literature, drama, dance, sculpture, photography and music have all added immeasurably to our enjoyment and understanding of just what it means to be a human being. when film came along, though, the game changed. it changed radically. it was now within our grasp to combine all of these elements, and more, in seemingly infinite combinations.

let's start with the most basic element - the picture alone. entirely new texts and subtexts occur when you do something as simple and take a picture and put it into motion. check this out:

this is a photograph of an average hotel room. it is fairly nondescript. if someone showed you this photograph you would most likely only spend a few seconds with it. even if you looked at if for a solid minute (which turns out to be a long time when you are only looking at a photograph of a basic hotel room) what you could glean from it is limited by its static nature. it is a still image. it will only yield so much.

something profound happens, though, when you take this same basic notion and make it move. this is a short clip from chantal akerman's hotel monterey (1972). if you are unfamiliar with her work, chantal akerman's films are simple and lovely documents of the minimal and miniscule. they are elegies to the little things that lie in between.

i find this to be a great example of what i mean by the potential energy of film. just the simple, ever-present possibility of motion holds you fast. the delicate movement of a finger, a door moved by an inch or two, the almost imperceptible sweep of the camera as your surrogate in the scene - all demonstrations of how the still photograph is limited in what it can offer you. the motion picture demands a great deal more of you and even when nothing grand or particularly exciting happens, film still rewards you. long after you would have stopped examining the photograph, akerman forces you to stay and look. look harder. look longer. in this process you go from the same level of understanding you reached with the still photograph to "ok, seen it" to something altogether new. she stays with a take so long that you begin to look for new things in the frame. you find objects and relationships you would have never noticed and all of this takes place because of the mystery that could be discovered or revelation that could possibly occur when a picture comes to life and begins to move.

full disclosure - the music in this clip was added by whoever posted it to youtube. the original film has no soundtrack or score so it is a much more pure example of the phrase "motion picture". so, although the music is a lovely choice, to see it in its proper context you can just kill the sound. better yet, you can pick up eclipse series 19: chantal akerman in the seventies for a much better idea of how adept she is at showing you the things you might have missed. i see something new every time i watch her films.

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