Theory and practical collided this week. A reading regarding the object, an early art-house documentary about a five minute train ride in 1950s New York and UOW students filming reeds all came together to demonstrate a central theme in the New Documentary course; the concept of a personal lens.
Let’s begin with The Wonder Ring, a short 1955 art piece documenting a train ride on a soon to be dispatched New York line. The actual setting and subject of the piece, though of course important in regard tot he artistic merits of the film, are irrelevant to this blog post (I already have a pretty bad relationship with word counts so I had better not push). Most pertinent to the discussion, rather, is the obscure manner in which the filmmaker, Stan Brakhage has documented the trip. In summary, it’s quite strange. Brakhage uses crazy angles, reflections, superimposition and a juxtaposition between the stationary interior of a train carriage and a speeding outside world to create a surreal dream of light. Again, I can’t say I liked it (you’re seeing the pattern?) but I can appreciate the effort that Brakhage has gone to and I can understand why.
Brakhage set out not to merely document the train for the sake of history, but to demonstrate the artists eye. He wanted to capture the immense possibility for the poetic and the surreal that he saw in what most could only see as mundane. Reflection from the glass windows of the carriage reflect onto darkened figures of other passengers, their faces obscured only to hide what we can only assume to be a blank face, a resignment to banality and a blindness to the wonder that we, Brakhages viewers, are being exposed to. The first person shooting with its extreme closeups of windows, showing scratches and grimes on the glass, is not doing so just to record fine details, but to simulate an enraptured face pressed hard against the glass. Brakhage uses the camera to show best not just what he sees, but also to try and convey the excitement and wanderlust he feels when he sees the beauty of the world around him. This, of course, is all obvious when you read the opeing quote of our reading:
Well, at least I hope that’s what’s up, otherwise I’m just talking rubbish and I’ll probably lose some marks here.
Moving on, how does this relate to me clumsily filming reeds? We were all assigned the same task, to film “nature on campus”. This common prerogative produced a myriad of vastly different films within the class group. Why? Because we were left to our own devices and naturally fell to trying to capture the world around us in the best light that we saw it. We all endeavored not just to present our perspective, but to use film to give our perspective to others.
This in turn relates to this weeks reading regarding the subjective and how presenting an object to an audience can be manipulated. Though not exactly the case when it came to the class productions, Brakhage managed to use his subjectivity to turn a mundane object, the New York 3rd avenue train line, into a surreal beauty, The Wonder Ring.
Renov, M 2007, “Away from Copying: The Art of Documentary Practice”, Truth or Dare: Art and Documentary, GBR: Intellect Ltd, Bristol, pp. 13 – 17