Tag Archives: nonfiction

the rapture is finally here!

I’ve been working on my final film (rapture) for Nonfiction over the past few weeks, and here it is, in all its “final” cut of glory (this is to say, I will be continuing to tweak and perhaps totally re-do over the coming week, and a more final version will make its way to Vimeo as well).  With that in mind, please watch, read my discussion of the work below, and please please please give me feedback!!!  Why bother being alive in the 21st century if we don’t take advantage of our ability to crowdsource-workshop our work?

rapture. a film by anna swanson.

A modified version of my project proposal, for the provision of context:

In keeping with the fairly personal, autobiographical work I have already done for the course, my final project will be a piece that delves into my personal archives. While I was abroad in the spring, I shot a decent amount of video on my Nikon D5000, which I had on my person at pretty much all times between March 15th and June 3rd. Because all of my archival footage was shot on a Nikon D5000, it isn’t the highest quality that it could be, but it has a great value in its digital-indexical referencing of lived (and remember) experience for me. This specific aesthetic is in the tradition of the autobiographical avant-garde’s “simplification of the recording apparatus”(13), which I think allows for a greater premising of the indexicality of the footage as holding as its referent the lived experience of the filmmaker. Many of the filmmakers Lane references “shot by themselves in available light and recorded sound at some time other than the moment of shooting”(13) – the former which I did, over the course of the spring, and the latter which I intend to do this fall as I edit the picture. I want to work in this “artisanal form of autobiographical expression”(13).

The piece, rapture, is about a great number of things. On one level, it is about a specific incident of personal injury that I incurred while walking along the former Berlin Wall, but it also seeks to more broadly address the sort of transformative experience of being in Europe this pass spring, and to that end, to address the very manner in which I remember/glorify/conceptualize that part of my (recent) past. It is psychology as well as abstract expressionism. It is about the subjective and constructed nature of history and memory, the way that always having a camera changes the world, the very real psychological strangeness of going from normal existence to suddenly being in shock with blooms of fatty tissue exploding from one’s palms. It is both a visceral experience and my own mediation and historicizing of that experience.

For those of us who regularly document our lives on film or video, the footage that we take is in some ways a visual manifestations of the thoughts we think when we are alone among the crowd of the world, and these thoughts compound to make up the history of our selves, our memories. So, because of my interest in film as an analog for and an exploration of memory, I employed the formal constraint of only using footage that was shot while abroad, restricting myself to a bank of personal archival footage that I am equating, conceptually, with malleable pieces of memory. The re-composition of these is itself an experiment in the construction of the past, through the literal process of editing this past into something of varying degrees representational and abstract.

The voice over is likewise restricted (as a further analog for drawing on memory) to selections from automatic writings I have done while in Europe and over the summer, rather like prose-poems; a means of furthering the psychological mimicry and individually subjective form of the constructed memory, drawing on my supposedly-subconscious mind’s outpourings, the products of experiments in extreme sleep deprivation.

The selections from the writings are each voiced by different people in my life, each narrator corresponding to a specific piece of writing, which I then intermixed in a way that again approximates the reconstruction of memory, but also invokes the way in which we as people are constructed by those that we love, and are moreover never the same person at any given point in time.

In terms of the editing style, I attempted to mirror the free-association of these patterns of thought, with occasional clear connections, and occasional moments of seemingly totally random mental jumps – varying degrees of jarring and fluid.

Three areas of inquiry that were central to the process:

What is the nature of memory? How do we construct it? How is it shaped by the records we take (personal photographs and videos, for example)?

How self-specific and revealing can I be without totaling confusing or alienating an audience, or on the other extreme, making them uncomfortable?

How can I add voice-over without over-determining the images or robbing them of their power to speak, and without speaking to them either too literally or too abstractly?

participant observation

Another video piece by me!  This one was made for an observational assignment for my nonfiction class; we were charged with the task of ‘observing a place or process’, and my observation was of both the rehearsal process and unique rehearsal space of my a cappella group, the Carleton Knightingales.  I am including my artist statement as an explanation of the theory behind the practice, but I would watch the video first, and then read on.  (Although if you choose to read my statement first, no one will know…it’s really up to the extent to which you will allow me as an artist to control your experience of meaning…)

a watch of gales in a chapel

artist statement

Although we were given the directive to capture a place or a process, I feel that my observations in a watch of gales ended up falling somewhere in the liminal space between the two – at once an observation of the process of a Knightingales a cappella rehearsal, and an observation of the rehearsal space itself in Dacie Moses house.

Unlike my previous video, I started out with much more of a theoretical concept for this piece, rather than simply beginning to experiment with the camera and discover in those very experimental forays the actual content of the piece.  I knew I wanted to document in a fairly subjective way, because the subject of my observation is too close to my self to even consider being objective about, and I wanted to communicate my sense of my cappella group.  I had also just read a lot of Balasz (preceded by Eisenstein), as well as history of the early abstract films by Fischinger, Eggeling, and company at the time when I was outlining my concepts, so I thinking quite a lot about abstraction, the close-up, the physiognomy, the idea of using music as an organizing principle for the moving image, and ‘harmonics’ of ‘lines’ in editing.  While I don’t think that the piece is a completely direct reflection of this theory and history, I have (like many artists, I think) taken the elements of it that appeal to me in a poetic and philosophical way and tried to let them take a practical form.

Wanting to abstract the rehearsal as a means of capturing my subjective experience of it, I began with the definition of abstraction from one of my readings, “the separation of qualities, aspects, or generalizations from particular instances” and decided to literally separate the audio from the video by deliberate making it non-sync, and even recording it on different days.  I then further separated the audio into five different “lines” based on conversational content, an idea that draws very loosely from Eisenstein’s later theories of harmonic, musical editing.  These five lines I have titled the “self-reflexive,” “business discussion,” “actual rehearsing/learning,” “gossip,” and “general chatter/laughter” tracks, which I layer over one another in an attempt to mimic the form of a cappella, but in the form of spoken harmonies.  The goal was an interweaving of chaos and occasional moments of clear statements.

The visual abstraction relies on the Balasz-derived ‘poetic potential of the close-up’ and synecdochic qualities of focusing on hands, feet, only parts of faces, cellphones, watches, and bracelets.  I filmed hand-held, attempting to make everything from my point-of-view, and preserved this subjectivity by simply editing the image based on what appealed to me aesthetically, creating a sort of loving subject gaze that hopefully captures my strong feel for the harmonic (and dissonant) social community of my group and my close attention (in literal, abstracting close ups) to the unique features of the members.

The fact that most of the audio is not what one might expect to hear in a piece on an a cappella rehearsal is very key to how I wish to represent the group – as one where the social harmonies are as important as the vocal ones, but where ironically we often end up spending more time talking than singing, although the video does finally emerge from the chatter and poetic close-ups into actual singing and two intercut self-reflexive, visually ‘quiet’ shots that want to point at the deep personal significance and actual beauty (and productivity in rehearsal!) that exists in this rather whirlwind environment.  My goal was to insert myself into the piece, to give way to the desire to actually hear singing, to create a sense of the collective echoing into the individual.

To speak, then, a little, to the title, which has some sort of arcane significance that I find kind of clever and worth noting, as it may be another aspect (like the conceptual constraints on the audio) that escapes the ‘uninitiated’ viewer.  The title, a watch of gales in a chapel, has several puns and allusions at work – my group is called The Knightingales, so we call ourselves the ‘gales’ for short; the birds nightingales come in groups called a ‘watch’ (like the equivalent of a ‘murder’ of ravens) but the piece itself was, as an observation, very much about watching; the etymological root of ‘a cappella’ comes from ‘in a chapel’, but the space where we rehearse and the ritual and music that is associated with it takes on a sacred meaning for me personally, and also functions rather like a communal confessional, a religious practice and place of sorts, in the totally secular living room of a cookie house where eleven girls meet and gossip and sing three nights a week.

quote for the night

For reality holds within itself no hidden kernel of self-understanding, of theory, of truth, like a stone inside a fruit.  We have to manufacture those.
— Comolli & Narboni, “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”

I’m up late, reveling in my Film Theory reading for tomorrow’s class: ideology day.  Having recovered from the cogency of Peter Wollen’s argument in favor of Godard’s counter-cinema, those Seven Cardinal Virtues dismantling Hollywood-Mosfilm’s Seven Deadly, I was drawn back to the suddenness of this quote from my first reading by the Cahiers du Cinema re-manifesto of sorts that Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni penned in 1959.

Given my current courses, I am constantly thinking about the nature of nonfiction, and here the two theorists speak directly to my own conceptions of the ‘genre’ (if we can call it such, which I am still on the fence about — this would necessitate turning to Richard Altman’s semantic/syntactic approach to film genre, which is beyond the scope of my midnight musings).  I have been making and watching a lot of cinema verite and direct cinema and documentary, all of which are essentially stabs at truthiness — but these theories of ideology seem spot on.  I know that I am manufacturing ‘truth,’ and consuming manufactured ‘truth’ in these nonfiction forms.  To find this empirical realization uttered so powerfully in the midst of my reading on the ideology of predominately narrative film — a moment to be added to Sandor Krasna’s list of things that “quicken the heart.”

love thy enemy

My first project for Nonfiction is complete!  The assignment was a 60-second self-portrait with non-sync video and audio.

defending my rights

I have just re-read the opening on Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision.  Lately, I’ve been trying to re-evaluate how I approach Brakhage, or rather how to defend my enjoyment of his work.  When we screened The Stars are Beautiful in my Non Fiction class, it elicited quite dispassionate responses from some classmates (a reflection of a larger dispassion or antagonism towards the avant-garde in general by the non-CAMS major population as well, I would suggest).

The argument was raised that what Brakhage does in his films, technically or aesthetically, is being done “better” by other more mainstream filmmakers in more traditional narrative formats, to which our professor responded that the cynical interpretation of that point of view is that the avant-garde is constantly pushing the edge of what is acceptable in form and content, constantly innovating, and then the mainstream simply comes along and picks and chooses and appropriates what it likes aesthetically, without necessarily maintaining the conceptual or ideological meaning behind the techniques and styles that it acquires from pioneers such as Brakhage.

Which is exactly what I had been about to rebut with, so I was forced to pause and wonder: Am I a cynic in this regard? And if so, what’s up with that?  When did I become cynical about film, and where does that cynicism come from?  Is it legitimate?  I love the avant-garde and experimental traditions of the mid 20th century — is this love real or imagined?  Why do I love it?  Not because I find it more captivating (in the easy, narrative-drags-you-along-without-your-even-noticing sense), necessarily, but perhaps… These films do not exist in a vacuum, and the context of the artists, and their lifestyles, and their ideologies, and my own artistic aspirations, and certainly their writings create a world of captivation that is larger than but functions in concert with their films — hence my musings today beginning with my return to Brakhage’s own elliptical-poetic treatises in Metaphors on Vision.  Even when I watch a structural film that seems to resist pleasure, such as Wavelength, there is a certain kind of elitist, intellectual self-gratifying feeling from simply sitting through it, from the process of engaging with something that is not just a piece of film for entertainment or even edification, but a questioning of art and meaning and consciousness and perception.  And knowing that one has made the decision to turn your attention to these ‘higher’ questions of form and content is a different kind of good feeling, but good nonetheless.  While narrative film may message the senses, these films can also work on the level of massaging the intellect.

This is why returning to my copy of Essential Brakhage is exciting for me.  Brakhage is not Saturday night with coke and popcorn fare (he even, in fact, invokes popcorn as his anthithesis at times, or at least as a powerful synecdoche for the commercial theatrical cinema to which his work is perpendicular).  I think Brakhage demands repeated viewings.  I think you start to get so much out of it, too, when you let him create a context for his art, especially since his prose is itself as beautiful, arcane, stimulating, and challenging as the hundreds of films that make up his body of work.

There.  I have defended my right to take pleasure in difficult cinema.