For some reason LACMA kept this a secret, which is crazy. It's one of the most interesting things they've done in a long while. See it before it leaves January 20!
Hidden in the back of the Resnick Pavilion, a wall composed of a 3x6 rectangular grid of monitors bathes a screening room with soft light. Each rectangle of the grid presents an image from the same scene. As each image was captured by a different camera, they never entirely cohere into a single, seamless scene. The images mis-register, present slightly different angles, have register light and color differently.
There is no sound.
There are seven different scenes. Each is about two minutes long. Long enough to make you—if you let it—put aside your impatience.
Each scene is a view of hedges, wildflowers, plants and trees along country roads. There’s a variety of kinds of places, from dark woods to sun-filled meadows. One of the striking things is how animated the flora is, the HD cameras capturing the gentlest wobble to the wildest wind-tossed thrashing.
But the main movement—the main event—of each scene is the movement of the cameras, laterally, left to right. It replicates the familiar experience of moving down the road in a car (how the thing was filmed), but—more importantly—multiplies occasions for the images to almost-match as a landmark—e.g. a big tree trunk—“passes” from the far right screen, to the next screen on the left, then to the next, and so on down the grid.
This movement is slow and steady, though the tempo seems to vary from scene to scene. Distant screens seem to be moving at a different tempo: an optical illusion, perhaps but no doubt part of the intention. It connects this with David Hockney’s work as a whole, particularly the perspective-multiplying photo-collages. Like them, this has an appealing air of experimentation. Nothing seems overly fussed over or corrected in post-production. A series of sketches, of landscapes that mean the most to him.
Escapist fantasies of rural life that isn’t accessible to most? Well, that’s the reason Hockney made them. And his choice of medium is eminently suited to stand up to the most jarring urban environment. What a respite this wall would be in an airport or courthouse or even on the Strip in Vegas!
[Stills: Rudston to Kilham Road, Woldgate Wood, & Woldgate]
“Thrice a year Sister Ecclesia was allowed the use of her tongue when instead of seeking intercourse among the nuns she would flit off quite alone towards the sea-shore and blend her voice with the errant gulls until her unrestrained cries and screams frequently caused her to faint.”
- Valmouth (1919)
[Image: Vintage postcard of the Motel Cacique]
There used to be a person called an Art Director, who insured that there was visual continuity between scenes of a movie. If they were really clever, they worked with cinematographers to insure shots were arranged to be informative and attractive, that different scenic locations looked like different places, and that the whole visual aspect of the show unfolded gracefully.
Forget all that: Art Directors have been replaced by traffic cops, coordinating the entrances and exits of a thousand sequences outsourced to a thousand separate subcontractors. In the absence of a comprehensive design intelligence, a movie like The Hobbit: the desolation of Smaug ends up being display of painstakingly crafted details. And the details tend to reflect the culture and sensibility of the people who realized them. Hence we get ultra-defined drool on Smaug’s fangs. And each of his horns is lovingly crenulated and patinaed.
Dan Hennah, credited as Production Designer, supervised the construction of vast landscapes of cliché: dusty human skulls in shadowy ruins proudly proclaim the flick’s B-movie DNA. If only he had managed to realize Tolkien’s careful delineation of place. But no, all the effort went into the drool.
The situation is exacerbated by the 3D technology, which remains a toy that nobody knows what to do with. Peter Jackson doesn’t even have the courage to make it part of every scene: it only comes into play now and then. And when it does come into play, it is to demonstrate that nobody has been able to think up any use for this gimmick in 60 years. Shit gets tossed at the camera, as in Cat-Women of the Moon (1953). It just adds one more level of visual incoherence. Which is the last thing you need in a movie that already has to tie itself in knots in order to preserve the illusion that most of the featured players are dwarves.
Which brings us to the issue of the 48 frames-per-second effect. I admit it was a hoot to see individual eyelashes on the MGM lion, but after two hours I was bored with leaves, grime around fingernails, branches, and warty Orc faces.
Nobody involved in this was so stupid to believe that hyper-focus naturalistic realism would be appropriate to a story involving wizards and dragons—but nobody stood up to the gimmicks. That sense of resignation pervaded the whole show.
I realize that spatial continuity in movies is determined more by narrative than by visuals, but in a movie like this the visuals are everything and the narrative--despite the indulgence in boring exposition--is next to nothing.
The genre of action/adventure/fantasy that provided acrobatics and color from Thief of Bagdad to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has decayed into a cynical con bereft of any spark of fun.
“The Queen had a passion for motoring. She would motor for hours and hours with her crown on; it was quite impossible to mistake her … she was the delight of all those foreigners, and especially Americans, who came to her Capital to study Art.”
- The Artificial Princess (1915, published 1934)
[Image: Vintage postcard for "La Tropical" Brewery]