Saturday, February 08, 2003

I open my eyes and I see nothing

These are the words that open Russian Ark, a Russian art house film that hit a few theatres in Atlanta this week, which will perhaps be more remembered for its staggering technical achievements than anything else. The piece de resistance is a single shot lasting 95 minutes while moving through 33 rooms in the world's largest museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (which also encompasses the Winter Palace). This would make it the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot. It is also the first uncompressed high definition film recorded on a portable hard-disk system rather than film or tape before being transferred to 35-millimeter. While the film looks wondrous and glorious (and coming from someone like me who has little to no knowledge of Russian history, no hypersensitivity to the finer cerebral aspects of art, that's the best you can get from the dress circle), its technical feats threaten to overwhelm its content. And the content here is nothing like Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (which opened with a daring long serpentine tracking crane and dolly shot and arguably more difficult to set up). It's something for the culturally inclined: complex aesthetic and theoretical historical commentary. I am reminded of Eisenstein's October, which also featured the Winter Palace. Eisenstein was known for his reliance on montage to convey impressions and narrative. This film seems to be a strong retort to this, eschewing montage completely in favour of one single long shot. I have always associated the emotion of claustrophobia with such experiments (like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a flawed but interesting experiment in long takes, limited only by the need to change film reels), and Russian Ark did make me feel uncomfortable at some points, but this was probably not a directorial intention. The langorous speech of the French Stranger/Guide was rather irritating, and most of the film seemed filled with the kind of pretentious throwaway intellectual human behaviour I had come to loathe on screen ever since my first movie in the US, Time Regained (my lack of appreciation for this movie of lovely visuals and time play may stem from my complete lack of interest in the works of Proust).

I also caught a poster for David Cronenberg's Cannes pleaser from 2002, Spider, on the walls of LeFont Garden Hills (where we caught this movie). This is cool. I'm looking forward to its release here in Atlanta, hoping to make it my first Cronenberg movie on the big screen.

Trivia tail note :All the music that you heard in Touch of Evil originated from sound sources within the film (radio transmissions, jukeboxes, player piano), and Welles is supposed to have been the first to use this type of soundtrack (although Hitchcock's Rear Window preceded this film by a few years). And the next time you watch Psycho, you'll probably catch some of the similarities.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.