Speed & Slowness

Notes on Slowness

Jeff Preiss

Very rough notes taken in my hotel room in San Gimignano concerning issues of slowness in cinema;

Cinema's illusion of mirroring cognizance depends on:
1. A perceptual oscillation between the placement of opposing "inner" and "outer" visual fields (as in montage. The continuous long take suggested by the digital streaming image suggests a cognizance that is located in the imagined reverse of the image's apparent perspective).
2. The perceived connection of a real-time retransmission of content to the implied originating process of its content's inception. (Video allows for these two times to be simultaneous.)
3. The awareness of the process's cross directional aspect, that the camera's function as a scope (out) as equivalent to its function as a receiver (in). (mirrored in the symmetry of the projector (out) to the audience (in)).

Process is not only an implied subject; it is subject matter necessary for the complete activation of the language by which the image is understood.

The implied process also suggests an unpictured mirror image to what has been recorded (the suggested cognizance located in the imagined reverse of the image's apparent perspective). A space referenced repeatedly in work concerning films relation to an imagined cross directional cognizance.

So-called experimental films typically fall into one of three categories:
1. Picturing a multi directional or 360 decree cognizance
2. Picturing an exclusively "inner" visual field
3. Picturing an exclusively "outer" visual field
So-called conventional film will hide the multi directional possibility as it over articulates the relative spaces of the camera, the viewer and the subject to the point of abstraction. Instead, they set up an alternating pattern of "inner" and "outer" narrative implications and cross directional spaces.

Cinema has three possibilities in TIME:

1. A one to one relationship between the time of process and time retransmission. In film this heightens the tension of its physically limited duration horizon. In video it emphasizes the possibility of an "open channel" and the absences of a material record.

2. A condensation by montage, a necessity in film, an intervention in video. (Montage parallels the inner shifts of perception as rerouted through the singular perspective of the projector beam or cathode ray (the image on an LCD / Plasma Screen are non-object objects and do not present themselves as being in a directional trajectory.)

3. An expansion created by a hyper collection of data resulting in a new SPACIAL relationship of the cinematic object (scroll) to the mechanical mode of its retransmission.

In the case of expansion by way of a SLOWER retransmission, there is an effect of crossing a perceptual threshold to an awareness to the progressive consecutive still frames making up the cinematic illusion, this undoes the "present tense" of the play back by making explicit the "pastness" of the multiple still image construction (a complex example is in Demantis' sequence of mural details in that one is aware of the "slow down" effect only in the film's visible grain structure, while the image itself is a (hand held) photographic representation of a painted image, the present is put into the past and then put into the past again and then into the non time of a painted illusion). 

Organic slowness is metabolic. As in a motion picture camera it is a result of a hyper collection of data. This occurs during a trauma or during a moment of intense concentration or performance (an explanation of slow motion's narrative applications).

That slowness in cinema is about avoiding the compression of inner durations and running pace with what we refer to as real-time while the idea of real time is a cinematic conceit in itself.
Our sense perception of real-time is constructed from the memory of the near past combined in a sort of parallax with our anticipation of the near future. The past durations have to define themselves relatively (to metabolic rhythms (breath, heartbeat, sleep patterns etc), outer time frames (days, years) and mechanical standards (of which clocks and movie cameras are the dominant models). When we consider the function of memory in creating the impression of so-called real time we also recognize that it is as likely to expand as it is to contract the perception of duration (and intersect with the non-linear functions of memory).

Like its optics and it's rate of reproduction,

The hand held camera refers overtly to the process of the images recording, to a point where time / space reproduction is radically effected. The trajectory back to the assumed moment of inception is more explicitly described, as is the camera's function as a scope. The movement of the camera does not only describes a cycling of off screen space, it describes the physicality of the operator and overlays the visual field with an diametrically inverse movement corresponding to a narrative content of the body and a metabolism. At it's most neutral it inscribes the motion of the operator's breath as an aspect of the general visual field (a parallel to the inward/outward dynamic of cognizance and visual narrative languages). The locked attempts to disguise it's self as a window. (Subject matter more ideally suited to video and it's often observed big brother / surveillance implications.)

The relation of optical light collection to motion has a parallel relation to pace. As the view narrows (in longer lenses), describing more distance between the witness and the visual field, the motion effect recorded is amplified. Any camera movement is amplified while the narrative content of geographic clarity (relative to the camera) is abstracted. (An eye doctor once told me that light collected by a lens (the eye) is the only converging system found in nature.)

In film / video, the subjective / objective aspects reverse themselves.
FILM: objective by virtue of its material presence, subjective by virtue of its physical limitations necessitating compression through montage.
VIDEO: subjective by virtue of the absence of physical presence, objective by virtue of its potential for a continuous, open ended, real-time streaming image.

The long take simultaneously amplifies conflicting effects. At first the image can be perceived as coming from within a cognizance (on an "inner" screen). Then the image becomes externalized and is set as a kind of a framed object. At the same time the frame takes on the function of a window or a scope. The inner subjectivity that mirrors the real is replaced by an external object appearing to contain the real.
We begin to see the image as an object as the image behaves more like a window.

Here we become acutely aware of the unique aspect in FILM (digital naturalism is in its undoing of this effect); while in normal perception it is impossible to perceive slowness without entering into the non-linear space of memory, in film, duration becomes a kind of bionic memory. The past dose not transform itself into an intangible, non-linear network, it physically spools itself into a substantive, chronologically organized, archival, liner object.

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