Wednesday, April 29, 2015

#557: Wavelength

Directed by: MICHAEL SNOW
1967, TSPDT Rank #233

As a devoted fan of experimental (and particularly structural) cinema, I've been meaning to see Wavelength for a long time, but somehow never got around to it until recently. But I finally got the chance to fill this looming gap in my cinematic experience, and I was definitely not disappointed by it - despite high expectations. Watching Wavelength is undoubtedly a singular experience, although it probably wouldn't be pleasurable for most viewers - as it consists of a nearly continuous 45-minute zoom shot of a room with the sound of a sine wave of gradually increasing wavelength (!) blaring incessantly over the soundtrack. So the experience of watching the film gets very tense, with the combined anticipation of the camera eventually closing in on its focal point and the unrelenting nature of the soundtrack. It's also not without some elements of narrative (fellow fans of experimental cinema, watch out for a brief appearance in the frame by Hollis Frampton, in the part of a dying man), but these are just hinted at, and the slight narrative present here is clearly only one part of the film's broader concept. The viewer is forced to examine the room in the shot from the same angle in every way imaginable, and with increasing scrutiny as the film progresses and intensifies. Apart from the brief suggestions of narrative, there are various color filters added to the film, changes in time of day, and tricks of light which can appear to either add or subtract detail from the room - which gets continuously smaller as the camera slowly and deliberately closes in. With all this, what would seem to be a painfully minamalist film at first glance is actually extremely complex and fraught with endless possibilities both within the frame and outside of it. It's not for everyone, but for those who are inclined toward the structural side of experimental cinema, Wavelength is essential - a remarkable and haunting film. But, as with most films of this nature, I would recommend trying to see it in a cinema or dark screening room if you get the chance - I'm sure watching it on a computer or with lights on would complete ruin any possible effect it might have on you.

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