| August 17, 2006

I can’t remember which sociologist it was who said that a city was a living organism, streets and roads being the veins and arteries that funneled the blood—us—to its main organs. Lowave is a DVD label that has produced many collections of short films. This amazing and varied release deals with, as the liner notes to one says, the “catastrophe and boundless beauty” that is the city. It also positions the label as one to watch for innovative work.
Ranging in time from 4 to just under 18 minutes, the DVD features the work of ten artists from nine countries. Visions of the city for most of us include movement, noise, chaos that either causes fear or excitement, sometimes both. Opportunity and variety are explored here, as is movement. Missing from these films are questions of whether or not the city provides opportunity and variety for all; the is beside the point. Here people react to the city, and in some sense, are at the mercy of its rhythms, which are alive in and of themselves. Yet many other questions are raised by these films, from the silly to the profound.
In Crossings, Marina Chernikova presents images of a disembodied pair of eyes centered on screen as around them a trains-pace view of cities roll by; eventually local music and voices are heard–from the train or the passing city? Is it just as well to pass through as enter?
Nose Chan’s Nil becomes claustrophobic, noisy, eventually. Hong Kong awakes to silence, and slowing builds a collection of noises and movements, until it becomes fully alive; in both cases, the city was completely present and whole within itself. It wakes on its own time, and its people respond appropriately.
From 7pm to 7pm, Alli Savolainen builds off the classic time-lapse photography technique common in documentaries, yet twists its normal meaning. Rather than use the technique to advance time –real and film time- this film uses the slightly rapid display of sun and shadow as it plays off the city in a 24 hour period to emphasize the distance that such technique creates from its subject. The city, when seen from this approach, is a place where almost nothing happens. The city in this case is victim of a visual lie.
The central film in the collection for me is John Smith’s Worst Case Scenario.
Here, the worst-case scenario seems to be stasis, or calm; the city comes to life when active, dangerous, again moving to its own rhythm. When there is a pause, when the lights are red, or the train or bus has yet to arrive, people wait with anxiety, and seem grotesque, seemingly having a psychotic episode of twitches and ticks. The inhabitants have not only become used to the city’s natural rhythms, they cannot stand to be deprived of it.
Less successful that the Smith, though similar in theme is Pablo Estes’ Street Crossing. A meditation of the movement of the city past one crossing, the film suggests that one can remain static and have the city come to them, and that what will arrive is always the same. Its main visual focus is a CitiPost news truck, which passes the isolated crossing over and over. Is the news always the same, too, like the route of its delivery?
But does the action only take place within the city limits, or on its surface? What about interior life? Ulrich Fischer, in Es Geht Auch Schneller, home movie stills of communist-era housing complexes, factories; memories flood during the times the city can be frozen in photos. Footsteps of a shadow figure who becomes a guide opens windows, enters rooms, leading us to other still photos of rooms, walls, windows. This guide could be anyone, giving anyone a tour of anywhere. A park and children offer the first real action and response, a calm before the travel begins, a hustling to and from where? Most of the films seem to suggest that the only place to go is to the place in the city where one goes every day, day after day. The city has a grip on its residents’ present, and provides evidence of their pasts.
However,Augustin Gimel’s stunning Je Nai Pas Du Tout L’Intention De Sombrer, suggests a destination.. In a rapid clash of buildings, angles, facades, face off at their corners; the images speed increases to the drone of industrial machines, grinding, gently pounding. Slowly a space opens, blue sky above, light. The infinite is not interested in this contest–it is present and patient as always. Finally, it is the only thing that remains.

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