Window on Your Present
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from BrinkDVD.
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I’ll start by saying that Window on Your Present, as an art film of the New York No-Wave movement, really is not for everyone. Hell, avant garde cinema is sort of my thing and Window is almost too ostentatious for me at points. That said, only fans of experimental film should seek out this release. This 60-minute underground film by Cinqué Lee (brother of Spike Lee and co-writer/producer of Crooklyn), follows a grounded pilot, in a world without love or color, who finds herself falling a man whose life she saved. That’s the gist of the narrative, anyway.
The experimental presentation of this narrative, however, creates a very different impression of things. Jim Jarmusch, who, as it happens, cast Lee in scenes for both Coffee & Cigarettes and Mystery Train, aptly describes Window as a “narrative tone-poem.” Presented sans conventionally-spoken dialogue, the film depicts its characters as wandering aimlessly through an ominous landscape characterized by crumbling warehouses and filth and constant suicides. Constant, almost disinterested narration from the film’s protagonist, the pilot Europa, supplies the context for these rich visuals. Note that viewers will glean little of the film’s thematic crux if they fail to attend this narration, though. And this admittedly proves a bit difficult as the film pushes past the first half hour of Europa’s virtually non-stop, monotone narration. So ensure before sitting down to watch Window that you have an hour you can devote entirely to the film.
I find Window reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s early underground work, especially Crimes of the Future (1970), not necessarily narratively, although both are decidedly post-apocalyptic, but more in the ambitious, independent spirit both films embody. Stylistically too, the pieces are similar though in that they are both presented simply with a running narration and occasional ambient noise laid over the visuals (Cronenberg’s earlier film, Stereo , also fits this model). Window does, however, feature a phenomenal score by Bill Lee, Cinqué’s bassist father who also scored Do the Right Thing and Mo’ Better Blues. Crimes notably lacks a score, although this is not to its detriment, by any means. However, when comparing the two films, I find the science-heavy narration of Crimes far more effective somehow than the emotionally-rich narration of Window, but this is a matter of taste, I suppose, and Europa’s narration often sounds a bit too heavy-handed for my palate.
While the visual presentation of this release is plagued by image glitches and hiccups throughout (presumably in the source material itself), it is far better to have a film preserved in a state of decay than not at all! Plus, the DVD release from Brink compensates for this by featuring an impressive wealth of bonus content for a 60-minute art film. Included are a trailer, a slideshow, and a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with commentary by Lee that includes the uncut and previously unseen footage of “Womb with a View,” the abandoned short film that became Window.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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