|These films are landscape films; yet although their most obvious
characteristic is their landscape subject matter, that alone is
not sufficient for a film to fit properly into this discussion.
At east as important as the choice of subject matter is the way
that subject matter is presented; an exploration of the properties
of cinematic representation is the crucial operative principle.
The significance of the landscape films arises from the fact that
they assert the illusionism of cinema through the sensuality of
landscape imagery, and simultaneously assert the material nature
of the representational process which sustains the illusionism.
It is the interdependence of those assertions which makes the films
remarkable—the "shape" and "content" interact
as a systematic whole. Examples should make this a bit clearer.
The primary strategy for exploring the properties of cinematic
representation is the manipulation of the recording devices (e.g.,
the shutter of the camera—time-lapse and time exposure
releases—or the aperture, or the framing of the composition,
or the use of
tripod or tape recorder) and the primary strategy for then integrating
the "content" of the landscape with the "shape"
of the film is to establish a system or systems, which incorporates
the two. Chris Welsby's Park Film
(1973) serves as a good example. This seven minute film is constructed
around a rigid system (the "shape") which is mitigated
by an aleatory system (arising from the "content"):
a camera was set up in Kensington Gardens, with a well-traversed
pathway in middle-ground. The shutter of the camera was released
once each time a passerby entered the frame and again as she/he
passed out of it, regardless of direction of travel. The preconceived
rigid system (precisely when a frame would be exposed) is
for its execution on the aleatory system (the passer-by). The
numbers of people on the path is not wholly arbitrary, however;
the film was shot from dawn to dusk over a period of three days,
and the weather at any particular time affected the number
passers-by. The first day was sunny and lasts three minutes of
film time, while the second was rainy and lasts 11/2 minutes.
The landscape is thus an integral factor in determining the shape
of the film. In addition to the way the aleatory element structures
the overall length of the three sequences (an external rhythm)
it also structures the internal rhythm of movement within
frame. When there are very few people on the path, a person is
likely to be exposed only twice—at each edge of the
appears to be instantaneous; the person is "superimposed"
(in the brain, not on the film) and is in tow places at once.
But when many people pass the edges in succession, then a stroller
in between the edges will be exposed again, "slowing"
his/her progress across the screen. Just as the weather influence
the sequential rhythm of the film, so it determines the sensual
level of variation in light; a static aperture setting yields
beautiful contrasts in the level of sunlight reaching the film.
But the film does not then become one in which contrast becomes
dominant; the overriding impression is one of the time-lapse
which determined the execution of the film. The tension established
between a "content" system and a "shape" system
suggests a constant reflexiveness, since the systems present
as representational systems; thus their reflexiveness is tantamount
to a reflexiveness of representation.
A different type of reflexiveness using the same technical referent—the
shutter—can be seen in Welsby's Windmill
II (1973). The camera is again placed in a park. The
basic system involves a windmill directly in front of a camera,
as the blades pass by the lens they act as a second shutter,
as a paradigm for the first shutter. The blades are covered
a mirrored fabric. The varying speeds of the blades presents
the spectator with varying perceptual data which require different
approaches to the image. When moving slowly, they act as a repoussoir,
heightening the sense of deep space. At moderate speed, they
as an extra shutter, which fragments "normal" motion,
emphasising movement within the deeper plane, and critiquing
notion of "normality" in cinematic motion. When moving
quite fast, the blades act as abstract images superimposed on
the landscape image and flattening the two planes into one. And
when the blades are stopped (or almost so) a completely new
is created—not only does the new (reflected) deep space contain
objects in foreground and background to affirm its depth, but
these objects are seen in anamorphosis (due to the irregular
surface of the Melanex) which effectively re-flattens them;
in the mirror surface create distortions which violate (or at
least call attention to) the normal function of the lens of
The representational systems which Welsby has worked out are
now being used in somewhat more ambitious films, like Seven
Days (1974), which is a 20 minute time-lapse film shot
over a seven day period in Welsh landscape, and which involves
complex relationships between the rotation of the earth, the
appearance/disappearance of the sun, and the movement of the
camera, once again integrating
factors motivated by the landscape imagery into the production
of that imagery. The fundamental point to be made about these
films, however, is that they are didactic—ultimately
concerned with the production of the image—but their didacticism
is manifested on an immediate level; they show the way they
through that very operation.