Form of illusion - Sample Essay
Audiences experience cinema as a form of illusion. Discuss in relation to the fact that certain films shown within this module, explore both their own materiality and the cinematic apparatus itself. When moving image or cinema was first invented, the medium excited and intrigued audiences by its ability through manipulation by filmmakers, to create the “illusion of reality”. The simple event like a train arriving at a station- lumiere brothers, was an attraction in itself as the medium of film was able to reconstruct the time and space of the real world in a darkened theatre.
This convention of cinema continued within Hollywood films, where the fact that what was happening on screen was just a representation of reality was hidden as much as possible or more precisely disguised in a narrative story line which the audience could digest and except as “real”. This is what the majority of us would expect when paying good money for a theatre ticket. To be entertained, experience and consume a film. It is debatable whether or not the audience would all share the same visual and audible experience but with this type of conventional filmmaking and story telling it is highly probable.
In the middle to late 60’s experimental filmmakers from mainly North America and Europe introduced avant-garde films, which required more audience interaction to understand. They were films that had little or no narrative storyline, but concentrated on utilising the materials used to produce a moving image, such as the projector and aesthetic quality of the celluloid itself, what’s more they often made no attempt to hide this from the audience.
The films often presented themselves in a “minimalist” fashion, going right back to the basic mechanics of film. Often the sprocket holes of the film would be visible to remind the audience that it was a piece of constructed art they were watching and not a reconstructed reality. The film would be looped, showing the audience the same image over and over again, thus breaking down the ideology that cinema is just an illusion. In fact these “Structural films” (1) were designed to be anti illusionary. There was an attempt to stress the material conditions of production and viewing of works both as a creative basis of practise and as a strategy for the counteraction of narrative identification. (2)
One of many pioneers of structural film is Malcolm Le Grice, he founded the London filmmakers Co-op workshop in the late 60’s and along with other filmmakers, with similar ideas, worked on numerous experimental projects. Le Grice is considered the most influential modernist filmmaker in British Cinema. (3) His short film “Little dog for Roger”-1966 was made entirely from reprinted found footage which was shot by his father previously on a French 9mm camera. The footage was then reprinted time and time again onto a larger reel of 16mm film, using a tool that was very common with the co-op movement, the optical printer.
This piece of what was then revolutionary equipment, allowed Le Grice to change the focus and manipulate the re-printed image, so even though the audience is viewing the same scenes over and over again, there are slight discrepancies between them, in terms of focus, which the image is present on the screen and the exposure between the scenes. Even though as a viewer I was watching a previous image, it was a different experience each time. The film was shot in black and white so all the subtle differences have been achieved using light (a very important and obvious cinema apparatus), by under and over exposing the frames.
The film sprocket holes were again purposely present on the projector screen through out the piece, completely “destroying the aspect of illusion” Le Grice obviously wanted to distance the audience from trying to make any sort of narrative reality out of the images shown on the screen, but to constantly remind us that it was a constructed piece of art we were viewing. It was a film, with film, about film, dissolution of signification into objectivehood (4). Little Dog for roger was seen by critics as an exploration of memory. On a basic level I can appreciate this due to the repetition involved in the film, but I would hardly regard this piece as an interactive “experiment” on the audience, as I would with some of Paul Sharits work, which I will discuss in detail further on.
Le Grice worked with many other apparatus which he regarded as tools of the cinema, which we would not consider strictly conventional. In 1967 he spent nine months programming a computer to place generated images over one of his films, although extremely basic, he was obviously dedicated to early CGI, a practise only picked up by mainstream film twenty odd years ago. Some of his other work included multiple projectors and screens (sometimes up to six) and would often be accompanied by performers interacting with the projections. Horror Film 1, (1971) and Horror film 2 (1972). (5)
In terms of distancing the audience from a narrative story or illusion there perhaps couldn’t be more of an extreme example. This scenario would be considered more of an exhibition than a two dimensional screen presentation. Still using all the standard cinematic equipment, film, actors, and projections in a theatre he must have achieved a very unique experience. How could the form of illusion not be broken when there were six different images to concentrate on and the actors were in the same room?