Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wavelength (1967)

(Thrill to the sight of The Author attempting to grapple with avant-garde cinema! Marvel at how much it looks like a man trying to open a milk carton while wearing a pair of catcher's mitts!)

Hoo damn, where does one begin when tackling Michael Snow's well-covered shot across the bow of avant-garde cinema? (Especially when one saw it nearly two months ago and didn't take any damn notes?) I suppose everything needed to be said about the film, in strict terms of what it is and what it's 'about,' is contained right there in the title. The word 'wavelength' has multiple meanings, especially if we break the word into smaller pieces, and Snow seems hellbent on indulging every single possible interpretation during the length of his improbably exciting foray into minimalism. If you've heard anything about this film, you likely know it as 'that film with the really long zoom,' which is technically accurate but reductive. The zoom across the length of a room (which is subtler and not nearly as smooth as I was expecting) is only one piece of the larger picture, which as far as I can tell is Snow asking us to consider the act of perception -- how we perceive things, how our senses come into play, that sort of thing. To this end, Wavelength has been designed as an assault on/feast for the two senses most important when viewing films: the eyes and the ears. The soundtrack, initally ambient sound (the Beatles make a cameo appearance playing on a radio), drops out about ten minutes in and becomes the insistent, blaring tone of a sine wave while various filters and in-camera tricks are used to disrupt the image. By playing with both light and sound waves, Snow turns us into active viewers rather than passive ones -- the brain must be fully engaged to chart the progress of the zoom as well as handle the visual shifts, and the shriek of the sine wave works to keep a palpable sense of unease washing across the auditorium. In theory, it sounds a bit dull and studied; in practice, it's anything but. The soundtrack, slowly increasing in pitch as it does throughout the film, becomes an auditory representation of anxiety and energy, while every filter change or flash of light hits like an explosion in the brain. After a while, a mini-drama involving murder unfolds in the room (Funniest. Gunshot. Ever.), but the camera presses on, its single-minded goal not to be interrupted; there's something perversely wonderful, then, in the fact that this purity of intention and perception culminates in a cheeky visual pun (who says the avant-garde can't be funny?). It takes a minute to adjust and get onto Snow's (ahem) wavelength, but it's worth every frame. In its own special way, Wavelength is as much of a thrill ride as any Hollywood summer blockbuster. I can't bloody wait to see this again.

Grade: A-


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home