Wavelength & La Region Centrale - Redefining The Medium Of Cinema
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
By: Hooman Razavi
" You do not do an experimental film to become rich... but enjoy the creative aspect of it." What Isabelle Rossellini commented can shake up cinema and the experience of filmmaking and viewership. Filmmakers of all times had their impulses to break boundaries and leave their distinct signatures. Michael Snow is no exception. He was compared by many to Andy Warhol of Canada, a visual artist with a unique vision and ability for craftsmanship. Two of his most celebrated and controversial films, Wavelength (1967) and La Region Centrale (1971) depict part of this talent/exploration and his insight into the medium of cinema. These works exhibit the same creativity that made Rossellini cherish experimental filmmaking, though the extent of their avant-gardes are contested.
This 10 minutes long film loved and hated simultaneously, shows Snow's appreciation for altering filmmaking conventions. One may see it as a counter to Stan Brakhage's Mothlight (1963) abstract and Dionysian experimentation but at a deeper level, the static camera and the progressive zooming calls to attention the instability of image, tossing of narrative and its dramatic features. The frame is occasionally set with identifiable character, showcasing half windows and framed pictures on a wall. The music is no helper, but beeping sounds that complicate the experience of viewership. Snow breaks down the conventional language, throw acting, fancy camera work, editing, and any superficial use of special features. The moving-image is raw and this is the transcendental role filmmaker to draw the audience's attention to the medium. Does he self-express himself cinematically and artistically? It may be complicated to give an affirmative response, but he redefines the role filmmaker and what/how the piece of art can be watched?
La Region Centrale (1971)
This feature is longer (92 minutes) but explores the same set of issues and Snow's attempt to experiment and rebel against the convections. The main feature this time is not a static camera but one that works autonomously. The robotic arm "Camera Activating Machine" sounds as an Amazon AI-powered robot, but back then, it was an innovative idea to strip away the act of film creation from the auteur and see if the created sequence of moving-images could self-express an idea. Similar to Wavelength, the visual information and background noise as much identifiable as a barren landscape convey much more uncertainty than predictability. Once again, no dialogue, no acting, and editing. Is it a reduction of film to its most absurd units with minimum intervention of interchanging scenes- X and black screen. One interpretation is that Snow might have seen how much filmmaking is subservient to the technology and industry that make it happen. No digital lens and camera and state of the art sound studio, but films' creative power could be more indebted to machines than human ingenuity. Snow's experimentation could be at the surface be characterized as a shallow and futile attempt to recreate the language of cinema, but in fact, it is a way to creatively self-express and question what directors are limited and capable to produce.
Canadian Artist Michael Snow, his wife Joyce Wieland, and other contributors at the National Film Board of Canada supported and made possible creation of short and features that we could view as good examples of experimental films. The most satisfying feature in both films analyzed are not the low budgets or even stylistic differentiation differences that make them distinct from conventional films, but the vision and artistic craftsmanship of the creator who attempted to inject new blood to both cinematic content and form and ways they can be altered markedly.