Again, I’m away from my Cinema Scope collection, but this time the Michael Sicinski article that put me in touch with Silva’s work is available online.


In The Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails (2010)

Chintzy dance music plays over astronomical images perverted by interlaced video screens. Reverse monochrome of baby sea turtles heading into the ocean. Some kind of costumed street event. Weedwhacking the jungle. The camera playing with a campfire. And so on, the sound design ranging from innocuous to annoying. Shock ending, the camera suddenly escaping the planet through a hole in the ground!

Per MS, this was filmed in Brazil and “examines human and animal experience at multiple levels of abstraction … this is the film in which the subjective element in Silva’s work is fully incorporated into a total way of seeing, one not bound to individual history or biography.”


The Watchmen (2017)

Naked man in a field, then a pulsing light, lasting for just long enough that I assumed the rest of the movie would be the pulsing light, but no. Prison yard, prison wall, abandoned prison, prison guard tower – so there’s the title. Various hot dog places. Return to the naked man and the pulsing light, with a voiceover about the watchman. Very mysterious.

MS:

The Watchmen takes as its subject Illinois’ now-defunct Joliet prison, perhaps best known for being featured in 1980’s The Blues Brothers … Silva stands at the heart of the prison and starts spinning his camera, faster and faster, describing the curved walls of the panopticon; not coincidentally, the flicker and blur of this accelerated image, with flecks of light disrupting the darkness, forms a combination camera obscura and phenakistoscope.


Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder (2017)

A perversely looped version of “Pale Blue Eyes”… a bird trapped in an apartment… the title card made from a Metallica album cover. A guy plays us the intro to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” A red-coated birdwatcher gives an unexpected callback to Brown Thrasher. Reappearing scary hands creep from behind objects.

Hey look, it’s what I hope to get out of watching these shorts:

Hey look who’s in this:

MS:

Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder was Silva’s final film before embarking on the Rock Bottom Riser project … A return of sorts for Silva to the Hudson River region of New York, where the filmmaker’s alma mater Bard College is located, Ride Like Lightning is not explicitly about experimental filmmaker (and Bard professor) Peter Hutton, but shares with Hutton’s work a keen fascination with the Hudson River area, its landscape and shifting seasonal character.

I’d meant to play this movie again the next day at work, just listening in the headphones, because the unexpected music and the way every interviewee had a different sort of audio processing on their voice was striking. But the rental expired and I had to settle for the Smog song.

Definitely on the avant-garde side of the documentary spectrum, but with terrific sound. Some very joyful edits. Before watching I read the Sicinski Cinema Scope article twice, and now want to watch all of Silva’s movies. Already by the time the opening title hit, the movie’s physical nature was nothing like I’d imagined. The talking heads are never shot in standard doc style, and he talks around the issues we imagined it’d confront head-on, but productively. The island/ocean nature calls back nicely to our last T/F movie of 2020, and still the last movie we’ve seen in theaters, Małni. Volcanic lava and disputed native lands, with Rat Film levels of digression.

By showing us a collage of discontinuous moments from a given lifeworld, Silva expresses the density of any given social formation, its atmospheric pervasiveness and resonance. As such, his films show us things that serve to emphasize just how much we cannot know … What Silva shows quite clearly through his oblique strategy of creative nonfiction is that the radical flattening of culture and history on which global capital thrives actually has its limits.