Wavelength (1967, Michael Snow)

Thanks to Andy, I finally had the chance to see one of the most talked-about avant-garde films of all time. While it’s important to talk about experimental film, it’s more important to actually see the damned things – and while anyone can order a copy of Visionary Film for $26.95, it’s nearly impossible to see Wavelength on any given day.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those times (see also The Leopard) when I check out one of the Great Important Works of Cinematic Art and come out less than impressed. I didn’t find the audiovisual experience very enlightening compared to the descriptions I’ve read of the film. Didn’t dislike it (though I came close to disliking the soundtrack) but not an overwhelming experience like Zorns Lemma, either. A few updates to those written descriptions: (1) It’s not a single, continuous zoom a la Last Days – the zoom moves sporadically and the camera slightly changes position from time to time. (2) There’s sound – a sinewave tone that starts low and ends high, with other quieter tones joining it at times and sync sound during the four action scenes. Those action scenes: Woman gets bookshelf delivered, two women listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, man dies, girl makes phone call expressing concern that there’s a dead man in her apartment. (3) There’s a twist ending – after zooming the full length of the apartment, the photograph on the wall is of waves in the sea. I get it, ha ha. After reading Sitney and Snow, I see why the movie is interesting, even exciting in theory, but the viewing experience just wasn’t there… wouldn’t want to see it again anytime soon.

P. Adams Sitney: “This is the story of the diminishing area of pure potentiality. The insight that space, and cinema by implication, is potential is an axiom of the structural film.”

Snow: “I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of planning for a time monument in which the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying to make a definitive statement of pure Film space and time, a balancing of ‘illusion’ and ‘fact,’ all about seeing. The space starts at the camera’s (spectator’s) eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind).”

Hollis Frampton: dead man:

Actors included Joyce Wieland and Hollis Frampton (as the man who dies). Assisted by Ken Jacobs, and sound by Ted Wolff, who unsurprisingly didn’t do any other film sound after this. Snow screws with the camera a bunch: focus, filters, film stocks (supposedly – I hardly noticed), light settings, time of day and lighting inside, etc. My favorite part is one or two frames where the picture on the wall towards which we are slowly zooming is highlit by a sunburst of drawn lines (screenshot below). I’m glad I got to see it anyway, and glad Andy played this and not Warhol’s Empire or something.


When I got home, watched WVLNT (2003) and Prelude (2000). The former was a shortened version of Wavelength “for those who don’t have the time” – he cut the movie into three equal parts and superimposed them. Except for the now-intolerable soundtrack, I liked this version much better! There’s much more to look at.


Prelude was a cute intro bit from the same Toronto Film Festival that brought us The Heart of the World. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how cute since my copy is such low-quality (think it came from streaming realvideo on the TIFF site), but it seems to be a single camera take, clean picture on a clean set, with unsynched sound edited in all over the place – actors and film crew talking about films in general and the one they are presently inside. This and WVLNT travel a similar road as Snow’s SShtoorrty, with its color-coordinated set, single camera move and superimpositions.


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