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Three Structuralists
Daryl Chin reviews three British film-makers whose concerns are with film as a "material construct", Soho Weekly News (US), 1976

Anthony McCall
Artists Space

William Raban
Millennium

Peter Gidal
Collective for Living Cinema

The structural film has become one of the staples of modernist cinema to the extent where shifts and changes within its canons condition formal evolution. While in this country there has been an evolution in the dIrection of a form which has been labelled '"participatory," in England the interest seems to be "perfomative", involved with the conditions of projection as an event. In any case, the condition of film as a material construct is the concern. The primary properties of light, focus, projection, etc., provide the working aesthetic.

The films of Anthony McCall deny the static patterns of film viewing. The "images" of his films do not appear on the sur- face where they are projected: rather, the "image" is the beam of light as it is projected. His longest and most ambitious film. Line Describing a Cone (1973), completes its trajectory at the moment the "screened" line forms a circle: this circle is the line which "describes" the conical beam of light which is the subject of the film. What is viewed, therefore, is not the 'screen" but all that lies between the screen and the projector. That space, measured by light, becomes redefined as cinematic space, a concept here literalized, materialized, radicalized.

William Rahan is concerned with the perception of multiplicity. Much of his work is designed for multi-screen projection. Surface Tension (1974-76) and Angles of Incidence (1973) are indicative of his approach. Both films are two-screen works with the images placed side-by-side. What Raban is employing as a component in these films is the disparity of the technical apparatus. No two projectors can project identically: differences in timing, lighting, and speed create a tension between the two images. In Angles of Incidence, this discrepancy of projection is complicated by image reversal. The image represents the view from a window. The camera shifts in its view, always moving along, in arcs, an axis defined by the center of the window. This shifting, this arching, this movement of the image is compounded by the two-screen situation. The edge of the image, as it meets the edge of the reversed image, becomes another axis. The rotation of the camera is defined by balance so that a position from one angle finds its complement in a reverse angle: this procedure from the shooting process then is complemented by the situation of the screening process. In Surface Tension the images are a series of black-and-white geometric shapes. The projection of these shapes in succession creates the sensation of movement within the frame at the same time that this apparent motion emphasizes the frame by directing attention to the edges. The discrepancies between the two-screened images create further ambiguities. The in time-lag between the two images reinforces the perspectives of the edge while presenting the illusion/disillusion of "depth". In his single-screen works, especially Time Stepping (1974) and At One (1974), the concern with multiplicity is radicalized through its incorporation within the single-screen. In Time Stepping, the shooting situation involved two cameras. The cameras were set up in front of a double doorway: one camera pans from the center down the street. then the other camera pans from the center in the opposite direction, It is the fissure created by the disjuncture of the separate cameras which defines the film. This dis- juncture is explored further in a section juxtaposing images of the street shot and projected at normal speed with images taken by another camera using different time exposures and developed and printed so that there's an apparent difference in projection. At One utilizes the same "scene": the kitchen is explored on two different days, with the handheld camera going through the "same" motions. The discrepancy between the two days, in terms of light, pace, motion, provides the interest.

Peter Gidal's Condition of Illusion (1975) is created with similar concerns, The same space is filmed three times: each time, the technical stylistics (zooming, focus, panning) attempt a congruence. Within this film, the emphatic nature of the technical systems assert the synthetic nature of the film. The ways in which the film, by zooming in and out of focus, establishes and then negates the illusion of "space." proclaiming the surface of the screen as its ultimate space, stipulates the address of the film. Conditions of illusion checks contradictory impulses within its imagery of dissolution:, radically disjunctive spaces, camera angles, and subject angles are conjoined through the tropes of the negotiation between illusionism and antiillusionism. Clouds (1968) plays on the ambiguity of the filmed image, in this case of clouds. This ambiguity is conditioned by the fact that a flat surface is "read" as having depth. The image of the clouds, containing so little "imagery" except the variations of grey registered on black-and-white film, is established as "flat": the appearance of certain "incidents" (a plane, the top of a building) near the edge of the film-frame serves to throw the "flat" image into relief, while the attempt of the film emulsion to register the variations of shade often provokes an after-image, the connotation of hue.

The complexity displayed in these and other works shown by the filmmakers represents a concentrated example of the particular richness currently available within the structural mode. Additionally it's an example of the redefiniton, re-assessment, extension of the formal cinema which each artist must undertake in order to establish the continual developments characteristic of modernism.

Daryl Chin
Soho Weekly News
Soho Weekly News
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