Promotional poster for new workprint
|Directed by||Michael Snow|
|Written by||Michael Snow|
|Starring|| Hollis Frampton |
|Edited by||Michael Snow|
Wavelength is a 45 minute film by Canadian experimental filmmaker and artist Michael Snow, known for building his reputation upon publicity of the film. Considered a landmark of avant-garde cinema,it was filmed over one week in December 1966 and edited in 1967, and is an example of what film theorist P. Adams Sitney describes as "structural film", calling Snow "the dean of structural filmmakers."
Experimental film, experimental cinema or avant-garde cinema is a mode of filmmaking that rigorously re-evaluates cinematic conventions and explores non-narrative forms and alternatives to traditional narratives or methods of working. Many experimental films, particularly early ones, relate to arts in other disciplines: painting, dance, literature and poetry, or arise from research and development of new technical resources.
Michael Snow, is a Canadian artist working in a range of media including film, installation, sculpture, photography, and music. His best-known films are Wavelength (1967) and La Région Centrale (1971), with the former regarded as a milestone in avant-garde cinema.
The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.
Wavelength is often listed as one of the greatest underground, art house and Canadian films ever made. It was named #85 in the 2001 Village Voice critics' list of the 100 Best Films of the 20th Century.The film has been designated and preserved as a masterwork by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada. In a 1969 review of the film published in Artforum , Manny Farber describes Wavelength as "a pure, tough 45 minutes that may become The Birth of a Nation in Underground films, is a straightforward document of a room in which a dozen businesses have lived and gone bankrupt. For all of the film's sophistication (and it is overpowering for its time-space-sound inventions) it is a singularly unpadded, uncomplicated, deadly realistic way to film three walls, a ceiling and a floor... it is probably the most rigorously composed movie in existence."
The cinema of Canada or Canadian cinema refers to the filmmaking industry in Canada. Canada is home to several film studios centres, primarily located in its three largest metropolitan centres: Toronto, Ontario, Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia. Industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature. Approximately 1,000 Anglophone-Canadian and 600 Francophone-Canadian feature-length films have been produced, or partially produced, by the Canadian film industry since 1911.
The Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada was a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the preservation of Canada's audio-visual heritage, and to facilitating access to regional and national collections through partnerships with members of Canada's audio-visual community. In 2008, the Conservative government eliminated $300,000 in funding for the Trust, leading to the cancellation of the program.
Artforum is an international monthly magazine specializing in contemporary art.
Wavelength consists of almost no action, and what action does occur is largely elided. If the film could be said to have a conventional plot, this would presumably refer to the four "character" scenes. Snow's intent for the film was "a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings and aesthetic ideas". The 45-minute-long zoom–which nonetheless contains edits–that incorporates in its time frame four human events in the room, including a man's death and a woman calling emergency later on, is intended to be symbolic of his intent.In the first scene, a woman in a fur coat enters the room accompanied by two men carrying a bookshelf or cabinet. The woman instructs the men where to place this piece of furniture and they all leave. Later, the same woman returns with a female friend. They drink the beverages they have brought, and turn on the radio, which is playing "Strawberry Fields Forever" by The Beatles. Long after they leave, what sounds like breaking glass is heard. At this point, a man (played by filmmaker Hollis Frampton) enters and inexplicably, although in a way to indicate his death, collapses on the floor. Later on, the woman in the fur coat reappears and makes an emergency phone call, speaking, with strange calm, about the dead man in her apartment whom she has never seen before.
Plot refers to the sequence of events inside a story where each event affects the next through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from simple structures—such as in a traditional ballad—to complex interwoven structures sometimes referred to by the term imbroglio. In the narrative sense, the term highlights important points which have consequences within the story, according to Ansen Dibell. Plot is similar in meaning to the term storyline.
A character is a person or other being in a narrative. The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life person, in which case the distinction of a "fictional" versus "real" character may be made. Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person". In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.
A zoom lens is a mechanical assembly of lens elements for which the focal length can be varied, as opposed to a fixed focal length (FFL) lens.
Around the end of the film, one can hear what sound like police sirens, but could just as well be a part of the musical score, a distinct piece of minimalist music that pairs tones at random. These tones shift in frequency (and in "wavelength"), becoming higher-pitched as the camera further analyzes the space of the anonymous apartment. What begins as a view of the full apartment zooms (the zoom is not precisely continuous as the camera does change angle slightly, noticeably near the very end) and changes focus slowly across the forty-five minutes, only to stop and come into perfect focus on a photograph of the sea on the wall. The film ends with the camera going completely out of focus and fading to white, as the soundtrack finally raises to a pitch too high to be heard.
Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program, video game, film, or some other presentation form that is not primarily musical. The term is less frequently applied to film music, with such music being referred to instead as the "film score" or "soundtrack".
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.
In physics, the wavelength is the spatial period of a periodic wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats. It is the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase on the wave, such as two adjacent crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a characteristic of both traveling waves and standing waves, as well as other spatial wave patterns. The inverse of the wavelength is called the spatial frequency. Wavelength is commonly designated by the Greek letter lambda (λ). The term wavelength is also sometimes applied to modulated waves, and to the sinusoidal envelopes of modulated waves or waves formed by interference of several sinusoids.
Hollis William Frampton, Jr. was an American avant-garde filmmaker, photographer, writer, theoretician, and pioneer of digital art. He was best known for his innovative and non-linear structural films that defined the movement, including Lemon (1969), Zorns Lemma (1970) and (nostalgia) (1971), as well as his anthology book, Circles of Confusion: Film, Photography, Video: Texts, 1968-1980 (1983).
Roswell Hopkins Rudd Jr. was an American jazz trombonist and composer.
Amy Taubin is an American film critic. She is a contributing editor for two prominent film magazines, the British Sight & Sound and the American Film Comment. She has also written regularly for The Village Voice, The Millennium Film Journal, and Artforum, and used to be curator of video and film at the non-profit experimental performance space The Kitchen.
According to P. Adams Sitney, the trend in American avant-garde cinema during the late 1940s and 1950s (such as the work of Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage) was towards "increased complexity".Since the mid-1960s, filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits, Tony Conrad and Joyce Wieland produced works where simplicity was foregrounded. Sitney labeled this tendency "structural film." The four characteristics of structural film are "fixed camera position…the flicker effect, loop printing, and rephotography off the screen." Sitney describes Snow as the "dean of structural film-makers" who "utilizes the tension" of Wavelength's use of a "fixed-frame and…the flexibility of the fixed tripod". Where Sitney describes structural film as a "working process," Stephen Heath in Questions of Cinema finds Wavelength "seriously wanting" in that the "implied…narrative [makes Wavelength] in some ways a retrograde step in cinematic form". To Heath, the principal theme of Wavelength is the "question of the cinematic institution of the subject of film" rather than the apparatus of filmmaking itself.
Maya Deren, born Eleonora Derenkowska, was a Ukrainian-born American experimental filmmaker and important promoter of the avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s. Deren was also a choreographer, dancer, film theorist, poet, lecturer, writer, and photographer.
James Stanley Brakhage, better known as Stan Brakhage, was an American non-narrative filmmaker. He is considered to be one of the most important figures in 20th-century experimental film.
Paul Jeffrey Sharits was a visual artist, best known for his work in experimental, or avant-garde filmmaking, particularly what became known as the structural film movement, along with other artists such as Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, and Michael Snow.
In 2003, Snow released WVLNT (or Wavelength For Those Who Don't Have the Time), a shorter (1/3 of the original time) and significantly altered version by overlaying multiple forms of the original film upon itself.
The screening of Wavelength in 1967 was, according to filmmaker Jonas Mekas, "a landmark event in cinema."Considered a canonical avant-garde film along with Léger and Murphy's Ballet mecanique (1924), Buñuel and Dalí's Un chien andalou (1929), Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Stan Brakhage's Mothlight (1963) and Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1964), Wavelength's 45-minute running time nevertheless contributes to a reputation for being a difficult work:
[G]iven the film's durational strategy, we feel every minute of the time it takes to traverse the space of the loft to get to the infinite space of the photograph of waves—and the fade to white—at the film's end. The film inspires as much boredom and frustration as intrigue and epiphany....
The film won the Grand Prix at the 1967 Knokke Experimental Film Festival, Knokke, Belgium.and in a 1968 Film Quarterly review, Jud Yalkut describes Wavelength as "at once one of the simplest and one of the most complex films ever conceived." In a 1968 L.A. Free Press review of the film, Gene Youngblood describes Wavelength as "without precedent in the purity of its confrontation with the essence of cinema: the relationships between illusion and fact, space and time, subject and object. It is the first post-Warhol, post-Minimal movie; one of the few films to engage those higher conceptual orders which occupy modern painting and sculpture. It has rightly been described as a triumph of contemplative cinema.'"
Wavelength ranked 102nd in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, and also received three directors' votes.
An underground film is a film that is out of the mainstream either in its style, genre, or financing.
(nostalgia) is a 38-minute 1971 film by artist Hollis Frampton (1936–1984). The film is composed of black-and-white still photographs taken by Frampton during his early artistic explorations which are slowly burned on the element of a hot plate, while the soundtrack offers personal comments on the content of the images, read by fellow artist Michael Snow. Each comment/story is heard in succession before the related photograph appears onscreen, thus causing the viewer to actively engage with the 'past' and 'present' moments as presented within the film.
Film Culture was an American film magazine started by Adolfas Mekas and his brother Jonas Mekas in 1954. The headquarters was in New York City. Best known for exploring the avant-garde cinema in depth, it also published articles on other aspects of cinema, including Hollywood films.
Paracinema is an academic term to refer to a wide variety of film genres out of the mainstream, bearing the same relationship to 'legitimate' film as paraliterature like comic books and pulp fiction bears to literature. Sconce describes this as 'an extremely elastic textual category'.
In addition to art film, horror, and science fiction films, "paracinema" catalogues "include entries from such seemingly disparate genres" as badfilm, splatterpunk, mondo films, sword-and-sandal epics, Elvis flicks, government hygiene films, Japanese monster movies, beach party musicals, and "just about every other historical manifestation of exploitation cinema from juvenile delinquency documentaries to ... pornography.
Anthology Film Archives is an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video, with a particular focus on independent, experimental, and avant-garde cinema. The film archive and theater is located at 32 Second Avenue on the southeast corner of East 2nd Street, in a New York City historic district in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
Structural film was an experimental film movement prominent in the United States in the 1960s and which developed into the Structural/materialist films in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.
Gregory J. Markopoulos was an American experimental filmmaker.
P. Adams Sitney, is a historian of American avant-garde cinema. He is known as the author of Visionary Film, one of the first books on the history of experimental film in the United States.
Peter Tscherkassky is an Austrian avant-garde filmmaker who works primarily with found footage. All of his work is done with film and heavily edited in the darkroom, rather than relying on recent advances in digital film.
Zorns Lemma is a 1970 American structural experimental film by Hollis Frampton. Originally starting as a series of photographs, the non-narrative film is structured around a 24-letter Latin alphabet. It remains, along with Michael Snow's Wavelength and Tony Conrad's The Flicker, one of the best known examples of structural filmmaking.
Storm de Hirsch (1912–2000) was an American poet and filmmaker. She was a key figure in the New York avant-garde film scene of the 1960s, and one of the founding members of the Film-Makers' Cooperative. Although often overlooked by historians, in recent years she has been recognized as a pioneer of underground cinema.
Marjorie Keller (1950–1994) was an experimental filmmaker, author, activist, film scholar, and wife of P. Adams Sitney, the American avant-garde cinema historian. J. Hoberman called her "an unselfish champion of the avant-garde."
The Millennium Film Workshop is a non-profit media arts center and cinema located in the Bushwick neighborhood of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. It is dedicated to the exhibition, study, and practice of avant-garde and experimental cinema. It was also where the St. Mark's Poetry Project began. Ken Jacobs stated in 2013 that he chose the name Millennium "...because it would have to be that to actually give out equipment, education, space to work in, etc. for free. Dictionary definition: 'A hoped for period of joy, serenity, prosperity and justice.' "
Annette Michelson was an American art and film critic and writer. Her work contributed to the fields of cinema studies and the avant-garde in visual culture.
Arnulf Rainer is a 1960 Austrian experimental short film by Peter Kubelka. It is one of the earliest flicker films. The film alternates between light or the absence of light and sound or the absence of sound. Since its May 1960 premiere in Vienna, Arnulf Rainer has become known as a fundamental work for structural film. Kubelka released a "negative" version, titled Antiphon, in 2012.
The End is a 1953 American short film directed by Christopher Maclaine. It tells the stories of six people on the last day of their lives. It premiered at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of Frank Stauffacher's Art in Cinema series. Though the film met audience disapproval at its premiere, it was praised by critics as a "masterpiece" and "a great work of art".