A talk I recently gave at Temple University in Philadelphia USA, on the subject of Structural Materialist Documentary as Urban discourse.
The following is based on the presentation: Sandra E. Lim. “Presentation of Underground v.1: (Structural Materialist Documentary as Urban Discourse) Presented to the “Cinematic Traditions” panel, Documentary Theory/Practice Symposium. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University, School of Theater, Film and Media. 14 October 2016.
Underground v.0 FCP edit timeline (raw footage/minimal edit) 1. What is this space/place and my place within it?
Underground V.1 FCP edit timeline. ( first edit) 2. How does this space structure the day to day?
Underground V.2 FCP edit timeline. (second edit) -3. How do I experience this space in light of the terrorist attacks?
See corresponding video’s in the menu. More visual documentation coming soon…
The project Underground along with two other documentary art projects, is the product of a body of research undertaken for a practice based PhD, including a traditional written dissertation, completed in 2013. My research synthesized “Early British Structural and/or Materialist film theory and practice” of the 60’s and 70’s, as conceived of by formative practitioners Malcolm Le Grice and Peter Gidal. This was for the development and practice of a form of urban documentary video art.
At the time, my research went against the grain of a contemporary resurgence and repositioning of the early tradition of British Structural and/or Materialist film theory and practice – as a primary source of contemporary anti-illusionist “urban” documentary art. This was referred to as Para Documentary – as coined by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, in 2009 – and evidenced in the work of such artists as: William Raban, Mirza and Butler to name a few. Moreover, this form of reflexive urban documentary art, drew heavily upon the theory and techniques of formative British Structural and/or Materialist filmmakers Peter Gidal and Malcolm Le Grice, and their anti-illusionist approaches of “extended duration” the “fixed frame,” “film as material,” and “optical printing and reprocessing of film.” In addition, reflexive narrative film techniques such as unreliable narration were also applied in these films, as strategies for bringing about a primarily reflexive “anti-documentary” response in the viewer.
As a result, little attention was given to the idea of how the early British Structural and/or Materialist aesthetic, might be deployed to promote urban discourse, and address such questions as: how we live in the urban and the everyday.
Some of the findings of this research included a better understanding of Peter Gidal’s “Structural” use of framing and “fixed frame.” For example: Gidal’s camerawork could be more accurately conceived of as – a handheld camera method, alternating between stillness and agitation, and at times ambivalence, leading to an overall sense of anxiousness in the viewer. Similarly Malcolm Le Grice’s “Materialist” approach, with an emphasis upon “film as film” and the optical printing and re-processing of the filmstrip and audio track – upon reconsideration – also promoted affective spectatorship.
Both Le Grice and Gidal’s methods of practice, could be also be correlated to a form of what the French Philosopher and Urban theorist Henri Lefebvre – in his writings on the “Production of Space” – refers to as a form of “Rhythmanalysis” (of a medium). In this respect, I also theorized that these filmmakers’ methods and approaches to making anti-illusionist films, actually began with the filmmakers themselves, through their camerawork, immersion in space (environment or space of filmstrip) – which becomes enacted through an immersive process of observation of forms, which subsequently lead to a rhythmic and gestural interplay of these forms, through such variables as: movement and stillness – repetition and order, chance and restraint. This process was in effect what promoted the emotional responses and personal reminiscences upon reviewing their films – none of which was entirely dependent upon the idea of “film as film” (or medium specificity) which these films are more known for – and therefore, entirely possible with other art and moving image forms.
These findings led the practical portion of my PhD research – and took shape in the Underground project, as two practical works made just before the July 7th terrorist bombings of the London transit and tube system – and two versions afterwards, (rather than one definitive version).
Each version was in effect, an exploration of such questions as:
- What is this space/place and my place within it? (Raw footage/exploration and encounter, Structural, extended duration)
- How does this space structure the day to day? (Structural materialist sound treatment)
- How do I experience this space in light of the terrorist attacks? (Performative, Personal, Structural Materialist sound treatment)
- How has the overall sense of this space changed (Performative, Personal and Public,Structural Materialist sound treatment)
(Please preview the different versions from the menu)
While the “same” footage was used for each version, the reprocessing of the footage through digital editing became more involved, and “structured” especially in relation to the soundtrack, in correspondence with the direction of each question and the subsequent degree of reprocessing of the audio-visual footage. The audio track is below the image track on the editing timeline.
The above timelines illustrates three versions of Underground in order and how the digital materialist approach to the soundtrack develops through “structuring” sound elements or bites, through repetitions, repeats, duration and holds. For example: Underground v.2 corresponds to the question of: “How does this space structure the day to day?”