Monday, 6 February 2012

The Edge Of Cinema: Experimental Cinema Log #3 - The Kiss

THE KISS (Rafael Montanez Ortiz; USA; 1985)
[6 mins]

Sometimes films and filmmakers slip in between the cracks in the annals of experimental cinema. In the historical arc of found footage filmmaking, the work of Raphael Montanez Ortiz very rarely gets discussed, yet he has produced a body of work that is extremely rich both in size of filmography and intensity of content. It seems a steady growth of appreciation of his work is just beginning to emanate, even though his first forays into found footage filmmaking occurred contemporaneously with Bruce Conner in the late 1950’s.
Ortiz’s filmmaking career occurs in two distinct periods –the first during the years 1956-1958, and the second from 1985 to 1996. In between these periods he produced a wide array of performance art events, installations, and paintings, creating a multi-mediated manifesto based on destruction. The films from the first period were created under the auspices of ritual performance, with Ortiz chanting and punching holes into strips of film, then re-playing it, or placing segments of cut-up film into a medicine bag, shaking and ‘cleansing’ the film, then splicing the film into a new sequence based on its procurement from the bag. His second period involved corrupting short segments from a laser-disc copy of a film, usually Hollywood films, and manipulating these segments through a computer, advancing or reversing the film at varying speeds to create stuttering rhythmic cinema seizures.

The Kiss occurs at the beginning of Ortiz’s productive second phase, and is a remarkable reminder of Martin Arnold’s Pièce Touchée, although Ortiz made his film four years before Arnold. Like Arnold’s film, this is a pulsating intervention into an old black-and-white Hollywood film, with a section of film originally only a few seconds long being drawn out into a vibrating interchange between a man and a woman that lasts many minutes. Whereas Arnold’s magnificent film works on the sensation of reconvening space, creating a circular choppy rhythm that gently nudges the characters into a flowing staccato dance, Ortiz’s hypnotic film is a relentless barrage of opposing forces, as if time is attempting to move forward and back in the same instance. The result is a film rife with violence and passion, where a kiss becomes a brutal attack and the opening of a door becomes a furious infinity-loop that seems to rupture very surface of the film.

The film starts with the man in a corridor, clearly about to enter a room. Immediately the head of the woman enters from the left-hand side of the frame, superimposed on the man, shuddering repeatedly and appearing to chase the man. Time is disrupted here, for she seems to chases him into opening a door in front of her, creating a hiccup in chronology and instigating a repeated sense of attraction and repulsion. Her pulsing hand movements appear to both push the door shut and pull it open, which is mirrored later when her hand reaches to the man’s chest, both to embrace him and to repel him at the same time. The film emits a physical blizzard of tension and ambiguity, where opposing emotions occupy the same nervous-tic gesture. And as the film fades out rather than cuts abruptly to an end, there’s a sense that this stammering world continues into an infinite void.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Ortiz’s film is its palpability – the incessant throbbing movement alludes to intervening hands and tools shaking and hammering into the fabric of the film, creating a visual manifestation of the pliability of images.

You can view the film by clicking here.

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