Monday, 2 April 2012

The Edge Of Cinema: Experimental Cinema Log #6 - Necrology

NECROLOGY (Standish Lawder; 1969-1970; USA)
[12 mins]

In a perfect world, Standish Lawder’s Necrology would be shown as broadly and as often as possible, and would be a widely-known and oft-heralded film that transcends its experimental tag. It is not only a succinct summation of the fleeting fragility of capturing images of people, but is also perfect proof that experimental cinema can indeed have a funny bone.

The film is composed of two distinct sections. For the first 8 minutes we see a succession of people, crammed into the screen, gliding upwards towards the heavens. It takes a moment or two to realise that these people are indeed filmed in reverse, and that Lawder filmed an elevator full of people in Grand Central station.

At first, there’s a distinct pleasure in casually watching the faces of these people as they drift upwards. There’s room to imagine that the look on their faces may reveal emotions commensurate with moving upward to an after-life. Some people seem to be very calm, casually chatting with others. Others seem pensive, some weary, some haggard, some impassive, some stoic, some resigned, some bemused. And, in an oddly uplifting way, no one is fearful.

After a few minutes, and after seeing many, many faces pass before our eyes, it sets in that we are only able to focus very briefly on these people. Their faces remain in light for maybe three or four seconds before they disappear into the murky dark. Their lives remain inscrutable, we have no idea who they are and we cannot “be” with them long enough to truly connect, to read their faces, to make up stories about them.

And so the title begins to make sense. A necrology is like an obituary column, a list of people of who have recently died. These images of people are dead images. It may well be the only record of these people on film, and their image is a fleeting record of themselves before they pass into the necropolis of archived film stock.

But, after the mass ascension has ended, Lawder throws a devilish spanner in the works, cranking out a three minute long cast list of the people we’ve just seen. It’s a list full of imagined vocations and amusing states of being – there’s “Deaf Mute Woman”, “Man Whose Wife Doesn’t Understand Him”, “Corvette Owner”, “Fugitive, Interstate”, “Former Disc Jockey”, and “Woman with Canker Sore on Inside Of Left Cheek”, amongst many others. As much as these imagined roles are often hilarious, it adds to the realisation that there is a gap between the image of the person and our understanding of that person. Lawder’s cast list highlights the impossibility of truly knowing who these people are, and forces the viewer into a game of reflection, trying madly to remember who “Tough Girl With Cigarette and White Handbag” was, and trying to work out from memory who “Embezzler (At Large)” might be.
You can view the film here.

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