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Lumière, Redux

By Nick Twemlow


I’ve been working on films lately, short ones, and, in conjunction with teaching a film and video production class, have been watching a lot of short films. In the course I teach, there’s an assignment where students are asked to create a one-minute video, with no edits, and to record a separate, asynchronous soundtrack, also one-minute and sans edits. It’s harder than it sounds. In this context, we screen several under one-minute films from an astounding project, Lumière and Company, a collection of works commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of film.

The Lumière brothers were among the first filmmakers. Most people are familiar with their work, such as La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon, a tripod-shot of workers leaving a factory (the Lumière factory). They used a custom-built hand-crank camera, which could hold 17 meters of film, roughly 50 seconds.

The international list of directors solicited to contribute to the Lumière and Company project is crazy good. Among the 41 who participated: Wim Wenders, Spike Lee, John Boorman, Theo Angelopoulos, Michael Haneke, and Liv Ullmann. While the results are uneven, the project is fascinating for its implementation of a set of constraints: filmmakers were given an original Lumière cinématographe camera and were asked to edit in-camera (as the brothers did). They were also given three strict rules: the film must be no longer than 52 seconds; no use of synchronized sound; and they were not allowed to shoot more than three takes.

Having watched nearly all of the films, I find the responses to this constraint-based method pretty fascinating, largely because a good number of the filmmakers who participated probably rarely shoot anything resembling procedural film, at least in, say, an Oulipian sense; if they do, the films are hard to find (caveat: Working with a screenplay and actors and producers and bottom lines and budgets (large or small) and angry producers and publicists and editors and sound geeks all are constraints in their way, but these are the same constraints every filmmaker deals with, whether Michael Snow or Kathryn Bigelow. See also: poets and words; painters and paint and canvas; hedge fund managers and other people’s money).

You can YouTube most of these, though I highly recommend visiting your local library to see if they have a copy you may take out on loan. Or purchase the thing; it’s worth it. I wanted to point to two films in the collection that work very differently from each other, and are my favorites of the collection. One is relatively quiet—a domestic piece from Iranian director, Abbas Kiarostami. It features an egg frying in a pan, opera music, and an increasingly distressed female voice on an answering machine. The other is by David Lynch. It’s breathtaking and serves as a sort of micro-ars poetica: cops, suburbia, dead body, naked woman in tank of water, weird misshapen men wandering around like zombies. Vintage Lynch, if there is such a thing. Especially look out for how the directors choose to interpret “in-camera” editing.

Here are the videos:

Kiarostami’s can be viewed on Vimeo, right here. It begins with a brief making-of video

Here’s the Lynch film (also with making-of), Premonition Following an Evil Deed.

Posted in Uncategorized on Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 by Nick Twemlow.