When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
Aboriginal People vs. Ken Burns

Being a mythopoetic kind of bubba, I frequently wax McLuhanesque on the experience of viewing a motion picture.  Such as:

When motion pictures were introduced in one African region, if the shot panned from one object to another (e.g., a shot of a house panned over to a shot of a tree), the audience’s perception was that the house moved out of the way and a tree moved into its place:  the screen’s gaze was fixed and ‘reality’ was fluid.

When the Lumière brothers screened “Train Arriving at a Station,” people ran in fear from the onscreen train:  projections were indiscernible from ‘reality.’

The motion picture projector presents a series of still images.  There is nothing moving on the screen.  The perceived motion is created inside the viewer’s brain.

And due to the fact that a projector is throwing still image after still image onto the screen with darkness in between the frames, when you watch a two-hour movie you only see one hour of film, the other hour you’re sitting in the dark.

I love how Gilles Deleuze tied together the facts that the lengths of the average dream and narrative feature film are both between 90 minutes and two hours.

And I cherish the most accurate and self-reflexive posit on how we in the West experience film, uttered by Larraine Newman’s Connie Conehead character (in a 1970s SNL Conehead sketch) when describing drive-in movies to her parents:  “psychosexual fantasy projections viewed from inside internal combustion machines.”

Over the weekend, I saw a documentary at Tandanya, the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.  (Adelaide is the first city in Australia where I’ve seen any significant number of indigenous people on this trip.)  At the video’s opening, there was a viewer discretion advisory stating aboriginal people should be aware the content of the documentary includes photos and likenesses of people who have passed on.

I asked some Tandaya staff about this warning and it was explained to me that in Aboriginal cosmology, once someone has passed away and the concomitant rites have been performed, that person is no longer mentioned:  their name is not spoken, their likeness is not looked upon, no child is named after the deceased.

Could you imagine how this would impact documentary filmmaking??  How would our culture be different and how would film and its study be changed if this were a more transnational sacrament?  As someone who used first-person filmmaking as a medium for exploring the idea of loss, I think of the power those rites of release must be to trans-substantiate the filmic rituals I undertook.

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