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Back and Forth (1969)
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5.7
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Title: Back and Forth (1969)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Allan Kaprow
Emmett Williams
Max Neuhaus
Joyce Wieland
Luis Camnitzer
Susan
Ay-o
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Anne
Mary
Scotty
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28 March 2005 (Hong Kong)  »

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Back and Forth  »

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Tennis, anyone?
29 August 2009 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

This 52-minute amateur film (shot in 16mm but looking more like standard 8, I mean substandard 8) has a title that is sometimes given as 'Back and Forth' and sometimes rendered with emoticons, as on this IMDb webpage. The film's actual title is a glyph: a double-headed arrow, placed horizontally so that the arrow points left and right. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. That title is by far the most imaginative and noteworthy aspect of this wretched little home movie that never should have left home. Entirely because of its unusual title, this film has been mentioned in several major film books, including Patrick Robertson's 'The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats'.

I'd been warned that this movie was rubbish, but I wanted to see it for myself; I finally caught up with it at Anthology Film Archives in New York City. Oh, blimey! I should have listened to those warnings! This movie is utter dreich: a Scots word I shan't translate here. We see some youngsters (silhouetted in shadow) in a prefabricated classroom in New Jersey, talking about nothing interesting. The rear wall has windows, giving us a glimpse of some attractive outdoors, but only taunting us with this view as evidence that much more interesting things are going on outside this classroom.

Throughout this horrible adventure in cinema mal-de-mer, the camera steadily pans back and forth, left to right and back again. Each time the camera reaches the end of its swing, there's a click and a shudder as the camera bungs into a wooden stop arm. We spend 52 minutes knocking back and forth like this. I never much fancied tennis, far less ping-pong, but this movie has the same excitement and drama as a very dull ping-pong match.

Some amateur film-makers can't resist making the camera do something merely because it CAN, rather than using the camera to tell a story. Film schools teach students that the three basic camera movements are not equally dynamic: the most interesting movement is forward/backward, with the camera tracking into (or out of) the visual plane. The next most interesting movement is tilting upward or downward. The LEAST interesting camera movement is the horizontal pan, moving sideways ... and this vertiginous film consists of constant sideways movement back and forth, to no discernible purpose. The film-maker is effectively wanking himself, and expecting the rest of us to be as impressed with his wankery as he is.

I'm not a fan of Francis Ford Coppola, but the only impressive example I've ever encountered of the camera movement seen here -- a constant pan back and forth -- was in the final sequence of Coppola's 'The Conversation'. In that film, Gene Hackman plays a surveillance expert who (as the biter bit) suspects that he too is being spied upon. The film ends with a prolonged shot of Hackman, but the camera moves in a steady back-and-forth pan ... as if we are witnessing the P.O.V. of a surveillance camera. We never learn whether this means that Hackman is genuinely being watched (by a real spycam) or if we are merely experiencing Hackman's paranoia. Brilliant! Unfortunately, there isn't one tenth of one percent of that shot's brilliance in this ridiculously self-indulgent 'Back and Forth' film.

I'd like to rate this rubbish zero points. But, solely because of its unusual title (the only reason I ever found out about this film in the first place), I'll give it one point.


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