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Wavelength (1967)

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One of the most unconventional and experimental films ever made, Wavelength is a structural film of a 45-minute long zoom in on a window over a period of a week.



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Title: Wavelength (1967)

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One of the most unconventional and experimental films ever made, Wavelength is a structural film of a 45-minute long zoom in on a window over a period of a week.

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Release Date:

28 March 2003 (USA)  »

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You suffer for his art
27 August 2013 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

Michael Snow's controversial 1967 film is seemingly a static shot of a loft strung over 45 minutes. There is however a plot, a murder mystery, a man dies in the loft, the woman who seems to live there has no idea who he is. The murder is treated as a secondary plot, despite the complete lack of plot the film appears to contain. The only semblance of a main plot is the fact that the 45 minute zoom is working towards a perfectly framed shot of a photo of waves on the wall. The soundtrack consists of the Beatles "Strawberry Fields Forever" briefly heard diegetically on a radio and a series of tonal noises that increase in tone progressively throughout the film. Reaching an unbearable pitch by the end. The tone was painful at one stage, I reached for the volume but stopped. Turning the volume down felt like it would be deceiving the director. That shows the odd power of this film when the hand of the director can psychologically restrain you. You suffer for his art. The length of the film combined with it's superficial lack of content allow you to ruminate on many questions throughout the viewing:

"Why am I watching this?" "Why was this made?"

"Is this art?"

Despite the sometimes exhaustive runtime you may come to no conclusions for any of these questions. You may just dump it all together mid way through or invest no time contemplating it afterwards. But it may, like it did to me, haunt you for many days afterwards. Making you question what art and film is, the nature of conventional narrative films and what comprises art in general.

People seem to have two main criticisms for the film "Anyone could do it" and "It's not art". My view on the "Anyone could do it" argument is this:

Before you even mention the artistic aspects of conceiving of the idea, let's look at the technical side of things. People assume the film was shot in a single 45 minute shot, this was not technically possible with commercially available cameras of the time. 35mm film was available in 1000 foot reels that equated to roughly 11 minutes screen time. 16mm film was available in 400 foot reels that also shot for 11 minutes. Although I couldn't find the specific camera used on Wavelength in my research, I'm going to assume an Auricon camera with 16mm film stock was used. The Auricon can hold 1200 foot loads of 16mm film stock equalling around 33 minutes. Andy Warhol took advantage of the Auricon's extended film reel 3 years earlier in his epic experimental film "Empire". Although the film does aesthetically appear to be tape, commercially available tape wasn't available until sony released their Betacam in 1982. Betacam is limited to only 30 minutes anyway.

Due to the above mentioned limitations, Wavelength couldn't of been shot in a single take. It was in fact shot over a week in 1966 and edited in 1967. The cuts are cleverly hidden in the artificial "Glitches" except for an obvious cross fade towards the end, where the camera is in a different position perfectly centred on the photo of waves on the wall. These "Glitches" would of been made by hand using chemical processes despite the fact that they look like they were shot 30 years later on a borrowed DV and edited on a Macintosh. So no, not "Anyone could of done it" from a technical standpoint and no one had conceived of it, or done it before.

Now for the "It's not art" argument. What is art? I can't imagine at any stage in human history that a single definition has been agreed upon. Is it limited to paintings, sculpture, music, film and dance? Even among those art forms people may subjectively object to anyone of them. Is Riverdance actually an overblown cardio based workout? Is Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" a cum stain on a window? Anyone could conceivably argue the merits of any piece of art or art form. Even 50 years on, Wavelength still causes controversy and has people arguing over what can be called art. If the purpose of art is to inflame then Wavelength has surely succeeded.

All of the above, or I downloaded some security footage by accident, I'm not sure.

"All art is quite useless" - Oscar Wilde

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