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H2O (1929)

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A study on water, the reflections and motions of the liquid that accentuates its ethereality and metallic beauty.


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The first half is a look at water rushing, pouring from a pipe, spouting, falling, moving, and churning. The second half presents reflections, particularly how patterns appear in water as it is moved by breezes or other small forces. Wavy lines appear on the surface as if dividing the frame; swirls, too, do the same, bringing animation to the images. Donald Sosin's piano adds an airy quality to the images. Written by <>

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Reflections in a pool
26 August 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

When it comes to water, you'd be inclined to think that what you see is what you get. We've all observed rivers, lakes, ponds and puddles; there's nothing new in the notion of a water surface reflecting and refracting light. Only an avant-garde filmmaker like Ralph Steiner could possibly have envisioned any different, and his 'H2O (1929)' is a bewildering montage of aquatic images, an inane but moderately absorbing examination of Earth's most abundant liquid, and the life-blood of all living organisms. The film starts ordinarily enough, presenting the viewer with rather commonplace shots of flowing rivers and the like, before becoming fascinated by the sprays of light reflected by the water ripples. Gradually, Steiner focuses closer and closer upon these ripples, exploring water's material nature at such close range that the liquid becomes almost unrecognisable, the shifting bands of reflected light seeming to flit across the screen like some bizarre psychedelic animation. The film takes a few too many minutes to get to this point, but, once it does, the effect is rewarding.

Exactly what Steiner is attempting to communicate about the nature of water has quite eluded to me. Those well-versed in experimental cinema can no doubt invent some obscure meaning to match the film's images, but I'm content to evaluate the film based purely on aesthetics, and, certainly, various shots in 'H2O' can only be described as hypnotic. The film, which runs around ten minutes in length, opens with four minutes of mundane water shots before we get our first reassurance that something worthwhile is unfolding. The film, which will definitely not suit all tastes – and, indeed, probably sits on the border of what I find entertaining– deserves to be seen by those interested in the avant-garde movement, particularly from an era where experimentalists and surrealists were only just finding their feet in cinema {Luis Buñuel's 'Un chien andalou (1929)' was released the same year}. Additionally, if you've ever wondered what more was to be discerned from water other than two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen, then perhaps you've found your answer.

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