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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story

The truth is that this exhibition is now over. The truth is that my poor time keeping means that no matter how much I expound the qualities of this exhibition, none of you can go and see it (sorry) BUT also true is the fact that you can find most of these films on our old faithful Youtube and on Lux online so I'll harp on about them anyway, cause they're all amazing! FACT.

Before you begin I implore you, contrary to the exhibition's title, DO make sure to let the truth get right in the way of the story because this is the whole point. Let it wriggle its way into your understanding of the film, as here lies the 'good' in the story.

The 'truth' here refers to getting to grips with how we understand or come to know about a film. Revealing the truth means exploring the realm of feelings through which we experience film. Methods vary but what the artists in this exhibition share is an ability to force the viewer to sit up and pay attention by unsettling the traditional, taken-for-granted cognitive register, which can to often render the viewer passive, a therefore having that unfortunate tendency to miss the good bits.

I recommend, Drive-In by Stuart Croft, who invites the audience on a rainy road-trip with a middle-class male and female, driving in a middle-of-the-range car in the middle of town. Through this dreary fa├žade, the woman, in a very prosaic American accent, begins to tell a desert island tale. Outside it is raining but inside we are told about sunshine, love, nature and art. Notions of wet-dry; hot-cold; drizzle-idyll, collide as we manoeuvre between what we know of a desert island; and what we know of a road-trip, which often represents a journey to existential discovery. Dizzyingly, the narrative seamlessly starts again and loops three times to last a total of 26minutes.

Wilhelm Sasnal examines the primacy of language over image in his text only film, Europa. The film is a homage to 16mm film and crams a scene into that uncompromising and unyielding 2 minutes 40. The story begins and ends, yet the limitation of 16mm means that the characters, the plot and the scene are only briefly alluded to and questions are posed to be left deliberately unanswered. A soundtrack kicks in and the text tells us that the Arab has just enough time to peel off his shirt to the beat of the music. The film ends but only our experiential knowledge of the film's referents; our own mnemonic system; and our subjective memory, are left to apprehend the scene.

John Smith's The Girl Chewing Gum takes the role of language in film to another level. Smith plonks us on a busy street in London, looking across the road to a shop with a big window. In nasal, Partridge-esque tones, he appears to command the scene, for cars to move; for the French women and her son to walk in from left after the women in the shop has come to window; for the man in the boiler suit to stop by the lamppost and to fold his arms; for the clock to move once every hour. After a while we realise that the instructions or narrations have been added during post-production, and were recorded by Smith shouting into a microphone in a field outside London. What Smith does is to his detailed account to transform an otherwise this banal street scene into a stage of overlapping plots and interweaving characters.

The exhibition also offers a rare viewing of Hollis Frampton's seminal work, Nostalgia, in which a calm voice narrates a story, which we assume alludes to the footage of a burning photograph before us. Only later is it revealed that the story is instead about a photograph which appears later on in the film. Our battle to retain our memory of what has past impinges on our ability to comprehend present. If you fall behind, the plot simply slips through your fingers.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story is a compelling exploration into the regimes of truth, which underlie the making of, and our experience of, film. Each film featured in this exhibition, I feel, are much greater than the sum of their parts, as what I was left with was a desire to remember not an end and polished product; but rather the cognitive battles, the multiple layers, the intricate mechanisms, and the messiness which made up my particular experience.

The exhibition was formerly at Site Gallery in Sheffield. For a full list of the films featured in the exhibition, click HERE

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