A single 8mm shot lasting a mere 3 minutes, Winde’s Bliss bursts out of the screen as the simplest and most modest film at Rotterdam, but perhaps is also the one that speaks for and about all other movies here. The shot describes the gentle ripple of light and a flower’s shadow against a sheet of paper pinned to the wall, the paper covered in director Jaap Pieter’s notes on a series of video fragments he was watching. In this simple setup we see cinematographic plans and schematics, if not a script, at one with (or perhaps shown up by!) the ephemeral happenstance of photographed life, light and shadow. Attention to content drifts in perfect flux between deciphering the stoic notes on some unseen movie and the momentary silhouetted shapes and half-shapes across its face. Ultimately—and perhaps where the effortless, unpretentious beauty of the film shines so strongly—the two are inseparable, script and aesthetics, content and light.
Walkway is the first Ken Jacobs video I’ve seen where the filmmaker’s termite-like quest to pull out and (re-) invigorate the manifold details in a given amount of film footage—often creating a stroboscopic 3-D effect as part of a mission to see through or around a piece of film—has sourced not an old stereopticon picture or a scrap of a silent film, but rather is from an original digital photograph by Jacobs. It is, as the title says, of a walkway, a wooden boardwalk, flanked by leafy foliage that travels down the center of the frame before curving out of sight. Like some age-old philosophical adage, in Walkway the path is always pursued but the end is never reached—no amount of Jacobs’ clever, jittery digital 3-Dification of the plentiful landscape and details of the photograph ever lets us see what’s around the corner, though they do expand, animate, roil, and otherwise make the path as endlessly malleable as the end destination is but imaginable. Why go anywhere when all the fun can be had right here? My favorite moment in this beautiful overload and overpursuit of a subject—Jacobs’ most endearing quality in his works like this—is an early close-up on a weed growing previously unnoticed in the center of the path. Once Jacobs brings our attention to it, he also magically brings it to a plastic, embalmed kind of life, using his cyclopean strobe effect to trick our eyes into seeing this blade of grass as something with 3 dimensions, frozen in time momentarily as a sculpture rather than a photograph.
Single photographs get a different kind of life in Stephanie Barber’s Dwarfs the Sea, where still images of supposedly deceased sailors are presented to the camera, being placed one atop of another while a vaguely computerized female voice describes these men in precise but generalized details—he was a joker, they had a great friendship, I found him without empathy, etc. Melville and Conrad would have loved Barber’s paean to the richness of character but supremely allegorical aspect of sailor personalities, and similarly Ford would see some of his Stagecoach in how a confined vehicle placed in the wilderness brings out the types of society, at once specific and universal. A touching, human idea, presented just as it should be: simply.