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Between graphic arrangement and film: Thom Andersen’s Flicker
Polonyi Eszter, 2021, published scientific conference contribution abstract

Abstract: When the California-based filmmaker Thom Andersen made his documentary Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer in 1973-4, he recovered an aspect of Muybridge’s work that most viewers had not seen before. Projected on the screen at the top of the theater, these iconic nineteenth-century chronophotographs were allegedly first seen in movement. Viewers could watch as his half-clad and nude subjects lifted water buckets, walked up and down stairs, ran, stood, heaved, threw, jumped, crawled and kicked. Throughout the film, Andersen shows each action multiple times, so that an athlete, for instance, leaps his hurdle firstly slowly, then at increasing speeds. Almost none of the sequences appear in the tempo in which they might have taken place in front of the camera. And, despite this being omitted from reviews, many of the passages drop to frame rates below the minimum necessary to sustain the illusion of motion, dissolving Muybridge’s images in a pulsing, jagged flicker. If Andersen’s recovery of Muybridge’s image sequences continue to appear spectacular, this is because watching the motion studies suddenly lurch into moving images proves just how little their “movement” can be explained by a history of the “movies.” This paper examines Andersen’s film as a way into an alternate genealogy of the moving image provided through the phenomenon of the flicker. As has become increasingly clear with the publication of a recent anthology of his critical writings (Visible Press, 2017), Andersen was part of a generation of North American filmmaker whose practice and writing resonated with the academic critique of the film apparatus as it began to emerge from France in the 1960s and 1970s. The fixed temporal parameters of film consumption constituted a recurring consideration for Andersen, for whom “clocked” time literalized the destructiveness of capitalism’s “eternal present” (review of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, 2011). His recovery of Muybridge, for which a frame-by-frame projector allows Andersen to reconstruct what were this pre-cinematic recording systems’s famously arbitrary time intervals, is read within the context of such a critique but also of an emerging tradition of expanded cinema practice. To this effect, comparison is made between Andersen’s process and the efforts of Tony Conrad in the 1960s to research the frequencies at which human vision registers photocelluloid film’s flicker. Conrad’s ability to produce the flicker is ensured not by modification of the projector’s microtemporalities, which would have restricted the number of projectors on which he could show his flicker film, but through alterations at the level of the photocelluloid. Both Andersen and Conrad are shown to turn the basic apparatus into a rhythmic instrument by accessing its frame rates through what I argue is a graphic rather than filmic method.
Keywords: History of American cinema, avant-garde art, media archaeology, Eadweard Muybridge, Thom Andersen
Published in RUNG: 13.01.2023; Views: 1089; Downloads: 0
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