Friday, 19 August 2011

Water for Maya

How do you describe the indescribable? Narrow your eyes for long enough and the images start to look like the flutter of a billion butterfly wings. Other times, it is a gallery of faces - some haunted, some disturbed - looking out for just a split-second, then gone again; lost in this kaleidoscopic burst of colours, daubed, physically, onto the celluloid. These 'phantom faces' make us question our own role as a prospective audience. Are we the "viewer", passively observing the work presented to us and attempting to glean something meaningful, either a thought or a feeling from the experience; or are we the "viewed", the real objects of significance.

I wonder how many different audiences or viewers a film might see during the course of its lifetime. How different their relationship is to us than ours is to them. An audience may see only a handful of films a year, but the film itself will see literally thousands of these objects of curious interest presented to it during an average day. A very different gallery of faces than the ones imagined here, between the spaces of the frame. Instead, a gallery of faces more like the ones found in Abbas Kiarostami's extraordinary Shirin (2008), in which the spectator becomes the spectacle.

If film was more than just a dead-object brought to life by the gaze of the observer, who enlivens it through personal reflection and subjective opinion, would it be possible for the film, or these faces, to judge us, as a collective work, as we judge it?

Water For Maya by Stan Brakhage, 2000:

Shirin directed by Abbas Kiarostami, 2008:

As the blur of colours and textures explode and disperse, a second layer of images reveals itself, gradually, over the course of the film. A ghost story - non-narrative, but a story all the same - moving beneath the surface. This spectral play of shadows, where the glimpsed faces become almost explicit, is where the real power of the film rests. Not simply as a tribute to the American filmmaker Maya Derren, as hinted at by the film's title, but as a truly sensory cinematic experience.

In this remarkable montage, every frame has the power of a Pollock or a Kandinsky. On screen for less than the normal time that it might take for our eyes to register its form, but still vivid, vital; a series of images open to interpretation. The accumulative effect of these images when viewed against one another in a quick succession, creates something that is difficult to define, and even more difficult to express in words. It is something that can only be felt through the process of viewing.

Water For Maya by Stan Brakhage, 2000: