Friday, June 25, 2010

Motion Studies: In the Snow

There are instinctive ways of seeing. It follows that the most direct way of filming what we see is in an environment we call home with the simplest equipment. This is what makes certain images shot on a home movie camcorder worth paying attention to.
The snow is falling in Brighton, MA. It is a recent winter. (We know this chiefly because this image may be viewed on YouTube.) A boy no older than twelve plays with his black puppy in the drifts of snow that cover his near-circular yard, framed by a bush in the background, proceeded by dense forestry. Naturally, the camera trembles. It is flaked with snow; the one constant in this image, provided by the forces of nature, are the darting, flicking snowflakes. A relative is probably operating the camera; we know because the boy addresses him colloquially at several points and the cameraman responds. The dog trots after a vanishing snowball through the foot-deep snow and pauses in dog confusion, his ears pricked up. The camera is now trained solely on the dog. This is the natural way of seeing in this shot. The subject has self evidently become the dog, and so that is what the camera will focus on. It follows that the movement of the dog will determine every movement of the camera. As the dog trots back towards the boy and runs with him to the center of the field, this is precisely what happens.
But the home movie camera has a way of working as a tool of the user’s impulses. This user swivels the camera to the right, as if surveying the forest landscape beyond the field, then jerks it in to the line of vision of a house with a chain link fence in front. It jiggles, suggesting that something is being adjusted. Then the cameraman swivels the camera back to its natural subjects; the boy and the dog. This burst of motion should not be called chaotic, because we sense a purpose behind it and a sense of control. It may be literally sporadic, but it is on a greater level it is a suggestion of the cameraman’s step-by-step thought process. The jiggling, the unexpected house and the swiveling are blunt, brutal suggestions of how the average mind ticks each moment of every day. Could camcorders be the most psychological tools of cinema yet?
But we must return to a natural way of seeing. The image ends on the boy calling to the cameraman, “She’s coming!” The dog is coming, chasing another snowball.