Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Motion Studies: In a Petri Dish

1.                    A gliding pan to the left scans the faces of children in an English prep school, frightened by the sounds of the caning of Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) in the gym below their classroom. The pan takes on the stiff movement of one of the senior heads of the dorm who often surveys the boys, checking the degree to which they behave as composed, non-emoting men, as Britain’s enlightened are meant to behave. The whacks continue in a series of sharp reverberations that are immune to any dulling the walls and ceiling usually provide.
2.                    One boy is not behaving well. He returns to his scientific studies and peers through a telescope on his desk.
3.                    The petri dish in to which he peers contains a clear green liquid surrounding rectangles of bacteria hoarding themselves together. The whacking continues. The bacteria hoard themselves together as if they have a certain purpose; here are the lowest forms of life (like Mick Travis, his toublesome friends, the gay young teenager, the scrawny kid with black hair…) shaping in to a form of menacing organization (as do Mick and his band of rebels). It is not discernable what this shape is or what it means, but it begins to look like a mouth, then a face, then a weapon, then…(just see what you want to).
4.                    Lindsay Anderson’s If…(1968), is a film so deliberately charged with symbolism and red-herrings—often combined—that this image could easily irritate us to the point of tuning us out. In its combination of radical camera stylization as a means of communicating rebellious feeling, it ends up looking weirdly outdated, in a way that only late-60's films can look. It is an intriguing bit of experimentation; a pan followed by a literally miniature assembly. This is Anderson’s clever way of communicating the spirit of 60’s radicalism, yet it ultimately fails to get past the tired notion that “we had to be there.” Like that boy, we had to be looking through that telescope to feel the analogy; like Mick, we had to feel the whacks to feel like rebelling. Motion creates a beautiful metaphor; that metaphor lets us down.