Friday, 12 November 2010

Ruhr - you blew my mind . . .

Or more like took it to another place as your camera's eye captured the stillness and every subtle movement together with the sound of the slightest vibration of any passing object might make. I know not much about experimental film (if anything at all), much less about the prolific James Benning but I know that each prolonged shot was for me, mesmerising; some excited me others were so still and grey such that it made me wonder what I was doing in the very cold dark theatre in the first place. What I found beautiful, and a few days later, I still have the lines implanted in my mind is the Tunnel shot which was the first of six shots in the first half of the film. A diagonal line of neon light cutting through the matte grey concrete, the slight rustling of leaves not missed, the sound of trucks and their lights piercing through captured without distraction. I could almost feel the vibrations.

The second experiment which documents the interior of a factory, the camera placed in one spot and placed their long enough to witness the dance of the machines to a beat set by man, but a dance that takes on a life of its own, glistening hot rods and the way they rolled, it was wonderful. The trees were ok, an intentional contrast to the man made perhaps, though if I am to stare at a tree, I prefer the way that Steve McQueen approached it in Giardini, with more life. The forth segment, the rubbing away of graffiti from a Richard Serra scuplture.
(how random that it should be a Serra in the middle of the Ruhr region,though I think it one of those cities like Lille or Leeds that the Govt tries to rejuvenate as art hubs).

The mosque bit was interesting, humans, particularly human behinds and the hum of the prayers. . .and the last that sent me into a slight slumber, the grey streets of Ruhr with its inhabitants. Ruhr is an industrial town in Northern Germany, what is synonymous with grey industrial towns is grey inhabitants and a lack of life, a monotony, Benning certainly captures this but I could not help but think that the factory and industry has its own rhythm and style . . .even the graffiti remover, he painted a dog - so a life of their own that is worth documenting and presenting as it is.

The second part was a coke burning factory, so a tower that blows smoke into the sky, as every ten minutes water cascades through the tower causing smoke to envelope the otherwise lifeless tower with vents, whose function is to produce coke. It was an indulgent hour, it was long, but to see the smoke take on a life of its own, an unpredictable life at that, and the tower change colours to the point that it seemed to change form and the sky surrounding it change as night descended. It was mesmerising but such that it allowed me to think about other things, for my mind to wander yet my eyes to see the spectacle before me, something which happens daily in Ruhr but to me in a dark theatre, and on a film, an exotic speciman.

I can close my eyes now and still see certain sequences where the smoke danced. I made friends with the factory and it enabled my mind to think about many other things. What is the point of art or cinema that triggers other emotions or thoughts or is not engaging enough to hold our attention? Maybe perhaps, that is the point, to endure the experience, to savour it and take that into something else, thus putting the power in the hand of the viewer to do what he wants to do. Warhol did this for 8 hours with Empire State, I am sure that in 8 hours in one's mind, great plays, scripts, songs and novels are created, but in one's mind only. The difference perhaps is if we choose to then document which the author gives to us. What is art, and what is cinema, if it is not to inspire and connect with what could be, if our minds are given the space to explore. I can close my eyes now and that smoke, those colours, their beauty, it does not change, as mundane as the subject matter was. Benning does not bully us to feel a certain way, or at least I did not feel bullied, sure the sequences was calculated, sure the sun's descent was manipulated but as far as I was concerned, this was more his meditation on Ruhr, industry on man and vice versa and I still felt free to interpret it as I wanted and I certainly know that I left Ruhr with much to think about and my mind awakened through monotony of it all.

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