By Chuck Stephens

“An avant-garde film defined by its development towards increased materialism and materialist function does not represent, or document, anything. The film produces certain relations between segments, between what the camera is aimed at and the way that ‘image’ is presented. The dialectic of the film is established in that space of tension between materialist flatness, grain, light, movement, and the supposed reality that is represented. Consequently a continual attempt to destroy the illusion is necessary.”—Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film, Peter Gidal, 1989

What follows—purposefully, impatiently, and entirely against the grain of the historically entrenched Structural/Materialist film-theoretical enterprise—is an adjectively enhanced and thoroughly bourgeois taxonomy of the undestroyed materiality remaining in Peter Gidal’s Room (Double Take) (1967), adumbrated accordingly. The imbrication of “articulation” that surrounds this specifically England-oriented film movement of the late ’70s/early ’80s, of which the American-born and Swiss-educated Gidal is a founding member and leading exponent, has been avoided as much as humanly possible. For this, my apologies to the filmmaker, and to the assembled theorists associated with Gidal’s major books on the subject, Structural Film Anthology (British Film Institute, 1976) and Materialist Film (Routledge, 1989).

A film in milky black and white seems to begin; no titles, just leader. On the soundtrack, bloops, rising tones—the elemental electronic enforcement of which might be a semblance of “narrative” urgency—sound over this blank leader, then continue over Academy leader, then more scuffed-up blank slug, and continue rising as imagery begins to appear. A mink stole hangs on an apparently white wall, filmed by a descending camera. (This image has been punctured by the film processor’s identifying perforations, an indulgence in one of the most familiar tropes of the “experimental” film: the materiality of the filmstuff itself.) The camera caresses the mink as it descends, finally reaching a rough sketch of a seated woman attached to the wall below. The camera pulls back momentarily to consider this bluntly rendered form, then continues to descend along the edge of a doorframe and downward across a pile of items in disarray on the floor, a copy of the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! centre-pile.

Zoom in to a close-up of the label of a Columbia Records recording of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, spinning. Pan along the edges of additional furniture, various small items on a tabletop, and up a bookshelf: Huxley, Beowulf, Freud, Tropic of Cancer, Mailer, Pinter, Catch-22, some mainstream science fiction. A copy of Kulchur Press’ paperback edition of Gerard Malanga and Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests comes conspicuously into focus. (Gidal would later publish several of his own books on Warhol.) Artwork and assembled objets above a mantle, those electronic bloops on the soundtrack ever-ascending in pitch. A particularly messy splice, then the camera zooms unsteadily towards a doorknob, urging the camera operator to find the focus dial. Once in focus, this doorknob is briefly pondered, its cosmically scarred surface lent fleeting significance, then abandoned as the camera zooms up, out, and away. More perforations. A flood lamp on a stand, pointed at nothing in particular; above the nothingness, a silkscreen of Edie Sedgwick. More restless zooming. A pillow, a radiator, a desultory window frame, an acoustic guitar. A fashion model on a poster, an antique dresser. Blooping, BLOOPING. Another window casement, a trash can, an end table serving as a nightstand, a filthy water pipe on top. The camera pans along a rubber tube from the pipe to a stoner—begrizzled, hippie-tousled hair, black plastic glasses—enacting a couple of inhalations. There has been some print damage mid-pan, a few violently torn and repaired frames, and suddenly the bloops, having gotten as high as they could, desist.

The stoner—twentyish, the age to dodge drafts—lets his head loll back against the wall. There is little to no smoke apparent in his exhalations; it appears an altogether amateurish performance of inebriation. Finally, with no increasing conviction, the stoner takes another hit and the film ends. In the event you’ve missed anything, the film then begins again, from the beginning, and runs again, all the way through. Double take, double toke: still no smoke. Destroy your illusions.


Friend me on FacebookFollow me on TwitterRSS Feed

From the Magazine

  • Issue 84 Table of Contents

    INTERVIEWS *The Act of Living: GianfrancThe Act of Living: Gianfranco Rosi on Notturnoo Rosi on Notturno By Mark Peranson*Reconstructing Violence: Nicolás Pereda on Fauna By More →

  • The Act of Living: Gianfranco Rosi on Notturno

    “The night scares me so much,” confesses a courageous Yazidi pre-teen girl to a therapist, remembering the period when she and her younger sister were captured by ISIS. Anyone who was seen crying would be killed, they were told; it turned out to be a vacant threat, but the sisters were still beaten, and now they are attempting to exorcise their memories by drawing pictures of them. Does it help? We never find out. More →

  • Reconstructing Violence: Nicolás Pereda on Fauna

    There’s a point in nearly every Nicolás Pereda film when the narrative is either reoriented or upended in some way. In the past this has occurred through bifurcations in story structure or via ruptures along a given film’s docufiction fault line. Pereda’s ninth feature, Fauna, extends this tradition, though its means of execution and conceptual ramifications represent something new for the 38-year-old Mexican-Canadian filmmaker. More →

  • I Lost It at the Movies: Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind and I’m Thinking of Ending Things

    “It’s all planned, but it isn’t thought out,” wrote Pauline Kael in her review of A Woman Under the Influence (1974), a nifty bit of critical jiu-jitsu turning John Cassavetes’ much-theorized—and, during Kael’s reign at The New Yorker, much-derided—technique of spontaneous improvisation within a dramatic framework against him. More →

  • Open Ticket: The Long, Strange Trip of Ulrike Ottinger

    One of the most surprising things about Ulrike Ottinger’s new documentary Paris Calligrammes is how accessible it is. Some cinephiles may be familiar with Ottinger based on an 11-year period of mostly fictional productions that were adjacent to the New German Cinema but, for various reasons, were never entirely subsumed within that rubric. Others are quite possibly more aware of her later work in documentary, in particular her commitment to a radical form of experimental ethnographic cinema. More →