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The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project 47: John Baldessari’s Title

[For installments 1-46 of The Ubuweb Experimental Video Project, see either my Typepad or Livejournal accounts.]


John Baldessari, Title, 1971.

Title isolates, in a bunch of different permutations, the elements of motion pictures: objects, sounds, people, spoken words, actions, screenplay directions. Baldessari builds things up as the piece’s ten episodes, so while at first you only get to see silent shots of individual chairs, rocks, puppies and fields, by the end you’ve got human actors doing things and saying audible lines. The relevant scrap of their script appears at the bottom of the frame: “KELVIN puts the phone down on the table, with RUTH still talking. He lights a cigarette,” or “MOSSIE: (camera still over her shoulder) Over there.”

You might find Baldessari’s mission here a tad unambitious — who today doesn’t know that films emerge out of separate and sometimes only indirectly related audiovisual and human parts, or for that matter didn’t know in the early seventies? — but it still points toward a deliberately alternative way to watch movies that I’ve found myself practicing more and more with time. Maybe the fact that I make films myself and thus struggle to understand all the nuts and bolts of the operation has something to do with this, but even if you watch movies casually, doesn’t taking in the whole product at once — sound, image, dialogue, editing, music, action, humanity — sometimes get… overwhelming?

So when I run across a film or video that particularly impresses me, that stokes within me a desire to understand how it works or even replicate those workings, I often use a Baldessarian viewing method — or at least the viewing method of the John Baldessari who made Title. At any given time, I concentrate only on the image onscreen, or only on the sounds of the audio track, or only on the rhythm of the editing, or only on the motion of the actors. Do this with films of exceptionally rich craft, and you can get five, six, seven whole viewings that all feel different, and that all teach you different lessons about cinema. And which films would you want to watch over and over again, after all, but those of exceptionally rich craft?

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