Thursday, May 20, 2010

Enigmatic people and the 1960s

click photo to enlarge
I've always had a liking for cinema, and being British that has meant that most of the films I've seen have been English-language movies originating in the UK or the USA. Perhaps that's why I've also had a fondness for the cinema of other countries - as an antidote to the way the Anglophone world constructs film, and for a glimpse of the wider possibilities that exist within the medium.

The other evening I watched "La Antena", a 2007 black and white film from Argentina about a dystopian city ruled by Mr TV. It was a kind of homage to German Expressionist cinema (think Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1927)), and had a mixture of live actors, paper sets and cartoon-like action. Its themes were totalitarianism and media power through monopoly. There was little spoken dialogue (Mr TV had stolen everyone's voices!), but plenty of Spanish subtitles (with English translations below). It was a film quite unlike any I'd ever seen before, visually rivetting, and one that probably couldn't have been made in the UK or the USA. A few weeks earlier I'd watched a Lebanese film set in Beirut, "Caramel" (2007), originally titled "Sukkar banat". This romantic comedy set in a hairdressing salon was wonderful - touching, funny, finely acted and directed, an insight into another culture, and a film that, for me, demonstrated how the conventions of English-speaking cinema could be adopted and adapted.

My introduction to foreign films came about in the 1960s when BBC2 TV regularly broadcast such things. I recall seeing several Eisensteins, many French films, and some fascinating work by Italian directors. In particular I remember a selection by Michelangelo Antonioni featuring Monica Vitti: films such as "L'avventura" (1960) and "L'eclisse" (1962), that take alienation in modern society as their theme, and have scenes that are carefully composed in a painterly way, with figures standing enigmatically in sparse surroundings. This sort of cold, detached style has its appeal, though you wouldn't want a diet that consists solely of it. However, it was these films (and the British TV series, "The Avengers") that came to mind when I composed this shot in a brightly lit room in Southwell Workhouse. This 1824 building is open to the public and is the most complete remaining example of a type of building that was once found across England. The three figures, each listening to an audio commentary about the room in which they found themselves, have that enigmatic feel of those 1960s films, and I just had to convert the image to black and white to emphasise the effect.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On