13 Dec 2010

Review of the film History of Cinema (2008)

Review on History of Cinema (2008)

By Dean Kavanagh

At the opening of History of Cinema one simply sees. There is no sound. A man wearing a nice suit and a hat enters the frame and installs a small wooden stool. He returns and places a very old camera on top of the stool. The film jump cuts, bringing the viewer closer to the stool, then the stool in a Georges Méliès-esquire moment of magic jumps closer by the same movement, the viewer static. The viewer then sees a smaller screen in which the same action occurs, a man in a nice suit and a hat places a stool and an old camera into frame. One could note in this symmetry, the lack of ‘magic’ but a scientific study, the pattern of edit, the reverse of open jump cut to a hidden one (bringing the stool and camera closer). Furthermore, even the character in the suit places the stool with an over cautious care. The character looks into the camera (at the viewer), then when a second POV is established (i.e.: through the viewfinder of the old camera) the same ‘look’ appears. Perhaps it could be said that this movement and situation will repeat forever. What one sees here, and it is inherent throughout History of Cinema, is a mathematical, often symmetrical progression of ideas, both physical and ideological.

The opening of History of Cinema could be seen as a key to understanding the entirety. The film is a ‘personal view’, and through the character one notes he is not being directed by some person but is simply making up ‘his’ shot, and once again one notes that through the viewfinder of the older camera we see ‘his’ shot. The difference? There is none, both are the same. By the implication of the identical shot, the filmmaker is implying that the first shots were the same as the last. That the character that set up the stool before an audience set it up before the old camera POV also. And it is later one finds that it is actually the filmmaker/director Rouzbeh Rashidi, playing the character, thus both shots are one in the same.

This is a viewpoint of one man through a history of Cinema that begins without sound and with a camera. And what follows is perhaps stranger, but respective of the scientific and personal observation. The progression from silent to musical accompaniment, color, and onto the use of still image and even abstract futurist notions, such as a sequence involving an extreme close-up of a hand guiding a PC mouse, which now resembles something like a car or craft. One could note that the removing and abstraction of objects from the norms and their context (history) is a key facet to History of Cinema. The movement of the sound effects, which are ubiquitous in the film and how they are applicable to the images. In one situation some kind of clip or bolt is dropped repeatedly into a water filled object. The extreme (almost Macro) cinematography would suggest the use of a web cam. The sounds, though also abstracted and created perhaps from glitch notes, water drips (their pitch perhaps altered), sound bites, all have a rhythm and a pace, much like the film itself. Throughout the 33 minutes of this ‘mini-feature’, one has a certain realization of the pace, the progression and ideas expressed.

Perhaps this is a conflict? The notion of the scientific being ‘personal’? , But in the case of History of Cinema, this could not be closer to the truth. The filmmaker makes a very exact and distanced observation on his views of cinema and its stories and history. Of course the piece becomes personal as these are the directors images and characters. This is his world. His history; perhaps even a single history through himself; His(story) of Cinema.

Furthermore, the film ends on a close-up of a man (the same man from the start) staring into the camera (at the audience), his state of mind altered, destroyed, he looks sick and removed. Color streaks (perhaps a rewinding video from TV) follow. One is left completely desensitized, left with nothing but the strange sounds and terrifying colors, as they race towards the black.