It was like staring at a broken TV screen | The Velvet Café

book-of-mirrorsA few days ago I hit a new record in film watching. I sat through what probably was the worst film I’ve seen in my entire life.

I’ve never walked out from a film because I didn’t like it and it didn’t happen this time either, but then it was only 12 minutes long. A few minutes more and I’d fled out screaming and tearing my hair.

Now I just sat there, silent, staring at the screen, trying to accept that what I watched on the screen this wasn’t the result of a malfunctioning projector; it was the actual film. It was supposed to be like that.

A broken TV
The film in question was #23,2, Book of Mirrors, a shortfilm from Netherlands from 2002. I would be surprised if you’d heard of it; it’s not even listed in IMDb.

In the program of the shortfilm festival where it was shown,  it was presented as “an endless flow of colours, patterns and shapes created by an interplay of lightwaves directly onto the emulsion. The pictures are accompanied by music inspired by Hitchcock’s main composer Bernard Herrmann”.

Well, inspired or not, I find the mentioning of Hitchcock’s name rather ridiculous, leading the thoughts in completely the wrong direction.

A fair description would be “staring into a broken TV back in the 70s, accompanied by some seriously terrible atonal music.”

I think it says a lot about the festival audience that they sat so patiently through this. Not everyone was focused on the film, and who can blame them? They took naps, looked at their watches or took a glance at the rest of the room, watching the reactions from everyone else. But there was no booing.

However, as soon as it was over, you could hear the first hesitating giggle, and soon it spread in the room (while we also clapped our hands just a little, because you’re supposed to do that after every film at the short film festival and that rule can’t be broken, even for the most terrible film.)

We laughed – not a hard, scornful laughter, but a soft, gentle and cleansing one, out of the relief that it finally was over. It was as a shared confession of how stupid we had felt. This film may have some artistic value, but it was far, far above the head of all of us and we laughed at our own cluelessness.

What is a film?

The question that lingers with me after watching this is: what exactly constitutes a “film”?

What do we put into the word? Is it anything that depictures some kind of movement, using the technique where you show several pictures quickly after each other in a row? It’s the same question as the more general discussion about what deserves to be regarded as “art” and I’m afraid that I don’t have any good answer. I don’t think abstract art deserves to be dismissed as “something an ape could do” but on the other hand I can’t say that I understand or enjoy it particularly much.

I still don’t know what #23,2, Book of Mirrors was supposed to convey. Did it want to provoke laughter or thoughts about the nature of movies? Probably not. But in the end, it did give me both – and besides also a topic for a blog post. So in the end perhaps it wasn’t so bad as I first thought. Considering I spent 12 minutes on it, I got a lot of return on my investment.

And the next time someone complains about Malick being too obscure and poetic or Sophia Coppola’s movies being too slow, I’ll just smile, thinking to myself: “There are worse, my friend. Far worse. You ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Film can be so many different things. The variety never ceases to amaze me, and it’s particularly notable at a short film festival when you’re seeing so many after each other.

I’ll finish this post on a positive note sharing a two minute gem they treated us within the same festival theme, “Future”. It’s called Desserts, and is starring one of my favorite actors, Ewan McGregor. This is the opposite of staring at a broken TV.


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