Our first evening of “Shadow Play” concluded with R.W. Paul’s final work: an industrial film promoting a new commercial whaling route between Norway and Ireland. For me, the film recalls the generic and temporal instabilities of many ethnographic hunt films. The interminable progress of the hunt (and the factory) is disrupted by death and the gruesome transformation of animal into object. The encounter between the film’s intertitles (Landing the Whale, Removing the Jaw, etc.) and its visual excesses is also strikingly disjunctive. The image overwhelms, undermines, undoes the certainty of its plain text.
But this film ends with an amazing set of final scenes. Irish and Norwegian workers “at play”: dancing together, sack racing, wrestling like animals on the ground. Not only do the boundaries between industrial, educational, and ethnographic modes collapse here, but boundaries between nations, genders, and species likewise seem to be very much in flux.
Many thanks to Ross Whyte for providing an improvised electroacoustic soundtrack that matched the complexity of the evening’s images. The glitches and stutters of the soundbox drew our attention, I think, not only to the content of these images (and the deep space that returned compositionally over and again), but to the surface of the celluloid, to its rips, gaps, tears, and imperfections. My attention was pulled in two directions: into the depth of past/historical time and across the surface of internal/archival histories.
Next Thursday: The Dying Swan, Menilmontant, and Orphans / 7-9 PM / Auris Lecture