Composite Narratives

Chelsea Girls – Andy Warhol

SoftCinema embraces the idea of editing movies in real time by choosing visual elements from a database utilizing systems of rules defined by the authors. The software pulls in visual data from many different sources, films, dynamic data visualizations, computer-driven installations, architectural designs, print catalogs, and DVDs.

Lev Manovich’s and Andreas Kratky’s ‘SOFT CINEMA: Navigating the Database’ is a DVD-video document of the project with a 40 page color booklet available from MIT Press.

I’ve always liked the composite screen aesthetic and have been utilizing split and quadruple screens in my video art. It’s interesting to see how a third layer of narrative can be built from disparate connections of unrelated footage. It’s the beauty of Lautréamont’s ‘chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table’ so to speak. Incidentally Lautréamont’s exceedingly incredible Maldoror contains the following line…

‘Arithmetic! Algebra! Geometry! Grandiose trinity! Luminous triangle! Whoever has not known you is without sense!’

….which is a bit of a digression from softcinema – But then Breton hailed Lautréamont’s work as a precursor to surrealism, and surrealism is really a grandfather to softcinema in essence, is it not? So perhaps this ramble is not as unconnected as it might seem.

One cinematic masterpiece that uses the composite/split screen to amazing effect is The Chelsea Girls by Andy Warhol. Chelsea Girls comes with very specific projection instructions detailing the order of reels and starting times (there is a five-minute delay between the start of reels on the left and right side).

‘Andy Warhol would often have dinner at the El Quixote Restaurant downstairs from the Chelsea Hotel with other factory regulars and he got the idea to unify all the pieces of these people’s lives by stringing them together as if they lived in different rooms in the same hotel’

Another personal favorite that uses composite screens is The Andromeda Strain by Robert Wise. I’d like to know if anyone knows of any others?

2 Responses to “Composite Narratives”

  1. leMel writes:

    Michel Gondry’s video for Cibo Matto’s song “Sugar Water” is essentially a one-take video, told on two sides of the screen with each camera following one of Cibo Matto’s two core members, Yuka and Miho. Amazing to see it (gotta watch the whole 3 min thing to ‘get it’).

  2. paul writes:

    thanx for that one, wasn’t aware of it, allthough I really enjoy Gondry’s video work, especially works exploring recursion and symmetry

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