Film Scratches: Music from the Noise – M. Woods’ Post-Panoptic Gazing (2015)
Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
Post-Panoptic Gazing is M. Woods’ delirious, omnivorous mashup of original and found footage, both digital and celluloid. Woods plunges the viewer into a disorienting and exhilarating world, crammed with visual and aural references. An opening title announces that the film is an homage to “J Smith, J Baudrillard and J Dilla” and the reference is not coy. Woods really does mix Jack Smith’s anarchic erotic play, post-structuralism’s obsession with signs, and hip-hop’s mania for sampling. The first thing we hear is a quote from McLuhan: “One of the peculiarities of electric speed is that it pushes all the unconscious factors up into consciousness.” This video magnifies that tendency to a daunting extreme.
Clips from Un Chien Andalou mix with cartoons and ads for cereal. In the sound mix, William Boroughs’ voice mixes with R&B, hip-hop, and an unsettling score of electronica. In some of the shots the camera stalks a woman through the streets of Brooklyn, who seems to both crave and fear the attention. We also see a variety of figures in grotesque masks and costumes, involved in obsessive and perverse pursuits, such as violating a papier-mâché animal. Woods, who tends to think of his diverse artistic output as elements in one gigantic and ambitious artwork, calls this piece a trailer, and the footage is indeed a remix of scenes from his feature-length works in progress [GENESIS] Disneyworld and [EXODUS] Melancholia. Woods is not a purist of any stripe, and his work gleefully mixes hand-processed film of every gauge with digital images. The last third of the film is built out of a gorgeous example of datamoshing, in which a variety of digital images are smeared into each other, looking like pixelated watercolors. Woods is particularly adept at handling this technique with a sense of style and rhythm which yields a glorious array of colors, bursting in and out of recognizable form.
A panopticon is an 18th century circular prison design in which a centrally placed guard can efficiently watch an entire floor of prisoners. Perhaps the title Post-Panoptic Gazing is meant to suggest a postmodern version in which we are all able to gaze at any image from the history of images on our mobile screens, and the prisoners are now the watchers, rather than the watched. A particularly striking passage shows two figures completely swathed in plastic, their necks joined by a double noose, as they rock back and forth, either killing each other, stimulating each other sexually, or both. Woods’ collage technique manages to suggest that our image-stuffed environment is simultaneously a source of ecstasy and great suffering. As a video artist who captures the textures of our chaotic media environment with a combination of stylized performance footage and relentless remixing, Woods’ work is akin to that of Ryan Trecartin and Kalup Linzy, yet Woods has a completely original voice. His sophisticated artistic skill in creating complex collages of images and sounds which have a coherent and expressive musical logic keeps his explorations of contemporary consciousness from being merely confusing. Woods is able to lift the deafening noise of our cacophonous world into an exhilarating artistic form of transcendence. It’s a trick all of us need to learn, if we’re going to survive in the 21st century.