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Film Scratches: History Seen Backwards – The Rubric Timestamped (2014)

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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.

The Rubric Timestamped is a strange and richly poetic 9-minute film by Luke Szabados, a young American filmmaker. The first shot is of a piece of rough, uncut marble, followed by images of elegant floors made of polished, inlaid stone, in a building which could be a bank or a courthouse. These images are followed by a scene of a group of workers in coveralls, digging in the dirt, the raw material from which the stones are extracted. Clearly the film is concerning itself with images of the Raw and the Cooked.

Some more images from the short film: a bearded man controls a spigot of water, which the workers depend on both for sustenance and for washing the dirt from their hands. The dirt turns to mud. The workers, now nude, are burying one of the group in the earth, but the footage is running backwards, and it is unclear whether they are burying or unearthing her. The workers, still seen in backwards footage, back up into a cornfield where they don paleolithic garments and work the earth. Their limbs become strange snakes or tongues.

Rubric2These enigmatic images can yield multiple and intriguing interpretations. Do the workers bury each other, because as exploited workers, they are working themselves to death? Or are they uncovering an earlier, more primitive version of man? Are they working a backwards ritual, taking them back in time to the dawn of civilization? Do their tongue/limbs hearken back to earlier, more primitive forms of life? A jazzy score for saxophone on the soundtrack adds a disconcertingly sophisticated tone to the primitivism of the images.

In the tradition of early avant-gardists such as Maya Deren, Szabados assembles a sequence of disturbing, powerful, and evocative images with multiple and related associations, but yielding no single definitive interpretation. Instead, like images in a dream, the film becomes a field for the viewer to contemplate and explore. Szabados has a confident sense of timing and sequence, and a deep trust in his intuition, and the result is a film of poetic power.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact lakeivan@earthlink.net.

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