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Film Scratches: Recent Short Films by Chang Po-Yang

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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.

Chang Po-Yang is a young filmmaker from Taiwan. Here is a round-up of his recent experimental shorts.

Je est un autre is a 15 minute poetic short from 2013. At the start of this mysterious film, shot in stylish black-and-white video, a young woman lies restlessly on a mattress in an empty room. We soon see sequences of other young women (and one young man), each alone in a different part of an apartment building. They are engaged in repetitive movements: hopping across the floor, opening and closing the lid of a washing machine. A man dances around candles on the floor. Occasionally, the lights of the building blink on and off in rhythm with their movements, as if the building is a projection of their bodies. In Chang’s interpretation of Rimbaud’s dictum, is the young woman on the mattress projecting herself as a series of other people in an imaginary building? They certainly act like puppets, but puppets that long to break free of their strings, as they hurl themselves against walls and metal bars. The music, long suspended electronic tones, draws out the languid pace with an underlying tension, and the film’s open-ended structure is filled with evocative overtones, without dictating a single interpretation.

LostPoemTeenageIn A lost poem about teenage, a 20 minute short from 2011, it is not so much the poem which is lost but the adolescence. In this brooding, sentimental meditation, a young woman drifts through an abandoned building filled with trash and broken furniture, staring into space, admiring herself in a mirror, and looking at a rainbow. (Few filmmakers seem able to resist shooting in a ruined building, when they find one.) The footage alternates between grainy black-and-white and extremely washed out, overblown, soft-focus green. The soundtrack mixes romantic music with ticking clocks and the sound of rain. The woman may be contemplating her (recently) departed youth, but the sentimentality and narcissism of adolescence still run through the film. The pretty photography does little to alleviate the lifeless pace and the vacuous clichés of the content.

MagicSoapGlassMagic Soap Glass, a ten minute study from 2008, is made from simple elements. A woman with an aquamarine stripe painted on her face stares at liquid soap dissolving in water. In reversed footage, the soap magically jumps out of the water. A man shaves his entire face, covered with lather. The sound of chimes, like a music box, mixes with the watery sounds of shaving.

Chang repeats these elements over five minutes. The entire film is shown once in black-and-white, and then again in color. This may be technically interesting: in a film which seems largely to be about the color effects of yellow and green soap dissolving, which elements are independent of color, such as editing, soft focus, facial expressions? Beyond the technical interest, there does not seem to be an expressive purpose to the repetition. And what is Chang’s purpose in the whole exercise? A color and texture study? The distance between the male and female worlds? Whatever the film is saying, it is whispering, not speaking.

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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