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Film Scratches: Grist for his Visual Mill – Parva Sed Apta Mihi (2012)

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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 footage which forms the basis of Parva Sed Apta Mihi, Walter Ungerer’s 17-minute experimental short, was casually recorded by the filmmaker as he walked around downtown Los Angeles one day, shooting buildings, people, galleries and art studios he visited during an Open Studio tour. Ungerer greatly alters and manipulates this footage to construct the film. He takes multiple clips and blurs them, changes their color, cuts them into intersecting slices, isolates and freezes individual elements such as street signs and gargoyles, pixilates them, and fragments them into kaleidoscopic patterns. The ambient sounds of the street are likewise layered into a mix of sirens, musical fragments, and snatches of dialog. Within the first two minutes, we’ve already been beguiled by a complex, visually rich tapestry of sounds and images, with buildings which break up into grids of color, dissolving into sumptuous fragments of stained glass and parquet tiles. Ungerer has a sophisticated sense of composition and montage, so his manipulation of the footage always leads the eye to find deeper and more interesting visual connections, and never feels muddy, cluttered, or arbitrary. Ungerer’s careful scoring and repetition of visual themes gives the overall form of the film a deliberate, musical shape, a sense of dynamic development over time.

ParvaSed1Individual words and letters from the film’s title become graphic elements in the piece, folding and unfolding over the images, as if on a Chinese scroll painting. Grids of color squares fold over one another. The square forms lead to an exploration of highly colored blobs of light, derived from neon signs. A feeling of improvisational playfulness pervades the film, as Ungerer follows a train of visual associations, constructing as much visual and aural delight as possible. When this kind of improvisational play is carried out by someone, like Ungerer, who knows how to spot unusual compositional opportunities, and also has the artistic skill to translate his discoveries into striking image and sound textures, the result is a sensual and exhilarating exploration.

The film’s title can be translated from the Latin as “it’s small, but it suits me.” These video clips shot on a trip around a city may indeed represent a “small” slice of everyday life, but they are more than enough for an artist like Ungerer to make a big, rich, and multi-faceted experience for the viewer.

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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