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.
Memento Mori, Dan Browne’s profound 28 minute short, starts off seeming more banal and simplistic than it really is. The title announces death as a subject, and the film begins with a furious succession of snapshots, a lifetime of memories, flashing by one per frame, accompanied by the tinkling music a baby might hear in a crib. I had an initial impression of a formulaic film, in which a lifetime of images flashes before my eyes, passing from childhood to old age.
Quickly, the visual scheme becomes richer and more sophisticated. Layers of motion sequences are composited with the stills: shots zooming along railroad tracks and highways, indicating a journey. Still other layers show complex branching forms of light, like the inside of one’s eyelids, and branching trees. We are inside the mind, where branching neural networks produce memories. The multilayered soundtrack contains voices from shortwave radio, signals through the ether. Complex and rich color effects give some of the sequences the saturated look of stained glass, but still dominated by the relentless rhythm (maintained throughout the film) of the stills changing on each frame.
The images of networks continue: networks of lines of light, of roads, of electrical power lines, of fields of grass seen in close-up. This furious network of networks evokes the idea that all of reality, mental reality and the physical reality of the universe, is richly interconnected, an indissoluble unity. On the soundtrack, the wash of radio noise and tones is mixed with a philosophical discussion of western culture and its discomfort with acknowledging death.
Images of hands and skin are added to the mix, emphasizing again the idea of connectedness. In one particularly dazzling sequence, sped-up shots of driving at night and driving during the day are layered together to give the viewer the feeling of hurtling through a landscape of exploding lights and patterns. The ecstatic sound of clapping and chanting music comes out of the mix of noise, yet another example of people finding connection through patterns. This music is mixed with whale songs, the hidden networks of the oceans. The montage of images and sounds in the film’s 28 minutes is far too dense to adequately describe.
The sound of church bells and hymns, and images of church windows, discreetly announce the theme of spirituality. A man’s voice tells an anecdote about a monk who was able to stand up to threats from a general, because he had conquered his fear of death. What is our fear of death, which makes it a taboo subject? Aside from our biological programming to survive, which is our deepest hard-wired instinct, the terror of death is connected to our fear of loneliness and isolation, the mistaken notion that death means being eternally cut off from everything else. In Memento Mori, Browne has created a passionate celebration of the eternally interconnected nature of all reality, reminding us that death reconnects us to the universe rather than cutting us off. That he is able to create a powerful suggestion of this idea through images and sounds, using almost no language and no particular religious doctrine, is a great artistic achievement.