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.
Dimitrije Martinovic is a Serbian-born, Canadian artist. In his 6 minute short Seemingly Uncorrelated Variables, he presents an idea which is common in experimental video, but he gives it a new twist. Many artists, including Scott Stark, Van McElwee, and Neil Needleman, have made works in which incredibly short cuts, often just a few frames long, are repeated in rhythmic patterns. Some artists seem to find this to be an irresistible idea when they are given digital tools which make it easy to make a large number of edits. When you see these ultra-short shots regularly alternating in a sequence, it makes it hard to take in the content of each individual shot, and it encourages you to see the shots as blended or overlapping. The regularity of the repetition makes the rhythm of the sequence predominate.
In Martinovic’s variation on this idea, his sequence of fast cuts contains eight shots of seemingly random images such as clouds, a humidifier, and a staircase. In the middle of certain repetitions of the sequence, one image will be held a bit longer, long enough to really identify what’s in the shot. This shot is also given an identifying label, such as “clouds,” “steam,” or “steps.” Some labels describe their image in a straightforward way. Others, such as “dull” for a very blurry image, or “outlier” for a white brick wall covered by a vine, are poetic or metaphorical. At the end of several repetitions of the sequence, we get to see all of the shots in the longer versions with the labels.
By slowing down certain shots and labeling them, Martinovic caters to (and highlights) our natural human desire to “know what we’re looking at,” which really means our need to place the image into a known mental category, rather than merely taking in the image’s colors and forms. Adding a verbal label also emphasizes our need to categorize the image. Martinovic lets us have it both ways: a subliminal, sensual experience of the images in the fast sequence, and a conceptual experience in the slowed down version. His occasional use of more metaphorical labels emphasizes the subjective and potentially distorting effects of slotting our visual experiences into verbal categories. Humans are forever mistaking the map for the territory, something which gets us into endless trouble.
By the end of the video, when we have seen several of these sequences of eight shots repeated multiple times, the randomness of the shots begins to seem much less random; the shots in each group begin to feel like they are in fact correlated and somehow belong together. Is that merely because of the force of repetition, or is it because the shots have a subtle, purely visual or formal unity to them? Seemingly Uncorrelated Variables gives us a lot to think about, and to look at, during its six minute duration.