Friday, August 8, 2008

The death of the moment?

The French filmmaker/theoretician Jean-Luc Godard famously said, "photography is truth...and cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second." On the other hand he's reported to have quipped that "every edit is a lie." I'm fascinated by the paradox that Godard was getting at, and which he and his Nouvelle Vague contemporaries played with to great effect in a handful of iconic films from the late 50's to early 60's. Yes, film is truth, but it's also an illusion -- a medium based on artifice. It's ephemeral, but in another sense permanent -- at least as permanent as the reels of celluloid on which those moments are captured. Film buffs of a philosophical bent might wonder, "If an actor is walking down a Paris street and there isn't a camera to film it, does the moment exist?"

David Cronenberg deftly articulates the paradox in Camera: a short film he wrote and directed to celebrate 25 years of the Toronto Film Festival. It stars veteran stage and screen actor Les Carlson, some resourceful kids, and an old movie camera -- "the kind you only see in books about old movies." In an extended monologue the actor muses on aging, death and their connection to motion pictures. Does recording the moment mean "the death of the moment", or does it give it a kind of immortality? Camera is shot on unflattering digital video until the final shot, which is on 35mm film. It's then, when the camera begins to roll that Cronenberg demonstrates the magic of film.

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