Reviews include the films: STELLAR, 5M8, BE1C, CIVIS, 17SFHJK, 913-7, MUSHROOM, TORTURED CORRIDOR, PUNCH, SQUARES FOR BREAKFAST, SMILE, VICTIMS, WATER UNDER THE MUYBRIDGE, SEMIX, ILLUMINATION, NEON
Pulsating fields of colored neon tubes. Dancing washes of watercolor transparencies. Busily intersecting circuits and grids. These are some of the images from the films of Michæl Betancourt, most of them under a minute in length. Some are accompanied by rhythmic or atmospheric electronica; some are silent. Refusing to conform to the 4:3 proportions of the video screen, many of them are ‘letterboxed,’ usually into horizontal panels on a black background, sometimes into verticals.
Greatly to the credit of films of such brevity, all of them left me wishing I could watch them for longer. Some of my favorites: “Mushroom,” in which subtly rendered panels of red and orange patterns drifted over each other, overlaid with images of mushroom clouds which simultaneously suggested nuclear holocaust and a psychedelic experience. “Water under the Muybridge” is a startling beautiful piece in which a colorful background which ressembles a magic carpet in an underwater garden undulates behind flashing images from an Eadweard Muybridge motion study of a female nude, coupled with the sound of waves and watery music. “Squares for Breakfast” was an energetic composition which almost looked as if it could have been drawn with crayons on a white piece of corrugated cardboard. “Neon” was a brief portrait of pure, electrical energy, formed by dancing colored lines. “Smile” could have been an innoccuous study in blue and purple, but was made more menacing and powerful by the music.
The films are all ambient, presenting variations on one mood or idea, without development or narrative, a strategy that fits well with their brief duration. Only one piece, “Victims,” has narrative content, indeed quite overtly political content. Over an R.D. Laing-like text voiceover (“victims victimized by victimizers…”) mixed with sound from the JFK assassination, we see the famous Rodney King video footage, blown up and pixelated into abstraction. At first this struck me as an excellent comment on the idiocy of the never-ending cycle of violence and retaliation, one which ought to be heeded by the likes of Bin Laden and Bush Jr. Thinking further, I felt that the inclusion of the Rodney King material implied that those who complain about racist police brutality are wasting everyone’s time by perpetuating a ‘victim mentality.’ Anyone who has either witnessed or been the target of such police discrimination would probably disagree. In any case, the fact that such a short and abstract piece could provoke such a complex engagement with the issues speaks for Betancourt’s ability to manipulate the language of film in powerful ways.
E-mail filmmaker Michæl Betancourt for more details on what it all means.