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By David Finkelstein | December 16, 2003

In “Slow,” Stark places his stationary camera in a number of settings, typically choosing scenes that contain constant visual variations along a lateral axis, such as a tennis court where players and balls come in and out of the frame, or a swimming pool where swimmers pass by and water splashes up and down. For each setting, he chooses footage from three different points in time, seemingly separated by a few minutes, and cuts them up into snippets of one second or less. He then regularly alternates between these snippets, with the transitions between shots created by horizontal ‘wipes.’ The ambient sound is edited in a pattern which exactly matches that of the images.

The result is one of those films that cuts up pieces of ordinary reality and arranges them into regular rhythmical patterns, giving them the appeal of music. This is a technique that I’ve always loved when it is well done, and here it is very well done indeed. After all, in real life, every movement and action and stillness that we observe actually does have a rhythm and a dynamic shape, and can be enjoyed in the same way that we enjoy music or dance, but we don’t often watch things in the same way that we listen to music. The appealing waltz-like rhythm of “Slow,” through repetition, makes the rhythms inherent in ordinary scenes jump out at us, and enhances our ability to appreciate and enjoy their dynamic qualities.

Stark has made a number of intelligent choices which strengthen his concept. The scenes are all well chosen for the contrast between the fixed elements (basic structures, buildings, trees, etc) and the changing elements (people, objects, birds). A particularly fascinating shot shows a highway beside a river from very high up, where the varying patterns of clouds reflected in water, birds on the surface, the shadows of buildings, and cars on the road all catch the eye. A shot of the window of a street-car is also fascinating, as everything in the frame is in constant sinuous motion; the street, the other streetcars in back, the reflections in the window, with only the window frame itself remaining rock steady. Although the rhythm of the film is generally in threes, Stark varies both the meter and the tempo of the alternating snippets and the wipes throughout in a way that intelligently highlights the particular qualities of each scene. When the movement in a scene is more vertical than horizontal, he uses vertical wipes. His use of sound to reinforce the rhythm of the visual edits helps the viewer to experience the whole structure more fully.

At the end of the video, Stark applies this structure for the first time to footage shot with a moving camera, of a variety of paving surfaces and billboards. By this time, we have assimilated the basic structure and ‘warmed up’ our eyes, so we are able to take in this much more complicated imagery, mixing moving images with moving wipes. At the very end, Stark gives us a shot without any alternating snippets, just continuous, rapidly moving footage of a street scene, ending on a shot of the sky. He returns us back to the ‘real’ (filmed) world, but with eyes which are newly opened to the rhythms which surround us.

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