Wavelength (Michael Snow / Canada-U.S., 1967):

Michael Snow's motivation is purely transformative, a space-dismantling sweep across an empty Manhattan atelier -- a tracking shot would be too smooth for the deductionist goal, so the imperceptibly implacable zoom is brought from Welles's Othello. The flattening which comes from taking a closer look without actually moving closer is part of the journey, which robs a room of one of its dimensions and in the process makes you realize that before Snow you never really saw a loft, like you never really saw a kitchen or a sofa or a haircut before Warhol filmed them. The bull's eye (and the punchline) towards which the camera reaches is the drawing pinned to the opposite wall centered among four vertical windows, getting there is all the fun, and, despite Snow's obsessive severity, it's a work as full of deconstructive sensory pleasure as Chuck Jones' Duck Amuck. A cabinet is brought into the studio at the outset, along the way Hollis Frampton totters into the frame and keels over, a murder has taken place so Amy Taubin grabs a phone and reports it, blankly; traffic noises give way to the aural distortion, "Strawberry Fields Forever" wheezing out of a radio and an electronic hum that gradually heightens into a shriek. People may come and go and get killed, but the zoom is locked in its trajectory, interrupted by sudden jars, fierce episodes of abstract flares, atomized negative shifts; the outside world exists tangibly yet illusorily, when marquee signs and the tops of passing trucks materialize on opaque glass panes it's a magical effect. Manny Farber perceptively saw elements from Blow-Up in it, and both works follow the artist's perception of the universe through an elusive image, which comes to float on ether as Snow draws nearer, then turns granular as the camera loses itself in its pixels. Hardcore structuralism, grueling, euphoric, bound to turn up in the darndest of places -- Kubrick curtained The Shining with the most straightforward tribute, though Leone already had Gabriele Ferzetti yearning for the ocean waves within an oil painting in Once Upon a Time in the West, Lester in The Bed-Sitting Room mutated Ralph Richardson into a plummy suite.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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