Monday, June 05, 2006

Bartlett's OFFON

Directed by Scott Bartlett, U.S.A., 1968, 9 minutes
Source: Treasures From American Film Archives - Program 1, DVD
1793 pt. 1

OFFON has no story whatsoever. Rather, it is a series of constantly changing images, colors, and optical effects. The images interplay with one another and are often superimposed upon one another, creating dazzling optical symbioses and transformations. The mis-en-scĂ©ne of the film is in constant flux, and it is this state of constant flux which defines the character of this unique experimental film. In terms of production background, the film, according to its brochure, is the “first to fully merge video with film.”

The film begins with an extreme close-up of a human eye, with the frame drenced in a light blue hue. As we zoom into the pupil of the eye, flourescent pink blotches rapidly appear and disappear in different places in and around the eye. The blue lighting around the eye darkens, and we begin to see a pattern emerging within the pupil of the eye: a flourescent pink vortex, accompanied by a violent pulsing of the soundtrack. The next optical motif is a Rorschach-like pink circular formation which replaces the eye in the frame. It recedes and advances into view several times. A neon green shape emerges, superimposed against the Rorschach shape. It soon becomes evident that the neon green shape is the outline of two female figures in motion. The two figures stand back-to-back, arms stretched upward as they perform an elegant bowing motion, stretching down, then up again, repeatedly. The two figures are shown in outline, and appear as if joined at the hip; their movements are identical, but in opposite directions, defined by a principle of bilateral symmetry (a “twinning,” mirror, effect, of what is in reality a single figure). These female forms reminded me somewhat of the female figures shown in silhouette during the opening credits of James Bond movies. At one point, the “inside” of the conjoined female figures flashes with TV static. Later, the outline of a soaring bird appears within the “inside” of the figures, followed by the outline of other birds in flight, who change in color from aqua green to flourescent pink. We next shift to the cartoonish outline of a female figure (screen size: medium long shot) with both arms outstretched above her head as if casting a spell. This is followed by the outline of a male figure with arms outstretched, whose outline is “twinned” around him in something of a “shadowing” effect as the background rapidly flashes in different colors. At this point, a film clip of a man riding a bicycle is superimposed into the background of the male figure with his arms outstretched. Next, there are several visual motifs involving human faces moving in a bilaterally symmetrical fashion. Two male faces “bounce” off one another. Then two female faces move “into” and “through” one another, emerging on the other side before returning to their original positions. Another female face, outlined in stark black and white, appears to “split in half” repeatedly (see picture above) as playful blips play on the soundtrack. These faces are replaced by rapidly-morphing, pretzel-like, shapes, which blink and transform rapidly amidst a high-pitched, feverish pulsing of the soundtrack. There is a “countdown”-like feel as the background flashes blue, red, and pink. Finally, the soundtrack fades and the screen goes to black, marking the end of the film.

The way I would pitch this film is as an acid trip for non substance-abusers, because this is what I imagine an acid trip would be like. The film is extremely abstract and psychedelic, to say the least. There is an “alien” feel to the viewing experience, which is only amplified by the fact that there is no narrative point of reference for the optical smorgasbord taking place. Unlike an optically radical experience like The Wall, whose abstract, experimental animated sequences are tied into the themes and events of a larger, more normative, narrative, OFFON exists in a sort of limbo, in and of itself. The film speaks its own language, and doesn’t provide “subtitles,” so to speak, for the viewer. The soundtrack, consisting of humming, grinding, pulsing, and blipping noises, only adds to film’s “alien” feel. One senses (or at least I did) that the role of the viewer is not to interpret what is presented; that the images on display are not cryptic symbols with hidden meanings begging to be unlocked. Rather, this is a light parade of avant-garde spectacle, with the varied optical motifs serving as the “floats” in the parade. That the parade takes place on another “planet” (figuratively speaking) is never in doubt. The role of the viewer is thus to be dazzled, puzzled, and more or less hypnotized by the viewing experience: drawn into the visual vittles of a strange atmosphere, yet held at a distance by the sheer degree of alienness—a reception perhaps typical for experimental shorts. If the film is “about” anything, it is the gift of visual perception and the metamorphic nature of all that we see, whether in the world around us, in our own mind’s eye, or in the projection, as here, of someone else’s creative vision—a vision only possible through decidedly experimental film.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

The more and more I see and read of experimental films, the more I come to this conclusion--the more "experimental" and less "narrative" the film, the creepier it is. Has anyone found an experimental short of flowers and puppies? Doubt it. But from what we saw in class and the posts for this week, it seems that the less of a story line, the weirder the film. And of course, this is only my preception, perhaps eye balls and acid trips are as pleasant as puppies for some people.