27 March 2012 | adamarts
Weak and underwhelming artist's film
Artists' film is a genre in its own right, and may not fulfil an audience's expectations in the same way that other dramas and documentaries might. There are good and bad artists' films, and the occasional glorious hybrid that brings an artist's sensibility to 'conventional' filmmaking - Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg is an example of that.
Ben Rivers' Slow Action is an artist's film which aspires to be a modern take on the cinema genre that threw up landscape films such as Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana. It does not come across as being an awful artist's film - it's more or less technically competent, and the artist has had the fortune to visit some exotic locales in which to film. But it is a very weak artist's film that fails to deliver on the promises of its landscapes/cinematic time/literary texts.
Put simply - the first three parts of the film are visits to a volcanic landscape on the Canary Isles, a low-lying Pacific island, and an abandoned coal mining town on an island off Japan. The camera frames up a handful of landscape shots in retro-chic anamorphic 16mm film in each location, and monotone voices read monotonous texts on the soundtrack.
The annoying thing about it as an artist's film is that, lazily, this is all the film does. The literary texts used are rubbish, and their juxtaposition over the landscape shots - without connection to anything in the image - is the obfuscation of weak art.
The final section of the film - people in 'tribal' masks goofing around in Somerset countryside - is just appalling. It's so bad, I've blotted it from my memory.
Overall, this is the sort of artists' film that seems to appeal to public sector funders and art programme curators - a bit of far-flung exoticism, a bit of retro filmmaking grammar. But, for an audience, it comes across as conservative, leaden plod through what should be a stimulating, challenging genre.