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One Second In Montreal

Michael Snow

Canada, 1969
25 minutes, colour, silent
Available formats: 16mm

In Snows most recent films, One Second In Montreal and Dripping Water (made with Joyce Wieland ) we are brought to consider the force of time stripped of spatial interest. A collection of snow scenes, all still photographs of potential sites for a monument in Montreal (thus distinctly not artistic photographs) follow one another for twenty-two minutes. The film is aggressive, yet haunting. It too is at the edge, at the point where an image of an actuality provides a firmer ground for meditation than an abstract image or no image at all. This particular film proves the subtlety of Snows genius, in his ability to locate a precise Image of time without resorting to nostalgia or any iconic representation of the past or futurity. The shots are held longer and longer as we enter the middle of the film, and they shorten towards the end. After several viewings, One Second in Montreal offers a subtle reading of time, distinctions in the duration of one very long hold and one just slightly shorter. The absence of internal movement denies the sense of temporal scale. I have referred to in discussing Back and Forth, that absence magnifies the presence of time as a pure element in the film – P.Adams Sitney .
This serial procession of pictures is utterly fascinating and hypnotic in spite of the fact that the images themselves are quite ordinary. An overwhelming sense of mystery and deja vu is generated as the parade of odd bleak photographs moves by. One attempts to figure Snows logic in selecting which pictures would be held longest, which the briefest and thus one is made to analyse and concentrate on the images far more attentively than one normally would. It becomes clear that Snow has forced an extremely intense subject-object relationship, not simply by the fact that he has held certain pictures longer than others, but because these durations are structures mathematically, are given a pattern and logic which seems purposive, that is, it seems to move teleologically toward some meaning. The only meaning, however, is ones relation to the temporal structure. Thus One Second In Montreal becomes a sculpture which exists in time without motion. It is typical of Snows genius, a gift best described by John Cage when he said: Where beauty ends is where the artist begins. -Gene Youngblood.