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Repetition, deterioration and destiny

Damage to the film occurs due to repetition of play, it is the job of the print checker to assess this damage. The mark of each handler, of each machine it runs through and of each venue screening it has its own impact to a film’s deterioration. Even the eyes of the viewer and the words chosen to describe add to the wearing of the film just as each spool, each finger and each bulb impacts – marginally or devastatingly – its future condition; how it is viewed and how it is perceived. The content of the film, its meaning and condition are all subject to time, whether stored away in the archive – exact temperature, perfect light, sealed in a protective container – or being screened in a prestigious institution, the destiny of the film is the same: its eventual deterioration. But with that deterioration is a history and a journey which creates an identity parallel to the artist film itself; both as separate and a part of.

Why do you Exist?

Y587 (4) opens out from Camden Arts Centre to curator to admin staff to something. Something happened just there and I hit the RTI’s stop button and manually rewind the film to the point; the exact point: a frame with a devastating flaw. Her face. It is burnt out for the duration of one single frame – just one. And my first thought: this must be intentional. If not by the artist then by someone, someone has defaced this film. Who would do that to a person’s face?

1. A vindictive projectionist. The woman is one the projectionist had a great desire for, he thought he’d seen the last of her but here she is. Running through his projector. Upon seeing her face large he took it in great fury, stopped the film and stubbed his cigarette out on her in his aggro. (Because it is the size of a cigarette end). And of course this must have happened many years ago, in the 70’s when indoor smoking was ok, when the film was still fresh, as was his hurt, as was this permanent scar within the film.

2. This was on purpose. The artist did it. The film is less than an eighth through. Sit it out, watch carefully and wait for it to occur again. Frame after frame pass and there is no further interruption other than slight scratches and dirt. But I may have missed it. I may have become engrossed and it passed me by and if this is the case then perhaps one ought to question the artist’s intention in including burnt frames in the first place. What can it mean? Some sort of inner destruction to the outer film? Some kind of something unseen? Subliminal? Unknown? Nothing?

3. A print checker jammed the thing in the projector and it remained there for a mere second, because that’s all it takes to accidently burn a frame against a bulb. The smell of vinegar. This possibility doesn’t rule out other culprits, it could as easily have been a projectionist or machine error. Something jammed it. This is the most likely reason. It’s barely noticeable. Gone by in less than a second. Not too much to be concerned about. By now the film has played three quarters of the way through. I stop and rewind manually.

The inner space of the film is London; because you can’t escape it, even if you’re not there you can’t. Splice. It is everywhere and everywhere else will always negate it as overrated, else strive to compete with it, but now they are talking about the moon and the man who is going to land there for the first time and a few severe scratches disfigure the faces of some 60’s hipsters for the duration of one single frame and I wonder if this has something to do with the earlier mark. No. This is the condition of the print itself and has nothing to do with the content. Then again, the film (material) allows the film (subject) to be, therefore how can it be ignored? It is subjectile in relation and one cannot be without the other; its material goes mostly unnoticed but definitively imposes its presence as the mark, a reminder of its long running participation.

Objective Damage

Once the film has been wound carefully through the spools of the RTI the start button is pressed and there is a degree of anticipation as exposed frames reveal their colourings to the left of the small screen before hitting the projector’s light and becoming visible as a definite, readable image. From the left then across the top then immediately down to the right, into the light and then down through a series of spools, which tauten the film. Finally the mechanism winds the film onto a larger spool, gathering itself there until it is ready to be rewound. At all these points the film is subjected to potential or definite (although slight) damage by surrounding elements produced by light, dust, machine and human. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and I see the film approaching to the left, it is red. It hits the light: “Prelude”.

There is a man in a hammock being held and kissed by a gypsy girl. His subconscious is dancing around much like the warped film containing the image. X106 (4) is damaged. Beneath the static of the film a mono soundtrack waves out of pitch, steadies itself back into then out of then into then out of, on going until the warped film itself becomes stable. As the film drifts inside and outside of itself – pulsating image, waving soundtrack, unsteady film, flickering dirt – my attention too shifts between watching the film oscillate across the top of the screen and the images within. It is a shame because X106 has such an untarnished centre; it will survive to see more screenings.

The print checker does not form an opinion of the film based on the typical academic theorists, context or artist’s statement. The only point of reference is in the mark of the invisible other. A series of objective rules are laid out in order to gauge a level of damage which correspond to a series notes left by previous print checkers. Damage is the only content we are permitted to see.

When does a line become a narrative?

The line is a mark of otherness sitting both outside of the film and asserting itself within; the mark is the narrative of the print checker. X142 (3) declares singular words as the “smallest unit of writing”, but this isn’t so. The line came first and perhaps is the smallest unit of anything: the line occurs allowing everything else to be, whether an outline or a word or the stretch of celluloid material which allows the Artist Film to exist. Before anything becomes anything its media is the thing: the thingyness of the thing itself. The subjectile is the first point of departure as the thing allowing the other thing to be. The thing of the Artist Film is both subjugated to and enabled by its celluloid beginnings. Before the mark of the artist. After the mark of the artist. Everything else just adds to.

Mandi Goodier is an artist and writer currently checking the films at LUX, as well as writing somewhere between fiction, theory and biography; about repetition, memory, the mark and otherness. Twitter: @mandigoodier