Monday, October 28, 2013

Shirley Clarke + Teo Macero


Bridges-Go-Around (1958), made by one of the forerunner Jazz Film artists of all time, Shirley Clarke, is a short film, or more precisely two shorts in one. Composed of a series of shots from New York bridges, the film, in its first half, is edited and synced with the music of Teo Macero. For the second half, the very same images, as the first half, are repeated, but this time they are accompanied by the electronic music of Louis and Bebe Barron. So Bridges-Go-Around is a film which is played twice, but each projection, thanks to specific effects created by each musical genre, gives a distinctive impression and even the meaning of the images change and assiduously contrast/complete/comment on the other half. 

In fact, Bridges-Go-Around wasn't originally designed as a twice-played film with two soundtracks, but it was merely one four-minute-long film with Barrons' music. Clarke used the music of Barrons, but when the copyright issues arose, she asked Columbia records jazz producer and trumpet player Teo Macero to compose a replacement. Later, Clarke who liked the both versions started screening them back to back. Like a jazz musician, Clarke turned the spontaneity of moment into an extension of her art, a prudent experimentation which can be seen as a study of the relation between sound and image.

Shirley Clarke
Not only the music, but even the images were rather improvised. The film was actually assembled from leftover footage of some other projects. In Clarke's hands, "the monumental bridges spanning New York Harbor dissolve into flattened abstractions that seem to sway with the music. The dream-like quality is intensified by the vivid color, which was achieved by “bi-packing,” a process in which certain colors of the film original are altered by running the strip through the printer with a second piece of film." [1]

The film is mostly made out of symmetric or asymmetric superimposing shots of bridges,with occasional track-in/zoom-back that makes bridges look tumbling down. (In the electronic version of the film, the bridges seem melting.)

In Bridges-Go-Around, New York City is a jungle of monstrous steels, and the cityscape, seen through the net of bridges, is merely a mirage. This early film also shows Clarke's fascination with the Sci-Fi, especially in the use of camera and sound effect. Clarke's bridges are material and transformative, whereas, in the work of another woman filmmaker, Margartete Duras and her AurĂ©lia Steiner (Melbourne), anmother film about bridges, they are poetic, historic and sheltering. In Clarke's film the water is never shown and the bridge has an existence of its own, but for Duras a dialogue exists between fluidity of the river and the stability of the bridge, between eternal motion and stillness.

Shirley Clarke's Bridges-Go-Round is here to watch:

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