Avant-Garde and the Experimental Film – Reflections on a film practice

Film practice

Reflections on my film practice

As I intended in my film Memories Of Shiqi I wanted the audience to accept this film was a true story but leave them with questions, what is the real story?

Fargo: Director Ethan Coen first explained why the pair added the “true story” disclaimer to the film, saying, “We wanted to make a movie just in the genre of a true story movie. You don’t have to have a true story to make a true story movie.” (Bradley, 2016)

In my film, there are visual clues that indicate that Shiqi’s death may have been a possible outcome. Was this just to shock the audience with the main protagonist’s death or do the dates just signify the historical period that the film is concerned with? As an experimental filmmaker this is just one of my intentions, to create this uncertainty to leave the audience with a puzzle, is my film effectively an obituary? The film has a non-linear timeline, time is relative in my films there is a beginning and an end, but the sequence of the film is not a linear time sequence the visuals are not sequenced in a rigid order but the images are sometimes matched visually or by action or indeed location. Rees argues that “The notion of film as primarily a time-based art is central to the avant-garde, even though the shaping of time is common to all cinemas. But the experimental tradition puts film time at the core of its project.” (Rees, 2011: 6).

Film Practice Shiqi in the Lake District

On reflection on my film practice  “Memories Of Shiqi “, is a product of both the combination of the different film capture technologies employed, analogue film and digital film and the editing processes. Context is not a major consideration with scenes of childhood revealed through the montage sequence is interspersed before and after with adult scenes, I am not attempting to create a linear time sequence. Locations also have meaning in the film but are not sequenced together juxtaposed between locations in Wuhan, China, and Lancaster, England. The images are linked through matching shots, making comparisons between time, the locations, and through the montage of images. However, I wanted to specifically match some of the visuals together so I would be able to juxtapose archival footage next to contemporary footage through actions. For example, the sequences of Shiqi skateboarding in the hallway of her home in Wuhan and sliding down the hallway of her temporary home in Lancaster. In another scene we see Shiqi walking, shielding her eyes from the sun using a hat, in editing using a vertical mask dividing the screen equally into two halves, the images are separated but combined on the screen, together each form one half of the screen a flashback of the other combined with a matching shot but separated by both the years and by locations.

Some of these editing processes were influenced by Soderbergh’s film The Limey (1999), with its discontinuous editing and manipulation of the timeline, and the reversal of the opening scenes and the end scenes. My film parallels this, the opening scene at the station is of Shiqi’s departure, she is shown waiting for a train at Lancaster station, yet later scenes show her at the Castle’s entrance. The audience may be confused and possibly incorrectly decides this opening scene is where Shiqi arrives, but there are no visuals of Shiqi arriving on a train only those of her and her suitcase on the station’s platform seemingly waiting for a train to depart. I originally had train sequences both at the beginning and end of the film, a conventional beginning, and a conventional end but I removed the train’s departure visuals intended as the end sequence and replaced it with a scene set in a hospital. The hospital scene is another possible ending to the film, the mise-en-scene, a typical hospital bed, medical instruments, and Shiqi wearing a gown, she appears to have breathing problems and she struggles to breathe with the aid of an oxygen mask, she also appears to die. This is a misdirection leading the audience to believe this is the actual ending of the film and at the same time reinforces the original misdirection attached to the dates in the opening credits, “A True Story”. I have assumed that the spectator watches my film in sequence, from the perspective of a linear timeline, there is a beginning and an end, a resolution, a classic Hollywood narrative but as Hayward states that

“In terms of perception, the movement-image is our linear experience of the film’s narrative. But, as we can also gather, this experience is not a passive one; the spectator enjoys multiple points of view; perception is thereby multiple, even though we have followed an essentially straightforward narrative (based on the principle of ‘what happens next?’).” (Hayward, 2018: 265).

Film Practice Memories Of Shiqi

As I have stated, my film does not truly follow the principles of the classic Hollywood narrative there is no true beginning or end, the film starts and finishes but there is no narrative just a non-linear sequence of visuals that inform. My intention was to create a montage of visuals elements for the spectator to assemble in order and determined from their unique perspective, effectively creating their own narrative and memory of the film. This by using the basis of collective memory and the acceptance that each social group forms a different memory based on their viewing experience. Bordwell argues that a montage is a form of narrative,

“One type of scene, no matter where it occurs in the film, is a highly overt mark of narration: the montage sequence. Its main purpose was to condense a large-scale process or an extensive passage of time so that a trip could be shown through a montage of travel stickers pasted onto a suitcase, or a trial rendered by a cascade of newspaper headlines.” (Bordwell, 2006: 49).

In Memories Of Shiqi montage is used to condense the passage of time with its sequence of childhood photographs covering the early years. Montage is also used to jump locations, between continents with video sequences from China, Europe, and the United Kingdom featuring in the film’s timeline matching shots, actions, and juxtaposing locations.

Film Practice contimues


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