"Beyond Spatial Montage" part 5 of 6
story © Michael Betancourt, November 25, 2014 all rights reserved.
This theory work will be published as a book-length monograph Beyond Spatial Montage: Windowing, or, the Cinematic Displacement of Time, Motion, and Space by Focal Press.
Part 5 of a 6 Part series proposing an expanded theorization of spatial montage, excerpted from a current book project.
Displacements of Time—Motion—Space are predicted by this taxonomy, but do not appear in the historical record. These are ‘single image’ works constructed around the fragmentation and reorganization of one shot (the long take) transformed into a multiple image composition that may not contain affective juxtapositions. The three variations of this displacement reflect affective priorities in the form that the resulting composites take within the larger morphology of Time—Motion—Space displacement. Both temporal and spatial elements are crucial to these visual structures; they differ from ‘spatial montage’ in the singular nature of the screen-image. There are three variants distinguished by their affective character: within the fundamentally continuous, singular image the shifts have a distinct valence that is more closely aligned with one of the three elements (Time, Motion and Space).
This structure compartmentalizes parts of the motion image contained within a single long take, transforming the time shown by that shot so its development and temporal progression on screen becomes graphically visible within discrete sub-images. Each of the three variations of this structure employ a fundamentally consistent organization of materials in relation to the continuity of the long take: the singular image is broken into smaller frames that function as “temporal lenses” allowing a simultaneous presentation of different moments from that singular duration on screen. This variety of displacement allows for a detailed consideration of a singular temporal development: the displacement of Time—Motion—Space depends on the recognition that what has been manipulated is a singular image, its contents and development displayed spatially, but simultaneously developing across the frame. Each of the subvariants function in analogous fashion, but manipulate this temporal element in very different ways, creating a group of unique affects that cluster around a singular general form. These subtle distinctions distinguish each variation.
Displacement via Duplication
Duplicated elements within the singular frame exploit the serial nature of motion imagery—that each motion picture is composed from a sequence of very similar images presented individually in rapid succession; this technical foundation remains true of digital videos as much as traditional films, even though digital files do not typically encode individual frames in their entirety. The presentation of all these works, analog and digital alike, depends on this multiple presentation of discrete images to create their motion. This technical foundation remains constant whether they are projected on film or created by selectively changing particular pixels on screen: the audience sees the image as a whole, not an atomized collection of discrete points of light.
Chipmunk (2006) is a movie where a short video of a chipmunk eating a walnut is fragmented and shown multiple times as distinct moments of the action are duplicated and arranged on screen. The entire duration of the original video footage, running approximately 5 minutes, is shown on screen, but has been “compressed” through this repetition into 2 minutes. Time is condensed through the duplicated elements of the same long take appearing on screen at the same time, potentially summarizing the chronological development of the entire shot in a singular frame: these discrete duplications are all drawn from different points within the progression of a singular shot, but are shown simultaneously on screen. The resulting piece allows for a consideration of nuance and action by its animal subject while at the same time containing an entire sequence of action. This condensation of action, development and movement results in apparent, visibly repeating actions that allow comparisons of how the action develops in time. Creating the fragmentation this condensation of time on screen requires an accompanying spatial displacement that creates an array of discrete images whose morphology is immediately recognizable as the temporal displacement of how the shot develops. While this structure in a still image might resemble the juxtaposed imagery common to spatial montage, the affect this compositional structure has is entirely different. It is the audience’s recognition of the how each image fragment is a distinct moment from within the same, immanent, singular long take that defines this particular displacement as duplication of materials from another temporal point in the same shot’s development: the structural affect is displacement on screen rather than juxtaposition, making its distinction from spatial montage clear and immanent.
Displacement via Duration
Time—Motion—Space displacement via shifts of duration within an otherwise continuous image is another logically potential morphology identified by this analysis which does not have a historical foundation. Instead, it is one of the structures predicted by this taxonomy as logically possible; it is a ‘discovery’ posed by this research. The organization of material on screen within a continuously running long take is subjected to internal displacement by changing the duration of some parts of this long take, so portions of the image become ruptures with the rest of it. These delay-structures are difficult to recognize as still images precisely because they are formally continuous with the rest of the frame’s contents, but the movement they display is displaced in relation to the rest of the frame’s contents: instead of taking a much longer duration and condensing it into a shorter time, a shorter time is expanded into to be much longer. This effect is produced by speed ramping to artificially create both slow motion and fast motion. Speed ramping digital motion pictures creates the possibility for the duration of the scene to expand and alter, creating a different temporal effect within the image.
Rabbit (2005) breaks the screen up into a network of discrete frames that progress at different rates, creating a tension between slow-moving and fast-moving elements. The action of the rabbit shown—eating a plantain flower, then hopping away—becomes through this process of repetition and slowing of footage a study of the action itself. These displacements on screen have the capacity to emerge from or disappear into the normal speed motion of the image, resulting in displacements that link with and diverge from the continuous motion contained by the rest of the motion image.
Displacement via Division (Einbau)
“Einbau” is a German word that means “installation” and “mounting”—two simultaneous understandings that emerge from this particular visual construct when encountered in motion. While it superficially might resemble ‘spatial montage,’ is distinct from it in two ways: first, the images function not as smaller units within the larger field of the frame, but instead are clearly coincident with it—they are recognized and understood to be full-frame images, of which only a piece is visible at any given moment. This form is specifically derived from rarely occurring digital file malfunctions, or glitches, where instead of a change of shot occurring, instead the two images combine on screen, coexisting yet entirely separate from each other, each contained in a fragmentary fashion and understood to be full-frame. That all images in an Einbau are full frame is the point—what appears on screen is a ‘window’ that acts as a displacement within that full frame, showing parts (and these selections may be in motion within that full frame over time), resulting in a clear awareness that the two images coincide, and can be seen in simultaneity, but remain distinct.
Coming and Going (2014) is a short made from multiple 30 second long takes shot with a stationary surveillance camera using the einbau structure. These shots have been composited together to accentuate temporal ruptures within the spatially continuous space shown on screen. It develops the structural dimensions of the einbau displacement in a systematic fashion. The ruptures within the long take are instantly understood when watching the piece. This video employs a series of 30-second long takes each produced at a different time of day, but showing similar actions from a fixed camera position (the footage is taken by a security camera mounted in place). The displacements form an even grid spread across the screen, effectively interlacing paired and grouped shots in a seamless fashion: only incidents of light and action identify where these squares are on screen. Again, it is immediately apparent that all these shots are full frame images; however, the fragmentation and combination of action produces an ambiguity of temporal relationships by presenting the distinct shots as specific divisions within the space of the long take, each corresponding to independent times, thus distinguishing the einbau structure from the other variations of Time-Motion-Space displacements.
Beyond Spatial Montage:
Part 1 Foundations
Part 2 Time—Space Displacement
Part 3 Time—Motion Displacement (Step Printing)
Part 4 Motion—Space Displacement (Mirroring)
Part 5 Time—Motion—Space Displacement
Part 6 Afterword
Copyright © Michael Betancourt November 25, 2014 all rights reserved.
All images, copyrights, and trademarks are owned by their respective owners: any presence here is for purposes of commentary only.