Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 7 Rooms: montage guide for an abandoned film

Saturday, August 22, 2015

7 Rooms: montage guide for an abandoned film


Over a year ago, this video was assembled for my own purpose (not originally intended for public viewing): I was planning an anthology of 7 short films. I figured each film would be shot in a different room of a house, echo a different genre, feature a character of a different age, include visuals inspired by a different Catholic sacrament, take place at a different time of day, use a different style of composition, and incorporate themes or visual/musical atmosphere from a different historical era. Before developing the individual stories, I created this montage to see all of the elements in play. Naturally, the concept was so schematic that I never got very far with it! The project was eventually abandoned. Nevertheless, I enjoy some of the musical and visual juxtapositions in this "guide video" and decided to upload it to my Vimeo channel. It's fairly random and obscure, but absorbing enough if you enjoy this sort of thing.

After the video, I've included pictures and brief explanations for each category for those curious about the intended structure. I'm not 100% sure why I was compelled to upload this, except that I have a soft spot for juxtapositions of wildly different yet congruent material, and I enjoy the schematic nature of the progression (especially the historical music and clips).




Time of Day


Each short would take place at a different time of day, which would impact both the look (light coming through the windows) and the events (since a character would be sleeping in the night short, returning after a night out in the dawn one, etc).

Age


Each short would feature a character in an older age group than the one before. Alongside the time of day, sacrament, and (more abstractly) associated historical era this would add a sense of progression as the shorts unfolded, making them feel like they were part of a larger narrative framework. The characters alternated between female and male.

Catholic Sacrament


This was one of the more obscure elements, which I never fully figured out before abandoning the project. The intention was not to overtly include a sacrament in each short, but to have each short include a motif or theme associated with one of the sacraments. So for example the guilty teenager would realize there was a presence on the other side of the one-way mirror (confession), the dancer would attempt to feed the sleeping man (communion) and so forth. Many of the connections never really became clear to me - a good example of how choosing structural gimmicks before determining narrative can be more of a handicap than a help.

Room


This was the very first motif I established when coming up with the idea for this "feature" made up of separate shorts. The idea of setting each short in a different room (of the house I was living in at the time) seemed to turn a necessary limitation into fruitful discipline, and the rest of the conceits followed this. The order of the rooms was determined by how their layout within the house. I shot each of these little video clips on my phone at the same time I was taking those exterior still shots to establish the time of day. Had I always planned to share this montage, I might have taken care to avoid the low resolution and shaky movement of these clips (which makes such a jarring contrast with beautifully-shot scenes from classic films...), but oh well.

Genre


One of the most obvious and attractive conceits was the idea that each short would fall within a different genre. The genre conceit actually fueled the conception of many shorts, alongside the Jonathan Lethem stories I was adapting in some cases (having discovered he was one of the few authors to offer material nearly for free). This is also one of the few categories in which the elements don't naturally fall into a particular order, so I had to decide which genre to match up with which time of day/room/historical era. Horror went well with nighttime, the documentary approach fit my small little dining room, and the melancholy imaginativeness of the Romantic era called for animation, which would probably have been pretty basic considering my budgetary limitations.

History of Western Civilization


This was my favorite of the seven elements, and also the most vaguely determined! I loved the idea that each of the shorts might match up to a different era in Western history, from the dark ages to the present. However, this would be more a matter of mood, theme, and atmosphere than direct setting (i.e. all of the shorts would seem to take place in the present not medieval times or the Enlightenment, etc). This would be an element I used as a guide for myself, but which would not necessarily be apparent to the viewer. I never totally figured out how this would work, and maybe this more than anything established the project as a pipe dream. But I'm still kind of fascinated by the potential for loose allegory here, however pretentious. It was also fun matching up genres with historical eras, some of which were obvious (noir with the modern age, horror with the dark ages), while others were more intuitive (musicals with the Renaissance) or even somewhat paradoxical yet "right" to me (medieval with sci-fi). The clips to represent these eras were taken from the British documentary Civilisation, one of my favorite films/miniseries and a big influence on how I divided up the eras in the first place. Best of all - for the purposes of this montage anyway - the different eras determined the musical score for each section, establishing a distinct mood despite the cacophony of clips.

Camera/Cutting Style


For the final category, I thought it would be an interesting exercise, if also a damningly dogmatic limitation, to shoot each short with a different formal emphasis. Here is where the schematic obsession of the whole "7 Rooms" idea became perhaps most ridiculous. That said, it was fun determining seven distinct styles of covering a scene, and then finding clips from my collection that represented these approaches, even if it wasn't particularly helpful. The narrowness of this concept pretty much torpedoed any last hope that this project would ever see the light of day. Also contributing: practical considerations as my living situation changed, competition from other projects (both film ideas and blogging work), and finally the fact that, as with most of my brainstorms in the past few years, what began as a simple cost-saving conceit had developed into a concept too ambitious to actually realize. Onto the next idea...

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