Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Empire" by Andy Warhol and John Palmer. Photographed by Jonas Mekas. 1964. 16mm black & white, silent

Just had an extraordinary screening experience of seeing Andy Warhol and John Palmer’s “Empire.” The film is 8 hours and five minutes, and I saw 3 hours of it.  I was there from the beginning when it's daylight and slowly turns into nighttime.  “Empire” works on different levels, and is probably is one of the most complex films I have ever seen. On one level, it deals with the Empire State Building, which is the subject of the camera just being focused on the top of the iconic building.  The grainy and textural aspect of the film adds a definite layer of beauty to its subject matter.   When it becomes night, and all of sudden the building's lighting goes on, you can hear the audience swoon.  There is nothing for a long time, and then… something happens.  After awhile, I can’t tell if the camera is moving or it is just my eyes adjusting to the lights - or maybe just starring at one object for such a long time.   I started to see a face - something of a mid-evil armory mask.  Illusion for sure, but one has plenty of time for inventorying their brain while watching this film.  Which comes to the other layer, which is time.

Time going by, or time passing.  It became obvious to me after watching it for an hour that the building is not really the topic, but more how one spends time viewing something.  Especially when you’re in a theater watching this film.   One can say it’s non-narrative, but that is not correct.  If you’re in the beginning of the film, you gradually see the building emerging from the whiteness of the screen.   As it emerges you then see the skyline of New York, but not fully.  Almost ghost like, till it gets darker, and then one can only see the building - and once in a while you see a light here and there from other structures, but they’re way in the background.   So the narrative is basically watching this building for a period of time, and therefore it tells a story.  The fact that day turns to night is narrative enough.   And then when it gets dark, the lights go on the building.  So things are happening, and there are things we don’t know about.  For instance what are the people in the building doing while Empire is being filmed?  I thought about that as I watched the film, and I also started to daydream about my life - thinking of past pleasures.

“Empire” becomes an entrance way to one’s imagination and thinking.   Jonas Mekas did the filming.  He captured such beautiful images as the day is turned into night.  Also the relationship between audience and film is an interesting one as well.  When I went in, I turned off my phone, not only because you should in a theater, but I also wanted to destroy my version of time.  I didn’t wish to be aware of my time, but just focus on the time being expressed in the film.   After awhile I totally got lost - and I wasn’t sure if one hour passed or even six hours.  There had the feeling of comfort watching a film knowing how it will end - and therefore you are just there for the journey itself.

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