Monday, 27 October 2014

'Silent Running' at the Eden Project—Some reflections on cinema and its world

Following on from a post I wrote recently, the 1972 sci-fi classic film Silent Running was shown last night at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
The event was kicked off by the performance of a quite gorgeous sci-fi-inspired, ambient piece of music by Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), with Adrian Lee and Tim Allen, in the Mediterranean biome. (Among the celebrity Cornishmen in attendance—this needs to be mentioned as there really aren't many of them!—was the artist usually known as Aphex Twin.)

With dozens of speakers dotted around the place, the band's magnificently brooding, droning, chirping sound-waves reverberated all around the biome, mixing and melding with the rippling rhythms of talking, walking, dropping things... It was an immersive aural delight.

Afterwards, back in the main building and overlooking the domes, Utley and Gregory described how they were inspired particularly by the soundtrack for Forbidden Planet (1956) and its cobbled-together, hugely experimental techniques of sound-scaping.

Then came Mark Kermode's hilarious and heartfelt introduction to the film. I expect that a video of this will emerge on Eden's Youtube page soon, though it hasn't yet.

I'd watched the film five or six times before but never on a big screen, nor with a crowd of people. (Nor, indeed, on film as opposed to the DVD version.) It was quite remarkable how different the experience was under properly 'cinematic' conditions. I saw so many things in the film that I hadn't before (I am sure that it was differently edited to the DVD version, although it seemed to come in at the same running time); moreover, I felt many things watching the film that I had not previously. Scenes which previously slid by with little to mark them as remarkable became pivotal moments; the rhythm, pacing and structure of the film seemed to somehow reveal themselves; jokes that seemed only mildly humorous became hilarious ('laugh and the whole world...'), while the pathos of the film's closing act was stunningly magnified by the sheer silence of the audience as the events unfolded.

The film has its moments of kitsch and inadvertent humour (whatever the bird is that lands on Lowell's arm during the first Joan Baez song never fails to have them rolling in the aisles). In many ways, as even Kermode conceded, the film doesn't hold together; in many ways it is rather dated. However, there really is something very special about it as a work of art, especially when viewed in its proper environment—that is, when viewed cinematically.

The fact that some of the film's more naive moments provoked laughter only served to emphasise the degree to which its more sensitive moments were still able to move deeply, to make present sentiments that were utterly relatable, despite all the distancing effects of time and the ageing process of technical progression.

While the film was screened in a conference room rather than a proper cinema this hardly mattered. In fact the setting couldn't have been more perfect. The room was set up in such a way that Eden's domes, the architecture of which was inspired by the film, were visible just to the right of the screen. As the credits begin to roll we see one dome gradually drifting off into the distance. As Kermode noted rather excitedly, it appeared more or less the same size on the screen as the domes that were visible out of the window.

I can't think of a film that has been connected to its worldly consequences in the mere fact and technique of its projection as intimately as this one. What could sunder all pretences of textualism or filmic internalism more than this moment? Projection as a technical art is an intimate part of the broader art of cinema—this much is clear. And film is of the world. It is an ever transforming assemblage; it acts, it moves, it builds.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm planning on writing an article on all of this, taking this film as a case study for thinking about space and spatiality in film. It seems to me that for all the countless pages written on time in film there is precious little that concentrates on space—as though that were somehow either given or uninteresting. Neither of those things seem to me to be true. I am now quite excited about getting to work on this project!

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