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Serene Velocity and the Primacy of Space
by Sarah Brin `

Okay, so let's talk about the materiality of Ernie Gehr's Serene Velocity. First of all, Willis makes an excellent point about how the film is "fundamentally concerned with the specific materiality of cinema," as it really breaks down the building blocks of the moving image. I know very little about film, but I know there were very few frames in there (two?), and that Gehr's approach to cinema is a lot like how minimalist artists like Judd or Serra draw attention to the medium they're working in-- by breaking everything down into its elements, and attempting to get the viewer to really experience the feeling of being encompassed by the work. I think it's really useful to make these elements, and the subsequent processes of organization/production, visible to the public because they're so ubiquitous. We're swallowed by processes of mediation and production all the time, and I think painfully these down is the only way to get us to really think about what it means for these systems to be so pervasive.

 

Secondly, and hopefully more coherently, I wanted to talk about  the construction of space. I'm taking two classes that are specifically dedicated to this subject, so I have a lot of verbose and abstract things to say. 

 

The jarring physicality of Serene Velocity is actually quite functional. In our headachey boredom, our gaze is drawn to analyze the architectural constructs of the hallway, causing us to seriously examine an architectural feature we have so much contact with, but think so little about. I liked that Willis talked about Henri Lefebvre, and how she mentioned that "spatiality is a construction that socialises both physical and psychological spaces." So while Serene Velocity is very much about the medium of film, I also want to frame it as a discussion of "non-places," and anxieties embedded within space. The hallway we see pictured is very much an example of a non-place. That is to say, it could be in a hospital, an office building, a bus station--there's no trace of identity or history, and it's certainly not the kind of place anyone would want to take time and BE in, or to think about, or to make connections with. As spatial theorists like Auge or Banham might agree, we're perpetually in a state of departure, and most public space is something we experience in the rear-view mirror. This condition can be attributed to the commercialization and industrialization of public space, and I think that phenomenon has a bunch of tentacles that reach out and change how we receive/create film, technology, relationships, theories...

 

 

This Commentary is related to the following Clips:
Serene Velocity by Ernie Gehr (1970) A clip from Ernie Gehr's 1970 film "Serene Velocity".