Image/Process: The Film Experiments of Alexandre Larose

Image/Process: The Film Experiments of Alexandre Larose

 

Digital filmmaking has one fatal flaw, compared to film stock: it’s easier. Anyone can play around with speed, crossfading, canvas rotation, and then simply undo the last change, rather than start from scratch, if the end result doesn’t look good. To achieve the same effects in analogue takes advanced skill, from planning out camera moves to manual rewinding and waiting for the same amount of sunlight to match a take – the requirements one may only discover through trial and error. Québécois filmmaker Alexandre Larose seems motivated by these very obstacles: his experimental films are hypnotic and ethereal in a way that requires effort, but nobody can estimate how much exactly, unless the filmmaker is there to tell us.

As part of the Vienna Shorts festival early this June, the Austrian Film Museum organized a Larose retrospective and an in-depth master class. Larose insisted that the original film footage (Super 8/16mm/35mm) should be used. Since he used reversal film while shooting, this meant that we were watching a projection of the same films that went through his camera. Since Larose edits his films in-camera – he sets up the choreography before he starts shooting rather than recombine footage in post-production – it’s as if the audience of the Austrian Film Museum received a time capsule. During the screening, Larose was in the projection booth to sync the sound for each short, adding a pre-1927 aura.

Watching any film in the Brouillard series (2009-2015) is inseparable from thinking about, or guessing, how it’s made. The camera guides us along the path as the wind gently stirs the tree branches. Shapes become misty, pixelated, Renoirian, as if the imprint on our retinas were the arithmetic average of all the times we took a walk. This is, in fact, close to what Larose is doing, either using color film or black and white: he films his walk through the trees, then goes back to the starting point, rewinds the film and repeats his trajectory more than a dozen times (a smaller number of repetitions would make the end result look jumpy, while too many would make it too dense). One color version of Brouillard also captures the fleeting presence of the filmmaker’s two nieces, running through the frame in bright clothing, their silhouettes in motion leaving a ghostly trace, thus conveying the haziness of memory.

Le corps humain (2006), which provided the background for the Vienna Shorts Trust Me poster – an extreme close-up of a baby’s eye – is the closest Larose comes to a classical home movie. Filming portraits of the three generations of his relatives, he tries to tease out their family resemblance, adding thematic comments in the voiceover. He also edited this film in-camera, which I assume means he has asked the subjects to alternate in front of the camera for an insane number of times, rather than resorting to the much easier cross-cutting.

Things got really disturbing with Ville Marie, a project Larose undertook in 2006, and which he describes as an attempt to overcome a recurrent dream about falling. Shot from the top of a tall Montreal building, Place Ville Marie, it involved throwing and dropping the camera until the speed would cause the geometrical pattern of the windows in an office building to blur, to the point of vertigo. Repetition had the effect of making the figure of Larose, as he throws the camera over the precipice and then leans forward to watch it fall, into something like a psychedelic dream.

During the master class, Larose provided details on how he worked for Ville Marie: it involved building, together with engineer Ludovic Boily, a sort of cardboard rocket to guide and protect the camera when it hit the ground. Initially, analogue seemed preferable to digital, since there was a better chance of at least recovering the film stock if the device broke. Larose joked (or did he?) about his obsessiveness: he once considered the option of being a janitor at Ville Marie, so that he could, one day, sneak out on the roof with his camera and start making the film he dreamed of.

During the same event, Larose showed fragments of more recent works, including an experiment with digital images – the same camera-falling-from-a-skyscraper movement would be shot with various image definitions, from low res to HD, which could make the image look distorted, except when the camera hit optimal speed. Rather than use the digital as a shortcut for previously tried analogue effects, Larose turns technology against itself.  Since he cares about medium specificity the newer, more intuitive and less physically demanding methods provide him fresh areas to explore.

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