Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Living + End of Watch

This is a follow up of sorts to my previous post where I traced thematic and stylistic similarities between two dissimilar films. Who knows, maybe it'll become a series. Like the last post, this one is not concerned with articulating any reasons why such films should be compared. Rather, this is an experiment in serendipity: if I hadn't watched both films in the same sitting I would not have encountered these considerations.


Frans Zwartjes' LIVING is primarily composed of shots from a handheld camera operated by Zwartjes that is turned inward onto himself as the subject. His perspective is not the POV of the camera, but his physicality and placement in the world anchors the shots. The fluidity of the camera's movements lends it a feeling of freedom, but it is also an extension of Zwartjes' own body. They are inseparable. We are looking at him film himself as he wanders through rooms in his house. The strangeness of the perspective queers a somewhat generic space. Although this strangeness is also a synesthetic experience wherein the music changes the relationship one has to the environments on screen.

His position is privileged, despite being one element of an ambient environment. The camera is connected to the arm bone, blurring the distinctions between Zwartjes and his surroundings, the subject and the object, the human and the nonhuman.

This angle is interrupted throughout by static shots that are broken away from Zwartjes, showing him in his entirety inside of the room, but also allowing for a visual interrogation of other elements and figures, such as his wife Trix's body, who at other times is holistically connected to Zwartjes through the composition of the handheld shots. These shots become the most bizarre by way of their familiarity, as if a conventional film were attempting to smuggle itself inside of LIVING. No single perspective dominates.


END OF WATCH is anchored in the found footage style with frequent passages of Jake Gyllenhaal walking and filming himself as he enters the homes and apartments of strangers. Director David Ayer uses this aesthetic to provide an entry point into the narrative: Gyllenhaal is a cop recording his daily life for a film class. Ayer fluidly moves in and out of these perspectives, frequently cutting to footage that is not associated with Gyllenhaal's cameras. These non-documentary images are distinct, but never too distinct: indicators are in place to alert the viewer to the source of the images, but the transition is seamless. The "Rec" and "time/date" stamp digital artifacts are not crude or intrusive. In fact, without going back through the film entirely, I don't recall any such artifacts beyond the occasional night vision green.

The scenes thus become extensions of the found footage, rather than an 'objective' or 'neutral' reality that exists outside of the 'footage' shot by individuals. The perspective is deeply troubled, creating a universe that seeps into the technology, which then pours it right back out. Everything is connected, but mutating constantly. The majority of the film is tied to Gyllenhaal's perspective, visualizing "his world" and the networks of relationships that are associated with him: his partner, his girlfriend, other cops, criminals, bystanders.

END OF WATCH is not a film that views the world from Gyllenhaal's perspective. It infrequently cuts to the local cartel associates who ultimately shoot him and his partner. These figures are rooted in the same environs and the boundaries between them are often leaky, but they are kept at a distance as villains. Despite the visual aroma of Michal Mann (the moody cityscapes swathed in blue) the cops and robbers are not similar character types constructed differently by their social locations. This is all about the cops and their tragedy at he hands of wicked drug dealers; a tale made more curious by the means with which this narrative is filmed recorded.

images: LIVING (Frans Zwartjes / 1971) + END OF WATCH (David Ayer / 2012)