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Short of the week- Mallets/Gong Close Up

Monday 12 January 2015, by Judy Harris

From its very beginning cinema has been exalted for its ability to reveal the secret life of objects, enabling us to access a hidden reality inaccessible to our senses. As the early film theorist Jean Epstein put it- “We say ‘red’, ‘soprano’, ‘sweet’, ‘cypress’ when there are only velocities, movements, vibrations”. Joanne Woolgar’s companion films Mallets and Gong Close Up put these velocities and vibrations centre stage, revealing both the aural and textual dimensions of a massive orchestral gong and the tiny, multicoloured mallets which reverberate across its surface.

Unlike the sounds and images which appear later, the opening shot of Mallets is familiar; we see the smiling, middle aged face of a friendly white man, wearing a soft and worn baseball cap. The atmosphere is relaxed and amiable. Yet the sounds we see and hear this figure create are startlingly eerie, resounding with indescribable depth as though from another dimension; delightfully unfamiliar. The mallets he wields are tiny plastic orbs which look like the miniaturized lights of a pelican crossing. The suspended gong he plays is massive and magnificent and Woolgar’s attentive series of close ups which slowly span its surface feels like a voyage across a hundred landscapes. At times the images on screen could be mistaken for the craterous footage of a moon landing, at other times the colours and textures are reminiscent of the gold leaf brushstrokes of a Byzantine painting.

Woolgar further expands this world of sound and texture by taking us into the workshop where these instruments are made. Yet the labour and craftsmanship which are the genesis of these seemingly immaterial sounds, the clanging, the clamouring and the heat feel incongruous and far removed. The atmosphere of the workshop isn’t easily reconciled with the enigmatic mood of the rest of the film, proving that the spell of commodity fetishism is hard to break. While Woolgar makes us privy to the laborious creation of these objects, they and the sounds they produce feel orphaned and alien, as though they arrived here by magic. Much like film itself.

You can watch Woolgar’s phenomenal short films Mallets and Gong Close Up here:


Gong Close Up-

These films were screened the brilliant open mic short film night Kino London- more info: http://www.kinolondon.com/

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