Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 3
 Issue 10 
29 Sept
2003

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Gordana P Crnkovic, David Hahn and Victor Ingrassia's Zagreb Everywhere (2001) CROATIA
Retrieving a picture from motion
Gordana P Crnković, David Hahn and Victor Ingrassia's Zagreb Everywhere (2001)

The experimental video Zagreb Everywhere seeks to preserve the mystery of the Croatian capital, as producer and writer for the film Gordana P Crnković reveals.


Zagreb Everywhere (2001), an experimental video portrayal of the city of Zagreb, Croatia, is a synthesis of spoken word, audio verité, music and multi-layered video, presenting an unorthodox evocation of the city. In this Croatian-American collaboration, Gordana P Crnković (Croatia), here in the role of writer and producer, reads in voice-over her texts of various genres related to the city, including overheard dialogues, anecdotes, jokes, fantastic tales, impressions and reflections. Composer David Hahn (USA) provides the soundscape for the piece made from ambient sounds that he recorded in Zagreb and some of his own music performed by Zagreb's musicians. By means of digital video compositing, video artist Victor Ingrassia (US) creates a lush and poignant visual landscape from the still images of the city.
—from the publicity for Zagreb Everywhere

"They move too fast," was my recurrent thought when viewing one or the other movie from a contemporary film production, especially American, with its seemingly never-ending speeding up momentum. I wished for a different cinema, in which camera would be allowed to just hold still a bit longer on a close-up of a face or an object, or on a panoramic view of a landscape. Some of the films I most appreciated were precisely those from the previous eras that, for one reason or another, had exactly that quality of letting their single images stay longer on the screen, making an impact quite incomparable to that of the more fast-paced movies. Satyajit Ray's famous Pather Panchali (India, 1955), for example, makes an indelible impression with the recurrent protracted appearances of a close-up shot of a little patch of still water with some water-lilies and a skating insect above them, not directly connected to anything in the story yet contributing immensely to the overall atmosphere of the film.[1]

Saying that the film's still images should last longer may admittedly sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, "motion picture" designates film as a series of moving photographs which are projected one after another at a speed that creates the illusion of motion thanks to our eye's inability to perceive such a quick succession of single frames. And yet, often times the images in the contemporary films seem too eager to move, as if the motion has overwhelmed the images that were moved, and as if the images themselves became important only as the building blocks of a motion. The motion—as succession of images that make the story—has taken precedence over the picture, and the picture has become only a part of its own motion.

Gordana P Crnkovic, David Hahn and Victor Ingrassia's Zagreb Everywhere (2001)Zagreb Everywhere was envisioned as a video piece that reverses the above described dynamics by focusing on a still image over the motion, and by emphasizing the connection of film and video art with painting and still photos. My collaborators and I wanted the images of the city of Zagreb to be released from being solely the building blocks of the motion they're creating, of this or that story or explanatory narrative (as in a typical documentary). We wanted these images to be presented in a way that allows the viewer to contemplate their complex and multi-layered reality, akin to the way in which a gallery visitor contemplates an exhibit before him/her or the way in which someone leisurely strolling through the city may take in or pause before new vistas.

The visual aspect of the video was thus based not on film shots but rather on the 120 photographs of the city of Zagreb taken in 1998-99 by David Hahn and myself, and processed by means of digital video compositing by Seattle's video artist Victor Ingrassia (using Apple's video editing software Final Cut Pro). By slowing down some of the images of Zagreb and really looking at them, the video also attempts to reclaim the city (and by association the wider area) from the real-life and conceptual simplification and "flattening" that was often done in the much of the 1990s by domestic and western politics, media, and scholarly and popular discourses. This simplification reduced that milieu and its inhabitants to one-dimensional spaces and people exhaustible by a reference to ethnicity or the position with regard to the then on-going violence in the Balkans.[2]

Ingrassia used digital video compositing to make the stills alive in unique ways. The movement in the video is not that of a quick succession from one image to another, but rather that which focuses a viewer's attention on an image itself by, say, going towards it or away from it or sideways (all replicating a possible viewer's moving with regard to a picture), by giving different levels of light to the same image, or by adjusting the opacity of images and making them translucent and thus allowing the images to show through one another. The resulting texture of the video is vibrant and the visual movement is rich, but it is that of an eye as it encounters and examines an image, sees the various aspects of the image in changed perspectives of light, distance, positioning, etc., and makes mental connections with other images through similarities of lines, colors, compositions or themes.

Gordana P Crnkovic, David Hahn and Victor Ingrassia's Zagreb Everywhere (2001)The images also reappear in different contexts that change their potential meanings. The "title image" of the video, for example, is that of a woman's face painted in bold black on one of Zagreb's old facades; this black and white image reappears in different moments of the video and creates a somewhat different atmosphere each time, depending on the visual and textual environment in which it finds itself.

The images also interact with the soundscape and the spoken texts. There are sixteen unrelated short texts which I wrote and read in a voice-over, one text for each of the sixteen segments of the video. The texts are written in a variety of genres, including jokes, anecdotes, conversations, poems, fantastic tales and so on. These different genres point at different realms that co-exist in the city—a moment in the relation between a father and his daughter in the poem "Hand to Hand," for example, a grotesque story about one woman's visit to the hospital ("Getting There"), a joke heard in the tram ("Joke"), or a fairy tale in verse (Once Upon a Time). The images are not illustrations of the texts (or a soundscape) and the texts are not explanations of images. Instead, the relationship between the two is that of mutual resonance and dialogue where sides interact with each other but still preserve their autonomy.

As an experimental video that brings back the weight of the images of one city by focusing on them and reclaiming them from a motion that would transcend them, Zagreb Everywhere is at the same time an unorthodox lecture on my home town. It puts into perspective all the many "knowledgeable" and authoritative narratives that were made about this city and the whole wider area of Croatia and the former Yugoslavia (especially in the 1990s with regard to the wars and the violence in the Balkans), by bringing back the violated mystery of a city which appears in any of its numerous complex vistas when they are truly seen. [3]

Gordana P Crnković

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Also of interest
About the author

Gordana P Crnković is an Associate Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature and a member of Cinema Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. She is the author of Imagined Dialogues: East European Literature in Conversation with American and English Literature (Northwestern University Press, 2003), a co-editor with Sabrina P Ramet of Kazaaam! Splat! Ploof! American Influence on European Popular Culture, 1945 to Present (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), and the author of texts for Zagreb Everywhere, an experimental video on display in 2003 at the Rencontres International Festival, Paris and Berlin.


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Footnotes

1. A similarly strong impact is made by the live tableaux made of actors' bodies in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Linden (UK, 1975), with their clear intention of resembling 18th-century paintings by their composition and lack of movement. The recent example that comes to mind from the Yugoslav successor states film production is, for example, from Sarajevan Vesna Ljubić's poetic documentary Ecce Homo (1994), which is rhythmically punctuated with long takes of the close-ups of people's faces, which impress one as a series of portraits.return to text

2. The creation of Zagreb Everywhere was first initiated by Seattle-based composer David Hahn (for more information, see his website) who has long-standing private and professional ties with this city, has lived in it for long periods of time and together with a couple of Zagreb musicians (and with the support of the Soros Foundation's ArtsLink Grant) has formed a music group ConneXions. David wanted to explore the possibilities of creating a "piece about Zagreb which would try to communicate-in an artistic and unorthodox way-an idea about the city to people outside Croatia." He recorded and collected some of the sounds of the city and invited me to write a series of short texts for this project, which I did. The two of us were awarded an Artist Support Program Grant from the Jack Straw Studios in Seattle, underwritten among others by the NEA and the Washington State Arts Commission, which allowed for the creation of a soundscape that combined my live reading of my texts with David's sound-collage made from the sounds of the city and some of his own music performed by Zagreb musicians. We then approached video artist Victor Ingrassia, whose work we had both admired, and together came up with the idea of creating a visual part of the video that is based on the stills of the city and that "reclaims" those stills from the usual motion that would transcend them. For more on the genesis and audio aspects of this project, see David Hahn: "Creating the Soundscape for Zagreb Everywhere." Organised Sound, Cambridge University Press, July 2002.return to text

4. Zagreb Everywhere premiered at the University of Washington, Seattle, in May 2001. It is being shown at university campuses and experimental festivals in the US and Europe. Most recently the piece has been at the Rencontres International Festival Paris-Berlin (Paris February 2003, Berlin November 2003). Clips from the video can be seen on Victor Ingrassia's homepage; click on "Zagreb."return to text

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