Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Take It then Face It

London Can Take It (1940), one of the most successful propaganda films produced in the UK during World War II, presents the chilling scenario of a city as target during total war. Directors Harry Watt and Humphrey Jennings used the American journalist Quentin Reynolds to write and narrate the voiceover, which to modern ears has the effect of making the opening of the film seem a bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone, where Rod Sterling introduces in earnest tones a drama of dreadful yet often plausible horror. This admittedly superficial resemblance to popular science fiction is not so far out, perhaps, since part of the purpose of Reynolds' narration is to provide critical transatlantic distance -- to speak to an American audience that is observing from far away, as if from another world -- and at the same time to carry the sense that what happens in London makes a difference in the United States. The film toured the US in a slightly modified form as Britain Can Take It, and President Roosevelt attended a private screening. The Blitz-torn London depicted here is a disturbing world that is all too familiar and yet morbidly strange; it is both reassuring and saturated with dread.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Lightning Field

Will we see the lighting-flash of Being, in the essence of technology? The flash that comes out of stillness, as stillness itself?
-- Martin Heidegger (1)

Walter De Maria's Lightning Field (1977) is a one mile by one kilometer square grid of four hundred highly polished stainless steel poles. There are sixteen poles north to south, twenty-five poles east to west, placed 225 feet apart. Each pole is a different height to accommodate the variations in the terrain, ranging from 15.07 feet to 26.72 feet, so that their needle-pointed tops form an level plane. The Field is set on a flat plain in west central New Mexico, over seven thousand feet above seas level. It is an area that seasonally expects electric storms three days in thirty.