Shaking Up Motion Pictures

When motion picture cameras were invented in the 1890s, the resulting under a minute’s realistic moving photographs of an authentic or staged everyday life, public or sporting event, slapstick and travelogue of sights of far flung places had enough novelty to birth and blossom the film industry of simple cheap mass entertainment before that century came to an end.

This preference for moving videos over static photos is still very much alive in this day and age of smart phones: just total up the percentage of shares of the former over the latter via the diverse range of social media platforms, and the continuing runaway success of YouTube.

Yet Malaysian Hayati Mokhtar raises an epistemological question in the newly opened “Cinerama: Art And The Moving Image In Southeast Asia” exhibition at SAM at 8Q of the very enduring unthinking acceptance of this penchant. Her “Falim House: Observations” is a 10-channel video of silent and stasis still images, and of little that happens within the interior and surroundings of the derelict Ipoh-located titular mansion built by wealthy Malayan tin tycoon Foo Nyit Tse in the early 20th century; pushing into our consciousness musings over ‘Must a movie be of moving images?’

And by strategically positioning each of her 10 screens within compartmentalized cinema-hall darkened segments of 1 gigantic gallery space at 8Q, Mokhtar compels us to physically walk from 1 still screening to the seemingly motionless next to collectively build a ‘filmed’ narrative of the Foo’s family life hinted at by furniture, antiques and personal letters ‘symbolically’ left behind in their ruined Falim House; further querying the movie world’s given aim of eliciting an emotional response from an otherwise passive audience, even when IMAX and 3D technologies are increasingly used to enhance the cinematic experience.

Especially since video gaming became mainstream from the 1970s and 1980s with the advent of video arcade games and gaming consoles using joysticks, buttons and other controllers, along with moving graphics on computers; leading to the entrenchment of home computer games as part of popular culture’s modern entertainment in most parts of the world.

Born in 1978, Indonesian oomleo (a.k.a. Narpati Awangga) consequently pays homage to personally growing up in a generation fed on a visual diet of pixel art prevalent in the arcade games of the 1980s by creating this digital art form from the early 2000s; riding the resurgence of popularity it enjoys, given our current fascination with its retro aesthetic.

A reconfiguration of these created characters and objects in a new single-channel video narrative set to self-composed music, this artist, actor, musician and radio broadcaster’s “Maze Out” emphasizes the ease with which raster graphics software edits images at the pixel level; making its simplicity easily accessible by amateurs and professionals alike in generating endless possibilities of reusing and recycling in producing innovating new art; while it simultaneously asks if ‘old’ technologies can enjoy an infinite future alongside the latest inventions and innovations.

An emphatic ‘yes’ is echoed by Indonesian Tromarama’s “Zsa Zsa Zsu”, a stop motion animation music video produced for the Bandung-based Rock N’ Roll Mafia’s titular song about the electric connection and chemistry experienced when meeting a new love interest, as narrated from the male as well as female perspectives.

Using buttons of every form, colour, size and shape to compose this low-tech animation, it creates moving seemingly blurred and pixelated images; reminiscent of the nostalgically ‘indie’ early days when technology entered mass media; bringing to mind 1889, when the 30-second stop-motion “Matches: An Appeal” – the very 1st animated movie; comprising ‘puppet’ matchsticks – was made encouraging London’s audience to send matches to British troops fighting the Boer War via the matchstick-manufacturing company Byrant And May.

This technique of shooting frame by frame of an inanimate object slightly repositioned for each shot so that it appeared to move in a film is shared in principle by the first animated cartoon “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces”. Shot in 1906 by newspaper cartoonist J. Stuart Blackton, his line drawings of 2 faces on a blackboard came to life, smiling and winking, through time-lapse and hyper-lapse filming his sequential drawings.

Yet to this day, cinema audiences only get to see the animators’ names bringing all forms of animation to life in the credits that roll at the end of the film. Filipino Victor Balanon has had such a faceless career with a major Japanese film company once; producing innumerable hand-drawn illustrations required for an animation.

A tribute to all who still tirelessly toil to animate films bringing us great joy, his single-channel video projection with sound “The Man Who” thus stop-motions, time-lapses and hyper-lapses an animator at his desk sketching his sequential drawings; all interlaced with live as well as staged footage, text frames and inter-titles as a respectful nod to the low tech technologies used in the very early hey days of cinema – the silent movie era; when artificial