Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Verisimilitude Problem

Timecode is one of the few films I can think of that truly attempts to tackle the problem of realistic representation. It does this in three ways, none of which are announced until the end of the film. First, it gives four different perspectives of the same basic space. The quandrants don't simply follow a single character around. They are slightly more dynamic-- a character can change quadrants or be in more than one at the same time. This gives the illusion of uncontrived observation; that is, in a fiction film, multiple dynamic perspectives are basically inconceivable. The second motif is that of a continuous shot. The cameras are more "natural" than those in most films because they are bound by the movements of the cameramen. They picture cannot cut from one character to another or from location to location. The camera has to visibly turn to each of its focuses, and it has to actively travel to each desired location. This is much more similar to the properties of human eyesight than the camerawork in most films. The third motif is that of improvisation. The actors aren't following a script, so the language is more real. They make mistakes, stutter, struggle with words, etc. Futhermore, they are more engaged with their environment and supporting characters. This type of acting simply requires more focus, and more focus leads to a better understanding of the diegesis.

With each motif comes commendable elements of verisimilitude; however, each has its problems. The four-quadrant approach is a complicated one, since there are more than four characters on whom to focus. The film gest around this issue in a few ways. First, it delegates specific properties to each quadrant. The upper-right screen, for example, has very little action and is highly auxiliary to the central plot of the film. It consists mostly of bland walking and unheard conversation, though it consistently focuses on a single character. The lower-left screen is in many ways the opposite. Much of the action takes place in this quadrant. Not only that, but it refuses to focus on one character for very long. Various characters use this quadrant to separate themselves from supporting characters in previous quadrants they occupied, such as Hayek's character separating herself from her spouse. The lower-right screen is the screen of the central plot, focusing mostly on Alex, the main character, and his interactions with nearly all of the supporting characters. The upper-left screen focuses on a single character in a single location, heightening the dramatic effect of the ending, in which said character finally gest out of the car and walks into the office.

The problem with improvisation is that it SOUNDS like improvisation. It's an extremely frustrating endeavor for the audience, as many conversations are repetitive or awkwardly paced. Sometimes there are long moments of silence in the middle of dialogue, testing the viewer's patience. Futhermore, 97 minutes of improvised action makes for very long periods of boring action. A good portion of the dialogue is useless and unnecessary, leaving one to wonder the point of it all.

The last problem is that of the single take. This problem is essentially of a practical nature. Having four cameras, which intersect at various points, doing a single take for 97 minutes is extraordinarily difficult. Apparently, the film had to be shot many, many times before they got it right. For the audience, this problem goes unnoticed and perhaps unappreciated. This film is a film that needs to be appreciated for its motifs, no matter how pretentious, frustrating, or unnecessary. It is the way the film is shot that encompasses the message of the film, not the action on-screen(s).



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