Tate Modern until 11 March 2012
In 1936 Charlie Chaplin appeared in his iconic film Modern Times. Amidst the repetitive tedium of the assembly line, Chaplin exposed something that even Adam Smith had noticed in his Wealth of Nations as far back as 1776. We may, as a species, be progressing, but we're running the risk of sending our workers into a state of mental ruin through repetitive and dull tasks.
Today, in an odd twist, it often seems like it's the films which are the cause of the mental ruin of the labour force. Chaplin would have surely seen the irony in modern films being made - I am reliably told - through the use of simple algorithms. The theory being that if we pay to see Nicholas Cage in his latest 90 minutes of bile, we'll probably go and see something similar in future. Scripts don't have to be original; they just have to be 'like' something else. Not surprisingly then, a raft of recent films seem to blend into the same dull series of explosions and cringe worthy Rom-Com jokes. Technology, in the form of algorithms or digital film, is only as clever or interesting as the people using it.
Film by Tacita Dean is not attempting to do as much as the modern conveyor-belt film, but in the process manages to create a much more lasting impression. Dean is celebrating the very personal and physical craft of film making, without the latest digital frippery. Despite the heroic size and solidity of her monolithic structure, this is not a threatening or imposing work. The images on screen are soothing and far from solid: a series of faintly hypnotic images of movement - water flowing, an escalator ascending and a sunset. The overall effect is reassuring and does not attempt to assault or challenge the viewer like so much art.
The Tate Modern congregation looked on, neither wrapped or enthralled; uninterested or bored. These extremes seemed impossible against the size and shimmering lights of Film in the gloom of the turbine hall. Instead the converted talked, milled around, or lay down and watched. Anyone under the age of ten seemed drawn to the giant screen, and danced and played at the foot of the monument. The effect is quite primeval; silhouettes against the shinning light. The religious connotations are stark - an omnipotent, awe inspiring work under which we congregate, happy in the knowledge of a common meeting point. Most viewers didn't peer intently into this work searching for a meaning or a quick bit of intellectual stimulation, but instead simply soaked up the pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. Film reminds us of the deep impressions the medium can leave the viewer with, beyond the often shallow stimulation of a few jokes, a simple script and the latest celebrity to attract our attention.
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