From The Flicker to Gaspar Noé
Side-by-side video essays that compare the visual style of famous filmmakers with their precursors and/or followers are a popular video essay genre. But it’s an approach that often gets bogged down in superficial similarities: commonplace compositions are lazily matched, proving little beyond the fact that some shots are very generic indeed. Such is not the case in this video essay by Carlos Baixauli, selected for “The Video Essay” section at FILMADRID Festival and then published online by MUBI.
Baixauli uses the frenetic visuals of Argentinian director Gaspar Noé as a portal into the history of experimental filmmaking and its use of flicker effects. Flicker and the illusion of motion it helps produce is at the very basis of cinema. Experimental filmmakers have often brought that (invisible) effect to the fore by playing with stroboscopic lighting effects or frantic flashes of text. Gaspar Noé has used similar stylings in his feature films, and this video essay juxtaposes shots from those films with excerpts from works by Paul Sharits, Peter Kubelka, Toshio Matsumoto, Peter Tcherkassky and others.
There’s no voice-over narration to steer our interpretation. In fact, apart from a couple of on-screen texts that allude to the link between flicker and epileptic seizures, there’s hardly any language at all in this piece. But that only adds to its hypnotic power. Baixauli relies on smart combinations of shots from very dissimilar films to hint at the different reasons for the use of flicker… It is a metafilmic device that makes us aware of the materiality of film. A strategy that both hides and reveals (erotic) imagery. A technique that forces us to fill in the blanks – or the black – with our own imagination. An entrancing tactic that can just as well lead to a dark underworld as to heavenly bliss. All of those uses of flicker can be recognized in the films of Gaspar Noé and this video essay uses them to elucidate the more enigmatic experimental films it combines them with.