Wavelength (1967 film)  

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"I just got here, and there's a man lying on the floor, and I think he's dead. No, I don't know how he got here."

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Wavelength (1967) is a forty-five minute film by Michael Snow. It won the first prize at EXPRMNTL 4. James Rolfe called it the worst film ever. Over the course of the film the camera zooms in on a wall of an apartment and a beeping sound which gradually increases in pitch and volume is playing.


Wavelength consists of almost no action. If the film could be said to have a conventional plot, this would presumably refer to the three "character" scenes, one at 2:57, one at 17:27 and one at 28:58. In the first scene two people enter a room, chat briefly, and listen to "Strawberry Fields Forever" on the radio. In a second scene, a man (played by filmmaker Hollis Frampton) enters inexplicably and dies on the floor. And in the third and last scene, the female owner of the apartment is heard and seen on the phone, speaking, with strange calm, about the dead man in her apartment whom she has never seen before.

In the end, one can hear what sound like police sirens, but could just as well be a part of the musical score, a distinct piece of minimalist music that pairs tones at random. These tones shift in frequency (and in "wavelength") as the camera analyzes the space of the anonymous apartment. What begins as a view of the full apartment zooms (the zoom is not precisely continuous as the camera does change angle slightly, noticeably near the very end) and changes focus slowly across the forty-five minutes, only to stop and come into perfect focus on a photograph of a sea of waves on the wall.

Structural film

According to P. Adams Sitney, the trend in American avant-garde cinema during the late 1940s and 1950s (such as the work of Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage) was towards "increased complexity". Since the mid-1960s, filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits, Tony Conrad and Joyce Wieland produced works where simplicity was foregrounded. Sitney labeled this tendency "structural film." The four characteristics of structural film are "fixed camera position…the flicker effect, loop printing, and rephotography off the screen." Sitney describes Snow as the "dean of stuctural film-makers" who "utilizes the tension" of Wavelength's use of a "fixed-frame and…the flexibility of the fixed tripod". Where Sitney describes stuctural film as a "working process," Stephen Heath in Questions of Cinema finds Wavelength "seriously wanting" in that the "implied…narrative [makes Wavelength] in some ways a retrograde step in cinematic form". The principal theme of Wavelength to Heath is the "question of the cinematic institution of the subject of film" rather than the apparatus of filmmaking itself.

See also

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