Note: This post is partly a reply to a question someone asked me, back-channel, about slow motion, but also partly due to my general interest in how time works in narrative, and in brevity and stasis (and “the ongoing”).
Slow motion is created by presenting film footage at a slower rate than it was shot at. The principle is as old as cinema itself. In 1879, Eadweard Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which allowed him to project his 1870s photographic motion studies as animations. (Film projection is, interestingly, older than film-capture cameras.) It was observed immediately that repeating the photos 2:1 (double-printing), or spinning the zoopraxiscope slowly, would slow the motion down.
An aside: In conducting his motion studies, Muybridge lined up multiple cameras that were activated by tripwires. (The motion picture camera wouldn’t be invented until 1890.) This same technique would later be resurrected as “Time-Slice” or “Bullet-Time,” popularized by the Wachowskis in The Matrix.
After the jump I’ve arranged a partial history of slow motion in cinema. It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, I’ll point out what I consider memorable or otherwise significant uses of slow motion.
Christopher Higgs at HTMLGIANT recently posted this question: “If you were teaching a class on American experimental fiction, what texts would you choose, and why?” He went on to list a set of possible books for an “Introduction to American Experimental Fiction” course:
Ishmael Reed – Mumbo Jumbo
William S. Burroughs – The Soft Machine
Kathy Acker – Blood and Guts in High School
Carole Maso – Aureole
Jean Toomer – Cane
David Markson – This Is Not A Novel
Gertrude Stein – Tender Buttons
Ben Marcus – The Age of Wire and String
This post won’t be about adding or subtracting books from his list (although I’d suggest Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress over This Is Not a Novel, and Carole Maso’s The Art Lover or AVA over Aureole.) Rather, I want to talk about experimental fiction as a genre.
Because Chris’s question reminds me of a debate that comes up frequently in US experimental film circles…
While writing my previous post, I grew aware that I wasn’t mentioning any women filmmakers. So I’d like to add something addressing that (because of course one can find numerous examples). And along the way, I’ll also try to say more in general about the power—and limitations—of the long take.