Something More Than Night

Daniel Eisenberg

2003 | 01:13:00 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | 16mm film

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Architecture, Chicago Art, City, Film or Videomaking

1. The idea that a film about a city, a quiet, architectural film no less, can tell us anything that we don’t already know about urban life at this point in our new century is perhaps a bit arrogant. But the city is an organism that changes constantly; our knowledge of it is provisional at best. So a film that examines the urban environment under the cloak of darkness must presume to reveal a reality that we don’t know, and tries to dispel projections and fears that are for the most part located in the imagination... in a memory of film, television, or the novel.

2. It’s under this general principle that my work brought me to consider the urban landscape and contemporary urban conditions. Because I construct images and sounds, I mean this less sociologically than I do sensually; the film work tries to make clear how the urban environment conditions and reveals social space primarily through its reception by the senses. Much as even I would like to believe otherwise, we arrive at all intellectual considerations of the physical world through the body; and experience of the physical world is mediated by the senses. Cinema, residing as a meta-experience derivative of the sensual, can also reveal through the use of time, sound, and the conscious use of the languages of representation, the active and unsettled space we call night.

3. In thinking about our fin-de-siècle condition, and the relation of cinema to an increasingly technologized landscape, it seems that the experience of duration is quickly disappearing, replaced instead by an overwhelming absence of experience, which is becoming familiar and comfortable. In fact, because television and computers have accustomed most viewers to an accelerated sense of time, the discomfort in watching durational time cinematically represented on the screen is palpable, and signals an accommodation to the ever-increasing visual speed of montage and simultaneity in daily experience. It perhaps signals a discomfort in seeing the world in any kind of continuity at all, be it sensual or theoretical.

4. Montage, because it is so bound up in the conditions of materiality, has a particularly fixed position in relation to representation and experience. We know already too well not to trust cinema as reality, or even as a document of reality. So the question of a formal method to reconfigure the visual world keeps coming up, and in some ways one almost always returns to beginnings, to the blank page and the time before experience.

5. I am drawn back to the beginning of cinema, to the Lumières, to the endless rolls of films taken on street corners and streetcars, to the ‘Archive of the Planet,’ of Albert Kahn (Musée Albert Kahn, Boulogne-Billancourt), to that moment where reality and cinema were so confused, and confusing. In returning to the simple, fixed camera and long take after a century of cinema, one doesn’t see the world in the same way. Of course, the image still reveals its many social, linguistic, and sensual texts, but it now reveals an ability to return us to a memory of the past that is already deeply embedded in the image, and in the durational shot we can reconsider these meanings from an altered perspective.

6. Duration also recuperates a parallel (parallax?) of experience. Time can never be really reproduced, but it can have a quantitative relation to experience. You can at least be looking for the same length of time. Duration is empirically the same, and in this time, in the 21st Century, it allows for the viewer to consider the conventions of reality, of its representation, of its language, of our private and public construction of space, sensibility, memory, and narrative... In this way it cannot be anything but self- conscious.

7. Something More Than Night is primarily shot in public spaces: airports, train stations, malls, downtown offices, industrial zones, and the many ethnic neighborhoods that make Chicago an exemplary city of migration at the beginning of the 21st Century. In using images of the city at night as a fulcrum to re-conceptualize both elapsed and historical time, it becomes a composite portrait of both the contemporary international city and our present time of manifold dislocations... The film articulates the daily nocturnal experiences of a large international urban center. Marc Augé has defined many of these spaces as “non- places,” ubiquitous reiterations of the same that exist in and out of multiple cultural and economic contexts. They are familiar to all of us, whether we live in Bangkok, Taipei, San Francisco, Rome, or Riyadh. But it also maps a city with a particular history, anchored in the boom years of the industrial 19th Century, when Chicago grew faster than any city in America, through the 20th, and into the 21st, where Chicago remains a nodal center of world trade and capital.

8. That this map is defined through darkness accentuates the aspects of dislocation that lead directly back to the senses, to the body. Being lost always brings one back to the body, to one’s senses and to memory: sense of direction, natural defenses, adrenaline. Whole genres of cinema have based their narrative language on these aspects of the night and the city. From film noir to the horror film, film has drawn on the devices of darkness, anticipation, and dislocation in order to achieve some heightened experience.

9. Darkness also attunes our remaining senses, makes us aware of both the capacity and limitation of sight. A human figure disappears into darkness; another emerges out of the edge of night, the sound of a third, unseen, goes by us quickly. And so space is more fully articulated by sound. Sound conveys spatial presence in the absence of visual information; the sound of airplanes and cars, of televisions, the sound of foreign languages, taverns, public address systems. It locates the viewer more precisely in relation to the frame.

10. In contrast to the city-symphony films of the 1920’s, whose utopian vision of the industrial age was a composition made from harmonies of light, this film describes the city with our own familiar senses of the night; informed by labor, boredom, fear, fatigue, and anticipation. Chicago has always been the premier architectural city in America. More than that, it’s a city of local communities – hot summer nights on neighborhood street corners, steel factories, refineries, shipping channels, smoke, fog, Lake Michigan, men drinking at bars, alleys, industrial zones, the underground passages and runways of O’Hare International Airport, the bus station, money exchanges, the train station, the jail, the pool hall and parking lot.

11. By necessity, the film is edited counter-intuitively. The mind is always playing tricks. In using the night as a matrix, there was a great deal of attention paid in the editing to avoid a chronological sense of time, so that the rhythms of the diurnal were not to drive the work narratively. That meant that the cutting needed to register a series of disruptions, but disruption is actually extremely hard to achieve, precisely because we are conditioned to read the world narratively, even when there is none to be read. So many sequences and passages were edited and re-edited until the time within the image maintained some priority; until it was disrupted by the next image. This counter-tendency is by its very nature not always successful, but in general the sense is of an accumulation of images, rather than the passage of a specific time or a specifically mapped trail through places.

12. When the film was in its fine-cut stage, the events of 11 September 2001 unfolded as a rupture of historical proportions. No filmmaker or artist could walk into the studio or editing room the day after without having to reconsider every detail of their work-in-progress. And no one could possibly predict what effect events could have on the work itself. Viewing the film several weeks later, I was relieved to see that most passages in the film were able to withstand such a historical jolt. But my own understanding of the intertwined nature of events and images was profoundly altered. It’s as if some Virillian text was set into motion...

13. Events are no longer separate from their reception; they occur simultaneously. Moreover, landscapes, events, visual notations are inscribed into image and sound in most urban centers at every moment; the historical events of our own time are being inscribed into moving images in anticipation of the events they record. Is it any accident that the images of both airplanes entering the facades of Tower 1 and Tower 2 (Tower 2 from manifold perspectives) are widely known, and were widely known almost within minutes of their inscription? Could it have been intentional that the terrorists who commandeered the second plane entered the Tower with the assumption that cameras and crews would already be on the scene? Is it at all strange to us that we witnessed the collapse of these iconic towers from the visual perspective of helicopters hovering in the air or at the equivalent height atop the Empire State Building? Is the act of watching it live all over the world, in my case with a class of students studying contemporary media practices ironic, or tragic, or superfluous? This compression/collapsing of time, space, and power, a problem we were already keenly aware of, is disorienting daily life in precisely the ways that the increasing speed of modernity disoriented daily life one hundred years before. And so everyone turns and returns to the image as if to answer some deep, secret mystery...

14. Somewhat self-consciously, I must note that all this rhetoric seems superfluous to the work itself. It is a quiet film that needs quiet to succeed. It also requires a willing viewer, one who can give up the speed of daily events to enter some other time and space. But that effort is not something I have any illusions about. It is harder to ask for, harder to achieve, and harder to justify in a world that’s in a perpetual “state of emergency.”

15. One last but important point: Something More Than Night recalls the special relation cinema has to daily life. Daily life defines cinema, and daily life is itself more and more defined by cinema. It’s a dance that has been played for 107 years. Neither fiction nor non-fiction, the film produces the rhetoric of both narrative and document, in all probability because of its working principles. It is an ur-form, perhaps the earliest form of cinema, from which all Cinema is derived: the long observational take from a fixed camera with a fixed lens. It is in this nascent cinema that we are able to see that cinema not only reveals its own history, but also embraces every other form of time.

This title is only available on POSTWAR: The Films of Daniel Eisenberg.