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Paul Sharits’ Word Movie
Are you a little bit confused by Paul Sharits’ Word Movie? The experimental Fluxus film is a creative illustration of Robert Bresson’s claim “An image must be transformed by contact with other images, as is a color by contact with other colors. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation.”
Word Movie depicts the ability of film editing to change and shape the meaning of individual images and sounds—which was the main idea of Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage.
Much like Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia, Word Movie examines asynchrony between sound and images (while Chris Marker’s La Jetee did the opposite). And just like Hollis Frampton did in Carrots and Peas, Paul Sharits’ further distorts the linearity of sound in order to examine how the relationship between the individual elements creates and shapes the meaning of a sequence.
In Word Movie, a man and a woman’s voice alternate speaking one word each. They seem to not make any sense whatsoever, and neither do the fast-changing words on screen which are not directly related to what the voices are speaking. When listened to individually, both the man’s and the woman’s voice have a logical connection. However, the logical connection is lost because their voices are alternating and hard to follow.
Scroll back to the beginning of the page and read every other word or try to listen to one of the two voices individually—the woman is saying grammatically correct and logical sentences about shaping aluminium, while the man is talking about muscular responses. Much of Word Movie’s subtle humor comes from this formality and seriousness (thus similar to Lars von Trier’s humor in Nymphomaniac), the voices’ monotonous intonation, and the “educational” content. This seriousness contrasts with the perceived meaninglessness of their talking. It is the same kind of humor Charlie Chaplin used for the opening in City Lights. The official is speaking on a formal and solemn occasion, but all the audience can hear is his meaningless quacking.
The Images In Word Movie
The visuals of Word Movie consist of fast-changing superimposed words that are impossible to follow. It is hard to tell whether the written words have any meaning in relation to each other, but many of them seem to be on a biological topic, such as “vessel,” “skin,” etc. The written words further distort the meaning of the voices because of the inability of the human brain to process sensory data independently—the McGurk effect and neuroscience illustrate that effect.
Word Movie shares similarities with both Fluxus and structural cinema, and Paul Sharits has been associated with both movements. The film’s playful style and simplicity are very Fluxus-like, while the examination of individual cinematic elements and the consistent film structure remind of structural cinema. Above all, however, the movie is a playful examination of film editing and its ability to create, change, and destroy a movie’s meaning.