The Topologist: Super8 SuperMemory by Tom Kazas January 2012
I suspect that film making had always been latent in me. All that was needed was a serious enough reason to explore it. Cue my 40s. After all, some of my first experiences, as a young child of three in 1968, were viewing my father's super8 films projected on our lounge room wall. These films were snippets of family life edited together into reels of at least three minutes, and later in the 1970s, up to lengths of thirty minutes. Accompanying these silent films were selections of music that my father would play from his reel to reel tape machine - operas, modern greek and contemporary pop. The beautifully poetic random coincidences and absurd juxtapositions of the image and sound planted a deep seed in me. This was multi-media of the most powerful kind, where associations between the unrelated and the unplanned create new meaning. I might not have been able to identify those meanings at that age, but this will become the point - the film is the memory itself.
Although I have seriously pursued music, the images on the wall and the medium of super8 film, have always been with me. The power of brightly moving images screening in a darkened room is undeniably gripping. Added to this already haunting quality is the obvious fact that 'I' was up 'there'. I was present in that mythical, ephemeral, imperfect space of film. Within this splendour of imperfections, the projected moving images became more real than my untrained memory’s retrieval of the events. It seems obvious to me now - how easily my fragmented memories were supplanted by these films. Watching my family being projected from European capitals in 1972, easily allowed my synaptic function to be superceded by these fluttering frames. When I recall these events, I recall the film of these events. I recall sitting watching memories. So a critical distance is created. The memories are as much now as then, outside as inside, I am an actor there, but which me is it? You get the point, there are ontological issues raised here.
Weighing further on this gaze is memory as a re-constitution, a re-creation - that gives the above joys an initial piquant flavour. The 'veracity of memory' is better dealt with in the Topologist itself; suffice it to say that at an early age I came to understand this reconstructivity of memory. I came to know that with each retrieval, impressions change. Emotions are altered, questions raised, what I bring to proceedings changes, memories of memories are created, and any sense of fidelity to the original event is - gone. Yet, more confusingly, I also have a record of that which I cannot remember: animated sequences of myself seen as an 'other'. Evidence of presence with no recollection. I face myself, as a boy is watching me. What was he thinking?
Having access to my own cinematic memories was a gift to the film I was making, and the manipulation of memory itself became a construct of 'the Topologist'. Film is dream-like and memory-like in any context, but here I could work directly with my own mnemo-memes. This was thrilling and unprecedented. I could select, process and recontextualise these memories, and by extension - myself. Added to this, was the (exciting in itself) idea that these super8 films were in effect 'found footage'. The 'found object' is highly prized in art practice as it satisfies a deep need to take something and re-form it, to re-mix it, to take the embodied idea and add 'my own' to it. Our modern digital 'remix culture' is the epitome, (but only an extension), of this practice. Mark Amerika goes further, "being in production is a ruse. We are always in post-production, manipulating the data of everyday life".1 My contemporary tastes relished the remix opportunity, and this approach is much more powerful when the material directly reflects you - your own psyche, your own long faded memories. Images and feelings arise from a receded past saturated with the Other, where the melancholic longings of attachment were born for a lost object. Kristeva eloquently writes, "where does this black sun come from, out of which galaxy do its invisible, lethargic rays reach me".2
The first four minutes of the Topologist is comprised of only these super8 sequences, with an accompanying voice over. Voice overs populate other parts of the film, but these are to digital video. It became important to start the Topologist with the super8 sequence. Straight into the reinvetion, the reconstruction of (my) narrative. The past, like a weight on the back of Ajax, has slipped away and is falling; where you'd "think it would be easy for him to tell, from the passing images, from their direction of entry into the field of view, and from the gradient of colour, to their speed of travel, and eventual disappearance - but no".3 Juxtaposing the different super8 shots, and playing this off against the voice-over, became my raison d'etre for some time.
Unquestionably enhancing this 'better than the real thing' effect of filmic memory, is the medium of super8 itself. With its flaws and imperfections: graininess, speed anomalies, jitter, scratches, colour variations (the list could continue - light streaks, lack of crisp definition, forwards and backwards time, the slow progressive loss of frames due to the ravages of the splice in the projector - oh, and the projector itself, with its motor sounds, the sometimes cyclical ‘click’ as the reels turn), the powerful dream-like quality is created. These flaws are a wonderful analogue of how our thought processes operate, our attempts at recollection, our distortions, our mis-constructions. I remember - that batch of film and the colour processing of footage from our picnic at Bobbin Head, it will forever give that day a tempo and a unique combination of hues, creating a memory of unequalled beauty. This type of charm, of heightened awareness, was best understood in opposition to early digital video and the clinical nature of how it rendered images, to say nothing of the indulgences afforded by the longer record times. Reality is better understood by imperfections. This idea is embodied in what the Japanese call 'wabi-sabi', an aesthetic which, "nurtures the authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect".4 Flawed beauty, and with those beautiful flaws we can accept the transient.
So the piquant flavour is now replaced by a smooth deep mellow taste, of recognizing and rejoicing in the ephemeral and the elusive. Memories are for reinvention, to accompany us through our topological transformations.
1. America, Mark 2011 Remixthebook, University of Minnesota Press, Mineapolis
2. Kristeva, Julia1989 Black Sun, Columbia university Press, New York
3. the Topologist 2010, Motion Picture, Tom Kazas, Melbourne