Sleep Has Her House (2017), slow experimental cinema

It could be an installation in a museum. No words, no story, only images and sound.

It is special, and for a lot of people it seems to be a deep inner experience, that could make one feel slightly drunk or ecstatic. (Or like a shamanic journey.) An experience, hard to put in words. New. Beautiful. Intense. Sublime.

In an interview with the maker Scott Barley he states that the spectator and the film are one and the same, they feed off each other, so maybe I was not playing my part.

First off, I don’t think you should see this film on a big screen. Watch it at home, alone, and follow the instructions: pitch black surroundings, and headphones. The problem with the theater is, that the dark on the screen becomes a grey that lights up. (I remember Michael Dudok de Wit mentioning that to experience something as black you need a lot of blue, because black is not seen as black. I am not sure if this goes for non-animated films as well, but the dark looked grey, and I doubt that was the intention.) When the screen goes dark, you watch a grey – lighted – rectangle, then the screen becomes primarily a light source; I could clearly see and started to watch the others around me, their head shapes and postures. Some of the scenes did have more light, but these felt too strong on the eyes, uncomfortable. (And this was not the part with the strobe light.) Both problems won’t happen with a smaller screen, and they did impact my experience.

The reason for me to go to see this film was that it was a ‘slow cinema post-apocalyptic film, shot with an iPhone’. In the beginning of the movie there is a dark screen, and text:

The shadows of screams climb beyond the hills.

It has happened before.

But this will be the last time.

The last few sense it, withdrawing deep into the forest.

They cry out into the black, as the shadows pass away, into the ground.

Slow cinema is usually observational, in the long takes you see things you normally don’t see, or don’t pay attention to, and this can open up new perspectives. Known worlds and their unknown sides. The camera often feels neutral, registering, in an almost uncaring way, showing everything. I was looking forward to see this observational style, in a post-apocalyptic setting, where ‘they cry out into the black’.

I was also looking forward to the iPhone. I was expecting something like Bill Viola’s installations, showing moving images slower, sharper or with different colors.

The first water scene could remind of Viola, but soon you realize that this work uses the digital possibilities for painterly effects. Barley likes John Martin, and it shows. Romantic, brushed fairy tale scenery, but mixed and alternated with clear, realistic images. The same goes for the sound, it mixes realistic ‘nature’ sounds, with more musical sound.

What are we observing? An inner state of mind? A distant world, our world? Is the camera neutrally registering? I would say no, it is ‘painting’ too, acting, creating this world.

Am I watching my own inner world?

Are we all too interested in our own inner worlds?

I didn’t get what I wanted.

But maybe I should see it again, at home, in the dark.

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