When the term ‘slow cinema’ is spoken of, it doesn’t particularly evoke a sense of excitement. In fact, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a genre of film composed of long takes, a slow narrative and yes, it can be boring.
The lecture by Carleton professor Erika Balsom, however, was not. She delivered the lecture on slow cinema to the Carleton Film Society on Sept. 28, the first in the Film Society’s Guest Lecture Series.
In an interview, Balsom described the difference between conventional storytelling and slow cinema.
“While classical narrative pairs away anything that isn’t going to contribute to the forward movement of the film, slow cinema kind of does the opposite,” she said.
“It’s like a willful wasting of time, things take too long, they last too long.”
Slow cinema is a relatively recent thing, made popular in the 1960’s by artists such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Andy Warhol.
Sometimes called contemplative cinema, slow cinema tends to have skeletal narratives, and is composed of long takes, long duration, slowness and boredom.
Its growth of popularity within the last twenty years can be attributed to how our daily lives have changed due to technology.
“In a world of distraction where people are looking at films on their phones or on low quality clips it provides a site of contemplation. When most people treat images like garbage, slow cinema provides a site for really celebrating a real contemplation of the image,” Balsom explains.
Films under the label of slow cinema can often be grueling and difficult to watch however, and films that go on for sometimes eight hours are not atypical in this genre.
Due to this, slow cinema receives a lot of critique. Some critics have described watching slow cinema as ‘eating your cultural vegetables.’
“Are these films boring? Totally. They’re often said to be more interesting to talk about than to watch but being bored while watching these films is in way kind of the point. Because the hope is that you get bored.”
Balsom goes on to explain how being bored isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It changes your focus, allowing you to notice micro-movements and how you are experiencing time itself.
Unlike regular blockbusters slow cinema takes its time to bring you into the moment instead of making the moments shorter and faster to keep your attention.
Balsom leaves it up to the audience to decide what the point of slow cinema is, and whether or not it’s ‘boring’.
Balsom screened the film Werckmeister Harmonies (2001) by Bela Tarr, set in a Hungarian town very much in decline and its eventual spiral into chaos.
The long takes give you the opportunity to take in all the details within the scene. It enables you to take in the entire composition of the scene as you find your eyes constantly wandering from the subject to explore the rest of the world Tarr has created.
“Cinema is, at its essence, about nothing other than time itself,” she said.
“Is this what slow cinema is doing? Is it just this reactionary retreat from our contemporary world? Maybe.”