Foreign Lands - The language of a new medium
Among the many legendary shots in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane there is one of particular interest. In it Kane stands center screen in the very background of the shot, miniscule relative to all else in frame. In the foreground, two businessmen work through his affairs that he has taken a decided step away from. The discerning viewer will recognize that this shot visually parallels an earlier shot in which a young Kane, again miniscule in the back, plays in the snow with his sled, while his parents, interior and foreground, work over the decision to send him away. The similarity between the two shots highlights what is presumably going through the older Kane’s head; his remembering happiness, an emotion quite unknown to his later self. In terms of technique this moment is of interest because it is among the first and best uses of the deep focus shot in cinema, a cinematographic technique in which every element is in focus, allowing the viewer to see everything on screen, and allowing the filmmaker the full use of their space for visual composition. The place of this shot in the history of cinema, then, was Welles’ development and demonstration of a new element of visual language within a young medium.
Manual Cinema now stands in a similar place as Welles. Having introduced a novel medium (though there’s an argument to be had with its novelty in relation to film and shadow puppetry) they have the opportunity and the obligation to discover and utilize the language of this medium. There are many examples of this discovery throughout Lula del Ray but the one that perhaps best parallels the semiotic aspirations of Welles’ deep focus is the moment in which Lula encounters the Baden brothers in person. Her desperate quest to meet the brothers takes her away from home to an unfamiliar city where she is pursued by a policeman through an office building, works in a kitchen to pay off a meal, and finally sees the brothers' performance by crawling through vents. When she finally meets them in person in their dressing room, she finds that they aren’t what she expected. In her excitement Lula grabs one of the brothers and turns him, revealing to herself, and to the audience, that he is just a cardboard cutout. It seems very likely that this is expressionist rather than literal but either way it is a brilliant representation of Lula’s feelings and the narrative of the piece using an element of visual/theatrical language that is new and inherent to Manual Cinema’s medium. Throughout the Under the Radar Festival it is moments like this that will not only stand out but are necessary. With so many pieces that play with the form of theatrical presentation, creators will, by necessity, partake of new languages in order to communicate with their audiences across these unfamiliar landscapes of artistic form.