Sunday, November 08, 2009

Moods of the Sea

Slavko Vorkapich's contribution to cinema has been described by Philip Kemp in a Film Reference article: 'to today's audiences, brought up on high-speed editing and slick narrative elisions, the pace of classic 1930s Hollywood cinema can sometimes seem ponderous. Events are too explained, too pacedout—except when, about mid-way through certain films, the action abruptly slips into a montage sequence like a sedately-flowing stream suddenly diving into a narrow canyon. Adagio turns to presto: whole pages of dull exposition are eliminated as, in a cascade of images often lasting less than a minute, months or years hurtle past, thousands of miles are traversed by road or rail, the fortunes of the hero (or of whole empires) rise or fall. The inventor and master of this telescoping technique was Slavko Vorkapich, cinema's first-ever montage editor.'  After the war, Vorkapich's montage sequences were less in demand and he became an academic at the University of Southern California, before returning for a while to Yugosalvia.

In 1941 Vorkapich collaborated with John Hoffman, another montage editor, on a short non-narrative 'pictorial fantasy', Moods of the Sea.  You can see the whole film on Ubuweb and admire its smoothly flowing seascape footage, set to Felix Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. They call it 'an early example of American avant-garde and independent film' - but it's not avant-garde in a 'shock of the new' way... It's really beautifully done, with waves crashing, seals gliding and gulls taking flight in time to the music. There's also the purely visual pleasure in seething black and white wave forms, dark horizons, mountainous clouds, stark shadows and bright light picking out bubbles on the foam.

Vorkapich and Hoffman made a similar film in 1947, Forest Murmers, shot in Angeles National Forest and scored to the interlude from Wagner’s Siegfried.  I don't think this is viewable anywhere online... but you can see a clip from the opera below.  Usually in this sequence Siegfried is shown sitting alone under a linden-tree, waiting for a dragon to appear, with the forest murmuring sounds in his ears.  The birds' songs attract his attention and he makes a pipe from a reed in a vane attempt to imitate them. 

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