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¶ Short of the Day #24: Sphinx on the Seine

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¶ Short of the Day #24: Sphinx on the Seine

#1

Post by Perception de Ambiguity » March 8th, 2017, 10:52 am

"Short of the Day" is the daily discussion of a short.

Tasks:
1) Watch.
2) Discuss.
3) Send me your suggestions for the next Short of the Day per PM, along with links to the shorts and comments, questions for the other users to think about, and/or info about the short.

Detailed project introduction: here


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Sphinx on the Seine (Paul Clipson, 2009) :ICM: :imdb:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OydU9YzYXz8
Length: 8 minutes 29 seconds[/color]

Suggested by: Carmel1379


Many people would probably argue that Paul Clipson’s short films are nothing but meaningless pretty (or not, depending on your taste) images tied together by an equally meaningless, but pleasing title; that there is no idea, concept, didactic message, analytical narrative or real raison d'être to it other than it existing for its own sake, as a purely aesthetically pleasing stylistic creation that might produce particular atmospheres and moods. Generally I’d have to concur, but I’d add that his shorts can also be technical experiments (such as his ‘The Lights and Perfections’ where he changes focus to discover that a shot can have whole different-looking image in it) or their making can be a source of personal, perhaps therapeutic fulfilment. In an interview he said himself that it’s about “being a witness (…) aware of changes, differences, transitions (…) going out and gathering” until the sequence of images link themselves, “cluster” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb1VlPU73XA).

In this sense, ideas “emerge” from the film stock, because of continuity and editing, similarity and dissimilarity between images. The viewer can obviously also unconsciously or emotively entertain various sensible thoughts. And ‘Sphinx on the Seine’ seems to have something systematic about it.

Railways, electric power transmission towers and their wires all feature and superimpose abundantly in the first few minutes. The camera starts to wobble more intensily and we see a sunrise, the shedding of light on Earth such that it’s day again and things can be seen more clearly. So one’s transported to day to see the water, clouds, houses, on which motor- or railway one travels. But one also comes to realise that darkness is just as essential as is light - the shadows of people walking on the streets, the contrast between what’s dark and lit creates newer patterns, the two inextricably related, complementing each other.

This are obvious things, but it’s what a wordless film stock carrying recorded imagery reveals. Not every shot can be accounted for either, that’s a bit of the point if one listens to his interview again. His other short films will play around other things and sequences of images. The music is also quite important, in different shorts there will be different degrees of intensity, in ‘Sphinx on the Seine’ it’s a rather low murmur, hence why I also linkenned travelling/transporting with awakening, sunrise and discovering, since a tumultuous score would probably mean one’s already active and lucid within the spatially and temporally constricted world that one witnesses.

Note his filmography on IMDb, iCM & letterboxd is incomplete, MUBI has a more exhaustive one.

Comments by: Carmel1379
Last edited by Perception de Ambiguity on March 8th, 2017, 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#2

Post by jvv » March 8th, 2017, 11:07 am

The images are kind of mesmerizing, but why oh why do so many experimental filmmakers insist on such godawful soundtracks (I had to pause the video about halfway, because the droning sound got on my nerves).

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#3

Post by matthewscott8 » March 8th, 2017, 12:25 pm

Hi pedeamb. This one is actually on my favourite movies list. Generally I am not a Clipson fan but I did like this one. I think there is definitely meant to be an Egyptian pharaonic look to the visuals. One of the iconic images of ancient Egypt is the mask of Tutankhamun, and there were visuals that referenced that overlapping of gold and dark.

As well it's worth remembering that to the ancient Egyptians the sun wasn't regarded as a massive ball of nuclear fusion and plasma, it was alive, so the images of the sun here are meant to be more meaningful. Just some pointers, I haven't rewatched it.Image.

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#4

Post by Perception de Ambiguity » March 8th, 2017, 1:41 pm

Just so you are prepared, Carmel, chances of somebody calling it a "music video" here are dangerously high, because anything without a story, with music and no dialogue, running between 3 and 10 minutes automatically is a music video.

About Clipson's work in general I wrote this a few months ago (in reply to the guy above, actually):

>I also don't get particularly much out of most Clipson films beyond pretty visuals (he always delivers in that regard) and occasionally his editing/superimpositions and the music create a successful enough combination to have a trippy effect to one degree or another (or in Clipson's words, to work as an "experiential property").

Emotionally rich experiences possibly could make his films more interesting, matthewscott8, but maybe he isn't suited to approach his work in such a personal way, not every artist is good that way. A more conceptually rigorous foundation, some simple idea to build each film on, I think would already do a lot to make his films more distinctive from each other, give them something of interest, and to even make them much more evocative. Even if it is something as basic as exploring the possibilities of completely transforming an image within a shot merely through changing the lens focus, like he did in 'The Lights and Perfections'.

What I think deserves respect is with how little "trickery" he creates his remarkably abstract "pretty" visuals, there are a lot of superimpositions, as mentioned, but the general impression for me is that he more or less captures a reality, creating the images in camera more than through post-production fiddling. And - although you could just as well use this as a criticism, and in the case of other contemporary avant-garde works I sometimes do so - his films just as easily could have been made in the 60's, except they weren't, at least not quite like his films, he brings something new enough to the medium, tapping into some unexplored potential within those old techniques, making his work often similar but distinctive enough from previous filmmakers' works.<


Now, as for 'Sphinx on the Seine' in particular, I rewatched it yesterday and certainly got more out of it than I did the first time around. I also found the film to have “something systematic about it”, although my interpretation I think differs a little.

Travels. Being on the move. In a sense 'Sphinx on the Seine' is about a journey through the light. As so often with Clipson the sun is his main obsession. Usually the morning sun or the evening sun, because they give a special light, and I guess it puts an emphasis on the fact that the source of the light is the sun, light isn't just "around" by itself (and electric light wouldn't have come into being if our sun had never existed), Clipson wants you to appreciate that fact.

He further draws your attention to it at the end by not having the camera be the traveling entity anymore. The shots still fit into the theme of travel because people keep walking by, but the camera itself now stopped to travel, instead filming a puddle of water, with the water reflecting those passers-by along with - you guessed it - the sun, who looks on and who is seemingly standing in its place, yet there is nothing still about those shots. People walk by and cause different reflections or even obstruct the view to the puddle. Clouds create different lights and patterns reflected in the puddle. Rain drops, wind, and people stepping into the puddle cause ripples in the water that change all those reflections. And even the camera itself isn't perfectly still but is handheld, so it constantly slightly changes position and angle all the time, adding to the play of light itself without trying to. So the camera has ceased the travel, but the travel through the light continues.

Or alternatively the ending can be understood as revealing that the film wasn’t a travel through the light, but a travel to the light. The camera was on a quest for the source of the light, and even when it momentarily found the sun earlier it always was forced out of frame again because the camera was on a moving train, a bus, and so on. So when the camera comes across this puddle it is fooled into thinking that it has found the source of the light because the alleged light source keeps staying at the same place.


Some Clipson links of interest:

mubi: https://mubi.com/cast/paul-clipson
letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/director/paul-clipson/
vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user2911089
Last edited by Perception de Ambiguity on March 8th, 2017, 1:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#5

Post by matthewscott8 » March 8th, 2017, 3:03 pm

Perception de Ambiguity on Mar 8 2017, 06:41:12 AM wrote:About Clipson's work in general I wrote this a few months ago (in reply to the guy above, actually):
Was it on IMDb we discussed this, can't quite remember, memory like a sieve these days

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#6

Post by matthewscott8 » March 8th, 2017, 3:57 pm

jvv on Mar 8 2017, 04:07:18 AM wrote:The images are kind of mesmerizing, but why oh why do so many experimental filmmakers insist on such godawful soundtracks (I had to pause the video about halfway, because the droning sound got on my nerves).
A lot of his soundtracks are pretty bad but I didn't mind this one so much.

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#7

Post by matthewscott8 » March 8th, 2017, 3:58 pm

Perception de Ambiguity on Mar 8 2017, 06:41:12 AM wrote:Just so you are prepared, Carmel, chances of somebody calling it a "music video" here are dangerously high, because anything without a story, with music and no dialogue, running between 3 and 10 minutes automatically is a music video.
FYI I guess a lot of his videos ARE actually music videos, in that they are commissioned by music artists to accompany their songs

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#8

Post by Mario Gaborović » March 8th, 2017, 5:35 pm

jvv on Mar 8 2017, 04:07:18 AM wrote:The images are kind of mesmerizing, but why oh why do so many experimental filmmakers insist on such godawful soundtracks (I had to pause the video about halfway, because the droning sound got on my nerves).
If you refer to Joan Baez song, I wouldn't agree. :D

I realize what are you saying, but those 'sounds' are usually meant to capture the atmosphere; Wavelength's, for instance, is unbearable for everyday use, but in the context of meditative experience it fulfills its purpose.

It's good that Clipson was more focused to get as much as possible from camera, and less from post-production; I see no problem about it.
Last edited by Mario Gaborović on March 8th, 2017, 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#9

Post by jvv » March 8th, 2017, 5:45 pm

Mario Gaborović on Mar 8 2017, 10:35:08 AM wrote:
jvv on Mar 8 2017, 04:07:18 AM wrote:The images are kind of mesmerizing, but why oh why do so many experimental filmmakers insist on such godawful soundtracks (I had to pause the video about halfway, because the droning sound got on my nerves).
If you refer to Joan Baez song, I wouldn't agree. :D

I realize what are you saying, but those 'sounds' are usually meant to capture the atmosphere; Wavelength's, for instance, is unbearable for everyday use, but in the context of meditative experience it fulfills its purpose.

It's good that Clipson was more focused to get as much as possible from camera, and less from post-production; I see no problem about it.
Ugh, Wavelength. :yucky:

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#10

Post by Cynical Cinephile » March 8th, 2017, 6:14 pm

The images are, indeed, very pretty. I didn't find any meaning in it, if there was any, but it's short enough that it can rely on images alone to keep me interested. I liked it.
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#11

Post by Perception de Ambiguity » March 8th, 2017, 9:31 pm

matthewscott8 on Mar 8 2017, 08:03:50 AM wrote:
Perception de Ambiguity on Mar 8 2017, 06:41:12 AM wrote:About Clipson's work in general I wrote this a few months ago (in reply to the guy above, actually):
Was it on IMDb we discussed this, can't quite remember, memory like a sieve these days

Yes, in a monthly thread, after I listed some clips, son Clipsons.

matthewscott8 on Mar 8 2017, 08:58:48 AM wrote:
Perception de Ambiguity on Mar 8 2017, 06:41:12 AM wrote:Just so you are prepared, Carmel, chances of somebody calling it a "music video" here are dangerously high, because anything without a story, with music and no dialogue, running between 3 and 10 minutes automatically is a music video.
FYI I guess a lot of his videos ARE actually music videos, in that they are commissioned by music artists to accompany their songs
You said the same thing back then, too. That they were commissioned is besides the point of what I was getting at here, though, which was that some folks consider almost any avant-garde short a "music video".
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#12

Post by Carmel1379 » March 9th, 2017, 1:43 pm

I like how you mention (and picture) that the short has an Egyptian pharaonic look, matthewscott (on an unrelated note, how is your favourite films list's renovation going? :) ).
And I think it is indeed important to note, that it isn't meant to be simply a depiction of a "golden world", i.e. that gold overlaps with dark as you said - that within the Egyptian mythos alongside Ra (the Sun god), there exists Set, the dark god of chaos, which manifests himself in more sinister sections of the short, but as a necessity and enhancement such that eventually the two must be treated as inextricable. As PdA mentioned, Clipson often portrays the morning sun or the evening sun such that the viewer can identify the source of light and actually treat it as a singularity. To invoke a mythological interpretation is a stretch, but the title clearly mentions the Sphinx.

Ok, to go a little further with this over-analysis since I already started, the fact that Clipson shows railways, electrical wires, cities and calls the short Sphinx on the Seine (as opposed to Nile which would indeed more clearly reference and evoke Ancient Egypt), means that industrialisation and modernity have irrevocably altered the world, but that despite all that he, the filmmaker, can still find traces of this pharaonic look, the majestic overlapping of gold and dark within the world.

---

Agreed on his work in general, that even though despite not getting more beyond pretty visuals and his films perhaps could use some simple underpinning ideas, that his work is distinctive enough to be worthy of some recognition (i.e. it's not simply "experimental" stuff that a lot would discard and say "oh, I can film that too if I wanted to"). And him working with 8mm and 16mm film is already notable. It's pretty evident that he puts quite a lot of effort and care into his work, and probably finds anything that he's happy with himself good enough for a final cut, he isn't going to think about anyone else, perhaps other than the music artists he collaborates with. It can be surmised that his work is then a source of personal fulfilment, that making it has therapeutic effects in the most general sense, as I said in my previous comments. At least those are the impressions I get from his interview, in which he's clearly both serious and content about his work, with a sensitivity to the world around us.

Journey through or to the light makes a lot of sense. It's also perhaps interesting to note that this is one of the few Clipson shorts that actually features humans - once there is a shot of a face, and another time there are the shadows of people walking on the pavement. So maybe the former person is the one who looks/travels, while the other people travel too, but as a herd, together, so contrary to the person with a face, hence why those other people are shadows. Or maybe the evil god Set controls their souls and the individual/camera must strive away, through the light, to the light. Ok, enough.
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#13

Post by tobias » March 11th, 2017, 3:00 pm

Many people would probably argue that Paul Clipson’s short films are nothing but meaningless pretty (or not, depending on your taste) images tied together by an equally meaningless, but pleasing title;
Hehe that was my first impression, beautiful images and a beautiful title that has nothing to do with the images.

However while I think the fiilm might be ever so slightly to pondering I actually liked it and I think it's actually thematically quite rich and semi-realised.

I see it as an evocation of old myth in a technical world, a dialouge between progress and eternity (aka god - symbolised by the sun). The film works with 2 distinct pairs of images, heavily structured images (even sometimes mere lines) and on the other hand images that are heavily disjointed and seem to resist structure altogether (the light glimmering on the water and many of the other images which can best be described by the word "light") and then at times there's an attempt to create something inbetween (for instance the montage with the 2 suns), an attempt to merge both realities.

But why the Sphinx? Now the Sphinx is a very interesting symbol. You're probably all familiar with the egyptic Sphinxes which are statues of fusions between man and lion, often portraying egyptian rulers (which were seen as gods) or other gods but that's only half of the truth because the greeks also had a Sphinx but she's a mythological creature which is much harder to pin down. She's not merely a fusion between female and lion, she also has wings and sometimes characteristics from other animals (snakes for instance). I think from this the conflict is quite clear, one definition of Sphinx is a statue, the other is a mythological creature, one is a non-specific male, the other is a specific female, one has wings, the other hasn't. It's odd but I just read Homo Faber which builds on excactly the same conflict, a technological man who sees the world through a camera (because he belives that's the truth) and his former girlfriend whos a mysticist and art-admirerer. The film evokes excactly the same conflict which is also present in the Sphinx itself, the conflict between the tehnical and rational (symbolised by men) and the elusive, the mythical and inexplicable (symbolised by women).

How to merge this conflict? In Homo Faber the man and the woman have a child which they both refer to by different names. In this film there are the shots which don't resist structure altogether but which also don't adhere to it and there's the overall undestinctness or unceartanty about the films narrative which seems to go nowehere. The word Sphinx possibly comes from the egyptian spanch which means living image (quite a contradiction, isn't it?) or that which captures life . I believe that's excactly what Clipson tried to do, to create a somewhat conciliatory conversation between both extremes (the strcitly mythical and the strictly technical) by condensing it all down to life or journey, which is often used as a synonym to life, that's why we get the unconclusive narrative, the air of mystery in a technological world and within a technological medium and all the pictures of traveling (lots of shots from inside trains, shots of cars, airplanes etc.).

Conclusion: It's good but too high concept and too unclear to get any attention outside of academia and people who like trippy films.

Sidenotes: it's odd how this captured Homo Faber better than Schlöndorf's film; and man, I would love to watch an extensive documentary on greek myth with experimental visuals but also with clear insights and narration. Does that exist? Otherwise I'd better make it sometime in the next 20 years because that would be an amazing thing.
Last edited by tobias on March 11th, 2017, 3:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#14

Post by Carmel1379 » March 13th, 2017, 9:35 pm

Interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing.

Several short films of Clipson deal with the distinction and contrasts between "nature" (perceived as elusive, mythical) and the "city" (more so rigid, but offering technological possibilities, dwellings and travel), and although I definitely doubt that he had the specific ideas related to "homo faber" (or even the figure of a sphinx as embodying the supposed conflict) in mind during the making, these ideas come in and out of everyone's mind and culture as a whole, so it's no surprise that its traces will be found in his work, even at a subconscious level.
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#15

Post by Carmel1379 » February 6th, 2018, 4:06 pm

:rip:
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#16

Post by lynchs » February 6th, 2018, 4:51 pm

Sad but true-

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#17

Post by viktor-vaudevillain » February 14th, 2018, 4:01 pm

Just saw this... Didn't even hear he had diead. Though I've only seen three of his filmworks, I'd still say he was a prolific voice in the experimental filmworld today. He wasn't even that old.
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