28 June 2012
Still voices on the big screen
Pause: 59 Minutes of Motion GraphicsCompiled and designed by Julie Hirschfield and Stefanie Barth<br>Text by Peter Hall and Andrea Codrington<br>Laurence King Publishing, £25
As the boundaries that define the realms of graphic and media design continue to expand at an exponential rate (only marginally slower than the development of the technology driving the evolution of our visual culture), along with the increasing visibility of the designer/ director, the burden of transmedia representation becomes an increasingly tricky one to negotiate. The nature and rhythm or language of disparate forms of media translate with only a degree of success and integrity, like movie adaptations of novels or the way in which Hollywood versions of European cinema always seem to lose a little “something” in their simplified reconstitution. It is
not merely a verbal barrier but a formal, stylistic and cultural one, too.
The death of the book has been an idea touted for some years now, yet despite its resilience, the Achilles’ heel of the printed page is rarely more exposed than when having to confront the challenge of conveying the dynamism of the moving image. One only needs to think about the lack of a genuinely intelligent or sincere book, despite the amount of subject interest, detailing the significance, impact or evolution of the movie title sequence.
Launched at the ICA’s Onedotzero festival this year, Pause is an interesting, honest, but not entirely successful, attempt to explore the nature of motion graphics across a number of media disciplines. Separated into eight loosely generic chapters – “Surveillance”, “The Trip”, “Fetish”, “Nostalgia”, “Particle”, “Self-Help”, “Biotech”, “Joy” – which endeavour to draw together the various, and often disparate uses of graphics in film, video and digital production, the structure of and the groupings within the book often highlight the pitfalls of trying to tie down the inherent complexities of a broad and eclectic subject matter.
Fronted by an introductory essay that sets out its thematic raison d’être – to explore motion through the enigmatic nature of the “paused” image – the book raises a number of key historical, aesthetic and ethical points (relating to censorship, sponsorship and copyright). The “still” and its role in the sequence are traced all the way back to the work of Muybridge, while the paranoia of corporate sponsors is humorously brought to the fore over the editing ability of the pause button and the removal of unwanted ads. Similarly, the voyeuristic nature of the pause is accentuated in reference to the Sharon Stone “muff” shot from Basic Instinct (arguably the most paused shot in film/video history).
Unfortunately, and this is as much a commendation as it is a criticism of the standard of writing in the book, the brevity of the introduction and the subsequent essays that head each chapter only serve to whet the appetite by scratching the surface of what follows. Despite the quality of thought behind most of the ideas and issues raised, there is always a sense that there could and should have been more.
One particular oversight in the writing concerns the creative use of the pause button, as with “scratch” videos or the way in which the pause has most commonly been employed, reconstituting the narrative flow of films screened on commercial television, freeing them from the disruption of advertising images and even creating a new fluidity for independently produced programmes originally made with advertising in mind.
Yet the most obvious omission from
the book, especially considering the amount of space given over to pop
promo imagery, is the lack of serious debate relating to the influence of music on contemporary visual culture and the short form narrative. Not only is there much room for discussion of the music video, which has developed into a
generic form in its own right, but the
link between TV advertising and popular music has become so close in recent years that many brands are almost recognisable by their use of specific musical forms. Similarly, how many Saul Bass title sequences can you name that don’t rest alongside the rhythmic structure of great composers such as Elmer Bernstein, Herrmann or Ellington?
The varying degrees of success to which each chapter works is further testament to the need for a deeper analytical stance, as a greater contextual exploration of the images utilised would have tied the works used and text together more thoroughly.
While Pause is a welcome addition to the largely undernourished field of motion graphics literature, and can be lauded for its bold attempts to fill the void, it falls short of being the first truly exhaustive and illuminating book on the subject.
First published in Eye no. 37 vol. 10, 2000