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Saturday 09.13.08

« Hirst's Castle | Main | Gertrude & Otto Natzler at MoCC »


Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

I went and saw Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno which is part of PICA's TBA Festival 2008 at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum on Friday night. I thought that the film was extraordinary. It raises some basic questions about how we choose to engage our environment or experience. I learned that it is our awareness of our own attention which informs whether we are actively or passively engaged in our experience. The structure of the film is pretty straight forward. There are 17 cameras that are focused on a famous soccer player named Zidane. Unlike watching soccer on television, these cameras are always on Zidane whether he has the ball or not. The film is a compilation of images from all of these cameras and are edited to follow the flow of the soccer game that took place in 2005. Unlike some of his fans, I had heard of Zidane but I did not follow his career so I was able to see Zidane as a man playing soccer rather as a hero of European soccer. If you are fan of his, your experience will be different than mine. Like the best films, very subtle changes in perception end up making a big difference.

I know this may sound a little strange but when you watch this film, you end up becoming a participant in the experience in a way that is unlike any film I had ever seen. The experience is structured around a soccer game but it goes much deeper than that. As I said before, the cameras are always focused on Zidane regardless of where the action is on the field. A first this is a little disconcerting but surprisingly it ends up allowing us to concentrate on the raw, visceral experience of playing soccer in front of 20,000 people in a packed stadium. By not following the ball, we get closer to the experience of the players. Second, the focus of our attention, Zidane, is never looking at us but always following the soccer game. The result is that we are like ghosts on the field, almost always on the periphery of the action of the soccer game. The game itself is nearly always outside our field of view. Players enter and exit the field of view of the camera based on a system that we are not able to perceive from our limited viewpoint. We have no sense of the flow or the overall structure of the game so we float but we are constantly immersed in the sensations and the experience of the moment.

Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

I would like to back track for a moment. For me there were at least three different perspectives in the film. I have already discussed the perspective of the film itself where we are entirely focused on Zidane. This is not quite Zidane's perspective because we do not see what he sees but we do get to watch him respond and react to what he sees. Occasionally, the film makers will shift perspectives for a short time and show us the game from the perspective of a television set. The second perspective of the film is the view from the television set. I have to say that after watching this film I will never be able to watch sports in the same way again. In a counter intuitive way, it is the view from the television that we are able to make the most sense of the game but it is at the expense of being removed from the action. The more we understand what is happening in the game the further we are from the raw experience of what it is like to play the game. The view from the television seems strangely omnipotent because we can see how the patterns of the game emerge and unfold in the context of a large part of the field. The omnipotent view is also the most democratic because most of the people will follow the game will do so from a television set.

The third perspective in the film would be Zidane's and even though we never experience the game through his eyes, we get a feeling of what is happening by watching his reactions. The filmmakers took a big jump when they decided to film soccer game not as it is but what it does. Of course, what it does is provoke reactions in both the players and the spectators. And then it hits you, how is the Zidane's reactions of the game, even though he is an occasional participant, any more privileged than the thousands of the fans in the stadium? This is where my perception of the film might differ from Zidane's fans, but I think that the answer is that his view is not privileged, it is not the "true" perspective of the game despite the fact that he is the focus of the film. His view, his reactions are just one of many.

Everyone's experience of the game is equally real and authentic. The crowds become active participants in the experience of the game. The players respond to the crowd. The crowd responds to the players. There is a feedback loop. We are always aware of the crowds cheering when things are going well and yelling when they aren't. The experience of the players on the field, the crowds in the stands, the fans watching it on TV and the audience that are watching the film after the game has already been over for several years all feddback into one another. Everyone is responding to everyone else while the cause of the event, the soccer ball remains mostly invisible to us. Zidane is responding to the game the same as we are. He is responding aware of the cheering of the fans. We realize that we are all participants. We are all creating the reality of the game. The effect can only be described as the film makes us aware of the overlapping spheres of consciousness between the players, the spectators and ourselves. All of our experiences become interwoven and everything appears seamlessly interconnected. Our view of reality is limited only by our perspective.

Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

Most of our feel for the texture of the game comes from soundtrack. Just as the filmmakers chose to focus on the reactions the game provokes rather depicting what a soccer game is, they also chose to subtly shift our perceptions of the experience by changing what we hear. When we hear what the players are hearing on the field, it is like we are right there with them except we are rarely ever looking at the ball. When the filmmakers change the sounds of the game to music, the action of the soccer field feels far away as if we are somehow disconnected or distracted during the game. Our perception of our experience subtly shifts. We realize that are able to become either actively or passively engaged in the experience of the game. Zidane's experience mirrors our own experience as we watch the film. The film parallels our own movement in and out of conscious experience of our environment of watching the movie.

The filmmakers reinforce this perception by introducing Zidane talking about his own experiences when the music is playing. It is in these moments that we become closest to feeling who Zidane is. In the film even though he is the focus of our attention, he is always following the game and never looking at us. With the music as a background and separated from the intensity of the game, we come closest to existing in his head. It is almost like we are hearing an internal monologue in our own heads in a soccer game in which we are playing. The different shifts in perception that we see in the different point of view of the cameras are reinforced in the way that the sounds of the film connects us to different aural aspects of the experience: the sounds of the game and the players, the sounds of the fans in the stands, the sound of Zidane's internal monologue and even the sounds of theater in which we are sitting. No part or perspective of the experience is privileged; we almost always exist on the periphery because there is no fixed center.

The film opens with an extreme close up of a television or movie screen. I think that at one point in our lives it is an experience in which we have all participated. When we look at the screen up close, we do not see the image but we see very small colored dots that change according to their own logic. When we see the dots from a distance they merge to form an image that we can respond to but when we viewed up close, each dot seems to exist individually. Each dot contains a little bit of information that is necessary to be able to view the picture as a whole. It is almost as if the filmmakers are drawing a parallel between the relationship between the colored dots and the picture and the way our individual experience relates to our collective view of the reality of the game. As soccer players, fans in the stadium, filmmakers or even the audience of the film of the game, we all have a little bit to contribute. Each one of us provides a little bit of information. Each one of us supplies one more perspective the experience. It is only together that we create the whole image.

Still from Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

Posted by Arcy Douglass on September 13, 2008 at 9:20 | Comments (0)


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