Monthly Archives: April 2023

  • Talking to Strangers                  Rob Tregenza

    Talking to Strangers                  Rob Tregenza (USA: 1988) Ken Gruz

    viewed: vimeo link 18 April 2023; download price: £2-95

    out of wack    

    Tregenza’s movie, ‘Talking to Strangers’ comprises nine single takes. Except the first and last, each take features a meeting by the lead character Jesse, with a stranger (or strangers) whom he encounters for the first time. These single shots comprise intricate more or less ten minute long choreographical interplays of location and character, using pans tracks and cranes.

    Each of Tregenza’s takes focuses on a particular area of content taking the audience from confusion to isolation by way of sex violence and god.

    ‘Talking to Strangers’ has strong filmic input and in the era where the normal maximum length of a take was 1000 foot magazine of 35mm film, Tregenza has adopted a singular formal design in which to present his subject. The question arises which came first: the script or the structure? Of course this is a question that the film itself answers definitively in the sense that the viewer simply watches the film and evaluates the content and structure as one delivered product.

    My feeling is that ‘Talking to Strangers’ is dominated by its formal structure which works well to begin with. The camera work in the opening take sets up a strong expectation that this will be a film about seeing. The sequence comprises a long overhead shot of a road intersection. There is no dialogue. The sound track is made up entirely by distant diegetic sound as the camera periodically panning, captures the uncertain wandering movement of the protagonist. But it is the street scene itself that takes centre stage, captures the imagination as the eye takes in all its details and enjoys the understated spectacle of the everyday and ordinary, whilst capturing the occasional movements of a lost soul.

    But as soon as the second take begins (set in a canteen for deprived people), Tregenza introduces actors into the scenario. The balance of the movie changes, setting up an antagonistic relationship at the core of the film between the acting style and the camera style, the former derived from soap opera melodrama, the latter from art house aesthetics. A cinema of ‘seeing’ and a cinema of ‘melodrama’ are oppositions, filmic elements that work against each other. Cinema is an expressive form in which of course anything is possible. But neither in direction nor in scripting is Tegenza able to resolve the disjunction of his primary filmic elements; ultimately this undermines ‘Talking to Strangers’ as the ‘seeing’ aspect of camera movement is undermined by the melodramatic banality of the expressed emotion.

    There was a realisation in the ‘50’s to ‘70’s era that for certain types of films the sort of acting required by Hollywood and its imitators, could not deliver the qualitive impressions demanded by the new kinds of directors and the script material with which they worked. These directors realised there were alternative styles of creating and acting out ‘a character’ that would work more effectively in the communication of ideas. One strategy widely explored was experimentation with the Brechtian idea of the actor adopting a certain role distance. Instead of the Stanislavski and Actor’s Studio inspired ‘method’ involving the actor’s complete immersion in character, the Brechtian school looked at the possibility of the actor adopting a role to communicate what a character represented in the realm of ideas and in particular situations. One consequence of this was the tendency to demote the primacy of expressed emotion and its concomitant manipulations in favour of more detached utterance. The need for a cooler style demanded a different sort of actor, one who was able to incorporate into performance and delivery of lines, a natural level of de-intensified playing.

    Most of Tregenza’s one take strips of action in ‘Talking to Strangers’ revolve about the expression of certain ideas within his highly formal visual structure. But his actors expressive modes are modelled on TV melodrama. This type of drama is structurally filmed as series of comings and goings, doors opening and closing, one thing after another, filmed as shot reverse shot and edited as a montage that aims to exploit the movement image to max out emotional discharge.

    Perhaps distracted by the complex demands of camera choreography, Tregenza simply did not give attention to what his actors were bringing to the frame as long as they were on the ‘mark’ and on the ‘line’. In relation to the actors’ ‘lines’, it seems to me that the script highlights the problems with the film. The dialogue often feels like it reflects opposing production impulses. Some of the scripting seems ok but there is in much of the dialogue a ‘forced’ written element, mostly expressive of ideas, that impedes what should be natural interaction between the players. This forced dialogue fights with another type of voice in the scripting that suggests an uneasy attempt at using improvisation as a source for the interchanges. This intermix of different dialogue types reinforces the impression that Tregenza’s film that outside of its formal visual style is uncertain about what is about and how to achieve its ends.

    ‘Talking to Strangers’ with its crafted cinematic look, risks being a film of form without content. This is certainly not the case, but nevertheless Tregenza has made a film whose confused expression of content leaves form the dominant force.

    adrin neatrour











  • The Gods of Times Square         Richard Sandler

    The Gods of Times Square                 Richard Sandler (USA; 2004 – this is the latest edit; I believe there was an earlier edit )

    viewed Bronx Documentary Centre, NYC; ticket: free; nb – on YouTube (at time of writing:

    psychic archaeology

    Richard Sandler’s ‘The Gods of Times Square’ opens with a subway sequence taking us into the 42nd St. Station that serves the Square. The series of shots: abstract travelling across and through the multiple reflecting planes of the intersecting car windows, create a sense of delirium. The opening section continues with a series of close ups of riders, and the feeling persists that we are hallucinating, witness to the stygian transit of ghostly tortured souls through a macabre underworld.

    Then suddenly we surface out of subterranean gloom into the neon glare of the cinemas theatres and huge advertising hoardings that assault the senses and freeze consciousness.  

    Sandler’s documentary, filmed between 1994 and 2001 is built on a series of contrasts: sanity and madness, delirium and lucidity, black and white, the still and the frantic, scale – the human and the outsized, the momentary and the eternal, the saved and the damned. All captured by his repeated stoic cinematic peregrinations on the sidewalks of this New York landmark, penetrating the psychic reality of his chosen patch.

    Central to the ‘The God’s of Times Square’ is Sandler’s singular methodology, the manner in which he has collected his material. It’s a film shot entirely from the hip.    Night after night on the prowl with his camera the director goes out to shoot a film from material that can only be gathered from chance encounters. His guiding motif is the attraction of religious and quasi religious groups and individuals to the Square and its environs. This location, which at the time was not only a tourist attraction but also centre of the New York porn industry, provided preachers teachers ranters and ravers with the grist to the mill of their respective belief systems. ‘The Gods of Times Square’ is a singular expression on the paradoxes that define critical areas of American society: the primacy of religious belief in personal salvation existing side by side with the capitalist imperative of identity through consumption, both grounded in a dream culture of mindless oblivion. A symptom of a collective insanity.

    Sandler walks and talks on his camera driven odyssey about the Square and its environs. His encounters range from one off confrontations to meetings with other regulars when their respective paths cross. Most of the interactions have an intensity that’s lent them by virtue their being ‘on the street’ and therefore publically ‘on the line’; but also by Sandler’s questioning. Sandler engages his street people and preachers with respect intelligence and humour (much of it purely visual exploiting frame linkage), whether he’s filming the raw hostility of blacks preaching the revenge that ‘Black Jesus’ is going to wreak upon white people or questioning the enigmatic dog collared man who calls himself ‘James’.

    But along with the sidewalk material: delirium and wonder. The wonder is totally unexpected and comprises Sandler’s stunning representation of the natural world in the form of ‘The Square’ pigeons. Interspersed throughout the film a series of breath-taking shots of vast flocks of pigeons soaring planeing arching as one body across and through the frame of this eerie neon lit space. Life where there should be no expectation of life. In a strange way these shots called to mind the shots of stampeding buffaloes in John Ford movies. Despite everything a life force is in evidence.

    The delirium: captured by Sandler’s camera and edited in as interpolations throughout the course of the film, is the environment of ‘Times Square’. It is represented as a fantastical interplay of ever changing light, reflection refraction through multiple planes. ‘The Square’ is in constant movement creating for the viewer the experience of continuous spectacle. Spectacle is the transmission of strong emitted streams of stimulae which as absorbed by consciousness overpower the mind so that only these images of the present exist. There is no past; no present: mind is trapped in the experience of the moment. There is no memory; all is forgetfulness.

    Perhaps to some extent the advent of smart phone mediated access to social media has led to an internalisation of spectacle. Individuals now expose themselves to the continuous transmission of a stream of ever changing information that overwhelms consciousness and also traps mind into a continuous present.

    But over and above the interplay of a million lights, high up in the sky are ‘The Square’s’ huge advertising hoardings. In contrast to the spectacle of light, these hoardings are immobile but explot the spectacle of scale. Represented on these massive canvasses are the almost naked forms of men and women, supersized images pretending to advertise undergarments but in fact flaunting an unrepentant strangely perfected sexuality that, at odds with the shoddy seedy actuality on sale in the adult shows and cinemas of 42nd Street, mocks the merely human. The psychic impact of these flaunted bodies is Olympian, they challenge the mortal gaze and the spectacle they offer suggests they are the real ‘Gods of Times Square’.

    Sandler’s film seems to me to be a triumph of perseverance intentionality and stamina. He has gone out time and again over a period of some ten years and caught something essential about NYC. He filmed ‘The Gods of Times Square’ during a period of major transition when the patch was subjected to a complete change about from being a centre of the adult entertainment industry into an extension of Disneyland, a centre for family entertainment. Though of course the Times Square spectacle continues but now fronts out a different variety of consumption. Same Gods but another form of iteration.

    So ‘Times’ Square has now been cleaned up. The human detritus yearnings and utterances rage and wisdom that characterised it have been swept away. However although the expressive features which were the subject of Sandler’s ‘Square’ are gone, my feeling is that they are simply repressed. The ‘Square’ hasn’t just gone away. Its insanity its life its intensity its urgency are simply for the moment submerged. In the vaults of New York’s psychic memory they lurk ready to when the time is right, to emerge and reclaim their place on the sidewalk.

    adrin neatrour