Koktebel
Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky

There’s a camera movement common to almost all of the Eastern European films that I love. In fact it’s not really a camera movement per se. It’s a speed of movment: glacial. It comes out not only in tracking shots and crane shots; you will see it in zooms (almost always in, rarely out, unless accompanied by crane shot); you will see it in slow motion (though that’s most effective in action sequences and in the hands of John Woo).

In the age of the moving camera, I wonder if the differences in movement between the melancholic films of Eastern Europe and contemporary “Western” films echoes the split between Russian film maker Eisenstein and American D.W. Griffith.

If there is a resonance, I’d describe it as this:

American film-making, having mastered the action film, gives us movement between two points. On-screen movement is that which happens between departure and arrival. It carries us from one to the next, and comes to closure with the next sequence…

Melancholic film-making gives us movement as a journey, a wandering, a movement that seeks its destination (so that it may continue to pose its question). Movement is left unclosed, without its terminus, because movement itself is what the film intends to show.

The glacial tracking shot not only brings attention to the very motion of movement itself, it leaves us in suspension: tracking shots do not take us from point a to b, they put us in motion.

Bela Tarr was once asked why a sequence from Werkmeister Harmonies in which villagers march into town took as long as it did (close to 10 minutes?). His answer was: “Because that’s how long it took to get there.”