Thanks be to YouTube for once more resurrecting moments of underground cinema which would otherwise be very difficult to see. Wavelength (1967) is Michael Snow’s experimental masterwork, a 45-minute zoom across a New York loft that ends on a photograph of waves that fills the screen. This recipe for ennui is not without incident: we see a bookcase being installed, someone plays a Beatles record—Strawberry Fields Forever—a man breaks into the apartment and collapses. (He may be dead but we never find out.) Throughout this, the film is subject to flashes of colour filtering, moments of negative inversion and sudden flares of light. For at least half the running time the sound is replaced by a droning oscillator tone which rises inexorably the closer the camera brings us to its destination.


Between these events there’s plenty of time to meditate upon the meaning of the title: the various wavelengths of sound and light, the distance across the room to the view of the waves, the waves themselves. It’s a fascinating film which is linked for me (and may have influenced) two other takes on the long take: JG Ballard’s short story The 60 Minute Zoom (1976), in which a man monitors his wife’s infidelity from a hotel balcony, and the celebrated shot at the end of Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975) when Jack Nicholson’s character is assassinated off-screen in another hotel room while the camera floats miraculously through the iron bars of the window. You can see Wavelength in full here. I’d recommend watching it full-screen, it requires immersion.

Previously on { feuilleton }
() by Morgan Fisher
La Région Centrale
Downside Up

2 thoughts on “Wavelength”

  1. Har har, I love the Raitre logo in the corner. Really takes me back. Rai Tre is the italian third national TV channel – formerly owned by the now defunct Communist Party and traditionally housing the best cultural programming, albeit aired in the dead of night. This one was probably programmed by journalist / curator Enrico Ghezzi.

  2. I had a friend who lived in Rome in the 80s and 90s, she was always telling me Rai Tre was the only TV channel worth watching.

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