Friday, June 19, 2009

Architecture and Film: Thom Mayne talks with Elvis Mitchell and Frederick Elmes at LA Film Festival

The second day of the LA Film Festival (June 18-28, Westwood, CA) included a conversation between Thom Mayne (Pritzger prize-winning architect, founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture and architectural firm Morphosis), Frederick Elmes (producer of such films as Wild at Heart, Night on Earth, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Coffee and Cigarettes among others) and Elvis Mitchell (film critic, TV and radio host, producer).

For me the most interesting part was Mayne’s discussion of the final episode of Antonioni’s The Passenger (Professione: reporter). In this famous (12-minute long?) continuous shot, “the camera ran on a ceiling track in the hotel room and when it came outside the window, was meant to be picked up by a hook suspended from a giant crane nearly thirty meters high. A system of gyroscopes was fitted on the camera to steady it during the switch from this smooth indoor track to the crane outside. Meanwhile the bars on the window had been given hinges. When the camera reached the window and the bars were no longer in the field of view they were swung away to either side. At this time the camera's forward movement had to stop for a few seconds as the crane's hook grabbed onto it and took over from the track. To hide this, the lens was slowly and smoothly zoomed until the crane could pull the camera forward again” (Wikipedia).

In this shot “everything is taken place in the periphery,” said Thom Mayne. “The character in the center of the frame, the old man, he has nothing to with anything. There is a traditional notion of center, your eyes naturally go to this old man, and he has nothing to do with the story. Anything that is relevant is placed out of you field of vision, and the main event is taken place behind you. You are literally turning in your seat in the movie theater to see what’s happening behind you.”

I think that the same relation between center and periphery exists in Mayne's Caltrans building in Downtown Los Angeles.

See "The Passenger"'s final episode.

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