by Giampaolo Bianconi
Jeff Preisss STOP
Airplanes, holidays, tigers, funerals, friends, dogs, car crashes, dead birds, the Twin Towers, 14th Street, clouds, windshield wipers, rain, buildings, terraces, babies, kids, old people, Stan Brakhage, art, movies, Planet of the Apes, a monkey reading a newspaper, New York, Seoul, Paris, Berlin, Boston, apartments, fireworks, flags, houses, terraces, beaches, trains, cars, driftwood, billboards, Los Angeles, September 11, Ground Zero, George W. Bush, the Iraq War, chicken nuggets, French fries, pizza, döner kebab, airports, haircuts, dentists, doctors, laptops, cell phones, 23rd Street, subways, Chet Baker, SlutWalk, coffee, bagels, dresses, advertisements, skirts, ties, bathing suits, Orchard Street, traffic. This is a sampling of what enters the world of Jeff Preiss’s STOP, a film of beautiful observations and revelations, chronicling magnificent transformations and recent history with a feverish urgency.
Compiled from 2,500 rolls of film shot from 1995–2012, edited with economy and precision and clocking in squarely at 120 minutes, STOP is nothing short of a home-movie epic. Subjects and storylines weave throughout the film; some emerge from the beginning while others reveal themselves slowly, and some appear only once; others fade, gradually, away. Most striking, and a necessity of any home movie, is the story of Preiss’s child, whose process of gender self-determination serves as the film’s most resilient crux. Preiss fulfills two overlapping roles behind the camera: the essential, loving father of home movie practice, and the eternal, inquisitive experimental film artist. He never once turns the camera on himself.
Numbers are important here, but not in a stiffly intellectual manner. Preiss numbered the film in reference to the 15-minute processed reels of footage the lab made out of his raw, 3-minute reels. The film’s running length references a standard Hollywood feature, and further subdivisions, into four 30-minute segments, reference the typical length of episodic television. The film, screened theatrically on DigiBeta video, operates for Preiss like a film/video hybrid. That format resonates with STOP’s domesticity not only of content but also of form. STOP is a mobile film: projected in a 4 by 3 ratio, it could be seen just as well in a gallery, at home, or even returned to a 16mm print. A gallery version, in which the half-hour segments loop on separate monitors, does exist. While the back and forth between film and video is well known to anybody who grew up watching VHS tapes, here it is not a necessity of distribution but an organizing principle. In the relationship between 16mm film and Standard Definition video, STOP takes up a mobile space by virtue, and not in spite, of its materiality.
This hybridizing is further explored by the film’s sound, which is literally an afterthought of its images. The film was shot entirely without sync-sound (except for one lucky accident), so the audio track is a feat of isolated found sounds: when someone speaks, it is their voice—just from a different moment. Rarely do sounds bridge different shots, creating a contrast between the loud, ambient noises of one moment and the silence of another. The semblance of matching sound is seamless, but its essential dislocation stresses the film’s formal construction and its move away from totalizing claims and towards a new aesthetic. It also—like the film’s technological hybridity—points us towards another essential and well-known duality of the real and the realistic, the captured and the cobbled-together.
Moving ceaselessly forward in time, creeping so close to the present that I would have been unsurprised to see the premiere in the film itself, STOP is rigorously glued to its chronology. Our place in time, as the film progresses, is determinable but rarely explicit. Dates are triangulated through the artifacts within the film, especially billboards and advertisements for major motion pictures. Not only an adherence to home-movie convention, the film’s connection to a skeleton of real time facilitates its hindsight editing, which allows for the development and repetition of themes and images. While the film moves at a manic pace, it never devolves into a formless assault of people and events.
Stopping, in its various modes, is an unavoidable principle of any cinematic construction, and one of STOP’s many virtues is not only its deftness in negotiating a conceptual halt but also its disciplined cutting, which lets no frame linger too long on screen. Shots flurry quickly without hovering and pass without a trace of longueur. Within individual shots, actions are rarely completed: fireworks don’t descend in quiet smoke after they explode, hands don’t finish their movement across the frame, food is never fully consumed. Only once, when someone falls off the monkey bars, an action is shown to brutal completion. The film rarely moves into contemplation; here it fixates on a column of smoke from a factory, there on a small cactus in the wind.
It’s a riveting, illuminating frenzy. STOP could go on forever but somehow it needed to end. Preiss suggests a few possibilities: the increasing scarcity of celluloid film, the inevitable, beautiful maturation of his child and that rare perfect number: 2500 shot rolls. STOP is an iteration of an archive of 17 years of filming, and as such a reservoir of endless possible films to come.
GIAMPAOLO BIANCONI is a regular contributor to Rhizome and a graduate student at Columbia University.