Saturday, 8 May 2010

THE FLICKER (USA/1965/TONY CONRAD)

A handwritten statement at the beginning of The Flicker warns that the filmmakers accept no responsibility for any “physical or mental injury” caused by the film, namely epileptic seizures. A white screen is interrupted by the occasional black ‘flash’ before returning back to white, resulting in a flicker. The switch between the two becomes quicker and more frequent, to the point that it is difficult to judge what is on screen at any given time. The flicker’s hypnotic effect, if one is constantly watching it, can result in colourful speckles known as phosphenes appearing on the eye, leading to potential hallucinations. Shortly after the flicker reaches its peak speed, the film decelerates to a white frame, an abrupt conclusion to a bumpy ride. The unusual synth soundtrack, resembling an electronic scraping sound and a pneumatic drill, accelerates in time with the flicker, enhancing its bewildering effect.

Though its comical warning wouldn’t look out of place at the beginning of a fifties B-movie, The Flicker’s ideology and form align it with some of the best structural films of the period. Artist Tony Conrad’s deceptively simple half-hour short essentially narrates the structure of any film, and as the black and white screens alternate increasingly quickly, they appear to fuse into a steady image, a deception led by the varying speed of the flicker. It may have been repeated countless times since, but The Flicker stands out as a fascinating experiment in consciousness and perception, alongside artist Brion Gysin’s hallucinogenic device, the Dreamachine.

(An interactive flicker-effect experiment can be found here - not recommended for those with epilepsy)





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