Format: 16mm Black & White
Runtime: 45 min
Wavelength, Michael Snow's meditation on cinematic practice, takes the form of a zoom that moves from the end of an 80-foot urban loft to a photograph of waves on the wall at the opposite end of the room. The zoom is accompanied by a sine wave as it gradually progresses from its lowest note (50 cycles per second) to its highest (12,000 cycles per second).
At the beginning of the shot, most of the room is visible. Eventually, the zoom excludes the rest of the room as it focuses on four vertical double windows, three intervening sections of wall space, and a desk, radiator and chairs by the opposite wall. As the zoom progresses, it goes through a series of jerks and jolts between occasional shot changes. Meanwhile, the image passes through a variety of colour filters, film stocks, degrees of processing (positive and negative) and light exposures.
At different points in the film, four events occur involving people, during which the sine wave is combined with synchronous sound. Prior to the third event, there are sounds of glass breaking, wood splintering and footsteps on the stairs — a man staggers in and drops to the floor just before the zoom eliminates him from view. In the last event, a woman makes a telephone call, explaining that a man appears to be dead on the floor. After she leaves, superimposed images of her conversation and earlier stages of the zoom's progress appear over the principal image. As the zoom moves onto the lowest of three small photographs on the central wall, a police siren is heard, gradually merging with the sine wave. The zoom continues beyond the borders of the photograph, then retreats a little and the image blurs out.
Michael Snow's first major film was described by the critic Jonathon Rosenbaum as "the most consequential zoom shot in the history of cinema." It has been variously analyzed for its modernist-materialist form as a definitive answer to Bazin's question Quest-ce que c'est le cinéma? (Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, 1970); as an exploration of the problems of narrative and the viewer-film relationship; as a meditative experience; and as an epistemological inquiry. This rich and rigorous film is all of these, and more; Wavelength stands as one of the most important works of modern cinema.