Sep 8, 2005

Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan (1981)


While researching for ESR's rock and roll issue, I couldn't believe my dumb luck when I found a used VHS copy of Brian Eno's "other" video experiment (other than THURSDAY AFTERNOON, which I saw years ago). As far as I knew, this picture was only available in Europe or Japan, so it was one of those weird and wonderful twists of fate that life has a tendency of surprising us with. So to whoever up there likes me, thank you. This hour-long video features a few music pieces accompanying a series of unbroken shots of Manhattan. Chiefly, the skyline of Manhattan is seen on its side, not across (the video box jokes that to see this movie properly, one has to turn their TV set on its side). Sometimes the great urban metropolis is barely seen as a sliver on the side of the screen as the majestic cloudy skies dominate the frame. This oblique frame calls attention to how the natural world really dwarfs our puerile achievements. Also the single take structure is indicative of Eno's ambient music- it operates within its own time and space. Cinematically, it also recalls Warhol, in that the image just takes on a life of its own, uncaring if the viewer is engaged or not. But you either love Eno's ambient philosophy or you don't-- I do, and this movie is for me a meditative, relaxing treat.

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