The departure from accurate representation and the disappearance of the identifiable object in art started with impressionism. It favored the momentary impression against reality in depiction and focused on the “how” instead of the “what”. While the impressionists experimented with the visible phenomena of the outside world, the later abstract painters aimed to create a different imagery and put their emphasis on the portrayal of psychological states of being. This attitude resulted in diverse approaches towards nonrepresentational art, in countless manifestations of geometric and lyrical abstraction with various political, religious and artistic charges. Stripped of any additional signs Vít Pancíř’s 2010 lyrical documentary Changing the Scene (Mění se kulisa) offers a wide range of these abstracted forms and occasionally contrasts them with the hyperreality of the 21th century’s advertising imagery.
Romantic landscapes with blurred contours alternate with strict compositions of geometric shapes and monochrome surfaces, fast tracking shots are interrupted by fixed camera shots and the piano melody is fragmented by the various sounds of nature. Nothing can stand still in Pancíř’s work. The sudden changes, the contrasts between movement and stillness, music and silence highlight the difference between the stages, but the confluence of the colors and the similarity of the shapes of different origins evince continuity and connection. The collision of opposites denies the viewer the chance for deeper contemplation, but the illustration of the transitions allows short but calming reflections.
If we stopped the film at certain points, we would get stills reminiscent of the works of Malevich, Pollock, Mondrian or Cézanne, but the film itself presents the ways we could create our own abstract image just by discovering the environment surrounding us: by looking at the passing scenery from a fast car, by going extremely close to an image or by squinting in the sunlight. Abstract images are offered by nature: by the glowing red sky against the dark shapes of the forest, by rotting fruits among dead fallen leaves and by water bubbles moving under the ice of a frozen puddle. And they can also be found in big cities: on crumbling walls, on the streets where rain soaked cobble stones meet tram tracks or on housing covers whose Styrofoam insulation have started to decay.
The only steady element in the transforming composition of the film is the image of watching eyes. Besides these reoccurrence and a single other exception human beings are not shown in the film. Therefore this could be interpreted as an avant-garde film theoretical reference recalling the transition between trance film and lyrical film and the emphasis of the repositioning of the protagonist. Although there is no proof that it is intentional Pancíř – just like Lichter in Light Sleep – demonstrates a borderland when he makes the protagonist leave the diegetic space and take his place behind the camera. Most of the images of Changing the Scene are what the protagonist sees and, as required by the concept of the lyrical film, “filmed in such a way that we never forget [the protagonist’s] presence and we know how he is reacting to his vision.” In Pancíř’s film the protagonist is moving, constantly changing his position between two places: behind and in front of the camera. The eyes stand for the protagonist (appearing in different forms) seeing or daydreaming and the abstract footage is what he sees. The single scene showing people represents the unveiling of this position shift: the viewer realizes that she is being viewed and quickly turns her head to hide her eyes. At this point the composition overwrites itself and the relation between the viewer and the viewed is brought into question.
The colors seen in the opening, the full image of the Czech flag and references to the pianist Filip Topol suggest that there are several other approaches towards the interpretation of Changing the Scene unfolding it’s political and social implications. But Pancíř’s film can be understood as a celebration of the diversity of abstraction and listed as a proud representative of lyrical film.
Written by: Dorottya Szalay
To watch the film click on the picture.