Both stylistically and realistically, these two films could not be more different from one another. And yet, they both offer meditations on the modern world — and they both touch on performance art.
Welcome to the Leeds International Film Festival, folks.
Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen is akin to a Frankenstein’s monster archetype of a film — spliced together from thousands of clips from hundreds of films to form a single, cohesive narrative. In Final Cut, a man (played by everyone from Jack Nicholson to Johnny Depp to Leonardo Dicaprio), meets a girl (here portrayed by ingenues far and wide as Audrey Hepburn, Sharon Stone, and Uma Thurman), setting off a chain of events that we’ve all seen many times before — this time literally.
Journey to the West on the other hand is a meditative film — if one can truly call it a film — that manages to focus on the transient nature of our modern society, juxtaposing the fast paced world with the slow, incredibly intentional movements of one slow-moving Buddhist monk. It’s a film that begins with a 10-minute close-up of a man’s face, moving between comfort and intrusion, a fine line the world seems intent on crossing, and something worthy of analysis and consideration here.
Both films are experiments and manage to adapt and change to the modern world, becoming more than the sum of their parts. In the case of Final Cut, it exists as part of the YouTube culture, where attention spans are apparently being reduced within generations, and where jump-cuts are conditioning film-goers to react rapidly and desire new things. But just how much of what we consider a story is original? Final Cut seems to be making a point of showing the transformative collective of these journeys — and testing audiences by seeing how well they can focus on them. The film is the twin to Christian Marclay’s 2010 performance film The Clock, which showed a 24-hour clock movement, all through the lens of compiled clips of clocks from films and television shows, playing out in real time.
Meanwhile Journey to the West itself is something to focus audiences, given its steady and almost achingly slow pace — the Monk moves at his own pace, a steady, unstoppable object against the wave of modern society. We’re forced to become the Monk, slow and deliberate and conscious, rather than as the rest of the world. The feeling of Journey to the West evokes the Abramovic Method, a series of performance exercises devised by performance artist Marina Abramovic, during which slow, conscious movement and action is encouraged in order to prove an exercise for the mind and body alike.
Strangely — or perhaps not so strangely — both films offer meditation on old rituals and the rites of passage that culture, as fluid and transient as it is, have become entrenched in, and the friction against it. In Journey, the monk follows the path his own culture dictates, seeming literally out of sync with the fast-paced modern world; meanwhile in Final Cut, the nature of film and storytelling is deconstructed through our common tales and identities. Hero, villain, damsel in distress; eating, walking, crying, sex. Our rituals become archetypes through the repeated patterns that make them rituals in the first place.
Both films are incredible examinations on how we view and consider the human condition, and the stories we tell, the rituals we perform; rituals which will no doubt, in some shape or form, endure and survive. Equally both of these films are mesmerising, and potentially off-putting, in their own ways. However, as with all great experiments, you’ll never know until you try it for yourself.
Buy Journey to the West on iTunes here.