Les États généraux du film documentaire 2015 Fragment of a filmmaker’s work: Michael Snow

Fragment of a filmmaker’s work: Michael Snow


Michael Snow (Toronto, 1929) is a major figure in contemporary art. His work is at the same time a journey crossing the major artistic currents of the second half of the twentieth century (pop art, conceptual art, minimalism, land art), and a way of rethinking these currents ironically and surpassing them through a critical approach. It is impossible to reduce his work to oversimplified historico-critical categories. This said, neither can his cinema be reduced to the categories of “experimental” film or “films by an artist”. Snow’s career is characterised by the close links connecting works produced in different media. His artistic activity has always taken many forms: photography, film, painting, sculpture, installations but also music and writing. What is surprising is the reappearance, the migration, of the same concepts and images through these various forms. It is as if the artist had always experimented with conceptual hypotheses by testing them in the form of films, books, photos, records, paintings... – a conception of artistic activity suggesting Leonardo de Vinci and the Renaissance, where nothing is closed. The modernity of Snow’s films is connected to his perception of the essential cinematographic gesture, the camera movement, and to the relations the films explore between sound and image. All his films are radical works, in the etymological sense of the word: they are clearly designed to reveal and shake up the roots of cinema language and technique. These works produce an effect which is both psychic and physical, they are perceptive machines which rock the visible and plunge us into a profound experience of the perceptible. There is always the desire to act on the mind, eye and body of the spectator. If Snow’s films tend to concentrate on a set strategy, on a process of cinematic construction, they are nonetheless never “minimalist”, the filmmaker always takes care that a form can be apprehended by the spectator. They reveal and integrate within themselves the filmic strategy and the work process; parallel to the formal ecstasy to which these films invite us, there is always a meta-filmic and structural level which makes us conscious of the process of the work’s manufacture. Michael Snow’s films are rites of passage between pure perception and its representation, conceptual and ecstatic games on time and space, games of which he sometimes breaks the rules in order to highlight their existence – let us not forget that since the 1950s, Michael Snow has also been a musician and improvisation is his favourite form. His masterpiece La Région Centrale is a film whose subject is composed solely of images of space and kinetic effects, without objects, character or narration. It is an absolute film summing up all the utopian avant-garde projects of the 20th century and at the same time opening up to an art yet to come. In many of Snow’s works we see the development of a kind of radical scepticism towards the image, to its supposed truth and its consubstantial falsehood. Looking at his work as a whole, Snow’s films are a reinvigorating pedagogical deconstruction of the continent of cinema: we directly experience the bases on which it was founded and developed, and we discover in the same process its limits and still unexplored possibilities. Snow’s work can be thought of as an immense film-essay on perception and on the infinite possibilities of articulating space and time. His films “document”, through an ever-varying palette of form, the irreversible crisis of modern subjectivity and the definitive crumbling of fundamental linguistic and cognitive categories, in other words the loss of our capacity to articulate and understand the world through language.

Federico Rossin


Debates led by Federico Rossin.