Posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
Got six days to spare? Then you might be able to stick around for the entire public screening of Cinematon, a film by Gerard Courant, when it unspools in Avignon later this month. The project has been running for 30 years, and represents Courant’s original intent — to document the lives and thoughts of his artistic friends — taken to an interesting extreme.
Calling Cinematon a ‘film’ isn’t quite correct, however. Really, it is a collection of short films. More specifically, it is a series of three and a half-minute documentary portraits. In each portrait, which might be of an unknown adult, a famous cinéaste (Jean-Luc Godard, Terry Gilliam, Gaspar Noé) or even of a baby, the frame is fixed. In that three and a half minute shot, each person can do whatever they want. All of the portraits I’ve seen are silent, with most shot on Super 8. Courant originally intended to film 100 Cinematons, but liked the idea enough to keep going. There are now 2242 of them, as represented on his website. The most recent was shot just a couple of weeks ago, on October 19.
So, yeah, not exactly a film. More like an art installation, and definitely a giant collection of data that might make for a really fun editing and/or remix project. And more a document of Courant’s life than of the people in the portraits. When you look at the numbers — 2242 individual shorts, 150 hours, 30 years — it seems like the product of an obsessive. But that’s really just shooting a couple of three-minute segments a week during that span of time. (On average, at least.) So think of it as a product of persistence, rather than obsession, and one that shows where Courant has been, who he’s met and how they react to him and his camera.