Passengers by Rob Gallagher
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Editing by Jo Ann Kaplan
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Passengers by Rob Gallagher
yeuxsansvisage

Eyes Without a Face, Georges Franju

A host of new, interactive viewing technologies mean that when it comes to moving images we’re increasingly used to being in the driving seat. All of the works below play at some point or in some way with notions of what it means to be a passenger – to sit back, delegate control and see where you end up.

1. Yeux Sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face), Georges Franju (1959)

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The opening shot of this classic chiller is a file of bare, headlamp-illumined trees. The low angle and the arterial involutions of the branches create a sinister ambience from the off, but only gradually do the audience realise that they’re seeing through the eyes of a woman who’s been kidnapped, etherised and maimed, and whose body is about to be disposed of. The sequence perfectly sums up the passenger-like condition of the horror viewer, sat in the dark with no choice but to watch as the projector’s cone of light leads them who knows where.

2. Tinchy Stryder Freestyle,  Tim & Barry (2007)

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Grime never really worked in LP format, but this footage of Bow  MC Tinchy Stryder rhyming as he drives, checking his mirrors and changing gear with out missing a beat, both encapsulates the genre’s strengths (immediacy, improvisatory flair, sense of place, overall griminess) and communicates Tinchy’s effortless talent, suggesting he was best heard from the passenger seat of an Audi rather than the front row of an auditorium.

3. The History of the Main Complaint, Willliam Kentridge (1996)

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Pinstriped Soho Eckstein figures in Kentridge’s cycle of films about recent South African history as the incarnation of callous white capitalism. If Pilate washed his hands, Eckstein turns on his windscreen wipers. Having driven passively by when he had the power to intervene, he seems to have received his comeuppance when rendered a helpless passenger in his own failing body. Eckstein survives however, suggesting Kentridge remained equivocal about South Africa’s own prospects of recovery.

4. Metro-land, Edward Mirzoeff (1973)

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Although it’s an altogether cosier film than Main Complaint, Metro-land also treats national history as a journey and asks how far we can affect its course. Beneath the quaint and quizzical exterior there’s  a nagging disquiet, as John Betjeman attempts to dissociate one form of progress (an elegant, ambitious, old-fashioned one) from another (a new-fangled, impersonal, machinically efficient one), trying to find the point where the tracks switched. The train’s-eye-view footage suggests the breakneck pace of societal change, the exhilarating but giddying sensation of being what Anna Parejo Vadillio has called ‘passengers of modernity.’

5. Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Yukio Futatsugi (1995)

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Video can’t really communicate why this moment is so effective, both because the visuals of this 1995 Sega game now look shockingly abstract and primitive and because YouTube clips aren’t interactive. Nevertheless – and notwithstanding how kooky and juvenile this Miyazakiesque Japanese title’s premise might sound – it’s a brilliant set piece. You’re mounted on a trotting bipedal lizard which perpetually moves forward. Hostile drones are chasing you. Suddenly the lizard careens right over the edge of a cliff. At first it seems you’ve made a wrong turn, but then – without any input from the player, who’s been turned from controlling pilot to helpless passenger – the animal sprouts wings, entering a glide and saving both of you.

6. Meter’s Running, Richard Wilson (2006)

The filmic component of Richard Wilson’s ‘Meter’s Running’ sees the artist hacking his way out of a claustrophobically cramped, machinery-filled space. Braving showers of sparks and spurts of oil, he saws, drills, bores and cleaves his through foam and leatherette, plastic and metal in a desperate effort to escape. Only at the end of the film is the space he’s escaped from revealed to be the interior of a black London cab being towed along the road. An extreme example of refusing to sit back and enjoy the ride

7. Motley Crue Uncensored, Wayne Isham (1986)

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According to this profile of one of rock’s most repulsive bands, the Crue live too fast and party too hard to waste time speaking to journalists. As such they have to be interviewed on the move, and it’s around two minutes into the video above that things take a turn for the vehicular. There’s an ‘along for the ride’ vibe similar to the Tinchy video, only this is a world where men with wallfulls of platinum discs conduct interviews from limo-mounted jacuzzis while rolling down Sunset Strip. The abiding impression is of grown adults racing to keep up with their vanishing adolescence, and the film only becomes weirder and sadder when you know that at the time of filming Vince Neil (him in the jacuzzi) was barred from driving, having been convicted of vehicular manslaughter after a drunken smash that killed his friend. Rock’n'roll.


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