Sunday 18 May 2014

The BQE (2007)

I claimed, when wrapping up the blog in December, that I would return to write about any particularly extraordinary movies that crossed my path.  Reader, I have found such a motion picture:  Sufjan Stevens' 'The BQE', an experimental presentation about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, setting forty minutes of well-chosen motorway to an amazing musical score.

The film does this with with a great enthusiasm and pace.  It's presented as a triptych of images, giving us three shots of the road at once, in extreme wide-screen.  Sometimes it's the same image three times, offset by a second or two.  Sometimes the cameras give us three different shots around a theme.  Occasionally one image, mirrored back and forth.  And sometimes, for variety, we see the Hooper Heroes, a trio of hula-hoop artists, Botanica, Quantus and Electress, splendidly arrayed in old-fashioned futuristic costumes, the sort of thing normally only worn by Sufjan Stevens himself, or avant-garde roller-derbyists.  They suit the expressway and the film perfectly.

The Hooper Heroes.  Their moves aren't perfect,
nor quite graceful, but they share the road's wonky energy.
'The BQE' has a great deal in common with 'Man With a Movie Camera' (1929), a film which left me enthused and delighted.  Both are silent films without conventional narrative, characters or captions, and both present the audience intense bursts of very ordinary voyeurism, intercut with the occasional staged sequence to keep us alert - and both films are sold on the basis of their composer, rather than their director or content.  The DVD release of the Ukrainian film is labelled 'Michael Nyman's Man with a Movie Camera'; the release of 'The BQE' is sold as a soundtrack CD, with the film included as a bonus.  Indeed, the CD packaging was so intense, so colourful, exciting and wilfully illegible, that I didn't realise the film was included until I got the set home.

Of course, in the case of 'The BQE', the director and the composer are one and the same, but I suspect the movie's main audience will be fans of Sufjan Stevens, entranced by the eccentrically baroque electronica of 'The Age of Adz', or 'Silver and Gold', or the quieter Indie pop of his earlier records, and curious to see how he might point a camera and aim an orchestra.  The result is engrossing and exciting, and makes the Interstate look by turns ancient, mechanical, exciting and sad.  The film isn't too long, and the images are well-chosen and artfully woven together.

The same shot, thrice, in high speed
This isn't just shot after shot of car after car, and the music is certainly interesting enough to support the images, moving from its opening 'Introductory Fanfare' to the grand finale, 'The Emperor of Centrifuge', with each track living up to the promise of its name.  I love the stillness of 'Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation', and the way it grows into crashing Gershwinesque Americana.  I keep on turing my ear to the orchestral accelerando of 'Movement III: Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise' which bursts so satisfyingly into the electronica 'Traffic Shock'.  I enjoyed these first as music tracks, and felt rewarded when I finally saw them with pictures attached.  This is a very pleasing record and film, and I now care far more about this far-away road than feels reasonable.

P.S. IMDB lists the film as coming out in 2009, as that's when the DVD came out, as part-and-parcel of the soundtrack release. However, it was first screened in 2007, with live accompaniment, so that's the date I've accorded it here.

P.P.S. This isn't the only motorway-based film I've seen this May.  I also went to the cinema to watch 'Locke' (2014), an excellent piece of drama about a man in his car.  I've never seen a film like it, and I very nearly wrote it up for you, but didn't - except in this paragraph, which conveys all the salient points.  Why not go and watch it?

The BQE soundtrack and film come together, and even if you hate them both the packaging is astounding.

1 comment:

  1. Ai Weiwei's Chang'an Boulevard: