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Surfacing on the Thames

Year: 1970
Format: 16mm Colour
Runtime: 6 min
Director: David Rimmer
Producer: David Rimmer
Cinematographer: David Rimmer
Editor: David Rimmer

This elegant, austere and innovative work by Vancouver filmmaker David Rimmer utilizes methods similar to those used in his other films (minimal narrative, found footage) to create an experience that is at once unsettling and liberating. Surfacing on the Thames is widely acknowledged as one of Rimmer’s major works and a key film in the Canadian experimental tradition.

The foundation for the film is two metres (ten seconds) of Second World War footage showing two ships passing on the Thames River. Rimmer systematically re-filmed rear projections of the footage frame by frame, thus slowing down the motion of the film so the movement of the ships becomes almost imperceptible. He also imbued the image with a luminous golden glow by printing the original black-and-white film on colour stock.

The result is an abstracted look, something akin to an impressionistic painting. The materiality of the film image is highlighted as every imperfection, watermark and scratch is brought to the fore. An apocryphal legend has it that one critic actually believed he was looking at a work by the nineteenth-century English painter, J.M.W. Turner. In his manipulation of some rather pedestrian footage, Rimmer has created both a lyrical gesture and an incisive meditation on the material basis of cinema.

As Gene Youngblood wrote in artscanada in April of 1970, "Surfacing on the Thames is the ultimate metaphysical movie, the ultimate post-minimal movie, one of the really great constructivist films since [Michael Snow’s] Wavelength [1967]. It confronts empirically the illusions of space and time in the cinema and ... is at least as important as Wavelength as a statement on the illusionistic nature of cinematic motion."

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