by Mark Lewis, 2009, 39'
PHOTOGRAPHY: Brian Pearson   CO-PRODUCTION: Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven), The Channel 4 British Documentary Foundation (London), Westdeutscher Rundfunk (Germany), Galerie Serge Le Borgne (Paris), Monte Clark Gallery (Vancouver), Clark & Faria (Toronto), Le Grand Café (Saint–Nazaire)
SOUND: Michael Weinstein    
REAR PROJECTIONS: Hansard Projections    
EDITING: Anne Monnehay    
PRODUCER: Michael White    

Schermo dell'Arte - Archivio Film
Presented at Lo schermo dell'arte Film Festival 2009

Almost everyone has watched a movie in which a person, viewed straight on through the windshield, alone or with passengers, drives a car for some distance. The memorable thing about the scene is that the driver seems to have almost no physical relationship to the vehicle and barely seems to be making any effort to operate it. He or she is absorbed in a conversation with a passenger or with events taking place outside the car. The audience can see where the car is because the world outside is visible through the rear or side windows, but it all seems distant and somewhat disconnected. Moreover, the light outside the car does not precisely correspond to the illumination of its interior; the outside seems vivid and full of changes, but the interior of the vehicle is rather static and consistent. There are almost never any reflections on the car’s windshield. It is no secret to anyone that what we are watching is a composite scene in which the exterior has been photographe previously and then projected behind the set-up in which the performers have been filmed. Everything is more or less synchronized so that when the driver turns the wheel to the left, the exterior scene swings correspondingly to the right.
There are any number of instances of this “rear-projection” composite filming of a scene - people walking along a sidewalk, carrying on a conversation in front of a busy restaurant, climbing a dangerous cliff-face and so on. By the 1970s, viewers already found these scenes artificial. It has long been obvious that the cumbersome method of constructing lengths of background film material and then matching foreground action to them results in a salient interruption of the illusionary unification of a world depicted in the cinema. The resulting images are inherently imperfect, even though, as Mark Lewis’ film Backstory shows, they are the work of very highly skilled and experienced professionals.
It is just this imperfection that has endeared rear projection to all those who tend to prefer that the cinema include discrepancies, interruptions, moments in which the all-pervading unity of the photographed space fractures, even a little bit. There is great pleasure in the awareness of the artifice of the film, the realization that reality manages not to be completely incorporated in the enormous enterprise and manufacture that we know the cinema to be.
Rear projection has been used with great subtlety and artistry, so that the light suspension of spatial unity it creates is made part of the meaning and emotional content of films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Marnie. Both these films were touchstones for the innovative critical film studies of the 1960s and 70s in which the underlying codifications of the norms were investigated as never before. Mark Lewis’ work began in that period of deconstruction of cinematic codes and so it’s not surprising that he has been fascinated by the technique of back projecting and has used it with startling and unusual effects in his work.
In Backstory, Lewis invited the Hansard family, which has been instrumental in the provision and development of rear projection for hundreds of Hollywood productions over several decades, to tell (with humour and straight-laced directness) their own story of the heyday of the techniques and their decline and disappearance as they are replaced by new technologies and new tastes in visibility. Jeff Wall, April 2009

Mark Lewis
(Hamilton, Canada, 1958). Lives in London. He is a Professor at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London, and the founder with Charles Esche of the editorial group Afterall. Lewis represented Canada at the 2009 Venice Biennale. His work is in the National Gallery of Canada, in the Museum of Modern Art (New York), in the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal and at Centre Pompidou (Paris). /

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