I watched this short film for the first time about a year ago. It is a solo by Trisha Brown, made by filmmaker Babette Mangolte in 1978, it is silent, black and white and about eight minutes long. After watching it (and enjoying it in an abstract sort of way) I then promptly forgot all about it. Last week I began reading a piece of writing by Babette Mangolte entitled On The Making of Water Motor and it was such a nice, interesting text and that I immediately thought, “I’ve never seen this piece, but I must. I wonder if it’s online…” and proceeded to look up the film. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had in fact, seen this piece and it took even less time for me to feel somewhat bashful that I had readily forgotten the work of such an important and influential choreographer, particularly one that I’ve already written about on this blog.
Some pieces of art stick with you forever, cropping up in stories told to friends and other such places. Others are more evasive. Sometimes the title, the aesthetic, the movement, just seem (or become) completely forgettable. With a transient and time-based medium like dance, the disappearance of a performance to a certain degree is inevitable (even with film) and I like to think that forgetting a performance is not taken too seriously. (This being said, I do think that a performance/conversation/interaction is more likely to be remembered a two-dimensional picture, but pictures can be quickly referred to several times over and over, imprinting themselves on your brain somewhere and somehow).
What interested me was not that I had forgotten that I had already watched this piece but that I felt sheepish because the renowned Trisha Brown’s choreography and performance had failed to make an impression, or at least, a memory. When I watched it again, I really enjoyed it, not in the obedient way to appropriately enjoy an important work by an important choreographer, but in a direct way, looking at it in a new and quite lovely light. What changed my sense of enjoyment, was the text that I had just finished reading by Mangolte. There was context and narrative that I could now place around the film. I had some insight into their relationship, how they made it, why they decided to add the second, slowed-down part and this completely changed the way in which I watched the film. It is also always interesting to read writings about a dance piece that are not by the choreographer or the critic. In the case of a filmmaker, there is an extra element of interest because they write from the perspective of a watcher, certainly, but they are also undeniably involved in the performance.
In terms of movement, for a silent film, it has a clear rhythm which is fluid but contains contrast and tempo. It is strange yet also unsurprising how silence tends to emphasize the rhythm behind movement. If you follow and complete certain lines her body makes (an easier feat in the second, slowed down section) you begin see an intricate but simple pattern unfolding so naturally it is almost invisible. Bodies make such subtle lines around themselves that many people miss them and some choreographers forget about them completely, but they are certainly always there and can offer so much to a piece.
In her text, ‘On The Making of Water Motor‘, Mangolte mentions the second slowed-down take (which was not intentional or planned, but something that came out of curiosity and opportunity) and she says, “I just wanted to see the movement slow down to understand it better… but also to see something you can’t see any other way”. (You can find the full text on her website). By reading just a short text about the piece, I managed to slow down the film and understand it better. I’m not sure what point I am trying to prove here. It has something to do with never feeling sheepish for being unimpressed by famous art and something to do with the way in which context and narrative can make your experience of art that much better, and something to do with the tired but oh so accurate refrain: Reading Is Good.
You can find the full-length Water Motor film here.
(Also – please excuse any grammatrical errors or spelling mistakes… In my efforts to learn French I have changed the interface of my laptop to French, so no longer do I get those hints that I’ve spelt something wrong. And when you are as tired as I am, proofreading for the third time becomes a special sort of torture.)