3’02, colour, stereo
To cross Canada’s vast spaces takes days or weeks: two lanes through boreal forest, four lanes across prairie, gravel roads to the far north, and truck-infested expressways between and through the large cities. Speedsters pass like you are standing still. When stuck behind slow vehicles, you just cannot find that passing lane. The distance to the next town seems to lengthen the closer you get.
There are miles and miles of miles and miles, and the problem with many road trips is that there is just too much road.
10'26, colour and black and white, stereo
Road Movie 401 is a time-lapse film of an automobile journey from Montréal to Sarnia by way of Toronto and Detroit. The journey follows Autoroutes 720 and 20, Highways 401 and 3, and Interstates 75 and 94.
Literally a 'road movie', this film was a technical and aesthetic study for a pair of cross-Canada films that have not been made.
Two Super-8 movie cameras filmed at a rate of one frame every four seconds, and compressed the 15-hour automobile trip, shot over two days, into less than 10 minutes. One camera was mounted at the front windscreen of the car, the second at the back window. A custom-built set of relays synchronized the cameras. The average speed of the automobile was 110 km/h (65 mph).
Originally, I had planned to make two films: one pointed forward, the other pointed backward. All in colour.
But almost all of the footage used is from the rear camera because that footage is clearer and surprisingly easier to watch. But I must confess that the real reason (the truth) is that the front camera stopped working. It died just west of Kingston, less than a quarter of the time into the trip. Time lapse photography turns out to be very hard on consumer-grade camera motors, especially old cameras bought from pawn shops.
I had packed plenty of film, but had only two cameras. So, the loss of the front-facing camera - after I suffered a burst of panic - saw me parked at the side of an off-ramp in the middle of nowhere wondering what the heck I was going to do now.
I decided to keep driving and keep that back-camera shooting.
To make lemonade out of this sour technical problem, I made decisions: film in black and white on the second day of shooting, and abandon most of the front-camera footage
While waiting for the film to be processed, I re-thought the project.
I decided to alternate the view between high-quality and degraded shots especially for the footage of long, dull landscapes. I played around with the footage by re-filming and re-videotaping to see what would happen. These no-budget transfers between film projections, video monitors, and cameras embraced and gloried in the artifacts of low-quality transfers that amplified and superimposed analog artifacts such as flicker, poor colour balance, increased film grain, and video interlacing. This process explored the footage much like how I explore sound by layering, distorting, echoing, and filtering.
Aside from a few brief repetitions to emphasize interesting events, the movie preserves the chronological flow of the trip while it varies the visual quality. The alternations between degradation and clarity evoke how a driver's attention can fade hypnotically during long drives and then snap to attention when another driver does something crazy, or you get wedged into a "truck sandwich", that is, a truck ahead of you, a truck behind, and another truck passing you. Your mind wanders, you read the same signs that you read on the last trip, you wonder how much longer this will take, you wonder when you can next find some place to pee, you get sleepy, you hope that the traffic isn't too heavy as you pass through the next big city, you pass a car that a few miles later passes you and you wonder why this game of “I-pass-you-you-pass-me” happens.
The soundtrack is a musique-concrète quartet in two movements for each day of filming. The instruments of the quartet are: struck and scraped sheets of metal, a classical guitar bouncing the strings against the rim of a table, loops of trains passing over a bridge, and the crackles and pops of the lead-out groove from a phonograph record. I selected these sources for their timbral variety, not for any narrative reason. Percussive and legato sections synchronize with, play against, and merge into the video.
10'34, colour, mono
Semi-Normal Pot Roast depicts a weekend-in-the-life of an industrial worker as he leaves work; struggles homeward through a polluted, doomed world; to enjoy an absurdist picnic with his family; and onward to repeat the cycle.
His job was killing him, his family, and his surroundings. But unbeknownst to anyone, coming changes would kill his world as industries closed and left behind this arse end of the baby boom.
Dada was a reasonable response to living in London, Ontario during the mid-1980s.
What is a "Semi-Normal Pot Roast?"
According to Wikipedia, "Seminormal" can be any of the following:
And a "Pot Roast" is a mix of otherwise tough-to-chew foods that are cooked slowly to make them delicious and nutritious.
But here's our story
We generated the title by opening any old page in a dictionary. "Semi-Normal" seemed to have something to do with chemistry. Then, we opened another page in the same dictionary and saw "pot roast." We ignored real definitions and simply liked the sound of our title. It made us laugh.
We took "Semi-Normal" to mean not "Normal" but also not "Abnormal". There is little need to promote "Normal" because mass culture already does a fine job of that:
But "Abnormal" is dangerous or just pointlessly weird. It is easy to dismiss.
So "Semi-Normal" is a fence of irony to sit upon, critical but hopefully relevant if irreverent.
Featured at How Do I Look? video festival, Montréal, 1992
Restored by Angrinose 2015
Copyright 1987 Frank Koustrup, Nancy McDermid, Suzanne Richer