Breaking through minimalism : Film as experiment of light
Four lines of poetry are recited. And a refrain.
Tin dar chhipkhan
kon gan gachchhe?
Heiya hoo heiya
heiya hoo heiya.
In the paper-cut starkness of a dichromatic landscape, where black and white film receives a new incarnation, in the fierce understatement of denuded visuals, the uncanny, unfamiliar approach to film making of artist-of-shadow, Miraz Munabbir, is apparent. Here a form, secret like a bird's starlings discovered in their first fragility, has been coaxed into an exacting delicateness, transforming contingency and constraint – the socio-economic conditions imposing the co-evolution of minimalist production and the art of minimalism – into the magic of a 'full' minimalism. At the edge of metaphor where light is both symbol and prop, Munabbir's experiments with colour and form, shadow and 'scraps of light', are barely seven minutes long – from his single Tin Dar Chhikpkan black and white short film, to the series of experiments with what one could call colour-phrases, taking the shapes of the sculptured yet fleeting grace of moving images.
Yvette Biro, in The Fullness of Minimalism, alludes to the writer Italo Calvino's motto, 'Festina Lente'(to hasten slowly), in praise of the art of reduction and the sensuousness of slowness in the works of the Asian and European masters of Minimalism. The literal slowness of these films is outside of the parameters of Munabbir's short zero-budget films made out of hand-made puppets and the devices of light 'thrown' on cardboard paper-stages and walls; yet, that which Biro called the 'measured, saturated representation of Arte Povera film making,' is tangible in an original, personal form here.
Resisting the superfluity and polemics of mainstream cinema in the Dhaka scene, Munabbir's experiments are several degrees 'postconventional' in the continuum of innovations in style and form: 'I believe too many of our so-called film makers do not know what they are making – the visual image is cluttered, the visual artist is absent from the frame. I want to reduce the image to the essentials, to do with light and shade what can be done with much more technology or props, or money.'
Without any conscious decision to embark on Minimalism as the slow, saturated art of the Asian masters or Arte Povera film making, the artist's grounding in visual art and concurrent experiments with light and shadow led him to the shadow film, a genre almost unknown in the film world and certainly not discovered elsewhere, even with the popularity of zero-budget film making in the global film scene. Creating for Youtube or an unknown audience Miraz embarked on the solitary experiment with snaps of light and shadow, buying ten taka sticks for his puppets and creating stages out of cardboard. His studio is carved out of a room, where light can do its amplifications, distortions, refractions and, double, triple reflections. The effect is 'dope': transmigratory. Describing a series in orange-flamed yellow, Miraz says: Here is the bombing of war. I have created this atmosphere of fire and smoke, destruction, and, added a dancer, Poseidon. This is the light of war, here, light is a negative word.' In another experiment, light is not the light of scrap, but scrap itself.
Unlike the recently-screened shadow-film of Shahriar Shaon's Freedom of Shadow 'Chhayar Swadhinota', with its masternarrative of the liberation war, Miraz Munabbir's arrival at Minimalism is at once breakthrough and breaking through – of both vision and visuals. A transversal, rather than only a means to an end, but sculpted out of these same bounds, or more. Munabbir's originality is at once embedded in the social production of film, the constraints of the form in the context of the market and audience, as well as the merging of minimalist art as a means of 'alternative' story-telling, beyond the familiar use of puppets, merely reincarnated in film, as with Shaon. It must be said however, given the absence of shadow-films outside Bangladesh, the precedence has certainly played a role in setting off his work as both different and aware of its difference. Rather than a shadow-artist, he appears to be an artist of light, a film maker who returns to the source—the phenomena striking the mental and existential eye. The source of the imagination of a child, a twelve year old locked in his room with the shadows on his walls.
His actors and props consist of hand-made puppets and a stage that takes the light the 'puppeteer' throws onto it. Distilled to exactitude, these slowly hastened images captured from shadows, from hand-made puppets and a stage with a few, intent sources of light, are at once experiment and departure.
Munabbir has discovered a form from the necessity of constraint and the paradoxical power of reducing things to their essence (what Biro called the paradoxical power of minimalism). Shadow puppetry is perhaps the first 'film' if film is the capacity to imagine from the image of an image, to patiently be shown the story of a story, given the sense of a sense and take that reflected image for what it is – a sign. Shade is pure metaphor, pure symbol In 'Moving towards Death,' a series in a night-time blue, with a black figure moving towards what appears to be a factory, the latter can only be known by the smoke coming out, yet, the poetry of its caption understates the power of 'colour-phrases' through shade: 'A blue sky, working time, our world, death by smoke – Shobvota gorchhe shobai, agacchche mrittur dike (people are becoming civilized, moving towards death).'
Munabbir stumbled upon the paradox of minimalism, but he has no intention of stopping there. Light falls on his shades, the gesticulations of Poseidon learning to dance on this screen, breaking through the light man: throwing light. Like Rimbaud's 'Departures', Munabbir's experiments with shadow and film is a search, an arrival that seeks essence, then moves on:
‘It seems to me everyone starts at the same point and appear to get only so far, a point where others have reached before them, by their own means. But I want to begin at the point of departure, where they have left. I want to go further.'