Source: Elie During, « Turning movements : Fragments on Mark Lewis », in Mark Lewis : Im/possible films, F. Bovier & H. Taieb (dir.), Genève, Métis Presses, 2016.
Turning movements are abundant in Mark Lewis’s work: Isosceles (2005), Copan (2014), and One Mile (2013) all share a common point. By encircling their subject with a combination of a panning shot and a circular tracking shot, by skilfully varying the angle of the view so as to keep certain elements in the same area of the image for as long as possible, they make full use of the principle of relative motion: indeed, after a while, it’s the filmed building which inevitably seems to move, as though on a merry-go-round or a moving display stand. Everything happens as if it were the camera that remained immobile, while the world had begun to turn on itself – a virtual movement even more abstract than that of the camera, though materially indiscernible from it.
The turning movement is the tracking shot par excellence, because it presents itself in its pure, almost allegorical, form: it’s a movement on the spot which resembles a drilling into time, orthogonal to its flow. The spiral staircase of the Copan building, filmed in São Paolo, yields an abstract, almost hypnotic experience. It is as if a massive helicoidal drill was boring into the ground: sections of walls part like a flower’s petals, with a curious kaleidoscopic effect due to lateral distortion. The city appears intermittently in the distance. Cut through the centre by a concrete column obliterating the view, the image is divided into three equal parts. Once again, it straightens out and turns upon itself, attached to its vertical pivot. This is not the invisible guide rail from the Bar aux Folies-Bergère, but rather a spiral screw. As the entire scene is pulled along with it in an aimless whirling movement, we realize that this could go on indefinitely. Nothing but a slow and gradual erection of time.
The turning movement pushes the possibilities of the horizontal tracking shot to its limits when, instead of discovering the breadth of the landscape through a side-to-side scan, or crossing through the depth of field to approach a selected subject, it pierces the depth of the objects, and cleaves the image along its entire length with a stubborn movement, indifferent to what it is crossing. Such a movement inevitably provides the illusion of an immobile point of view, along which the surrounding space begins to unscroll. It is this sliding of the world that is illustrated by the inexorable path of Children’s Game Heygate Estate (2002), shot in a 1970s social housing estate. Mounted on a virtual skateboard, the camera moves at high speed along a complex network of passages and footbridges. As the ground unfolds, the vanishing lines retreat from the axis of movement on both sides. Essentially deserted, the site is enshrouded with a slightly unreal atmosphere, recalling the mechanical side-scrolling of a video game landscape. Fortunate is he who can claim to occupy the point of view naturally suggested by such a cascade of perspectives in any lasting way!
All this illustrates in a paroxysmal manner a lesson by Pascal Bonitzer: filmic space is fundamentally centrifugal; depth of field is not an “open horizon,” analogous to perceptual space, against which the tracking shot develops the profile of the visible by occupying a series of virtual viewpoints in succession: it is rather “an arrangement of planes”, “a fundamentally rigged space” (Pascal Bonitzer, Le Champ aveugle). As for the tracking shot, which is after all a combination of framing and unframing, of showing and masking, it is an integral component of the editing process: it contributes to the production of this layered space by cutting it out, rather than traversing it. As James Gibson explains in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, what comes first is not the point of view but the path of observation, the path of perception. Surfaces and their relationships of mutual occlusion are more important than the supposed unifying power of the point of view, with its system of vanishing lines converging on the horizon. Cinema is faithful in this regard at least to natural perception: it is not the art of moving pictures simulating a continuous course, it does not discover the world from a mobile point of view, occupying one after the other the positions allowing it to “frame” some already given surrounding space. It knows only movements without mobiles. But its true vocation is ubiquitous: its formal subject – fleeting, fragmentary and intermittent – is the image without a point of view, the hologrammatic image which is the volume-image by another name.