A Visual Diary of Stunning Ambient Films

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Fandor Keyframe’s latest video tribute showcases the ambient sounds of David Lynch’s films. But these scenes of “buzzing light fixtures, inexplicable roars, and mechanical hisses” are usually paralleled by Lynch’s ambient visual impressions — the double yellow line of a dark highway, the umbilical coil of a telephone cord, or a scarlet lampshade. Inspired by Lynch’s work, we’re presenting the ambient films of other directors — those who create an all-encompassing atmosphere characterized by impressionistic sights and sounds.

L’eclisse

“More than any other director, Antonioni encouraged filmmakers to explore elliptical and open-ended narrative. In Antonioni’s work we must regard his images at length; he forces our full attention by continuing the shot long after others would cut away.” —David Bordwell

“It’s almost as if Antonioni has extracted the essence of the everyday street life that serves as a background throughout the picture, and once we’re presented with this essence in its undiluted form, it suddenly threatens and oppresses us. The implication is that, behind every story, there’s a place and an absence, a mystery and a profound uncertainty, waiting like a vampire at every moment to emerge and take over, to stop the story dead in its tracks. And if we combine this place and absence, this mystery and uncertainty into a single, irreducible entity, what we have is the modern world itself—the place where all of us live, and which most stories are designed to protect us from.” —Jonathan Rosenbaum

La jetée

“I can’t do a proper account or a real analysis of Chris Marker’s photo-novel. I can’t exactly decide whether it’s a film or the outline for a novel (trapped terribly in that tragic syllogism). The striking thing–or the impeccable thing, perhaps–is that the syllogism which defines this whole theatrical act defers the death of the hero for as long as he can speak, for as long as he can evoke the world of the living, can say his evening prayers: the syllogism of this tragedy is a scenario. That’s how I explain to myself–artificially–the material of this narration and the discontinuity in it that gives me the idea of an essentializing selection, exactly; the sketchy, fragmentary aspect of the evocation and of the narrative, the elaboration on pent-up time, rediscovering the characters alive in that antique “place” where images cohabit and commingle.” —Jean-Louis Schefer

“It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.” —William Gibson

Sátántangó

“With fewer shots than the average 90-minute feature, Sátántangó is a double tour de force— for the actors, as the camera circles them in lengthy continuous takes, and for Tarr, who constructs his narrative out of these morose blocks of real time. Krasznahorkai, whose subsequent novel The Melancholy of Resistance provided the basis for Tarr’s most recent movie, Werckmeister Harmonies, is a writer whose long sentences provide a prose analogue to Tarr’s mise-en-scéne, but Sátántangó is in no way literary. Because each cut is an event, the most banal incident can be expanded into something epic. The movie’s final shot, in which one character laboriously boards up his window, provides a superbly materialist fade-out.” —J. Hoberman

“Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.” —Susan Sontag

“Again, the film’s formal devices dominate. Some scenes, with their elaborate and slow camerawork and noises off-screen become exercises in visual experience and a sense of time in their own right, recalling the structural aesthetics of the Canadian sculptor and film-maker Michael Snow (for example in Wavelength, 1967). In one scene, a fly becomes a significant structuring element. Camera movement with its slow zooms and vertical movements, particularly when combined with music, plays a dominant expressive role.” —Peter Hames

The Mirror

“Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. Most of my conscious efforts have ended in embarrassing failure.” —Ingmar Bergman

“The artist has a right to any fiction; that’s why he’s an artist. He does not misrepresent his depiction as the truth of life. He battles only for the truth of the problem and the truth of the conclusions which he presents. And the fact that art is based on fiction is proven loudly by its entire history, from its very sources.” —Andrei Tarkovsky

Fata Morgana

“Perhaps I seek certain utopian things, space for human honour and respect, landscapes not yet offended, planets that do not exist yet, dreamed landscapes.” —Werner Herzog

Tropical Malady

“People experience space, beauty, in true time, and film is also like journeying through time.” —Apichatpong Weerasethakul

“As astonishing as the picture is, it’s not hard to see why extremely literal thinkers may have been confused. Tropical Malady is made up of distinct halves, an asymmetrical apple that has been divided into two complementary and wholly necessary pieces. The plot is more like a piece of music than an actual story — the best way into it is to surrender to its dramatic ebb and flow, enjoying its subtle crackle of warmth and energy without worrying too much about exactly what happened when, and to whom.” —Stephanie Zacharek

Model Shop

“On both a visual and conceptual level, The Model Shop is spellbinding, presenting Los Angeles as a cityscape of neon signs, billboards, Standard Oil gas stations, parking lots and people constantly in motion, driving to and fro in cars, chasing unobtainable dreams in the film capitol of the world, a place where cinematic dreams are the main export. Cinematographer Michel Hugo applies a palette of pastel colors to Los Angeles that brings a dreamlike gloss to even the pollution, industrial plants and urban sprawl of the city. The sound design of the film is equally evocative, blending the ambient hum of traffic with an eclectic mixture of music being broadcast from George’s car radio (Bach, Rimski-Korsakov, Spirit, Robert Schumann).” —Jeff Stafford

Le bonheur

“More than Le bonheur’s feminist politics and the fact that they were slightly ahead of their time, it is on the level of form that the film is so unsettling and calls up so many contradictory interpretations. One need only look at the opening and closing scenes to understand the complexity of Varda’s strategy. Le bonheur begins with a montage of flowers and foliage growing wild in the countryside. The sequence is anchored by repeated close-ups of sunflowers, their jaunty yellow petals just a bit ragged and faded around the edges. The editing rhythms are extremely aggressive. It’s not pastoral beauty that Varda is forcing us to see but a wildness and asymmetry that defies conventional representation and, certainly, the clichéd metaphors François is so fond of employing. The montage is scored to a late Mozart woodwind quintet, its relentless vivacity undercut by its minor mode. Neither the image nor the music is quite as celebratory as it might immediately seem. Hardly the signifiers of pure happiness, they both take on an increasingly mordant tone, which doesn’t entirely dissipate when the camera turns its attention to the family picnicking in the grass. When we return in the last scene to this same patch of countryside, it is already late autumn. All that’s left of the sunflowers is their dry stalks. Just as François has replaced one wife with another, Varda replaces the late woodwind quintet with an even later and darker Mozart chamber work—a transcription for strings of the melodic themes of the original piece. The dirgelike sound suggests that as the family, holding hands, walks away from the camera, into the shadowy recesses of the forest, it is already entombed.” —Amy Taubin

Meshes of the Afternoon

“This film is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.” —Maya Deren

Antonio Gaudí

“Teshigahara’s almost entirely wordless tribute to Gaudí’s achievements becomes a place to get lost, a hypnotic travelogue that’s radical in a way that’s completely symbiotic with its subject. Though Gaudí died nearly six decades before the film was made, it nonetheless feels like a true collaboration between him and Teshigahara, whose camera caresses the Seussian curves and painstaking flourishes that made Gaudi’s work so otherworldly.” —Scott Tobias