STUDIES OF MOVEMENTS IN PARIS (Joris Ivens, 1927)

A stunning work of art, and certainly not the mere flexing of technique one might assume from its four-minute length, Études de mouvements à Paris was directed, photographed and edited by Dutch documentarian Joris Ivens.
     Most of the “movements” belong to automobiles and pedestrians, shot at every kind of distance and from a variety of angles. One overhead long-shot captures a sense of multiple movements contributing to a single movement—a declaration of political heart and principle. Twice in the film Ivens seems to (but does not) digress from his artistic purpose by filling the frame with a static shot of a police officer seated imperiously on his horse. The camera is close and tilted upward; the traffic cop’s face, impassive. His first appearance establishes the unpleasantness of the authority he represents; the second appearance goes further. One, he doesn’t seem to be doing anything; he isn’t assisting the flow of traffic, only brandishing his authority. In reality, this is probably not the case; but by his specific shot and its context Ivens conveys his opinion about a certain kind of official authority which he has visually made the officer to represent. And more: the cop’s second appearance, by interrupting the preceding extravaganza of motion and movement, in context appears to oppose and obstruct these. Ivens is thus able to convey his own opposition to the political symbolism that the officer embodies. Stated positively, Ivens feels that people—and a people—are entitled to their/its freedom and self-determination. He sees a danger to this, even in the land of liberty, equality and fraternity—the whole range of principles the high-horsed cop symbolically opposes and impedes. Motion, here, denotes progress; the officer is made to appear as though he is obstructing this as well.

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