Film Review by Dean Duncan Jan 12, 2015

When we’re not sure what something means, or when conventional meaning/narrative are obviously not the point, then explication can serve us just as well. We just make a list, and the significance of the various elements eventually emerges, or our simple list becomes sufficiently significant in itself. Occasionally, perhaps inevitably, explication gives way to bits of fanciful comparing or interpretation.

Corridor, by Standish Lawder, begins with a portentous, ominous tracking move down a long and dimly lit corridor. These descriptors are thanks to the narrowness of the space and that rising musical drone—the walls dramatically lit and textured, with the darkness at the other end looking like a place we might not want to get to. Now Terry Riley’s musical score begins in earnest, lending a sometimes anomalous or even ironic brightness to the visuals. The camera is static, and registers a ghostly here-and-not nude walking toward us; now it zooms toward an emphatically present, triumphant female figure, standing there like some kind of Vitruvian Woman.

Light abstractions now; an unstable hand-held tracking shot down the hallway, with the image doubled or superimposed; a quick fade in and out, repeated now while the camera moves quickly toward the end of the corridor; more variations that feature shaking, fading and strobing effects; the nude comes back, instigating a number of Ballet Mechanique (Fernand Léger, 1924) or Maya Deren (the retreating figure and the pursuing auteuse, from 1943’s Meshes in the Afternoon) variations, all of an approach that never actually arrives. These are formalist elaborations, but it’s difficult here to avoid analogies. Could this be promise, or desire, without fulfillment?

Again, Riley’s cheery score creates a striking tension, or ambiguity. It looks like aggression, but it might sound like some Arcadian gambol. But what then, of this cadence? At this point the camera, or the viewer, finally reaches the woman. At this point she immediately backs up and away. Is she anxious? Can we blame her? Corridor precedes the famous expression, but not all of the things that gave rise thereto: this is the scopophilic camera, and all that it portends (cf. Laura Mulvey’s preposterously fertile, infinitely cited 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema”).

That first movement is repeated, now with a different nude woman at the end of the hallway. The camera/the viewer arrives, repeatedly, repeatedly stops, repeatedly just as the woman repeatedly fades. We have double, triple, quadruple tracking. Now we have an Ed Emshwiller-like (q.v.) fibrillation—again, t’were it not for Riley, Corridor would be nigh unto a horror movie. Here’s another approach, with a double/triple tracked image, and a strobing that goes all the way to white light. Were we wrong to cite the horror genre? Are these actually hints of transfiguration?

The corridor becomes three corridors. Come the fast zooms and tracks, even the really fast zooms and tracks, now moving back in our direction. The woman appears in flash frames, and in negative. Now the camera/viewer is doing somersaults, repeatedly, faster and faster. The woman stands once again at the other end of the hall. She’s a cardinal point, a stability in what has become a fantasia of exhilarating movement. Or, she’s those twin girls in The Shining.

Now we have a terrific mélange of tracks and zooms, flashes and fades, woman far and woman near. Emshwiller again: she’s angel, or ghost, or wraith. Hall doubled, in negative.

We’re two thirds of the way through the film now, or through the composition. Accordingly we now move into recapitulations both visual and musical, made fresh by the happy propulsiveness of Riley’s percussion. Pixilation now. Is this another corridor? Is that some kind of cabinet at the end? Or a man, with his back to us? An earlier unease returns. Do we really want to get all the way down there? Over exposures, added to the strobing, creating an interesting alternation of classic vanishing point—what more perspectival than a hallway?— and two-dimensional abstraction.

That earlier Vitruvian Woman is reintroduced, and we approach something of a climax with one image going forward and the other, superimposed, going back. Now we come back to all that had happened in the film to this point, all the things he’s done, alternated very quickly or superimposed/simultaneously. In this way Lawder’s film becomes a kind of visual music, what with its motifs explored and varied and repeated, what with the fact that, apart from one’s occasional anxious associations, it aggressively doesn’t mean anything. It probably goes without saying that Lawder had seen Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity. This means that Corridor might be somewhat derivative. But is not remotely plagiaristic, nor even secondary/subordinate. Since Lawder’s film is similar in subject and, sort of, approach, and yet completely different, what the viewer ultimately ends up with is an appreciation of how very multiple the apparently limited can be.

Here it is: