Artists > Interviews > Meditations on humanity via the Guinness Book of Records
by Oliver Pashley | September 13th, 2015

standard Meditations on humanity via the Guinness Book of Records

Credit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

Credit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

The quietest place on Earth. The tallest man on Earth. The oldest tree. The longest fingernails. Pi to 67,890 places. These are some of the world records featured in Sam Green’s new documentary-with-a-difference, The Measure of All Things. A self-confessed ‘love letter to the Guinness Book of Records’, we experience a sixty-minute documentary-cum-lecture recital, traditional documentary footage as a literal backdrop to Sam’s narration in person at the front of the stage, interspersed with (and interacting with) live music from the band The Crotchets.

The Measure of All Things by Sam Green

Sam started to venture into cross-collaboration in 2010. ‘It was kind of an accident. I was working on a movie at that time about Utopia, and it was a really hard movie to edit, I was really stuck.

‘Somebody asked me to do a presentation about the project. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just show some clips and I’ll talk…and that sounds kind of boring, so I’ll get a friend of mine to do live music!

‘It’s weird – I did it and it worked just like how I wanted the movie to work. I’d never heard of anyone doing a movie like this, but there are a million things about the format that interest me, so I keep coming back to it.’

In a traditional movie, the music inevitably feeds the moving image. The best film scores captivate us and move us, but in the moment the sound is always secondary to the image. By involving live musicians, Sam plays with our attention, sometimes wanting us to be immersed in what’s on screen, other times giving the music a chance to breathe.

‘When people start looking around the room you’ve lost them. But with this, you want a viewer to kind of toggle back and forth: sometimes they’re completely immersed in what’s on the screen, sometimes they’re aware of the room.

Credit: http://fringearts.com/

Credit: http://fringearts.com/

‘When you’re editing a film, you’re completely managing someone’s attention, and with this you’re still managing their attention, just in one more dimension.’

The music itself comes from Brendan Canty, Catherine McRae, and Todd Griffin, playing a mixture of vibraphone, violin, bass, percussion and samplers. There are several interludes in which the music rises to the fore, at one point calmly grooving to a jogger who has run a mile every day since 1968, another rising to an unbearable expressionistic climax in the moment at which the man who was trapped in a lift for 40 hours straight finally gets rescued.

‘There’s a really fun month or more of extensive and organic collaboration. With a regular film you send the musicians a cut…everything’s done by email. Also, touring around is great. They’re all my friends, we have a great time.’

Despite the music expanding our experience of the film into the third dimension, we never lose the focus of the narrative. The collaboration with live music is something that Sam wishes to continue exploring, as the flexibility it offers as an art form means that every film is constantly evolving, contradicting the notion that when a film is made it is fixed and can never change.

Credit: http://www.walkerart.org/

Credit: http://www.walkerart.org/

‘About four years ago I came across a copy of the Guinness Book of Records, from the era that I would have looked at it as a kid. As I looked through it I read it in a way that was a lot different than when I was a kid, and I sort of saw it as a series of odd little poems about life.

‘Some of them make sense, some of them don’t. A lot are about randomness, a lot are about fate, the inexplicable nature of the world, and the impossibility of understanding why things happen. And I loved it. To me, it really was this very deep poem about being alive. That’s what I wanted to evoke.

‘In a way, this [film] is always changing. That’s why I like the form. Since showing this, the oldest person in the world has died. There’ve been several, so I keep changing it. In a way, it’s a provisional form, the same way life is provisional.’

The end product is something that is fresh, inspiring, and incredibly touching. Sam creates a tapestry of thoughts interwoven with the immediacy of live performance, and leaves you with a sense of wonder that comes after glimpsing some of the wackiest, most interesting, and most endearing feats of human accomplishment.

Sam’s next live-music collaboration is on 15 March 2016 in New York, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, with a live soundtrack performed by Yo La Tengo.

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