Hurdy Gurdy (Daniel Seideneder and Daniel Pfeiffer, 2011)

Posted by Ezra Glenn on April 29, 2012
Film / 2 Comments

In World on a Wire (reviewed previously), Rainer Werner Fassbinder explored the possibility of creating a miniature world through the use of a computer. In Hurdy Gurdy, a wonderful new short film from a German and Estonian collaboration, we get to enjoy the ways that the camera itself can render our real-world in apparent miniature (although I suspect a computer played a part as well…), giving us an entirely new and delightfully playful perspective on everyday scenes of urban life.

The film — all of four minutes long — uses stop-motion photography along with a technique that either is, or perhaps simulates, what is known as “tilt-shift” photography. The images below give a rough sense of the effect, which is to change the depth of focus and the level of detail; when combined with the increased speed and mechanical jerkiness (due to the stop-motion animation), the film transforms footage of a typical sea-side town into a magical micropolis of urban interaction: a true sidewalk ballet which unfolds as tourists arrive, streetcars come and go, crowds surge and flow, and daily life weaves and cycles in an endless state of humming activity. (The title itself refers to the mechanical music box, where one could just wind it up again and have the whole scene-and-song play over again and again.)

A number of other short videos using the tilt-shift technique can be found on-line, and quite a few choose city scenes or the movement of crowds to show off the magic; for example, see this popular short depicting a day in the life at Disney or this one showing streetlife in New York City. But it would be wrong to regard Hurdy Gurdy as nothing more than a cool demonstration of a visual trick: rather than letting the technique be the whole story, Seideneder and Pfeiffer use the effect to focus us on the beauty, color, and harmony of our ever-changing world. In a surprising way, even as we watch the film and smile and wonder and are entertained and entranced by this non-stop motion, we discover the time and space to meditate on the smallness of our individual existence and the majesty of the patterns we collectively create.

The film was screened in Somerville, MA, as part of the 2012 Independent Film Festival of Boston, and it seems to be making the rounds of similar festivals here and abroad, including Cleveland, Woodstock, Florida, Lisbon, Rotterdam, and Cannes. Look for it wherever independent films are found.

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