Underground Film Journal

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Short Experimental Film: Love Is A Burning Thing

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 13, 2011

While some movies burn their images into our consciousnesses, what’s burned into every film are the flashing dots that appear in the upper-right hand corner that tell a projectionist that it’s time to switch reels. British filmmaker and artist Dave Griffiths has strung together several of these burned circles from different movies into one short film Love Is a Burning Thing. It’s a succession of clips featuring just those top corners, yet instead of these scenes being entirely incomprehensible from lack of visual information, the little visual and audio clues still let us know what type of film each scene is from. Plus, an odd narrative begins to develop.

As the film industry moves closer to a purely digital format, these projectionist cues are going to become a lost and needless artifact. And with the digital “restoration” fad of older films, many of the cues have probably been erased forever from their previous locations. Which is all quite ironic since for Griffiths’ previous film using this same technique, Ozymandias, he states that the source of the films he used were free digital-TV broadcasts.

Old movie frame with a woman wearing a hat and a projectionist burn

For those who aren’t familiar with projectionist cues, each clip that Griffiths has used starts a few seconds before their first cue. That’s the cue to tell the projectionist that they only have a few seconds before they need to change the reel. Then, a few seconds later, a second cue appears that is for the actual reel change. I haven’t timed these clips out exactly, but it definitely feels as though Griffiths has chosen the same exact time to start each clip before the first cue. Then, Griffiths is at the mercy of the clip for the second cue’s appearance, which he then cuts away from at the exact second it flashes.

Not to trivialize the overall artistic composition Griffiths has given to his work and turn this into some kind of game, it would be kind of fun to know from what film each — hell, any — clip has been pulled from. I’m pretty sure at least one is from the original War of the Worlds, but I’m bad at that kind of thing.

But, as I said above, there’s enough in each clip to get the general gist of it, whether it’s from a sci-fi thriller, a romantic drama, a comedy, etc. Since these are from older films, too, each clip looks like the cues all fall within the same shot. I can’t help to think that with the modern technique of quick cutting that that could be true if Griffiths pulled clips only from films within the past 20 years or so.

So, on the one hand, it’s a pretty simple conceit that Griffiths is working with here, but it really opens up a much wider dialogue about how movies are perceived.

If you like Love Is a Burning Thing, Griffiths has uploaded almost a dozen other videos to Vimeo to watch and you can learn more about him at his official website.