Highway Code (Manchester 10k)
Author: Anthony Ellis
Running Time: 2′ 50″
There are no specific viewing conditions for the film. It can be viewed at a small scale (eg. online) or in a larger gallery or theatre setting.
– How can the rhythms of the city be utilised in the editorial process so that the editorial structure of the film is, to an extent, determined by these rhythms?
– To what degree can the city contribute to the creation of a film; can the city be a co-author or contributor to creative practice?
– What methods of montaging and collaging may be suitable for this process?
Highway Code (Manchester 10k) is a short artists’ film centring around an urban area of Manchester during and after the annual 10km public run. The project investigates how rhythms of the city (such as traffic light signals) can be utilised in determining the rhythmic structure of the film, by tracing these rhythms onto the edit of the film. The film develops methods of editing, collaging and montaging differing views of place that utilise the rhythms of the city in order to realise this effect. Through this use of the city’s rhythms, in combination with the editing process, the city can be seen to partially determine the structure of the film and, to an extent, co-author or contribute to the work.
A key question this film asks is to what extent the city can contribute to or co-author a work. This idea lends the city agency in the creation of the practice. This theme, (or the idea of the city as a living organism), is discussed by Peter Ackroyd in the cover notes for William Raban’s British Film Institute compilation. Here, Ackroyd suggests that Raban’s Thames film (1986) presents the river as ‘a vast and brooding presence. It becomes a living organism with its own laws of growth and change’ (Raban, 2004). In Highway Code (Manchester 10K) I attempt to offer the city an active role in the process of film-making, as if the city itself (or an element of the city such as the transport network system) might have a better understanding of how to make a film about itself. A film such as John Smith’s Blight (1996), which focuses on the destruction of houses to make way for the M11 link road in East London, also relates to this theme. The images depict the demolition of homes and buildings in this area. In sections of the film, the images are composed in such a way so that it appears that parts of the building are moving of their own accord. It is as if the building is alive: ‘in the first few minutes of his film Blight, derelict houses appear to be dismembering themselves. Bricks rattle, mortar falls, and wooden beams are dislodged’ (Parker, 2018). Further, in relation to this theme, Patrick Keiller, discussing the changes to London’s 1980’s landscape, notes ‘satellite dishes began to appear on the houses and flats visible from the window … I began to think of the entire view as a very slow but visible movement of self-organising matter. Apollinaire’s impression of the south London suburbs, seen from the train, was of “wounds bleeding in the fog”. Sometimes it seemed possible to perceive the view as an organic phenomenon’ (Keiller, 2014: 67). A connection appears between these filmmakers, who have worked in and around London from the 1970s to the present day.
By foregrounding the city in this way, I do not intend to propound an underlying vitalism or mysticism, or to view the city through an anthropomorphic lens, in relation to the present work. Instead, my process could be categorised in Deleuzian terms, subscribing to the possibility of broader definitions and forms of life; for example, life as the power to differ (Colebrook, 2006: 1). Or, again in Deleuzian terms, the significance of technology, where technology is not only considered as an extension of human life, but where technology is life itself (Colebrook, 2006: 3). This line of thought relates to recent developments in fields such as New Materialism and Object-oriented Ontology, whereby the privileging of human existence over other non-human objects is rejected (Meillassoux, 2014; Poe, 2011). The essay-film ‘Towards a Lefebvrian Socio-Nature? A Film about Rhythm, Nature and Science’ (Evan and Jones, 2008) also foregrounds the non-human, in tandem with Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalytical mode. This is primarily in relation to urban nature such as trees, plants and rivers, that can be found in the city. Evans and Jones extend Lefebvre’s mode into a practice-based outcome, creating environmental music by feeding scientific data through samplers and drum machines, in order to apprehend the rhythms of these socio-natures and, in turn, explore whether Lefebvre’s rhythmanalytical mode can be utilised in this way. Highway Code (Manchester 10k) has areas of mutual correspondence with this work, namely in attempting to develop a practice-based outcome through the collaboration of the non-human and the practitioner, via rhythm.
A key aspect in the production of the film was the degree to which the utilisation of the rhythms of the city – to dictate the editorial structure of the work – should be emphasised. In other words, to what extent should this key element of the practice be drawn-out? For example, the use of the traffic light shots at the start and end of the film utilise this technique clearly, with the inset videos appearing and disappearing according to the rhythm of the light changes from red to amber to green and back again. However, in the creation of the work, it became clear that other rhythms of the city could be utilised in the formation of the practice that would explore the key theme in a subtler way. For example, the passage of a runner might determine the length of the shot, or the movement of a car or a train might dictate the appearance or disappearance of the inset video. This tracing of rhythm and movement would not necessarily be immediately apparent to the viewer but would still inform the editorial structure of the work.
Following the peer review process, I have experimented and explored these degrees of emphasis, namely through the editing of the accompanying audio tracks from both the everyday views of the city and from the 10K run. I also chose to utilise the rhythms of the various traffic lights I found in the area more predominantly: some of the shots now follow the timing of the signal changes. (For example, the traffic lights that I found on Chester Road roundabout have a signal duration of: red 57 seconds, red-amber 2 seconds, green 9.8 seconds, amber 3 seconds, then returning to red.) I also timed other traffic light signal durations of the area, which differed considerably, particularly on the red and green durations. These traffic light signal rhythms permeate and structure more elements of the film than on earlier passes. As mentioned above, other elements of the city are still utilised in determining shot length, such as the time it takes for a train to travel across the screen.
The practice also explores the contrast between the everyday use of the space, as a part of Manchester’s transport system, and the use of the space for an event (such as the Manchester 10k) that is outside of these everyday practices, taking place on an annual and cyclical basis. As Santino (2011) argues, public events such as the 10k have the effect of transforming the behaviours of participants. In the case of the 10k this includes runners, spectators, and support crew. Santino draws upon both Bakhtin and Arnold van Gennep in exploring how symbols are employed in the transformation of event spaces and how, in turn, these events could be said to have both carnivalesque and ‘ritualesque’ dimensions. Aligning with Santino, the performativity of the 10k is realised through the utilisation of the symbolic through music (bands and DJs that line the 10k course, loudspeakers, etc), images (the prevalence of route markings, advertising, and the fun-runner costumes), and, of course, movement. To note, the emphasis on movement should also recognise the movement of the spectators: the ability to walk across and through transport areas (that are usually restricted) opens-up symbolic channels for the spectator. Here, I am thinking of practices such as clapping, cheering, shouting, and dancing. Further, another noticeable aspect of spectator behaviour was the ‘calling-out’ of runner’s names: the runners have their first name printed on the vest allowing the spectator to ‘call-out’ the runner (such as ‘Keep going Sarah!’) in order to offer encouragement, despite not knowing the participant. This familiarity with the stranger is, again, outside of everyday practices and behaviours: behaviour that would normally be considered unacceptable is, in this circumstance, legitimate.
It is important to note that the film is part of a broader project that includes the film Soundspace: Notting Hill Carnival (2014) that explored the space of the famous west London carnival during and after this event. This film was featured on the US-based academic website, Interstitial. The present ‘follow-up’ film served various purposes. Firstly, I wanted to further explore the techniques I had developed during the production of the Notting Hill piece. Most notably, in the making of the Notting Hill film I had stumbled upon utilising the rhythms of the city to determine the edit of the film, as outlined above. This can be seen briefly between 03.48 and 04.02 of that film, where the images are cut according to the traffic light changes. Hence, the primary reason for returning to this mode of filmmaking was to explore this montaging technique, which can be seen most distinctly at the start and end of Highway Code (Manchester 10k) where the inset video appears according to the rhythms of traffic light changes. Secondly, I also wanted to explore how this mode of analysis might work at a different event, that was not based in London, and was not a music event. In many ways, I felt that the carnival (being a world-famous event based in London) was something of a distraction from the key questions of that film, that centered around how presence of the crowd and the rhythms of traffic affect the sense of place of an urban area. I felt that there was a tendency to view the film as a portrait of an event (which in some ways is understandable) rather than as an investigation of the themes. It seemed to me that these ideas could also be explored at other large scale urban events, such as a sport run, and so began to plan a film based on this. My initial thoughts were that the London marathon would be a suitable event to focus on but, again, I felt that an event with this history and stature might prove a distraction. Hence, I wanted to explore the question in a provincial city at an event that did not have such a high profile.
Primarily, the research methods for this work are derived from artists’ film. The research utilises a series of site surveys to form the basis of the practice. The research also builds upon interest in Henri Lefebvre’s proposed mode of analysing urban environments that foregrounds the rhythms of space and of lived experience within space: rhythmanalysis (Lefebvre, 2004). Lefebvre suggests that analysis of space should foreground rhythm across the structures of social and cultural practices. Rhythm’s enfolding within these practices can be utilised in order to gain further understanding about socio-cultural life, such as power, culture and mobility.
As Highmore suggests (2005), rhythmanalysis is still relatively underexplored, despite more interest in it in recent years. This may be partly due to Lefebvre’s outlining of the mode which foregrounds the poetic, even suggesting that the individual closest to the rhythmanalysist might well be the poet (Lefebvre, 2004: 23). Simpson’s paper, Apprehending Everyday Rhythms: Rhythmanalysis, time-lapse photography and the space-times of street performance (2012), attempts to develop what might be described as more practical methods of doing rhythmanalysis in a practice-based context, utilising fixed frame, time-lapse photography to analyse urban life, namely the space-times of a street performance. However, whilst Simpson’s paper aims to utilise rhythmanalysis in order to further develop rhythmanalysis’s utilisation of practice-based methods, my own engagement with Lefebvre’s ideas is far looser and would foreground the practice-based outcome itself (the film), rather than the textual analysis and description of the practice.
It is important to add that the collaborative relationship between the practitioner and the city in the creation of the practice intersects another key theme of Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis: the foregrounding of the body in the engagement with the mode of analysis. Lefebvre is clear in stating that at ‘at no moment have the analysis of rhythms and the rhythmanalytical project lost sight of the body … the living body has (in general) always been present: a constant reference’ (Lefebvre, 2004: 67). How does my own body affect my engagement with the filming process? For example, the speed at which I was able to walk around the 10k course certainly affected the amount and type of footage I was able to capture of the event. Also, due to my confidence levels with the equipment (here I am referring to the ease of handling equipment, as determined by my own body), I was comfortable accessing parts of course that may have deterred another filmmaker; conversely, there were shots that I steered away from that others would have captured. My height and body movement directly affected the camera movements and image capture, the timings and composition. Further, my own social location (I live quite close to the 10k course) also determined how easily I could access the course and also meant that I was familiar with many of the areas that I was aiming to capture, and the rhythms of these areas.
The film also utilises methods associated with filmmakers such as Patrick Keiller, and material and structural filmmakers (Gidal, 1989) such as John Smith, in order to investigate the urban environment. More specifically, the inset video methodology was partly adapted from the Patrick Keiller BFI exhibition, City of the Future (Keiller, 2007). This exhibition collaged archival footage of UK cities from the last century with the same view of place in a present-day context. Through these processes differences are revealed. This is a relatively well-known and utilised technique, also known as Rephotography (Rieger, 2011) whereby photography is utilised to document social change in order to develop insights about the meaning and significance of change. This method often utilises fixed-position photography, similar in process to time-lapse photography, to capture an urban location from a similar position at differing times of the day and week. There is substantial use of Rephotography as a research method, particularly as a mode of analysing space across differing space-times.
In more practical terms, the project required researching the event (downloading maps of the course, walking segments of the course, viewing the course on google maps, researching the timetable of start times, etc) but I also had to respond to the event ‘on-the-day’. For example, I was not able to plan all camera positions as I did not know where the crowds would be situated or what segments of the road would be most busy with runners. With these factors in mind, I still had to ensure that I captured rhythms of place that would allow me to edit the film in such a way as to explore the themes and questions outlined.
The utilisation of the rhythms of the city in order to determine the editorial structure of the work is the original element presented here, that will be of interest to other practitioners. In this sense, the city contributes to the work and co-authors the creation of practice. This represents the key innovation of the film. The use of Rephotography, it seemed to me in the formulation of the film, was necessary in order to explore this idea. However, I now feel that further investigation could take place, utilising city rhythms in the editorial process, without the use of Rephotography and the inset videos. (That being said, conversely, the use of the index videos could be pushed further with multiple windows across space-times.) The broader project could be further developed under the research question: to what extent can a city contribute to the development of a film of itself; a self-portrait, if you like. This is the key trajectory of the project and is a question I certainly aim to explore further.
With regards to the rigour of the research, as a speculative piece of practice, the key questions that emerged were: can the rhythms of the city be utilised in the editorial process of a film; and the broader question, to what degree can the city contribute to the creation of the film as a co-author? The practice answers the first question: the rhythms of the city are utilised in this way although, it seems clear, some parts work more successfully than others. For example, the traffic light sections explicitly determine the appearance of the inset videos. In other sections, this mode of editing is subtle, where the inset video is determined by another city rhythm such as the appearance of a runner, car or train. These parts would be akin to a more typical approach to film editing where a general view of the city will be edited so that the shot features a point of interest within it. With regards to the second question – to what degree can the city contribute to the creation of the film as a co-author – this, as a question, cannot be answered so easily. For example, at all stages the filmmaker is involved in the realisation of the work; the city, or the traffic light system, cannot take control of the edit directly and must rely on the filmmaker as a conduit. There had to be a recognition that my own subjectivity couldn’t be somehow bypassed and, instead, had to be recognised and integrated as a part of the process; conversely, it is important to note that I, the filmmaker, am also a part of the city and could be considered an agent of the city. This proposes an interesting question: how might the city support, form and create subjectivities that capture and respond to the city. At this stage, as I understand it, the process I have utilised foregrounds a collaborative relation between filmmaker and city and warrants further investigation.
Finally, the project develops on significant existing research practices most notably in the field of British psychogeographic practice (including the crossover field of materialist film practice). Academic and artistic disciplines continue to draw on these fields, such as Cultural Geography and Fine Art, referencing, realising and unfolding these practices.
Highway Code (Manchester 10k) was largely self-funded with some in-kind support from The Digital Imaging Suite, Liverpool John Moores University (use of camera equipment, digital editing suite, etc).
My background is in what can be described as Fine Art Film practice. Hence, avenues for distribution of my work are often through galleries and small gallery-based screenings, rather than through film festivals or more typically academic routes. Over the summer, I organised a screening at the AWOL studios / Hope Mill in Manchester as part of an open event. I have entered the film into short film festivals, including Kino Short Film Festival Manchester, Liverpool Short Film Festival, and the Soundstripes short film event in Huddersfield. I am also hoping to display the work at my university, in the Atrium or ERC Galleries.
A second avenue for dissemination is more direct. Once the film is online (be that through Screenworks or an alternative site) I intend to mail out to academics in the field who may find the work of interest. This will concentrate on researchers in Cultural Geography but also include some national and international artists. I utilised this process with the film Soundspace: Notting Hill Carnival and received some interesting feedback from academics such as Les Roberts (University of Liverpool) and Ben Highmore (University of Sussex). This also ensures the film reaches an audience that it would be difficult to cover through purely academic or artistic avenues of dissemination.
As a lecturer in an art and design college, my research practice informs interactions with industry and academia. For example, this film has been used in ‘show and tell’ sessions with practitioners from industry, artists and lecturers from other academic disciplines. Primarily, though, I have chosen to seek academic publication of the work so that it can be shared with an academic audience.
Blight.1996. Directed by John Smith. London: Lux.
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Evans, J. Jones, P. 2008. Towards Lefebvrian Socio‐Nature? A Film about Rhythm, Nature and Science. Geography Compass. 2(3), pp. 659—670.
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Highmore, B. 2005. Cityscapes: Cultural Readings in the Material and Symbolic City. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Hinchliffe, S. Whatmore, S. 2006. Living Cities: Towards a Politics of Conviviality. Science as Culture. 15:2, pp. 123–138.
Keiller, P., 2007. City of the Future [Exhibition]. London: BFI.
Keiller, P., 2014. The View from the Train. London: Verso.
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Rieger, J.H., 2011. Rephotography for Documenting Social Change. In: E. Margolis. L. Pauwels, ed. 2011. The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods. London: Sage. pp.132—149.
Roberts, L., 2012. Film, Mobility and Urban Space: A Cinematic Geography of Liverpool. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Santino, J., 2011. The Carnivalesque and the Ritualesque. Journal of American Folklore, 124(491). pp. 61–73.
Simpson, T., 2012. Apprehending Everyday Rhythms: Rhythmanalysis, time-lapse photography and the the space-times of street performance. Cultural Geographies, 19(4), pp. 423–445.
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Note on Peer Review Process
I would like to thank the peer reviewers for the time taken to review the submission. I have attempted to address many of the suggested changes, although I was not able to fully explore some of the recommendations for the film work, due to the limitations of my footage of the Manchester 10k event. I do, however, aim to utilise many of these suggestions in any future film works that develop from this research.
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:
Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement (these should be outlined in detail in the review).
Anthony Ellis’ Highway Code (Manchester 10k) reveals some original ideas in his concept of a city-film that is created in part by attending to different rhythms of the urban environment. Ellis asks to what degree can a city contribute to the editing and creation of a film, bringing in clearly relevant theorists such as Henri Lefebvre’s classic Rhythmanalysis and filmmakers such as Peter Ackroyd and Patrick Keiller. This work could possibly bring a new contribution to the field of city cinema; however, so far, it feels as though it is in the beginning phases, and as the artist points out, is more speculative at this point rather than being in a finished state.
On my first viewing of the Screenwork, undertaken without reference to the artist’s text, I was intrigued by the collaged feel of the “inset videos” (a more specific term I will use to differentiate from what is normally thought of as “splitscreen” where the screen is actually divided), and the layering of different times over each particular space. Beyond this, I did not at first notice any organizing methodology or logic to the changes in pace to the edits. The compositions of each shot and the locational sound were well-done and drew me into the work. However, as the video ended, I was left with a sense of opaqueness to how the rhythm of the city was contributing to work, beyond the obvious differences emphasized in the Rephotography.
The contextualizing Statement offered much to clarify the concepts. It is well-written and brings in appropriate references to situate the work and the thinking behind it. But given the interesting concept behind the work, the video itself does not adequately convey the ideas that the artist has set out in the text. When the marathon event is on, it is clearly a very different space than usual, and this much is conveyed well. The inset videos are a fitting and visually interesting technique here, and once pointed out, I did enjoy the edits occurring with the traffic lights. This is a short section, however, and the other sections are perhaps too subtle. It seems that other rhythmic techniques are necessary to foreground the relationships.
In the Outcomes section of the Statement, the artist does acknowledge the need for further investigation, but without Rephotography or splitscreen techniques. For myself, however, these insets as well as the Rephotography were among the elements that I enjoyed and was intrigued by the most. I would suggest a deepening of methodological approach. I would like to see more collaged inset video boxes onscreen, and more edits used to convey this rush of people moving through, the sonic elements magnified and perhaps also layered. As the artist draws upon experimental art traditions, these could definitely be pushed to be, well, more experimental. These don’t always have to follow the same technique. The use of close-up details, for instance, of running feet, of passing bodies, could also be interpellated as inset videos into scenes to give a sense of how these smaller rhythms co-exist (Lefebvre’s polyrhythmia) or constructively interact (eurhythmia).
Review 2: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement (these should be outlined in detail in the review).
The ambitions of this project are very interesting and worthwhile, particularly the idea of somehow the collective agency of the city and its rhythms helping shape the rhythm of the film. The spaces and subject matter of the film – the streets, before, during and after the Manchester 10 k, are an interesting focus through with to explore and demonstrate the idea. The differing affective airs of the streets before, during, and after the race do come out in the film and the inserted screen – type effects. The opening scene with the traffic lights does hint how the editing of the film is driven by this very ubiquitous form of rhythm in the city. So as an experiment the film has merit and, with the statement, which is basically fine, does make an interesting overall and worthwhile package of practice and theory. The context statement reads well, being clear and well organised and well expressed. It is, understandably, very much reliant on other films and film discussion literatures. I do point out that there is much excellent literature on of the rhythms and affective life of cities and city space in geography and related subjects. Maybe the author could check just a bit of that out to feed into the text. I am not sure about into the film itself – how easy that would be. A very good starting point would be the paper “Towards Lefebvrian Socio‐Nature? A Film about Rhythm, Nature and Science” by James Evans and Phil Jones (2008). It is a film of sorts, but looks at the rhythms of the city (maybe in Manchester if I remember right) in a very interesting way and will open up to other references. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00107.x
Finally I think the scale of framing of the film could be more various as the rhythmic affective life of the city is both in air and atmospheres of spaces but also the detailed, interrelating materiality/practice of those spaces.
Reminder: All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to the reviews