240-Year Catastrophe

Photo by Flickr user ElCapitan

Last week I finally got around to reading Don DeLillo’s novel Point Omega, about a filmmaker’s relationship with the would-be subject of his next project, a documentary about the planning of the Iraq War. A touchstone of the filmmaker’s creative life is the film 24 Hour Psycho by artist Douglas Gordon, which consists of Hitchcock’s famous film slowed down to two frames per second. At that frame rate, the film takes twenty-four hours to finish, making the story’s catastrophe almost imperceptible but for moments of acute violence, themselves drawn out to many minutes’ length.

Gliding through a New Hampshire forest on skis yesterday, I kept noticing the fretwork of downed limbs and storm-felled trees. Pennants of ripped bark depended from horizontal birch logs; the crowns of decapitated spruce trees hung high in the upper branches or stood shattered, mired in the snow. And all about lay the torn limbs of still-standing trees, heaped in windrows or propped against the ancient stumps of the long-dead. The idyllic prospect of a wintry forest is in fact a scene of crashing violence—only our frame rate is too flickeringly quick to catch the catastrophe.

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