"Desolated Streets At Dusk"
It’s always exciting to listen to David Bowie’s song "5 Years," the brief recollection of a guy walking through the streets of a world which has only 5 years left before it dies. In the lyrics, the singer walks around, and like in a film, he tries to capture as much as he can, so he won’t forget it. It is so much that his brain “hurts like a warehouse.”
There is something in the movie Street by James Nares which tries to capture similarly the spirit of a time. Nares records the streets of New York at 780 frames per second when traditional cinema records at 24 frames per second (and even recent techniques allow filmmakers like Peter Jackson to film at 48). He does it with an experimental camera aptly named Phantom Flex, which allows us to see in this movie, in extremely high definition slow motion, the gestures of the pedestrians. Simple, automatic movements as drying the sweat off our forehead on a hot day or looking at the sky to see if it looks like it’s going to rain suddenly become loaded with meaning. The scene turns into a tableau vivant, a living picture, the portrait in movement of the inhabitants of a city who seem to me like ghosts exposed by the camera, reminding us that we are only witnesses of an ever-delayed reality.
Walking the streets of any great metropolis is becoming less and less a walking experience. Of the already alienated literary type of the flaneur, the stroller or passer-by from the bourgeois Paris of the 19th century, drawn by Walter Benjamin, there is not much left. Now we are mere commuters who have to travel as fast as possible to our working environments, without wasting any time at all.
As the hipsters well know, the walking areas provided by the artistic energy of youngsters—with their natural need to express themselves—has moved out from the city centers. What remains is a cold, although extremely convenient, non-place, what Marc Auge described as a “space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity” and where tourists and laborers coexist in apparent harmony. Despite knowing that we live in a borrowed, planned space, we are keen to identify ourselves with the technical marks from its present. There is a kind of hunter instinct in the way we identify the texture of the pavement, the shape of a MetroCard card, the typography of a business sign, the effects of the engineering of a city and its history. After all, they are prints of the character of a certain form of civilization. We know we are temporary but still we want to last, acknowledge ourselves as the witnesses of a time in permanent evanescence, guided by unrepeatable intensities, an amalgam of the identities who populate it in a certain moment.
Curiously, I find a similar notion, somewhat nostalgic, in the videoclip of the new Bowie song directed by Tony Oursler, "Where Are We Now?," about those afternoons he spent in Berlin, “walking the dead." in those streets saturated with disappearance. Streets that, after extreme forms of destruction, keep the same outlines, even though the buildings have changed completely, as well as the walkers and the reason that made them walk by them.