Wavelength (1967): A Brilliant Work of Art or a Complete Waste of Time?

Michael Snow’s 1967 film Wavelength has been hailed by critics and moviegoers but it has also been heavily criticized by the general public to be ‘boring,’ ‘uneventful,’ ‘pointless’ and a ‘complete waste of time.’ It is only 43 minutes in length, so one might not consider it a proper, full length movie, but after recently viewing it I watched it carefully and took in all it had to say, mulling it over for a few hours before writing this post. And I have to say, I liked it. A lot. And I think I get it. I wasn’t bored. In fact, if I’m actually watching a very good movie it won’t matter how long it is. I won’t get bored. And there was a lot to look at here and a lot to take in.

The plot is so simple that to actually say the film has a plot is a joke. All it is is one shot (actually quite a few shots edited together to look like one) of a room, the shot visible at the top of this post. Throughout the film’s 40 minutes, the camera extremely slowly zooms in, until settling on a postcard photo of the ocean, before fading to white and ending. That’s it. During the film’s slow, lagging pace, we are also greeted with the sights of a woman having furniture moved into the room, sitting and listening to the radio, and re-entering a long period after to find a dead man on the floor. As these events happen, director Michael Snow could not give a flying f*ck. All he cares about is the slow zoom on the postcard. This makes the film original, clever, and gives it a specific target and a mind of its own. It, in fact, represents the entire process of watching a film. We start out at the beginning, and we’re slowly building to a climax (represented by the postcard) that we can barely see if we squint, but as the film progresses, we get closer and closer to that climax, until finally at the end, we see it. The whole of Wavelength is an excercise in what we can sit through. A good film takes its time to reach the climax, and Snow is representing that timeline with a deceptively simple zoom on a picture. A very clever metaphor.

Snow further tests the audience by playing on the soundtrack a, long consecutive beeping noise which begins at the 8-minute mark and lasts until the very end. It slowly becomes more high-pitched, louder, and annoying, representing the intense buildup to a climax we might feel while watching a movie. Snow tests the audience. Many will be bored and frustrated with the film, particularly that distracting beep, but watching Wavelength is not so much as watching a film as it is analysing human endurance in filmmaking and storytelling; what we can sit through, and whether our curiosity to the ending will be enough to make us sit through what might seem otherwise like a piece of time-wasting crap. It’s an excercise, to be studied and learned from.

I’d like to make this a longer review, but there’s really not much more to say. The film looks simple, and it is. Some people will be able to sit through it, and will walk away having learned something, but others will be bored out of their mind and will likely not finish it or fast forward through it. Don’t do this. It’s not how you should watch a movie. It’s cheating yourself.

Conveniently, Snow also created WVLNT, which is essentially the whole film, edited down to about 15 minutes. I’m sure it has a similar impact and can be learnt from in the same manner as the original, but the whole point of its long, unbearable pace is to force you to think about what on Earth it means and why you’re watching it. This is not a waste of time; this a great way to spend time if you’re trying to analyse what really goes into making a movie and the stress a director feels about whether the audience will be able to sit through their film. This is Snow’s point: sitting through this is just like sitting through a normal movie. It starts out simple enough, and leads expectingly to a gratifying ending that we know we’ve been slowly approaching the whole time. Fantastic.

My Rating: 8/10.

So, put yourself to the ultimate endurance test. Watch Wavelength right here, right now. Try to do it without skipping parts, fast forwarding or turning it off altogether. It might be a small achievement to make it through, but it’s an achievement nonetheless:

Seen Wavelength? What did you think of it? A work of art or a waste of time? Leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.


About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on June 13, 2011, in Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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