Michigan State University
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Film Studies Program
Infrastructuralisms, by Kelcy Rolak
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Published May 8, 2017

On March 15th, the Broad Underground Film Series hosted its third screening of 2017. With the theme of “Infrastructuralisms” and aptly hosted in the (SCENE) Metrospace gallery in downtown East Lansing, the collection of films was curated by MSU Professors Justus Nieland and Lyn Goeringer and promptly displayed a range of perceptions to be digested on the topic of infrastructure; one that is fascinating to see through the lens of film.

The night’s topic of Infrastructuralisms deeply signified the unequivocal power of film. As the description of the evening states, focus was on “…film and video work devoted to the poetics and politics of infrastructure. The work seeks to make visible the buried networks and systems that bring modern communities into being, inspire political activity and imagination, and organize bodies, labor, and commodities.” Taking a subject that could be considered mundane by some, film entirely transforms such a topic into visual poetry that has the ability to resonate with an audience who may not have paid much mind before.

Nine films were shown, ranging from just one minute to thirty-three, each building off the last in a cohesive order that even the audience commented on after the final film’s credits rolled. They included Rhodes Patterson’s The Packaging System (1961) and the American Mutoscope and Biograph one-minute clip Throwing Mail into Bags (1903), which is precisely what it sounds like; postmen of the early nineties sorting mail by way of hurling. Additionally, Lyn Goeringer’s own short film, liminal (2017 re-edit), was among the films screened, and she was able to provide the audience with a background on the filming process.

Also shown were two films by Kevin Jerome Everson, including Fifteen An Hour (2011), which through an interestingly documentary tone, covers the nighttime work of cleaning Florida beaches after an oil spill. There’s a sense of certain comradery between the workers as they clean, and the film itself almost makes the viewer feel as if they’re intruding.

Another film shown, which quickly became a highlight of the screening, was Deborah Stratman’s 2002 film In Order Not To Be Here. With an utterly unsettling tone, the film was a sort of new horror film, centered on suburban life at night. With snarling dogs, police radio running commentary, and low quality footage, the film turns a new eye on the outlook on infrastructure and societal life, with menace.  

There was a fascinating progression to the order of films; starting with a supremely positive and even chipper look into the workings of trades and infrastructures with Trade Tattoo by Len Lye (1937), to the unnerving sense given off by films such as Stratman’s or Goeringer’s. Each of the nine films provided the audience a different commentary on infrastructure, and woven together, they depicted an idea of infrastructure and order both safe and terrifying at the same time. The screening as a whole provided the audience with not only multiple outlooks and perceptual outlooks on the inner workings and meanings of infrastructure itself, but also in the visual and malleable storytelling abilities of film.

—Kelcy Rolak, rolakkel@msu.edu

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