Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round

When I think of Structural film my mind goes right to Paul Sharits’ T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G. This is probably due to the fact that T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G meets all of Sitney’s requirements to be considered structural. It was also the only film that I feel physically assaulted me so, that probably helps it stand out in my mind. Going forward into my perception of structural films, I think of slow, simple, often intentionally frustrating films where the form is more important than the content. I enjoyed Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round, though it didn’t exactly fit my understanding of the definition of structural film. I’m going to analyze the film in terms of Sitney’s definition of structural film and then give a personal response to the work overall.

Sitney states that there are four characteristics inherent to structural film. The first characteristic is that the camera is fixed. The camera does not tilt, pan, or zoom: it stays static throughout. The second characteristic is that there is a strobe or flicker effect used. Looping, or repetition, is the third characteristic. Lastly, some type of retouching needs to be done to the film in post-production. While not listed directly by Sitney, it is usually the case that structural films value form over content.

In Bridges-Go-Round, the camera is definitely not fixed. There are zooms, pans, and all different kinds of camera movement. Also, I didn’t observe any kind of flicker effect. Certain shots are shown, again and again, mixing in and being superimposed over an inverted version of itself or a completely different shot. This takes care of the repetition and retouching requirements. Finally, form is definitely valued over content here. The focus of the film is how these different images are played with and presented. I don’t think you’d be inclined to find much of a narrative here.

While it doesn’t quite meet all the requirements I can definitely see how it would be considered structural. Sitney takes care to note that all requirements needn’t be met in order for a film to be considered structural. Very few films that are widely considered structural actually meet all of them. There are many experimental films that could be considered structural that generally aren’t. I suppose a lot of it has to do with these films not being created in the timeframe and realm of the intent of the Structuralists in the ’60.

At any rate, I really enjoyed Bridges-Go-Round. As I said before, there is a lot of camera movement. With the superimposition of the images, it was really hard to tell what was moving, what wasn’t, and where the camera was going. It was quite hypnotizing to watch. Clarke also chose the right length for the film. A lot of structural filmmakers seemed to bring back the idea of frustrating the audience from earlier dadaist films. They often did this by providing very little content and an awfully long runtime. Even with both versions playing one after another, Brides-Go-Round easily held my attention the entire time. While I do enjoy the seemingly absurd runtime of some structural films, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this one as much had for an hour.

There are two versions of the film, with the only difference between the two being the score. I definitely prefer the electronic score. With all of the imagery having to do with bridges, the electronic soundtrack seems more appropriate and gives the film more of an ambient mechanical feeling. Being a bit of a synth nerd, I was always interested in the way experimental films seemed to embrace the synthesizer with open arms from early on.

Bridges Go Round was a pleasure to watch and really got me interested in Shirley Clarke’s work. It challenged and enhanced my understanding of the definition of structural film. It was also the first structural film I’ve seen where the visual focus was literal structures. I know there’s a joke in there somewhere.

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