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Timecode, Titanic & Tony Oursler

The four earthquakes that happen simultaneously in each of the screens and puncture the narrative make Timecode, Mike Figgis’ 2000 quarter-split-screen-fractionated feature, an unclassified disaster film. Earthquakes in Timecode unite the four screens, four times throughout the film, despite their separate plot lines and disjointed soundscapes. The cameras shake and the characters all react, bracing themselves on the unstable earth, the editors and script supervisors rejoice at the sweet alignment. Mike Figgis fabricated four earthquakes to help in the syncing process. I find this disaster analogy presented by Timecode really unique, no matter how gimmicky the structure or absent the story, because it presents disaster as a punctuation, a tool for temporary amalgamation, a method for syncing, irruption and interruption. Non hyperbolic disaster films may draw attention to irregular shot lengths which emphasise editing - perhaps creating unease in the viewer. In the case of “Lapses” in film, characters may seem aware of the jump-cut, confused or caught off-guard by the sudden passage of time.32 However in timecode there are no cuts, each of the four screens present single take shots. The continuous shot is meant to create a feeling of immersion and realism. In removing the “cut” from the film, Figgis invites the viewer to create their own interruptions,  editing the film in “real-time” by moving their attention from screen to opposing screen.


The opportunity for a fragmented view, and potential to rectify and renew, that is what we adore about the destruction of a city, the offer that if the disaster is grand enough we may get to witness an impaired society implode, the levelled ground presenting a foundation to start anew (destruction as a creative act). On September 11th, 2001 Tony Oursler stood on multiple named streets (identified in the film via title card) he visited Canal Street, Houston & 6th avenue, Broadway and Fulton all to watch the Twin Towers burn and eventually fall. Watching his film 9/11 (2001, 57:51)33 you get the sense that he was looking for the perfect view, while stunned witnesses wandered aimlessly or jogged, or ran or waited impatiently in line for the phone booth, Oursler walked with journalistic purpose, to capture the event from ALL its angles, perhaps in hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the event, or catching something missed. At 7 minutes and 30 seconds he turns to his neighbouring watcher who is fixated on the North Tower. The man says that he was meant to be up there, Oursler asks “which floor” and he replies “the 79th”. The man says he was always early to work but happened to miss his train that morning, a survival story you tend to hear over and over from that day from folk who were “supposed” to be up there. The man wonders about his colleagues. The search for missing people in the days following the events of September 11th reference verticality in a concrete way, “Last seen on the 9th, 45th, 62nd, 103rd floor” the proximity to the 93rd floor and up was what mattered, as the first plane landed between the 93rd and 99th floors. This experience of locating oneself vertically is not a common one outside of cities, yet it is recurring in disaster contexts. The Titanic is the perfect example of a horizontal perspective quickly and fatally shifting to the vertical perspective. When the tower fell its outline, steel armature hovered in the sky before it turned to dust. On September 12th the perspective remained vertical, splitting airspace with jurisdiction, the ground from the underground from the above.

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