In Shelly Silver’s “frog spider hand horse house,” the effort of all things to keep existing has been observed by someone with a camera who seems, as far as personality goes, to be no one. This acutely neutral watcher—curious and patient, pushing very close and holding steady there registers the super-focused effort of all creatures toward the expression of vitality, the stubborn going-on in time of particularly shaped and textured bodies. Animate gesture captivates the moving-image artist: A wide-winged bat, agile and awkward at the same time, clambers up the netting of a net. A horse turns its broad white face toward the lens. A frog slowly expels something disgusting, teenagers in chorus practice harmonies, a pianist runs through Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 106, Adagio sostenuto. But life is not the only measure of change-in-time, and Silver watches the multicolored frog-kite drifting out of frame, or the road-killed squirrel nestling on the asphalt, with as much attention as she gives to comfy middle-aged white people learning t’ai chi, or first graders being trained to play nicely together in their circle-game. They might not notice that their song describes the mechanism of the universe:
Round and round the earth is turning
Turing always round til morning
And from morning round til night…
Silver calls this film “a fairytale without a tale without a fairy.” But if a tale builds toward a moral, and a fairy touches circumstances with beneficent or baneful magic, couldn’t the recording apparatus, the dispositif of film, be the agent of fable in this case? It’s filmmaking, here, that makes sequential meaning out of one-thing-then-another. It’s filmmaking that proposes: Even the decaying, the very normal, the locked-up—like two dogs trapped in a second-story room, barking out the window that’s been left open a crack are magnets for the camera’s composing and intensifying gaze.