Station to Station: Tracks to Nowhere, by Scott Nye
You ever go to the movies, usually some “art house” venue, and see one of those pre-show pieces spotlighting some hip artist doing some kind of seemingly noble, somewhat unusual work? The artist will talk a lot about his or her “calling” and how they’re just trying to bring the world together? The piece is a mix of interviews – most of which are shot by some omniscient camera that includes other cameras and lighting equipment and stuff, so that they know that you’re “with it” and can’t be taken by this phony set-up, man – and extreme close-ups of whatever the art is. There’s no attention to the craft or process of making the art (maybe a quick shot of their “workshop”), no discussion of its wider impact on the community (aside, of course, from a few shots of smiling onlookers), no real discussion of what the art is even doing. The whole thing is presented in a casually-uplifting vibe to make you go “huh, that’s neat.”
For five minutes, it’s perfectly tolerable. Kick that up to seventy minutes, you’re left wondering when the movie’s supposed to start.
Station to Station is a perfectly noble effort; too noble, perhaps. The basic conceit finds New York artist Doug Aitken traveling cross country by train, stopping at select locations to put on quasi-planned art shows – there might be a concert, dance shows, performance pieces, galleries, anything. Along the way, he made sixty-two one-minute films about various aspects of the experience. Sometimes you’ll get an interview with Jackson Browne; other times a railway engineer; other times footage of the shows; other times…truth be told, I saw this thing only a few days ago, and much of it has slipped away. There’s so little engagement with and single element that it’s impossible for it to make much of an impression. One minute per subject allows no room for anything other than “hey, check this out!” It’s pretty to look at – Aitken can obviously afford good digital gear – but utterly meaningless. All you can glean from it is that these pop-up shows were probably pretty cool and artists are the best people who ever lived. Just don’t go crazy and actually engage with the stuff. Maybe it’d ruin the “magic” or something.
To their credit, there will be some added value at select Los Angeles showings of the film. If you hit up the 7:30 show on Friday at the Nuart, No Age will be giving a musical performance prior to the film. Go to the 9:50 show, you’ll see a performance by White Shadow. If you wander over on Saturday, Sun Araw will do similar honors before the 7:30 show. All take the stage ten minutes before the movie, and Aitken will be present for a Q&A afterward. He’ also be at Cinefile Video on Saturday at 4:30 signing the companion book (maybe Station to Station is like a comic book crossover – you have to get everything for any of it to make sense).
These forms of active engagement seem to be in keeping with what the original journey was all about; I do wish the film conveyed a true sense of that. As it is, it’s not a movie. It’s a trailer for itself, an advertisement for an event that you can’t even go to.