Just a second

A Eye for Details, by Wim Wenders, from The Beauty of a Second

How short can a film be and still be a film? We had a discussion here a little while ago on a seven frame fragment of an 1897 film, and whether it still counted as a lost film or not. Compared to seven frames, a whole second of film may seem practically epic, and one second is the length of the films currently on show at The Beauty of a Second.

This is a competition website, launched by Montblanc, a producer of watches and other fine goods, to mark the invention 190 years ago of the chronograph, a pocket watch accurate to one fifth of a second. The competition invites any interested to film anything, just so long as the subject is precisely one second long (and in 16:9 format).

The competition has been running since September 23rd, and is divided into three rounds, with the current one open from November 16th to December 13th, should you wish to participate. The 20 videos in each round that get the most votes from people visiting the site go through to a final, which is to be judged by none other than Wim Wenders. Wenders is also the judge for a side competition to create a playlist out of the submitted videos (for 2 to 60 seconds long), adding a soundtrack from the Montblanc audio library.

It’s a beautifully designed site, with the videos artfully arranged around a clockface. You can view the videos individually or as a set, which as each one last a second may be preferable. Though some have sounds, even music in one or two cases, most are silent, and I think we can see this as yet another instance of modern silent artistry. Because while most of the videos are essentially snapshots with a wobble, more than a few of the videos do artfully catch the eye in the instant that they have in which to do so.

I warmly recommend browsing through the main competitition entries and the playlists, though if the number of seconds you can spare is few, then you should go to the Inspiration section, where a number of model one-second videos are on show to demonstrate what can be done. Some of these are made by Wenders himself, and are a delight – see for example his film An Eye for Details, in which a woman turns her head, with her eyes coming briefly into focus (literally for a split-second) before going out of focus once more. It is witty, observant, a hymn to the instant.

It would good to see other filmmakers of note presented with such a challenge. I expect it is an idea that someone else will pick up on, in time.

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