Marta Popivoda, Tempo, 2006, video
The vocabulary of music denotes “tempo” (in Italian time) as the cadence in performing a music piece. Marta Popivoda’s short film “Tempo” (2006) employs the term on two levels. On the one hand, “Tempo” is – suggestively enough – one of the largest hypermarkets in Belgrade, coming to us with the transition following the “October 5 Revolution” in 2000. The “plot” (hyper-shopping sequence) is situated in the eponymous hypermarket, perceived as a paradigm of the new social era succeeding “Milošević’s Serbia.” On the other hand, the film/composition engages in a post-production processing of raw documentary footage, focusing on tempo as its basic element. Its documentarism is, accordingly, “spoiled,” and – in a Brechtian fashion – “estranged” in the post-produced speeding up and slowing down of the real-time narrative and action, bringing about artificiality which lays bare their respective ideological dimensions.
The assortment of products for everyday use (sour cream, toilet paper, fruit juices, hygiene accessories…) displayed on the cashier’s desk are fetishized; they are shot in close-up, with largo and adagio slow motion, providing enough time for their (senseless?) contemplation by the viewers. The slow tempo is suddenly broken – accelerando reveals a new image. In the background of the “objects,” merchandise, it is time for people action. The long shot features a multitude of people, possibly signifying a social situation or even, potentially, a revolutionary multitude – however, this is not what they are. In the allegro fast-forward mode, they appear as a sum total of individuals, consumers consumed with shopping. There are no relations or communication between them, that sum total is atomized and depoliticized, reduced to the sole provision of bare necessities. And life goes on at a fast, very fast, ever speeding pace, while the faces of the individuals get effaced in the presto mode of the raving camera failing to maintain its outer point of focalization. Afterwards, the imagery gets pacified, transformed, the liminal moment is missed, and at a walking pace we encounter another image of shopping – the packing of merchandise after passing the cashier, in plastic bags branded “Tempo.” In a social sense, hypermarkets are there to establish normality, amassing merchandise at one spot to provide us – those effaced faces (of social subjects) in the crowd – with a “life,” while sparing our valuable time (The time we had wasted at political rallies throughout the 1990s?).
The image is contaminated by the sound – here we have to return to the basic concept in the filmmaking – that is “tempo.” In the first part of the film, as we are watching an endless stream of products on a conveyor belt, the sound is clearly political (Brane Zorman1). Connoisseurs of the local context will easily recognize the sounds of the “political 1990s”; noise from the anti-regime demonstrations, the opening credits and voices of anchormen of RTS 1 (Radio Television Serbia) prime time evening news – the basic ideological apparatus of Milošević’s regime – namely, the sounds of city streets in turmoil and conflict. As for those who are not acquainted with the specific social situation of Serbia, they are also exposed to the public animato “sound of politics.” The soundtrack counterpoints the action – loud, irritating, excited, the voices mingle, stir, creating tension around the fetishized objects on the belt featured in slow motion. One of the most irritating sounds comes from a telephone ringing, ringing, and ringing the entire time, while no one is there to answer… Perhaps “someone” (me, you, he, she, we…?) will eventually wake up. But, no. The phone keeps ringing, and “someone” is still sleeping…
With the change of imagery and tempo, the soundtrack also changes. The same procedure of contrasting image and sound and their time flow is repeated. In the second part of the film, the accelerating crowd of consumers is counter-posed with the slow tempo of the vintage pop hit Wonderful Life by the British band Black. After a temporary relief of tension by introducing a familiar lyrical pop sound and passing from close-up to long shots, another act of ideological estrangement follows, featuring sound (music) in a key role. The political 1990s were succeeded by the consumer 2000s. They are neither post-political nor post-ideological – quite the contrary. Consumerism does not offer us new social master narratives; nevertheless it does promise us something – something quite palpable, simple, easily acceptable, individual: “wonderful life.” With that discrete ideological maneuver, the neo-liberal capitalism made us – in the strict sense of the word – “idiots.” Endless choice of merchandise as an alternative to freedom of choice about what life might be. Choice about what we can do. What we can do together.
1 The soundtrack is the work of the composer Brane Zorman featured in the performance Ballettikka Internettikka: BEO Guerrиllиkka (Igor Štromajer & Brane Zorman, Belgrade, Serbia, 2005)
Dr. Ana Vujanović is theoretician, lecturer and editor of the journal TkH. She lives and works in Belgrade, Serbia.
Marta Popivoda is a video artist and freelance cultural worker mostly engaged within Walking Theory (TkH) platform from Belgrade (www.tkh-generator.net).