Part of our ongoing Film Portal series, Anna Siemienkiewicz brings us Guy Sherwin’s short film Man with Mirror (1976/2011).This experimental, visually striking art piece confuses our senses and evokes insights about time and identity.
In 1976, experimental filmmaker Guy Sherwin started a bold project by recording himself performing choreographed movements with a mirror. During the 10 minute clip, the camera captures his cautious manipulation of the mirror which alternately shows Sherwin and the vast natural space around him, or at times partially blocks the view with a white, non-reflective side of the mirror. Thirty-five years later, in 2011, the project was completed through a live collaboration between Sherwin and the original recording. The final piece consists of the 1975 version of Man with Mirror projected onto Sherwin, with mirror in hand, who tries to match his movements with the original. This disruptive play with screens and surfaces that exist outside typical cinematic space is an established practice of expanded cinema, which uses unconventional means like breaking the fourth wall and involving the audience to “expand” the viewer’s perception.
Man with Mirror uses a minimalist approach that produces a visually complex filmic environment. The spectators’ perspective constantly shifts between being hypnotized in a meditative state and stepping back to figure out how this visually striking performance works from a technical standpoint.
Disregarding special effects and advanced devices and instead relying on a Super 8 projector and creativity, Sherwin paints a restless vision of reality not firmly set in time or space. Like other practitioners of expanded cinema, he redefines the cinematic concept of framing where mirror reflections give us deliberately limited access to a 360 degrees space of two different settings and times at once, overlapping one another. Time and space, past and future, light and shadow, recorded and live sounds are blending into a puzzling, indissoluble mixture. For these approximately 10 minutes, then is now, here is there and vice versa.
Undoubtedly, apart from the experimental aesthetics, Man with Mirror further opens a vast territory for an in-depth, symbolic interpretation. What is even more interesting is that the performance was not meant to take place 35 years after the initial recording. The turn of circumstances that led to this unplanned delay, however, gives a brand new meaning to the final version of the film. Now we deal with two kinds of Guy Sherwin placed in different times and different settings, blending together.
This juxtaposition of young and old can be seen as a tale about the passing of time, evolving identity, growing old or alternatively about maintaining some kind of inner coherence in the process of change. The parallel, fusing worlds of bright nature and dark interior bring to mind such oppositions as innocence and corruption, hope and resignation, ignorance and wisdom. The film leaves us with a quite powerful, nostalgic feeling, which it is not that easy to shake off.
Watch Man with Mirror here.
Author: Anna Siemienkiewicz is a senior at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where she studies English and Moving Image Arts. This Winter she is the Programs Assistant Intern at Facets.