Alejandro González Iñárritu Goes VHS with His Experimental Short 'Naran Ja'
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Academy Award nominated director of Biutiful, Babel, and 21 Grams, is well-known for his gritty and realistic style. In his new short film Naran Ja (One Act Orange Dance), he takes that style to a completely different level. Iñárritu was invited to a rehearsal of the L.A. Dance Project's Moving Parts, and he decided to document an excerpt of the dance in an experimental way on VHS. Most of us might be shooting on pristine digital formats now, but there's something about VHS that is unlike any other format out there. This piece isn't for everyone, and when I say experimental, I mean experimental -- so with that in mind, click through to check out the video.
Produced with the help of The Creators Project, here's a bit of what Iñárritu said about the project:
Benjamin’s choreography is both sensual and melancholic. The features of the dancers are unique and noble, as are their bodies. When I saw a rehearsal, I felt a sense of urgency, sex, and violent introspection. A long time ago I had this idea of somebody finding herself in an eternal loop, going down a hill. A kind of physiological limbo...Dance is a difficult subject to shoot. A lot is lost with just two dimensions. In dance everything is about rhythm, and rhythm is about flow. Flowing visually in one continuous shot was my objective and the only way I could have conceived this exercise. It has to do with the point of view and the mind of the protagonist. Here, it is the audio that tells us a parallel story. Shooting it was really enjoyable and extremely liberating.
Iñárritu went on to explain why he chose to use a VHS camera instead of shooting on a newer digital camera:
VHS texture is for digital what grain used to be for film...Digital and most film stock is so sleek now, that everything looks very plastic and unnatural. We have lost the skin of the images. Cameras reproduce reality much more sharply than my eyes can see and that’s why it looks fake...I thought this $39 VHS camera reproduced and exquisite, moshy-moshy, beautiful, horrific greeny-yellowish skin that triggered my emotional memory of TV series from the 70s. I loved it.
As for the technical execution of the video, some of the glitches were performed in post, with the film going through both Smoke and Flame, and the rest was done in-camera. The entire film was digitized on set, to help preserve the image, and the rest of the effects were handled by the LA branch of The Mill, who has been featured a number of times on this site already.
Many will find this boring, ridiculous, or pointless. That's the beauty of the creative arts -- that someone, somewhere will be able to see exactly what you wanted them to see -- even if many don't. In the age of the internet, it's easy to not make it all the way through such videos, and I have certainly been guilty of it. Even if you don't care for it, I believe the approach and the philosophy behind the piece is just as interesting. Anything that can liberate you creatively can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be as simple as going out on a limb and letting yourself be inspired by something you've never shot before.
For those of you who liked the video, what did you think about it? Did you feel like Iñárritu succeeded in conveying his ideas? For anyone who doesn't normally enjoy experimental works, if you liked this one, what made it different from others you've seen?