If Project X used architectural documentation to demonstrate the groundwork for corporate dystopia then The Woolworths Choir of 1979 uses floor plans as remnants of what used to be. It almost feels like a cop out, that two films that are so brutally staged and mapped out are also the most rhythmic of their respective years, plotting landscapes and structures in less than twenty minutes as a beacon extending from the present. In Elizabeth Price's case this is achieved less mathematically, but by instead sacrificing a narrative through-line such that even with three distinct chapters this Turner Prize short has a playfulness and whimsical approach to such a serious topic that it paradoxically opens a new form of art.
I can't even start writing about the visuals without discussing the sound. Even before the first image explodes into life half a minute of time passes before a sharp click emerges. The clicks them repeat seemingly irrthymically. In 20 minutes you get no sense of what patterns the sound is taking. Viewed in a gallery, the irregularities artificially extend time, the sound cues that condition the brain to follow movement are inconsistently interrupted like a drop of water hitting your forehead. This motif is so brilliant I have no idea how it took until 2012 for someone to fully utilise it and it is only backed up further by stronger images.
The next revelation comes in the form of a Dipytch that extends content space wise rather than time wise. Dipytchs have been used for layering effect in the past such as Toshio Matsumoto's For My Damaged Right Eye and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls but these were only used for parallel imagery. Woolworths Choir chooses to expand these effect further. The rapid pacing starts with a clone image, a one second blanket of security then cutting to Image Left Side, Text Right Side like in an art book. The image duplicates, the clicking distracts you while the image adjusts, like a magic trick. Furniture is probed from different angles, examined, annotated, positioned in the area, all in the span of frames. By the end of the 8 minute section you know the entire structure of the church from the parclose at the front to the foilate carving adjuring every corner. But even then the frame cuts from an imitation decor explanation to a literal one in a book, the lines shown horizontally folding into the top of the frame even contrast the frames own split in other shots. It's uneven enough not to be its own quadrants but has enough structure to operate in a fantasy zone where you know what comes next but not where, when or how (even the clicks are later imposed with drum beat, tamborine shakes, choir singing, nothing is left alone).
The film still goes even further than that! in between somehow finding the time to include 20 second long static shots of decorations that feel longer than the entirety of Satantango, the film slowly descends into it's version of Hell as a figure. The screen flashes red, dancing begins. The choir gives way to pop culture juxtapositions but not of any regular recognisable form as commands appear on screen. Treated as any other archetype this would boring, inoffensive, played out and ridiculed as is so often the case but here it's a complete detachment of the already detached. Part of the reason is the innovation over time, colour is added, the music becomes more contemporary, there's a shot of a camera zooming out of a vectored recreation of the building that's more profound than anything to emerge from the digital datastream and it's tossed at the viewer like an afterthought. Then the tripytch cross crosses images, switching black and white to colour, the text displays flow through shades of teal, green, gray, anything and everything is covered.
After the construction of the new form comes it's demise. The known archives have culminated in the a building, and now the building will burn. The wicker man (in this case a church that became a Woolworths) represents a tentpole between social history and social fantasy. The structure's weaknesses are given in hindsight and it's prevent-ability becomes apparent. At this point the images reach a peak, the editing mashes in bright white screens as bursts of light explode from the seems, the dipytch alternates black and white and colour once more but this time the colour lingers on, subdued yet so much more vibrant than what came before it. By the time it's over, all that's left is credits and smoke, a fitting ending to a perfect film.