LOW DEFINITION CONTROL

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by Michael Palm

grade: 8

Divided into seven chapters, Low Definition Control focuses mainly on the work that major institutions – see, for instance, the police or even medicine itself – do to ensure that any aspect of our daily lives is constantly monitored. And so, slowly, the act of watching is put under the spotlight. The act of watching perfectly observed in parallel with cinema itself and the connotations it has taken on in the post-modern era, where nothing is concealed from the eye of the spectator anymore and where it is the spectator himself who wants to see more. More and more.

Dawn of the Dead

We are all under constant surveillance. This is a fact. Yet it immediately takes on a more disturbing aspect the moment we are confronted with reality. In this regard, the experimental documentary Low Definition Control – directed by Michael Palm in 2011 and part of the section Sehnsucht 2020 – Eine kleine Stadterzählung, which should have been part of the Diagonale 2020 and which, following the cancellation of the festival was partly reintroduced as part of the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished – patiently investigates every aspect and possible implication of the conditions in which we live, thanks to a skilful and subtle work with images – many of them taken directly from surveillance camera recordings, others shot live, now digitally, now even in Super8.

Divided into seven chapters, Low Definition Control focuses mainly on the work that major institutions – see, for instance, the police or even medicine itself – do to ensure that every aspect of our daily lives is constantly monitored. There is absolutely nothing that can escape their control. And how does society, for its part, react? Simple: it doesn’t react. Totally unaware that certain fundamental rights – above all, the right to privacy – have been taken away from it, today’s society sees citizens of all ages completely enraptured by images, eager to see everything they are given to see. A reality, this one, that mainly concerns big city life and, in this regard, Michael Palm has focused, in his Low Definition Control, precisely on Vienna.

A series of aerial shots taken in the streets of the city centre, where we see people walking, meeting, taking part in sporting events, perfectly unaware of the fact that there are people constantly watching them from above. Dubbing the images, voice-overs belonging to scientists, professors and sociologists who analyse this particular period in which we live. In this regard, the director’s decision to adopt a constant black and white colour (with the exception of sporadic moments recorded directly from surveillance monitors) is particularly apt, a sign that society itself, so comfortable in this new way of existing, so lazy in reacting and rebelling, is actually populated by a series of ‘living dead’, as the title of the last chapter also indicates. What, then, has become of the society of yesteryear? The Super8 footage showing freeze-frames of some people suddenly looking into the camera – complete with references to both François Truffaut’s cinema and, more specifically, that of Chris Marker – speaks for itself.

And so, slowly, the act of watching itself is put under the spotlight. The act of watching observed perfectly in parallel with cinema itself and with the connotations it has taken on in the postmodern era, where there is now nothing concealed from the spectator’s eye and where it is the spectator himself who wants to see more. More and more.

At the same time, however, something strange happens: while we are all visible and traceable through the surveillance cameras, when Michael Palm’s camera films reality, human beings are shown almost as shadows, constantly backlit, as if all that remained of them and their very essence was just a memory (the scene in which we see numerous visitors, strictly backlit, contemplating an enormous aquarium is particularly impressive).

Yet, in this interesting Low Definition Control, everything is in its way staged with a certain lyricism. And this is especially the case as we approach the finale, when a longed-for return to nature, to our origins, proves to be the best solution in order to regain contact with ourselves. But will it be so easy to go back to being what we were before, or have the technologies progressed so far that it is impossible to free ourselves from them? To react to all this, all we need is finally decide to rebel. Which is almost improbable.

Original title: Low Definition Control – Malfunctions #0
Directed by: Michael Palm
Country/year: Austria / 2011
Running time: 96’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Michael Palm
Cinematography: Michael Palm
Produced by: hammelfilm

Info: the page of Low Definition Control on the website of the Diagonale; the page of Low Definition Control on iMDb