It is very likely that the way you think crime is solved or hospitals work is influenced by movies and series you have seen. Luckily, other input tells us that hospitals aren’t filled with McDreamies messing around in the closets and not all crime scenes are covered in fingerprints and semen just waiting for a witty detective with sunglasses to connect the dots. But the border between the realms of fiction and non-fiction can definitely be blurry from time to time. Nicolas Provost’s series, Plot Point, intentionally blurs this division, merging the two worlds. The video artist analyses and manipulates the laws of Hollywood, exploring the rules and borders of genres and experimenting with editing techniques, sound, narrative and plot. His works are deconstructions of the cinematic form and a beautiful tribute to the silver screen. In his short, poetic videos he evokes cinema using the codes and grammar of its language, but without offering cheap thrills.
A key example of his refined methodology is the Plot Point series, which to date consists of two episodes, one set in New York, one in Las Vegas. Using a hidden high-resolution camera, Provost secretly films unsuspecting people as they go about their daily activities: they look around, talk on the phone, have conversations, or simply wait for the traffic light to turn green. The camera captures their expressions, but also the city lights, billboards, and other scenery. This documentary footage is then transformed into a fiction film through the editing process; the seemingly random footage is cross cut to suggest a story full of intrigue. The charged narrative feel is increased by a soundtrack including voiceover and sound effects. Looks are suddenly loaded with meaning and everyone in the city is part of something about to happen. You start connecting unrelated events, using hints from the framing and musical cues. The cinematic experience is successfully evoked without the story actually going anywhere. The films push the right buttons and create a certain suspense that makes the audience sit on the edge of their seats, but leaves them puzzled when there is no plot to be discovered.
The first chapter in the series, set in New York, with the NYPD as its focus is also called Plot Point (2007) and has got all the ingredients of a successful thriller. From the start you feel that something is about to happen. The atmosphere is tense and everybody looks at each other suspiciously. Despite a definite tension curve there are no real “plot points” around which the story revolves. There seems to be a climax when seemingly all of the police cars in New York pull out at once (a cross cutting of events that in reality are probably unrelated), but still the mystery remains unrevealed. Stardust (2010) is the second part of the trilogy, set in Las Vegas, sin city, the perfect backdrop for a crime story. The concept is the same but this time there is more dialogue, which again is only added in post-production. People seem to conspire and discuss assassinations and kidnappings. The image of a blinded limo coupled with an overheard conversation about killing someone or a well-timed gunshot is enough to let us know what’s going on in there. Yet this suggested information doesn’t really increase our knowledge of what’s going on. Nevertheless, the suspense is there. In Stardust the confusion between fiction and non-fiction increases when movie stars like Jack Nicholson, Jon Voigt and Dennis Hopper (ironically his last appearance in a movie) make guest appearances. Some of them are directed by Provost; others are filmed unaware.
The third part of the Plot Point series is currently in production, only with a slight change of tactics. Instead of non-fiction entering the cinema, a fictional character steps out of the movies into real life. As an actor walks throughout Tokyo, Provost films him with a hidden camera. Unsuspecting citizens are not aware that he’s a fictional character: a serial killer. So if you happen to be in Tokyo, be aware of danger lurking around every corner!
NIMk is currently partnering with the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam to exhibit the first two episodes in the Plot Point series. While the unconventional exhibition space at the Muziekgebouw arguably does the films a disservice, I recommend filtering out the disappointing space. These films are worth the journey in spite of the venue.
(All Images: Nicolas Provost, "Stardust", 2010, film stills, 19'52"; Courtesy of NIMk and the artist)