7.1/10
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2 user 1 critic

Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard (1952)

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A visually elegant study of water on a schoolyard playground.

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A visually elegant study of water on a schoolyard playground.

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The Goldberg Variations
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performed by Wanda Landowska
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Art in Asphalt: A Definitive Experimental Film
17 February 2004 | by (Savannah, Georgia) – See all my reviews

Blacktop is one of the most purely experimental films I have ever seen. Though it does have a distinct beginning and end and claims to be a "story", it lacks many of the entertaining virtues of conventional film, and exists primarily as an exploration.

For starters, the film contains nothing more than soapy water washing across the blacktop of a school play yard. Though it may not seem like enough content to justify the length of the film, Ray and Charles Eames manage to frame close-ups that are compelling compositionally.

After some time, it becomes apparent that more than just the liquid is moving. There are many layers, each moving at different relative speeds. There is asphalt, then water, then soap bubbles. In many shots, small bits of debri are consumed by the flood, also moving at their own individual pace. Add the movement to the camera to these, and suddenly it becomes difficult to discern which layer is stationary. In one wide tracking shot, the camera moves at the same pace as the water while framing the wide expanse of runoff. When the camera comes to a stop, suddenly it feels like it is drifting backwards, even though it is only the surrounding water that is moving.

Discoveries such as this and many more are what make Blacktop a successful experimental film. I was comfortably absorbed after three minutes of watching. If I recall correctly, it was accompanied by awkward organ music, and you may want to select your own soundtrack. If you can see more than just water and blacktop, I suggest you check out the cloud sequences in Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio's experimental epic.

Overall, this film succeeds in every way that it possibly can; it finds art where there previously was none. Whether or not this is enough for you, I cannot say.


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