Sydney Film Festival Review: Station to Station (USA, 2014)

StationtoStation

Station to Station isn’t so much a feature film as it is a travelling art experiment, the execution of a concept born years prior that is now travelling the globe. The film documents a train as it travelled from the Atlantic (we presume Union Station in NYC) to the Pacific (we presume Union Station in Los Angeles) in 2013, picking up vagabonds, artists and musicians along the way, forming a moving art experiment.

Original music, art and performances were created across 24 days as the train navigated the country, joining 10 physical “Happenings” along the route – where performance and festival like experiences saw the likes of Mavis Staples, Beck, THEESatisfactions, Dan Deacon, Suicide and many more providing electric performances as the train glowed nearby; covered in lights and art (see: How Am I Driving?).

As the journey progressed, 62 one minute short films were created, each with a different theme or subject matter. Some were created in collaboration with another artist, showcasing their work, while others saw the director and creator of the project Doug Aitken speaking with an artist or exploring spaces on and off the tracks.

Though the film doesn’t flow in any sort of chronological order, and repeats footage along the way (which seemed a bit redundant given the limited screen time), you get sucked into the world of art, music and experiment Aitken has created. 60 seconds has never felt like such a short amount of time, and indeed, many of the interviews and performances deserved more than the minute they were provided. So in that respect, did the concept work? It did – it created an engaging piece of art, and ultimately and interesting piece of filmmaking. But it was a concept flawed in its origins.

If the experiment was designed to provide a unique space, ever changing for the artists involved, shouldn’t the film have adapted accordingly? The rudimentary 60 second designation seemed to be a limitation that worked against the very aesthetic they were attempting to create on board the moving space. One of freedom and exploration. One of transience and originality. But I suppose that is what makes it an experiment of art. What will happen when something so free is bound by such rules, and how will it look when all the pieces come together?

It doesn’t look bad. Often it looked beautiful. And there were moments of true aesthetic pleasure – not to mention some great music along the way (you can never have enough Mavis Staples in your life). But it was a concept that deserved to achieve more than it set out to, ultimately robbing the audience of something that could have been truly special.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Station to Station screened tonight at the Sydney Film Festival, where it was reviewed.