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Faceless (2007 film)

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Directed byManu Luksch
Produced byAmbient Information Systems, Amour Fou Filmproduktion
Written byManu Luksch, Mukul Patel
StarringManu Luksch, William Trevitt, Aadam K. Ahmed
Narrated byTilda Swinton
Music byMukul, Rupert Huber
Edited byManu Luksch
Distributed byAmbient Information Systems
Release date
  • 2007 (2007)
Running time
50 minutes
CountryAustria / UK

Faceless is a 2007 Austrian/British science-fiction film by intermedia artist Manu Luksch that is one manifestation of her six-year long interrogation of CCTV surveillance in the UK[1]. Constructed entirely from surveillance images shot by existing CCTV cameras, obtained under European data protection legislation, its scenario (of a world populated by faceless individuals) and plot derive from the legal and material properties of these images. The film was made under Luksch's Manifesto for CCTV Filmmakers[2], and is included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou and the BFI National Archive.

Plot summary[edit | edit source]

In a society governed by the reformed 'RealTime' calendar, without history or future, all individuals are faceless. One day, a woman (the protagonist, played by Luksch) wakes up with a face. An anonymous letter reveals unsettling information about her past. Panicking, she enlists the help of the 'Spectral Children' to discover the history and power of the human face. Armed with this knowledge, she evades the 'Overseers' and confronts the authority of the 'New Machine'.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Material, theme and process[edit | edit source]

Faceless is constructed entirely from surveillance camera images that Luksch obtained over a period of four years by exercising her rights under the UK Data Protection Act 1998.[3] The filmmaker performed on London streets under CCTV cameras, then sent formal letters to the relevant camera operators demanding a copy of any recordings in which she appeared.[4] The operators were obliged to supply copies after anonymising third parties in the images by redacting their faces, in return for a statutory fee of £10.[5] On account of this accompanying legal superstructure, Luksch describes these images as 'legal readymades'.[6]

The production process stretched over several years, since the acquisition of images under the Data Protection Act proceeded extremely slowly – many of the data requests were met with negative responses, as ‘either the surveillance camera, or the recorder, or the entire CCTV system in question was not operational.’[7]

Aesthetics and form[edit | edit source]

In his essay 'Within the apparatus of control. On the enduring fascination of surveillance aesthetics',[8] Roland Schöny observes that the visual aesthetic of Faceless 'stems from the spatial apparatus of technical surveillance via the eye of the camera, [and is] reminiscent of early forms of video art. The images seem to stem from the past future (...) A constantly flickering image, colour distortion and fragmented sequences, complete with a visible time-code, are all significant elements in this semantic code.' Moreover, '[a]ttention is focused just as much on bustling areas, like underground stations or shopping malls, as on lonely car parks, underground garages or the parched periphery of housing estates, not to mention office premises or lobbies.'[8]

Faceless has no spoken dialogue – a natural consequence of the prohibition of audio surveillance in the UK. Instead, the story is told by a voice-over narrator. The film's soundtrack is almost entirely non-diegetic, comprising electronic and industrial elements composed in 5.1 surround sound to bring depth to the flat, wide-angle CCTV images, contrasted with predominantly stereophonic solo piano recordings.

Various commentators have noted that Luksch's film pays evident homage to Chris Marker's 1962 film La Jetée in its visual pacing and linguistic style.[9] Eric Cazdyn, Professor of Aesthetics and Politics at the University of Toronto, remarks on the two films' complementarity: 'In La Jetée we have a single temporality occuring at different times, while in Faceless we have different temporalities occuring at the same time.'[10] Another influence on Faceless is evident in the ensemble dance sequences, which draw on the kaleidoscopic choreography of Busby Berkeley's musicals.[11]

Whereas Schöny summarises Faceless as a 'poetic narrative on the disappearance of history and identity in the panoptic era,'[8] Robert Buchschwenter characterises it more forcefully as a traumatising 'metanarrative –of a society whose self-understanding is occluded by its dazzling media hyperpresence.'[12]

Filmmaking as détournement[edit | edit source]

Although the scenario of Faceless is fictive, the images are documentary; thus the film may be considered an example of a hybrid fiction/documentary form, in the vein of such works as Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool. Luksch uses the term 'tactical fiction' to describe an approach that hybridizes documentary and fiction to interogate infrastructure and provoke reflection. Faceless accomplishes such détournement through a manifesto-driven legal process. Art and communication scholar Margarida Carvalho locates the work's force in its diversion of CCTV networks 'from their explicit purpose (...), endowing them with an experimental, artistic and activist dimension. (...The] city is transformed into a permanent film set and the act of creation becomes a gesture of appropriation and transformation of the omnipresent gaze of the surveillance cameras. In this context to create is to affectively populate a territory, to rescue it from the barrenness and lethargy in which the non-reciprocated gaze of the surveillance cameras had plunged it.'[13] Carvalho further suggests that the film's ensemble dance sequences express a 'strangeness and poetic activism, evoking the contradictory forces that connect us to the spaces we so often cross and forget to inhabit.'[13]

Home media release[edit | edit source]

A region free DVD with additional features, a Dolby surround 5.1 soundtrack subtitles in Albanian, Bulgarian, Czech, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish has been released in two editions by Ambient Information Systems. The film is also available as video-on-demand in Austria and Germany via filmmit. A limited edition vinyl soundtrack with the full narration has also been released.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "FACELESS - ambientTV.NET". www.ambienttv.net.
  2. "VERTIGO - The Filmmaker as Symbiont". www.closeupfilmcentre.com.
  3. “Movie makes director star of CCTV.” BBC News, 15 May 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  4. Motevalli, Golnar. “‘Video sniffers’ subverting surveillance for art.” Reuters, 27 May 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  5. Dodson, Sean. “The secret art of video sniffing. Real-life stars of CCTV.” The Guardian, 25 April 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  6. Luksch, Manu. The FACELESS Project 2002–2008. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  7. Luksch, Manu and Mukul Patel. “Faceless: Chasing the Shadow.” Ars Electronica 2007. Goodbye Privacy, edited by Brian Holmes et al, Hatje Cantz, 2007.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Roland Schöny. 'Within the apparatus of control. On the enduring fascination of surveillance aesthetics.' Translated by Helen Ferguson,
  9. Thomsen, Bodil Marie. "The Performative Uses of the Surveillance Archive in Manu Luksch's Works." Performing Archives / Archives of Performance, edited by Borggreen, Gunhild and Rune Gade, Museum Tusculanum Press, 2013, pp. 257-273.
  10. Cazdyn, Eric. The Already Dead. The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness. Duke UP, 2012, p. 97.
  11. The Eye – Choreography for Surveilled Space. Directed by Manu Luksch. UK, 2005. Available on the Faceless DVD.
  12. Buchschwenter, Robert. "Angstbilder gegen die Angst." Translated by Steve Wilder as "Images of Fear, against Fear." Ambient Information Systems, edited by Luksch, Manu and Mukul Patel, AIS, 2009, pp. 268-69.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Carvalho, Margarida. "Affective Territories." INFLeXions No. 3 - Micropolitics: Exploring Ethico-Aesthetics, edited by Himada, Nasrin, Erin Manning and Leslie Plumb, October 2009. Retrieved 6 September 2017.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Category:2000s science fiction films Category:2007 films Category:Dystopian films Category:British science fiction films Category:Metaphysical fiction films Category:Time travel films Category:Time loop films Category:Films set in London

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