'This Does Not Die' is a cinematographic work that examines the power of musical themes on dramatic effect. In This Does Not Die artist Roiy Nitzan and musician Avishai Cohen offer a personal interpretation of father and son dynamics, contemplating inter-generational relationships.
This Does Not Die is a short, 8-minute film screened in a loop. Its editing prevents the viewers from realising when it goes back to its start—i.e., there is no starting point. The film lasts forever. The accompanying musical piece, “Intent,” lasts seven minutes and is also played in a loop, from an external audio source (rather than the synchronised soundtrack used in cinema). As a result, whenever one views the work, the link between picture and soundtrack is different.
During the first minutes of watching, we construct a world. We understand the place, recognise the figures, hypothesise the situation. But This Does Not Die requires that we continue watching the ongoing loop and notice the process whereby the cinematic language is distilled into its basic elements. This is a work whose language seems primary (shot/reverse-shot), but its simple syntax and vocabulary exposes layers of associations and connotations
The work depicts not a sequence of time but rather a frozen fraction of a second.
just like the sparkler, Which burns, does not expire and stays constant at the center of the frame, whose flickering flame we know must decrease and burn out, and which creates in us a sense of a countdown frozen mid-way.
'This Does Not Die' was presented at the Tel Aviv Museum Of Art 2017 as a solo exhibition by Roiy Nitzan & Avishai Cohen
by Yair Raveh
The match that lit the fuse that ignited the creation of This Does Not Die was struck about ten years ago. It happened in New York. Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, a widely acclaimed contemporary Jazz musician, heard poet Susan Scutti reading her poem “Intent” at an open-mike night, and decided to set it to music. He played the demo recording to his friend, video artist Roiy Nitzan, who is in charge of the screenings in Cohen’s shows. Nitzan was enchanted by Cohen’s haunting music. When performing the song in Cohen’s shows, Nitzan and Cohen began experimenting with juxtaposing the sounds and the screened images. Once, images of a birthday party were attached to the quiet, reflective music, and it was then that something came together to create the core of the joint video/music work. Cohen and Nitzan’s video work This Does Not Die is the result of this encounter between the sounds and images that whizzed about in the duo’s heads over the past ten years and it was thanks to this work that Nitzan finally persuaded Cohen to enter a studio and to record the song officially.
This Does Not Die is a short, 8-minute film screened in a loop. Its editing prevents the viewers from realizing when it goes back to its start—i.e., there is no starting point. The film lasts forever. The accompanying musical piece, “Intent,” lasts seven minutes and is also played in a loop, from an external audio source (rather than the synchronized soundtrack used in cinema). As a result, whenever you view the work, the link between picture and soundtrack is different. This is one of the deconstruction processes that Nitzan and Cohen examine in their work: the way the sound and the image connect and disconnect. The decision not to shorten the film to fit the song (or lengthen the song to fit the film) but rather to let each move around in independent, asynchronous circles around each other, makes this encounter between music and image an element with a certain sense of randomness.
Cohen’s music shifts between the melancholy and the pensive, so that moments in the film that engender one emotional effect might take on a different effect in the next cycle. The calculation of possibilities is this: in order to go through all options of image/soundtrack encounters, you must watch This Does Not Die for 56 continuous minutes. Each cycle offers a wholly different work.
This Does Not Die was filmed in a studio in south Tel Aviv over half a day in January 2017. At first, the camera shot the gaze and reactions of Avshalom Polak, playing the father. Then, shots were taken of the child (Tom Lahav) and of the other figures under the man’s gaze. Five-hundred sparklers were lit on that day, one for each take. Each sparkler burns for about 35 seconds—which dictated the maximal length of each shot. “You’re a digital effects wizard,” I said to Nitzan, “why not create an eternal digital firecracker and save on all the production hassle?” “It’s not the same,” he answered.
Several months later, in June, towards the final editing of the film, Cohen embarked on four sessions of soundtrack recordings in the studio. He almost left behind his most-familiar identifying mark, the trumpet. The muted sound of his highly recognizable trumpet is heard from afar, hinted at, sampled and mixed in the background. What happens in the space beyond the frame is just what happens in the frequencies beyond the sound. Cohen’s trumpet is there only if we imagine it to be there. The negotiation process between image and music is stepped up, like a tug of war: who is doing the pulling? Which is stronger? What contains what? Is Cohen recording a soundtrack for a piece or is Nitzan directing a video for an existing song? Or maybe, after a long process of diffusion, both works in different states of matter have merged into one inseparable piece?
During the first minutes of watching, we construct a world. We understand the place, recognize the figures, hypothesize the situation. But This Does Not Die requires that we continue watching the ongoing loop and notice the process whereby the cinematic language is distilled into its basic elements. This is a work whose language seems primary (shot/reverse-shot), but its simple syntax and vocabulary exposes layers of associations and connotations. We observe the gaze of the figures on screen. We become aware of the editing mechanism, which creates the eye dialogue between the man and the child, each confined within his own frame. And then, as time goes by, we begin to realize that our constructed order is being deconstructed. The man is looking but suddenly it is not the child sitting across the table but an older man. Who is he? And suddenly the child again. And then, for two shots, it’s a different child altogether (played by Lihu Nitzan). And then a woman. Indeed, there is something inherently plastic and artificial about the cinematic mechanism that deconstructs our world to single shots, but nevertheless it provides us with a fluid realistic experience—a sequence of time and space into which we imbue narrative ideas, some interpreted in the text, others implied in it, others totally made up.
What happens, though, when this order is broken? It is then that we realize we may not have been in a realistic world to begin with. Cinema conjures reality, but is not obliged to it. And then we become aware of everything that was in front of us all along: the sparkler. Which burns and does not expire. The sparkle that stays constant at the center of the frame, signifying the middle point that centers the shot, the sparkle whose flickering flame we know must decrease and burn out, which creates in us a sense of a countdown frozen mid-way. The loop is eternal, but time is out of joint. We are not within a sequence of time but rather in a frozen fraction of a second. This is the power of art, to move effortlessly from real life into the inner world of its protagonists. It was only a second ago that we deciphered the situation: a father sitting opposite his son, celebrating a birthday. But if this is the reality, what has happened to the flame between them? And who are the people that appear between them?
And so, we must recalculate our basic assumptions and rebuild a world of meaning. The father is sitting opposite a birthday cake, which we cannot see but guess its presence. His son is sitting opposite him. But time has frozen, and the father starts wandering in his memories and thoughts. The son is replaced by an elderly man (expressively acted by theater director Micah Lewensohn, who died suddenly just three weeks after his shots were filmed). Is the man remembering his father? Or is he imagining his son in old age, concerned about the fleeting time? And where is the mother? She appears—played by Natalia Faust—for a moment in the background, in the kitchen, behind the man, and then sits opposite him, tearful, agitated, distressed (she is the only figure that shifts between the two sides of the shot).
And so we continue watching the frame in the next round, and now notice the background: behind the child, a pile of boxes. Moving house. Who is moving out? The mother? The father? Suddenly the tears are more understandable: the birthday party is in fact a farewell party—is it the father and son saying farewell to the departing mother? Or the son to his departing father? Thus, what began as a bonding between father and son around a festive moment becomes a sad moment in the consciousness of a man at the center of separation and heartbreak: his fears, longings, guilt feelings. The shots that had connected before now fall apart. The man is in his frame, unable to leave, captive and helpless in the face of his son who is inaccessible, the woman he cannot placate and his father who looks on, disappointed.
If we are already inside the head of the man observing his son and seeing in him the future and the past, the joy and sorrow of parenthood, let us enter further and wonder: is the son really there, or is it just a memory? Perhaps all that we see are just manifestations of the man? There is nobody except him, and we are passing through his consciousness, his hallucinations. He is the child, too. The man looks at himself as a child, examining his life—holding the gift he was given as a child, still wrapped—observing himself as a child, imagining himself as an adult, watching his life move backwards and forwards in front of his eyes in a split second that has frozen for ever against a sparkle that refuses to expire.
So all that remains is this frozen moment in this birthday party, we do not know whose: at first we thought the father was celebrating his son’s birthday. But it might be the father’s birthday. A lonely birthday, in a house packed with boxes, against memories and fears and an unseen cake.