Under Twilight


Jean-Gabriel Périot's Under Twilight (2006) is a creative representation of archival footage culled from World War II documentaries, attached to a sound score, and lasting a little over five minutes. Despite its brevity, the film's references are extensive and its resonances are wide-ranging.

From the opening frames of Under Twilight, we are reminded of the stroboscopic effects of Peter Tscherkassky's Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005) and Paul Sharits' groundbreaking mandala films from the 1960s. Like the work of these avant-garde filmmakers who glean images from the archive and innovate through variant process of representation, Périot's film has sensorial impact on the mind of the viewer, creating an aesthetic of urgency. In their reworking of found image and sound, ail three filmmakers re-cast narrative into a barrage of re-edited still frames to attack our vision and audition. The bombardment of rounds and images is clearly trying to tell us something important.

However, we soon recognize that Périot's film operates in a different context from those of his fellow filmmakers. Under Twilight sees flickering images of airplanes, bombers and jets taken by military and news cameramen. Across five minutes, the footage moues from black and white to color, from figurative to abstract images, from visions of planes in the air to those on land, soaring above the sea and back again. As such, Under Twilight takes off into a cinematic world in which war and its representation occupy centre stage. Périot's reworked footage is a vision of symmetrical, apparently mirrored images of Allied World War II planes and bombs, seemingly performing for cameras they cannot see, but must be watching. The spectacle of war seen through the windows of other flying machines is far removed from the bloodshed we know to have resulted from the deadly activities on the battlefield.

The "ballet" of planes and their searchlights and the drama of bombardments hitting land in long shots so distant that they contain no human suffering have filled the images of war given us by governments and proffered by the mainstream media for decades. According to those "official images," war is a visual spectacle designed to entertain the masses at home before the television: there is apparently little to no blond shed in this arena. A generation of culturally diverse film and image-makers have sought to challenge such spectacular visions of war. Périot's piece likewise takes the official image and re-presents it, calling for new ways of seeing war. The urgency of this aesthetic jolts us into recognition of the discrepancy between what we see and what we know of war.

To be sure, deception is woven into the fabric of Under Twilight: we think we are seeing mirrored images, but the effect of mirroring results from the superiority of cinematic over human vision. In the re-presentation, Périot has edited single frames with the same subject in an identical composition flipped across either the left/right vertical or the horizontal axis. We see a mirror image where none exists thanks to the speed of the moving image. Our "blindness" to the manipulation of the cinematic footage is at the mot of our inability to see the devastation taking place in the theatre of war.

And yet, for Périot, the technology of war and its representation is also beautiful. The opening sequences of Under Twilight are accompanied by a magnified static and a hum reminiscent of the sound of an orchestra warming up, only technologically treated to produce a metallic reimagining. Around ninety seconds into the film, the volume increases and the hum starts to alternate in short fragments with a higher-pitched drone. Simultaneously, the image takes on a strained blue with flashes of violet. Flashes of film appear, transforming into white bombs raining through a saturated-blue sky. The amorphous static on the soundtrack becomes a buzz, a ringing rises, the sound starts to do battle with bombs falling, landscapes passing, the image flashing. The sounds become dense, the volume increases until it is almost deafening, and the image dilates into a graphic abstraction. Three and a half minutes into Under Twilight, war has become an aesthetically gorgeous image, like a painting. We have forgotten the European lands below being blown to smithereens.

Before long, the soundtrack shifts; it starts to remind the viewer of a machine gun constantly firing. Across the five minutes of Under Twilight, a techno-produced whir builds on different sonic registers, colonizing the soundscape, until it starts to resemble the metallic buzz of film going through the projector. Thus, as the sounds of war and those of film collide, Under Twilight's images transform: they become devoid of beauty thanks to the destructive thrust of the multilayered soundtrack. Even though the color-graded footage reminds us of an abstract painting, washing over us like the serenity of Monet's waterlilies, the soundtrack — that element of film that is often forgotten — transforms the depiction into a violent, apocalyptic reality. In a final act of camouflage, ensuring our vision of war is as opaque as we thought it was transparent, Périot's film was made to accompany the sound, not the other way around. The UK artist patten (Damien Roach) invited Périot to create a video of his then soon-to-be-released record, Under Twilight. Thus, sound pre-existed image.

While the film re-presents the beauty and destruction of World War II, its implications have never been so urgent. Around three minutes in, viewers might start seeing or imagining references to the exploding Twin Towers, the world hidden under a cloud of dust, the structures slowly collapsing.

The resemblances are created through Périot's pulling apart of the image, isolating certain patterns in the destruction of sixty years earlier, and confronting the spectator with the perpetuation of war, albeit in a different arena. In the final frames of Under Twilight, the gaping holes in the earth fall into obscurity thanks to the polluted atmosphere left in the wake of annihilation. The effects of destruction are seemingly with us to stay.


Frances Guerin
Found Footage Magazine
Spring 2022