The Black Tide - Chris Morris



I really wanted to like this. It's an important subject, this whole Gulf Oil 'spill' (it's not a spill ok, my kids spill their drink and it gets cleaned up in ten seconds - this is a...mmmm...what's the word....irresponsible fuckup of immense proportions that reveals the vicious consequences of our continued rape of the planet's resources.)

Anyway, it's an important subject. And let me point out that I admire Christopher Morris a great deal and he is an incredibly inspiring, talented and astute photographer. I have the book of his My America Series and it's one of the best things I have ever seen, plus he's a charming chap too.

But this piece doesn't really work for me. When the audio started I actually rolled my eyes and thought "Not another emotive plinky plonk bit of ambient piano." Honestly. Enough with the slow piano noodling please. Is it added to Final Cut exports by default or something? Don't get me wrong; I love the piano. There's one in our house (which I don't know how to play). Thelonious Monk gets me every time. But it's done to death on documentary pieces. It's like black and white - it's so cliche.

Oh wait. This piece is in black and white too. Oops. Don't get me wrong, I love black and white. I shoot black and white film all the time. I have boxes of the stuff. So I'm as guilty of this as the next man but sometimes it can feel a bit like saying "Hey this is serious, and just so you know it's serious, I'm going to shoot it in B&W, because that's how serious it is." It can feel a bit like a self conscious choice, where as a viewer you find yourself asking the question "why exactly is this in black & white." In these vibrant colour hi-def digital days its almost become a gimmick, you know, like tilt shift.

Ah. This whole piece looks like it was shot with a tilt shift. OK. Don't get me wrong, I use tilt shift too. I love swinging the lens on my 4x5, I just try not to do it too much. Sometimes things can get a bit tired if you labour the point.

Um...Is that 9 minutes long, and in slow motion? I have to confess I started skipping at 3 1/2 minutes, when the piano started to grate, I'd got bored of the tilt shift and it became clear that the concerned looking guy who was having his portrait shot wasn't going to open his mouth and speak a few words.

So. Chop half the footage out. Give me a few words from the guys in the video (just one or two perfectly formed sentences would do it) get rid of that damn piano and ease up on the tilt shift and you'd have a stunningly shot little documentary piece. Because there are moments of genius here and there are several points in particular where all the elements - the B&W, the slow motion, the selective focus - all come together in absolute harmony. That shot of the Pelicans is incredible. They look petrified with fear and confusion. That moment works wonderfully and I find it is much better at eliciting an emotional response than the still I have reproduced above. It shows the power the moving image can sometimes have over the static Also, the woman's reaction around 3 minutes - a mix of concern, exhaustion and frustration - speaks volumes.

Here's the thing. I know that sometimes it can be best to let the atmosphere wash over the viewer and to tell the story in a way that searches for rather forces a response. Something that asks you what you think rather than tells you how to react. I can see it in places here. This is perhaps what troubles me. In places it is so good that when it's not, it feels like a huge disappointment.

Ultimately though, I'm looking at this video as a piece of journalism. And in it, these people look poised; as if they have something really important to say.

Maybe it's just me, but after 10 minutes, I'm not quite sure what that something is.

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