In his latest editor’s note, the one that alerts Cinema Scope readers to the essential magazine’s precarious situation at the moment, Mark Peranson tells us that he played with the idea of creating two covers for the new issue—one each devoted to “two of the must-see films of the season.” Both Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World and Eduardo Williams’s The Human Surge 3 premiered in Locarno, where Jude’s film won a Special Jury Prize and Williams’s was awarded the Boccalino d’oro, the Independent Critics’ Prize for Best Film, and both are slated to screen at the New York Film Festival.
Do Not Expect and Surge 3 were the two Locarno standouts for George MacBeth as well. “Like Jude,” he writes for e-flux, “Teddy Williams isn’t a filmmaker content with slipping into the straitjacket of a restrained or recognizable arthouse vernacular. Following the premiere of the first The Human Surge film at Locarno back in 2016, its successor The Human Surge 3 is, like Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale (to which it bears more than a passing resemblance), one of those rare and anomalous visual objects that stress-tests the plasticity of one’s ontology of what might even count as a ‘film.’”
Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov finds that Williams’s “best work generates spectacle via lo-fi conceptual audacity, often abetted by early-adopter technological virtuosity and compacted into sprint-size bursts, a description covering both his best shorts and first feature.” At In Review Online, Zach Lewis writes that The Human Surge “cleverly composited several Williams projects into a poetic meditation on how we connect to one another on a global stage. Cheap 16 mm vignettes of young men walking, talking, or sex-camming suddenly gave way to sequences in ant hills and tablet factories, until the film ends in a pristine digital image; it was shot all over the world in at least three different formats with no narrative, but, despite its ambitious scope, it miraculously never comes across as pompous. Williams had practically invented the arthouse hangout film; how could he follow it up?”
This is the point at which we note that there is no The Human Surge 2. Williams could be mocking standard industry practice—for Rizov, “the idea of a Human Surge franchise is very funny”—or he could be hinting that there is a film that, on the one hand, doesn’t exist, but on the other, informs the one that does. Talking to Blake Williams in Cinema Scope, he says that “things that didn’t happen still always end up as part of the film somehow.”
The Human Surge 3 takes viewers to Argentina, Portugal, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Brazil, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Peru. “Less erotic yet generally more queer,” writes Blake Williams, “the new Surge feels more spontaneous, lighter, and considerably more playful. The acting is rougher, but at the same time the film is also less interested in grounding its scenes in straight realism. Characters are no longer confined to their home country, and pop up in each of the other locales as if they’ve passed through a wormhole, transcending time and space to be with others in the community this film has forged.”
Williams shot Surge 3 with the Insta360 Titan, a spherical camera outfitted with eight lenses capturing 11K video. Blake Williams notes that it’s “nearly equal in size and weight to a ten-pin bowling ball.” As he explains to Nicolas Rapold in a Metrograph Journal interview, Eduardo Williams didn’t even think about framing until he entered a cut of the 360-degree footage wearing a VR headset. “So what you see as a frame is me moving while I rewatch the footage,” he says. “We think of the framing in a very different way when we are shooting with a camera and when we do it with our body.”
For Beatrice Loayza, dispatching to Film Comment from Locarno, “the convex perspective approximates the visions of Google Earth with characters only distantly, blurrily visible in their surroundings. As in the first film, the idlers essentially mill around and shoot the shit with no apparent aim or objective, but the new format’s flattened images and stretched edges call attention to the extreme constructedness of what we’re watching. But rather than functioning as a force of repressive surveillance, this artificial gaze is a tool of liberation, forging as it does a borderless realm rife with thrilling potential.”
Reviewing Surge 3 for Screen,Neil Young notes that the “climactic sequence is the most spectacular, featuring some special effects that tiptoe into sci-fi realms. Seven characters walk and talk as they ascend a small mountain in Peru, the 360/VR image distorting wildly and trippily.” Williams, “who tried this VR-to-2D approach in the twenty-three-minute Parsi , isn’t the first to deploy such distorting techniques: Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter sparingly used similar trickery to hallucinatory effect. But this is surely the most extended display in a feature-length film, and through Williams’s eyes, it feels like we’re truly seeing the world anew.”
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