by Faye Tsakas (Undergraduate Student, American Studies)
Ethnographic short film
Winner: First Prize, Undergraduate Student Competition
Dans Le Métro is a filmic exploration of Parisian, French, and European tourist culture through the lens of the Paris Metro system. I was initially drawn to the Metro as a vehicle through which to explore French culture as I noted the city’s functional dependence on the Metro – it is estimated to carry approximately 4.5 million passengers daily and an annual total of 1.5 billion (as of 2009). Since its creation, the Metro has shaped the ways in which Parisian inhabitants navigate and utilize the city. Physically, it enables cultural exchange through its allowance of affordable transportation and its existence as a space in which strangers and acquaintances alike can meet and interact. Documenting how travelers act/interact in the Metro sheds light on modern culture, as the Metro embodies a unique amalgamation of classes, races, natives, and foreigners. Using cameras and new media to explore this public space, my experimental, ethnographic short film examines cultural implications of this urban transportation system.
In explaining my motivation behind this cultural study, I find it important to mention a few current statistics: Currently, an average of 48 hours worth of footage is posted to YouTube each minute. This means that about 8 years of footage are posted per day, and 3 billion videos are watched on a daily basis. Given these statistics, I found it most relevant to produce a film that explores culture using the very tools that have become so engrained in modern society – low quality cameras (iphones, blackberrys, small digitals). This footage signifies the modern obsession with documentation through personal, almost universally prevalent devices and references the fact that filming is now so largely accessible. However, I also shot part of the film with a high quality, DSLR camera. This mixture of camera quality alludes to the fact that such a diversity of peoples access the Metro on a daily basis. All of the footage I utilized is entirely organic – no situation was planned out with actors. Instead, I captured imagery of real passengers and their natural actions.
The specific movements/actions that I chose to document hints at certain aspects of modern, mass media culture. The piece includes many shots of passengers completely absorbed in new media based technology – texting, playing games, reading emails, browsing photos, listening to music, etc. I captured shots of advertisements and of ways in which passengers interact with them, displaying sequential cuts of images to signify the copious amount of publicity imposed upon citizens daily. The electronic band “Kraftwerk” makes up part of the film’s soundtrack. Their song “The Robots” accompanies footage of mass rushes of people, implying a robotic nature involved in the everyday commute. The film’s voiceover segments directly quote from Mark Augé’s In the Metro, a sociological and anthropological book exploring the Metro in an era of globalization and urban development. As Augé explains, the Metro embodies paradoxical elements, as those who ride it are often consumed in “solitude” but simultaneously participate in a “collective morality” (in being physically surrounded by others). Slow shots of passenger’s reflections and hazy, close up, blurred shots of travelers whose faces are obscured demonstrate this paradox. These travelers are united in the blurring of imagery but are unable to be individually identified – their individual presence is known, but they are only seen in the collective grouping of quick images. This also implies the sense of estrangement that passengers feel towards others while riding the metro, although they occupy such a close space together (as the shots are close up and somewhat intrusive).
Overall, the piece is meant to be a cultural exploration of the Paris Metro through visual media.
Augé, Marc, and Tom Conley. In the Metro. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002. Print.