Station to Station (MUBI, NR)

Station to Station 75If you find any particular segment boring or pretentious, you can rest assured that something new will come along within 60 seconds.





Station to Station 500

In September 2013, a train spent 23 days crossing the United States, from east to west. Such a journey could be made in a few hours by air, or a few days by road or conventional rail, were the goal simply to get from the departure point to the arrival point. However, the point in this case was not simply to get from one place to the other, but to create and share art on the journey. Some of the art happened on the train, some at 10 “Happenings” staged when the train was stopped, and it’s all been distilled down into 62 1-minute films which together comprise Station to Station, the brainchild of the multimedia artist Doug Aitken, who is credited as director, and co-cinematographer (with Corey Walter).

While there are a lot of out-the-window shots in Station to Station, and some footage taken at the location of the various Happenings (a term that should push the nostalgia button for anyone who remembers the 1960s), there’s not much concern in this film with identifying exactly where the train is at any point in time, or exactly what you are seeing. Rather, the film encourages you to sit back and let the whole experience wash over you, as if you were drowsing on a real train and only half noting the scenery out the window.

In America, any reference to train travel is likely to set off nostalgic recollections of the days when the train was how almost everyone traveled, from kids visiting their grandparents to politicians on campaigns to the circus. Train travel today is seldom the fastest way to get somewhere, nor usually the most convenient, so if you travel by train it’s because you chose to do so. In making that choice, you signal that something other than speed and convenience are your priority. Very likely, you want to have the experience of the train journey itself, rather than simply getting from point A to point B as quickly and conveniently as possible.

A few on-camera subjects reference the old-fashioned nature of train travel (in a good way), and the whole concept of the film depends on the experience of a journey by train rather than by any other form of transportation. Among other things, the train provided ample working space, a reasonably steady platform while in motion, a pre-existing transcontinental route, the ability to carry lots of people and stuff in one unit, and a pace of travel that allowed time to observe the countryside while passing through it.

Numerous artists and musicians are featured in Station to Station, including Patti Smith, Mavis Staples, the Black Monks of Mississippi, Beck, William Eggleston, and Robert Indiana. The format ensures that you don’t get too much of any one of them, so that if you find any particular segment boring or pretentious, you can rest assured that something new will come along within 60 seconds. On the other hand, the format also ensures that you get only little snippets of what each performer has to offer, and the cumulative effect is something like watching a collage of clips from a variety of music videos.

Tipping the scale to the plus side for Station to Station is the often stunning quality of the cinematography and the sure-handed editing by Austin Meredith. The concept may sound like somebody’s art school project, but the execution is consistently professional, and the result is a film that may tell us less about contemporary America in general than it does about one corner of the art world, but is still worth viewing. | Sarah Boslaugh

Station to Station will be shown as part of the Webster Film Series on August 29 and August 30 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for senior citizens, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty, and free for Webster students with proper ID. Further information is available by calling 314-968-7487 or from the Film Series web site.

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