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Film Spotlight

Black Box Investigations
directed by Paige Smith, Canada, 2:54

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Paige Smith’s Black Box Investigations explores the interactions and similarities between two bodies— the human body and the camera body. In doing do, the film seeks to blur the boundaries between the two and suggests a new way of understanding their relationships. 


The film opens in black and white with Smith taking a disposable camera out of its box and removing all of the sticker labels. When she winds the gear and the camera and takes a photo of the camera filming the action, the film cuts to the resulting photo. These two shots together already recreate the “shot / reverse-shot” through the eyes of just the camera, as they are both subjects and objects. We see both camera bodies looking at each other, and this motif is repeated throughout the piece, soon bringing the human body as another active participant. After the first photo, we see the process and results of the filmmaker using the disposable camera to photograph various things, the filmmaker’s room, her camera setup, her mouth, and her teeth. The sound of the click and the flash of the camera creates a quickening rhythm.


About halfway through, the maker is in color now, and holds the camera to her eye. In a remarkable moment, we see her remove her glasses so that she can see through the camera more easily. Through this gesture, we are reminded of the imperfections of all of the bodies that make up the film; the lenses of her eyes, her glasses, the disposable camera, its parallax viewfinder, and the camera recording the moving image are mediating, interpreting, and even distorting the images.


In light of these imperfections, it is perhaps no surprise that the next sequence depicts the filmmaker smashing the disposable camera with a hammer. More photos are shown throughout this process, including pictures of the inside of the camera. The smashing sound creates a new rhythm until the film’s conclusion.


Smith puts the idea of body exploration into a new spin. As she discovers the inner workings of the disposable camera, taking pictures with it, tearing it apart, looking at the gears and internal mechanisms, she also uses that very same device to explore the inside of herself, particularly with her mouth. We can draw a connection between bodies while watching, but we can also look at the specifics of the bodies chosen to explore: mouth (human) and eyes (camera). Both eyes and mouths are essential to communication, and by showing two methods of communication through human and camera, the film elevates the camera to personhood. Or, perhaps, it brings the human down to level of device.  


Black Box Investigations allows for the two to come together and proposes the idea that artists aren't so different from the tools used in the art-making process, whether they are cameras, paintbrushes, musical instruments, etc. If the film asks a question of ownership— does the film belong to the human maker or to the camera?— it answers by saying the film cannot exist without both. The camera allows for the capturing of images, and the human must operate the camera. And if the human can operate the camera, she can also destroy it.


- Lily Tucker, BFA Film Production ’24

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