Watching Paint Dry. An Investigation Into Film Style and Time Experience in Viewing Slow Cinema

Jakob Boer


This paper discusses the temporal experience of film viewing by analysing the peculiar case of watching slow cinema, a strand of films that foreground temporality through its radical attenuation of narrativity as well as its austere, minimalist visual style. The article asks why the genre’s distinct structuring of temporality divides its audience into diametrically opposing evaluations – i.e. evoking both strong appreciation from a dedicated audience and depreciation - and poses the question how stylistic and formal aspects of stillness of film as well as viewing attitudes of the audience can correlate to an experiential effect of heightened temporal awareness, or what is dubbed slowness. This is understood as a pensive or contemplative viewing mode that is to be distinguished from boredom. Previous work on the topic has failed to adequately address the issue of slowness, because it has favoured a predominantly formalistic study of slow cinema over the explication of its experiential effects. This paper adds to the debate by adopting the framework of a ‘poetics of cinema’ (as put forward by David Bordwell); a form of inquiry that assumes a relation between functions and desired effects. This paper thus integrates the study of formal facets of a film, or its constructional principles, with a phenomenological description of the viewing experience, that is, analysing the spectatorial effects of a film. The paper proceeds to answer the stated question by first designing a theoretical framework comprising of three interrelated types of stillness of slow cinema’s Deleuzian time-images that afford the typical experience of slowness. Consequently the paper elaborates further on the facets of this temporal experience; the said contemplative mode or form of lingering attention entails a heightened awareness of time or a Husserlian now-consciousness that affords a heterochronic temporal experience. The implications of this understanding of temporal experience in watching slow cinema could benefit the study of time experience in film in general. Moreover, understanding slowness might shed light on the relation between normative or evaluative acts and the audience’s biases based on unquestioned, habitual engagement with film.