Artist and film director Ben Rivers has decided to get a Tarot card reading, and as he is in Brazil there are plenty of such practitioners to furnish him with a prediction based on his cards. But the results are a muddle, merely telling him that his next work will be about time, though that in a way is what all his films are about. From there he will travel around the globe, capturing images and sounds from wherever he goes, as well as found footage and audio to adorn the pictures.
Ghost Strata traced the filmmaker's journey through the year in the build-up to co-directing Krabi 2562, though do not expect a behind the scenes featurette, no matter that at forty-five minutes this represented either a work too long to be a short and too short to be a feature, so could easily have been a selection of scenes delineating his creative process and throwing up any anecdotes about his adventures in being a restlessly creative individual - we don't even find out why he travels so much.
So what was on offer was a collection of bits and pieces, some created by Rivers and some not, edited together in a collage of sorts but broken up by the months of the year. There was the odd interview to contend with, most prominently with the scientist who gave the film its name, an elderly gent who enthuses about rocks and how they stand in for the passage of time on Planet Earth in a manner that we largely cannot perceive, but are obvious to any actual rocks around, assuming they hold a slow-acting consciousness.
Meaning erosion and manmade destruction are the cause of any stone-based change on the surface, yet the "ghosts", if you like, of what was there before the rocks were altered or worn away, remain there, and we as humans are moving through them if you want to envisage the advancing of the years and their relation to the past in that fashion. If you do not, this was not a three quarter hour effort you were going to get much out of, for while it had a playful mood in places (June is represented purely by photographs of the aftermath of a destructive party), in others it was hard work.
How much you learned from this was a moot point, given Ghost Strata was not a straightforward documentary and appeared to be intent on eliciting an impression of learning and our placing of our position in life and the universe than being a teaching tool. It was also quite cagey about making itself apparent what we were watching or listening to, as you would have to wait for the closing credits to find out what those locations were, or who was speaking (though that included John Cage, so actually Cagey, then). Once we reached December and the film shoot was underway, complete with the cavemen actors smoking for a neat visual of past, present and future all encapsulated at once, Rivers had another Tarot reading, which was absurdly bleak until the reader admitted she didn't know what she was doing and had made it all up. Which again, was kind of appropriate.
[Click here to watch on MUBI.]