Las Vegas. Sin City. A place that has come to represent the nest of contemporary capitalism, the pinnacle of neoliberal practices. Built as a place to be consumed and immediately left rather than to be lived, Las Vegas is a city where consumerism is celebrated and lionised at the expense of anything else. Its buildings, streets, and corners mimic those of other cities, giving life to a postmodern space that echoes the real and in which the hegemony of the market reigns over anything else. In this endless flow of glittering materialist excess in which spending money is the only given possibility, there is no room left for thinking, pausing, or even sleeping. Caught in this perpetual capitalist turbine, how often do we reflect upon what we are leaving behind and sacrificing despite this roller coaster of vacuity and entertainment?
By rearranging found footage material recorded through thermal cameras placed in Las Vegas, Stefan Kruse Jørgensen’s A Lack of Clarity stimulates a reflection regarding digital surveillance technologies’ progress, expansion, and implications. In its nature, this experimental, essayistic, documentary work reframes recorded (or even stolen) images of us to unveil how controlling mechanisms have become so embedded into contemporary society while remaining almost invisible. It asks its viewers to connect those surveillance images to what lies at the core of the society we have been shaping and inhabiting.
From its first beats—through its images, pacing, texts, and intimate voice-over—A Lack of Clarity establishes an ongoing personal dialogue with its spectators, trying to depict a portrayal beyond the mere surface, yet, before speaking to the spectator, the filmmaker speaks to himself. Those images captured by thermal cameras erase any distinction between light and dark, day and night, and they metaphorically connect to the state of sleeplessness, characterising the modern human condition and, more specifically, the filmmaker’s own. Watching those grey images and how they destroy any relation with time perception, Jørgensen seems to be drawn into the same endless sleepless nights that increasingly have become part of his routine and ours. As his sound-distorted ruminations whisper into my ears, I ask myself if this overly connected society has transformed sleeping and absence into a sin.
What is left is an endless dream-like state in which we flow around unconsciously, but the privacy barriers have become almost entirely blurred. In those new and artificial dreamy and sleepless spaces, each movement is tracked, each body temperature is scanned, and each face is recognised for consumption. In this matrix of surveillance, we cease to be humans. From figures made of flesh and blood, we turn into tendencies, parameters, and numbers that can be analysed, exploited, and consumed. Sleeping then becomes a sin precisely because it represents the last terrain companies have no access to. Yet, by always remaining in the background, Las Vegas reminds us that even this last sin can be redeemed, even sleep can be erased, and total control can lastly take place.
A Lack of Clarity goes beyond unveiling and questioning all this. The unique cinematic experience crafted by Stefan Kruse Jørgensen is so layered that the spectator is constantly triggered and never annoyed. The film immerses us into experiencing and feeling the state of blindness and confusion by which we are surrounded and towards which we have somehow lost clear sight. Through its slow-paced editing and a sonic landscape made of drone electronic pulses, the film is turned into a means for awakening us. It shakes us from a state of dizziness to shed light on the invisible and imperceptible images that inhabit our everyday lives. It faces us with the ubiquitous images of control that the simultaneous progress of digital technology and surveillance practices have injected into the modern urban landscape.
But this obsession with surveillance is not something new. As the film points out, this fetishism traces back to older centuries, to the moment in which cities started to be artificially illuminated. This longstanding tradition has led to accepting dichotomies that we should theoretically assume as incompatible, making them so embedded within us that we stopped questioning them. Being monitored, framed, observed, scanned, and surveilled does not feel like something imposed, nor as something invasive to our privacies because we have been told those practices serve something more critical: protect us. But protect us from what?
In and through the often blurred and slow-paced images of A Lack of Clarity, we have come to question whether there’s any perceived distinction left between security and terror, control and freedom, and dictatorship and liberty. But even more, what is the line between all those almost incompatible concepts? Who does trace this line? And for what sake?
This text was developed during the Film Criticism Workshop at Filmfest Dresden in July 2021, with the kind support of International Visegrad Fund, Deutsch-Tschechischer Zukunftsfonds and Landesdirektion Sachsen.