A second viewing of Peter Hutton’s At Sea confirmed a few suspicions I’ve held for a year now. The first part of the film is shot at a Korean ship building yard, with diametrically sound compositions unfolding in an almost cataloging manner. The images are bright, colorful, and dynamic, but from shot to shot, there is something missing. The second and third segments, taking place at sea and in a ship breaking yard in Bangladesh, show what’s absent in part one: a suggestive editing pattern, using equal parts impressionism and real time exactness, allowing one a closeness to the subject matter. There is a cold distance in part one which vanishes the first moment Hutton points his camera seaward.
The second and third segments are also more playful and rich and near a poetic completion, where part one could’ve continued indefinitely. At Sea represents a sea change (apologies) for Hutton, as he edits with hard cuts as opposed to his typical separation of images by black leader. What that entails is both a curse and a blessing, as At Sea, which struggles to find its footing for twenty minutes, becomes something far more mysterious, out of Conrad or Melville.
The trajectory of events in At Sea, the building of ships, the sailing of one, and the destruction of a few, maps the movement of goods in our consumerist culture. It’s a curious three act work and something of a bold move forward for Hutton, who tends to be drawn away from the formalism that he presents here. I’m curious to see where he takes his next two city films, one about Berlin in 1980 and the other in present day Detroit, though a part of me wishes he’d return to Lodz Symphony and Study of a River territory. A must see, regardless.