‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Set Footage or Experimental Video Art?

By  · Published on July 2nd, 2014

Mattia Renaldo

The camera zooms in on a hectic street scene as percussion-soaked discordant rhythms elevate your blood pressure. An eerie green sail is lifted to tribal beats. A human the size of an ant side steps the rubble and faces forward. Everything is blurry at first, but as the clouds begin to lift, we can finally recognize a figure efficiently, almost poetically, hosing down a street.

Is it a commentary on the deep dichotomy between the hurry up and wait boredom of a movie set and the end product made of pure excitement? Is it a mirror held up to our own voracious fan tendencies? Is it an indictment of movie website culture where bold names are heralded daily and ad nauseam no matter how uninteresting their latest still shot or promotional video may be? Undoubtedly, yes.

Like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Mattia Renaldo (the well-respected video artist who’s dabbled in special effects-laced political commentary) has gone behind the scenes of Avengers: Age of Ultron in order to show us how the spandex sausage is made. Not content simply to show filmmaking at its most naked, he’s placed intense backing music to underscore and parody how thrilling we often imagine the creative process to be, despite the eye-gougingly dull reality.

The juxtaposition is striking in every frame.

Despite plenty of outstanding moments (from our literal God’s eye view to the smallness of the movie’s big star), there are perhaps none that land quite as thunderously as the sequence with the hose man. While the video’s title promises a peephole gaze into a hidden world and all the giddy wonder that entails, we’re confronted with an almost Warholian look at art that grabs you by the ears and asks you to redefine it. With techno swelling and intensity at a breaking point, the image clarifies to reveal a faceless – nearly figureless – person doing a menial task that’s simultaneously vital to creating a multi-million dollar adventure story.

Who is it? Can we safely assume it’s no one famous? If so, why does the camera linger so long? If not, is it, perhaps, James Franco making a cameo appearance in the film he’s directing under the pseudonym Mattia Renaldo? Is it better that we never know who it is?

These questions linger, but even more importantly, the hose man represents an echo of Scarlet Witch, who we see earlier standing amid the fabricated, pre-made wreckage she’s pretending to create with movements that will be given meaning later in post-production. Like the hoser, we can’t be sure if it’s internationally beloved celebrity Elizabeth Olsen, a stunt double or even a stand-in living a cinematic dream for a brief moment. One week using telekinetic powers to destroy a small village in Europe, the next retreating to a dingy, overpriced studio apartment in Harvard Heights. Somewhere in the universe, Bertolt Brecht nods in approval.

Obviously this video isn’t about the people or who’s wearing the red jacket or lifting the green screen. It’s about reducing a sorcerer’s spell to its component parts and exposing expensive destruction as a construct of forklifts and hydraulic systems. Bits of twine and super glue. Joss Whedon shaking hands with the verfremdungseffekt.

With aural amplification, something boring that we think is exciting is made exciting in order to prove just how boring it is.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters May 1, 2015.

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