Nick Hackworth

Stan Douglas, Serpentine Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Frustration is the stock in trade of Canadian video artist and film-maker, Stan Douglas. The three short films installed here at the Serpentine, each with an accompanying body of nice photographs, deliberately frustrate the viewers’ assumption that they are about to experience the straightforward narratives that they associate with cinema films.

Journey into Fear is undoubtedly the star of the show. It is named after a Second World War thriller by Eric Ambler, which was filmed in 1942 by Norman Foster and remade in 1975 by Daniel Mann, and is set on a large container ship about to reach journey’s end. Two characters are engaged in a heated discussion in a cramped room. Graham is a pilot sent to guide the ship through rough waters and Möller is a “supercargo” whose job it is to guarantee the safe and timely arrival of the vessel, but who’s been bribed by unknown parties to delay the ship’s arrival, an eventuality from which they will profit. In the discussion, Möller attempts to bend Graham to his will, but fails. However, as the audience finds out, the scene is followed by apparently endless variations. The core of the scene remains the same but the actions and dialogue are always different. Graham, Möller and the audience are trapped in a bizarre nautical Groundhog Day.

Douglas’s films seek to expose the artifice of cinema, in general through their frustration of expectations of simple linear stories. In Le Détroit we see a young woman searching an abandoned house, for what we never discover, and similarly the six-minute sequence is followed by numerous minor variants of the original. Unfortunately, Douglas succeeds rather too well in inducing boredom and frustration in his audience.

Together with the bruised buttocks that are the inevitable result of sitting through the repetitive film sequences on the hard floor of the gallery, the boredom and frustration is enough to make you head straight for the nearest multiplex and its dumb narratives and nice cushioned seats.

Until 7 April. Serpentine Gallery, W2. Tel: 020 7402 6075