What is it about watching our urban lives on fast forward that fascinates us so much? I think about this every time someone sends me a time-lapse video of a city. Oh, another one of those, I think. Then I watch, rapt, as headlights turn into sinewy, golden strings and the crush of people at an intersection becomes so choreographed it seems fake.
Toronto is no stranger to time-lapse. The latest being a video put out by Ryan Emond called Toronto Tempo, featuring some truly breathtaking shots of our city on speed. Emond focusses not just on the usual (the traffic, skyscrapers, and swarms of people), but also on the natural. We see the city receding as we head out into Lake Ontario. We see brooding clouds rush overhead.
Toronto may not feel elegant on a day-to-day level, but watch it in Emond’s film and try not to inhale deeply.
It’s Emond’s choice of shots and slow pans that make this film stand out from the time-lapse pack. In particular, a shot from inside the belly of the statue at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which is followed by one of the roof closing on the (sports arena formerly known as) SkyDome that’s worth rewinding about a trillion times.
“I feel that time-lapse is effective in exposing the hidden beauty of a city,” Emond said. “Often, the most impressive sights are overlooked by people going about their daily routines. Time-lapse provides a different perspective, one which helps the viewer connect in an emotional way to what is already familiar.”
So maybe the fascination comes from how they reveal something we know about cities, but which is difficult to see in our day to day lives. Namely, that big cities like Toronto are bustling centres of efficiency. It’s hard to think of a city in this way when we’re waiting to cross the street or stalled in traffic trying to get home. What time-lapse reveals is the underlying urban pattern, one that is normally invisible. The Eaton’s Centre elevators are really pistons in a well-oiled machine. Traffic lights reveal themselves as dance-club strobes. Yonge-Dundas square is actually a giant rave.
Probably the most impressive time-lapse of cities can be found in Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, which features a suitably frantic soundtrack by Philip Glass. Here we see all these individual actors, moving at different speeds, going to different places, with all the intricacies of their different lives, melted into one continuous motion.
But there is also something interesting about slowing things down. And I mean really slowed down, like a video shot in Brooklyn, which turns the city into a tableau. The most impressive sequence being a slow pan down a quintessentially New York moment where kids have unhinged a fire hydrant, allowing the water droplets to hang in the air.
So, why do we watch these videos over and over? “The allure of watching things in fast-forward may be more accurately defined as deriving enjoyment from the illusion of watching things change in a short time,” Emond said. “It is a rare opportunity to truly appreciate how much our surroundings really do change, even in just a few hours.”