Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Planes landing at Princess Julian International Airport, 2007 - 2009


[Princess Juliana is the airport in St. Martin that's famous for being directly adjacent to a beach and a road; jets pass very close to the water, seemingly just above the beachgoers' heads, and then, for the finish, appear to just narrowly miss the airfield fence with their landing gear before touching down. No surprise, then, that it's produced a whole sub-genre of YouTube videos. The rules of the genre are very precise. Because the plane flies very quickly, it only becomes visible on the horizon about 20 seconds before landing. Soon after that, it disappears into the belly of the airport and out of public view. For narrative economy -- so that we don't waste out time looking at an empty sky or the fence around the airport -- all of the videos are about half a minute long. The drama is broken into three acts: the approach of the plane over the water, which parts slightly; the seconds-long climactic passing of the plane over the beach, the road and the fence; and finally its touchdown, at which point the cameraman sometimes turns back to the beach to catch the reactions of onlookers. There are variations and jitters in the first and third acts, but the second act is always rigidly the same, because it's the moment of the plane passing overhead that cameras are trying to catch.Because the procedure of landing at Princess Juliana remains the same, the only choice offered to anyone recording the landing is where to stand. Shooting the event from somewhere between profile and three-quarters seems to create the most dramatic tension: it's here that the illusion of danger is maximized by the flattening of space, while the onlookers and cars remain clearly visible. Of course this is all very safe, and no real stunt on the part of a trained pilot. Standing directly underneath tends the plane tends to give away the actual distance, which isn't as close as it seems.]

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