Nathaniel Dorsky, voluptuous provider for the eye, makes silent films. The silence isn’t an absence, as the soundtrack – the creaks, breathing, rumbling of the subway is provided by the audience and whatever space we, the audience, are inhabiting together. It is an intimate soundtrack, at times indiscrete.
The gaping difference between what can be seen and what can be said
The films are so purely visual as to be difficult or impossible to describe with language. Or at least I claim defeat after sitting here, time passing, fingers mute. I can describe a shot: a woman extricating a carriage from a storefront door, followed by two small blond children. I could say the low angled light picked out particular ever changing details and outlines, leaving others to fall off into abstraction or that there was an uncanny layering to the space or that this light was heartbreaking, in that in thirty seconds it would be gone, vanished. This description would not convey in any way what I saw or explain the effect that it had on me, as I found myself holding my breathe for the duration of the shot. Watching his films makes me want to go outside and look and shoot and try to see the way he does. Does this mean I want to steal something of his approach? Is there any such thing as stealing? Isn’t all this stuff we’re creating in dialogue?
Dorsky was invited to screen four recent films at the Museum of Modern Art last Monday in a program curated by Jytte Jensen that he described as almost a performance, in that it is so rare these days to project from 16mm film.
Dorsky didn’t talk about his films; he instead created a parallel stand up comedy routine on the precariousness of film and showing film, of movement, change and life. A question from the audience pointing to this disjunction: “Have you ever considered making a comedy?”
A question from Dorsky: “What do they call cameras these days?” (the word camera, coming from room or chamber, so evocative for both how it works and what it captures). Someone yells from the audience “phone”, laughter, then someone else arrives at the phrase Dorsky was looking for: “image capturing device.” Image. Capturing. Device (is the image capturing the device?)
Dorsky posits that the screening may mark the end of Kodachrome, the film stock that he has been shooting since he was ten. ‘Aubade’ was shot on a new stock called Vision, a word that comes out of his mouth with some difficulty. The color range of Kodachrome so specific – irreplaceable and evocative in the way only childhood memories can be; this marks the start of a new relationship. He says he approached the new stock as one would a new lover you aren’t used to, that you don’t really know or trust or don’t quite know what to do with,
“‘I didn’t want to go too far too fast with it.”
I wonder if I have this sensual/sexual relationship to video. There’s a way I handle my camera once it is ‘mine’, the rough familiarity of its feel in my hand; I don’t like it when it’s new, it feels clumsy, I feel clumsy. I like it when I can forget, when the subconscious takes over – when it’s an interaction between this boxy object and my eye, I use it as a facilitator, enabler and protection, allowing me to be intent on looking at what’s moving about in front of me, out of my control. I could say, hackneyed or not, it’s like a dance where the music and physicality allows my brain to function in a different way that’s less calculated. But now I’m getting off topic.
I try again to describe Nathaniel Dorsky’s films: small revelations, light, sensuality, mysteries, layers, light, sensual, movement, movement, movement, light, dark, dark, light, dark. I’m getting nowhere.
“These films have nothing to do with language – not the title, not what I’m saying about them. They are what they are.” I’m off the hook. He talks about when he was young and life was like a Christmas tree filled with ornaments, and that each year, another one goes away – and that now must be a hard time to be young (is this true?).
I don’t remember the last question Nick Dorsky was asked, but I do remember the summing up:
“I want to make something beautiful
something of me on a very good day, of mine, the best of me.
I want to try to leave something behind that will be helpful.”