Nathaniel Dorsky, ALL EYE

Posted: April 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Art, Filmmakers, Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Robert Bresson, in his incisive sentences on sound states: if the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear.  One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear.

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.”

Poetic Justice and other consecutive matters

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Art, Filmmakers, Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Poetic Justice – Hollis Frampton, 1972, b&w, 16mm

Dear Ms. Doyle,

I’m sending you the color Xerox series By Any Other Name today by Priority Mail.  My form is enclosed, and I’ve written a characteristically opaque note on the back of it, which you may use or not as you see fit.

The images themselves, as you will see, take up a bit of space.  Do not feel, if they seem boring or tenuous, under any special obligation to use all of them, or indeed any of them.  I am aware that the group (there’s a part two on the burner, by the way) rides roughshod over the notions of both subtlety and coherence: a mild triumph, in my book, but others may not find themselves tickled in the same spots I do.

In any case, I hope well for your show.  It is about time that filmmakers be allowed outside the gilded ghetto of cinema: after all, the painting and sculpture gangs invade our turf without so much as a by your leave, and almost invariably there is hysterical applause for that  It reminds me of the Spanish “discovery” of gold in South America.  The Incas had already dug it out of the ground.


Hollis Frampton

Above is a letter to Cherie Doyle, Curator, Department of Art, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN written in 1980.  In terms of the last paragraph, it could have been written in 2010.

It’s from a wonderful book edited by Bruce Jenkins called:  On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The writings of Hollis Frampton.  I am also the happy owner of a previous book of Frampton writings, Circles of Confusion (I bought a signed remaindered copy at Millenium for $6.00 in the late 80’s).  The Jenkins book expands on this earlier book, with small gems like the above.

It is a pleasure to find a fellow traveler on the craggly unmarked path of the moving image.  I never physically met Frampton, and now it’s too late, but the magic of books -  that I could spend an hour this morning, in my Chinatown coffee shop, cajoling, arguing, conversing with this man.

“This is not to say that there is no such thing as art, or that everything is art; rather, it is to state that there can be no certainty, no final determination, about where we may expect to find art, or about how we are to recognize it when we do find it.” Notes on Composing in Film, Hollis Frampton, written for and delivered at the Conference on Research in Composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo in October, 1975

Cinema City

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Berlinale 2010, Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

A strange decision for a film festival, but aside for the obligatory duties connected with having a film here (note to self: show up for own screenings) I’ve decided to privilege live people (friends, panels, film events with people attached) over sitting in a dark room watching flickering images.

In this way I was happily swept into a panel discussion on the ongoing project CINEMA CITY, represented at the festival by several films and a series of installations dotting the city.  A multi-disciplinary, multi-year research project, it maps the interplay between Bombay, cinema, history, imagination, desire.

The panel was moderated by Nicole Wolf, a writer and academic whose specialty is Indian films, and included Madhusree Dutta, a true force of nature (there was a ripple of laughter each time she grabbed the microphone) the curator of the Cinema City project, who is also a filmmaker, activist filmmaker, researcher, producer and activist; Dorothee Wenner, filmmaker, journalist, one of the film programmers of the Forum section of the Berlinale, and perhaps the person most responsible for the current interest in Indian film in Germany today; and the architect and educator Rohan Shivkumar, among others.

There’s no way to sum up the topics covered in the panel – two things that struck me:

The impossibility of separating out the history of Bombay from the history of its cinema.  Those who wrote, the educated upper class, were not interested in the changes occurring in the lives of the populace that surrounded them.  But Bollywood was. Without Bollywood, there would be few records of the human history of its difficult modernization.  There’s no other city (over-filmed New York included) whose collective and individual imagination appears to be so tied to the way its been portrayed on film.

A woman’s voice, speaking a haunting line, imperfectly remembered, from the end of one of the short films screened:  How does desire die?  When not even one desire is fulfilled they all start to fade away. When even one is fulfilled all the others come awake….

It’s 4:26 am, far too late to be typing this.

Phantom Lady on Light Boxes: Performance Photography (Pushpamala N)

“When the film image comes alive like a planet in the night sky of the theatre, it seems to behave like a dream that our sleep projects: it releases itself from its moorings, the strings, needles, threads, and labouring breaths that have struggled to get it life. This project is an attempt to moor that image again. To also look at the labour that takes the needled thread through the cotton wad and makes a bed for fantasy.” Cinema City catalogue

Making Movies out of Sex and Life

Posted: February 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Art, Filmmakers, Screenings | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Last year I missed seeing Barbara Hammer receive a TEDDY (the ‘official queer award of the Berlin International Film Festival) for her moving film A Horse is Not a Metaphor. She writes in this year’s TEDDY journal how the award launched a year of celebration, which has produced a new film, upcoming retrospectives at MoMA (September, 2010) and Tate Modern (2010/2011), and a new book ready for prominent display (booksellers please note). The ending of her entry, which is true Barbara Hammer in its energy and enthusiasm:

‘Long live the TEDDY! Long live the FORUM EXPANDED, the FORUM and PANORAMA! Long live the BERLINALE! Long live me!’


Posted: February 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Screenings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Interview with Radio Eins on short films.  Before my turn with the charismatic host, Maike Mia Höhne, the tireless director of the Shorts Competition, was asked about the status of the short film form:  ‘Should short films be considered ‘real.’” She diplomatically talked about the huge amount of submissions she received and the quality and interest of her program.  (At a film festival like this, where narrative features have the privileged spot, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of films in the shorts competition that aren’t ‘calling card’ films – made with no other raison d’être than to gain the director the budget to make a feature.  I think of this as the disease of (spread by?) most film schools.)

I took the chance, at the end of my interview (I’m learning the benefits of holding on to a microphone when one is handed to me) to risk the prediction that the traditional feature film form (unless one is working in James Cameron steroid 3-d) is on the wane and that the short film is in its ascendancy, what with YouTube, Vimeo and David Lynch ranting about the dangers of watching a feature film on a cell phone (with an official or non-official iPhone tag and ending with a nice use of the word Fucking)
Then the interview was over and the booth was filled with familiar but unrecognizable pop music.

I’m not saying that these short films will necessarily all be good films, but this idea/formula that an optimal film is 86 minutes seen in a dark cinema where the popcorn costs $6.00 and the plot is developed in the first 10 minutes (etc) may no longer hold.  I’m pretty sure that Hollywood is running scared.

An observation – a wide range of budgets and shooting formats evident, and much of the festival is being projected digitally – a far cry from the not so distant past when ‘film’ festivals wouldn’t consider screening a video, or a film for that matter, unless it was on 35mm.

Some things are changing quickly and some things are not changing quickly…

An image of the main table of the temporary stall set up in the lobby of the Arsenal Theater by B-Books, a wonderful Berlin bookstore (and publisher).  All interesting filmmakers.  All men.

Watching a film far from home…

Posted: February 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

After a series of delayed and canceled flights, I arrived in Berlin thinking that traveling like this is both exhausting and questionable.  Yet after the screening of 5 lessons last night (sold out audience of 500, the magic of a large film festival) I realize that the process of making a film isn’t completed until I voyage with it. I’m thinking about:

The position of the viewer – how a  film tries to/positions the viewer in different ways (insider/outsider/voyeur/participant/implicated/fly on the wall/passive/active)

The position the viewer wants to be in (hard to fight this)

Is there a way to get around an audience’s tendency when watching films that are not set in their own backyards and in their own language, to watch with a passive/removed curiosity? (A desire to be educated, or perhaps titillated?)  This question is increasingly important, in these times of economic (etc.) interconnectedness.  In 5 lessons, I try, using a profusion of voices, of  I’s, Us’s, We’s to complicate this.   Does it work?  There was one comment from the audience last night on the globalization of gentrification, so this part may have hit home.

I was glad to hear the end chorus (which I had originally wanted to repeat ad infinitum) YOU ARE A PART OF IT, filling the space, first in Cantonese then Mandarin then English, and finally in a mess of all three.  Missing was German.  A fantasy idea – not completely impractical – to make a different edit for each screening.

Above, an off-topic image taken at breakfast which I shot thinking of Ed Bowes and Vermeer.  Is the light softer in the Netherlands?

International Premiere at Berlin Film Festival

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Screenings | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

5 lessons and 9 questions about Chinatown will have its European premiere at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, Shorts Competition in February 2010.  For more information visit the Berlin Film Festival website.