It is a profound and rarified pleasure to be photographing and editing film at this most tentative of times”, says Nathaniel Dorsky in relation to one of his latest works, the darkly luminous Prelude, from 2015. In this particular film—and here we can also include a major part of his work since the 90s—there is a strong sense of a tacit, insistent crystallization of a set of formal parameters. This is not to be understood as a gesture of rigidity. Rather, the poetics of Dorsky, if we can call it a poetics, enables us to envision a particular singular vision of a medium undergoing radical transformations. In Dorsky’s work the light properties of the medium, the weight of the shot (its internal balance), the meticulousness of the framing, are scrutinized in order to give us a sense of cinema as a distinctly felt breathing space, a topos of potential reveries, a cinema rich in textural modulations and transient reverberations.
This conversation were held in conjunction with a screening of four of Nathaniel Dorsky’s films, organized by Turbidus Film, Stockholm, November 2015. The films shown were Triste (1978-1996), Prelude (2015), 17 Reasons Why (1985-1987), Intimations (2015), in that order. A conversation between Nathaniel Dorsky, Daniel A. Swarthnas and Martin Grennberger.
Stockholm/San Francisco, October 2015.
Daniel A. Swarthnas and Martin Grennberger: A prominent word in your short book Devotional Cinema, from 2005, which was initially presented at a conference discussion the interrelation between cinema and religion, is intermittence. It could concern the quality of light as experienced in film, but also, more generally, deal with perception and the fleeting quality of life in general. Can we say something about this, and how that word relates to your filmmaking?
Nathaniel Dorsky: All of my films, or almost all of them, are projected at silent speed, which is 18 frames per second. Actually 17 Reasons Why (1985-1987) is an exception, it’s a little better at 16 frames per second, it gives it a better pacing. Normal sound films went at 24 frames per second, and the reason for projecting at that speed was for the audio fidelity of the optical track of the film itself, but before that time films actually went at a slower speed. Of course, Eastman Kodak prefers the faster speed so you use more film. I use 18 frames per second, it’s actually a third slower, so that, for instance, a nine-minute film will actually be 12 minutes long, and you get more for your money in a simple way. But economics aside, another part of the intermittence is that, as you slow the film down you get closer to the threshold of the illusion of the solidity of the image. This is how motion pictures function, the eye maintains an afterimage through the moment of black between two images, and then we have the illusion of a smooth continuity. However, I think that there’s something stronger than that, something about the way that the intermittence, when it comes closer to the threshold, the illusion, affects the metabolism; it affects the viewers’ senses, it’s gentler. It is almost more like angels’ wings (laughs) than some more hard-hitting sort of thing. And since my films are what in literature would be called poetry, and they’re not novels, you could say maybe novels should go at 24 frames per second, but poetry should go at 18 frames per second. There’s something that resonates with their own perception. For instance, my own instinct is that we, as people, are in the midst of intermittence in the sense that we see things, every other moment we don’t see things, that we have a dream sense of the whole thing being a solid thing, but that perhaps it will be moments that we don’t see, then we do see, that’s because we live in a dualistic reality of phenomena. Of course you can’t perceive what you don’t see, so you don’t know what is there. Just like death, you don’t know it is there, so to speak, because there is no one to perceive it. So, I think there is something in the nature of that mechanical flicker which is helpful to human beings, even in the original tradition of the cinema. I think the original tradition was the moon. I would say that the moon was the first real cinema.
What about fire?
Yes, I was about to say then, fire, and the idea of sitting around the flickering fire at night, telling stories around the fire, was very powerful obviously. And even with the experiment of the people who looked at the French cave paintings from 20 thousand years ago with the flickering light rather than an incandescent light, a flickering light as you would have with a torch, and the qualities of the drawings become very animate. Rather than to a flashlight, it might just look like overlapping images, but under the flickering light they take on an active life, so I think there is something deeply poetic about using cinema closer to the threshold of its solidity. This is actually the point of the films, the films themselves are very much dealing with the topics of the ephemeral, and yet completely a being in the nature of our existence.
This threshold of solidity can also be thought of in relation to what one might apprehend as a form of perceptual liminality, of perceptual thresholds, which is here obviously related to the fact that the films are being projected at silent speed. This is also closely related to what you’re actually aiming your camera at.
In the end, I just find it more delicate. Each image is on the screen a little longer, and at the same time there’s a little more space between each image in the black. I think it is softer; appropriate to silent poetic cinema.
Coming back to the word metabolism. The first time I came across your use of that particular word, I was somewhat intrigued. So, maybe we can say something about your use of that word in this specific context?
Yeah, that’s a very good question. It’s a questionable word. It does have other bodily connotations. Let’s say, if you go to a very aggressive film it puts adrenalin into your system, a tension, but that’s on a very obvious level. What I noticed is, in great montage, in great contemplative montage, both narrative and non-narrative, that the shifts that occur, when you cut from one image to another, are actually shifting the solidity of the frame, the weight of the frame, the spatial nature of the frame. Those kinds of shifts, light to dark, heavy to light, or soft or hard, those things actually affect you on a very direct level. If you’re out in the daytime in the sun and suddenly the sun goes behind a cloud, you can feel your whole being changed at that moment. It’s a whole change, in music it’s a key change, all different atmospheres and key change. So I am thinking of metabolism in a modern way, meaning that the quality of the cinema visually affects your body and how you feel in your body. I don’t think it’s the perfect word, but I didn’t come up with a better one. That’s what I mean by it.
You’ve talked a lot about the language in your films, like in Triste (1978-1996) that we will screen here, you talk about breaking the syntax because you work with an A-B-A editing structure there, which is something that you do in a film such as Winter (2007). I wonder, how could you describe that? How do you edit in connection to some of the other films that we will screen on Sunday, Intimations and Prelude? Is it a result of what happens when you edit like this?
You can see a development, a ripening. The films from Triste to Variations (1992-1998), which you are not showing, have big openings on the cut from shot to shot. However, the later work, which is more sombre, is from a later period in life. With Triste I began working in what some people call open form, but other people called polyvalent montage. Open form is a form of montage where film is opening only for its own needs. Not for any kind of extramarital reasons (laughs). So I try to create a space, describe a space, tell a story, where you’re actually watching the film itself as a bouquet, the film itself as an organic thing, as an organic light sculpture unfolding in time. This is very close to how our own minds work. It’s a form of magic, when you are moving from thing to thing only for the poetic resonance of what happened by moving from thing to thing. It’s not describing something outside of itself.
Open form – it’s more like stream of consciousness. You could actually observe your mind going from that subject to that subject to that subject. For instance, Freud, in his Interpretation of Dreams, talks about how we project dreams on the inside of our eyelids. We project the shape, project them, and I’ve actually observed this. You project a shape, say, a hammer, and that shape will morph, it is projected but it sort of morphs, and it changes its shape. Inside your eyelid and then as it changes its shape there’s a moment where it takes on a shape which your mind associates with something else, so sometimes a dream will go forth through one shape, morphing, becoming something else. So the open form is more of that kind of language, where one thing is morphing from one thing to another, it is its own life-force. Triste was the first time that I tried it. It was the first time that I really went at it wholeheartedly. Triste is really a mosaic of many different, outdated film stocks. At the time of Triste there were maybe a dozen or more companies making motion picture reversal film; each stock had a different quality to it, a different humanity to it almost. I was collecting very old stock, there were several that were 20 years old, so Triste has all sorts of stocks in it, black and white negative, positive, things that are faded, pink and purple, all sorts of different things. Triste was the first time I tried to manifest the open form with multiple subject matter. It’s surrounded by two areas of hand processing. In a way, the opening hand processing is before you’re born, and then the film itself is your life time, and then, following it is the afterlife. I wanted to get that kind of linear feeling.
But going back to your question, about the A-B-A editing, breaking the syntax, one can say that part of the nature of open form is that it discovers a lot of things. For instance, you can refer to something, say, that is red in color - these films are not to be read, they are to be felt, that’s very important. If you try to read these films they are a disaster, you have to feel them for what they all are. So if something is red then you find out that you can put maybe two shots of something else, and then you have red again, still having the afterimage in your mind, so that you realize that in the open form the mind retains a residue of maybe four or five shots previous to the shot that is there. The film kind of reinforces itself, and I know this is true, it is not just theory. I know this is true from manipulating the images; that you take a certain thing away, and then nothing else works. You put that back in, and three shots later a shot works that didn’t work because of the accumulation and resonance. The way your mind retains, seems to be able to retain four, five shots at the same time like a package, and that package moves through the linear nature of the film. When I was first experimenting with open form, one of the no-no’s seemed to be that you don’t go A-B-A, you don’t go house-tree-house, because when you go house-tree-house, the open form collapses, and it becomes self-referential, it’s like a moment of self-consciousness or the visible hand of the maker. It also sets up a form of literal implication. Like you‘re comparing two things. But in Triste, at a certain point, I wanted to violate the open form. It is the sequence shot in negative of the angel, the statue holding the holy water. I shot on very old negative, and it had shrunk actually, so that when it went into the camera it lost its registration, and that lost loop look became very effective for the sense of the angel breaking down in a way. The camera pans down to the bowl of holy water, and then cuts to a very outdated purple magenta shot of some trash in dried out grass. Then I cut back to the angel. This violation of the open form changes the whole reality of the film. I wanted to break that reality, and from that point on, for me there’s a coda built out from that until the end. So we had an open form that wanted to break the open form. And then, almost like building a bridge over a very wide bay or a river, they are structural arcs with places to land and push off from. But by the time you get to Intimations and Prelude the open form has been given a poetic task and it is not such a pure form. In Triste I used shots that I had collected over twenty-five years, and I wanted to try them out in terms of the open form, so it took 4 years to edit that film, now it takes me about three weeks to edit the film. It took me three to four years to learn. Later on, after Triste, in a film like Variations, I worked more in a sense of the present tense, and there the montage is very pure. I think it is only one time that the same subject matter is repeated consecutively three times, a little bit of a wave; or, water, anyway. At a certain point I tried to move the purely open form towards a more specific poetic direction, to see how far I could move the open form towards a certain expression without the open form breaking down into descriptive form, finding that balance. By the time we get to Intimations and Prelude the open form was becoming quite sophisticated, and much more relaxed about itself. These films are not such good boys, obeying all the rules. But rather obeying the poetic necessity. This kind of development is still open form. What was interesting to me is that as appealing as the films are, everything in these films is very self-evident; it’s almost embarrassing. You just look at the screen you become the state of mind of the screen. The screen shifts its state of mind. Then you become the new state of mind. The film then restates this state of mind
You’ve talked about the screen in terms of a speaking character.
Yes, some people might say that there are no characters in my films, which is true. That’s because I’m letting the audience have the privilege of being the character. In most every other film you have to watch other characters: envy them; or like them; or dislike them; identify with them. In this case, you are the character. The film allows you to go through your own character.
I use film a little bit like sculpture, a little bit like dance, a little bit like music, a little bit like painting; dance and music in the sense that they are temporal traditions. They’re traditions that function in time so they share similar problems with film. Then of course painting is a world of creating images, and so they have a lot to do with painting; much more to do with painting than still photography I think.
We’ve touched upon it before, but I want to talk about your meticulous editing process. The notion of intermittence, the ephemeral nature of the films themselves, but also your way of dealing with the rhythm, the balance and transition between the shots; all this is closely related to the editing process. When do you feel that a shot comes into being? When do you sense that something is working for you?
If I were a goalie on your football team, you would ask: how do you stop the ball? What do you think about when the ball is coming in your direction? How did you know to fall down at that point? Sports interviews are more honest than art interviews because people say ‘I was on my game that day’. At any rate, one is, first of all, using the screen to make a silent film. You can’t just make a film that doesn’t have sound: there has to be something about the images that are gratifying or unifying, that the silence is palpable in them. The silence is actually palpable and rich, so you don’t think for a moment that there is no sound. The image itself is in a sense sound. Or a space of time.
Then you work your way forward. Being a filmmaker you have to be like a good host. First you invite someone in the door, you offer a first shot: ‘here is the doormat please come in, please come into my film’. They step on the doormat to bring them inside, so then you do something appropriate to that, and as a filmmaker you don’t offer them water before they sit down. You let them sit down and then you offer them water. It’s like being a good host, so there is a shot and then it ripens and then you must be a good host in that you’re entertaining but you’re not overwhelming. You don’t interrupt what they’re saying. You let a shot come on, it ripens to the point where it’s done, and then you make a cut. The cut shifts the whole psychic reality, it refreshens the whole world from the space that had been developing into the next space. You might be in a bright space, which is warming up, and then you cut to something very dark and moving and then you add something to that, so it’s really like telling a story with the abstract nature of film. I’m surprised that no one has really done this that much. We’ve all seen so many films; we all know every image that there can be at this point. We’ve seen so many images. For me the films have to have some kind of poetic adventure; they have to be something beyond my own understanding. If I understand them then they’re dull because they can be reduced to this idea. It’s great for critics, because they can say ‘this means that’ but so what, it doesn’t really mean anything. This is a way to make the film like a real adventure, it’s like being in a city you’ve never been to before - walking around - as opposed to a city you know. You want the film to be like a city you’ve never been in before so that every time you turn the corner a new vista opens up, which is somehow exhilarating.
When you make a film you have to be very mindful, that’s what it is. But I’m mindful not as an intellectual, but mindful as a dog would be mindful. The way a dog would listen and bark if someone is approaching the house, it’s that kind of mindfulness. When you’re watching the film, you’re watching a shot and then the moment when your discursive mind starts to say something about the shot, tries to convince you through meaning that all is all right, at that moment the shot is no longer working, the mind then begins to rationalise things, to build something. What I like to do is cut before the mind starts to rationalise, and if I let it rationalise just for half a moment it’s because I want the next section, to pull the rug from under that. So what I do is, I look at the exact moment when my mind starts to do something. For instance, you must have friends who repeat themselves too much; they tell you the same stories too many times. You have to have complete respect for your audience, total respect, that they’re totally in tune, and that they’re smart. You have to think of them as smarter than you. A lot of filmmakers think of the audience as not as smart as them, which is a big mistake because films are very simple. And they’re actually much more stupid than people. People are much smarter than films. So you have to have tremendous respect for the audience. At this point, I can just compare it to making love with someone. You know when to be active, when to be passive, when to slow down, when to speed up. I’m not being facetious, or silly at all. I use making love in a general sense so it’s not so graphic. But it’s very much like that. You know that when making love, language is a distraction; it’s a complete distraction. If you’re really having a good time with someone then you’re both there doing it, and you’re aware of each other’s reactions, and you know when to do what to what. Filmmaking is very much like that. It’s being very aware, and also very kind.
It’s also believing in the film, believing that the film is doing its own work in a way. It’s thinking without us. Would you say that? Obviously one should have respect for the intelligence of the viewer, but we should believe in the film. The film is thinking in itself.
Yes, I’ve never heard that phrase before. The film is thinking in itself. The film itself is thinking. That’s terrific because in a way you’re giving a film a chance to dream. If you think of cinema: all day it has to answer to our needs, selling product or having dramas, it’s always being used for our needs. And no one gives it freedom, it’s like a dog that’s always on a leash. No one lets the cinema off the leash, unclips the dog. In San Francisco people bring their dogs to the ocean, and they unclip the dogs. The dogs have been in an apartment all day, and they go wild. They go running down the beach at full speed into the water, they meet other dogs, they jump around. It always makes me so happy seeing dogs not having to be obligated to the human mind.
It’s fun to ask cinema: now what can you do? Let’s see what you have to offer. When I’m working it’s very much a collaboration between me and the cinema. I don’t have any ideas, the cinema has better ideas than I have. It’s not until you help arrange the cinema so it can be what it is. I’m the helper. I’m the dog, herding the sheep. I don’t make it as such. I allow it to do what it needs to do.
Shall we say something about cinema as the projection of light? In your films a striking thing is the textural transport of light, and how, within the shot, different textures, objects, patterns, in various ways shape the movement of light. That’s one of the strong visual impressions one gets from watching your films, the way light is dancing within the shot, in different categories, and how objects redirect light within a particular space.
It’s a transport of light that comes back to the audience and the viewer, and how light goes through different kinds of material in the picture and also reflects something else. And also come to life with different colours and patterns.
First of all, film is light. Just like painting is paint, film is light. So in my photography I try to make something that is for the pure joy of the cinema, really what I’m photographing is light, rather than subject matter. I’m not shooting light as a subject matter; I’m shooting light that is a subject matter. Sometimes the subject matter is abstract, or undiscernible, and at others it is quite concrete, you know what it is. But it’s always light and the organizing principle in the montage is always moving from a quality of light to a quality of light. In the shots themselves I don’t use the screen as a theatrical stage, or a window. Most people use the screen as a stage. Or else they’re using the screen as a window to show you something. In my case I’m actually trying to turn the screen itself into a living organism. So the screen itself is manifesting as a being, the screen is the thing. It’s very difficult in filmmaking to see something in the world, and then translate it onto the screen. The very great filmmakers are very adept at translating it onto the screen. The not so talented are just taking pictures of the world. They’re not making the screen as alive as the world. So I’m not using the screen as a window.
If there’s something in the world and you take a picture of it, then the image is less than the world. The image is a reproduction of the world. But if you make the screen itself as alive as the world, then the screen is no longer a secondary reality. It’s not a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. You make the screen the primary reality. It also is the world, but the screen is its primary reality. It’s not an unconscious thing looking at the world. This I think has a lot to do with human sanity. As people we actually experience the world as very multileveled, there’s the ‘so-called’ exterior world that we see and there’s all the layers in ourselves, which are all superimposed on that. So for human beings, seeing is a very multileveled thing. So I try to take shots where there is a counterpoint within the shot, to create a tension between two or three layers within the shot. The shot has the play and tension of counterpoint rather than that they represent an image, a word-meaning image. The trick for me is asking: how can you create an image that is not creating a word substitute in your mind? If you go primarily to a word substitute, the films don’t work because it doesn’t make any sense in those terms. It’s like using the wrong part of your mind. Films are actually very open hearted; they’re very good hearted. They’re very simple.
Creating certain kinds of images, with a certain tension in the light, and a certain counterpoint, a counterpoint of layers, within the shot. Then when the shot comes on, you can’t substitute it for the word. And because you can’t substitute it with a word, you’re left with having to actually having to watch it. You can’t get the word and then be done watching it. The word doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re forced to watch it and watch it unfold therefore you slowly get people to become more present and less in their secondary mind (which is thinking about thinking). It’s more the primary part of their mind, which is seeing and feeling and thinking. That’s a pretty good answer, I guess.
Let us say something more about 17 Reasons Why. As you mentioned earlier, almost all your films are screened at silent speed, 18 frames per second, but this film is preferably projected at 16 frames per second. And also it is “photographed with a variety of semi-ancient regular 8 cameras and is projected unslit as 16mm”. Do you want to say something about this work, and how it’s connected to the other films?
I don’t know how it’s connected to the other films. It’s kind of a novelty in itself; at the time I was making two films that were very, very meticulous. One, only on film grain, called Pneuma (1977-1983), which is a Greek word from Stoic philosophy which has to do with the swirl of energy in things. It’s all about film emulsions. I was also working on a film called Alaya (1976-1987), which is all about sand grain in relationship to film grain and the way they interact as two different muses. Touching each other, passing by one another and so forth. But they were two very meticulous films, and at that time, I guess it was the early 80s and Super 8 had come in, and everyone was dumping their regular 8 cameras into thrift stores. You’d go into a thrift store and open up a draw and there would be 15 or 20 of these beautiful cameras, each one like part of an evolutionary chain. Each camera a species, a different kind of genetic code of what a camera could be; one camera had this idea, another camera had that idea. They’re very charming things and at this time they must have cost about 50c or a dollar, so I became fascinated with them. A lot of times when you bought one, in the camera case there would be a roll of film that had never been shot that could be 15 years out of date. Or there would be a roll of film halfway shot in the camera. You know how you buy some equipment for a hobby, and then you lose interest in the hobby, that kind of thing. I just began to buy all these cameras and then shoot the regular 8mm film stock.
Unlike Super 8 - which had its own kind of perforations and is 8mm in width - regular 8 was actually 16mm film with twice as many perforations going down each side and you would put it through the camera twice, the way one use to play or record an audiocassette. You put it in the camera and you would shoot down one side of the 16mm then you’d take the take up reel and put it at the top of the camera, and you’d rethread it and go back down the other side, upside down. Each 16mm frame contained two 8mm frames. But if you didn’t have the film slit by the laboratory, which is what they would do with the regular 8mm home movie, you got it back as 16mm, then you would actually have four frames in each 16mm frame. So this is the fun of developing types of articulation with this kind of format. I remember as a kid on television seeing a group of very talented jazz musicians being given toy instruments, given an hour to practice and at the end of the show they played a whole piece of music on the toy instruments. So it’s like if you wanted to do a concerto for a toy piano, a piano that had 12 notes or something. So it’s sort of in that spirit.
You slowly discover all sorts of relationships. And I know you said, well wouldn’t one side be upside down because you’re going back the other way. When I went back the other way the second time, I held the camera upside down so the images would be right side up. You slowly discover different articulations. For instance, if you make every other frame black, if you put your hand in front of the lens you could suspend an image up in the right hand corner because every other frame is black. There are all sorts of variations and experimentations; I put each roll through the camera maybe three or four times. It satisfied that desire to be spontaneous with the camera. First of all, if you lost a camera or someone stole it, it didn’t matter because they were 50c. You could be very relaxed with them out on the street; they certainly didn’t threaten anybody. I wanted very much to, in the period of an hour, shoot a film that would be a whole little poem. To go for a walk, to shoot things down one side of the film and then turn the film over and come back down the other. There are times when you would want all four images to be of the same subject matter then you would remember, the first part of this roll I shot, so you’d go back to that. It was fun, the joy of improvising with an instrument in a way. That was thrilling, the film is kind of a novelty. It’s quite beautiful, and I think there is a real love of cinema about it.
But they’re shot frame by frame then?
Both. I shot frame by frame if I wanted to do an articulation with the single frames. When you see the film it’ll be very obvious.
We can here sense a leap or rearticulation in terms of formal preoccupations spanning from 17 Reasons Why up to Intimations (2015) and Prelude (2015). How would you describe your cinematic developments, do you feel that there are some differences in terms of rhythm, motives, editing (montage), if we compare early cinematic articulations with the recently made films? And what does prelude indicate in this particular case?
Every one of my films comes from who I am at the time I make it. You know, they’re not conceived or thought up. They are really reflecting on how I feel at the moment. Each film is a moment of personal history or personal struggle in my own development. Each film is a little bit of a reaction to the previous film. Each film, when you finish it, you feel there is an imbalance. There’s some kind of imbalance you want to compensate for in the next film. So each film is in one way taking up what you felt was missing in the previous film; every film is in one way a kind of prelude to the next film.
Is it sometimes complicated to separate yourself from one film and go on to the next?
When I finished Intimations, which has a lot of portraiture in it, I knew that the next film I wanted to make I wasn’t going to photograph, I didn’t want to photograph any objects in the world. I wanted the film to be made up of a pure cinematic reality that had to do with the camera’s relationship to the world. But not taking pictures of things. So Prelude has images of things. All full of images but they’re images that have to do with the camera’s relationship to the world. So I didn’t want to take pictures that didn’t seem valid or genuine to me. I wanted to make a film about the camera touching the world.
It’s very simple, it’s as if you wanted to go out and eat at a restaurant and you went to a Japanese restaurant last night you might not want to go to a Japanese restaurant tonight. It’s just basic. No more complicated than that. This also reconnects, as we touched upon earlier, to the idea that cinema is light. Its projected light. Because cinema is light then to me the basic subject matter of cinema is light. So the basic thing I always photographing is light.
Yes, but you need structures and textures out there to give you the quite specific rhythmic sense of how the light is transported within the frame. You use the world out there to help you in a way...
Yes, well what you do is, you walk around and suddenly there is some of kind of tension in the light that you find stimulating. Just as in Proust with the madeleine, and bringing back all those memories, having tea, you know. So sometimes something happens in the light, which opens up reality for you, which touches you. It’s October in Stockholm so you two must feel the light as the winter coming even if it’s a bright day? There’s a lot of death in the light, right? Because death is coming. Even though the light is warm and beautiful, it’s dying but it’s still there, it’s still very warm. All those things. Expressing yourself with light is a kind of great Eros. Light is Eros. I don’t just mean the human erotic, I mean the capital E of Eros, of passion, of juice, of heart.
As a closing note, is there anything you want to add about these two recent films, Prelude and Intimations?
One thing I would say about them... human society have been shooting with celluloid for about 120 years now. We are at a point where it’s almost gone, we’re in digital land with DCP and all that. So I realized most of the world turned their back on something which was very fantastic, you know the nature of convenience and product and people and conformity. Everyone just very quickly abandoned this medium which has produced so much beauty. So it could be that the last films made, not just shot, but shot and projected as film, are these 16mm poems made by a few poetic film makers. I know there’re a few feature filmmakers who want to release in 35mm. But still, basically I’m very worried that the whole thing may end with these 16mm poems being the last statement of this whole vital period of human history. When I’m shooting with film now I’m very aware of its preciousness and that it’s not going to be around that much longer, that I’m not going to be around that much longer.
The films are loving that they’re film. Both films explore the brightest possible, as bright as they can get without being distorted and as dark as they can get. Both of them have very dark sequences and very bright sequences. In a way the films are exploring the whole body of film, not just down the middle. This is all the way up and all the way down. In a way the films are very aware of why they exercise themselves as film. To show all that film emulsion can do, in terms of luminosity and darkness and middle range and everything. I’m very aware that it’s still going through the camera so I’m letting film have its day, a lot by adjusting the aperture, opening and closing the lens during the shot.
So these film-poems function for you as odes to the precariousness of the medium of film, the fragility of this particular way of being in the world as a filmmaker?
Yes, but never as subject matter. I’m not someone who’s making a living talking about film. It’s still poetry, but it’s poetry with the awareness of this fragile state of things. They are not films making a point about films. They are film being vulnerable. I’m not doing that just as a conceptual idea, it’s also about my being older as the later stage works of a composer or painter might have a certain kind of poignancy about the medium.
Daniel A. Swarthnas and Martin Grennberger