When Toni D'Angela asked me to write a paper on Bruce Bailie and Paul Sharits , I was wondering what on earth could have preside such a choice, my text was supposed to be part part of a small studies about the eye of Bruce Baillie and the mind of Paul Sharits.
And then, things clarified when I realized that for both filmmakers, perception was at stake. It was not only a question of eye and mind but the very nature of their works is dealing with the way we perceived, despite the fact that one filmmaker is privileging a kind of photographic imagery while the other emphasized the perceptual processes through a kind of abstraction. At the same time, there is something else, both filmmakers have a specific relation to the used of colors. Colors seems to give way to the image.
With Bruce Baillie, the color one sees, tuned the images and this occurred as much at the time it was made as we can also experienced now-days. Very often its use enriched the graphical aspect by eliminating details in favor of a larger form within the shoot : one could remember for example the panning over the flowered hedge in All My Life (1966). The red of the flowers exceed their actual size, haunting the picket fence covered by the savage roses, as much as it doest it within the camera movement : the tracking over the hedge. The films of Bruce Baillie has been said to be an exploration of his visual states of mind as much as a capture of his surrounding in a spiritual manner1. In this sense color is used to give a clue, an tone for what we are seeing. Colors is the agent of the state of mind as one can see in Tung (1966) or Castro Street (1966) interwoven within the different layers of image. This practice reaffirm the sensuality, the tactile quality of a color, a hue, creating a space to be within the world, through colors.
With Paul Sharits colors get's on another dimension, the sensuality of its presence is manifested throughout its pulsating vibrations. Colors seems to be used to contaminate frames, as if the perception of it, is given by its projection. Colors appear throughout its relation with others color frames, its flickering produces color which are not inscribed within the film but are its result, due to the functioning of the apparatus itself. In N:O:T:H:I:N:G (1968), a much as in the different Analytical Studies (1975-76) or Shutter Interface (1975), we are traveling through a color space in which the modulation are part of the process of its screening. When one look at the scores of some films of Paul Sharits, one cannot imagine what would be seen while in movement. Paul Sharits is dealing with the constitution of an image within the moment of its projection, its image is in process, in the making at the time of its screening, as Malcolm LeGrice would say it is an experience which is induced, produced at the moment of its projection. In fact Paul Sharits affected us in a different manner, they induces a kind of thrill within our perception, dislocating our usual quietness. They challenge us while Bruce Baillie is going to seduce us by its immersion into a kind of dilution within the image. The experiences are distinct despite the fact that both of them are expressing themselves through films. Paul Sharits despite its analytical procedures manifest his sensibility which is requiring the used of a kind of violence within our perception. The procedures reflects a kind of violence within, while Bruce Baillie will be celebrating the world. From this both use cinema their own way, in which the question of editing can't be resolved the same ways. There is in both case an immersive dimension in theirs films. But the imersiveness come from other means, and are functioning from different position within making art , within making films. The expressiveness is not rooted similarly, the relation toward the world between are distinct ones. Bruce Baillie welcome the conscious expansiveness in a spiritual manner, celebrating the world, while Paul Sharits is dealing with the violence and fragility of the human being (and of the film strip) as part of the world.
Between the eyes and the mind the sensuality of coulours and sound codes, shapes our perceptions and make the film experience unique.
It has been said that the film of Paul Sharits were dealing with abstraction as if there was no evidence of any mimetic representation, affective representation. As if the motive, content, subject of his film were only the frame, the strip, the grain... but it is as recently told aknew by Birgit Hein2 refering to a conversation between Hollis Frampton and Paul Sharits, its like if you were not looking at the film to forget about its picturial content3, «which always convey powerful emotions».
Most of the works of the 60's and 70's have been read, appreciate and looked at with the modernist glasses, which have minimized or disregarded certains aspects or contituants within the work of an artist, of a filmmakers. This has occurred with Paul Sharits for which people could not see the relation is figurative had to do with his filmworks forgetting that the film work was dealing with narrative content4, diary and emotion in motion. Similarly this occurred within the works of Bruce Baillie, for which the term of spiritual cinema has been coined. He has been associated with the psychelic era as much as those of Paul but, of course for different reasons. It is interesting to understand that the film Castro street which seems such a sensual film was a very challenging work to do combining mattes using black and white hight contrast in order to shoot the color scene, all this was done in the mind of the filmmaker to remember the scene shoot in order «that the two layers would not be superimposed but combined»5.
Both filmmaker are dealing with the possibilty to offer an experience with film as a specific support which determine the ways you will frame, edit, and even project. In both case the work deal with the production of an illusion, more or less acknowledge.
Recife, December 2015
1See: Scott MacDonald, Critical Cinema 2, University of Californai Press, Berkeley 1992.
2See: Birgit Hein and Susan Pfeffer, The image in the structure, Paul Sharits Eine Retrospektive, Fridericianum, Koenig Books, Kassel 2015.
3On this matter see yann beauvais : “Figment “in Paul Sharits, Editions Les Presses du Réel, Paris 2008.
4It is a constant claim for Paul Sharits that «his films have been wrongly interpreted has being non-representational » Unpublished lectures given by Paul Sharits on May 9 and 10th 1970 called Strategies in Documentary Film, Introduced by Gerald O'Grady in Paul Sharits Eine Retrospektive.
5Bruce Baillie Interview in Scott MacDonald, Critical Cinema 2, ci