After releasing a couple of impressive collections covering the work of Stan Brakhage Criterion now turns their sights onto another avant-garde filmmaker, Hollis Frampton, with their appropriately titled release A Hollis Frampton Odyssey. Criterion presents twenty-four films on one dual-layered disc in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and all are presented with new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfers.
Including supplements there’s well over 5-hours’ worth of material to be found on here which of course limits the room for the material. The bitrate is a little low on a lot of the films but the impact doesn’t seem to be too severe. In motion the image looks fine and if there are any inconsistencies they’re more than likely hidden by some of the quick edits or “effects” that appear in the films. At its worst I did notice some noise and blocking in darker areas of some of the more static shots, specifically Lemon.
Colours look absolutely gorgeous when present, with striking reds and blues, all of which are nicely rendered. Black and white segments have sharp contrast and fairly rich blacks. In regards to conditions of the source materials I’m taking a similar approach I took for both of Criterion’s Brakhage releases and ignoring them since it’s hard for me to say what’s intended and what’s not. But having said that I must say I’m rather shocked at the general condition of the films, which are all in fine shape, some look almost pristine with very few flaws present. Bill Brand does provide an essay in the booklet that accompanies this release, going over the restoration process and how they came to decide on the colour levels and what “flaws” should be left or removed.
A part of me wishes Criterion did spread the material over two discs but I was still quite surprised by the overall quality of the video presentation. From conditions of the material to the generally pleasing transfer the films all look incredibly good. 7/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Manual of Arms
Carrots & Peas
Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part I: The Red Gate 1, 0
The release technically isn’t heavy in the way of supplements, though its “design” so to speak is really to give a sampling of Frampton’s work whether it be film, photographs, or even one of his “lectures”, and some of this has found its way into the supplements.
The layout of the disc offers many viewing options while breaking his films into their own categories. You can watch all 266-minutes of films by playing all films continuously (which is the only option that allows a timeline mind you) or you can go through and play sections or certain films individually.
The films are broken out into four different sections: “Early Films”, “Zorns Lemma”, “Films From Hapax Legomena”, and “Films From Magellan”. “Early Films” presents Manual of Arms, Process Red, Maxwell’s Demon, Surface Tension, Carrots & Peas, and Lemon. “Zorns Lemma” simply presents the longest film on this set, the 60-minute Zorns Lemma. “Films from Hapax Legomena” presents three films of a series of seven, (nostalgia), Poetic Justice, and Critical Mass. Each section allows you to play all of the films in a batch or each one individually.
”Films of Magellan” is the more complicated section. Frampton’s original intent with the Magellan films was to create 36-hours’ worth of film to be shown over the course of 371-days, which he called the Magellan calendar. He died before he could complete this. Criterion gathers together some of the finished sections and have split them out even further across the three “phases” of the Magellan calendar. “The Birth of Magellan” presents one film section, The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I. “Straits of Magellan” presents a series of “pans”, quick films that were to be dispersed throughout this section, as the notes explain. Nine are included here. This section allows you to play them all or watch each one individually. “The Death of Magellan” presents only one film, Gloria. Disappointingly you actually can’t play the entire “Magellan” section as one and instead you have to go through each subsection and play them that way.
Dispersed throughout these films are various remarks by Hollis Frampton about the films or grouping of films. The audio ones range between 2-minutes and 7-minutes. The film’s to include audio remarks are: Maxwell’s Demon, Surface Tension, Zorns Lemma, (nostalgia), Poetic Justice, and Critical Mass. Lemon actually presents Hampton’s remarks in the form of a commentary that plays over the film. His remarks can also be found to cover whole sections for “Films from Halpax Legomena” and the “Magellan” films. Text remarks are found for Manual of Arms, Process Red, and Carrots & Peas. These comments generally explain what he was trying to accomplish, or how the project came to be, or maybe some interesting factoid about it. Once I got used to his dry delivery (and fairly dry humour) they actually are enjoyable to listen to and offer a deeper understanding into Frampton’s work.
Lemon also has a lone feature which allows you to play the film in a loop, which is apparently how it is to be presented in galleries. And yes, it does play the film in a loop, and according to the clock indicator it does so for over 48-hours, though I didn’t actually test this.
The remaining supplements are found under the section called “supplements”, naturally. First we get excerpts from a video interview with Hollis Frampton, recorded in 1978 for the “Video Data Bank” at the Art Institute of Chicago. In these 20-minutes of excerpts Frampton covers various topics about the art scene in New York during the 60’s, his photography (which he got into after he discovered his hate for painting,) and then his move to film. He talks about various influences on him, including Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger, the “narrative” in his films, and he concludes with his thoughts on what computers would be able to offer in the future, and it’s scary how right he was. Overall, like the other interviews scattered about, he can be a bit dry but he is insightful and funny (when talking about his work he amusingly says, with a bit of a wink, “I liked the stuff I didn’t like much more.”) making it a fairly breezy piece.
The other supplements look at other areas of his work.
A Lecture presents what could be called a simulation of a performance piece by Frampton. As explained Frampton would set up a projector screen at the front of a room and then started playback of pre-recorded audio, I assume on an audio cassette. He would then go to the back of the room to run the projector. The recording presented artist Michael Snow reading a script written by Frampton. While reading Frampton would then change the light from the projector in some way—blocking sections of it with his hand or changing the colour for example—when cued from the recording. Here Criterion presents the audio playing over an image of a projector screen that changes as the piece plays. The piece seems to be breaking down what film is, the tools used to present it, and explores the science behind it, specifically the illusion of movement and the importance of light. Or at least that’s what I got from it. Snow is stilted in his delivery, though I’m sure it’s intended, but past that I actually found this a rather wonderful inclusion on Criterion’s part. Criterion also includes a copy of the script online with instructions to do your performance if you feel so inclined (it’s currently found here.)
Following this is a photo gallery presenting some work from Frampton’s “xerographic series” By Any Other Name. Though the series (split in two) apparently presents over 70 images we only get about 15 here. The basic idea behind the series is Frampton would copy labels from canned products where the product in question had no relation whatsoever with the brand name. It’s actually a rather humourous little gallery, some of the names of the pieces being particularly funny themselves. Like most galleries you simply navigate through them using the arrows on your remote.
Criterion also includes a rather thick booklet which I guess you could consider a program for the films here. Ed Halter offers a fairly lengthy piece that works as a general bio for the artist. After this we then get writings from Bruce Jenkins about the “Early Films” on this set and then Zorns Lemma. Ken Eisenstein writes about the films that fall under the “Hapax Legomena” series, and Michael Zryd writes about the “Magellan” films. Zryd’s piece notes that Frampton was excited by the prospect of private home video formats, thinking the series could possibly live on something like laserdisc, so I can only imagine he would have been thrilled with DVD and Blu-ray. Bill Brand then writes a short piece on the process of restoring the films for this release. In all it’s a wonderful, thorough booklet.
I’m a little disappointed that outside of the booklet there isn’t more scholarly materials on the disc or possibly interviews with others, like Michael Snow. Yet I’m guessing that isn’t the route Criterion wanted to go with this, concentrating more on Frampton’s work rather than the man himself. In that regard the supplements are suiting and add some more great value to this release. 7/10