I finally had a chance to dive into this set. You would think that this sort of thing (experimental films, largely constructed as mind puzzles or structured based on obscure mathematical concepts) would be right up my alley. And you would be completely right of course. I can kind of see now though why some have accused these films of not being films, like I noted above, as a big part of what Frampton seems to be doing here is asking what a film is, and stubbornly challenging preconceptions about what a film ought to be. (As Michael Snow reads in the great extra feature A Lecture
, "it seems that a film is anything that may be put in a projector that will modulate the emerging beam of light," be it celluloid, nitrate, a cheese sandwich, etc.) One of the films on this set is a half-hour filming of the pages from a script (though granted, the film described is unfilmable, as it stars "you"). Four others are so unlike the traditional conception of film that Criterion presents them as menu screens instead. One of these is just a still shot of a tree. This (what makes something a film) is an interesting topic to dwell on I suppose, especially in the era of YouTube, but the set provokes far greater pleasures as well.
Chief among them is Zorns Lemma
, the most epic exploration of the alphabet ever committed to film. (I do not make such a statement lightly.) Now, I will come clean here and admit that the mathematical principle from whence the film was named
reads mostly like gibberish to me (the best I can figure is that, like ascending the steps of a family tree, everything leads to one originating element, and so the letters in the alphabet gradually lose their identity until unifying into that great originator: the film montage). But I find the film fascinating in how it uncomfortably forces you to decide whether you will process it as words or as images (try telling your mind not to read the images like words in a book--very difficult!) and in how it dares you to recall and anticipate its patterns. For a film so ordinally structured, there are still an infinite number of ways that each sequence can occur (which words are chosen, which letters are omitted, which letter will convert into an image this time, and whether the pattern will be broken or not--I'm pretty sure I noticed one sequence where the image for 'r' was shown twice). And all of this is of course not even getting into the mental associations that come from the precise juxtaposition of words chosen for this film, as well as the connotations of words given their presentation (font, environment, etc.). There are just so many ways to appreciate this film!
Moving on to the Hapax Legomena
series, zedz touched well on the mental acrobatics that ensue while watching something like (nostalgia)
. For the sake of mathematical equivalence, I replicate his comments here, sans permutation:
It's the central works that really get me excited. What I treasure about a good structuralist film such as Zorns Lemma or (nostalgia) (or Sink or Swim, or American Dreams (lost and found)) is that it gets your brain working in thrillingly different ways. And sometimes that's just as, or more, rewarding than getting all involved in a narrative, or being dazzled by aesthetic splendour - not that Frampton's films are devoid of either.
For me, the specific frisson seems to come from having to juggle multiple versions of the film in your mind at the same time. In (nostalgia), the process is reasonably straightforward (although the effect is anything but), as the 'underlying' film you're trying to imaginatively reconstruct is the one in which the narration matches the images. But at the same time, you're also shuttling backward and forward in time in other ways, and micromanaging a whole lot of different, compelling mental tasks:
1) you're trying to process the details of the image before it disappears;
2) you're trying to remember what was previously said about the image before your eyes and relate it to that image;
3) you're trying to process the present narration so you can recall it and utilise it when the next image appears;
4) you're following the biographical narrative implicit in the sequence of photos and their stories;
5) you're appreciating the different patterns of destruction on this image and relate them to past ones - an inevitable consequence of seriality;
6+) you're projecting backward to the beginning of the series and forward to the end: how many images have we seen? Is the narration for the last one going to bring us full circle by describing the first image? Is this film a loop, or a section from a potentially infinite series? Is Frampton going to disrupt the pattern? Is that information we were loaded up with at the beginning strictly accurate or subtly misleading?
Plus, he's delivering humour, suspense and existential dread all at the same time. In under 40 minutes.
I would just add that on top of all of this, there are at least a few other things going on if you are watching this for the first time, and have not already read what I am writing right now:
A) settling in to watch the film, adjusting to its defined parameters of what this film is going to be;
B) feeling the sneaking suspicion that something is off between the narration and image;
C) cursing your cheap-o Blu-ray player for ruining yet another viewing experience;
D) wondering if Criterion could have made such a glaring mistake, and if other copies might be similarly affected;
E) questioning your entire belief system/place in the universe;
F) realizing the discrepancy was intentional.
I agree it's unfortunate that the rest of Hapax Legomena
was not included. The films presented here give a certain idea of what the series is about (depriving the viewer of continuity in time, visuals, or audio) but the only other part of the series that's readily available (Ordinary Matter
, which can be seen here
) doesn't necessarily fit into this mold. Here's hoping this set sells well enough to warrant a second volume, which will presumably include all of the remaining films except for one, just because.
Finally, the Magellan
films mostly serve a whole other purpose entirely, providing eye candy that I certainly enjoy watching, but which doesn't really lend itself to much discussion. I will say I'm a little baffled that, at least going by IMDb ratings, something like Pan 700
would attract so much hate. (It's a minute-long scene, a fairly haunting image of phantom cars passing by an inconspicuous brick wall. It's a fairly obvious camera trick but effective enough--does it really offend some people's sensibilities so much?) Also, perhaps this makes me a heretic, but for films that are completely silent, I do sometimes like to try and find music that matches well. I found that this
recent album by Ga'an was a perfect
fit over Winter Solstice
(if you're favorably disposed to Magma-esque prog). The cover art actually reminds me a lot of (nostalgia)