Monday, April 8, 2013

#607: A Hollis Frampton Odyssey

(Hollis Frampton, Various)

If you count By Brakhage as one set, A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is only the second collection of experimental shorts in the Collection. On one hand, this is totally understandable; it's doubtful that these sets reach the kind of wide audience even an arthouse release like, say, Badlands reaches; I assume compiling a set like this requires an enormous amount of curation, work obtaining rights, and other behind the scenes efforts; and perhaps most importantly many of the greatest and/or most well-known experimental filmmakers have work that either isn't meant to be seen in one sitting (e.g. Andy Warhol) or simply doesn't translate to home viewing (e.g. Nam June Paik). Currently, the set is in just under 400 collections, placing it on the low end of the spectrum, especially for an in-print recent release.

Of course, none of this matters when examining the films that are included here, and when the set is evaluated on its own merits it's pretty special. Frampton's work is notably different from Brakhage's deeply personal and tactile films - though there is certainly an auto-biographical component to Frampton's films, most notably in one of the best included pieces, (nostalgia), in which Frampton has an actor read descriptions of photographs from his life as they are shown burning away on a hot plate. The twist of the film is that the description corresponds to the photograph shown after it, making the viewer work to reconcile what has been said with what is being shown, while retaining enough information to do the same with the subsequent photo. It's a frustrating juggling act as a viewer - though not nearly as frustrating as another film in the same series, Critical Mass. The film combines three of the least appealing things in existence: improvisational acting, lovers' spats, and dischordant editing for an interminable half hour of nails on a chalkboard. I barely made it through this cinematic equivalent of Metal Machine Music even after tuning out halfway through.

The core piece here is Frampton's masterpiece Zorns Lemma, which runs over an hour and is the only selection available on Hulu. It's a brilliant exploration of form that should be required viewing for artists interested in photography of any kind. The majority of the film is dedicated to shots of letters of the alphabet as found on signs in various fonts and conditions, often but not always in alphabetical order. This sounds dull, and it kind of is, but it's also beautiful and oddly inspired. Like the rest of Frampton's films, there's certainly more to the explanation of the film than I am providing, but I think it's important to approach work like this with a totally clear mind and then search out people far more dedicated and informed than me to explain it should the need arise. Most of the time, however, I prefer my gut response to non-linear film to the explanation of it, however correct or intelligent the explanation seems.

There are other shorts here, some more appealing than others, but every one interesting in its own right. Most importantly in terms of his inclusion in the Collection, Frampton infuses his work with much more humor than Brakhage (at least based on the first volume of the latter's work), providing a much needed counterpoint to broaden the range of experimental film represented. On the whole, I would say I prefer the Brakhage set, but this is still a great collection that shouldn't be overlooked by people who are open to this sort of thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment