Pneuma (Nathaniel Dorsky, 1977-1983)
«It is the direct connection of light and audience that interests me.
The screen continually shifts dimensionally from being an image-window, to a floating energy field, to simply light on the wall. [In my films, the black space surrounding the screen is as significant as the square itself]. Silence allows these articulations, which are both poetic and sculptural at the same time, to be revealed and appreciated».
When you started to make films, some other filmmakers began what P. Adams Sitney called «structural cinema». Your work seems to be more lyrical and introspective (not so far from Stan Brakhage and Marie Menken); however, Pneuma (1977-1983) or Alaya (1976-1987) are films which could be called «structural cinema», and they even share the radicalism of that kind of films: the support, the film, shown in a material way, the length or the idea of «take» in its most extreme meaning. Sharits made a film very close to Pneuma, very focused on the «grain»: Axiomatic Grannularity (1973). Did you somehow feel in tune with those filmmakers?
Was it filmed... was it with film grain? Do you know that Ernie Gehr made a film called History (1970)? A film which is just black, and grain... There is no montage, it's just one shot. It looks very good when he shows it before Serene Velocity (1970). Because you spend about half an hour in that charcoal gray of the screen. And then, there is this green wall with the perspective... It's a nice combination. I once saw him showing it together and I thought it was really great.
So, in a certain way, do you feel related to the works of these filmmakers? Brakhage, Menken, Sharirs?
In simple language, do you want me to talk about the relationship to these different tendencies in the film? Structuralism, so to speak, which I guess one associates with Sharits and Gehr, really came in about the very late sixties, early seventies. So it didn't exist when I first started, at such. So my first influences... I think Stan Brakhage is what most impressed me. I also loved a film by... Have you heard of Ron Rice?
Yes, of course.
A film called Chumlum (1964)?
Yes, we saw it but not in cinema.
The real film is worth seeing. But Chumlum affected me a lot. And Brakhage affected me tremendously because I really didn't understand it completely and I didn't even like it completely. Brakhage is almost an acquired taste. I didn't quite get it at first. And I should say I got that it was great, I got that this is for real, and this is to be respected, and this is overwhelming. And it was intriguing. But I didn't get it in terms of what you may call pleasure at first. In that sense it was an acquired taste, maybe, to like it. You know, like grapefruit or olives. I'm just trying to think about something that isn't immediately pleasurable. And what intrigued me – I know I've said this kind of thing many times, but what intrigued me with Brakhage was obviously that one person can go out with a camera and declare a film language. And declare some kind of lyric sense of existence. «I'm going to use a camera». I actually talked about that last night in the presentation of Threnody (2003-2004), right?
Yes, you said that it was a devotional song. A film with a very strong intensity, but with a very sad story behind that. And you mentioned that you decided to make a film which would be a tribute song. Since you wouldn't be able to be with him at the moment of his death, you could just take the camera and make a film for him. You also told us about the feeling you tried to achieve when you were making it: to obtain the image of someone looking back, someone who is going away and who sees reality floating on the surface of water. That was the atmosphere you tried to shoot.
And the thing is that the beauty of someone just going out and saying: «this is existence, I'm going to be a poet of existence, and having a camera and doing that». It may be hard to appreciate at this point, but Brakhage made up a language of film that was based on everything that was tabu, everything that was not allowed: jump cuts, flare lights, shaky camera out of focus, overexposed, underexposed... everything that was out of bounce became the actual language. So in a way it was kind of shocking and thrilling. The revolutionary nature of Anticipation of the Night (1958). Have you seen that?
Which he made... I think he was 24 years old when he made that! The level of revolution in that film is... I don't think there's been a greater revolutionary gesture in cinema. In terms of someone going, you know, with confidence and determination. I think it is the greatest moment of revolution, and he was 24 years old, when he accomplished that. And I asked him once, I said – I knew him all my life – when I was 20 I made my first film called Ingreen (1964) which was affected by his films and by Gregory J. Markopoulos'. And actually, by Chumlum. And in some degree with Marie Menken but more Brakhage and Markopoulos.
I invited Stan over to my apartment when I was 20, it was a smaller world then... He was visiting New York and I said: «I want to show you my film» and he just came over and looked at it. Anyway, it was a sound film and at one point he said «Why do you have sound?» and I said «Oh, I thought it would make it more powerful». And then he says «Well, then go to Hollywood». You know, that kind of thing. But he liked, he loved the film and it affected him. The premiere was at a little showcase of the Cinematheque that Jonas Mekas was running at this gallery called the Washington Square Gallery... I was just 20.
Maybe I should tell – maybe this is a little interesting – I made the film and I was living with four other filmmakers, and we were squatting in a building which was going to be sold but we had freed, so it was one of these households when everyone has mattresses on the floor, we had projectors... I've been in households like that in San Francisco of kids these days. So at that time I met Jonas Mekas. Do you know his brother just died?
Yes, we heard about it yesterday.
Yes, I heard about it the day before. So as I was saying he just came over, and of course he was very impressed seeing this household: everyone having projectors, and rolls of film on the floor... It was very nice. And I showed him the film and he said «Well, I want to show it». The night of the screening - at that time they were using the Washington Square Gallery for screenings - my friend-to-be, Jerome Hiller, came later to the screening with Gregory J. Markopoulos and I remember them all applauding very much. I think Gregory did probably see to what degree I had been affected by Twice a Man (1964). Because it has to do with the triangle, with the mother. And otherwise obviously Twice a Man was very strong at that time for a young person. When Gregory first showed it... Have you ever seen it?
Twice a Man (Gregory J. Markopoulos, 1963). Courtesy: The Temenos Archive
Yes, several times.
When he first showed it, it didn't have sound, it was better. It was more open. The sound over-declared the film. When it was silent, it was much more mysterious. People have told me that the music is horrible in this The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) film. It was so overstated that it shows a lack of trust in mystery in cinema. I don't know, I haven't seen it.
We guess it's a question of sensitivity, or considering oneself sensitive.
I always see someone being sensitive. I always see a person being sensitive when I see his films. I don't experience the sensitivity, I see someone being sensitive, do you know what I mean? Other people love it, but it's always self-conscious to me. I'm never just like «ohh», you know, I'm going «oh». I just see someone showing me all the time, instead of being sensitive. But other people are crazy about him. The point is that Brakhage was the most intriguing of everyone because you realize that he was trying to find a film language by using all these elements that were tabu and creating a syntax with all that was tabu. That was the most exciting thing. And for me the most exciting thing about experimental film was not being bad: films that expressed bad behavior, radical and so forth. Let's say I would enjoy Flaming Creatures (1963) by Jack Smith, which was also shown by the time. But, you know, you enjoy films that are «bad boy films» so to speak, but it didn't have the intrigue of something trying to discover how to speak with images in a way that was new and poetic. That was the real thing to me.
And then, that was the seed that was planted in me when I was 18 or 19, which is still growing in me today, I still feel that there's no end to that exploration of the possibility of a film language. I mean, it's hardly been touched. Something came about in my own life which no one else had done in a way. P. Adams, in his article in Artforum said that I had said to him informally that Phil Solomon, do you know of him?, that Phil Solomon had said to me that I had found a way «around» Brakhage. And everyone was kind of stuck either reacting against Brakhage or going towards Brakhage. But he said: «You found a way around him». And I mentioned it to P. Adams and he said: «No, no, you found a way through Brakhage». And he mentioned the film The Riddle of Lumen (1972) what was made out of outtakes from previous movies, and I think it was Stan's first film that wasn't autobiographical but it was based in just using images, and so forth. But I think my own films that are primarily visual. There is a fellow named Steve Anker – I don't know if you know him: he ran the San Francisco Cinematheque for about twenty years – and he said to me about my films that he found it shocking that, up into the point that my films existed, no one actually thought of making a visual film. It seemed so obvious. Other people made films that were visual, but the primary through-line wasn't visual. And he said: «It seemed so obvious, yet it didn't occurred to anyone».
Regarding what you comment on Brakhage's film, in an interview with Scott MacDonald, you divide your movies in two «types», on one hand those that you conceive as more definite, closed and «synchronic» projects and on the other hand those that we might say that arise from a more organic form, with much more extensive periods of time, of years, like Hours for Jerome (1982). Could you explain how do you proceed in each of two cases at the moment of filming and editing? Do you start, in the first case, from predetermined ideas? Besides, the segments in your films work in an individual, autonomous way, but they also produce reverberations between them - like a bridge that connects the different parts of the movie. We think you have been called it «polyvalent montage». Could you explain this idea and its origin?
It only occurred to me over a number of years of trying to work with the idea of a «polyvalent montage» with came from reading poetry when I was 19 or 20 and wondering what it would be like to make a film that progressed from shot to shot only for the necessity of the film, not for any agenda outside, allowing the film itself to have its own necessity.
There are earlier indications of that, the earliest indications of what I'm doing I think came from small sections of Chelovek s kino-apparatom (The Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929). There is an area in the first third of the movie, before it gets lost in the superpositions of the trolley cars that goes for about half an hour, and that kind of thing, there is an area of real, genuine mystery montage. Around the area when they go watch the railroad tracks and there is a dream within a dream, a car pulls up, there's a woman with coffee. There is an area where... it suddenly cuts moving forward toward this building which is on the corner, and you cut to this park with just these trees blowing. It's that whole area of the film, the time of the film where there's pure poetic mystery of montage. I've never seen that before. There are other areas which are more mundane when he does, for instance, the parallel cutting between a woman washing her face and someone hosing the sidewalk, but that's kind of conceptual. Once you get the linking that there is a parallel, there is no more mystery after that. It's just the cleverness of the parallel situation. But there's an area in Chelovek s kino-apparatom where it goes into pure floating mystery, you don't know where the point of view is... «Is this the dreamer, is this the dream?»
I think this was the first real seed I don't even know to what degree Vertov recognized that, because he didn't build on that at all. And of course that film is very corrupted by the sociological agenda of it. The film is kind of torn between wanting to be a pure poet and wanting to be marxist. So it does a little of each. But he didn't seem to let that aspect, which to me is the most magical, flourish. It didn't flourish. And then it wasn't picked up by many people.
At a certain point, the films that P. Adams Sitney in a sense «discovered» of Joseph Cornell where there's a progression of images «surreal», right? You go from maybe a ballet dancer to an alligator... but it was more a montage of juxtaposition, a surreal juxtaposition, there wasn't really a syntactical montage. Vertov was closer to the actual syntax of moving from this to this to this, there it started to flow. This is more like the most typical thing of the surrealist juxtaposition, odd relationships, rather than actually growing. Then of course, there is Warren Sonbert. Do you know of him?
I knew Warren since he was 17. At that time I met Robert Beavers, I knew him since he was 16. He came with Gregory J. Markopoulos and I was maybe a few years older. I was 20 or 21. We discussed among our group where Warren would be... We were all very serious, not serious like that, but we took the filmmaking and the idea of where these explorations would go very seriously... We loved to smoke hash and go to «regular» films, and be stoned to the point where you couldn't remember anything. Every time the film cut we couldn't possibly remember. There was a film critic at the time named Ken Kelman. I remember going to a pirate film with Ken and Jerry and then half way through it I turned to Jerry and said: «Can you remember anything in this film before that shot?».
But, from that, came a real... you started to experience the real primordial aspects of cinema. What happens with the shot and the cut? What the magic is, that thing of popping from one image to the next image? It's partly youth and enjoying all that kind of thing. It was humorous but it was also serious. We have discussions, for instance: if you cut from something hard to something soft, was it the subject matter in the image that made the cut effective? Or was it the quality of the image? If you took a picture of the sidewalk and then a picture of, let's say, water, if you cut from the water to the sidewalk, was it the picture within the frame or the actual quality of the screen? Of course, it's ultimately a merge of those two. But all these issues we were very serious about. It was very important to us.
To back up a second, Stan's revolution with Anticipation of the Night… I asked him: «Stan, it is so revolutionary, where did that came from?». I said: «I know some places where I think it came from, but I never heard anyone mention». Then I started to mention some things. Do you know this film by Serge Eisenstein, Romance sentimentale (Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1930)?
Yes, it is an imaginative film.
Yes. It was the first music video, if you think about it. You know, it has a performer, and you see the performer and then it cuts away and then it comes back to the performer. It's really the seminal music video. But it has this prelude, shooting winter trees with a moving car, with all these jump cuts, intercut with waves crashing... I think the sound is very concrete at that time, in that part before the piano music begins. That seems like Anticipation of the Night, the jump-cuts of the winter trees. I said: «Did that affect you?», and he said: «Yeah, no one has ever mentioned that». And I said: «Where did you see that?». He said there was a Film Society in Los Angeles when he was there.
So I think there is a number of things in Stan attributed to Marie Menken. But I think a part of that came out of that Russian filmmaking. I mean, to see those kind of jump-cut, I think that prelude to Romance sentimentale was very important. So Stan grew in that direction and then made this one particular film, The Riddle of Lumen which opened up the polyvalence, which in a way echoed that little moments in Vertov. And then I came upon it, through all of these influences and essentially it came out of... By being 19 or 20, and smoking weed, and reading poetry very slowly and realizing that a great poet, as you read one word and then the next word, would be like Mozart: every note that was his was just very important. He didn't go five notes from here to there, but each note had a psychological and emotional progression to the psyche, each step in itself is completely profound, and that's when I began to wonder could you do that with film? I remember asking my friend Jerry: «Could you make a film where each shot kept opening up without any other obligation?». And Jerry, who was already doing this in a way though he wouldn't admit it, was showing this 400 feet films that were never printed, never solidified with names, they were just rolls which he re-edited. People used to come over to his apartment, like Gerard Malanga, the Warhol assistant. This was all around 1964-1965. Because there was no video as such, it gave the filmmaking a lot of vitality, because filmmaking was so strict in the world. If you wanted to see a Marie Menken, a hand-held film with jump-cuts, that was just a radical film to see. Now it's just another thing, you see it now in MTV. But it was a genuine radical thing to see, someone using the film media in a radical way. It was very exciting, people would go to each other apartments having projectors and projecting, there's something... vibrating on that. And also because it was way before the Internet, and one thing that you may not actually be able to experience in your lives, because of your late birth in relation with the Internet, is how mysterious the world was before the Internet. You couldn't just... you wouldn't know about me! There are advantages there, for instance. Now we know about each other, we can share our world together. But at that time there was all that excitement about coming upon other people, actually coming upon them. You know, certain vitality. Anyone would tell you that any area of interest was more vital before the Internet. There was that thing of real discovery and assertive knowledge: «If you go to this person...».
So these are my influences. Structuralism as such happened after this point. Though everyone had structuralist ideas: «Could you make a film...?». Here is another influence at that time, let me start. It's the first time I saw a Warhol film: it was at an open screening. This is before... he was known as a painter, certainly not as a filmmaker. And every Thursday night there was an open screening, anyone could bring a film and we would show it. And he brought a film that was made of three black and white camera rolls called Haircut (1963). They may have been another late «Haircuts» but this was the first one [Haircut #1]. And it was shocking, it may be hard to understand why it was shocking: three black and white camera rolls of someone getting a haircut. The gimmick was that the person was naked, he had his legs crossed, and during the third roll the fellow closes his legs, and you see his dick. And that was the little... But the really shocking thing, believe me or not, was not the dick. It was that he let each camera roll flared all the way in and then all the way out. The entire materiality. To say it was shocking may seem odd but the first time you saw it... That's a tabu, there are still some tabus. One is you can't just declare a film where the entire.. you go all the way and then back... I'll never forget that in a way. It's just like Jack Smith in Flaming Creatures. He had these little white holes in the end of the camera roll. There were these holes which were punched in with the code of the film, he had these white holes in the film and it was like eating with your hands. Things you just didn't do, you would do something but you wouldn't do that! And now it sounds silly but the first time these things happened, in a way there was something exciting about how straight the world was, therefore the breaking of the straightness had a lot of energy. The younger people in America ask me why was On the Road (1951) by Kerouac so powerful, or how. I say: «The thing you don't understand is how straight the world was». I read On the Road when I was about 15 years old, the summer it came out. You can't comprehend how straight the world was. And that of course releases this other kind of energy. The tabus, in a way, were helpful. There were so many tabus to break that it gave this energy in different directions.
You can call Haircut a structuralist film... That was the first time I saw someone doing a gesture in that direction but, on the other hand, because one of the obvious things you would think as a filmmaker is: «Can I make a film which is just one shot? Can I set the camera and...?». But of course Lumière did that, the first films were that. Sometimes you go into a San Francisco gallery and someone has this radical film called «Study in Duration»... That was what the Lumière did in 1890. But if you don't know film it seems like a radical idea. So structuralism may have started with the first films, they were structuralists! Before there was even the radical idea of montage.
We think the «polyvalent editing» leads the spectator to a kinematic present which can't be reduced to simple verbal codes or analysis. It's traduced in a pure visual experience: when the film is ended, all kind of codes or analysis are not possible because a concrete perceptive state of mind is imposed to the spectator. What did Warren Sonbert mean when he said that Hours for Jerome's editing was too descriptive? Did he mean that you respect the spatio-temporal place, compared to Triste (1978-1996) and Variations (1992-1998)?
P. Adams Sitney, in an Artforum article, decided to call it «open montage». Maybe that's a better term, I don't know. I know that Warren Sonbert, or someone talking about Warren Sonbert, used the word «polyvalent» which is, actually, I think a term from biology. But it has to do with the same thing. Warren's film, by the way were... He was influenced or inspired by our discussions but he used that instinct in a different way. It wasn't really based on the visual reality, it was based on using the language meaning of images in a way I don't feel completely successful but other people like it very much. They are based on language ideas but it wasn't actually that visual kind of language. Part of the visual language.
I know I'm not quite answering the question but we'll get to it... and actually, I am – it comes from Freud, he has this very famous book written in 1900 called Die Traumdeutung (The interpretation of dreams) and in it there are some very interesting sections about dream language, very interesting to read. Because what we were really talking in this question has to do with dream language. What are the connectives between individual images that start to create a kind of syntax of their own. And one thing that Freud said was that we project our dreams on the inside of our eyelids so the images are there, but they morph. So there you can project an image and it can go like that. And at a certain point the shape would trigger the conceptual mind and the dream would go on that direction. Just like a cloud can look like an animal. So something that was this shape can go like this, and it's very important to this kind of syntax and montage that the actual shapes move you.
Alaya and Pneuma are different from the rest of your films: in Alaya, even if the idea of meditation is very strong, it’s really complicated to establish a connection with your other films, «sentimentally» speaking, as we’re not in the world of everyday, there were no recognizable objects. Somehow, we can say that there’s a kind of distance when we film a grain of sand. Why did you decide to study the grain of sand as a motif? In Alaya and Pneuma, the grain of sand and the grain of the film are the objects of study, and you push that idea to the end. They seem strange in your filmography. In Alaya, in some takes, the grain of sand is so small and microscopic that it becomes barely perceptible, in such a way that it seems that we see the grain of the movie itself. Perhaps that is why we tend to consider films like Alaya and Pneuma as «brothers» or «twins».
The thing with the kind of montage I work with is when I was first trying it... You mentioned Alaya and Pneuma, those films in a way were the beginning of what we are talking about: in another words, to learn to do this, to learn to make a film which move from one thing to the next to the next for no other reason but that. I started with one subject and then I would go back to most primordial subjects with no image and just film grain, and try to move that in that direction. Then I added the element of sand, in Alaya. And then it became like a juggler that might light the torch with a flame. Adding subject matter, a multiple subject matter to the single subject matter would be like lighting the torches. So the possibilities in the polyvalent montage increase because of the varied subject matter but there is also an equal chance for disaster, because an idea between two shots could be corny, or something distracting, like it's visually successful but then the relationship is corny – it's visually successful it means something to your mind which starts to take over.
So my idea when I'm working with my films is to not create a montage where your mind can take over the situation. Because in a sense what I feel is that through all our lives as human beings there is a huge world that we don't talk about, which is our kind of emotional world. On top of that we put all the kind of concepts and ideas of a day. You know how you may have a very strong dream, wake up and forget about it, have a busy day and do all the stuff, and when you turn off the lights, you go to get back in bed and all of a sudden you remember that dream. You realize that everything you did during the day was just an obstruction, it was on the way of what your psyche was really interested in. It was waiting for you to get done with your survival game so it could go on with its own needs. So there is this whole world in the human beings which is underneath the kind of practical world, and almost all cinema deals with the practical world, the world of image ideas and concepts. Meanwhile there is this whole area of the human psyche which cinema hardly ever addresses. So this kind of montage begins to address that whole area of the psyche, and I think one of the reasons people like it is because suddenly this huge part of them is being addressed by a film. Not in the way of an idea of that, but actually. There is a very big difference in all art all way through Western History: there is certain art that is actual, and other art is the idea of something. When you come upon an artist that does the actual is thrilling compared to someone who does the idea of things. There is a difference in the sense of taking a picture of something, or actually having that thing become present. There are some artists who can just show you the world, but then there are other artists where the painting is the world. This is the necessity for this kind of montage.
Variations (Nathaniel Dorsky, 1992-1998).
Triste (Nathaniel Dorsky, 1978-1996)
What do you mean when you say that in «polyvalent editing» «the place is the film»? Face to the reality in Hours for Jerome this concept must send us, in Triste and Variations, to the reality of the film itself?
At that point the torches had to do with making this film Triste – that took me, believe or not, four of five years to edit. Now it might take me a month to edit a film like that. It's because I was just starting and also it was footage from about fifteen-twenty years of projects that had fallen apart. So I was gathering a lot of scraps from different films, and I think one of the reasons why it was difficult to edit is that I hadn't developed a shooting style which was appropriate for this kind of montage. I had just footage and I had the idea for the montage, so it was harder to get it work.
Variations was the first time I brought everything into the «present tense». I began to shoot footage which was appropriate... I started to understand what kind of shooting worked for this kind of montage. It's the first real... It's a very enjoyable film, the first blossoming. Triste is just like the seed in the ground, and this is the flower. What I discovered with Triste is that the film was just opening up and after five or six shots the whole thing would collapse, it would become meaningless. It would be intriguing maybe for three, four or five shots, and then around the sixth shot it would collapse like a house of cards. So what I began to discover is that as the film opens up it also has to echo back. I started to learn relationships and you realize that if you put two shots together that were similar that wouldn't work. Because the mind would start to find conceptions, parallels between the two things - this red shirt and this red flower: the idea is red. But if you took them and you moved them – if you find the right distance, just like a spark. Let's say there is two shots between them. When this red came on, and then two shots after that, this red came on, it would echo. It's not a conception idea.
Excuse me for sounding pretentious but Eisenstein has a lot of montage theory, and Tarkovski has a lot of montage theory but I don't think they actually manifest it. The theory is interesting. Both of them are obviously very talented filmmakers, but I don't think they necessary manifest what they are talking about. It's not important what I think of them, what it's important is that what I'm saying isn't a theory from some kind of secondary theories about montage and has to do with the actual experience: if this shot were here, it doesn't resonate. You move it... Let's say you're working and you suddenly say after a while: «Oh, I don't like this shot» and you pull it out... also this other shot doesn't work. All these things are working maybe over four or five shots periods.
In Variations, the way the film moves... let's say there are seventy-five shots. A group of five shots moves along in a cluster: as it goes forward it echoes back. When it does that, the film begins to deepen. And at the same time it has the freedom, it's deepening. If you had just the freedom, so to speak it would be like some montage in the beginning of a television news, maybe something it would be done for the MTV, a music video or something. But there is no accumulation, there is no meaning – there's just the variety, that doesn't really help you that way.
In philosophy there are two extremes: there's nihilism, which means things have no meaning, and there's what they call eternalism, which means things have an ultimate meaning. In art if it's too eternalistic or too nihilistic it doesn't really work, you have to be somehow between these two. The eternalism would have to be some filmmaker who's really taking himself «seriously», so seriously that the film in a way starts to get dead in its seriousness... (I don't want to name names...) And other filmmakers where there's meaningless. One big problem in the «genre» of avant-garde film, which is a topic in itself: when it began it was not a genre, it was a genuine exploration, and the first generation of explorers had to take the machete and hack their way through the jungle... those people were maniacs. Like Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Bruce Conner, Harry Smith. I think I'm leaving out someone important... Gregory J. Markopoulos too. They had to elbow all their way into the world, they couldn't just walk into the world. They had manifestos. It's just like in the history of poetry: every group had its own manifesto. In a way, a manifesto is just like chopping. «We are the real thing». When I came along it was the next generation, there was a way to walk, they had already done this. So my generation didn't have to be as violent. But then after my generation, the path was covered with asphalt, with pavement. Soon there were MacDonalds and the whole thing, the avant-garde became to me very little class. And now in America you go to these film shows and there is a lot of pretty mediocre movie. And everyone just sits there and applauds the worst possible movie. And then you think you are in a madhouse, in an insane asylum: I do, I think: «This is crazy». When I first went, if something came on that was questionable, people would... Every film was ended with a combination of applause and catcalls. It was more for real, it wasn't anything... The first people were the maniacs, I feel like I was in a fortunate position: I didn't have to be a maniac, but I was still as vital, I had still a serious need to do this. Not the serious need to participate in avant-garde genre but a serious need of the psyche to use cinema as some kind of self-purification or some kind of pointing towards something of truth, the truth of cinema.
This truth of cinema has to do with the idea of stanza, from which you tried to achieve resonances and polyvalences or synaptic connections.
Oh, yes, it has to do with the «polyvalent montage». So in a sense, as it goes forward also it has to echo back. And if something it's too literal, then it collapses into that. The whole idea is: you don't want the everyday mind to take over. You don't want to feed your everyday mind. You don't want to be aggressive towards the everyday mind because then the everyday mind might get angry back. You want actually to fuse it. And the other part that needs nurturing can come up. I've noticed when people have babies that if the baby is crying, you just give him something new to look at, you don't say «don't cry, stop crying». It doesn't work. You just give him something else and he's happy. So that's the polyvalent... you just give the audience something else, but you have to give them the right thing. It's very infant in a way. It's the same principle.
We will return to that in the second issue, but we would like to talk a little bit about the «natural» superpositions which we can see in some of your films: The Visitation (2002), Song and Solitude (2006) o Sarabande (2008). It all has to do with states of mind.
Superposition in film implies two exposures, and layer means «within the reality». Since my films are more about a progression of states of mind. The first films I made, which you probably haven't seen because prints don't exist in Europe... I was 20 years old and they had superpositions - with two layers, I was very affected by Chumlum. And other people were doing supers, in a kind of floating world. It's immediately very attractive, because when you have two layers, the gravity disappears. When you have one layer, there's gravity. When you have two layers, the effect is that there is no more gravity, the screen is floating. And this is very attractive, to lose the obligation to gravity. I made a number of films with supers and it's also great for stream of consciousness, it's wonderful.
At a certain point... I did that but I was pulled by various forces: another part of me respected just the simplicity of seeing the world, an image. I was pulled to that direction for a while, but I developed a film language: when you see Triste there is not much layering in the shots, they are just there. But when you see Variations, you start to see that I introduce layers, natural layers, and sometimes when you cut for one thing to the other, there is one that has two layers of activity and then you cut to another shot that is totally different and has another two layers of activity. That happens a lot in the film.
What I began to realize is that the images that work in a «polyvalent montage»... - you talked about dream, and also about nurturing the unconscious: if the shots were expressions of a state of mind, they worked better for this kind of montage that if they were pictures of the world. Variations is sort of wonderful because it's also really pictures of the world. I wish I could get back there. I moved from Variations slowly towards Compline (2009), where for instance Jaime Pena was saying how he didn't recognize one image. Of course he was exaggerating, you can recognize some images. Do you want to know what you really see in Compline?
The truth is we don't know if we want to solve the mystery.
Those were car lights and raindrops out of a car window, very close. I think one basic instinct was to start to take shots which were states of mind rather than pictures of the world. If you think about states of mind, you all are seeing me and I'm seeing you, so we are all here together but it's a very different experience...
Again, that is something that has to do with the idea, the psyche and its differences.
When you have shots of the world, then it's harder to go from one image to the other without the conceptual idea of what the objects are.
A Coruña, June 4th 2011
Interview by: Francisco Algarín Navarro and Félix García de Villegas Rey
with the collaboration of: Miguel Blanco and Marcos Ortega,
English transcription by Miguel García
(with the collaboration of José Luis Torrelavega)
and edited by Francisco Algarín Navarro and Nathaniel Dorsky by email
(Sevilla- Barcelona- San Francisco / Toronto, June –January 2011-2012).
Nathaniel Dorsky's Filmography:
August and After (2012, 16 mm, color, silent, 18’ 50’’)
The Return (2011, 16 mm, color, silent, 27’)
Aubade (2010, 16 mm, color, silent, 11’ 30’’)
Pastourelle (2010, 16 mm, color, silent, 16’ 50’’)
Compline (2009, 16 mm, color, silent, 18’ 30’’)
Sarabande (2008, 16 mm, color, silent, 15’)
Winter (2007, 16 mm, color, silent, 18’ 50’’)
Song and Solitude (2005-2006, 16 mm, color, silent, 21’)
Threnody (2003-2004, color, silent, 20’)
The Visitation (2002, 16 mm, color, silent, 18’)
Love´s Refrain (2000-2001, 16 mm, color, silent, 22’30’’)
Arbor Vitae (1999-2000, 16 mm, color, silent, 28’)
Variations (1992-1998, 16 mm, color, silent, 24’)
17 Reasons Why (1985-1987, 16 mm, color, silent, 20’)
Ariel (1983, 16 mm, color, silent, 16’)
Hours for Jerome Part I (1982, 16 mm, color, silent, 21’)
Hours for Jerome Part II (1982, 16 mm, color, silent, 24’)
Triste (1978-1996, 16 mm, color, silent, 18’ 30’’)
Pneuma (1977-1983, 16 mm, color, silent, 27’)
Alaya (1976-1987, 16 mm, color, silent, 28`)
Summerwind (1965, 16 mm, color, sound, 14’)
A Fall Trip Home (1964, 16 mm, color, sound, 11’)
Ingreen (1964, 16 mm, color, sound, 12’)
Two Personal Gifts a.k.a. Fool's Spring (Jerome Hiler & Nathaniel Dorsky, 1966-1967, 16mm, color, silent, 7’) (First Public Screening: Film Society Lincoln Center).
Kodachrome Dailies from the Time of Song and Solitude (Reel 1) (Nathaniel Dorsky, 2005-2006, 16mm, color, silent, 30’) (World Premiere: Film Society Lincoln Center).