I. The Transformable Moment
The moment is an indefinite measure of time into which almost all experience falls. It is the conclusive present and it permeates all written past. It forms in our vision and consciousness. History enters as the moment fleeting, but the moment, in and out of time, the present moment, is our epiphany, when eternity reaches into our time and into us. Eternity carves its expression into us. It comes to us to build.
Film has allowed the artist to tame the moment, to record and possess it, to suspend it in a representation that pretends to permanence. The moment, as inscribed on film, becomes an elastic interval. In this raw form, it opens onto the many possibilities for further creation, be they achieved by distortion and obscurity, by the heightened clarity that comes in the movement study, by the divergent gestures of alternating patterns, and by other operations played on the visual field. Our mastery over the moment and its contents invites us deeper inside the instant and eternity. That moment of insight, formed in the improvisatory gesture or tempered and realized by later contemplation, might be transformed to damn out old motions, to make them new; to give polyrhythmic integrity to both moment and memory itself; to reach for the essential energy of experience. Transformations reveal a composition as a field of individual and endlessly renewed meanings and energies. But the epiphany is rare and ultimate.
Every moment possesses the power to transform itself. In its stagnant chronology, its fixed coordinate, it changes. By memory and by history, time transforms itself. We use film to alter the moment, to cradle the moment, to annihilate the moment, or at least its impression, and by these operations, the image bears out the mystical associations of consciousness. The transformable moment is the moment turning into both its opposite and its other, and meaning arises in the gap between opposition and otherness. By this transformation, the moment departs from the assurances of memory and becomes a breathing passage.
II. Elastic Light / Elastic Time
Two technical vocabularies of personal filmmaking – those of light and of time – deal in elasticity. Both employ the operations of the camera (aperture, double-exposure, frame rate), the film printer (stretching or condensing time values, step-printing, matting and layering), or digital tools that mirror the operations of these traditional instruments. With light, these elastic operations are pathways for abstraction, be that by refracted light, motion blur, chemical disruption of the image, or other means; with time, elasticity is most readily perceived in motion analysis or in the comic shuffle of rushed time (of silent-speed played at sound-speed, or of pixillation). By revealing the heretofore-immutable facts of time and light as improvisatory, pliable elements, cinema bends reality to its will. That will of cinema, manifesting as whimsy, as material or temporal insistence, or as perceptual distress, aims inherently to the uncanny and the resistance of realism. So accustomed are our eyes to seek the familiar that the exception – the double image, slow or fast motion – commands our attention.
These technical vocabularies demonstrate the artist’s instrumental mastery as well as the instrument’s intrinsic ability to topple consensus reality, a toppling handed down from the macabre trick films of George Méliès and Segundo De Chomón. These strategies transform the image. But even that transformed image remains in a reactive state, and even a changed image changes further in cycles of visitations, with further amendments both literal and in the metaphors of our perception. The moving image can occupy a ceaselessly unfixed position between real and fantastic. The covert elasticity of film-time in the psychodrama demonstrated the instrument’s use in casting uncanny scenes. In years since, experimental cinema has increasingly abandoned the familiar representational time-treatment that made its spare mirages and elastic tricks a novelty. The elastic light, which allows for multi-storied images, and abstractions of colour and form, pairs with elastic time, which shrinks and expands filmed intervals, to comprise the essential aesthetic acts of the film-poet.
III. The Climbing Registry
When Jonas Mekas made the case for the personal film half a century ago, he called for a free cinema, founded on fellowship, love, selflessness, on impulses that might heal the tortuous fractures of modern life. This new cinema formed by a collective wellspring of perceptual inscriptions, films of distinctly individual expression, enhanced by editorial logics, photographic and re-photographic tricks, artisanal (handmade) means, or left, as Mekas’ own films so often are, in the perfect state of their presentness, as unelaborated moments. Mekas’ manifesto bore the most accommodating of definitions, as he gathered this work under the sign of poetry, the experimental filmmaker a new evolution of poet. The underground had witnessed an informal emergence of ‘third wave’ movements through the course of the 1950s and ’60s, movements in which shared aesthetic values did not hinder progress, and within which progress was measured by the difficult pleasures wrought from the films. In one sense Mekas’ prophecy held true, as subsequent decades saw the new cinema grow, spreading and gathering a collective, many-storied perceptual body, terminally gaining volume. In another sense, the spirit of his words have persisted for only a narrow margin of personal filmmakers, those whose ambition is to make art that dispenses with the pollution of egoistic self-importance, to instead make art wherein only their strangest, most freewheeling and individual vanities remain intact, an art distinctly modern in its mission, of warring and unfamiliar forms that pose a radical aesthetic challenge to its audience.
Of more cynical, didactic regions of personal cinema, there is little to say. Such works enter by this great expansion-of-the-light that is the climbing registry, that invisible ledger upon which all filmmakers and all films are imprinted for the annals of history, an elastic record that has gained a dramatic and welcome density with increasing accessibility of image-making tools. The ever-expanding library of personal cinema proves the sure footing of Mekas’ vision, of a world empowered to make images, within or without traditions, as vessels for individual expression. It is my hope that in so vast a mass of making, the wisdom and will to heal might again find purchase. But the expanding light is in itself a thing of brilliant and undiscriminating beauty.
The uncanny world that this art composes is frequently splintered by internecine struggles, by the devaluation of aesthetics, by little provinces of egotism and greed. Against this an art of light will not flourish, will not rule to damn out the insecurities and anxieties that turn idealists into the promoters and prisoners of competition. But so much the better for that art of light to bloom out of sight, its makers breathing their faith together, to endure, at distant limits, where we shall rob the graves of our forebears, to ape their rituals and, by sounding their chants anew, come nearer to paradise.
Stephen Broomer, August 2015.