Four by Nathaniel Dorsky (1987-2002)

Andy: “Since the early 1960s, Nathaniel Dorsky has been one of the great practitioners of meditative cinema. Projected at the non-standard rate of eighteen frames per second (which he refers to as ‘sacred speed’), Dorsky’s films are an explicit invitation to increase our awareness of moment-to-moment existence and experience a sense of reverence for the visual world.”

Nice program with perfect-quality 16mm prints of four silent twenty-minute shorts. Gotta remember to attend all of Andy’s screenings from now on.

Alaya (1987)
The first one was just shots of sand. Just sand (one special appearance by an insect). No camera movement, but the sand is always moving, blowing in the wind. Goes from wide, wide shots of a huge desert (Death Valley) to extreme super-closeups, the sand crystals looking like boulders on the screen (but boulders that flit about in the breeze). An intensely beautiful movie, my favorite of the bunch.

Triste (1996)
Variations (1998)
The next two were similar to each other, and reminded me of Warren Sonbert (though I couldn’t remember Sonbert’s name until Andy announced that they reminded him of Warren Sonbert). Shots of varying length (8-45 seconds), extremely well-composed, of almost anything Dorsky came across: people, nature, the city. Second one was more exciting, with more quick bursts of shorter shots, and seemed to have a visual theme of seeing, looking, through glass and mirrors. Halfway through the first film the ceiling fan stopped making its rhythmic knocking sound which had made me think of the editing sounds in Zorns Lemma, so I had to imagine my own soundtrack (’twas TV On The Radio for a while). Fun and difficult to try to figure out relations between the shots while watching.

The Visitation (2002)
Then came a discussion, during which Andy talked about film stocks (these were all made on a Bolex, just like Sonbert) and mentioned that of course the second movie was called Triste, which means “sad”, which is why it felt like a lull, edit-wise, between exciting films. There’s all this hidden meaning in these films which the simple likes of ourselves can never understand. I don’t like being made to feel stupid by avant-garde filmmakers so I was determined to assign meaning to every last shot in the bonus fourth movie The Visitation, and I succeeded easily. Visitation = alien invasion. Lots of shots of light from above, and representations of alien bodies (mostly tentacles, via cords and long plant leaves). Aliens have many eyes – we see the eyes, and their view of our world. Ends with a gorgeous shot representing their planetary invasion, two low waves approaching each other over sand, the alien wave easily covering the human wave, but the human wave slowly fighting back at the end, regaining victory. A lot like War of the Worlds.

“A gradual unfolding, an arrival so to speak. I felt the necessity to describe an occurrence, not one specifically of time and place, but one of revelation in one’s own psyche.” –N.D.

Related posts