A Hollis Frampton Odyssey disc 1 (1966-69)

Manual of Arms (1966)

A series of half-in-shadow close-ups of his friends, silent with jittery camera, with black between them. Then four minutes in, the title. After that, another series of the same people in a room with a single light, the camera moving differently for each subject. It seems to love objects, focusing on one person’s mug, another’s fur coat, a knife and cigarette, a can – for another person it’s their hair, or their shadow, or the stage light itself. Lots of cuts to black, sometimes rhythmically but usually not. Some fast cutting and superimpositions. Still the jittery handheld camera, the deep black.

Music played: Steroid Maximus “Gondwanaland” tracks 1-5

Process Red (1966)

Like a more obsessive version of the previous film, focusing on hands holding objects, the color that of photographs on ancient film which have faded to pink, interspersed with b/w shots of quick panning, just blurry movement lines – always moving with hyper editing.

Music played: “Gondwanaland” track 6

Maxwell’s Demon (1968)

“It was a very important film to me because it representing getting several concerns into a very tight and tense structure.” Named after physicist James Clark Maxwell, whose work led to color photography. The film was “an homage to the notion of a creature that deals in pure energy, and to Maxwell, whom I’ve admired.”

Simple b/w shots with still camera of an exercise instructor, intercut with quick segments of pure color, and color-tinted waves that emit a fuzzy sound. Fun, energetic, short.

Music played: “Gondwanaland” track 6

Surface Tension (1968)

Opens and closes with an ocean wave.

Part 1: Man on windowsill starts clock, talks. Time flies, about a minute per two seconds. This continues, as a phone rings constantly on the soundtrack.

HF: “The first part is a comic passage that emphazises the passage of time.”

Part 2: time-lapse of a handheld tour through the city, awesome. A man speaks German on the soundtrack.

HF: “The second part is, if not tragic, at least pathetic in a foot-sore (?) sort of way, and emphasizes passage through space.”

Part 3: a goldfish inside tank with shore waves crashing around. Silent, words appearing on screen, possibly a partial translation of what the German guy was saying? I loved this part.

HF: “The third part proposes to deal with a subject that… disregards both time and space.”

A Lecture (1968)

“Nothing in art is as expendable as the artist.”

Speaking about film as sculpture in light, he shows pure white light on the screen. “Our white rectangle is not nothing at all. In fact, it is, in the end, all we have. That is one of the limits of the art of film… We must devise ways of subtracting, of removing, one thing and another, more or less, from our white rectangle.” I wish narrator Michael Snow would speak a little faster and more naturally. It gets over-long in the second half. “Self-expression was only an issue for a very brief time in history, in the arts or anywhere else, and that time is about over.”

Also on the disc: Carrots and Peas, which I watched a few weeks ago, Zorns Lemma, which I watched at Emory some years ago, and Lemon, which has a great commentary from Frampton on Screening Room in ’77. He speaks of so-called minimalist artists (“a label that they like about as much as I like structural”), trying to get at “what really was at the root necessity of the art… What could you get rid of and still have a painting? The same is true of film.” Film Necessities: “I felt at that time that one of the most important things about film was that we were looking at it with EXPECTATION, we were believing what we saw, there was an ILLUSION, and what we probably were expecting was CHANGE.” Speaking of the difference between film and video, Frampton seems pretty open-minded about it, the idea that his films could be viewed on television. Saying Frampton could have chosen any fruit, Gardner asks the great question: “Are you trying to stay on the acid end of things with this?” Frampton: “When I went to the market to purchase the star of the show, found a lemon that was as breast-like as possible.” HF speaks of the film’s dedicatee, painter Robert Huot, who claims he heard that the word “lemon” appears exactly once, precisely in the middle of the novel Ulysses. Hewitt’s response: “Do you mean to tell me that Joyce could’ve written the word lemon, then written the first word to the right and first word to the left of it, and built it out from the middle?”

Plus twenty minutes of interview excerpts, Frampton himself, not hiding behind Snow and a white frame, speaking straightforwardly about his artistic history and interests.