Much more breathing room in the interview than in the Hubley episode, and Frampton, as always, is great fun to listen to. He discusses getting to know Ezra Pound and experiencing his Cantos (a difficult, book-length piece of modernist poetry full of obscure references), which sound like they could easily have influenced HF’s work, but sadly his story gets cut off to show Maxwell’s Demon, then Surface Tension (minus the first part, the man with a clock), accompanied by good descriptions. Frampton tries to explain exactly what kind of filmmaker he is, and they struggle into a very good HF intro to Lemon (excerpted on the Criterion disc), then they do an honest-to-god audio commentary over the silent film. Some talk of Frampton’s work as a professor then an excerpt from Critical Mass.

Pas de Trois (1975)

Oooh, haven’t seen this one appear anywhere else. Footage from the New York State Fair, the “stripper” tent lit by strobes, then a little girl dancing in a different area. HF shoots the dancers, but also the strobes, a crack in the tent where someone peers through, and a fishtank, all accompanied by another HF/RG commentary.

Description found online: “An analysis of film’s persistent relationship to sexuality, mediated by allusions to early cinema’s flicker, and other aggressive qualities of the cinematic apparatus.”

“This is probably something that will never transpire,” HF says about the final form of Magellan – sadly, he was right. He discusses his plan for Magellan, thoughts on sound vs. silent film, and shows a collection of “Lumiere Bits,” what Criterion calls the Pans, short for the Panopticons. Somewhere there’s a program called Straights of Magellan: Drafts and Fragments collecting 49 of these. Of the kid with the frog, “this is my one-minute horror movie.” There’s also a cat toying with captured bird, 3D pattern on a sidewalk, saw cutting wood, a few more.

HF, interviewed elsewhere about these: “A catalogue or compilation of films which were limited to exactly one minute – 1440 frames. They were to be an homage not so much to the early cinema of the Lumieres as to an aspect of film that I feel has been lost.”

At a certain point, what has tended to happen previously happened again: I set out to make a simple inventory or catalogue of the appearances of the world, which I imagined might run to a few hundred short films, but as I actually began to gather these film segments they began to organise themselves – to my discomfiture – in a manner that I suppose is determined by my own immersion in montage: one thing suggests another, and if you have five things there seems to be some best order in which they should be seen. The bits of film, which were as opaque as an isolated word, seemed somehow to be demanding a more intricate organisation than I had originally planned. At first I thought that simply meant sorting them into more intricate categories; I had originally imagined that there would be four categories – ‘ordinary, extraordinary, exotic, and erotic views’ – which were the categories used by the Lumieres. So I attempted a more complex sorting, which led to the question of an equilibrium among the categories … What basically evolved from that proposed inventory – or catalogue, or storehouse – is a work whose working title is currently Magellan. This is composed of parts, not all of which consist of one-minute segments, not by any means. It’s not a work that can be diagrammed in linear fashion, since it uses the grid – among many others – of the cycle of the solar year. In other words, it’s a calendar. That is to say, it rotates like a wheel, or rather like a series of wheels that rotate within one another. I now expect, when and if the whole thing is completed, that it will be, very roughly, thirty-six hours long. Within those thirty-six hours there are a series of rough categories – well, the categories are actually quite exact, but they name parts that overlap each other on a kind of twodimensional map of the work. Those categories are ‘Straits’ and ‘Clouds’ [of Magellan], and there’s a section which corresponds to a ‘Birth of Magellan’ (itself comprised of subsections), and there’s another which relates to adolescence. Then there’s a ‘Death’ and even, heaven help us, a ‘Resurrection’.

States (1967)

White-on-black streaks of falling water and/or sparks, and rising smoke, alternating. Lovely, put me right to sleep.

Heterodyne (1967)

A large amount of black, with quick single-frame bursts of a color wash, a shape, or a colored shape. Gets boring pretty quickly. I played Mogwai’s You’re Lionel Richie which didn’t work at all. Frampton says “it was made in abject (if blissful) ignorance of Paul Sharits’ early work.”

Watched again with William Tyler’s Terrace of the Leper King after fixing an interlacing issue. Much better! The film still lasts twice as long as it is interesting, but I enjoy the anticipation/response of each burst of colors and shapes.

Snowblind (1968)

Watched with Yo La Tengo’s Ashes on the Ground, very enjoyable. A study of shifting lighting, motion and focus effects on layered fence patterns, pretty simple as far as HF films go. Internet doesn’t mention the identity of the patient man behind the fences, but I don’t think it’s Michael Snow.

Artificial Light (1969)

A minute-long scene of some artist-types chatting around a table, with cuts and dissolves, ending with a zoom into a photo of the moon. But this is repeated twenty times, each with a different variation. Once their faces are whited-out, once the picture flickers on and off, sometimes they’re colored or processed in different ways, flipped upside down and run in reverse. Quite an amusing movie. Apparently it was Frampton’s entry point from typical 1960’s avant-garde into structural films – and only a year later he’d put out Zorns Lemma.

Music played: Ennio Morricone – Music For Cinema: The Complete Edition, disc 4, though only track 6 really worked with the movie.

Noctiluca (1974)

Colored circles, reminding me of searchlights across a chain link fence, and sometimes of the MasterCard logo. Music played: “Stalker Dub” from John Zorn’s Nosferatu, which worked nicely. Intended for day two of Magellan.

Autumnal Equinox (1974)

Watched on Frampton’s 77th birthday. Shot in a slaughterhouse, but not terribly comparable to Blood of the Beast, since HF shoots everything too close with his trademark jittery camera movements. I wish there’d been fewer tongues and eyeballs, but it was mostly bearable, more textural than representational. Still, a motherfucker of a film, very red and gloopy and horrible. Music played: Autechre’s Exai tracks 10-13, which worked well, so I’m glad I resisted the urge to play Ty Segall’s Slaughterhouse.

Frampton explains his Hapax Legomena cycle:

Hapax Legomena means things said one time. The phrase is a piece of scholarly jargon that refers to words that occur only once in an entire literature or in the entire corpus of a writer’s work in the antique languages. The problem typically with a hapax legomenum is that because it occurs once, it occurs only in one context, and the context does not always reveal the meaning… There is always an element of uncertainty.

Poetic Justice (1972)

Frampton: “a film script in the act of becoming a film”

HF shoots 240 pages of a script upon a table, one at a time, describing a film in four scenes (tableaus). The first describes a couple of rooms in which “you” (I didn’t expect to be the star of the film) attempt to film a blue jay out the window until “your lover” comes home. The second scene alternates between shots of empty rooms, and shots of “my hand holding a photograph of the same scene” but populated. Next, the two of you make love while different impossible visions appear out the window. Back to photographs in the fourth scene, as your lover rifles through a stack of photographs, alternately showing the two of you in similar scenarios. The filmmaker returns: “Your lover’s hand is holding a still photograph of myself, filming these pages.”

Critical Mass (1971)

Slowly step through the audio of a two-character improvised drama, looping two steps forward, one step back, like a less intense but no less methodical version of a Martin Arnold film. Audio plays over black for a couple minutes, then picture, then picture disappears halfway through, and comes back (but out-of-sync) after an interval. Near the end, the editing stops interrupting every word of the dialogue, lets them run on for 20 or 30 seconds at a time, repeating sections we’ve heard before.

Briefly annoying, then thoroughly mesmerizing for the first half, then back to annoying.

I’ve watched (Nostalgia) before. The other four in the series are Travelling Matte, Ordinary Matter, Remote Control and Special Effects.


Criterion summarizes Magellan: “His intention was for the cycle to include thirty-six hours of film, to be shown over the course of 371 days, which Frampton dubbed the Magellan Calendar.” This never made sense to me until I heard HF’s comments on the disc:

First of all, it’s a kind of encyclopedia or inventory of sites (sights?) which proposes to have so many different images that it will function as a kind of voyage through the world… If one were to undertake to see the final film in a certain form there would be really a little bit to see every day… One of the aspects that I think is important is that I feel that the spectator of film who has been invited or asked to experience film… might also enjoy having another kind of experience of film that filmmakers have. For a filmmaker, film is not an exotic thing that you go out to, it is a thing pretty much that you do every day. For a filmmaker, whatever you’re doing, even if you’re making Cleopatra or something like that, still you live with it, it becomes an extremely intimate part of your life, which is vivid on the one hand, and on the other hand it’s very ordinary. Film is not an exotic thing to be doing for a filmmaker, it’s daily.

The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I (1980)

Green flickers on black as an orchestra tunes up. A thunderstorm. Then alternating shots of a wedding preparation (applause) and a silent film (a low buzzing sound), with a white/red circular wipe separating the two. Bizarre.

Pans 0-4, 697-700

I thought from the title that HF would be panning the camera for a minute, each in a different location, but these are simply minute-long idea-films using any sort of motion or effect.
0: two cloud patterns strobed together
1: hippie bead thing penduluming left and right
2: thin white stips falling downward
3: manic time-lapse run through cornfield
4: sheets of paper on wall blowing in breeze, overlaid with the same shot at a different time, so each page looks like two sheets, moving through each other
697: argh, machete man removing dead cow’s head
698: whipping back and forth in a flower field
699: boy taunts camera with a still-living frog on a fishhook
700: ghostly translucent road traffic

Selected Pans:

Ingenivm Nobis Ipsa Pvella Fecit, Part I (1975)

Nude woman walks, turns, skips rope, plays ball on a black field in stuttering stop-motion. To HF, this represents springtime.

Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part I (1976)

Skulls and mummified things. Red and green overlaid patterns that would probably make your eyes fall out if you watched with 3D glasses on. A hexagonal pattern rushes past as a palate cleanser between the other sections. I liked this one a lot.

Winter Solstice (1974)

Opens with what looks like the bonfire shot from Zorns Lemma. Jittery handheld shots of fire – dark, all yellows and red, with single frames of light blue at the cuts. A shower of sparks which might have been Pan 2. It’s all repetitive, hypnotic and silent – an excellent film to doze off to.

Also on the disc is Gloria!, which I watched once before.

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.

The Wholly Family (2011, Terry Gilliam)

A rich tourist couple in Naples argue amongst themselves while their son swipes a masked statuette from a street vendor. That night after the boy is sent to bed without dinner, it comes to life and an army of masked Italians taunt him with food he’s never quite able to eat (plus the heads of his parents). The family has a happy reunion in the morning, but they’ve become figures at the street vendor’s stand.

Very good little movie, with masks out of Dr. Parnassus, doll-parts out of Tideland and who knows what else.

The Discipline of D.E. (1978, Gus Van Sant)

This has been one of my favorite short stories for years (it’s by William Burroughs from Exterminator) and despite the movie’s ranking on J. Rosenbaum’s list of favorite films, I figured a satisfactory adaptation would be near-impossible. It’s fun, but really just reading the story aloud and illustrating on film.

Carrots & Peas (1969, Hollis Frampton)

A taster of the new Criterion set – I also rewatched parts of Zorns Lemma (thanks for adding chapter stops) and played the great commentary track on Lemon. Stop-motion carrots, cross-fade, stop-motion peas. Color filters, reversals and other craziness. Then around the one-minute mark it becomes a still life, barely changing for the next four. Meanwhile a lecture plays in reverse on the soundtrack. Some fiddling in quicktime reveals that it’s a fitness lesson of some sort.

The Town (1944, Josef von Sternberg)

An advertisement for small-town USA, filmed in Madison, Indiana. Boring, flavorless little industrial film – no reason at all to ever watch this, besides to see the depths to which the once-glorious Sternberg had fallen.

Turen til squashland (1967, Lars von Trier)

Holy cow, an animated romp with happy bunnies. One is kidnapped, so the hot dog man and other two bunnies ride a friendly whale to the kidnappers’ castle, where the missing bunny rides down its water spew.

Revolution (1967, Peter Greenaway)

A grim-looking leftist march of young men, not seemingly shot in any organized way, but edited to the Beatles’ Revolution, which is kind of funny since it’s got a lyric about “carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,” and some marchers carry anti-capitalist posters.

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne, and the Pimp (1968, Straub/Huillet)
Four minutes in, it’s just been a long car ride in the rain with opera music playing (there was no sound at all for the first two minutes) and I am very suspicious.

Five minutes in, cut to a stage set, with German words on the wall and a clattering wood floor. Rivette (or Michael Snow) would be pleased. A fast-paced stagey farce follows. Blackout, next scene but the camera hasn’t moved, hasn’t even cut for all I know. Actors include Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann, composer Peer Raben, and future superstar Hanna Schygulla (who I’ve recently seen in The Edge of Heaven, Werckmeister Harmonies and 101 Nights of Simon Cinema).

Bang, cut, new location, and back out on the street. An action scene. Jimmy Powell is marrying Lilith Ungerer (star of a couple Fassbinder films). They go home, the pimp (Fassbinder himself, early in his career) is there, she shoots him and gives a speech as the music returns. All affectless acting.
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So, what was that all about? Well the title refers to the cinematic drama in the third section, that much is clear. And the actress and the pimp were in the stage play in the middle. IMDB fellow says “The film has its roots in a theatre production of a play by the Austrian playwright Ferdinand Bruckner which Straub had been asked to direct by a German theatre company. He considered the play too verbose and cut its length from several hours down to just ten minutes, and it is the production of this play which forms the centrepiece of the film.” As for the beginning, the same guy says it’s a “Munich street frequented by prostitutes.” F. Croce calls it a “mysterious, structuralist gag” and notes that “filmic subversion can prompt political revolution, and transcendence.” No revolution or transcendence here – I just thought it was a weird little movie made by an overacademic sweater-wearing type. Was only Straub’s fourth work – let’s check out his tenth, which is half as long.
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Every Revolution is a Throw of the Dice (1977, Straub/Huillet)
It’s in French this time. Actors sit in a half-circle near the memorial site for the Commune members and recite a poem. I’m mistrustful of the English subtitle translation of the poem, and there’s not much in the movie besides the poem (the recitants are as expressionless as in the previous film, maybe even more so), so there’s not much of value for me here. Actors include Huillet herself, Michel Delahaye (the ethnologist in Out 1) and Marilù Parolini (writer of Duelle, Noroit, Love on the Ground), shot by William Lubtchansky and dedicated (in part) to Jacques Rivette.
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Mongoloid (1977, Bruce Conner)
Music video for a Devo song using (I’m assuming) all found footage (science films, TV ads and the like).
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Mea Culpa (1981, Bruce Conner)
Dots, cubes, light fields and… whatever this is. Conner goes abstract! The music sounds like 1981’s version of the future. Aha, it’s Byrne and Eno, so it WAS the future. I didn’t know that Conner died last year, did I?
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(nostalgia) (1971, Hollis Frampton)
of a photo of a man blowing smoke rings:
“Looking at the photography recently it reminded me, unaccountably, of a photograph of another artist squirting water out of his mouth, which is undoubtedly art. Blowing smoke rings seems more of a craft. Ordinarily, only opera singers make art with their mouths.”
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So far I really like Hollis Frampton. His Lemon and Zorns Lemma were brilliant, and now (nostalgia) is too. Anyway this is the one where Frampton films a photograph being slowly destroyed on an electric burner while Michael Snow reads narration describing the next photograph that we’ll see. It’s important to know that Snow is the uncredited narrator for a humorous bit in the middle. The movie also has a funny twist ending that I wasn’t expecting. This would be part one of Frampton’s seven-part Hapax Legomena series. I have the strange urge to remake it using photographs of my own, but I lack an electric burner and a film/video camera.

Gloria (1979, Hollis Frampton)
Remembrance of a grandmother, Frampton-style, meaning annoyingly hard to watch and strictly organized. Clip from an ancient silent film, then sixteen facts about gramma (“3. That she kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time. Each such pig wore a green baize tinker’s cap.”) then a too-long bagpipe song over an ugly pea-green screen, and the rest of the silent film. Or as a smartypants would put it, he “juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material.” I prefer my version.
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Prelude #1 (1996, Stan Brakhage)
I don’t think that I enjoy watching low-res faded videos of Brakhage movies. I’ll wait for the next DVD set to come out (or the next Film Love screening). As a side note, I cannot believe that Raitre plays stuff like this. Just imagine: art on television. Picture a single TV station anywhere devoted to showing art. Can you? Can you?!? I feel like screaming!!
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NYC (1976, Jeff Scher)
Shots of the city sped-up, rapidly edited, reverse printed and hand colored, two minutes long with a jazzy tune underneath. Super, and short enough to watch twice (so I watched it twice).
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Milk of Amnesia (1992, Jeff Scher)
I’m thinking it’s short scenes from film and television, rotoscoped, with every frame drawn in different colors, with some frames drawn on non-white paper (a postcard, some newspaper). Warren Sonbert is thanked in the credits. I would also like to thank Warren Sonbert.
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Yours (1997, Jeff Scher)
An obscure musical short from the 30’s or 40’s overlaid with rapidly-changing patterns and images from advertisements. Descriptions and screenshots can do these no justice.
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Frame (2002, n:ja)
Black and white linear geometry illustrating a Radian song. I can’t tell if it’s torn up by interlacing effects or it’s supposed to look that way. Give me Autechre’s Gantz Graf over this any day. Between this and Mongoloid and the Jeff Scher shorts, I’m not sure where to draw the line between short-film and music-video. Not that it’s a dreadfully important question, but I’m in enough trouble tracking all the films I have/haven’t seen without adding every music video by every band I like onto the list. Although maybe videos should be given more credit… I’m sure Chris Cunningham’s video for Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector would beat 90% of the movies I watched that year.
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Wonderful 16mm screening at Emory, but not well-received by the students and regulars who came to be entertained. Silly students and regulars, it is not a university’s job to entertain you!

Scorpio Rising – 1964, Kenneth Anger
Couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before, but of course I have… opening credits bedazzled onto a motorcycle jacket were immediately familiar. Despite the nazi imagery and comparisons between bikers headed for a gay orgy and Jesus and his disciples, I heard no complaints. I think people enjoyed the juxtapositions (well-prepared presenter Andy warned us about ’em in advance) and grooved on the hot 60’s rock radio score (kept hearing “oh I love this song” from behind me).

Lemon – 1969, Hollis Frampton
Lovely film, second time I’ve seen it. Should be shown every year. Only comment overheard: “I don’t know about the second movie. Just a lemon.” Mostly people were quiet about this one. I choose to believe that they were awed into silence, contemplating its light play and imagining possible deeper meanings, and not quietly wondering what they needed to pick up at the grocery store. A movie can feel much longer or shorter than it is. Lemon is supposed to be seven or eight minutes long, but I say it feels like four, five tops.

Zorns Lemma – 1970, Hollis Frampton
(no apostrophe, in tribute to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake)
Okay, this one feels its length… its exact length, measured second by second.
1) Black screen, voice reads us some children’s poetry, each line beginning with a successive letter of the Roman alphabet (so I=J and U=V) to make 24.
2) The meat of the piece, 24 seconds, one letter per section. First section we see each letter once. Then a word beginning with each letter. Then again (different shots, different words). Again. Again, but X has been replaced by a shaking, roaring fire. Again, with the fire. Again. Again. Again, but Z has been replaced by the ocean, flat horizon, a wave rolling out to sea. Again with the fire and the ocean. Again. 24 letters at 24 frames per second (though it’s 25 seconds if you consider that each alphabet section is followed by a second of black, a shout-out to our PAL-locked buds in Europe who see everything on video a little faster than we do). And on until, some 40 minutes later, each letter has been replaced (C was the last to go). No audio except the groaning and laughter of my fellow filmgoers.
3) Sound and Vision together! A visual cooling-down after part two, two people and their dog walk across a snowy field from bottom of the screen to top as six alternating female voices on the soundtrack read us some philosophical writings about light – at precisely one word per second.
4) The audience members (those who hadn’t walked out) were horrified!

D. Sallitt liked it:

The bizarre experience of taking a test during a movie was completely distracting, so that I absorbed the materiality and the narrativity of the alphabet images only indirectly, during brief rest periods. Somehow this strengthened my investment in the images: I don’t think I would have found the “letter H” guy’s walk around the corner very interesting in itself, but that corner took on mythic spatial qualities for me.

Hahaha, I know what he means about the corner. Of the little movies that replace each letter, seen in one-second increments, some stay pretty much the same (the fire, the tide) and some progress as time passes (someone peels and eats a tangerine, this guy walks towards a corner). Everyone breathes a little sigh of relief when, finally after a half hour, the man disappears around the corner in a one-second bit toward the end. Next bit is just the corner. Next one the man comes back around the corner! Must be considered one of the biggest twist endings in non-narrative avant-garde cinema.

excerpts from S. MacDonald:

Even a partial understanding of Frampton’s films requires a rudimentary sense of the history of mathematics, science, and technology and of the literary and fine arts. … Nowhere is Frampton’s assumption that his viewers can be expected to be informed, or to inform themselves, more obvious than in Zorns Lemma, the challenging film that established Frampton as a major contributor to alternative cinema. Zorns Lemma combines several areas of intellectual and esthetic interest Frampton had explored in his early photographic work and in his early films. His fascination with mathematics, and in particular with set theory … is the source of the title Zorns Lemma. Mathematician Max Zorn’s “lemma,” the eleventh axiom of set theory, proposes that, given a set of sets, there is a further set composed of a representative item from each set. Zorns Lemma doesn’t exactly demonstrate Zorn’s lemma, but Frampton’s allusion to the “existential axiom” is appropriate, given his use of a set of sets to structure the film. Frampton’s longtime interest in languages and literature is equally evident in Zorns Lemma. …

The tripartite structure of Zorns Lemma can be understood in various ways, at least two of them roughly suggestive of early film history. The progression from darkness, to individual onesecond units of imagery, to long, continuous shots. … If the second section of Zorns Lemma is Muybridgian – not only in its general use of the serial, but because the one-second bits of the replacement images “analyze” continuous activities or motions in a manner analogous to Muybridge’s motion studies – the final section is Lumieresque.

As set after set of alphabetized words and their environments is experienced, it is difficult not to develop a sense of Frampton’s experience making the film. The film’s collection of hundreds of environmental words suggests that the film was a labor of love, and an index of the filmmaker’s extended travels around lower Manhattan, looking for, finding, and recording the words.

For most viewers the experience of “learning” the correspondences is fatiguing – especially since the process of watching sixty shots a minute for more than forty-seven minutes is grueling by itself – but the laborious process has been willingly (if somewhat grudgingly) accepted. The experience of learning the correspondences is the central analogy of the second section. It replicates the experience of learning that set of terms and rules necessary for the exploration of any intellectual field.

In a philosophic sense, Grosseteste’s treatise [spoken during the third segment] is an attempt to understand the entirety of the perceivable world as an emblem of the spiritual. And, on the literal level, what Grosseteste describes in the eleventh century is demonstrated by the twentieth-century film image: For a filmmaker, after all, light is the “first bodily form,” which, literally, draws out “matter along with itself into a mass as great as the fabric of the world.”