In truth, list making can often be a fairly arbitrary undertaking, but there is no doubt that it is also an effective manner in which to occupy idle time, and can occasionally provide interesting insight into a person’s sensibilities, so under the guise of conforming to the rites of the rapidly approaching holiday season, I’ll elaborate on the five series (the concept of longer serial works, both cinematically and poetically, absolutely fascinate me) I most desperately wish I could have the chance (or the finances, yet again my main obstacle) to be able to see (I should probably note that I have seen parts of some of these series, but I want the whole thing!):
Consisting of A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea (1991, photographed), The Mammals of Victoria (1994, photographed w/ hand-painted frames), The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (2000, photographed) and Panels for the Walls of Heaven (2002, hand-painted), this was one of the last major works of Brakhage’s daunting oeuvre, one in which a lifelong mastery of the various tools of cinema were applied to create a solemn mediation on the various stages in the life of his second wife Marilyn (though according to Marilyn herself her relation to the films is slight) located on the landscape of the island of Vancouver and focused heavily on the sea. A primary source of inspiration for the series was Ronald Johnson’s ARK (in his essay Brakhage wrote that three poets in particular, among them Johnson, “contribute directly to my filmmaking as powerfully as Pound, Stein, Olson, Creeley and Dorn when I was young…”), perhaps my personal favorite of the 20th century long-poems, a work, that like most of Brakhage’s cinema, is full of wonder and visionary lyricism. In his book The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition, R. Bruce Elder, whose essay Brakhage: Poesis explores some of the relations between the two works, compares the films, in particular A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea, to the works of Monet at Giverny in their transitory existence, a sentiment echoed by Fred Camper, who writes in an essay Brakhage’s Contradictions that each of them “ are among the hardest to fix in memory.” Having recently had the opportunity the fall under the spell of the ocean first hand, I eagerly await the opportunity to experience Brakhage’s hymns and return to the lapping waves anew.
(Of course there are many other Brakhage works that could be close-seconds on this list, The Art of Vision, The Song Series, Sincerity/Duplicity series, The Romans/Egyptians/Babylons, Passage Through: A Ritual, the Ellipses, and so on and so forth, you get the idea…)
Consisting of Huge Pupils (1968), False Pretenses (1974), The Phantom Enthusiast (1976), Charmed Particles (1979), The Lighted Field (1987), Imaginary Light (1994/5), Time Being (2001), Free to Go (Interlude) (2003), and Aberration of Starlight (2008). Having personally been involved in an ever increasing love-affair with the properties of light, in all its [meta]physical splendor, it is natural that I would be drawn to the work of Noren, who has been delicately illuminating the intricacies of such an infatuation for over four decades. During that time span Noren has investigated the perpetual daily dance of the particle and wave in color, black and white, and most recently digital, exploiting the subtle visual possibilities of each while traveling on what he terms “the fool’s progress”, collecting wisdom as the illusions of the world around him dissipate and reveal their truths. As usual augmenting my interest are the poets that Noren has drawn from and been connected to, in particular Louis Zukofsky, whose long-poem A and 80 Flowers are remarkable poetic achievements, whom both possess the ability to express the particulars of their immediate surroundings as ephemeral splendors. This being on my wish list involves more than just monetary barriers, the first three films in the series are currently entirely out of circulation, the first for apparently unknown reasons (some have speculated Noren’s hindsight apprehension over its frank nature, though in A Critical Cinema 2 Noren denied having any such concerns (it was heavily praised by many significant artists as an major achievement in the cinema of tactility), parts two and three supposedly for re-editing (again weaned from CC2).
Consisting of The Illuminated Texts (1982), Lamentations: A Monument to the Dead World Pt. 1 & 2 (1985), Consolations (Love is An Art of Time) Pt. 1-3 [Individually Titled](1988), and Exultations: In Light of the Great Giving Pt. 1-6 [Individually Titled](1990-1994), and clocking in at a staggering forty-two hours long, R. Bruce Elder’s aims at a mega-mediation on memory, time, history, and damn near everything in between, and though eventually abandoning it after accepting the impossibility of such a lofty feat, what exists surely seems to be one of the most ambitious creations of the cinema (let alone the avant-garde). As reflected in the length of his work, Elder is a great admirer of the “epic” or long-form poem, and modeled The Book of All the Dead specifically on Ezra Pound’s The Cantos (a work equally admired by Brakhage, identifying it in an essay on poetry and film as the single most important work in his life), and Dante’s Divine Comedy (of course involving Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, respectively), which naturally piques my interest, and gives insight into some of the thematic and structural techniques that are sure to be employed. Elder’s fortitude is seemingly inexhaustible, a few years later he embarked on a new cycle entitled The Book of Praise (currently consisting of four films), in addition to writing some of my favorite works of critical scholarship The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition…, and A Body of Vision, as well as Harmony and Dissent (I have not yet completed), which was awarded the Robert Motherwell Book Award. Also of interest is a manifesto/essay Elder wrote during the cycle concerning Canadian cinema entitled The Cinema We Need which, though I have been unable to track down, apparently took a deftly worded blowtorch to the critical film establishment of the country, and needless to say ruffled a few feathers.
Consisting of Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing (1999), The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost and Found (2001), Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002), The Great Art of Knowing (2004), Gatten’s biblio-cinematic blending of the spiritual and structural (if you ascribe to such divisions), inspired by a fortuitous encounter with a book written by William Byrd II (who happened to own the largest personal library in eighteenth-century colonial Virginia), gently investigates associations between text and image, past and present, depiction and actuality, and seemingly recapitulates in a relatively humble manner the various technical progressions of cinema. This is a largely handcrafted labor, Gatten employing a range of delicate processes to bring word to celluloid. Yet again I’m drawn to a source of poetic association/inspiration, this time Susan Howe, whose works explore many of the same themes on pages filled with elaborate and fascinating textual arrangements. I had the opportunity to briefly be exposed to his artistry earlier this year in the form of How to Conduct a Love Affair, a film that at the time left me puzzled, but has since carved its way into memory as a work of studious beauty. It is by all accounts a quietly ambitious undertaking, but one that would seem to have endless possibilities in Gatten’s reverent hands.
Consisting of over one hundred titles and an astonishing eighty hours, this reworking of Markopoulos’ entire filmic output, though still largely as yet unprinted (Markopoulos died in 1992), promises to be a wondrous monument of cinema, and indeed has been conceived to screen in a location fitting of such distinction. The Temenos, located in an isolated mountainous area of the Peloponnese, is a “visionary exhibition space” where interested parties journey from near and far to experience the sensuous artistry of both Markopoulos and his long-time partner Robert Beavers in a wholly singular environment. I was afforded a glimpse into Markopoulos’ artistry in the form of Ming Green, an ephemeral evocation of the delicate light in a small apartment room, its remarkable simplicity only serving to augment its potency. Having also had the recent opportunity to witness Robert Beaver’s own cycle Winged Distance/Sightless Mesure, which surely must be one of the great works of cinema in its own right, experiencing Markopoulos’ cycle has the added allure of offering further insight into Beaver’s work (Sitney claims that “a parallel hyperbole might usefully claim that he constricted the history of cinema to the films of Gregory Markopoulos”). Like most of the work on this list, this one series stands as a literal opportunity to witness an entire life lived in conjunction with and expressed through the art form, an intriguing prospect for anyone dedicated to the medium.
Eyes Upside Down [p. 124] P. Adams Sitney