It's been rather busy as of late, but I'm to the point now where I feel inattentive not putting up something at least once a week, however insubstantial it might seem. Considering it originates with a source other than myself perhaps I'm not doing myself any favors with this new post (something I've been guilty of quite a bit lately), but it was such an eloquent and pertinent response that I was compelled to share with those who might not have been privy to it otherwise. Recently a oft-evolving debate has taken place on Frameworks mailing list regarding a wide range of issues, but perhaps most importantly the possibilities (both positive and negative) of the film and digital mediums. Eventually this led to a somewhat rhetorical query as to why Brakhage didn't make his 1994 hand (Wink-wink)-painted film Black Ice on video. Pip Chodorov, the multifaceted founder of Paris based distributor Re:Voir, replied with the following:
"A) You know that Brakhage's hand-painted films at that time were based on poetic visions of real-world inspiration: Chartres Series was inspired by the stained-glass windows of Chartres and in their particular blue color that he strived to remember ; Autumnal by the colors and feelings of the season, etc. Black Ice was made after he fell on black ice and the visions that gave him. Just like a poet trying to communicate a deep feeling from one human to another through the clunky words of everyday language, he picked up his film, paints, brushes and tools, sat in the cafe in Boulder and scratched, scraped and painted these visions onto pieces of film. The work was physical, manual and it was about making an imprint and impression on that solid material that would also be projectable as a visual, meaningful, beautiful, communicative image in light. The first impulse was then to make painterly gestures, not with a keyboard and mouse, and those gestures, those imprints by those thumbs, are visible on the screen today.
B) These sources of inspiration are about light (transparency and opacity) and color: blue glass, black ice... Working with film material and paint is also about transparency and opacity and color. There is a direct relationship there, unlike the indirect relationship of a computer emulating the way something could look ("virtual" is the term I think).
C) The painted strips were then used as a base to be optically printed following a score. Brakhage himself did not do the printing, but carefully noted his ideas for Sam Bush, the technician at Western Cine. A fugue of rhythms and patterns were created from the painted material. In the case of Black Ice, the image turning and zooming in gives us the feeling of falling into the blackness. The black of film, being a total absence of light, is really a black void compared to the grey of the video screen which is illuminated even when there is no picture. This gives Black Ice almost a 3D effect, pitching forward and losing consciousness.
D) If you have only seen Black Ice on DVD, of course you won't have the experience of these colors and this depth. As I wrote on FrameWorks August 25, 2003, the MPEG2 file on the Criterion DVD "contains less information about how the colors bleed and blend into each other, in that particular way they do in Black Ice, for example, when different hand-painted stocks are superimposed in the printer. There are blues blending into whites blending into blacks, and these subtle smooth gradations and grains seem to be reduced on the DVD to fields of hues of delimited color, with shapes to them, shapes with contours instead of hazy edges. There seem to be less of a range of subtle colors, a reduced palette." And on 17 June 2005 I added "The colors may look bright and beautiful but there is a lot of detail from the film that is missing on the DVD. They used a clever compression strategy that makes the work look good, but quite different from the original. I suppose that is a matter of taste at this point, the way things are going." I think, Matt, that you are right when you say Brakhage could have made a film like that on video, if you are refering to the DVD experience, but the film experience is quite different and I don't think the particular qualities of this film could be made on a computer as we know them today. The algorythms that have been developed and the way in which programmers and chip designers have chosen to manipulate pixels when representing light have led computer graphics in a certain direction from which there is little chance of return to that creative experimental space where Vanderbeek, or Whitney, or Paik, or Tambellini, found themselves in the 1960s, excited by what computer graphics could become. Brakhage in 1994 was still excited by film graphics, and Black Ice is a great example of a film that comes straight out of an idea applied to a manual, painterly technology, that would be hard to approach using information technology." - Pip
I would like to stress that by highlighting this I don't mean to denigrate the dvd/blu-ray put out in any way/shape/form, hopefully some of my previous posts have spoken to the extreme gratitude I have and will continue to have for many long years to come, but instead to offer a platform for further insight into why the film medium is so integral to many of these works.
[Speaking of which, I think so far with this blog I've been somewhat guilty of a lack of attention to many of the fascinating explorations taking place in the digital realm, the possibilities of which are quite staggering. I hope to push that pendulum a bit further towards the middle where it belongs on here [see: the sub-title of the blog] in the near future...