Sicinski/Rivers Interview

For those who might have missed it, the latest issue of Cinema Scope was recently released, certainly one of the more informative periodicals available to cinephiles and always a cause for celebration.  Of particular note is an engaging interview/consideration of the boundary-blurring [and gorgeously hand-processed] work of British artist Ben Rivers by Michael Sicinski.  Behind Mark McElhatten's programming, Rivers was in attendance for what at the time was a near complete retrospective of his work at the Brakhage Symposium two years ago, an experience that to these eyes ran the gamut from bewilderment to exhilaration and everything in between.  Having recently spent some time considering the idea of document in art [as opposed to established traditions associated with the term documentary], it was especially rewarding to read Rivers elaborate his process of experiencing

"the world in a particular place, with my camera in hand, and film instinctively at certain points. I’m gathering physical material that, as a set of individual images, has no meaning. Then through the subsequent process of editing, these images attain a new life, which isn’t necessarily about giving them new meaning, but giving them a rhythm which will enable them to become an experience of the film itself and not a representation of something else"

a process that would clearly seem to exist along this line of document that has proved so alluringly allusive for a great many artists.  When it comes to online writing [or writing in any format for that matter] on avant-garde/experimental film unfortunately our options tend to be on the slimmer side of things, lucky for us Sicinski is damn good at what he does, so be sure to take advantage of the offering...  


DouglasGraves said...

I love that Rivers' quote. I wish i had been there to see his films. I can't wait!

DouglasGraves said...

"I'm amazed that there is still so much resistance from viewers in thinking of the films as visual music. Seemingly everyone always wants to know what the images "mean," as though immediate verbalization were the crucial element that would provide perfect understanding. They completely ignore the inherent—and obvious—musicality of what they are seeing.

Some of my favorite music is the JS Bach Partitas, and the solo piano work of Cecil Taylor. This is soaring, profound stuff but, on hearing it, the very last thing I want is to know what it "means." It doesn't really mean anything, other than itself. The experience of hearing it is complete without verbalization. But some viewers seem to think that if you can't talk about it, it doesn't have any value. How can it be "intelligent" if you can't talk about it? I still, after forty-some years, get questions at screenings such as: "But what is this film about? What were you trying to 'say'?" This is a remnant of the literary origins of early films, which in many cases were photoplays, filmed versions of plays or novels, with all of the onerous baggage that entails. But at this stage of the game it's gotten very tedious. I simply don't answer such questions anymore. Parenthetically, I can't abide films that are allegedly "about: something; I literally cannot stand that. What I require, of my own work or that of others, is that the work not be about something, but that it be the thing itself. This is crucial."

"Photographic images by their very nature are inherently meaningless. (Read your Walter Benjamin!) We, in our delusional grandeur, assign meaning to them. Filmmakers very often go through elaborate rituals of assigning meaning to their images, building baroque cloud-castles of implied intent, suggesting hidden depths of spiritual or intellectual significance and profundity. Often this is designed to manipulate the thoughts of viewers, to convince them that they are seeing something other than what is right in front of them. I resist this; I don't like feeling that I'm being manipulated. I'll find my own meaning if I want to, thank you, or not. For me, the best work is that which, by its compositional and kinetic power, can hold intelligent interest."

- Andrew Noren

One of my favorite quotes by a filmmaker. I think Mr. Noren and Mr. Rivers touch upon a great and valid goal for their art form, a goal pursued by the Absolute Film movement in Germany in the 1920s by fantastic abstract movie makers like Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, and Viking Eggeling. A "absolute language of form" in the cinematic art.