Phil Solomon



"Like so many filmmakers of his generation (like Alan Berliner, he studied film-making at the State University of New York at Binghamton in the early 1970s), Phil Solomon has been most interested in recycling films made by others into new works that are distinctly his own. While many filmmakers use recycled cinema as a means for satirizing dimensions of American culture or of mod-ern life in general, Solomon’s approach was, from the beginning, simultaneously lyrical and elegiac. As a student at SUNY-Binghamton, he studied with Ken Jacobs, whose Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969, revised in 1971), which uses rephotography to recycle the 1905 Biograph one-reeler of the same name into a complex and remarkable feature, became an inspiration. Solomon’s films are usually evocations of loss—of love, of time, of security, of life—that sing the beauty of what is gone by means of rhythmic and textural evocations closer to music and poetry than to most film.
   Since leaving the Massachusetts College of  Art in 1980 with an MFA, Solomon has explored the literal substance of film imagery with the optical printer, learning to tease emotional resonance frame by frame from the found materials he works on by means of a wide variety of optical and chemical manipulations. The resulting films can easily be read as elegies for the lives originally encoded on the celluloid, and for cinema itself. 'Remains to Be Seen' (Super-8mm version, 1989; 16mm version, 1994) and 'The Exquisite Hour' (Super-8mm version, 1989; 16mm version, 1994) are particularly good examples. Both films present a series of visually ambiguous but texturally astonishing sequences in which imagery is just barely identifiable.  Often, we know basically what we’re looking at—a person riding a bicycle, a landscape, a merry-go-round—but can no longer identify its original context. By means of suggestive sound and editing, however, Solomon invests this disparate imagery with a particular emotional tonality.
   In 'Remains to Be Seen', the most pervasive metaphor is of a person in an operating room: the sights and sounds of the operating room are motifs that suggest the precariousness both of  the person being operated on and, by implication, of  the film image and Cinema itself: it “remains to be seen” how long “the patient” will survive. In 'The Exquisite Hour', the statement on the sound track by an old man struggling to come to terms with the loss of his partner (“I’ll never get over it, never”) serves as the (broken) heart of the film, which evokes a variety of forms of cinema—early cinema, home movies, depictions of nature—all of which, like the medium itself, seem to be slipping away, despite what the loss means to us.
   Solomon’s films are unusually open to interpretation; they are less about creating particular meanings than about providing evocative experiences that reward the eye and invite emotional engagement. They are aimed not so much at audiences as at the solitary viewer in an audience who can feel the filmmaker’s commitment to the slow, solitary process that produces these films. At times, Solomon has collaborated with other filmmakers—with Stan Brakhage on 'Elementary Phrases'(1994), 'Concrescence' (1996), 'Alternating Currents'(1999), and 'Seasons' (2002); with Ken Jacobs on 'Bi-temporal Vision: The Sea' (1995)—but his most impressive and memorable films are solitary enterprises, especially 'The Secret Garden' (1988), 'Remains to Be Seen', 'The Exquisite Hour', 'Clepsydra' (1992), and the series of  'Twilight Psalms' he has made since 1999:  'Walking Distance' (1999), 'Night of  the Meek' (2002), and 'The Lateness of the Hour' (2003). "
(Scott MacDonald in A Critical Cinema 5)
"Solomon has worked in video before, but the works that established his reputation--as both an image alchemist and a master conjurer of plangent, all-enveloping moods--are so intimately bound to the specific properties of celluloid and emulsion that the shock upon seeing these new works cannot be overstated. While many established experimental filmmakers have turned to digital imagemaking in recent years, for any number of reasons, too few have been willing to dive headlong into the specific, often strange aesthetic character of their adopted medium. But 'Untitled' and 'Rehearsals' are so thoroughly immersed in the texture and atmosphere of digital gaming that I wasn’t initially certain how to access them. Unlike Solomon’s previous films, works that engaged in abstraction but were nevertheless tied to the concrete indexical character of photography, these new pieces explore the possibilities of a very dark, very foreign world." (Michael Sicinski)



 Night Light (1975)
The Passage of the Bride (1978)
As If We (1980)
Nocturne (1980)
What’s Out Tonight Is Lost (1983)
The Secret Garden (1988)
The Exquisite Hour (1989)
Remains to Be Seen (1989)
Rocket Boy vs. Brakhage (1989)
Clepsydra (1992)
Elementary Phrases (co-made with Stan Brakhage) (1994)
The Exquisite Hour (1994)
Remains to Be Seen (1994)
The Snowman (1995)
Concrescence (co-made with Stan Brakhage) (1996)
Alternating Currents (co-made with Stan Brakhage) (1999)
Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance (1999)
Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes (1999)
Innocence and Despair (2001)
Seasons . . . (co-made with Stan Brakhage) (2002)
Twilight Psalm III: Night of the Meek (2002)
Twilight Psalm I: The Lateness of the Hour (2003)
Crossroad (co-made with Mark LaPore) (2005)
Rehearsals for Retirement (2007)
Last Days in a Lonely Place (2008)
Still Raining, Still Dreaming (2009)
American Falls (2010)
Empire (2012) 
Simply Because You're Near Me (2013) 
Twilight Psalm IV: Valley of the Shadow (2014)



 by Michael Sicinski
Last Days in a Lonely Place review by Michael Sicinski
American Falls review by Michael Sicinski
Songs of Solomon by David Accomazzo
Towards a Minor Cinema by Tom Gunning
Poetry in Motion by Tony Pipolo
by Rebecca Laurence
Epic, eleagaic films by Phil Solomon by Leah Ollman
Invisible Cities by Genevieve Yue
View From the Falls by Genevieve Yue
Solomonic Judgements by David Bordwell

Reflections On the Avant-Garde Experience: 
A Meditation on Phil Solomon's The Secret Garden
by Dana Anderson (from Millennium Film Journal 39/40):

Found Footage, On Location: Phil Solomon's Last Days in a Lonely Place
by Gregg Biermann & Sarah Markgraf (from Millenium Film Journal 52):


"The first is Phil Solomon, who in the process of working with photographed imagery a frame at a time, not painting but using chemicals to crystallize into various shapes minute patters along the line of his step-printing, has, like Gunvor Nelson, also created a counterbalance to what could become sentimental and nostalgic" (Stan Brakhage)

 "Solomon has evolved his technique so that in his latest work ('Clepsydra' - 'waterclock') the textures are constantly changing and are often appropriate to each figure in metaphoric interplay with each figure's gestural (symbolic) movement. He has, thus, created consonance with thought as destroyer/creator - a Kali-like aesthetic 'There is a light at the end of the tunnel' (Romantic); and it is a train coming straight at us: ... (and, to balance such, perhaps, with a touch of Zen) ... it is beautiful!" (Stan Brakhage)



A Remembrance for Stan Brakhage:








”But now you have meta-ironies piling atop each other, ad-infinitum. Enough. The most difficult challenge for young artists today is to achieve any kind of earned sincerity or a true sense of the authentic in this horribly cynical, maddening time of multi-layered facades, remakes, and ever present duplicity on a global scale. And what do we call the Grand Canyon when kids refer to their lunch as 'awesome'”? (Phil Solomon)

(and of course, still going strong; this post will be updated accordingly...)


Paul Taberham said...

Many thanks Jacob, you're providing a great resource as ever

Jacob Waltman said...

I appreciate it Paul (and many more to come)!

Phil Solomon said...

Very much appreciate your elegant presentation of my artistic web life, Jacob.

Will hope to keep you busy in the new year with more links to new work and thoughts, etc.


Jacob Waltman said...

Absolutely my pleasure Phil,

Eagerly anticipating your new projects, as always please let me know whenever I can be of any help...