Field Report: Nathaniel Dorsky at SVA

I recently attended a screening of Nathaniel Dorsky’s recent group of films entitled Quartet. The films Sarabande,Compline and Aubade and Winter,which are screened in various orders according to Dorsky’s preference, are utterly astounding. Not only are the films entirely silent, but Dorsky will only screen the works on their original format: a 16mm projector. Accordingly I am unable to provide many stills from them as they are not available to be watched digitally and Dorsky quite rightly points out that this would qualitatively alter the works from their current identity, which raises important questions of cinematic ontology in the genealogy of film and video. In the Q&A after the screenings, Dorsky jokingly referred to 16mm screenings as increasingly resembling concerts: subject to available equipment and varying circumstances.

After leaving the screening, I was struck by a number of relations to Deleuze’s philosophy and thoughts on cinema. Though I could certainly touch upon the “Time-Image” and Dorsky’s work, I’d like to continue a couple of thoughts from my previous post in regards to continuity editing. Dorsky’s work is an example of cinema as liberated from the tyrannical and territorializing demands of capital which play an important role in the formation of the “movement image” and its sub-categories of “action-image” and “affection-image.” As discussed in my previous post, continuity editing (in its worst application – there are of course exceptions) dulls our attentiveness to the image by attempting to conceal the seams which bond one shot to another, and which act in concert with a classical narrative schema to calibrate cinema for one sole style of filmmaking. Thus, action and images are ordered centripetally to build towards the narrative climax which precedes the film’s production and editing: montage is used here as a mold into which to pour preexistent story into.

What marks Dorsky’s cinema then, is an utter dedication to the immanence of the world, and as such his images are free from a transcendent model of representation and preexistence. Montage functions here as an open productive form, pure “tonal montage” to borrow Einstein’s term. There is no underlying narrative in the films, yet each film has a distinct character and stylistic unity, a duration. Images pass before our eyes that are by turns mysterious and familiar, or the familiar rendered mysterious and vice versa. It’s not easy to recount precisely what the objects Dorsky films are – though it is not an effort to be obscure. Rather, like the Paul Klee quote, Dorsky renders visible the mystery and immanent existence of objects and events as they present themselves to his camera. Flowers, a woman leaving a cafe, shadows through a screen on a door or window, the tones of light splashing on a car hood (recalling Godard’s in Two Or Three Things I Know About Her), trees passing over the sun and clouds – darkened to nocturnal quality by stopping down the camera. Another wonderful part of Dorsky’s work is that his images often seem to defy the customary laws of gravity in film; it is truly difficult to ascertain just what position the camera was filming from, on top of the uncertainty about what was actually being filmed. During the Q&A, Dorsky mused that cinema often follows the gravitational laws of human perception, while it has no real reason not to look at objects from new perspectives. This of course reminded me of Deleuze’s belief in cinema being able to provide a non-human vision of the world.

Perhaps the key quality of Dorsky’s films is their projection at silent-speed, 18 frames per second. Though we have a notion of cinematic motion at 18FPS, these silent era films are usually projected at 24FPS, thus rendering movement faster than normal. However, when 18FPS is projected at 18FPS, a new quality of movement emerges that is totally unique, and reminds us of the qualitative differences in frame rates, which do in fact have a profound effect on the experience of a cinematic work (see for example Christopher Doyle’s use of 4FPS at 4FPS in Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels and Chungking Express.)

What we find in Dorsky’s cinema is a return of sorts to the style of filmmaking envisioned by Dziga Vertov, a cinema reliant on the immanent vision of the kino-eye and the intuition of the kino-editor (I may be wrong, but I don’t think Vertov ever granted us a catchy neologism to accommodate the role of the editor – though it is obvious just how important the notion of editor was to Vertov, as in the lengthy editing sequences in Man With A Movie Camera.) The filmmaker acts as an agent of collection, of accumulation, of spontaneity. I was lucky enough to have Dorsky visit my class last year, and when asked how he shot his films, he reached into his bag and pulled out a beautiful Bolex H-16 camera, which accidentally fired off a few frames as he unpacked it. He explained that his method for working was only to shoot things as they presented themselves, subject to a stringent criterion of wonder. This very much excited me, as precisely how I like to work is by this very process of acquisition and intuition, capturing moments as they present themselves: no memories, no plans, to quote Le Jetée.

Of course I should be careful not to present Dorsky’s work as being better than narrative cinema, but it is undeniably cinematic unto itself-utilizing the camera to present works which remind of us the beauty and wonder of every day life, without recourse to theatrical or literary artifice. Why shouldn’t cinema also function in this fashion? A productive compendium of the sublime and ineffable. Objects indexed in their process of becoming and screened on 16mm film, which itself is in the process of material transformation.

One Response to “Field Report: Nathaniel Dorsky at SVA”

  1. Hello to every one, the contents existing at this web site are genuinely
    remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: