UDVFF 11: Agitated Meditation

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the eleventh program of our Virtual Film Festival, which offers a weekly watching schedule of moving image works available for free streaming. Previous programs can be found here.

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Special thanks to Noah Rosenberg for introducing me to the work of Paul Clipson and Robert Todd.

by MLP

Let us begin our journey with pure light; refracted, reflected — colorful, colorless, formless, flexible. A world without light is unimaginable. Remarkable how the change in a light’s intensity can so wholly affect our mood or comprehension. Forerunners of Stan Brakhage’s The Text of Light, the work of Jim Davis is obsessed with pure light and its infinite iterations. Thus, we open this week’s program with Fathomless, a reminder that were it not for such captured evidence, it might very well be impossible to imagine the possibilities offered by that essential element which we so often take for granted.

Just over fifty years later, Paul Clipson works with light which has already been organized into concrete arrangements (i.e. neon signs) and deconstructs them to re-evaluate their abstract potential, even within the confines of their forced forms. Thus reflections which make the moon shine dive headfirst into pools of glowing neon static — but not until after we have first zoomed so far into blades of grass that we can see the everlasting truth of Davis’ work, dancing within the drops of dew!

For the middle section of our program, we turn to four films by Robert Todd, whose work exhibits aesthetic interests akin to that of Nathaniel Dorsky; an idea of calmly observing in everyday presences what so few of us take the time and effort to truly see. I am far from the first to note these similarities of intention, but it bears repeating. The following quote by Dorsky appears alongside a virtual exhibition of stills from his films currently running on Peter Blum Gallery‘s site:

Todd’s films, like those of Dorsky, hold within them all the qualities of being human. If Dorsky’s is a devotional cinema, then Todd’s might be considered as a spiritually-inclined agnosticism. In Passing, we seem to look through the eyes of a ghost taking one last look around before leaving for the next plane. Quary lifts trash into a holy space, while Windswept and Restless wrestle with an idea of natural peace, agitated meditations. Windswept soaks and ruminates. Restless reflects its title, yet in a manner which strays from his earlier film Cove (2012). Where Cove moves within a system of fidgety back and forths interrupting nearly every idea of actual peace, Restless‘s restlessness comes from a steady gaze trained on the constant waves of wind.

We close the program with another Clipson pairing, this time with a piece from the Mexican filmmaker who came to conquer Paris, Teo Hernández. For me, L’eau De La Seine was the historical precedent I’d long been searching for; the supportive feeling of discovering a path had been trod decades earlier so that I could walk it now, alongside the disappointing revelation of just how unoriginal my aesthetic efforts were. Nevertheless, I felt an instant kinship with Hernández, who died the same year I was born. The furious visual intensity, agility, and self-confidence I sought were all present in this film, scored by rapturous silence. When I showed it to a couple of friends — who happen to be twins — they responded (each oblivious of the other’s reply), “It has some great abstract visuals that look like stuff you’ve done!” and “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you traveled back to the ’80s to shoot this.”

When I first watched Paul Clipson’s Headache, I didn’t think much of it other than as a spiritual sequel to Hernández’s L’eau De La Seine. In fact, in my memory I completely misremembered Grouper’s track ‘Headache’ as the score to Clipson’s Pulsars e Quasars — another film fixated on water’s reflections of sunset — and felt that the vivacity of the image was mismatched with the tranquilizing swells of the soundtrack. The song remained with me though, and nearly a year later it slowly lapped its way back onto the shores of my mind. I sat down with the film again and was astounded at how perfectly both image and sound capture the specificity of the finish of a sun-soaked day, the end of the summer, the close of a life well-lived.

Fathomless1964Jim Davis11:09
Cruel Optimism2017Paul Clipson7:06
Passing 2008Robert Todd4:21
Quary (Red Light)2018Robert Todd10:00
Windswept2017Robert Todd10:41
Restless2016Robert Todd7:55
L’eau De La Seine1983Teo Hernández11:13
Headache2017Paul Clipson5:14

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