by Maximilien Luc Proctor
I recently had the indelible pleasure of traveling to Frankfurt for a brand new festival called exf f. (Experimental film days Frankfurt). I had been to the same venue in 2019 for a screening that included Nathaniel Dorsky’s latest work at the time, Apricity, so when one of the curators there (Björn Schmitt) got in touch to let me know that the first edition of their new festival would include a near-complete retrospective of the work of Dorsky’s partner Jerome Hiler, I made plans to be there. The works of both Dorsky and Hiler are near impossible to see, thanks to both filmmakers’ insistence upon only screening their work on celluloid (as the work is also shot almost exclusively on 16mm). The trade-off is that when you do manage to finally see the works, they are splendid; a mix of meditations on the natural world, old school Americana, and formal experimentation.
There was one Dorsky film included in the program that I had seen before: Hours for Jerome (1982), which is dedicated to Jerome Hiler. Hiler’s own film In the Stone House (2012) is complimentary to Hours for Jerome; both are organized according to the seasons, and present diaristic views of their younger lives, edits assembled in the proceeding decades. Although we are rarely indoors, Stone House – true to its title – holds an overall feeling of being holed up in a cabin in the woods to outlast the winter. With Hiler behind the camera, we often see Dorsky in front of it. We see him lying down, or cutting his toenails, but most of the time he is doing housework: sweeping the floor, bringing in wood for the fire.
In the Stone House is a work of many tiny miracles. When we see a train moving screen right on a distant bridge, there is an odd vertigo effect added by the fact of it being filmed from inside a car, roving in parallel but in the opposite direction. There is a perfect camera pan, which moves at the rate of water in a stream (no easy feat!), bringing us back to a grounded state after some time spent in a chaotic city. Collecting the glistening close-up shines of both snow, and later, an earthworm as it ambles along. A breathtaking eclipse. A zooming-out image of a frog, rapidly intercut with a shot of the camera moving forward toward Dorsky, lying in the grass, mouth opening to laugh. As he goes out of focus, the frog is superimposed (thanks to the flicker cutting) to seem to be just inside of Dorsky’s mouth. A blue disc found on the beach, lifted by Dorsky. The camera moves in to fill its frame with its blue completely, and we are briefly dropped into another world; a thick blue tint to images of statues ‘dancing’ (via the edit) to the white-blue noise of television static. Beautiful fireworks which in the final image spell out: ‘PRAY FOR PEACE’.
Viewing the films of Jerome Hiler, one aims to evaluate them on their own, yet comparisons with the work of his partner Nathaniel Dorsky are inevitable – the two being the most familiar with one another’s work, after all. Yet in programming Hours for Jerome together with Words of Mercury (and followed in the next screening block by Batagelle II and New Shores), as Larissa Krampert, Martin Klein and Björn Schmitt did at exf f., they have highlighted certain specific points of overlap and divergence. For both filmmakers, there is a heightened appreciation for the specificity of the worlds we create in our private lives – sometimes its just the two of them in the shower (as when Hiler films a shampoo-covered Dorsky in New Shores, but often it is the two of them among close friends, micro communities. There are also highly specific commonalities in their visual interests – even though Hiler often uses multiple exposures, while Dorsky does not use them. Both film each other driving at some point. There are even moments which specifically carry over: three friends wearing masks in Hours for Jerome are seen again in the same masks in New Shores. Indeed, when Dorsky is spotted filming his own work in a shot of Bagatelle II, it is telling of the inseparability between them and their respective filmographies; the overlaps are essential to both working processes. Yet what makes Hiler’s work totally unique is his propensity for continuous motion. While Dorsky’s output has in large part grown more still over time, Hiler’s is one which emphasizes motion even when almost completely still – a continuous reminder of the all-too-easy-to-forget fact that the planet continues to rotate gently, and we are all being carried with it.
In this first encounter with your work, I was struck by the difference in visual approach between work made up of older footage (such as In the Stone House) and work shot a little more recently (such as Words of Mercury).
The former feels very loose, with a great deal of freedom of movement. The camera is sort of along for the ride. Meanwhile the latter (although still full of a different kind of movement) seems to almost float in place — keeping cool amidst constant change. Perhaps this primarily has to do with the shift in focus from human figures to predominantly objects, plants, spaces. I assume a big part of it simply the wisdom you’ve gained in aging.
While this seems a natural progression in your approach to the camera over so many decades, I am curious if you could talk a little bit about how your more contemporary approach to the camera informed the editing of material you had shot decades before?In the Stone House was edited after the completion of Words of Mercury, is that right?
You point out a very big issue about editing In the Stone House because it involves not only my entire creative life, but the journey of consciousness that all of us go through as we age. As I edited, I do remember thinking “If only I could find some calm or slow-moving material”. But, alas, I had to deal with the remnants of many improvised screenings using original material that left me with so much less to work with than a current project would. And there is also the issue of being a young man trying to find myself.
Stan Brakhage had a very strong influence on my generation. He was an impossible model to have in one’s imagination. He not only re-made the very idea of what a film was, but he was driven by the most colossal ego the American continent could withstand. As a quiet sort of guy, that shoe didn’t fit, but, still, some light from his star gleamed into my imagination. So, that early time, of course, was a time of experimentation and self-examination as well as delusion. I couldn’t agree more with Jonas Mekas when he complained about the term ‘experimental film’. Of course, we have to experiment. I can’t think of any other art or practice that doesn’t involve experimentation. But, it could denigrate the work of a filmmaker as being less than significant. Filmmakers work as hard as any other artists and don’t need to duck behind a term to excuse us from cosmic law. Another, sometimes painful, aspect of editing was dealing with the secret messages I found in the most ordinary images: early dawnings of things that took me a while to see and correct. It really was a difficult time editing that film and you are sharp in guessing at it.
Perhaps I didn’t answer your question. Maybe it’s hard for me to see how my present camera attitude informed the editing. I mostly felt struggle, in fact, superimposed struggle – maybe that could be the present ambience. I took the easy [way] out in dealing with fragmentary, nearly chaotic material: I organized in Seasons. (The last season, Autumn, appears at the end of New Shores). Then, I simply tried to order things according to instincts that also guide my work today.
Yes, I suspect I will come back to In the Stone House more than once throughout our correspondence, but for now I am glad you have already brought up New Shores (1971-1987). This was your ‘first’ film, in the sense that it is the first one you completed and screened without later editing further? Your later works are often compared to your interest and work with stained glass, but this early piece felt more akin to carpentry to me (not least of all because it includes a scene of carpentry work).
Why did you decide to use the ‘Autumn’ segment in that film, separated from the other seasons? And as Nathaniel similarly organized Hours for Jerome (which for me is highly complimentary to In the Stone House), according to the seasons, may I ask why keeping seasons together is so important for both of you?
I apologize for lumping so many questions together at once but I also wanted to remark while we’re on the topic about the masked friends who appear in both Hours for Jerome and New Shores…when I first saw them in Hours, I had assumed you were under one of those masks. How did they make their way into both films?
I don’t know why my dating of New Shores was shortened to remove the date it was actually finalized: 2012. So, it is certainly not my first completed film. It was made immediately after In The Stone House. I’m also sorry that I haven’t been more assertive in describing it as a Part 2 of the earlier film. Both films are uncharacteristically in a diaristic and almost sequential form. New Shores begins with footage outside a train going through a snowy landscape and heading West. However, I never got to explain the end – yet it does end the sequence of the “story”.
In the late ’80s, Nathaniel and I were on the East Coast in the Autumn. For some time, I had the desire to see the stone house in rural New Jersey and I got a car so we could have a look. When we saw the house looking unchanged, Nathaniel had the nerve to knock on the door to say hello to whoever lived inside. To our shock, the elderly couple there had heard all about us from neighbors and welcomed us in. It seems that we were regarded as legends and they left whatever we left behind in exactly the spot where they found it. We were invited to use their canoe and the tour we took ends the film. As I edited the film, I used the few fragments that I had left of our days there in the ’60s as a stand-in for the missing Autumn section of In The Stone House and, personally, as a reflection of the fragments of our presence that the old couple had preserved. But, how could I convey all of this in a silent film? I couldn’t and no one knows what to make of it. So, at least I must emphasize that it is Part 2 of a diptych.
Nathaniel and I are very similar people. I’ll leave it at that. There is too much to go into. We both have very strong attachment to seasonal influences. It means the world to me to know when something happened in the course of the year. So much of what I shoot is about the season and I couldn’t imagine cutting from a Summer scene to a Winter scene and on to any other time as if something else there was more important. You can bet we were traumatized by coming to San Francisco, which is without any of the seasons either of us grew up with.
As a matter of fact, I did earn my living as a carpenter in my San Francisco days and I felt it necessary to insert that into the film. But, I could never do anything more to mix the two streams of my life. They both require complete concentration and I could only do one thing at a time.
The people wearing masks were shot for fun. That’s about it. That is me in Hours For Jerome by the car with Anne Waldman. I loved the “ordinary guy” mask. Nathaniel came out and just shot and I improvised as someone who couldn’t find something on himself – what? keys? I was just fooling. So we had the masks hanging around and a year or so later, I shot some people dancing in the living room wearing them. You must understand that we shot film just about every day. Many things were never seen in public. Much was thrown out. So, I didn’t think that some day, years in the future, that Nathaniel would use a particular shot in a film called Hours For Jerome. And, in 2012, as I edited New Shores and was lucky to find precious fragments of Autumn at Lake Owassa, that it somehow might create a dissonance with Nathaniel’s film. We don’t plan our films as if they were productions. The filming is spontaneous and the serious filmmaking comes in the editing room.
Of course, the film is named after Sirk’s Zu neuen Ufern with its theme of escaping from prison and, having tasted freedom, begging to return. So, after my California getaway, I return, with longing, back East from which I felt I had to escape on that snowy train ride.
Sorry for my mistake regarding New Shores – I saw the year listed as 1971-1987 on Lightcone and failed to read the description, which begins by stating that the film was edited in 2014, as well as mentioning that it could be seen as a sequel to In the Stone House. Does that mean that Words of Mercury was actually your first ‘finished’ film?
All of this confusion regarding a clear chronology within the work makes sense to me though; there is so much back and forth as to construct a kind of new experience of time, and seeing five of these films over two days out of chronological order heightened that experience. I am thinking here in particular of Bagatelle I I , which combines footage from as far back as 1964 with material all the way up to 2016 – the film themselves as tunnels that stretch through large periods of your life. In that film I was surprised by the incorporation of entirely abstract moments of what looked to be chemical experiments conducted directly on the filmstrip, which couldn’t help but bring Brakhage to mind. How did you come to incorporate those kinds of visuals alongside traditionally represented spaces and people? In Hours for Jerome we see you dip a strip of 16mm into a bottle of coke: I did wonder if that particular strip of film appears anywhere in your distributed films?
And since you mention Sirk, are there any particular narrative filmmakers that have influenced your work or perhaps changed the way you considered what moving images were capable of? There was a sort of nested mini-narrative in Bagatelle II, when we see the woman at the typewriter, then see a boat out to sea, and then return to the woman at the typewriter, as if she is writing the story we have just seen a glimpse of. There was also a similar moment in New Shores where Nathaniel and a woman are walking, find some sort of dark blue round glass (or rock) and pick it up, the camera moves in until the field of view is completely filtered through the blue, we briefly see a scene of blue-filtered statues and elegant architecture in rapid fire, then return to the piece of glass, pulling back out to Nathaniel holding it up – a brief detour into another realm!
I’ll start with the last thing you said: “…a brief detour into another realm”. That perfectly sums up the answers to many of the questions you ask. This is the way I see our life experiences. There are times when we dwell in a more mundane place and there are also times where there are many shades of deeply subjective, unsure yet vivid, beautiful or threatening aspects to our perceptions. I call that daily life. My films serve the same function as the dream state, where images of our days are re-arranged according to needs unknown to our ordinary sense of order. In fact, I feel that most artist-made films fulfill the exact definition of surrealism that Andre Breton set down in the earliest years of his writing. I would say that every one of my films checks into a staid, ordered, uncomplicated place and soon takes off into a floating world that de-solidifies any notions of stability. In my daily-life perspective, that refers to the highly subjective way each of us live in our private version of ‘reality’.
Yes, Words of Mercury could be considered my first completed film.
I am not dipping film into Coca-Cola in Hours for Jerome. That is a Coke bottle filled with Liqui-Fade. The great majority of my many, many fades throughout my life were made with this product. A black powder is mixed with water. It was sold out of Chicago. One pack lasted a lifetime – almost. I switched to fabric dye and that works as well. One dips film, frame by frame, up to around 16 frames. The first ones stay in the longest and the last ones are just in-and-out. Voila: a beautiful fade.
The woman at the typewriter is the poet Anne Waldman who is in many of my films, as you note, as well as Nathaniel’s Hours for Jerome. You are referring to a moment in New Shores when we have been witnessing the rescue on a Winter’s evening of a man who fell off a cliff here in San Francisco and was in danger of drowning from a rising tide. At the time, I looked at Anne as a saving force in my life and I did interject her image for a moment over the helicopter taking the man away to safety. And that is Anne, again, with Nathaniel in Stone House. We found a cliff along the Delaware River that was a dumping ground for beautiful ‘rocks’ of colored glass. The shot was actually spontaneous – not set up. They found a blue piece and I nudged my way in to see for myself. That was around 1970. In later life, I cut in some superimpositions in blue of statues in a garden and some television visual static.
Bagatelle II telescopes time into a very short period. It uses some of my earliest material and progresses through to the time it was made. There are painted sections that represent the present. Although they bring Brakhage, who created an encyclopedia of techniques, to mind, my thoughts were elsewhere. I had been painting on glass for some years. In glass, the usage of “paint” – it’s really finely ground glass mixed with a medium – is to block light from coming through. As in other ways, I transferred this technique to film, placing material on top of strips laid out on a long surface and spraying fabric dye over the whole thing. The rest of the film uses simple images as a succession of remembered moments and people. The last shot of an electric tower-base standing in water symbolized Peter Hutton who passed away that year and was on my mind as I worked. Although my shot isn’t on Peter’s level, it had a quality that brought him to mind.
Here is something I would like to add to the story of the origins of Stone House & New Shores. I’m not too sure I’ve mentioned this extremely important motive. In other interviews I’ve told the story: I hadn’t completed any films and I suddenly got into a panic that, if I should die unexpectedly, my poor surviving friends might feel it was necessary to put my work into some presentable shape. What an awful burden to leave behind. What I would like to point out here, though, is that in 2004 something miraculous happened: Mark Webber got in touch with me and offered to show an hour’s worth of footage at his LUX Salon in London. He hadn’t seen anything of mine at all. I truly owe the opening of the dam of my works to Mark. I only had a few months to put together two big reels of camera original and to make sure every splice was secure. I took these to London and we all had a great evening. Those two reels became the basis of In the Stone House and New Shores. There followed years of work on a documentary Music Makes A City after which I made Words of Mercury, and, then, returned to complete and refine the London show into two films.
That reminds me of another interesting connection between yourself and Webber – you took the photo of Gregory Markopoulos, which ended up as the cover for Webber’s book collecting Markopoulos’ writings. And of course you made costumes for The Illiac Passion. If you don’t mind a brief detour into yet another realm, I would love to hear any memories you might want to share about that time.
And I learned from this video interview that [that time working with Markopoulos] was also how you met Warhol, who wanted you to star in a film called Shower. Did that have any bearing on your decision to film Nathaniel in the shower for New Shores?
When I was eighteen and still living in Queens, a group of friends were putting out a magazine of poetry and writing called Omnivore. One of my friends, Paul Zachos, who was of Greek extraction, heard through some ethnic grapevine that a Greek-American filmmaker was presenting something of his work in an afternoon class at City College of New York. So, three of us went up to CCNY and found ourselves in a sunny classroom where we heard a talk by a most amusing – and amused – lecturer by the name of Ken Kelman. Standing by silently was a handsome well-dressed man who we realized was the “Greek filmmaker” Gregory J. Markopoulos.
We were about to see a silent portion of his work-in-progress: Twice A Man. He was trying to raise funds to finish the film which would have sound eventually. The paper shades on the windows were pulled down which reduced the sun glare just enough for us to get an idea of what Markopoulos was doing. It was one of those moments in one’s life that could never happen twice – a revelation like a bell being struck. One hit and you then live in the reverberation. I saw the most elegant still imagery intercut in ways that blended colors in afterimage. The juxtaposition of dramatic moments that used the power of color in ways I had never seen. Extremely fast images flashed by in instants. What was most powerful, for me, was the silence. Somehow, seeing all this visual stimulus popping and resting in a dazzle of rhythms happening only in the eyes of the viewer, made it intensely personal – as if it were your own thought.
As an awe-struck editor of the Omnivore, I could hardly guess that I would eventually be rooming with Gregory and call Ken Kelman one of my best friends. I also must say, that I really do prefer Twice A Man as a silent experience. I had seen it a few more times that way. Sadly, the prints I have seen in recent years have such faded colors that the original power of the visual language has been sorely compromised.
Some time later, I shared Gregory’s rather small apartment – a neat, very clean top floor unit that Markopoulos recorded in his film Ming Green. I lived in awe of Gregory at the time, though that feeling was tested to its limit on many occasions. He did insist on his complete superiority on most subjects and customs. I kept telling myself that this period was good for downsizing my ego. I did think the world of him as a filmmaker and considered myself honored to be able to see the development of the film The Illiac Passion. I heard his stories about how each day’s shooting went (I had a job at Abercrombie and Fitch in its earlier, more elegant form). And, especially wonderful, I saw every bit of footage as it came back from the lab on the little projector he borrowed. He showed me books with artworks that gave him ideas for scene set-ups. After a couple of months, he urged me to quit my job so I might help him full time. I knew he didn’t have any money, but he said he would “take care of me” enough – which was fairly easy since we lived, and generally ate, together. So, I did quit and felt proud to be more closely involved with the film I saw coming about. I looked for locations and acted as assistant at the shootings. There were many good and interesting times in those months.
At the end of the Summer, I found a beautiful apartment for myself. I still did some work for Gregory and he steered me toward a new, interesting job as a photographer’s assistant. I do not want to go into details of the ensuing period.
Although Gregory and I remained friends, something was changing and we were drifting apart. This was a strange period for many of the filmmakers in New York. The media had discovered the film scene and the center of the hubbub was Andy Warhol. A lot of the impoverished filmmakers saw the glimmer of fame possibly coming their way. There was also a lot of jealousy. I don’t mean Gregory, here, but he was also experiencing some kind of disillusion or disappointment with a lot of cast members and friends. I came up to his apartment and found him throwing handfuls of film into the fire in his fireplace as he banished cast members from the film. When I saw the final version of The Illiac Passion it seemed to be missing so many beautiful images that still live vividly in my memory. Images projected only on Gregory’s white-washed wall.
The photo on the cover of Mark Webber’s book was taken as Gregory was editing that film. Recently, I saw Mark’s book and I saw the article that Gregory wrote at that time about the making of his film. He seemed to thank everyone even vaguely connected to it – except myself. My name does not come up at all. There were also other missing names. Happily, at the time the article was written, Nathaniel and I had already left New York and started our life together in the country. And, in another felicitous pairing, Gregory and Robert Beavers began a life-long loving bond. These were two truly miraculous pairings. So, we were all able to flourish after the stormy New York days.
I might point out that Gregory was a master of incorporating the seasonal moment as well as all weather conditions in his shooting schedule. Whatever the day for shooting was, the weather was used. If Spring was beginning to bud, he would place his characters right among the forsythia branches and utilize the yellow flowers. I learned a lot about versatility and I saw how this practice added a lot of variety to the film.
As I’ve said before, Nathaniel and I shoot spontaneously. I don’t make “decisions” to shoot him in the shower. And I don’t associate Warhol with showers at all. As far as I can tell, Andy never made a film called Shower. He could have just been flirting. As Pat Hitchcock says in Psycho: “He was flirting with you. He must have seen my wedding ring”.
[Hiler pointed out that a few more details regarding his first meeting with Markopoulos can be found in the SFMoma Open Space interview, “Hidden In Plain Sight”]
I’m fascinated by your description: “Somehow, seeing all this visual stimulus popping and resting in a dazzle of rhythms happening only in the eyes of the viewer, made it intensely personal – as if it were your own thought.” It really crystalizes something about Markopoulos’ editing style that I had never been able to fully comprehend or express linguistically – it’s something I felt instead.
It also speaks to my experience with a scene in In the Stone House, where you rapidly cut between a shot of a frog and a shot of Nathaniel lying in the grass.
As you zoom out (or maybe just pull back) from the frog, the shot of Nathaniel zooms (or pushes) in until he is in close-up and slightly out of focus, and the frog almost seems to be sitting in his mouth, which is open because he seems to be laughing. I am curious if you have anything to say about that particular sequence?
The sequence towards the end of In the Stone House is of Nathaniel and his cousin Mark Birnbaum lying on the wet ground in the rain in the midst of an LSD experience. The frog was nearby in a little puddle. Somehow, I felt that the frog was a perfect embodiment of the altered consciousness state – rather like a spirit totem as master of ceremonies. The sequence has a strobe effect. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I re-shot the frog by projecting it and shooting through an electric fan, which caused the stroboscopic effect. That was then superimposed over the footage of Nathaniel and Mark, which was not affected by the strobe effect. All of this was in-camera.
There is a great scene in In the Stone House which leads up to a solar eclipse: everyone is standing around, looking up, cameras poised on tripods, and strips of film covering their glasses and camera lenses.
And then the eclipse is just this towering moment of absolute stillness, it really emphasizes the silent soundtrack in a powerful way. But in one shot just before the eclipse I think we see both you and Nathaniel onscreen – who’s filming?
Nathaniel and I were down in Maryland with cameras loaded to see this event. I had a camera on a tripod. It had a very long lens, so I had to move with the Sun in order to keep it center frame. This was really hard, since we were aware that we had to protect our eyes from directly looking at the event. Our ears were filled the day before with facts that looking for a moment could leave one blind for life. I had a very hard time centering the Sun, which, before the great moment, was still the blazing, blinding orb we all know. Then, when the moon centered itself, I shot away (not looking) only to see later that the Sun was half out of the frame. But, I kept changing the angle of the camera and managed to get the event center frame. Nathaniel was shooting a gathering hysteria among the people there in the marsh. For some reason, even though everybody had a good view, as the moment approached people began running around in an unknown quest for placement. I shot a few things including the woman with 35mm film on her glasses as her shield.
We all were in a bird wetland, and, when ‘night’ suddenly fell as noon approached, thousands of birds went crazy. A great cry went up as the birds rushed around – possibly back to their nests. Nathaniel took the spectacular shot of the ground that panned up to the sun at ‘the moment’. We agreed that the footage should not be separated to create two eclipse sequences.
I realized today that I haven’t yet asked a question about Marginalia. In that film you scratch loopy, cursive, repeating letters directly onto the filmstrip, as if they were notes written in the margins of a book. How did you decide to bring together film scratching techniques and these marginal ‘notations’?
Marginalia is a dense film. I don’t think anyone could discuss it without confusion. It surely must be seen more than once – not because it’s so profound – but it’s packed with so many things that, in my experience, no one has been able to accurately remember what they saw. I am really thinking of digitizing my work so that people might be able to familiarize themselves with it. In any case, as I worked on the film over a period of time, my interest and focus about what the subject was kept changing. This gave the film a stream of consciousness quality that I didn’t seek or resist. I do remember hearing with some concern that cursive writing was no longer to be taught in schools. I knew from experience that younger friends couldn’t read my notes and only understood block lettering. The flowing scratches on the surface were, indeed, set to signify border notes. They were a transfer of a technique that I used when painting on glass.
I also began to remember my own classroom introduction to “penmanship” and the formation of cursive letters: filling pages and blackboards with my efforts. I had a little blackboard in my shop and began to duplicate my early lessons. My handwriting had deteriorated horribly. But, I photographed letters and did use them for in-camera superimpositions. The film, for me, is haunted with concerns about passing on traditions, or maybe letting them go. Such things as a father sharing archery with his son stood in for that. My concerns about world ecology are referenced. There are people dancing in what seems to be rain. Viewers have seen this scene as positive. A Buddhist friend exclaimed “Oh. The Rain of Wisdom”. Actually, I saw it as a kind of Golden Calf dance with the fake rain disappearing as well as a cut-away of a dry lakebed resulting from our drought. For me, it was hedonistic absorption in a time of crisis. So, since the film is so replete with hidden or personal references, how can a viewer possibly get a feel for what it’s ‘about’? It seems to be all margin notes without a basic story. I must lay my hopes upon the power of film itself to engage the mind of the viewer. I made mention elsewhere that I attended films as a very young child – too young to possibly be able to understand the story. Somehow, film itself kept me enraptured and I fell in love. Could it still do this today?
I’m glad you mentioned the possibility of digitizing your work. While I understand the want for audiences to only see your work on the original 16mm – with all its subtleties of texture and luminosity – it certainly poses major challenges in terms of being seen at all by anyone not lucky enough to be living somewhere that will host such screenings. On the other hand, one can certainly hope it will inspire more analog screenings in general. Your note that Marginalia is “haunted with concerns about passing on traditions or maybe letting them go” speaks directly to this conflict – perhaps if the work is digitized it has a better chance of passing on traditions in a wider way.
What do you think?
This brings up so many difficult things. But, I see that I have made it about as hard as possible, for myself and others, to have my work seen. Without my intending it, I seem to have become another eccentric, reclusive filmmaker. By living my life in a very local manner, I’ve unwittingly created a global reputation as someone who doesn’t want anyone to see my films. For a while, I was casting my lot with those who still offered projected film. I stood by film as I stand by my love. Perhaps I thought the old culture would crumble slowly and conveniently along with me. Maybe it’s been the Covid Pandemic, but I can now see that projected film has become almost wiped out. And, it is true that I’m feeling a little “strange” in this new reality. I can’t let my dislike of the new form the film world has taken keep me from touching other people’s minds and hearts – that’s why I make films. I do love people and I want to act on that. Nathaniel is much more famous and in-demand than myself. Also, his giant body of work is legend. He can survive on the great interest his films generate throughout the World. My films are only starting to be seen on their own rather than as a satellite to Nathaniel’s screenings. There are other reasons, but these will give an idea of what I’ve been thinking about as I contemplate digitization.
While the ‘interview’ as such ends here, Jerome mentioned wanting to make one final statement on filmmaking to be included in this text. A few days later he wrote me to explain why he could not make that statement after all, which deeply resonated with me, and connected to a bit of advice Phil Solomon once gave me (also by e-mail) – “The only thing I have to offer is to keep making work…Most people who are not serious about the gig will drop by the wayside, as it’s hard to maintain a discipline.”
In the course of our letters, you have said so many things that have caused me to respond – perhaps too much. I remember your comments about the drastic state of the world – early on in our letters – they did touch me and I was in agreement with your thought that the world could go on without us very well. When I hear someone say that we have to be good “stewards of the earth”, I’m struck by the blindness of thinking that we are the masters rather than the product of this planet. That blindness might be Biblical in origin. But, even if one resigns oneself to dying for the good of the planet, the body will not cooperate. No matter what, the body will fight hard for its continuance. That’s the natural law, too. In Renoir’s La Marseillaise, King Louis XVI muses as he walks in the Versailles garden at how inconvenient it is not to be simply watching a tragic play, but to be a participant oneself.
Max, I hate to disappoint you, but I can’t put together a statement for and about filmmaking. I began three different statements and each fell apart of its own weight. Ultimately, I feel: who am I, who have only a few films finished, to pose as being a source of insight to my fellow artists. When I think of the filmmakers and artists that I know and have known, I think of a bunch of great people who are more qualified to give me inspiration than the other way around. As I tried to put my thoughts down coherently, I felt my perch wobbling beneath me and counter-arguments rising to all my thoughts. Please forgive me.
Perhaps I could say one word of encouragement: No matter what, keep working. Keep making your contribution. We artists are in the business of transformation. Whatever your art, you probably take material of some sort and transform it. It shows the power to change seemingly solid things into something else. To viewers, that sends a message that the world is not a solid, intractable thing. That is tremendously good news for people caught in the grip of belief. We all know that everything changes. Sometimes this is painful, sometimes it’s a relief. But the work of film and video making also shows the possibility of being an agent of transformation. We can join the forces of natural law in partnership. Why not give in?
All the best,
4 thoughts on ““The world is not a solid, intractable thing” — An Interview with Jerome Hiler”
Thanks for this enlightening and inspiring interview, Jerome and Max. I’d say it was the best thing I read in 2021 except that … for some inexplicable reason I put off reading it until 2022. Wonderful.
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Thanks as always for your feedback, Eric. Much appreciated. I also found Mr. Hiler’s answers enlightening and inspiring! It is so fascinating to learn about the history of the New American Cinema directly from folks who were there when it happened.
I will take this opportunity to point out the recent news that parts of this interview made their way into the new book “Illuminated Hours. Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler”, (edited by Francisco Algarín Navarro and Carlos Saldaña) which will have its Spanish release later this month, with an English edition to follow by the end of the year.
Congrats on that inclusion, Max. I’ll look forward to the publication of that book, and hopefully it’ll be celebrated with screenings at the Pacific Film Archive or elsewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Oh. #protip for any scholars cataloging the appearances of Anne Waldman in the footage of Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler: her feet, in a stream, appear ⅔ of the way through the multi-maker Renga. https://vimeo.com/314924883#t=6m6s