On April 28th, at 6pm Berlin time, a unique streaming event will take place: the first-ever digital screening of a segment from Gregory J. Markopoulos’ 80-hour epic experimental work, Eniaios. In celebration of this momentous event, I have decided to publish a piece I wrote about seeing a segment of Eniaios a few months back. -MLP
by Maximilien Luc Proctor
In December, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin closed their exhibit on “NothingtoSeeness” – featuring white rooms, white canvases, Yoko Ono poems on snow, and several thousand copies of the Beatles’ White Album – with a three-part screening curated by Alexander Horwath and Regina Schlagnitweit of the Vienna Film Museum, including a host of work by both canonical and lesser-known filmmakers. As the title suggests, and complimentary to the exhibit, the programs focused on works looking into the abyss, forming means of depicting nothingness. The rich nature of emptiness.
The first of the three programs began with a film less than a second long, 1/48’’ (2008) by Jorge Lorenzo, dealing with the smallest possible unit in film; a clapper presented in a single frame. As introduced by the curators, “Blink and you’ll miss it”. Following in this vein, Viktoria Schmid’s A Proposal to project in 4:3 (2016) presents the blank canvas of the projection screen as a sculpture, the sequel to which – A Proposal to project in Scope (2020) – can still be visited in Nida, Lithuania. Going back to when the medium first began to reveal its ways of showing nothingness, Peter Kubelka’s Arnulf Rainer (1958-60) was a minor revelation on the big screen – an early work of ambient noise drone whose flickering black and white frames simply don’t make sense on a smaller screen or different format. Next was a foundational work of another New American Cinema giant, Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963), assembled physically by taping objects found in nature (leaves, grass, insects, and yes, moth wings) onto a strip of clear leader. The best ‘new to me’ finds of the batch were Aldo Tambellini’s Black Trip (1966) and Black Trip 2 (1967), which sandwiched Ernst Schmidt jr.’s Filmreste (1965-67), constructed from the sampling and repeating of various odds and ends of found footage; the title makes reference to excised material. The program closed with the monochrome tints on Joyce Wieland’s Handtinting (1967/68) and the demented mantra (“destroy, destroy, destroy…”) of Paul Sharits’ T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968).
The second program began with Morgan Fisher’s Projection Instructions (1976), featuring onscreen text instructing the projectionist to perform various small tasks such as throwing the image out of focus and adjusting the volume. Hollis Frampton’s Surface Tension (1968) was perhaps better understood than usual, as the sequence featuring narration in German without subtitles was of course less mysterious to the audience in this context. The recently unearthed (and regrettably one of only two titles screened digitally due to source limitations) Le Chant des signes (The Song of Signs) (1972) by Yves-André Delubac was distinctly ‘French’ in its narration-heavy (thankfully subtitled) theoretical approach and fascination with the camera apparatus. The meta examination of what happens between a camera lens, the projection of images, and their processing in the human mind was continued in the next title, Gustav Deutsch’s Film ist mehr als Film (1996), a one-minute trailer commissioned for a festival and presented on 35mm – a shot of an eye in close-up overlaid with moving text elucidating some of the things that “Film is” capable of accomplishing and being. The program closed with two more contemporary titles. Stephanie Barber’s Another Horizon (2021) is a work blending 16mm and digital images to combine the jagged edges of a voice recording’s waveforms with a mountain range. Here the static photograph of the landscape is brought to life by an animated unpredictable scratch, only later revealed to be an analog approximation of the digital waveform. Finally, Jorge Lorenzo’s On the Road by Jack Kerouac (2013) presents a 35mm movie dada ‘pure adaptation’ of the eponymous novel, flashing the entirety of the text onscreen across 14 minutes.
All of this led up to the grand finale: a third program featuring one short and a medium length fragment, both by the New American Cinema’s shadow grandfather (that is to say, obscure yet remarkably influential), Gregory J. Markopoulos. Alexander Horwath and Regina Schlagnitweit took the stage to introduce the work along with special guest Robert Beavers. The program began with the 6-minute Bliss (1967), shot on two rolls of Ektachrome Commercial in two days, one roll per afternoon of shooting.
“The motion picture Bliss was begun this past summer, 1967, on a Saturday afternoon and completed on a Sunday afternoon. Location for Bliss was the little known Greek church of St. John the Baptist on the island of Hydra.”
—“Adventures with Bliss in Roma”, Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos
Bliss consists of Markopoulos’ signature montage style; working with the smallest cinematic unit of measurement (single frames), otherworldly superimpositions, rich engagement with color (he did not allow his students to work with black and white stocks while teaching at the Chicago Institute of Art), and rapid editing of static compositions. Similar to Sorrows (1969) in its montage, images of the interior and exterior of the church seem to move within and without one another, though often with the frame divided into various thin vertical columns of image, achieved by holding his hand (mentioned by Beavers as a glimpse of ‘salmon-colored’ form) over segments of the lens while filming. Close-ups of a wavering flame in the church, the frescos within, an open lock hanging outside and a spider silhouetted against the sky remain in the mind as some of the most memorable images, partly for our being primed for them: Beavers mentioned that Markopoulos’ own description of the lock and spider related to his views on the Greek Orthodox church’s inability to adapt to the times, holding on too tightly to old-fashioned ways of thinking, overly strict. Such a critique of the church is especially potent coming from such a spiritual filmmaker, whose images move as if they were angels themselves, gliding from thought-form to image, proposing emotional impacts which circumvent linguistic lucidity, affecting our perception of time, feeling, meditation, existence.
The two rolls were edited entirely in-camera. As Beavers mentioned, Bliss features exactly two cuts, employed to add 20 seconds of black screen between the two rolls, featuring the sound of a herd of sheep ‘baaaahing’ their way through the darkness – the film is otherwise completely silent, yet the images move with the same visual musicality elucidated by Stan Brakhage, a concept furthered by the next piece: a 50-minute excerpt from Markopoulos’ grand opus, the 80-hour Eniaios. Approximately every four years since 2004 (2020’s screening has been rescheduled for 2022), the next few cycles are screened in Lyssaraia, Greece, at a special place of cinephilic worship dubbed the Temenos (chosen by Markopoulos in part for its proximity to his father’s birthplace).
Beavers explained the terms Eniaios and Temenos – both Greek words with multiple meanings; where the former is both ‘unity’ and ‘uniqueness’, the latter refers to a special holy site set aside, one where nothing is born and nothing dies. A site which rests outside of the traditional passage of time as we know it, perfectly suited to the feeling of watching the work; composed primarily of black leader, this section (two reels) of Eniaios presented re-edited versions of Bliss and The Olympian (1969), a “Portrait of novelist Alberto Moravia filmed in Rome”. The already fragmentary works are here re-shuffled into tight clusters of images surrounded by darkness. I cannot recall the last time that an hour passed so quickly at the cinema. Watching Eniaios took me completely out of temporal reality, a moment of presence, a moment of levitation. Whereas Brakhage often incorporated the black screen to intentionally allow the eyes a moments’ rest without missing an image, Markopoulos takes the opposite approach: the black screen is very much there to be seen, felt, and engaged with. It is not just a question of ‘nothing to seeness’; it is thought-form manifested, it is spiritual presence.