The Raw and the Cooked: Larry Gottheim’s ‘Corn’ (1970)

by Luise Mörke

But of course everything is imminent in anything, with corresponding troubles and vexations, things in need of attention, bringing many bits that concern us, their pertinent worries and the accompanying worrying. Time gets intersected by the comings and goings of its dramatis personae: dog walker, truck driver, short order cook, oncology nurse, barista, florist, bank teller, dog walker, student, civil rights lawyer, electrician, figment of imagination. Real shadows are subject to the time of day, and to the position of the sun.”

– Lyn Hejinian, Positions of the Sun, published by Belladonna* in 2018

Before increasing irritation with Kardashianesque body aesthetics led me to delete my Instagram account, I occasionally spent time scrolling through the infinite accumulation of cooking videos the app wanted me to watch: squishy noodles extruded from man-sized machines, strings of melted cheese forming at the lift of a fork, fluffy Japanese Shokupan topped with cloud-like heaps of cream. In these snippets, cooking seemed effortless, free from the laborious process of shopping, chopping, cleaning. Light-years away from agricultural production, poorly waged labor, or industrialized animal farms, food was a spectacle of contained sensuality, whose appeal lay neither in its taste nor in its marvelous capacity to act as social glue, but in the textures and sounds it evoked. Foam, fluff, bounce, crunch, yum.

I think of Larry Gottheim’s silent 16mm film Corn as a distant cousin of these cooking videos, haunted by obstinate family resemblances, characterized by differences. Corn captures a static, but never contained view of an ordinary moment in the kitchen, accounting for the ways in which evening sunlight falls into the room and emanating vapor textures the air. Over a duration of ten and a half minutes, tanned hands deliver corn cobs from the snug enclosure of their husks, enough for a small gathering to gnaw on for a while (and worry about skins stuck between teeth later). The hands then take the cobs away, leaving empty husks in their wake, only to return them later in an altered state, steaming and dewy after a bath in the kettle. Work, water, and heat have transformed the corn from starchy plant into menu item, a change that entails a slight adjustment of gestures: while detaching the raw insides from the leafy outsides demanded force, the softened fibers of the cooked vegetable call for decisive yet delicate handling with tongs. Carefully, one cob after another is placed on a hand thrown serving platter, slightly too small for its purpose, but such a flawless encapsulation of the aesthetics of a time (the late 1960s) and place (in North America) that Corn might as well have been called Plate. Whose work is this? Was it a gift from a friend? A thrift store find? In any case, it is the kind of object that catches the eye each day, and in the catching makes a home.

Shot inside the house, without staffage or camera movement, Gottheim’s film operates on a modest scale, but opens onto a world outside the frame. The plate invites questions about its relations, the warm light hints at the summer air outside, friends that might be waiting in the garden. When cook and cobs remain off-screen for several minutes, viewers are granted enough time to imagine where they might have disappeared to and what is currently happening outside the limited scope of their view. In time, what’s modest reveals itself to be sufficiently plentiful. If the mundane is a slow affair, Corn offers patience as a tribute to its stunning, fleeting sluggishness.

Larry Gottheim’s Four Shadows will be streaming from February 10-24, only on the Ultra Dogme Patreon. Sign up for the monthly Movie Club tier for access to the film, along with future screenings and exclusive rewards.

Luise Mörke is a writer and graduate student based in Berlin.

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