Frampton's "Hapax Legomena" [Was: Frampton, Brakhage, RE:VOIR]

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Feb 17 2010 - 10:22:59 PST

It's nice to see some substantive discussion of aaethetics on
FRAAMEWORKS, and I'd like to thank Mark and Fred et. al for their
posts. I invite more of y'all to chime in. The idea that a LISTSERV is
a 'discussion forum' is a misnomer. There are a lot of announcements
and queries, and most of the comments are hastily dashed-off one
liners which is all most folks have time for as responses to the email
missives which are as about as significant to the meat of their
quotidian existence as a gnat to, well, anybody not named Joba.*

[for the record, I'm not only out of work on disability, but sitting
at home recovering from major surgery at the moment, so I have time on
my hands]

My original remark about the Frampton set, was actually not about the
Frampton set. I meant it as a humorous trope in registering my umbrage
at the curatorial choices made for By Brakhage 2. But some interesting
thoughts have been brought up in the following posts.

Fred: if you have any cites for writings (yours or others) on how the
whole of Hapax works together, and specifics about how parts 4-7 "grow
in poetic allusiveness and become parts of a progression." I'd love to
read them.

I'm really liking the broader debate on different philosophies of
programming 'minor works' that's accompanying the more specific
thoughts about HFs oevre. Fred's idea is based on the familiar notion
of 'masterpiece' but a rather unconventional definition of the term,
more conceptual, not confined to a single text as traditionally
defined, but embracing the sort of categorical organization of which
HF was so fond. (It strikes me that the same sort of argument might be
made about David Gatten's Byrd series. I don't know if those have ever
been shown all at one go, but I wonder how having the larger context
immediately available would affect my reading of "The Joy of Reading
Lost and Found" which I thought was nice work but nothing super
special, in contrast to "The Great Art of Knowing" which totally blew
me away.) I have no set opinion on the matter, but I suppose I'm more
likely by default to Mark's view, that is, to take a more 'autuerist'
view and imagine that both individual gems and collective revelations
are to be scattered among an an artist's catalog...

But by far the most interesting part of the discussion have been the
ideas about a general aesthetic of experimental film. Fred writes,
'[Hapax 1-3] are the most accessible, the easiest to parse, the
easiest to talk about,
and, I think, the simplest.' I don't think I infer too much in taking
'simplest' as a dig at people who would put down HL 4-7. Mark then
agrees that the most popular HFs are the ones that are easy to parse,
but makes an almost CulStud-ish argument about greatness lying in
their openness, arguing that that they are loving of the audience,
intellectually giving and moving. Fred rejoins that these qualities
are often quite absent in great works of art, not just Avant Garde,
but especially so.

Now reading this, I can't help but think of one of my best friends
from grad school, a contempory lit PhD working on Pynchon, sharp as a
tack, very hip aesthetically, no specialist, but into all kinds of
film and a vet of many an experimental screening. He had found
Critical Mass to be absolute torture, (the only work that elicited
similar moans of pain in his memory was Awful Backlash]. I also can't
help but think of the evening I screened (nostalgia) before an
unsuspecting Intro to Film class. Half way through they many of them
were howling in pain and screaming insults at the screen [I always
thought it funny that these privileged kids complained vocally about
stuff they didn't like, but just got up and walked out, but I
digress.]. I'm sorry, but the idea of any HF as easy, accessible etc.
is kinds funny.

Ultimately, I agree with both Mark and Fred to some degree. on the
Mark side: I do think the great HFs are great because they're so
deeply human and moving AT THE SAME time they're so formally precise.
And on the Fred side, I take the familiar general principle that the
most profound aesthetic experiences are often the ones you have to
struggle for, get your head knocked around a bit to you see what you
didn't see in the first place. Of course, that's the very point I made
to those angry students about (nostalgia). Would it be too wishy-washy
of me to suggest that the nature of 'great-art' is something like a
process involving an exchange between the two states, rather than a
static resting place in one or the other?

I saw rental number's for either MOMA or FMC once, and HL 1-3 get
rented a lot, and 4-7 hardly at all. This suggests that programmers
think 4-7 are a bridge too far for their audience, and academics don't
find them productive tools for teaching. And taking a broader view,
the fact remains that uninitiated viewers are often quite hostile to
ANY Frampton. I've read that this hostility was upsetting to Frampton
himself, who simply didn't understand why people didn't understand and
appreciate what he was trying to do. But anyone who could create
'Studies in Vegtable Locomotion' had a wry sense of humor, and the
comments lines in the computer programming HF wrote (Keith Sanborn
showed examples at the HF confab at Princeton a few years back) shows
he maintained that dry wit throughout his working life. So, whether of
not HF intended it (and as a film/media semiotics and ideology guy, I
do not do the intentional fallacy) I read an element of wry play with
audience expectation in HL 1-3, similar to the kind of smart-ass wit
in Godard (though to a different end). Ok, you want plot: well we're
just going track down a traffic jam until the film in the camera runs
out, hehehe. OK, you expect films to be visually stimulating: here's
the most boring still life you will ever see and you have to read and
use your imagination, yukyuk. OK, you want to get on with the little
game I've set up, you're going to have to hold on to that thought
while the ash just twists on the stove (which is, of course, until the
film runs out, but audiences don't get that unless someone tells
them). I can't say I think HF himself is expressing a devilish little
smile in these things (I don't know what was in his mind], but I think
the FILMS are. And to me that's part of their wonderfullness. You have
to get past the little games to get to the meatier stuff underneath,
but the irony of the contrast between the levels never really
disappears. So if Mark makes HF sound like a bit of an emotional sap,
with all that embracing and giving and moving, yeah that's all in
there [good sap, as in the juice of life, not bad sap as in sticky all
over], but so is the jokester who had Michael Snow read the text about
his little tiff with Michael Snow and who so obligingly dropped dead
in comic fashion (full knowing he was not the healthiest of men)
falling out of the frame in wavelength. Humor may not be the first
thing you thing about engaging HF, but the fact remains, his material
is funnier than Jay Leno's material, and more memorably so...

To change the subject and go back to intent for a moment... When I've
seen Poetic Justice the text has been a wee fuzzy, and hard for me to
read [my visual acuity is not so hot to begin with]. Does anybody know
if that was just the print, and whether sharper, easier to read copies
exist. Does anyone know whether HF himself wanted the text to be
relatively easy to read, or a bit of a challenge? Once Criterion has
it digitized they will be able to make the text more crisp if they
desire. It's like the color palatte problem they have restoring old
paintings. Do you punch it up toward an ideal you assume the artist
was going for and may have originally achieved? Or do you repair only
the obvious 'damage' and leave the results more subtle and supposedly
'organic' processes alone (like generation loss in contact printing in
this case.) For myself, I'll hope the Criterion Poetic Justice has
sharper text than the copies I've seen so far. Does anyone have any
insight regarding the original film, exisiting distribution prints, or
how Criterion approaches something like this?

* that's a little jokey thought experiment expressing my curiosity
about how many of the FRAMEWORKERs clustered in NYC will get a
reference to a major obsession of mainstream Gotham pop culture.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.