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

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Feb 18 2010 - 13:27:44 PST

I appreciate Mark's and David's well considered responses on Frampton.

I don't ever recall the text in "Poetic Justice" being ultra sharp,
but on film I've always found it readable if my eyeglass prescription
was up to date.

David, your distinction between Mark's and my posts is not wrong, but
I do consider my approach "auteurist." I love all the early films Mark
cites. In fact, I think just about every Frampton film I have seen I
would call "great." There might be a few exceptions, about which I
would say, I like this film a whole lot. More to the point, my
approach to cinema in general has always been, if you find a great
film, see every film by that filmmaker, or every film you can possibly
see by that filmmaker, and, wherever possible, on film. Each great
filmmaker establishes a unique cinematic language, and seeing every
film helps you understand all the others.

About accessibility and generosity toward the audience and so on: For
me, like so many other qualities that can be used to describe art
works, even when the quality is accurately attributed to a film, it no
more to do with aesthetic merit than if a film's dominant color were
blue rather than red (with a nod to Komar and Melamid's great projects
on taste in painting). My own personal corpus of great films includes
the accessible and relatively inaccessible, sound and silent,
narrative and nonnarrative, and so on. It does, however, often seem
that an artist's very greatest works are not necessarily his most
popular, even when the artist is well regarded: thus Beethoven's
string quartet Op. 131 is to my mind much greater than his Fifth
Symphony, Bach's "Canonic Variations" much much greater than the
Brandenburgs, Bruce Baillie's "Quick Billy" much greater than "Castro
Street" and "All My Life," and, to choose an obscure favorite of mine,
Brakhage's "Naughts" much much greater than his "Anticipation of the
Night." And I think of "Anticipation of the Night" as an incredibly
great film. I have seen it dozens of times on film, and it had a deep
personal meaning for me in my early years. And all the other "lesser"
works named above are quite great too. I don't think works of art are
necessarily greater for being so complex that they are harder to
access easily, but it often seems to work out that way.

While I suppose I prefer "formally precise" to "deeply human and
moving," I have to acknowledge that, like accessibility versus
difficulty, to me these cannot be evaluative. I've seen absolutely
horrible and artless films that I in fact was somehow moved by on a
"human" level, though perhaps not quite in the way that David means,
and at the same time I'd guess we could all agree that there are
sterile and basically worthless "formally precise" films, even as we
might disagree on which films among the corpus of the "formally
precise" works the worthless ones are.

I haven't written on "Hapax Legomena," and don't know of any writing
that endorses my view, but I do hope to write something, and if I do,
I'll post a link to it here. The story about the guy who couldn't even
endure "Critical Mass" made me smile, because to me that film is
highly entertaining, an easy pleasure to view again and again, and it
makes me think in a directly human way of the horrible repetitive
cycles of such arguments that most all of us have been in at one time
or another, and is thus, certainly very moving on a "human" level,
whatever its other qualities might be.

I might also allow that the last four films of "Hapax" work less well
as separate films than do the first three. But I'll still insist that
in a single screening without a break, they are the greater of the
seven, or perhaps I should say, the greater parts of the seven parts
of the whole. In fact, each part of the series seems to me arguably a
bit greater than the last.

Here's one way to reconsider "Hapax." Think of, acknowledging
Frampton's root in Ezra Pound's poetics and Edward Weston's
photography, each of the seven films as a single "image." Then think
of those seven "images" as making a single poem, almost like a haiku,
though admittedly one that takes quite a while to unfold. Consider the
various relationships among all seven. Of course this all works best
after a single screening without a break, and is something I'll try
to elaborate on when I finally write something.

In a larger sense, I do want to reflect, too, on how our culture tends
to rip things from their contexts and present them as isolated objects
of pleasure. Mark or David were not doing this, as evidenced for
example by Mark's reference to other Frampton films, and "(nostalgia)"
is hardly an easy pleasure, but still, it is an easy film for
academics to talk about, and, to be honest, I've only ever heard the
same things said about it again and again. Our whole culture tends to
reduce each of its parts to objects, and to discourage us from using
those objects to seek out the ever broadening contexts that lead to
deeper understandings, which is, by the way, precisely the lesson of
"Hapax Legomena": its parts have one set of meanings seen separately,
and a wider set as seen in the larger whole. Instead we repeat things
again and again and again, as in, classroom showings of "(nostalgia)."
The grand, hard, and long attempts at "absolute film" (a phrase from
Sitney, preceded by the word "myth") that have characterized so much
of North American greatest avant-garde filmmaking for me ("The Art of
Vision," the "Arabics," "Quick Billy," "Hapax Legomena," "La Region
Centrale," "Rameau's Nephew," "The Hart of London," "Sleep," "La
Raison Avant La Passion," to name some) tend to get less attention
than more easily digestible tidbits. Of course length and rental costs
are understandable factors there. But there is more to be learned, I
think, from the most immersive experiences, those that challenge our
preconceptions rather than plug into our pleasure receptors and reward
our expectations. This is the lesson, for me, of considering the parts
of "Hapax Legomena" separately and then within the whole.

Fred Camper

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