Re: [Frameworks] Owen Land (aka George Landow) (1944-2011)

From: Fred Camper <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 22:35:05 -0500

Owen Land, formerly known as George Landow, was a really really great
filmmaker. His films are like no others. Thanks hugely to Mark Webber
for his preservation work and for making them available in new prints.

I first saw Landow's early standard-8mm films (which may be no longer
extant -- is that right?) such as "Are Era" and "Not a Case of Lateral
Displacement" at an open screening in New York in the summer of 1964
or 1965. Open screenings, even back then, tended to have many films
that weren't so interesting. Landow's not only engaged me, but seemed
both great, and unlike anything I had seen before. One seemed to be
long takes of a wound. "Are Era" was shot off TV, very rapidly cut (in
camera I assume), showing a TV head both right side up and upside
down. Still in my teens, I had only recently discovered cinema, and
had never heard of Landow before that screening. "Structural film" had
not yet been so named, so the statement from the gallery that Land's
"debut" was a "critique of structural film" is not right, as a "genre"
that has not yet been named is not exactly ready for its "critique."

It's true that Land was not the most sociably adept of people. But one
would not expect that from his films. If you understand his films, you
understand that communication in them is always paradoxical. His
fascination with palindromes (and he and I exchanged a few ordinal
palindromes at times) was only a bare surface indication of his films'
profound inwardness, an inwardness that was not one of psychological
interiority, as in Brakhage, but of irreconcilable paradox. Land was
fascinated with cinema's artificiality, and his use of film imagery
was profoundly hermetic; it always feels as if his film images are
spiraling inward, collapsing in on themselves.

He was not necessarily the friendliest instructor for young filmmakers
interested in "self-expression." He wasn't very patient with long,
self-indulgent, emotionally-laden "personal" films. I once saw him
advise a student, correctly in my view, that the student did not have
the distance needed to deal with the family footage he was trying to
fashion into a film. But those who so easily make personal voiceover
pieces today (in which a voiceover narrates autobiographical details
on the sound track which the images illustrate) might have something
to learn from really studying Landow's deeply hermetic art, an art I
find true in some deep way to the truths of images either on film or
seen with the eye: Do we really know what any image might mean, or how
it might "feel"?

There is much humor in Land's work, and one genuine belly-laugh for
those who had had their fill of the academic use of Hollis Frampton's
(admittedly wonderful) "(nostalgia)" to illustrate "structural" film:
The film within Land's "Wide Angle Saxon" titled "Regrettable Redding
Condescension," credited to someone named "Al Rutcurts" (remember
Land's love of palindromes), which was indeed a "critique" of
"structural film."

I wish "experimental" cinema had more true originals such as Land,
filmmakers who find a new and original use for cinema, a new type of
film grammar, which, of course, can also lead to a new type of
thinking. In my view, the "project" of "experimental" film at its best
has always been that of forging new types of consciousness, new was of
conceiving of the world, new ways of being in the world.

Fred Camper

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Received on Wed Jul 13 2011 - 20:35:18 CDT