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A Hollis Frampton Odyssey: Hapax Legomena

Posted by martinteller on September 1, 2012

Hapax Legomena I: (nostalgia) – An unmoving, overheard shot of a series of photographs, slowly burning on a heating coil.  On the soundtrack, there are autobiographical notes (read by Michael Snow) about each photo.  However, the audio and video are jumbled, so that you’re never hearing about the picture you’re seeing.  It’s a simple but effective bit of recontextualization, each image transformed not only by its immolation – a perversely hypnotic thing to behold – but also its associations (dissociated audio and video seems to be a common theme in Frampton’s work).  When you watch, you can choose to match the picture onscreen with the story, or try to recall the photo he’s talking about, or keep the narration in mind when we eventually see it.  Or attempt to absorb it all as a whole.  The most intriguing and rewarding I’ve seen by Frampton yet.  Rating: Very Good (83)

Hapax Legomena II: Poetic Justice – A table with a small cactus, a cup of coffee and a stack of paper.  One by one, separated by white flashes, we see the text written on the pages.  It is a screenplay, each of the 240 pages describing a single shot of a four-part film.  The screenplay contains no dialogue, but concerns some sort of melancholy romantic tryst between “yourself” and “your lover”, with occasional appearances by “me” (or more frequently, “my hand”).  There’s something to be said about the relationship between filmmaker and viewer, as well as a twisted take on the voyeurism of cinema.  But as an experience it can be a tough slog.  The most interesting part is the third “tableau”, a surreal and often comical scene consisting entirely of sexual congress while assorted bizarre things are going on outside the window.  I also liked the very ending.  Much of the rest of it is significantly less compelling, as the concept wears thin.  Rating: Fair (67)

Hapax Legomena III: Critical Mass – While visiting SUNY Binghamton, Frampton asked for the two most “volatile” acting students and had them improvise an argument.  It was his first time utilizing actors, and the results aren’t bad.  Of course, much of the credit belongs to the two young performers, who were only given a basic starting point and did all the work themselves.  The woman (Barbara DiBenedetto) in particular is on fire… kind of a shame that she has no other screen credits.  So where does Frampton come in?  He stutters and repeats the film, amplifying the intensity and giving a sense that this is a perpetual, ongoing argument.  At first it’s just a black screen (I would assume because the audio was rolling before the camera was set up, but I don’t know) and the sound of lines and fragments of lines being repeated is merely annoying, but once it gets melded with the image it lends the piece a crazy, stilted momentum.  I would say this one is better for the performances than the concept, but either way it’s worth watching.  Rating: Good (75)

I suppose that in the interest of disc space and not making the set prohibitively expensive, Criterion made the choice to include only the first three parts of the seven-part series.  But I imagine that it must be an exceptionally frustrating situation for fans of the director.  Oh well.  Tomorrow I’ll finish off the set.


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