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A Hollis Frampton Odyssey: Magellan

Posted by martinteller on September 2, 2012

The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I – As one of the first films meant to be screened in Frampton’s massive, unfinished, absurdly complex and ambitious “Magellan” project, this contains hints of beginnings.  The letter A, an orchestra tuning, a wedding paralleled by a wedding from an early silent.  There’s also an homage to Duchamp that I only know about because I read the booklet.  But Frampton meant for the viewer to be involved in a great deal of external research.  I don’t like to use “self-indulgent” as a criticism, but even I have my limits.  However, taken on its own, this is a fairly engaging bit of filmmaking.  Rating: Good (70)

Pan 0 – Frampton planned for a whopping 720 of these one-minute “Panopticons” to be shown throughout the project.  Perhaps something like visual palate cleansers.  The first features clouds moving across the sky, with a strobe effect adding to the feeling of movement.  Rating: Good (72)

Pan 1 – Some sort of a bauble swinging back and forth, gradually losing momentum.  Without being able to see these “Pans” in their tremendous context, they feel rather pointless, but they’re somewhat pleasant to watch and too brief to be annoying.  Rating: Fair (60)

Ingenivm Nobis Ipsa Pvella Fecit, Part I – A take on Muybridge’s motion studies (you’ve probably seen them, even if the name doesn’t ring any bells) featuring a woman performing a series of physical tasks.  The motion is stutter-edited and interrupted by flashes of a dotted line box, perhaps suggesting she is being framed as art.  I dunno… I found this one pretty tedious. Rating: Poor (54)

Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part I: The Red Gate I, 0 – So far in discussing Frampton, I have proudly managed to avoid invoking the name of Stan Brakhage.  But here the comparison is unavoidable: the images of death and decay on display so easily bring to mind Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes.  Frampton adds layers of abstraction to it, though… the jittery camera, kinetic editing and unidentifiable images more reminiscent of some of Brakhage’s other works.  The significance of the red and green filters eludes me (Christmas corpses?) but the film has an impact nonetheless.  Rating: Good (73)

Pan 2 – Boy, I feel kinda silly rating these.  Nice close-up image of water falling.  Rating: Fair (68)

Pan 3 – Rapid rushing through a cornfield.  Lightning-quick glimpses of the horizon give a feel of racing towards a destination but never getting there.  I really enjoyed this minute.  Rating: Very Good (80)

Pan 4 – Hard to describe.  Three colored sheets of paper tacked to a wall.  A breeze makes them flutter, and the images are “ghosted” in a way that evokes three mouths talking.  I think I actually could watch 720 of these, there’s something very Zen about them.  Rating: Very Good (80)

Pan 697 – Okay, I wouldn’t watch 720 of these.  A man beheading a slaughtered cow.  This type of thing is so passé and unnecessary.  Rating: Crap (25)

Pan 698 – Whip-pans across a patch of buttercups.  Nice blurring effect but it doesn’t do a lot for me.  Rating: Fair (67)

Winter Solstice – By far the longest film presented in this section of the set, it features scenes from a steel mill.  I’m kind of conflicted about this one.  The jittery images of glowing molten steel are very beautiful and evocative, but after 5 minutes I’m ready to move on.  Perhaps the prolonged length (only 32 minutes, but believe me it feels long) is meant to enhance the hellishness of the experience. Criterion’s notes say this pays tribute to Eisenstein and Vertov.  I kinda see it, but it seems like a stretch.  Rating: Fair (65)

Pan 699 – A boy (the son of Frampton’s partner, I’m told) gleefully dangles a frog from a fish hook.  As someone who had pet frogs as a child, I found this exceptionally cruel.  Without context, it’s just a random act of awfulness.  But I don’t even want to know the reasoning behind it. Fuck you, kid.  Rating: Crap (15)

Pan 700 – Ghostly images of traffic against an urban tenement background.  Pretty neat.  Rating: Good (71)

Gloria! – In the last film completed for Magellan before his death, Frampton enumerates various facts about his maternal grandmother, on the cold green screen of a computer.  It’s bookended with scenes from a very old silent comedy, culminating with an image of resurrection.  Fairly interesting ways of examining life and death.  Rating: Good (76)

And so ends this odyssey.  Was it worth it?  Yeah, I think so.  Some of it was unpleasant and some of it just came off as nonsense, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the 49 completed “Pans”, or the other entries in the “Hapax Legomena” series.  I think it’s good to take in some experimental film from time to time, rearrange your perceptions a bit.


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