The Cinema of Hollis Frampton.


While reading Scott MacDonald's Critical Cinema, the first thing that struck me was Hollis Frampton's statement -

Quote - "The term Intuitive - although that's an indelibly sloppy word that i dislike immensely. When people say they did something intuitively, it means that they didn’t think about it. They did what they liked to do, or what they do automatically, like picking their noses. It’s a totally irresponsible thing for an artist to say. On the other hand, simply attempting to keep an apparent progression from developing was probably a better control than assigning them each a number and taking the numbers out of a hat. As always happens with the very elementary uses of chance operations that would have produced "Clumps.""...Unquote

A brief biography

Frampton was born March 11, 1936 in Wooster Ohio. An only child, he was raised primarily by his maternal grandparents. At the age of 15 he entered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was accepted on full scholarship. At Andover, Frampton's classmates and friends included the painter Frank Stella and sculptor Carl Andre. Widely read already as a youth, he had a reputation at Andover as a "young genius" but was also unpredictable: he failed to graduate from Andover, and thus forfeited a National Scholarship to Harvard University, when he failed his history course on a bet that he could pass the final exam without ever reading the textbook. Entering Western Reserve University in 1954, Frampton took a wide variety of classes (Latin, Greek, German, French, Russian, Sanskrit, Chinese, and mathematics) but had no declared major. He recounts that when he was called in front of the dean after three and a half years of study and 135 hours of credits and asked, once again, if he intended to take a degree, he was told that if so, he needed to take speech, western civilization, and music appreciation. He replied that "I already know how to talk, I already know who Napoleon was and I already like music" and noted that "For that reason I hold no bachelor's degree. I was very sick of school." During this time he had a short-lived radio show at Oberlin College.

Frampton originally came to film from the fine arts, his background as artist & photographer. Manual of Arms (1966) the earliest Frampton film, includes a portraits of sculptors Carl Andre & Lee Lezano, dancers Lucina Childs & Twyla Tharp, painters Robert Huot, Larry poons & Rosemarie Castoro, Filmmaker Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow & others.


The Structure of his films explores fundamentals by limiting the numbers of elements used in a work and using them in pre-determined systematic ways. Manuals of Arms present its fourteen portraits using minimal means [eg; lighting is simple and each subject has apparently been given the same basic instructions in the same empty darkened space]. A serial structure, all the subjects are introduced in fourteen second shots, each separated from the next by forty frames of dark leader; then the portraits are presented in the same order. Palindrome (1969) organizes found imagery discarded by the film lab into complex palindromic sequence. Artificial Light (1969) uses the same sequence of imagery twenty times, but in each instance this material is presented in a different way; in one instance Frampton paints on the footage, in another he erases portions of it, in still another he presents it upside down and so on.
Frampton's systematic approach to film structure reached perhaps its most elaborate exposition in Zorns Lemma (1970). Zorns Lemma is divided into three sections, each representing a phase in the process of learning [particularly the process of learning languages] that begins in early childhood and continues until adulthood. First section, a school marmy voice reads verses from the bay state primer, an early English rhetoric used in New England, while the viewer watches a dark screen. The verses focus on words beginning with successive letters of the alphabet, which becomes one of the central grid structures in Zorn’s Lemma. the second sections begins with run through of the roman alphabet, then proceeds to reveal in silence, an immense collection of environmental words that are presented in alphabetic sets, one second per word.

They form an immense spatial temporal grid. As set after set of the words revealed, second development comes to dominate this central section of the film; gradually each of the word positions within each twenty four part alphabetic set [I/J and U/V are considered one letter] is replaced one second segments of a continuous action; Robert Huot painting a wall, egg frying, the pages of a book being turned. A new kind of narrative develops for viewers, who begin to follow the sequential actions [the length of each of which coincides with the time remaining in the central section of the film] and to wonder which letter will be replaced next. When the last letter has been replaced, the middle section of the film ends. In the concluding section, we watch a man, a women and a dog walk away from the camera across the field, and into the woods, in a series of roll long shots, edited to look like a single continuous shot. The final section is the first with both imagery and sound; we hear several people reading. The voices alternate, each one reading a single word at a time. Just as the alphabetic system of the short first section continues during the second section, the one second rhythm introduced in the second section continues here. The voices read in time to a metronome marking off a one second beat.

Instead of identifying with fictional character and vicariously experiencing this character's adventures, the viewer of Zorn’s Lemma metaphorically relives phases of an educational process that, from Frampton’s point of view characterize contemporary experience.

Frampton's next work, the seven parts Hapax Legomena - the first three sections of Hapax Legomena - Nostalgia, Poetic Justice & critical mass are some of Frampton's most impressive films. In Nostalgia, we see close-ups of a series of photographs as they are burned, one by one, on a hot plate. As we look at each image burning. We listen to Michael Snow read a discussion of the image we will see next. In poetic justice, the viewer reads 240 page screenplay one page at a time. A story of a stressed relationship between a photographer and his lover is evident within the verbal & visual labyrinth created by Frampton’s ingenious text. In Critical Mass, he uses forms of visual & auditory repetition, to dramatize a lover's quarrel between a young man and women.

After Hepax Legomena, he made 36 Hour long film Magellam - organized and meant to be viewed cylindrically over the course of 371 days.

Excerpts from an interview:-

Scott MacDonald - I’d like to raise something peripheral to what you were saying earlier about people teaching films that have been written about. There has been a tendency among many academic film people to redo what is done in universities with literature; specifically, to isolate a few great figures out of a series of generations and then to devote tremendous amount of scholarship to them. The problem with this, I think, is that a great many very interesting artists tend to get lost during that original, rather erratic selection process and perhaps are never found. "Film History" tends to become the history of who is written about?

Hollis Frampton - the word Academic, of course is a pejorative term. It’s characterized by the tendency to limit the territory by proscriptiveness. Thou Shalt not do so and so. At the same time, that something is taught or written about does not necessarily mean that it's become academic. It may mean that it's becoming a discipline. there was a time, after all, when what we now call philosophy was not taught, and indeed, that was equally true of literature. I remind myself sometimes that vast catchall for everything that nobody wants - English - never had a departmental status or was taught as a discipline in any western university before 1911. University taught Latin and Greek, the argument being that everybody knew English, so why teach it? There is nothing more academic - in the grimmest sense of the word - than just about any Hollywood film, or let's say any commercial melodrama. They are utterly academic. They proceed from the notion that it is known how to make film. At the same time, there has also been the most extreme resistance to film becoming a discipline, that is to say, something that is to be examined in a general climate of intellectual inquiry. A good part of that resistance comes from the Avant-Garde film community.

Scott MacDonald - are you saying that the Avant-Garde film community has resisted the academicizing of film or the attempt to bring film into universities as a discipline?

Hollis Frampton - I think it has often seen the two things as the same thing. It’s a standard confusion. The other arts have, as often as not, felt that way too. On the other hand, for the sciences, that question has been so irrelevant for so long that we can’t retrieve whatever dialogue took place about the entrance of the sciences into the universities; the sciences, of course are at once disciplines and in some places, highly academicized. I think right now in some quarters, there is a very specific resistance not just too academicizing film but to film's emergence as a discipline, the argument being, I suppose, that critical scrutiny dries things up, make them sterile. During the last thirty years film, almost uniquely, has enjoyed a grand period of enthusiasm without much scrutiny of itself, at least on the part of filmmakers. It has had little rational examination undertaken with a view - and this is the point, of course - to extending the range and power of its possibilities. we have seen this same drama enacted before, in the Soviet Union where Eisenstein's efforts to take film seriously as an intellectual discipline were met with cries that he was a chilly intellectual, that he was an engineer. This, of course was equated with not having the people at heart, on the corny and insulting Stalinist grounds that the people are all heart. If one takes the narrowing of the fields of possibilities as a major benchmark of academicism. Then it's coming mostly strongly from some of those who have preached most violently against academicization. I' m referring very specifically, although not exclusively, to Brakhage's public declarations during the last couple of years, which strike me as an academic in the extreme.

As far as making monuments of major figures is concerned, I think the humanities have tended to take as their submerged metaphor what they believe to be the procedure of the sciences. It is believed that the procedure of the sciences is to take typical or illustrative examples and infer generalities from them. One cannot study, all cockroaches, one studies a sample of cockroaches and makes stylistically statements about cockroaches. One cannot study all the films. One deals with the quintessential sample, with the film that seems to point to possibilities for unpacking other work yet to come. Well anything that is truly a discipline that is taught and studied, must constantly be under construction because, invariably, one is wrong to a degree. The intellectual tools that one has at any given moment tend to enforce certain readings, to delete certain other readings, to produce an historic order, a finite set of monuments that seems to constitute a tradition. A tradition is that part of the history of a discipline that is perceived as ordered and important, but only at a given time.

Biography source- Wikipedia.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this article. I always wanted to see some of the directors at UBU, this comes as a good recco.

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