Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sitney on S:S:S:S:S:S

"The multiple superimposition of water flowing in different directions initially presents a very flat image. But the subsequent scratches, which are deep, ripping through the color emulsion to the pure white of the film base and often ploughing up a visual residue of filmic matter at the edges, affirm a literal flatness which makes the water appear to occupy deep space by contrast.

"The dilemma of Sharits's art has turned on the failure of his imagery to sustain its authority in the very powerful matrix of the structures he provides. His search for metaphors and icons for the particular kind of cinematic experience that his films engender has not been as successful as his invention of markers to reflect the duration of his films. In N:O:T:H:I:N:G the off-balance, empty chair and the draining light bulb allude to the floating, almost intoxicating experience the seated viewer feels after extended concentration on flickering colors, pouring from the projector bulb. The matphors of T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G totalize the suicidal and sexual inserts of Ray Gun Virus and Piece Mandala/End War and represent the viewing experience as erotic violence. Curiously in S:S:S:S:S:S he represents, unwittingly of course, the metaphor Kubelka is so fond of elaborating for the structure of Schwechater; in his lectures he always compares that film to the flowing of a stream. In Sharits's film too, the complexly deflected water flows are like the illusory movement of cinema. However, these matphors either lack the immediacy of the color flickers or the scratches around them, or they overpower their matrix, as in T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, and instigate a psychological vector which the form cannot accomodate as satisfactorily as the trance film or the mythopoeic film."

-- Sitney, Visionary Cinema (3rd ed.) (pp. 362-4)

I half-agree with Sitney's characterization here but can't bring this to terms with the fact that I find Sharits so powerful and captivating, on the highest level of the American a-g cinema that I know, that is, with Breer and Brakhage and Maclaine et al. Though Sharits is an established presence in the a-g canon, he's not actually all that lauded. (Consider too that, for instance, neither Yoel Meranda nor Fred Camper include Sharits on their 'A' or 'B' lists of recommended cinema; Parker Tyler gives him faint praise if I recall; but Dwoskin in Film Is... treats him seriously and sympathetically for two pages.) I think in a way Sharits (as author-construct) is slowly becoming one of "my" filmmakers--not in any kind of proprietary or territorial sense, but in the sense that this is an artist who (regardless of specific level of greatness) you're willing to go that extra mile for, you find yourself drawn to for reasons parallel to (but not quite the same as) their artistic brilliance or whatever--for me, for instance, not only Ford & Ozu & Godard, but Borowczyk, Kiarostami, maybe Ferrara and Farocki ... and others ... the filmmakers in whose work one finds vast reservoirs in which one can work out all your problems and undertake journeys ... in tandem with the filmmaker. Though this phenomenon extends well beyond film obviously, in fact more accurately extends from other areas into film.

2 comments:

Yoel Meranda said...

Hey Zach, Thanks for linking my website... I got a few new visitors.

I think I've actually seen only one Sharits on film, and I talk about it (in a positive vein) in my essay on Structural Films.
http://www.waysofseeing.org/struct.html

I've actually inspected lots and lots of Sharits films frame by frame at the filmmakers coop... It's true I never thought he was one of the better avant-gardists but he is always interesting. He definitely tries new things and at least shakes you in some way.

I have a lot of respect for Sharits but I never enjoyed him as much as you did.

Zach Campbell said...

Yoel, I've read that essay but forgot about the mention to Sharits! Thanks for pointing it out. More on him in the future, I hope.