Jim Davis: Silent Light

Jim Davis: Silent Light


The six films of Silent Light are all from the 1950s, a decade when most films had spoken narration and music. Not so here. All of these films are silent, except for Thru the Looking Glass, which has a music track. Davis believed that music was necessary for his distributed films, but he was unhappy with most electronic compositions. In fact, music was not as important as he imagined: in 1956 NY Times critic Howard Thompson forcefully wrote that a preview screening of Davis' Becoming had made it clear that he did not need music. Spoken words were a still greater problem (Davis made just one 'spoken word' film, Taliesin West). Davis saw motion pictures as primarily images – "I am going directly to light" and "with my [films] you don't need any words."

Let There Be Light (1956) is a silent symphonic light work. Variations on a Theme, made one year later, is similar in form, but the great difference is that Variations is not composed of light reflected off screens but light reflected off the surface of water, or on underwater vegetation. This contemplative work prompts comparisons of light with water: both are fluid media that become visible when they intersect hard surfaces, whether screens in the case of light, or rocks in the case of water. Variations also resembles the water films of Ralph Steiner, especially H20 (1929) and Look Park (1974).

Davis was drawn, all of his life, to the changing patterns of light on water, as can be seen in his The Sea (1950), Like a Breeze (1954), and A Dream of Space (1959). Dream celebrates, with a natural scientist's precise vision, the melting of ice and snow on rocky cliffs, it seeping beneath a sheath of ice, then threading into rivulets of water and larger and larger streams that turn into rapids. The title presumably refers to the erosive effects, over space and time, of water on the hard surface of the crust of our world. Path of Motion (1950) is a record of some of his landscape paintings that are charged with the energy of movement, though on a static painted canvas.

Technical Specs

Director: Jim Davis
Year: 2009
Country: USA
Duration: 55 min
Colour: Colour
Certificate: 18