Close Up

26 May 2009: Anticipation and Memory: The Films of Larry Gottheim


We are delighted that renowned filmmaker Larry Gottheim will attend this special screening and introduce his films. Presented and curated by Luke Burton, this programme surveys the trailblazing career of one of America's foremost avant-garde masters. Best known for the cycle Elective Affinities, a series of four feature-length films started in the early 1970s and completed in 1981, Gottheim has carried out an absorbing exploration of the relationship of images to sound and time, examined issues of racial, cultural and personal identity, and considered the theme of nature in art.

From his late-1960s series of sublime "single-shot" films to the dense sound/image constructs of the mid-1970s and after, his cinema is the cinema of presence, of observation, and of deep conscious engagement. While addressing genres of landscape, diary and assemblage filmmaking, Gottheim's work properly stands alone in its intensive investigations of the paradoxes between direct, sensual experience in collision with complex structures of repetition, anticipation and memory.

Fog Line
1970 | 11 min | Colour | 16mm

"The metaphor in Fog Line is so delicately positioned that I find myself receding in many directions to discover its source: The Raw and the Cooked? Analytic vs. Synthetic? Town & Country? Ridiculous and Sublime? One line is scarcely adequate to the bounty which hangs from fog & line conjoined." – Tony Conrad

"Fog Line is a wonderful piece of conceptual art, a stroke along that careful line between wit and wisdom – a melody in which literally every frame is different from every preceding frame (since the fog is always lifting) and the various elements of the composition – trees, animals, vegetation, sky, and, quite importantly, the emulsion, the grain of the film itself – continue to play off one another as do notes in a musical composition. The quality of the light – the tonality of the image itself – adds immeasurably to the mystery and excitement as the work unfolds, the fog lifting, the film running through the gate, the composition static yet the frame itself fluid, dynamic, magnificently kinetic." – Raymond Foery

1971 | 7 min | B/W | 16mm

"Perfect works have a way of appearing unobtrusive or simple, the complexities seeming to be so correct that they flow – mesmerize one through their form – a form that bespeaks of harmony between many aesthetic concerns. Larry Gottheim's Doorway is such a film. His concern for working with edges, isolating details, the prominence of the frame as a shape and revealer of edges, love of photographic texture, are all dealt with lucidly in this film. One is drawn into these beautiful images through Gottheim's poetic feel for photographic qualities – i.e., light, movement, texture – his ability to transform a landscape through his rigorous use of the frame to isolate in order to call attention to a heretofore hidden beauty revealed through a highly selective eye." – Barry Gerson, Film Culture

Horizons (Elective Affinities, Part I)
1971-73 | 77 min | Colour | 16mm

Elective Affinities is a series of four feature-length films Gottheim started in the early 1970s and completed in 1981 with Tree of Knowledge; the series explores not only images and their relationship to sound and time (a recurring theme in his work), they also examine issues such as family, psychology, education, freedom, and the theme of nature in art.

"This was also my fifth viewing of Gottheim's Horizons. (It is said, in Analects, VII:31, that "when Confucius was pleased with the singing of someone he was with, he would always ask to have the song repeated and would join in himself.") During the first viewing of Horizons, in London, I just looked at it, with my eyes all open and ablaze, and I found it very beautiful. Later I listened to Gottheim talk about the film. I found out about the complex web of image rhymes and correspondences in the film. During my second and third viewings I became very absorbed in seeing and figuring out the correspondences and rhymes. But I found the film equally, if not more, beautiful. The fourth viewing was again an open eye viewing, without any special emphasis. During the Cooper Union screening I suddenly discovered its incredible richness of color. I sat close to the screen and I saw these glorious colors and I was amazed that I could look at Horizons four times and not notice the magnificence of its color." – Jonas Mekas

Mouches Volantes (Elective Affinitites, Part II)
1976 | 69 min | Colour and B/W | 16mm

"In Mouches Volantes three elements were brought together: the suggestive title; a narration by Angelina Johnson of the story of the life of her husband, Blind Willie Johnson; and groups of visual material, light fragments from my own personal world of occupations. As in all my films, the basic processes of cinema, the exposing of film stock to light, here the stringing together of linear patterns of sound and image, become metaphors, embodiments of acts of coming to feel, coming to know." – Larry Gottheim

The Opening (Excerpt from Chants & Dances for Hand, work-in-progress)
2005 | 8 min | Colour | DV

"This is the first section from a large work constructed from material made in Haiti, mostly on Hi-8 video. Hand is my son. He's now 16. The initial production was partially supported by a grant from the Jerome Foundation. My venture in Haiti was to some extent inspired by Maya Deren. I was searching for traditional forms that related to the structures of my previous films. And something else." – Larry Gottheim