Close Up

21 May 2017: Larry Gottheim’s Early Works


"As long as I can remember I would idly open Chinese take-outs' fortune cookies, never thinking I would find anything remotely connected with me, and never did. Until the other day turned up this: "Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see." I was thinking of what to write about my first films from today’s perspective and this was what I needed.

Each film started with an intuitive idea of a subject. Some issues about painting and making purposeful films that did not have the control of editing or expressive camera movement entered the flow of ideas. Then the unforeseen reality of lenses and other physical elements entered. Each film resulted from a fusion of what was taking place in front of the camera and the camera’s own contribution. When everything was right I just looked through the viewfinder to see moving images unfold "by themselves," Always surprising things happened. Each was an epiphany, coming at me and from me at the same time.

In all my subsequent films I kept these films in mind, sometimes with explicit references. As my life and films unfolded, the issues that would continually be released by these early films provided the red thread through it all. This is most present for me in Chants and Dances for Hand, however distant it may seem." – Larry Gottheim

Larry Gottheim
1969 | 8’30 min | Colour | 16mm

"A bowl of blueberries in milk, changing light radiant on the berries and on the glazed bowl, the ever more radiant orb of milk transforming into glowing light itself, with a brief shadow coda answering the complex play of shadows. The regular pulses of light framing the looser rhythmus of the spoon, itself a frame. A charging of each of the frame's edges with its own particular energy. Within and without, whites and blues, lines and curves. The pulses of vision, the simple natural processes, lift the spirit." – Larry Gottheim

Larry Gottheim
1970 | 11 min | Colour | 16mm

"A fixed camera companion to Fog Line. Bright green leaves stripped from ears of corn, and later, the vibrant yellow ears placed steaming in the waiting bowl. Each of these actions inaugurates a period in which one contemplates an image whose steady transformation is barely perceptible – the delicate slow movement of light and shadow, the evolution of subtle steam into the film grain. A meditation on the fragile moments of corn's passage from living sun-nourished plant to food to light image. The mind attempts to grasp duration itself, to distinguish its own creating from its perceiving, but distinctions blur in the wholeness of times' and consciousness' flow." – Larry Gottheim

Fog Line
Larry Gottheim
1970 | 10’30 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

Larry Gottheim
1970 | 7’30 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

Larry Gottheim
1970 | 7’30 min | Colour | 16mm

"In 1971 it seemed a formal companion to Doorway, bringing out further possibilities of small movements within the format of a continuous shot. In 1980 something sang to my current concerns, hinted at by drawing this title into that gentle sensual pulling. Something about what is moving between me, us and that out there..." – Larry Gottheim

Larry Gottheim & Shelley Berde
1971 | 10’30 min | Colour | 16mm

"O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere –
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so filled;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument. 


And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?”

S. T. Coleridge, The Eolian Harp

Gottheim’s first sound film. A paean to creative learning and an evocation of the Aeolian Harp, beloved of the Romantic poets.

Barn Rushes
Larry Gottheim
1971 | 34 min | Colour | 16mm

"Barn Rushes is one of those seldom films which surprises one over and over. I remember the surprise I had when I used it first in a class; Barn Rushes is so ecstatic and visionary that I thought a didactic setting might smother it. However, the film instead emerged not only unscathed, but (phoenix-like) improved! For aside from the compositional/retinal joy of the film, it is also a tour-de-force in sequential organization of thematic material, the closest possible approach to a textbook of atmosphere, camera vision, and lighting, as they relate personal concept to purely visual relationships...elegant yet rustic in its simplicity of execution; tugged gently toward different sides of the set by hints of color and motion interactions, positive and negative spaces, etc., and the unyielding delivery on one of the great apotheoses of poetic cinema at fade-out time." – Tony Conrad

Part of our season on Larry Gottheim