Connecting Movements

By Luke Burton

four-shadows-larry-gottheim.jpgFour Shadows, 1989

Since his first foray into filmmaking with a series of single-shot films in the late 1960s, Larry Gottheim has been a driving force in American avant-garde and experimental cinema. While his main focus in cinema remains the ambivalent relationship of images to sound and time, Gottheims’s more recent works reveal an increased interest in issues revolving around racial, cultural and personal identity, that is expressed most explicitly his multi-part video project Chants And Dances For Hand, which he started filming in 1993 in Haiti and which, to date, remains a work in progress.

Luke Burton: You came to filmmaking quite late, following on from an academic career that focused more on music and literature...

Larry Gottheim: This background in music and literature, instead of painting, embarrassed me for some time, until it began to creep into my work. I had a childhood love of the movies, of course, which was also connected with feelings about my father and going to the movies with him. I reconnected with the movies later when there was this upsurge of foreign films in the United States. Godard films, Antonioni films and Fellini. So that awakened a different kind of interest in film.

LB: But this was still before you actually started making films...

LG: Right. I had also started to see experimental films in New York, for example early Warhol films, that led me to film in another sense. There were two strains in my interest in film when I started making them. One was the narrative cinema, or the new forces of narrative cinema, and one was the experimental cinema that I had started to see. In retrospect I think Warhol's films affected me most deeply. I did like the atmosphere that surrounded the screenings. I remember some of the very long films that started to play in non-commercial venues, for example a one-time all night screening of Four Stars (1967) that projected hour after hour of superimposed rolls. But the films that were most influential were the simple forms like Eat (1964) and Kiss (1963-64). A film I made from the first two rolls I ever shot was called Meet, which was kind of an homage to Warhol, although it took me another year to absorb his influence.

When I started filming I didn’t know which direction I was going. I didn't think it was going to be changing my life the way it did. I was waiting for something to happen to get me involved in film, but it never came along. Eventually I bought a camera. I knew so little about film that I didn't know the difference between 16mm and 8mm. I was able to buy a used Bolex with one lens. I then started to learn how to use the camera from the instruction book that came with the Bolex and just learned one element at a time. I also got involved with the film society at the university and that was also a kind of calling that seemed to come out of nowhere. They needed someone to run the society and I had this urge to run it. The academic career that was opening up for me started to seem unattractive, and the involvements that I'd had with art, with music and with writing that I had put aside when I had started to study literature in a more academic way, suddenly arose really strongly. The day I got the camera I checked it into a locker at Grand Central Station and made my way to the recently opened Cinémathèque at Wooster Street. The taxi driver didn’t know where Wooster Street was, as "Soho" was just a wasteland of empty lofts. I completely felt that I was a filmmaker. There was no transition – without even knowing how to use the camera, I was a filmmaker.

LB: Immediately after buying the camera just like it was some kind of performative action?

LG: That's right, it opened up something. It took some time to feel somewhat comfortable to bring my interest in music and literature into the films because I was feeling the strength of film as visual art and felt this kind of shame that – of all the different arts that I had been involved with – it hadn't been painting. Painting seemed so important as a preparation for film. In the evolution of my work it started with this approach. Wanting film without sound and having an overall responsibility to the image – that came from my desire to be a painter in film. Then slowly these other elements like music and sound and literature came into it.

fog-line-larry-gottheim.jpgFog Line, 1970

LB: It seems in the early films, like a painter, you choose a fixed framed subject, usually one, and there's a real sense that you have a deep focusing on this one subject. I'm thinking here of films like Blues (1969), Corn (1970) and Fog Line (1970) – all three films have a certain demand on the viewer. A demand where the viewer has to match the focus and level of intensity that the films are conveying. The idea and experience of perceiving comes through very strongly in those early works.

LG: One of the things about painting and drawing is the relationship between the hand and the eye and the marks on the surface. It was increasingly in later work that I felt I could use the camera and use my body with camera movements that in some metaphorical way had to do with the hand’s involvement with the making of the art work. The aspect of painting that comes out in films like Fog Line and those early single shot films is the overall responsibility for the canvass or the rectangle of the image. It's coming about not through hand-work but through my thinking about a subject where the unfolding of light or the unfolding of change of some sort in front of the camera is producing the image. The painting analogy only goes so far, but it's something important to me internally.

LB: Let's talk about Horizons (1971) because that was one of the first films where you really considered editing in a complex way and the film employs very detailed editing structures which are not evident on first viewing but are almost latent in the film. You spent two years making Horizons, is that right?

LG: After I had done a series of these single shot films where the camera was on a tripod or the camera was moving in a linear way, I then made Harmonica (1971) which was a sound film and Barn Rushes (1971) which was a longer film that is edited but essentially has just the camera rolls joined together, like Warhol’s Kiss. It has "cuts" from shot to shot, but this arose from the camera wind running out. I didn’t do any editing within each roll.

I became interested in doing a longer project that was edited. This was partly influenced by the great director Nicholas Ray who came to Binghamton and was living with us for while.[1] That brought into my mind and into my life the possibility of actually working in narrative film with someone who had been a master. It made me think of the idea of a longer form. I clearly remember the moment I thought of the idea for Horizons. It had something to do with my daughter Sarah who was learning Suzuki violin and Ken Jacobs. Ken, who was my colleague at that time, was doing a shadow play performance where he had his students be shadows. He was working with the three dimensional viewing of these shadows. He asked if Sarah could participate and play the violin in it. When I saw the image of her as a shadow playing the violin I was overcome with some strange kind of emotion. The idea of the dark wood in Dante's Divine Comedy came to me at that moment and that is actually the origin of some part of Horizons that I've never talked about.

Another element of Horizons had to do with Ernie Gehr, who had been teaching at Binghamton for a couple of summers. We would drive around and embark on different kinds of film ideas. I once brought him to some place in the country in connection with one of his ideas. There were some sheep on a hillside. I had the idea of doing something rather abstract where you might have just the snow and a horizon line and the sky. Although there may be only five shots which are that minimally abstract in Horizons I was thinking along those lines. I was interested in lines, as you can see from Fog Line, but also edges, borders, and horizons clearly related to that. I started to go out and film horizons without any real idea of what I would do and all these elements were happening at the same time. There was this impulse, from Nick Ray, to do something longer and there was this impulse to do something with a Dante epic behind it.

Another thing about the Divine Comedy was its rhyme scheme, which is such an important part of it. In the last section of Horizons the rhyme scheme is a variation of the Terza Rima rhyme scheme found in Dante, although I didn't have that as a full blown editing idea from the beginning. All these things I'm talking about were going along in the background, but meanwhile I'm just going out and filming these rolls that have a horizon in each shot. Then the summer was over. Autumn was coming and I didn't have any idea of what the film would be like or how to edit it or even if it would be a film. Then, once I said "OK, I'm going to continue into the autumn." It seemed almost inevitable that, without still knowing what I was going to do, it was going to be a year project. I went into the winter with this nervous hole in my stomach from not having an idea of how to deal with this large body of material. Somehow the idea of Dante's rhyme scheme came into it and that seemed like an idea that would – to some extent – solve the problem and also be an interesting way of editing.

barn-rushes-larry-gottheim.jpgBarn Rushes, 1971

Horizons also brought up the opportunity to move the camera. In Barn Rushes or Harmonica I'm moving it in a different way because the movement is from the car. The movement is not directly from my hand, but my camera-holding hands are subject to the movements of the car. It was not lyrical movement, though especially in Barn Rushes the feeling is very lyrical. I’ve been fascinated by finding ways to have chance or involuntary elements contribute to the works to such an extent that the result seems purposeful. I know when I’m on to something when the result of some chance or mechanical operation feels like a work that I produced by direct inspiration and execution. In Horizons I decided from the outset not to use a tripod, but to work with movement – the trembling of the camera, and the movement of the car. Much as I loved Brakhage’s work, it was important to me at that time not to emulate Brakhage’s lyrical camera. 

Editing in relation to rhyme scheme was a kind of involuntary editing. The progression of shots was not coming from a preconceived idea. It was a discovery of relationships between shots that came about through a tediously compulsive process of editing. As I started to assemble the material, I felt there could be a way of experiencing the film in terms of the patterning that created a deeper counterpart to the sensual and associative pleasure of the imagery. I was thinking of the paintings that touched me most deeply. I wanted the images to have a density, so that the sensuous aspect of them would engage you, even though they go by faster than the more meditative images in Fog Line. When I went to assemble the first versions of the first sections of Horizons and looked at them by myself, and when I showed them to other people, I realised that it created something I hadn't anticipated. The active involvement of the viewer was more demanding than in Fog Line.

I don't think it's easy to not realise that the first section of Horizons is made of two shots with a coloured leader in between – although it seems to escape some people! – it’s really interesting that something like that, which to me couldn't be a stronger invitation or signal to look at the film in terms of the patterning, is something that some people just don't happen to think about. There are many pairs of shots where the connection of one to another is so obvious that I would think the rhyme scheme would be clear.

But I make the scheme more difficult to read in this way: since all the shots are horizons in some weak way, every shot can be said to be related to every other shot. However, within the selection of the shots that I'm working with there are certain motifs, clothes lines for example, or locations or windows that recur. Certain filmic strategies are used over and over. Patterns that are in some shots are also in other shots. In the course of selecting out of all this material and seeing which shots would "rhyme" with certain other ones, I would select one out of a number of possibilities that could have been chosen, but all those other possibilities remain latent.

Let's say in one pairing there's "A" rhyming with "B". However the next shot which comes first in the next pairing, after the leader, also has a close connection with "A" of the first pairing, just as much as it has a different connection with "B" in the two-shot in which it occurs. It's like off-rhyme. Although these shots are in some sense simple, there is not just one "horizon" of meaning or shape or association in any individual shot. The structure of the film gives a primacy to one "horizon" that is the basis of the "rhyme," but it keeps the other horizons open. Because of that you cannot watch the film and just knock off pairs of rhymes, "AA" and then "BB" and then "CC" etc, because relationships are jumping all over the place and are definitely not "bound" within the frame of the intervals of colored leader.

The sensuous aspect of the film is important, but so is whatever might occur to you during the viewing. When you're looking at something that doesn't have a narrative and is not leading you in a clear direction, certain things come in to your mind or certain things are suggested by the film. A tone can lead you in one way but isn't necessarily picked up as it would in a narrative film. I don't intend that only certain kinds of thoughts or ideas should be explored. There's plenty of play for individual reverie and association. In the course of watching the film all of those things are potentially happening: forgetting about the rhyme scheme altogether and getting into the sensuality of the film; getting into the rhyme scheme a little bit and drifting out of it; drifting into your own thoughts that are, even for an extended period of time, not seeming to be connected to the film at all. In other words you're leaving the film but not completely leaving it, because it is the essence of the film to encourage this play of so many modes of thought and experience at the same time. I’m interested in this overloading, in this switching from one level to another in the course of experiencing the film.

doorway-larry-gottheim.jpgDoorway, 1971

LB: I think one of the most striking things about Horizons is that apart from the visual rhyming with its varying degrees of readability, sometimes hidden and sometimes explicit, the camera movement is incredibly subtle in the sense that there's this relationship between you holding the camera and the movement that your body makes as you're holding the Bolex. Then there's the movement of a panning shot or a tracking shot when you are in a car. For me what was really striking was that there were these rhymes happening with movement which came out on top of the more explicitly visual rhymes to do with shape, texture and colour. I was wondering how intentional that was. When you were editing were you thinking in terms of rhyming movement?

LG: Yes, [laughs] but you are the first person who has ever articulated that kind of thing. That was very very important to me. There are certain movements that are the major ones in every shot. An animal moves or a person moves or the car is moving in such a way that a tree passes in front of the camera. So you could describe and remember the shots in terms of those movements and also the duration of them. I feel it's similar to music and speech where you have the rapid play of rhythmic events pulsing along beneath the articulation of meaning. Those speech events are in some way like the little trembling of the camera around the more easily memorable events. In a given sentence there are one or two words that carry the main thrust of the meaning, but they are embedded in the flow of articulation and pauses that comprise the texture of the spoken sentence. In Horizons, I wasn't "composing" in the usual sense. These trembling or little movements were unconscious, but I was very aware of them in the editing. So in going from one shot to another I was not only working with the rhyme pattern, and the other latent patterns, but also trying to create a musical structure.

The use of the intervals of coloured leader was probably in part influenced by some uses of breaks in some of Hollis Frampton’s films. The shots in which he appears in Horizons are a kind of an homage to the end of Zorns Lemma (1970). But these one second intervals have a special role here. You are always coming from and going to one second of coloured leader which breaks up the collections of shots. It has different characteristics at different times in the film.

Sometimes the coloured leader is like a stop. You have movement followed by movement, then stop, and then you start something else. Although a similar movement might recur somewhat later on. Sometimes these coloured breaks are almost invisible because there's a movement carried over across the break from the last shot of one "stanza" to the first of the next, that includes the colour of the leader. There would be movement, then smooth coloured leader, and then movement again. The play of the different roles of these intervals of colour is a very important part of the work.

I really worked on that a lot. I didn't just select which pairs of shots would form a rhyming unit. I spent a lot time deciding which shot would come first, which next; which would come after the coloured leader, which would go into it, and where the break from shot to shot would occur. The transition is not necessarily always a smooth one. The trembling in one shot won't necessarily match another. Sometimes it does continue with it and sometimes it abruptly moves in another rhythmic direction as in music or speech. Mostly in discussions of the film this doesn't come up because most people haven’t been able to experience it that way. They just let these things go by without being able to savour them. One of the first reviews of Horizons lambasted it because of the jerky camera movement, as it was experienced by that reviewer.

four-shadows-larry-gottheim-2.jpgFour Shadows, 1989

LB: But it seems so integral to the sense of the musicality that the film has. That musicality has to do with the visual rhyming scheme but it also feels like as if it leads to an engagement with sound which precedes your intense workings with sound-image constructs in the next three Elective Affinities films. Despite Horizons being a silent film there's still this pronounced sense of music or almost the idea of sound without sound...

LG: There is another figure behind the film that I haven’t mentioned, and that’s Peter Kubelka (The shots in the Spring section of Horizons of Peter playing the recorder "silently" are both a homage to him and a statement of my own different direction). His films and the way he talked about them were a powerful influence on my subsequent work with sound-image relationships. But I needed to find a way of distinguishing my work with sound-image from the Eisenstein-influenced articulations of his films, to elicit what seemed to me a more free experience for the viewer. There are many instances of sound-image articulations in the sound films in Elective Affinities. But it is not only a "strong articulation" where a visual event syncs with a sound event. There are also "weak" articulations, and separated ones. These are where the emphatic image gesture is separated, sometimes at a long distance, from the emphatic sound. This creates a sense of unresolved unease that I thought of as a kind of dissonance. The repetitive forms also call forth virtual articulation, where a sound or image event is remembered, from a previous section, and the two events, sound with image, sound with sound, image with image, are not actually occurring together but only articulating in your mind.

In some way Elective Affinities as a body of work is still obscurely hidden in the whole body of avant-garde film of that period. Even for those who have seen it and are moved by it and feel it's important, there are many things, this being one of them, they don't meditate on. There hasn't been a real understanding, not only in written literature but even in talking about the film, of trying to understand Horizons as the overture to Elective Affinities. In fact there are people who love Horizons who would love it even more if it was a film by itself. Others prefer the three other films in Elective Affinities and would rather not think of Horizons in relation to them.

 LB: Horizons was the first film that consequently became part of this cycle of films you made between 1971-1980, Elective Affinities, which is a reference to Goethe. How did the title come about?

 LG: The series title came later. At first Mouches Volantes (1973) was just another film, related to Horizons, but I hadn't planned a series at that point.

There's only one block of sound material as opposed to the next two films where there are multiple bodies of sound material. The one track in Mouches Volantes is by Blind Willie Johnson's wife Angelina. Blind Willie Johnson was a Blues singer and after he died his wife was interviewed and gave the narrative of his life that is found on the back of a Folkways record of his music. I loved it. I became very interested in it as a piece of verbal literature and theatre. It also had a musical quality that interested me as a development of the visual music of Horizons. I selected three sections of it and put them in chronological order. I had been shooting and saving some other material which had to do with family and different kinds of events. I had shot it in different ways, as experiments. For some reason the idea took hold for me to join this material in some formal way with this narration about the life of another person. This connects to the idea of synchronization in religious iconography which I came to later in my work with voodoo. There's a superimposition of my life onto the life of Blind Willie Johnson. In Haitian voodoo Mexican portraits of saints come to represent voodoo spirits. When the voodoo believer looks at this portrait of a Catholic saint they see it in a double sense. They see it as a picture of a saint and they also see it as a picture of a completely different spiritual being. There’s an element of transfiguration, of identity shifting from one personage to another, in many of my films.

My early interest was the formal superimposition of things of my life with the Johnson story. I didn't find a direct autobiographical reference in Blind Willie Johnson's life, but in some way, working with this material, I thought of this word "affinity". It was as though some gravitational force brought these materials together. There was no inevitability for me to be working with this material, but I found these connections that you can't even put into words. Sometimes it has to do with a gesture. For example the gestures of some of my family, moving in relation to one another, happened to have the same time values as the movements of Angelina's words describing something. When the idea of affinity came into my head I knew there was this novel by Goethe called Elective Affinities. "Elective", from the German translated sense of the word, means that things that happen by themselves. It's almost as though these images of my family and this interview with Angelina Johnson found each other. That I was only the instrument. I had been assigned to edit them together. Once that initial idea came, these other films came and they are also based on bringing elements together that don't at first seem to have anything to do with each other. It also interested me that the idea of the chemical "Elective Affinities" in Goethe’s novel comes up in the context of changing love relationships.

tree-of-knowledge-larry-gottheim.jpgThe Tree Of Knowledge, 1980 

LB: The way you talk about these films suggest you find it difficult to use language to describe why you were drawn to certain things. Thinking about how all four films in the Elective Affinities cycle have this incredibly complex formal structure, I'm interested in the relationship between the very open space of you being drawn to potentially anything and then this process of you imposing this very rigid structure upon those open relationships.

LG: There's a cinematic and a philosophical element to that. It has to do with thoughts about the mind and the will and my turning away from narrative. I feel cinema narrative is often an imposition of the will of the director over actors and the will of the completed film over the audience, which again is a type of domination. In a certain way, thinking about the mind of the maker of a work of art brings up the question of where "meaning" is coming from, and even what "meaning" is. Does the maker have a bunch of ideas that want to be illustrated? What is it that makes any filmmaker say I want to film this? For me, knowing why I was drawn to this Johnson record and not to any other thing I came upon is a mystery to some extent. But I'm not going to find the answer by thinking about it in the conventional way. The answer is never going to be why I chose it but rather what's going to come out of the connecting elements. If we bring these things together, what can come out of it? If I use my own mind and say "OK, these are the five things that come out of it" then I'm limiting and closing it down from the full range of what could be in there. Really these very elaborate and very difficult-to-follow structures are paradoxical. In some ways they seem almost stupidly mechanical but on the other hand they have a lot to do with freedom. Following an editing path that reduces my will and reduces my thinking in the normal, verbal way, allows things that are deep inside the material to come out. I feel that is the best thing that happens is these films. 

LB: That's followed through in all the Elective Affinities films. In Tree Of Knowledge (1980) the idea of the will is also explored through camera movement. I'm thinking specifically of the shots of the apple tree you use several times. The movement is almost lyrical but also almost objective and mechanical. It feels distant, but then it's as if you're very engaged with the subject. It's a contradictory, complex movement. This relates to the idea and the potential problem of there being an indexical relationship between the artist's body and the direct expression of will, which we touched on with Brakhage earlier.

LG: There's an element of unconscious and unintentional flowing camera movement in Tree Of Knowledge. It's almost violent because I'm breaking one of my rules; I dare to move the camera. On one hand, I don't want to move it lyrically but, yes, I actually do want to a little bit! It's so fast and responsive to itself, it escapes consciousness. Thinking about this idea, in terms of my life in music, I had the same experience only once or twice, which is why I'm not a musician! It was in a group with Peter Kubelka and I played the recorder. I wasn't usually able to play much by heart, which was an important limitation for me and was also partly why I could never have become a musician. I was always "reading" the music. But a couple of times even though I was looking at the music I felt it coming out of me and even though I almost lost my place this kind of unconscious thing still came out. I think with great musicians, or even great actors in the theatre, there is always a discipline and there is always the act of reading music and having the music present but it's flowing out their unconscious. They're not thinking "I've got to do this and I've got to do that". In some way those camera movements were as close as I could get to unconscious.

The sense of breaking, what was for me – and only for me – a previous taboo in moving the camera so freely, exposed certain psychological issues for me that partly had to do with passivity and forwardness in my films from the beginning, but although these films are very autobiographical I want to open up issues that can be private ones for each viewer.

LB: In Tree Of Knowledge you used found footage for the first time. Some people would find the footage you used explicitly politically charged. It's footage of paranoid mentally ill patients and one patient talks about her sympathies with the Nazis. What was your approach to that type of imagery, which seems so different from other kinds of imagery and sound you had used up until then?

LG: I have to qualify some of what I said before about the way in which the material for the films comes about, because there are certain potentialities that I do recognise in choosing something. Even with the Angelina Johnson recording there are issues such as race, music, blindness, love and death. It's not as if I had no idea they were there. In the material that I chose for Tree Of Knowledge I recognised that there were elements that belonged to a body of themes. But they were themes rather than ideas. The documentary film of the doctor and patients is not looking at the human condition as a philosophical issue, but rather describing it as a psychological one. The film slowly uncovers for the viewer psychological issues that are different from those the doctor is trying to bring out, and philosophical issues that are deeper than what the patients are able to articulate. But the issues sounded by the doctor and patient are the openings to these deeper issues.

The association of the various elements in the films deepens the complexity of these issues. For example, the didactic film about the seasons modifies the issues suggested by the paranoid film. This is even carried over from film to film. The elements in one film are intertwined with the other elements through the "musical" editing structure, but for the viewer, who can experience the four films in sequence elements, they are carried over from one into the next.

the-opening-larry-gottheim.jpgThe Opening, 2005

LB: You've talked about Fog Line and Blues as being films that start a thread to which all the other films can be seen to go back to. Superficially one might think that your latest film, The Opening (2005), is very different. If you were to show Fog Line and The Opening only, someone might understandably think that they were made by completely different filmmakers. How do you see your latest project relating to your earlier work?

LG: My later work is richer, more active, darker than Fog Line. While Fog Line has so many elements in it, visually it's very minimal, the deeper elements are hidden, appropriately, by a kind of fog. Whereas The Opening, which is just one fragment of a much larger work, is maximal because it has so many things happening in it. I think there is a connection between the two in the idea of ritual. In ritual there are sometimes elements that are like very simple markings. Fog Line is almost a graphic composition because it has these horizontal lines and anthropomorphic tree shapes. There's some connection between that and the use of repetition that we haven't talked about. It started with Barn Rushes. Repetition with variation is the essence of the film structure in Barn Rushes, and many of the later films. Somehow repetition draws one to ritual but it's really very difficult of course to talk about it because I'm still in the middle of making The Opening.

While I have grown and developed over the course of these films (and still am), I do see all my films as one coherent body of work. One example: the horses dimly seen in Fog Line and the cows of Doorway (1971) appear in Horizons, and the slaughter house sounds in Tree Of Knowledge. The tree itself a motif in many of these films, the cows in The Red Thread, and the Apes in Four Shadows (1989) – these animal motifs are carried over into the animal sacrifice images of The Opening. And by the way that kind of material will only appear in that one section of the work.

LB: The Opening was filmed in Haiti. What made you go there?

LG: After I went to San Francisco I was thinking about moving to the west coast. Moving there meant having a window to Asia as opposed to Europe. So much of my education in music and literature had centred around Europe. I studied comparative literature not American literature and in fact I didn't feel American until I started being a filmmaker. I had this fascination with absorbing European music, literature and painting but then had experienced a turning away from it. Back when I first started to think about ritual in Blues and Fog Line, if you had asked me where in Asia I would have gone I would have probably said Japan. I was kind of waiting to spend a few years in Japan. As it happened when I got back from San Francisco a student, who was from the Dominican Republic, invited me to go with him. When I went there, I knew very little about the country other than it was the same island as Haiti. Going there, I realised that voodoo was going to be a part of the world that would be in front of me. It seemed to just present itself to me. Also Maya Deren's connection with Haiti and voodoo meant it made some kind of sense to visit the place, but I was discovering connections then as I am now.

LB: You shot The Opening on Hi8 video which was the first time you chose not to use film. What do you think about the very different qualities Hi8 has compared to 16mm? How did it effect the formal and conceptual aspects of the film?

LG: When I went to Haiti I never thought I was going to do something with video. I brought my 16mm camera. I had just made Machette Gilette Mama (1989) in The Dominican Republic and I was familiar with filming in somewhat similar situations. When I got to Haiti, I just couldn't do the same thing. It was mainly to do with the fact that the light was so dim in many of the places I was filming and I needed an easy way of recording sound, so video seemed to solve both of those issues. There are two things about having this video camera in Haiti which are paramount. A major element about the way I was working with the material comes from having the sound and image together. All my other sound-image constructs brought sound from another source creating a dense patterning of sound and image. Whereas here I had synch sound on the film itself. The problem I was setting myself was not to do with these formal patterns that we've been talking about. It was to use synch-sound and to find passages where it had richness and intensity as though the sound had come from somewhere else.

It's hard to see because in The Opening there's a passage of a ceremony which involves animal sacrifice and voodoo. Because the images are rich, compelling and horrific, to some extent, to a western audience and so involving of possession and sacrifice most people can't see it formally. In choosing the first thing to complete from this project involve animal sacrifice it felt like it was a kind of breaking through of something that had to be so violent because it was breaking an inhibition. This is similar to the way the "violence" in Tree Of Knowledge was connected with breaking an inhibition. I feel it will only be as the longer works develop that those themes will come out. But it is actually edited to be a complex shot to shot, rhythm to shot, sound-image series of relationships.

LB: Looking ahead. When do you think this large-scale project will finish?

LG: Well, right now I think the nature of the film will mean it will take the form of shorter pieces that make up a longer work. In fact, I have so much material to work on that I can see it still taking up more and more of my time.

[1] Larry Gottheim founded the influential Department of Cinema Studies at SUNY Binghamton in 1969, where he lead a highly influential film course together with Ken Jacobs and Nicholas Ray.

The interview took place after a screening of Larry Gottheim’s films at Close-Up in May 2009.

Luke Burton is an artist and film programmer based in London and is completing his MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art.