January 27th 28th 29th 30th 31st
Five shows in person and then the cycle will be repeated in a slightly different order for five more days beginning on February 1st. Approximate time for all shows: 4pm
Thursday, January 27th and repeated on Tuesday, February 1st
Titled: The Two Sides of Light
FridayJanuary 28th and repeated on Wednesday, February 2nd
Titled: Songs of the Earth
A Fall Trip Home
Saturday, January 29th and repeated on Saturday, February 5th
Titled: Songs of Another Time
Song and Solitude
Sunday, January 30th and repeated on Friday, February 4th
Titled: The Late Quartet
Monday, January 31st and repeated on Thursday, February 3rd,
Titled: The Hours and the Days
Hours for Jerome
Link for Rotterdam Festival
I met Nathaniel sometime in the mid-1980’s, when moving back to the Bay Area which I’d lived in during the late 1960’s and start of the 70’s. Back then he was already a fixture in the San Francisco film world, known for his films (17 Reasons Why, Alaya, Pneuma), but also for being a “film doctor.” He was famed for his uncanny capacity to be able rescue a film, so that if someone shot a hopeless mess, he could give it a once over, find some editorial thread, and stitch it together, if not into gold, at least into something watchable, and if the stuff was there to do the trick, maybe more. He was pretty busy at this trade.
I frankly don’t recall how we met – I assume some modest film event, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is becoming his dealer – well, a kind of dealer. As a bottom-of-the-fiscal-barrel filmmaker I had a habit of buying up cheap, out-of-date, or otherwise odd or undesirable film stocks. When I had a weird emulsion, or old film carton and can, Nick would eagerly snap it up. Or I gave it to him. He was a kind of celluloid fetishist, enamored of the actual stuff – the celluloid base, the emulsion, the label, the can. I was just a crude opportunist looking to save some money I didn’t have, and he was a lover of the stuff. He tells me Triste was made of those rolls he got from me. He would hand process stock, and in one of my own films he gave me a minute of outs of some beautiful hand-processed work, flashing blue. Also some sections of outs from Alaya, sand shifting in the wind. And he let himself be in that film, Rembrandt Laughing, a filmic valentine to one of the qualities that makes San Francisco such a pleasure.
Along with himself as “actor,” and the blue, torn-emulsion film and the shifting grains of sand, he also became in a sense embodied in the film through his persona, which materialized in his scenes, in my use of his collection of sand, and in echoes that reverberate throughout the film of a certain sensibility which he is, and which I hope I faithfully reflected. Nowadays thoughts of that film caste another tone as I am prompted to remember Jon A. English, the lead actor/musician, and composer for many of my films, who died 14 years ago. And Roger Ruffin, in this film and 3 others of mine, who died this past year. And as well thinking of the difficult time some others have had since then. So it is a saving grace that I also have Nathaniel to think of, a glimmer of the serious joy which the film was about. Though we are very different souls, Nick and me, along some very fundamental places we share a deep kinship.
My life took me away from San Francisco, and a few years later, in Italy (a place Nick loves) the Pesaro Film Festival, (once a very lively and good one, perhaps still is), invited me to program some films for them. One I chose was Nathaniel’s Alaya – 30 minutes of silence and sand. For me it’s a gorgeous film, in its utter simplicity, its masterful editing, and I’ve seen it maybe 5 or 6 times. One minute into it and I am in a meditative state, wandering in my home-grown kind of Buddhist thought. Anyone who knows me at all knows how hard it is to get me to watch a film once, much less twice, and five times, well….! However, programming it I thought it was likely a hard film for most viewers, and I suggested they place it last in line, lest people leave and miss the other films. The screening was on a hot Italian summer day, the cinema had no air conditioning, and was packed. It was like an oven. The projector rolled and… and Nathaniel’s film was first despite my suggestion, and my thoughts went gray as I thought of the empty cinema to come. Half an hour later though I was elated – almost no one left, and later, when the discussion time came, the film drew very positive comments. I’d miscalculated something seriously – my trust in the audience? my trust in Nathaniel’s artistry? I learned a good lesson.
The last time I saw Nathaniel was in Portland, Oregon, 5 years ago. He was doing a screening for a small group, the Cinema Project. The setting was a small art gallery, on the east side of the Willamette, and Nathaniel, as usual, was concerned with the projection – the color temperature, that the machine ran smoothly, at 18fps, focus. He seemed a bit harried, and there wasn’t much chance to talk. If I recall properly he, and a cluster from the screening, afterward went to a cafe, and Marcella and I joined, but it was a bit too much to actually have words. Since then we’ve corresponded here and there, and I’ve watched with a warm pleasure as his work has found screenings around the world – in Paris, New York, London. I’m trying to get him here to Korea, not only for the selfish reason to see his films, and to see him, but also he’s never been to Asia. At least not physically. He might like, and it would be good for his work to get seen in this part of the world.
“In film, there are two ways of including human beings. One is depicting human beings. Another is to create a film form which, in itself, has all the qualities of being human: tenderness, observation, fear, relaxation, the sense of stepping into the world and pulling back, expansion, contraction, changing, softening, tenderness of heart. The first is a form of theater and the latter is a form of poetry.”
— Nathaniel Dorsky
As it turns out, one of my own films has been invited to Rotterdam as well so I’ll be able to catch up with Nick there, see the new films I haven’t and see some others again. And if things work out, I suggested we go on the train to Den Haag for him to see the gorgeous View of Delft, and a few other Vermeers there at the Mauritshuis. And if very lucky, perhaps the canals will be frozen and we can go ice-skating!
For further thoughts and reading see these:
Art Forum article by P.F. Sitney (PDF, good pictures)
About Nathaniel Dorsky, website
Scott McDonald interview
IndieWire, Dorsky and Brakhage talk
Review, Redcat screening, 2006
Review, Toronto 2010
Review of Devotional Cinema
Nathaniel’s films are certainly not for everyone – in truth for a little minority of people who are open to a kind of rarified experience rather remote from the hurly-burly of our society, and most of the cinema it produces. But if you’re of the inclination to enjoy, say, a Persian or Indian miniature, or marvel at the exquisite perfection of van Eyck’s “Als ich kann” or simply let the wonder of a flicker of light against a wall stun you, then his discreet and subtle work just might be your ticket. So if at Rotterdam, or somewhere near, this is a rare chance to see this work.
[Added March 8 2011: Marcella's Video of Nathaniel on a little trip, talking and shooting.]
[March 14, 2011: new article and interview with Nathaniel.]