Sole Criterion: A Hollis Frampton Odyssey
By Brett Ballard-Beach
July 5, 2012
The collection counters this with one of the last sequences Frampton filmed for Magellan (and one that would have chronologically been shown at the very end of the cycle). Gloria! is a warm and humorous tribute to Frampton’s grandmother that culls together inspiration from Finnegan’s Wake, presents its raison d’être via scrolling text on a computer screen and climaxes with a bagpipe extravaganza that gets a big laugh by tying back in to an earlier moment in the film. Venturing out into computer technology in the latter years of his life, Frampton found a way to imbue wires and circuits with a remarkable facsimile of humanity.
There are an abundance of these small moments that I could focus on, but there is one in particular with which it feels appropriate to close. Zorns Lemma takes its name from a mathematical proof, and indeed it seems as if it could be translated from film into an equation. It runs 59 minutes and 51 seconds (in this case “approximately” an hour will not suffice and God bless Frampton for not trying to squeeze another nine seconds in there.) There are three parts, running three, 46, and ten minutes respectively. The first part features voiceover but no image (simply black leader). The second part features an ever-revolving panoply of 24 images, cycled through 115 times, with no audio. The third part features a winterscape image (complete with man, woman, and dog walking off into the snowy woods) held for ten minutes, with a liturgical recital on the soundtrack. In his audio comments, Frampton notes that the first and third parts are there to bring you into and take you out of the middle portion- to clear your mind and cleanse your palate, as it were.
And about that second part. In a (not so condensed) nutshell: 24 images in a cycle referencing both the 24 letters in the Latin alphabet and 24 frames per second of film. The letters are represented by NYC street signs that begin with “a”, “b,” “c”, etc. Slowly, but surely, the letters/words are replaced with straight images. Some of these images are static (“y” becomes a raging hellish bonfire and remains so henceforth) while others become little picture stories (where “t” once existed, a man changes a tire, for “p”, the tying of shoelaces.) The game of finding the word for the letter, becomes the game of which letter will get switched out next, becomes the puzzlement of what new image will pop out. Even parsed out at only a second at a time, this part of Zorns Lemma reinforces Frampton’s skill, carried over from photography, of capturing his human subjects at just the right moment - the young girl on the swing is the best example here.
But it is the final image of each cycle, the watery “z” counterpoint to the fiery “y”, that I find I now carry around in me like the prayers that J.D. Salinger’s heroine Franny Glass hoped to utter under her breath incessantly. It is a shot of an ocean wave, sunlight gleaming down upon it, breaking… backwards. Like the catching of one’s breath, like a rewind to the beginning, for a second I am “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” And then, the game is afoot. The film has yet to unfold. The equation remains unsolved.
Next time: So while you sit back and wonder why, I got this fucking thorn in my side. DVD Spine #100