Seeing Variations; Films by Worden, Jennings, Otis & Dorsky

For almost 20 years music videos have been ripping off the iconography and editing techniques of the avant-garde, so it's nice to see the tradition of silent experimental films alive and well in this strong program. The silence is meant to focus our attention on the movement within the image and on the rhythms suggested by editing, and few films do this better than Nathaniel Dorsky's extravagantly sensual Variations (1998). Combining almost diaristic images of people, nature, and the city, Dorsky links images through movement but more often creates images with a sense of inner completeness. What's most extraordinary is the film's lack of tension, its acceptance of each thing seen regardless of its potential to lead somewhere else. Jim Jennings's The School of Athens (1997), on the other hand, shows how a silent, near-abstract film can create considerable tension: in this black-and-white filming of a Raphael painting, Jennings intercuts different perspectives, often from oblique angles, to create visual dramas out of small changes in camera position. James Otis's Upper Blue Lake (1996), a record of a mountain lake, mostly in time-lapse, moves between summer and winter, juxtaposing water and clouds filmed at different speeds; its jerky rhythms and unpredictable structure heighten the dynamic power of nature's changes. Only Fred Worden's One (1998) gave me difficulty; its fascinating abstract patterns seem to go on far too long.

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