"On March 8, 2012, Hollis Frampton went viral," begins Giampaolo Bianconi in Idiom. "The Criterion Collection, in preparation for the release of a long-anticipated Frampton box set [A Hollis Frampton Odyssey], posted a fragment from his 1968 film Surface Tension on Facebook; the clip was picked up by the New York Times blog City Room, and from there it spread. For a second, Frampton was everywhere."
Bianconi notes that some cinephiles objected to the NYT's fascination with the film as a historical record of the City:
Frampton, though, was not only concerned with the materiality of film with regards to shape and texture, but also with materiality in terms of film being an historical artifact. To watch Surface Tension is to be fascinated by the images of New York, and illegitimizing that point of entry means that a facetious art-for-art's-sake conception of Frampton's work has foreclosed a more complete experience and understanding of the film. The implication is that no work of art this advanced would dare concede to content. This sanitation of art makes it safe, clean, and formal. For those pieces that tread into the politics of form, nothing can be more dangerous than rewiring form as a concern exclusive to the work's internal space. Surface Tension scrutinizes the formal, material, and ontological differences between still photographs and photographs that approximate motion; the result is an atlas of photography that takes the representation of history as its starting point. For the film to appear to an online audience as a record of its own time is very much the point.
"A key figure of the 1960s cinematic avant-garde, Frampton made cerebral, puzzle-like films that would eventually fall under the umbrella term 'structural film,' a label that encompasses a wide range of filmmakers, including Michael Snow and Tony Conrad, who directed their attention to matters of form and the material properties of the medium." Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times: "A poet and photographer before he turned to cinema, Frampton was arguably the most erudite and far-thinking of this group. In his films and writings, he looked back to the founding fathers of cinema, Eadweard Muybridge and the Lumière brothers and to such titans of literary modernism as James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges. But he also looked ahead, working with computer programs and digital media, anticipating the future and perhaps the afterlife of cinema."
Ed Halter for Criterion: "Describing his own development, he recalled that 'there was something called the [Film-Makers'] Cinematheque in New York, which became a kind of hangout. I met other people who were trying to make films: Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr after a while, although he was somewhat younger. Later on, Paul Sharits, who was at the time living in Baltimore.' These are all figures whose work [P Adams] Sitney classified under structural filmmaking, but Frampton saw their shared project as a more expansive one. 'There existed at least for a time, and that time lasted for some years in New York City, a kind of constant contact between us. One might almost — almost — venture to call it a sense of being united in some way, probably by the conviction that there should be good films. Preferably, films so good they hadn't been made yet. That the intellectual space open to film had not entirely been preempted.'"
Criterion's also posted the script for Frampton's performance piece A Lecture, "as he presented it at Hunter College in New York on October 30, 1968."
Update, 4/27: Jaime N Christley for Slant: "As autobiographical as a thumbprint, Frampton's body of work is largely grouped by the various, ambitious projects he worked on — namely the seven-part Hapax Legomena and the Magellan cycle. These projects indicate not only a fascination with calendars and other organizing principles, but an eye for overall presentation, a kind of avant-garde showmanship. He was a cartographer who drew both the map and the undiscovered country, and his work reflects a consciousness attitude toward audience contemplation, but also a refusal to let them absorb his ideas passively…. A strong candidate for Blu-ray of the year, Criterion outdoes itself and validates its own brand name: A Hollis Frampton Odyssey will rotate your head on its axis for hours and hours."
Update, 4/28: Do see the Frampton-related posts at Making Light of It.