The two short highlights (Conners, Dorskys excluded): landscape films. In Pat O’Neill’s Horizontal Boundaries, a flurry of tableaux, stripes (like a flag’s) of Los Angeles sidelines and signs adrift in clouds and weather of all seasons, refusing to be contained, seem to cycle up and beyond the screen like incoming TV signals that keep on changing and recurring. “The ‘boundaries’ in question turn out to be frame lines, the divisions between two images, one above the other on a strip of 35mm film. The projector gate is adjustable up or down in order to produce a single uninterrupted image: in this film the frame line is integrated into the compositional language of the piece,” O’Neill has written. Really, the point is that there are no boundaries: images are swept together into TV static, seasons merge, and the static’s swept away off-screen. Emphasizing the passage of time as places (and weather) change, Horizontal Boundaries makes them simultaneous; everything’s glimpsed, glimpsed, glimpsed here, fragmented in bits (we are, I guess, made a bit more aware of the original image’s own boundaries, even as those are extended into another’s), but collaged together at once, made to look eternal, all times collapsed and glued together. The film itself looks like a scroll, with the images mounted on each other as if to emphasize their lack of height (we’re looking down on the scroll, not up at the screen) and their presence as contiguous objects laid flat. Images don’t develop in space or time on their own, but in context with each other. They play as abstract two-dimensional photographs whose space is that of the film strip canvas on which they’re laid; their time is only seasonal, in relation to the others’, but never determinate as a particular point in time. Los Angeles remains cinema’s horizontal city going nowhere in the long-run, yet sprawling, even spilling all over the place at once.
Ken Jacobs’ The Scenic Route tears open a scene from The Barbarian, as a return to a scene of that film (obviously) as well as Jacobs’ Two Wrenching Departures, which filched the soundtrack of The Barbarian, one of Jack Smith’s favorite films, for its own. Like so many of Jacobs’ found-footage experiments, but TWD in particular, The Scenic Route is also a movie about the shadows people leave behind—but here, quite literally. At first, it plays almost like a typical Jacobs’ short from the past few years: alternate frames from the same scene flicker together with strobing blacks to recreate a sense of movement and three dimensions out of two. But whereas something like Capitalism: Child Labor depends on the geometry of identical factory stations receding toward the back to set up a clearly delimited space which people can move through and challenge, but which already creates the illusion of three dimensions, The Scenic Route is set in the desert, which looks like just about two. More importantly, the people quickly vanish, so there’s nobody and nothing to move through the sand who might demonstrate it was even in three dimensions to start with. Finally, when Jacobs begins cracking the image in two, even showing the fault line, he makes it two completely. That is, until he keeps doing so, faster and faster, the landscape imperceptibly moving—and Jacobs, doing something Carl Dreyer used other primitive means to achieve, makes it look like the land itself has come to life and is shifting around. Phosphorous ghosts in the holy land. A work of genuine hypnosis matching the shamanism of The Barbarian itself, The Scenic Route may be Jacobs’ most mystical movie: people vanish into the stomping-ground of long-gone friends and dreams—and the world moves on indiscernibly (as indiscernible as the ghosts), even while it looks the same.