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May 15, 2005

Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons, 1980


In the final, melancholic passage of Maurice Pialat's L'amour existe, a narrator contemplates the double entendre image of a victory commemorative sculpture that appears to equally articulate strength and human frailty, noting that "the hand of glory, ordering and directing, can also beg - a simple change in angle is sufficient." This intrinsic contextual duality of images based on the observer's perspective similarly provides the inspired methodology to Robert Breer's visually dense, yet integrally cohesive film, Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons. The introductory sequence of a rough sketch illustrating a closed Swiss army knife that is interlaced with images of a hand drawn rat presents the eccentric association of seemingly mutually exclusive objects presented in the film as the mundane pocket knife begins to associatively resemble the characteristic profile of a rodent waiting to pounce with its accipitral, nail inset eye, corkscrew tail, and jagged blade teeth. Breer uses spiral images - a tape dispenser, turning windmills, and rolling soda cans - in order to illustrate the recursive, abstract (and fanciful) transfiguration of mundane objects (a pigeon's eye into a tape dispenser, a partially opened folding knife into a stapler, the deployment of the pocket knife into propulsive flight) into a permutation of kinetic art. Moreover, Breer's extensive incorporation of recurring imagery throughout the film (bold, reinforcing colors, the juxtaposition of stapler and mousetrap that employ a similar hinge mechanism, silo windmills and single-engine propeller aircraft, the curve of the pocket knife mimicked in the outline of bicyclist racing through a public park) further serve to reinforce the interconnection of successive images, creating conceptual cohesion through the cumulative, perceptional impression of the linked images rather than direct (or even inferential), causal correlation of individual images. In its articulation of conceptual multiplicity through rapid-fire, transfixing, highly textural imagery, the film ingeniously derives meaning through the interdependent, contextual reference of other images rather than their interrelation to each other - an abstract, ephemeral afterimage that exists (and derives logic) only in the imaginary and the transient.

Posted by acquarello on May 15, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Robert Breer

May 14, 2005

Form Phases #4, 1954


The opening image of Robert Breer's Form Phases #4 is that of two-strip red and white color panels, a seemingly tongue-in-cheek image that visually presages the film's fusion of two-dimensional animation and early color-process motion picture, as a sliver of white line breaks the bounds of the color border and continues to transect unimpededly (and organically) through geometric blocks of color before morphing into more complex shapes - a triangle, then square, then trapezoid, before developing curvature and pivoting into a rhombic, kite-like formation, then floating through the frame and attaching to other shapes to create more complex, composite (but elemental and reducible) forms - ever transforming, moving, fracturing, and transecting the bounds of cognitively predefined notions of visual space. Another ingenious manifestation of Breer's re-contextualization and transformation of two-dimensional space appears in the brief, isolated sequence of conic sections - a red triangle and black circle - locked in a hyperkinetic, follow-the-leader chase before the triangle becomes entrapped in a rigid "black box", seemingly imbalancing the object in its encapsulated potentiality that causes the overarching frame to fragment, not according to prescribed linear decomposition of the geometric sides of a rectangle, but rather, splinters into infinitely recursive, rectangular sub-frames that reveal a residual trail, recalling a rudimentary, prefiguring visual architecture of modern-day, computer-rendered mathematical fractals. More conceptually elaborate than cartoons, yet less formalist (and serious-minded) than typical gallery performance art, Robert Breer's unclassifiable animation film fuses infectious creative whimsy and penchant for structure and geometric precision with the decontextualized abstraction of modern art to create an indelible, visually arresting study of figures in motion where space becomes object, matter becomes void, and everything is relative, interdependent, mutable, and in a state of perpetual - and curiously wondrous - metamorphosis.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Robert Breer


I've been meaning to create a feature on the site that would serve as a more informal venue for some scattered ideas and information for a while, something like a cross between the original intent of the journal (which was more of a repository of some rough ideas that I had hoped to develop further into a more "formal" essay), my screening list itinerary, as well as other films that I've seen and have started to formulate some expository themes, but don't feel as though I'm ready to write anything decent on the film yet. This year's screenings of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows (both of which I thought had some merit but didn't complete cohere in one screening and decided against writing about), and Claire Denis' L'Intrus (which I did write about to marginal effect) for the most part convinced me that this sort of stream-of-consciousness (and dynamic) "notes preservation" would be a good way to collect these fragmentary germs of ideas that haven't quite materialized into any sort of cerebral organization that could be useful for an article. In the spirit of Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer, the organic documentation of these working notes is a writing experiment to capture the essential distillation of ideas, minute observations, abstract moments of epiphany, and other "notes to self". Hence the title, Notes on the Cinema Stylographer.

Posted by acquarello on May 14, 2005 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2005, Quick Notes