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June 29, 2006

Fuji, 1974


A 2002 addition to the National Film Registry and one of Robert Breer's longest duration, rotoscope animation films, Fuji transforms a seemingly mundane state of transience - a tourist's eye view from a window seat of a train passing through an area overlooking Mount Fuji - into an imaginative, transfixing, and lyrical free-association of everyday objects and structural geometries into metamorphic, kinetic art. A bookending live action footage of a smiling, bespectacled (presumably) Western tourist set against the familiar cadence of an accelerating train revving up as it leaves the station sets the mesmerizing tone for the film's abstract panoramic survey of an Ozu-esque Japanese landscape of electrical power lines, passing trains, railroad tracks, and the gentle slope of obliquely peaked, uniform rooflines as Breer distills the essential geometry of Mount Fuji into a collage of acute angles and converging (and bifurcating) lines that, through the interlacing of images, seemingly propels the static into motion and morphs the iconic Japanese landmark (and familiar art subject) into equally identifiable representations of contemporary Japanese culture: a series of alternating V-shapes form the fluttering of wings, a triangle framed against two poles transform into an architectural pagoda, a rotation of coincident lines through the vertex mimic the steady, precise sweep of windmills and clock hands, and even a right angle L-shape (perhaps a prefiguration of LMNO) traces the outline of factory buildings that intermittently dot the industrial landscape (where the smokestacks, in turn, evoke the image of a burning cigarette) or demarcates the floor of an art exhibition gallery room. This abstraction of figures into essential outlines is also illustrated in the rotoscoped images of human figures, where the actions of an observer is visually repeated in the interlaced images of the train conductor - turning the head, leaning over, pulling away, and advancing toward the foreground - with the observer, in turn, alternately transfigured as a man in a suit, in uniform, in traditional kimono, and even subsequently, as a woman: the fluidity of movement created by the continuity of the amorphous figure's corresponding gestures and mannerisms. As in Breer's earlier Form Phases series (in particular, the ingeniously crafted Form Phases IV), Breer organically transforms linear geometries into dimensional shapes, while alternately collapsing forms into singularity to create a kind of moving art that integrates both practical aesthetics of traditional canvas painting and kinetic sculpture. In continually redefining the notion of space and substance, motion and stasis, object and art, Fuji wryly diverges from the hackneyed, exoticized sightseeing travelogue and instead converges towards a transformative and infinitely more fascinating journey of the imagination.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 29, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Robert Breer


I'd love to see this. I've only seen a single Breer film (What Goes Up) but I'm really intrigued to learn more. This film in particular sounds fascinating. Thanks for writing about it!

Posted by: Brian on Jun 30, 2006 4:11 AM | Permalink

Thanks Brian, I haven't seen that much of Breer's work either, but I've enjoyed everything I've seen so far. There's something so effortless in his continuity from one image to another that really breaks all preconceptions of what an "object" is. His films may seem like simple visual experiments with geometries on the surface, but there's definitely a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 30, 2006 9:33 AM | Permalink

Good writing. Brees Fuji is my favourite film of him. Its really capturing a train trip like no documentary can.

Posted by: Mats Svensson on Jul 04, 2006 1:09 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Mats, I think you're absolutely right about that idea of capturing the essence of a train trip, in the way it encapsulates the images, the sensations, the imagination of the viewer. There's also something about the "long" duration of this film compared to the usual length of his films that makes it more conducive to that state of half-conscious, half-reverie that he brilliantly captures in the film. It really is an ingenious piece of work.

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 04, 2006 9:19 PM | Permalink

If you are interested in Breer, you should check out the Screening Room with Robert Gardner series. Screening Room aired in the late 70's and gave independent filmmakers an opportunity to discuss their work and show it to a large urban audience. Many of these 90-min episodes are now available on DVD. Breer's episode gives interesting insight into his works including Fuji, Recreation, A Man and His Dog Out for Air, and several others.


Posted by: Lauren on Jun 05, 2007 2:30 PM | Permalink

Whoa! Great find...Hollis Frampton, Jean Rouch, Yvonne Rainer too. Thanks a bunch for sharing the link!

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 05, 2007 6:15 PM | Permalink

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