Program 8: Ernie Gehr

Precarious Garden, 2004

Loosely recalling the split-screened symmetry and bifurcation of unpopulated spaces in the epilogue of Jon Jost’s The Bed You Sleep In, Ernie Gehr expounds on the technique of split-screening through obstructed or otherwise baffled images that illustrate juxtaposed, partial and alternate views of the same mundane objects. Presented as a pure, soundless, rigorous study in visual parallelism, Precarious Garden provides an interesting approach to the cinematic presentation of multi-perspective, but at 13 minutes, feels significantly overlong.


The Astronomer’s Dream, 2004

During the highly informative post-screening Q&A, Gehr explained that his preferred title for the film was not actually The Astronomer’s Dream – a direct homage reference to the seminal Georges Méliès film (also known as The Man in the Moon) – but rather, Curtains!, which represented for him a broader memory of the experience of going to the local theater in his childhood that, not only showed films, but also on occasion served as a performance stage of sorts, particularly, magic shows for which the filmmaker had expressed fond memories. While the Méliès reference does explicitly provide a concrete, cinematic context to the superimposed (seemingly single frame) fleeting images that mysteriously appear and disappear within the duration of the film, the title Curtains! provides its own appeal by injecting a more personal and human element to Gehr’s notoriously rigorous and systematic work. Distilled, spare, and precise in execution, the film is composed of little more than a grainy, black and white shot of closed stage curtains that intermittently reveal instantaneous fragments of a Méliès film and set against a soundtrack of film-based audio excerpts, yet achieves a strangely transfixing paean to film through cinematic history and personal memory.


The Collector, 2003

A series of stereoscopic photographs taken from the early half of the twentieth century is methodically presented one-by-one to the pervasive sound of an old-fashioned steam engine railway train in seeming perpetual motion. Part reflection on the interminable progression of time and part meditation on the meaning of collecting (an ephemeral concept that Peter Kubelka similarly discusses during his presentation), Gehr achieves an intrinsic cadence to the clinical, alienated act of observing a lost and disconnected past. In describing his own thought process in the creation of the film, a visibly emotional Gehr talked about the fact that he does not have any living extended family and that for him, the process of collecting these antique photographs was, in a way, a subconscious act of creating a surrogate familial history to fill that absence…to create roots. Within this context, the question of “Who is the collector?” (and perhaps more importantly “What is being collected?”) and takes on a poignant and deeply personal tone.


Passage, 2003

Composed of two intercutting shots of the S-Bahn elevated train through former East Berlin taken before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gehr presents a mundane, yet illuminating glimpse of the profound cultural and economic changes in his ancestral homeland as seen through the city’s transformed – and almost unrecognizable – urban architecture.

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