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.

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