nedjelja, 22. srpnja 2012.

Hollis Frampton - Kristalizacija i umjetnost

 Hollis Frampton portrait by Marion Faller, 1975

Meandrirajući između književnosti, filozofije, matematike i znanosti Frampton je uobličio svoj osnovni interes - izražavanje sekvencijalnih mogućnosti fotografije i filma. Znanstvene apstrakcije, strukturalni principi, logika umjetnosti - slastice za ljubitelje visokointelektualne umjetnosti.



 Hollis Frampton (1936-1984) na UbuWebu:

Heterodyne (1967)

Snowblind (1968)

Artificial Light (1969)

Paindrome (1969)

Ordinary Matter (1972)

Autumnal Equinox (1974)

Noctiluca (Magellan's Toys: #1) (1974)

Matrix [First Dream] (1977-79)

Conversations in the Arts. Interview with Hollis Frampton, Ester Harriott (1978)

Hollis Frampton on Hollis Frampton:

"Hollis Frampton was born in Ohio, United States, on March 11, 1936, towards the end of the Machine Age. Educated (that is, programmed: taught table manners, the use of the semicolon, and so forth) in Ohio and Massachusetts. The process resulted in satisfaction for no one. Studied (sat around on the lawn at St. Elizabeths) with Ezra Pound, 1957-58. That study is far from concluded. Moved to New York in March, 1958, lived and worked there more than a decade. People I met there composed the faculty of a phantasmal 'graduate school'. Began to make still photographs at the end of 1958. Nothing much came of it. First fumblings with cinema began in the Fall of 1962; the first films I will publicly admit to making came in early 1966. Worked, for years, as a film laboratory technician. More recently, Hunter College and the Cooper Union have been hospitable. Moved to Eaton, New York in mid-1970, where I now live (a process enriched and presumably, prolonged, by the location) and work... 

In the case of painting, I believe that one reason I stayed with still photography as long as I did was an attempt, fairly successful I think, to rid myself of the succubus of painting. Painting has for a long time been sitting on the back of everyone's neck like a crept into territories outside its own proper domain. I have seen, in the last year or so, films which I have come to realize are built largely around what I take to be painterly concerns and I feel that those films are very foreign to my feeling and my purpose. As for sculpture, I think a lot of my early convictions about sculpture, in a concrete sense, have affected my handling of film as a physical material. My experience of sculpture has had a lot to do with my relative willingness to take up film in hand as a physical material and work with it. Without it, I might have been tempted to more literary ways of using film, or more abstract ways of using film."
Hollis Frampton in UbuWeb Sound

Hollis Frampton: Words & Pictures

Matt Packer

An extended review of 'On the Camera Arts & Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton' (1).
Frampton 1

On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton is the most extensive collection of writings by the photographer and filmmaker to date. Frampton's previous collection of writings, Circles of Confusion, was published over 25 years ago and is now long out of print. Fortunately, those same texts are contained within this new book, which also features a wide variety of additional texts that reflect the breadth of Frampton's inquiries. These inquiries fall into sections on Photography, Film, Video and the Digital Arts, The Other Arts, and Texts - including previously unpublished writings, notes on Frampton's own work, as well as critical articles written for the pages of magazines such as Artforum and various long- since forgotten film journals. Among other insightful inclusions are narrations and scripts for films such as (nostalgia) and Zorn's Lemma, typescripts of hand-written letters, and a curious funding application to the National Endowment for the Arts for the development of computer software of Frampton's own design.
The book's breadth is testimony to the myriad ways in which writing had a place in Frampton's life and work; existing in the private and reflexive spaces of his practice, as well as in the public channels of art criticism and commentary.
In a recorded interview with Ester Harriott in 1978, Frampton spoke of writing as a ‘slow, unforgiving process... a kind of dread obligation'. Even this short quotation gives a suggestion to Frampton's commitments as a writer, both to the laboured precision of his language, and to the feeling of responsibility (obligation) in sustaining the discourses about art, and film most particularly. In that same interview with Harriott, Frampton identified his efforts as a writer as part of the ‘noble tradition' of other luminary filmmaker-writers such as Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein; each in their own generation setting forth the discursive territory that was both prescient and contributory to their own practice as filmmakers. As Bruce Jenkins writes in his introductory text: ‘The impetus for Hollis Frampton's writing stemmed in part from what he deemed the paucity and poverty of then-contemporary critical discourse on the camera arts'.
Arriving upon the New York art scene in late 1950s, Frampton's frustration with the photographic and filmic discourses he then encountered were perhaps stoked by his exposure to the rigour of other arts' discourses, especially those taking place in the expanded field of sculpture with the emergence of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Indeed, it was the sculptor Carl Andre that became one of Frampton's most recurrent - if itinerant - conversation partners; culminating in a series of typed dialogues between the two artists, published by the New York University Press as 12 Dialogues 1962-1963. Frampton's preface to 12 Dialogues is reprinted here, along with one of the more expansive examples of his collaboration with Andre - On Plasticity and Consecutive Matters. These dialogues give evidence of Frampton's familiarity and confidence in discussing other art forms beyond his own practice, and a broad range of topics besides. Frampton's dialogues with Andre are also exemplary of their shared interest in putting the capabilities of language to the full test of art's empirical and material existences; a test of language that was entrusted in their friendship and probably helped along with one abusive substance or another.
Carl Andre: ...I was caught by the thought that the poor crystals could extend themselves only by accretion. Not a single fuck in a pound of chrome alum. Even the slippery paramecium enjoys the pleasures of conjugation...
Hollis Frampton: ...Crystalline structure is a habit of matter arrested at the level of logic. Logic is an invention for winning arguments, and matter wins its argument with ionic dissolution by crystallizing. A logical argument cannot change; it can only extend itself into a set of tautological consequences...
In taking the above excerpt out of context, it might be impossible to deduce that Andre and Frampton were corresponding on the paintings of Frank Stella. This is however, a fairly typical example of their dialogical adventures: relating scientific abstractions and structural principles to the logic of art. It is important to consider that their use of scientific and academic vocabulary was not necessarily a strategic attempt to export art's value into other disciplines. Instead, theirs was a libratory exercise: ransacking other disciplinary vocabularies for words and phrasings that defied the stringencies of existing art discourse, while also appealing to their particular shared interests in sequence, structure, and materiality of the constructed world. The libratory aspect of Andre and Frampton's dialogue is further suggested in Frampton's text for the preface of 12 Dialogues, in which he urged that they be read ‘as anthropological evidence pertaining to a rite of passage and to the nature of friendship'.
Critically incisive or a play-upon-form: the language that Frampton employed in his writings was alternately one thing and another, and often had the strength to be both. In this sense, it confers what Melissa Gronlund has recently described of Frampton's writings as existing 'between stentorian intellect and impish game-playing' that became a hallmark of his filmmaking. The editorial approach of On the Camera Arts is appropriately generous in allowing the critical and playful aspects of Frampton's output as a writer to co-exist and intercede, without being bound to false binaries or expedient contradictions that would misrepresent his broader practice. However, it's a similar reckoning that disqualifies On the Camera Arts from being an accessible, first-port-of-call for anyone not already familiar with Frampton's work.
There are texts which are close to being essayist, such as Eadweard Muybridge: Fragments of a Tesseract, that jump deftly between philosophical and literary reference, history, and biography of the 19th century photographer, through to the more oblique A Pentagram for Conjuring the Narrative: a study of narrative structure in the explication of a dream sequence, the authorial matrix of Samuel Beckett, and various algebraic equations of literary biography.
Joseph Conrad insisted that any man's biography could be reduced to a series of three terms: "He was born. He suffered. He died." It is the middle term that interests us here. Let us call it "x". Here are four different expansions of that term, or true accounts of the suffering of x, by as many storytellers.
Gertrude Stein and Rudyard Kipling pseudo-equations
Ultimately, Frampton's meanderings through the realms of literature, philosophy, mathematics, and science, were tools in his intellectual toolbox - called into being as a way of shaping his primary expression in the sequential possibilities of photography and film. As the example above demonstrates, Frampton's dexterity as a writer and thinker was, at times, suspiciously close to intellectual wayfaring. At worst, reading Frampton can feel like following a tour guide that equally basks in the glory of being so far from home.
While Frampton's writings often made testing demands upon the reader, it is important to consider these texts in the same ‘rite of passage' spirit that Frampton himself acknowledged in 12 Dialogues. Such a rite of passage might translate as a call upon readers to forgo all referential twists and turns as a process of working-through Frampton's scheme of ideas. There would be a similar call to viewers in films such as Zorn's Lemma or Gloria!
Before turning to the relationships of text and language in Frampton's film work, which undoubtedly provides On the Camera Arts its primary basis of contribution and insight, some consideration should be given to Frampton's previous occupations with poetry and still photography.
Frampton's poetry is referred to frequently in interviews, but neither does it appear in the pages of On the Camera Arts or is it ever discussed in detail. Frampton himself is quick to dismiss and downplay his contribution to the field: previously calling his own efforts as a poet "a disaster". Nevertheless, poetry makes a definite entry in the retrospection of Frampton's interests in language, starting with his acquaintance with Ezra Pound when Frampton was aged 21.
It was through still photography that Frampton found recognition, exhibiting his work and also writing texts on established figures in early-mid twentieth century modernist photography such as Edward Weston and Paul Strand, many of which appear in the book. Frampton's recognition that his own photography tended toward serialisation and time-regulated sequence caused him to seek a move into film.
If we allow Frampton's background in poetry and still photography to represent the alternations of language and image, then it was film that allowed these alternations to be compounded most effectively.
Zorn's Lemma (1970) is such a film. Consisting of three sections, the film begins with a blank screen. A woman's voice is heard, speaking a list of learning-rhymes from an antiquated grammar textbook for children. These are spoken alphabetically, according to noun:
Thy Life to mend,
God's Book attend.

The Cat doth play,
And after slay.

What follows these readings is an animated series of word-images in the form of photographs of street-signage or ‘found' texts, mostly collected from Frampton's wanderings in New York; "a phantasmagoria of environmental language" as Scott MacDonald has referred to it. After a while, we begin to recognise the alphabetical pattern in the sequencing of these word-image photographs. The photographs present signs for ‘Needle', ‘Office', ‘Pal', for example; appearing in alphabetical order. The pattern recognition of the sequence has the effect of pulling the expectancy of the next, so that each subsequent image-text photograph builds to a kind of alphabetical mantra.
The stability of this textual pattern begins to disintegrate through the gradual substitution of image-texts for images of a different kind. Where we might expect to read the ‘B' in street signs for Barber, Bar, or Bonanza, we're presented with a short film sequence of a frying egg. Further substitutions occur: ‘O' becomes a bouncing ball; ‘X' becomes fire; ‘L' becomes a child swinging, until the pattern losses its sense of textual coordination entirely. In this way, a film such as Zorn's Lemma can be understood as a test of reciprocity in the exchange of language and images; ultimately, a zero sum game that reveals nothing other than the structure of their interdependency.
Another film that gives example of Frampton's compounding of literary and photographic narratives is (nostalgia), produced in 1971 with the assistance of friend and fellow filmmaker Michael Snow, who provides the voiceover for the film. Featuring a sequence of black and white photographs taken by Frampton, placed upon a ring-burner until they shrivel and burn, (nostalgia) corresponds directly to Frampton's previous incarnation as a still photographer. Furthermore, a voiceover recalls stories and anecdotes that relate to the photographs, in the context of Frampton's experiences in New York City (scripted by Frampton, spoken by Snow).
It soon becomes obvious that the photograph that the voiceover describes is not the photograph presented, but the description of the image to follow. Not only does this cause a temporal disconnection between language and image, but the viewer comes to rely on expectations of the next image by way of a description that precedes it; meanwhile the present image burns. As Rachel Moore has written in her book dedicated to the film, "the burnt photograph spent by language that quivers in front of us, registers this fall precipitated by language."
Both Zorn's Lemma and (nostalgia) give example of how language was central to Frampton's filmmaking; not as a mere aspect, but as an integral and forming structure woven into the capabilities of photographic images and film. It is this that also provides the challenge to a book like On the Camera Arts, which may have otherwise taken the opportunity to establish an easy inroad to Frampton's work upon the 25th year anniversary of his death. Despite such warnings, the book succeeds in appropriately sustaining the torsion of Frampton's inquiries, while contributing greatly to contemporary and retrospective discourses on the development of film in the interceptive spaces of art.
Frampton 2
Matt Packer


A Hollis Frampton Odyssey by Jaime N. Christley

The field of avant-garde/experimental cinema is, to put it mildly, a pretty diverse place. No single characteristic applies to more than a handful of its specimens, except the fact of their marginal status in relation to traditional, mainstream cinema. When you get down to it, all other things being equal, warming newcomers to the visceral delights that are found in non-traditional cinema—for example, the work of Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, Peter Kubelka, or any of the other giants—ought to be no more of a challenge than pointing out the distinguishing characteristics of films by Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray, or Orson Welles. In all cases, a concerted effort on the part of the viewer to see, attentively, to consider one's act of seeing, and to attempt to unpack what the artist does with space and objects, repays handsome dividends in the areas not only of expanded perception, but plain, old-fashioned pleasure.

Another titan of the avant-garde is Hollis Frampton, who made some of the medium's seminal works before succumbing to cancer in 1984. Familiarity with Brakhage has been enhanced by accessibility, granted not only by the Criterion Collection's DVD and Blu-ray editions, but also by his influence on some well-known mainstream objects, such as the opening titles of David Fincher's Se7en. If we can get a handle on Brakhage by thinking of his work as consisting largely of his famous hand-painted films, or Window Water Baby Moving, Frampton's "flagship" work is either the multi-title "Hapax Legomena," or the 59-minute Zorns Lemma. Components of "Hapax" include Special Effects, in which a dashed white rectangle rotates against a black background, Poetic Justice, which tells an erotic almost-story through a series of script notes as they are set down on a table between a cactus and a coffee cup. There's also Critical Mass, in which a couple's argument is transformed into a Möbius strip of repetitions and backtracks.

Once seen, Frampton's films, often deceptively simple in concept and setup, become singular and indelible, his uncanny intuition emerging from the most basic ruptures and rearrangements. Manual of Arms, one of his earliest surviving works, pays tribute to a close circle of friends and intimates in his sparsely adorned loft space. Partly a set of image studies, Manual of Arms opens with a series of faces, one at a time, against a pool of black and half-shadow, calling to mind the trope of personality-illustrative cast introductions from silent movies. Eventually, the series of close-ups gives way to full-body portraiture; each friend gets a different editing and camera-movement pattern, recalling Brakhage's Two: Creeley/McClure, in which the Mothlight filmmaker gave two friends custom-fitted cine-portraits.

There's an anarchic affection with which Frampton commits violence to forms, and to our gaze—breaking open familiar concepts and putting them back together in odd ways. In many cases, the movie will take place outside the "movie," in a kind of conceptual dialogue with the viewer using elemental cues, mimetic codes, and memory prompts. One of several great masterpieces is (nostalgia), in which the off-screen voice of confederate Michael Snow narrates a series of Frampton's photographs (speaking as Frampton, in the first person)—as each picture catches fire on a hot plate. Sometimes the violence is optical, as when Frampton deploys flashes of color and light, the barest, most incidental collisions of photons and emulsion. In The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I, Frampton crosscuts against three radically different progressions of story and/or image (a bride, with or without the groom, on a park bridge, posing for the wedding photographer; a red dot exploding from a white background; a primitive silent comedy where a man surreptitiously removes a woman's skirt), less to tell a story than to build, in the Eisenstein manner, meaning through discordant juxtapositions. The resulting super-form, as it plays out, suggests feelings as varied as puerile "gotcha!" humor to apocalyptic sadness, the viewer's metamorphosing response helped along by Frampton's preferred mechanisms of repetition and rudimentary signifiers—like a canned laugh track.

As autobiographical as a thumbprint, Frampton's body of work is largely grouped by the various, ambitious projects he worked on—namely the seven-part Hapax Legomena and the Magellan cycle. These projects indicate not only a fascination with calendars and other organizing principles, but an eye for overall presentation, a kind of avant-garde showmanship. He was a cartographer who drew both the map and the undiscovered country, and his work reflects a conscious attitude toward audience contemplation, but also a refusal to let them absorb his ideas passively. In one of the one-minute "Pans" he made to accompany the Magellan series, there's a frame-by-frame crosscut between a bright, cloudy sky and a dark, cloudy sky that produces a strobe-like flash; in another, a glass bead oscillates before the camera, as if to simultaneously induce hypnosis and shake the viewer awake.

If Peter Kubelka is the kind of structural filmmaker whose effects are produced by the precise mathematical relationships between shots, as well as (equally precise) dissociative relationships between image and sound, the force of Frampton's structural ideas are balanced by a wanderer-gatherer instinct, and an overwhelming, architectural ambition, a desire to create epic poems, with cornerstones of brief, Lumière-esque pulses, epics that are only in part animated by some kind of systemic algebra. It's unlikely you will come across a filmmaker whose work creates in the viewer such a strong equilibrium of sudden, brutal displacement with an exhilarating freedom of travel; you are jostled, you contemplate, you wander across a continent in which all is unexplainable, yet familiar.


A frame in Hollis Frampton work may be a classically composed image of natural or scenic beauty, or it may exist in the space of a cut. It may be a flare of exposure as the tail of a film magazine passes through the gate. As with their Stan Brakhage sets, Criterion recognizes that preservation of an avant-garde work's specific character, as it may be traced back to the means of production, is paramount: Almost all of Frampton's work was shot on 16mm, a stock that produces levels and characters of detail and contrast that are utterly unthinkable with any other camera, from 8mm to IMAX to the Red One. One of the great thrills of A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is the fidelity to grain, and all that that entails.

Unlike Brakhage, sound (music, voice, and effects) was often vital to Frampton, and Criterion's set is, in part, a document of the sound recording and editing means available to an independent filmmaker working from the 1960s through the early '80s. Given the limits of technology, Criterion's mono soundtrack presentation is impeccable.


Easily the most serious avant-garde set to get a Blu-ray release since the two-part Brakhage series, Criterion takes their role as guides to Frampton's radical work very seriously. Each work, no matter how small in scale, is accompanied by helpful notes, as well as remarks, commentary, and explanations by Frampton himself. You'll be lost and found for hours. The supplements also contain two rare, non-filmic pieces. First is the "xerographic" series By Any Other Name, which features brand graphics, united not by Warhol-inspired, jokey alienation, but by a like disjunction between the brand's name and the brand's product (e.g. Bumblebee tuna). Also included is A Lecture, another performance collaboration with Michael Snow, with some web interactivity with


A strong candidate for Blu-ray of the year, Criterion outdoes itself and validates its own brand name: A Hollis Frampton Odyssey will rotate your head on its axis for hours and hours.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey: Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come

By Ed Halter

Among the most widely seen photographs of Hollis Frampton is one of him as a young man, a self-portrait taken in 1959, if we are to trust the narration he composed to accompany its inclusion in his 1971 film (nostalgia). In the image, Frampton sits against a neutral backdrop, looking to his right, as if intently scrutinizing something just outside the frame. His shoulders press forward, suggesting that his unseen hands are resting crossed in his lap, and he sports a neat dark jacket and tie, their conservatism offset by a beatniky beard and hair that would have been considered longish in the 1950s, combed back into a Victorian wave. “As you see, I was thoroughly pleased with myself at the time, presumably for having survived to such ripeness and wisdom, since it was my twenty-third birthday,” the narrator says in (nostalgia). “I focused the camera, sat on a stool in front of it, and made the exposures by squeezing a rubber bulb with my right foot.”
When he took this photo, Frampton was working as an assistant in a commercial photography studio in New York, where he had moved the previous year, and was sharing an apartment with sculptor Carl Andre, who had been his high school classmate at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (as had painter Frank Stella, with whom they would share studio space). Due to his dispute over the necessity of a required history course, Frampton had failed to graduate from Andover, thus forfeiting a scholarship to Harvard and instead attending Western Reserve College in Cleveland. While there, he struck up a correspondence with Ezra Pound, who was then a mental patient at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. Frampton—who was writing poetry at the time—left Cleveland to move near Pound, visiting him daily in the hospital, while the older poet continued to compose The Cantos, his sprawling epic, dense with reference and allusion, which would remain unfinished at his demise. Pound’s high modernism would serve as a touchstone for Frampton, as would the parallel modernisms of Marcel Duchamp, Jorge Luis Borges, and James Joyce. Ironically, Frampton, too, would embark upon an ambitious, large-scale project—the proposed thirty-six-hour film cycle Magellan—that would be cut short by his death from cancer in 1984, at age forty-eight.
Another oft reproduced image of Frampton is entitled Portrait of Hollis Frampton by Marion Faller, Directed by H. F. It was taken in 1975 by Faller, the photographer with whom Frampton lived during the last thirteen years of his life. The picture shows him staring, eyes wide and pupils contracted, almost into the lens of the camera, his hands raised beside his head, palms outward. In the darkness, a horizontal slit of light draws a line across his eyes and onto the middle of both of his hands. His hair is wilder than at age twenty-three—the light beam illuminates shaggy bits jutting out from his temples—and his beard is fuller, now flecked with white. The setup cannily alludes to the mechanics of both photography and cinema, of light projected and recorded, but in its alien strangeness resembles a promotional still from a science-fiction movie. It almost appears as if the light is not so much being thrown on him as projected outward from his eyes and hands. In the earlier self-portrait, Frampton seems relatively staid, as if looking toward the past, trying to emulate an early twentieth-century poise. But here, at age thirty-nine, he stares as if into a vision, ready to walk forward into the unknown, ecstatic.
In the time between these two photographs, Frampton had established himself as one of the foremost members of the American avant-garde, part of a new generation of artists who came to fruition in the late 1960s, dramatically shifting the terms of both experimental film and the intellectual thinking on cinema as a whole. By the end of his career, he had completed close to one hundred films (including the individual one-minute Pans for Magellan) and numerous photographic series; helped establish the pioneering Digital Arts Laboratory at the Center for Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1977; published Circles of Confusion: Film, Photography, Video—Texts 1968–1980, his influential collection of theoretical essays and other writings that had originally run in Artforum, October, and elsewhere; and been honored with retrospectives at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At a time when many of his filmmaking colleagues still kept their distance from newer electronic media, he not only embraced and wrote about video but also delved into xerography and computer programming.
In standard histories of experimental cinema, Frampton’s work is usually considered part of “structural film,” a category invented by P. Adams Sitney in a 1969 essay that would later be revised into a chapter of his landmark 1974 study Visionary Film. Sitney coined the term to describe what he saw as a new tendency in the American avant-garde, typified by the films of Frampton as well as those of Michael Snow, George Landow, Tony Conrad, and others. “Theirs is a cinema of structure,” Sitney wrote, “in which the shape of the whole film is predetermined and simplified, and it is that shape that is the primal impression of the film”—a sharp divergence from the work of an older generation of filmmakers, including Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Kenneth Anger, who, in his view, had progressed over time toward a greater internal complexity of form. He compared structural film to minimalism in the visual arts and serial composition in music, contemporaneous movements that likewise stressed formal reduction and repetition. Frampton, however, rejected Sitney’s periodization, denouncing “that incorrigible tendency to label, to make movements, [which] always has the same effect, and that effect is to render the work invisible.”
Nevertheless, Frampton did agree that a new sensibility was afoot. Describing his own development, he recalled that “there was something called the [Film-Makers’] Cinematheque in New York, which became a kind of hangout. I met other people who were trying to make films: Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr after a while, although he was somewhat younger. Later on, Paul Sharits, who was at the time living in Baltimore.” These are all figures whose work Sitney classified under structural filmmaking, but Frampton saw their shared project as a more expansive one. “There existed at least for a time, and that time lasted for some years in New York City, a kind of constant contact between us. One might almost—almost—venture to call it a sense of being united in some way, probably by the conviction that there should be good films. Preferably, films so good they hadn’t been made yet. That the intellectual space open to film had not entirely been preempted.”
Regardless of Frampton’s distaste for labels, one can productively think about his films in terms of a simplification of elements in favor of an overall, predetermined shape. This is particularly so in his earliest surviving works, from Information (1966) to Zorns Lemma (1970). In this phase of his filmmaking, Frampton was interested in taking apart cinema by reducing it to its most basic, constitutive parts—sound, image, movement, editing—and then using these elements to construct films whose unfolding takes on the quality of a mathematical formula or puzzle. Later in his career, he would describe his concerns during this formative period as the “rationalization of the history of film art. Resynthesis of the film tradition: ‘making film over as it should have been’” and the “establishment of progressively more complex a priori schemes to generate the various parameters of filmmaking.” His play with the possible relationships between sound and image in works like Maxwell’s Demon (1968), Surface Tension (1968), and Carrots & Peas (1969) would culminate in the abecedarian structure of Zorns Lemma. The films’ titles alone convey his interest in importing concepts from the sciences into art, though never in a straightforward way; he once said, “I’m a spectator of mathematics like others are spectators of soccer or pornography.” His goal was a more epistemological one. “Eventually,” he would later write, “we may come to visualize an intellectual space in which the systems of words and images will both, as [filmmaker, poet, and founder of New York’s Anthology Film Archives] Jonas Mekas once said of semiology, ‘seem like half of something,’ a universe in which image and word, each resolving the contradictions inherent in the other, will constitute the system of consciousness.”
To speak of Frampton’s films as merely structural riddles or philosophical proposals, however, fails to take into account their pleasurable and poetic nature. The gamelike qualities of his films prove playful rather than didactic and always retain a residue of enigma. And he is more of a storyteller than the structural label would suggest. His films are told with an erudite wit, an often stark beauty, and deep emotional resonance. This last quality is one that sets him apart from many of his “structural” fellow travelers and is most apparent in his only completed film cycle, Hapax Legomena (1971–72), a seven-part sequence including three of his best-known works, (nostalgia), Poetic Justice (1972), and Critical Mass (1971). Throughout the cycle, Frampton continually reveals intricate relationships between time and memory, word and image. He called the project “an oblique autobiography, seen in stereoscopic focus with the phylogeny of film art as I have tried to recapitulate it during my own fitful development as a filmmaker.” This aspect is most explicit in (nostalgia) but is also evident, in a more buried way, in Critical Mass, which creates hypnotic rhythms from footage of a woman and a man engaged in a heated argument—completed when Frampton was working through the tumultuous end of a six-year marriage.
The “phylogeny of film art” that Frampton mentions relates to a further concept underpinning his work as a whole, what he called a “metahistory” of cinema, by which he meant the creation of a specific body of films that would serve as an instructive metaphor for the whole history of film. “The history of cinema consists precisely of every film that has ever been made, for any purpose whatsoever,” he wrote. “The metahistorian of cinema, on the other hand, is occupied with inventing a tradition, that is, a coherent, wieldy set of discrete monuments, meant to inseminate resonant consistency into the growing body of his art. Such works may not exist, and then it is his duty to make them.” His unfinished Magellan project would have been his fullest realization of this concept. Planned around the conceit of Ferdinand Magellan’s global circumnavigation, it was to comprise a liturgical calendar of more than eight hundred films, with Lumière-inspired miniatures on most days and longer works on equinoxes, solstices, and other special dates. Within this solar epic, Frampton envisioned numerous “subsections and epicycles,” completing a macrocosmic engine reminiscent of an astrolabe’s nested gears or a computer program’s subroutines—the latter suggested by Frampton’s dot-matrix-printed schedule from 1978, “CLNDR version 1.2.0,” with each day numbered like a line of code.
As Magellan’s algorithmic aspects illustrate, Frampton was concerned not only with cinema’s history but its future as well. In numerous writings, he conjectured that the technology of film had already reached its point of obsolescence, pinpointing this moment at the invention of radar, rather than the more obvious rise of television. The machine age apparatus created by the Lumières and Edison would someday be seen as merely an early phase of an as-yet-unnamed technology of moving-image-making that he would variously term “the camera arts” or “film and its successors” or “photograph-film-video-computer.” And this system was, in turn, an outgrowth of much older forms, like painting and music. He suggested that cinema would endure past its death, albeit transmuted, through this larger trajectory.
Or to put it another way, as Frampton did in his notes on Gloria! (1979), a work dedicated to his grandmother: “The last time I saw my grandmother, she said to me: ‘We just barely learn how to live, and then we’re ready to die.’” The film, however, depicts a story based on the ballad “Finnegan’s Wake,” wherein a dead body rises from its casket to dance at its own funeral. Surely, Frampton would have found wry amusement in this collection of his work, which replicates his films via encrypted lines of code and releases them back into the world as digital ghosts.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey (1966-1979) [The Criterion Collection] - by Bryant Frazer 

The avant-garde in film has always had an uneasy relationship with home video. Grainy old VHS tape of works by luminaries like Bruce Conner or Kenneth Anger might have made the texts themselves available for more careful study by a larger audience, but the picture quality compromised the work tremendously. The arrival of DVD technology allowed for a better visual representation, yet brought with it certain dangers. For one thing, there's a moral issue: Filmmakers who had objections to the commodification of art and culture were put on the spot as their once-ephemeral films were transferred to a new medium that was easy for an individual consumer to purchase and own. There's also an aesthetic issue. No matter how close a video transfer gets to the visual qualities of a projected film--and a good transfer to Blu-ray can get very close indeed--a video image is not a film image. For avant-garde filmmakers, and especially for so-called "structural" filmmakers like the late Hollis Frampton, for whom film itself was subject, text, and subtext, the difference is key.
 The Criterion Collection kept the distinction at front of mind in its creation of A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, its new DVD and Blu-ray release presenting a sample of Frampton's work for home-video posterity. Open the case and slide out the thick, 44-page booklet and you're greeted by an inside-front-cover spread displaying a Xeroxed scrap of paper on which is scrawled the declaration, "A film is a machine made of images." Read on, and you'll find a short essay (by film preservationist Bill Brand) on the challenges of translating Frampton's films to video masters, explaining how a first-generation print of Zorns Lemma was used to generate a noise floor* for the too-silent video presentation and describing the decision-making process that goes into allowing a scratch to be a scratch. Dig into the supplements and you'll find a recreation of a Frampton piece designed to be delivered in a room with a movie screen and movie projector called "A Lecture," in which Frampton--speaking through the recorded voice of fellow experimental filmmaker Michael Snow--describes the film projector as an "infallible," "flawless" performer of "a score that is both the notation and the substance of the piece." The setting will be familiar to anyone who's ever sat in the dark, luxuriating in the strobe of images flashing on the screen, revelling in the clackety-clack of the projector at the back of the room.
Frampton didn't arrive in that dark room by fiat. He first tried his hand at painting, then still photography; it took him a while to settle on filmmaking. A Hollis Frampton Odyssey begins with the first of Frampton's films to be publicly screened (a handful of earlier films were "projected to death" but not shown to the public, according to liner notes by Bruce Jenkins) and ends with selections from Magellan , the massive, ever-growing film cycle Frampton left incomplete upon his death from cancer in 1984, at the age of 48. In between, it proffers a sampling of Frampton's work, framed with generous supporting material--various text-based essays as well as audio recordings of Frampton himself discussing each of the films here--that presents it in the context of Frampton's career and his intense, theoretical style.
Let's go back to that term, "structural film," and to Frampton's place in the canon of American avant-garde filmmakers. Criterion first dipped its toes into the avant-garde with the release of By Brakhage, a DVD collection of Stan Brakhage's films later expanded for Blu-ray, and the decision to follow Brakhage with Frampton isn't simply one of convenience. Brakhage and Frampton were contemporaries, although Brakhage was making films in the 1950s and Frampton didn't start until 1962. Nevertheless, P. Adams Sitney, whose Visionary Film is quite literally the book on the subject, saw the two men as coming from quite different traditions. In Sitney's eyes, Brakhage came from a Romantic tradition established by Maya Deren and eventually created the "lyrical film." One response to Brakhage's lush, everything-in-its-place lyricism was Andy Warhol, whose strategy of putting his camera on a tripod and letting it run until it was out of film could be read as a gentle mockery of Hollywood conventions or as an infuriating parody of the avant-garde. And it's out of Warhol's long-take, fixed-camera provocations that what Sitney dubbed structural film was born.
HflemonYou can see Warhol's influence in the earliest Frampton films collected here. His first publicly exhibited work, Manual of Arms (1966), which animates some of Frampton's talented friends (such as dancer Twyla Tharp and filmmakers Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland) through elaborate montage techniques, can be read as a pointed back-at-ya response to Warhol's famous screen tests. And his wry Lemon (1969), which documents the play of light cast by a lamp being moved around a plump yellow fruit, feels like a miniaturized burlesque on Warholian endurance tests like the six-hour Sleep or the eight-hour Empire. Actually, I read it first as a parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is something truly grand about Lemon in a declaration-of-principles sense. I imagined Frampton raising a middle finger to the commercial film industry and declaring, "Hey fuckers, I've got sex and death and the whole shebang in my film and it's just a goddamned lemon." (In the supplementary material, Frampton admits he selected the most voluptuous lemon he could find at the grocery. He says it looks like a breast, and some viewers apparently see a phallus just before the skin of the fruit vanishes in the darkness.)
I like Lemon a lot, but it doesn't suggest the rigor that is to come. The early Frampton film that most portends the occasional opaqueness of his approach is Maxwell's Demon (1968), named after a thought experiment created by the Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell. Essentially a found-footage piece, it intercuts snippets of an exercise film with flashes of pure colour and tinted shots of ocean waves underscored by the sound generated by the physical passage of film sprocket holes over a projector's audio pickup. The titular demon is a tiny character who regulates the movements of gas molecules (in contravention of the second law of thermodynamics, which claims that entropy always increases), and Frampton describes the piece in his comments as "an homage to the notion of a creature who deals with pure energy." Maxwell is also, as it turns out, the father of modern red-green-blue colour theory, and the first to demonstrate the connection between light and electromagnetic waves.
I'm not sure what an audience would make of this sans context. Even with Frampton's explanatory comments on the Blu-ray (where he compares Maxwell's gas molecules to excited pigs), Maxwell's Demon sent me scurrying to WIKIPEDIA, where I learned a wealth of information about 19th-century physics that may serve me better in the long run than Frampton's film by itself. But that's his mode of expression. Brakhage had the sensibility of a poet taking as his great subject the human visual system. By contrast, Frampton comes across as more of an engineer.
Another early film, Surface Tension (1968), is quite charming. It opens with a title superimposed over an ocean wave (a leftover from Maxwell's Demon?), followed by a slightly difficult introductory section featuring sped-up footage of a gent decked out in button-up shirt, vest, and scarf leaning against the sill of an open window, gesturing and speaking, although the soundtrack carries only the shrill sound of a telephone ringing in an otherwise quiet room--the repetitive, unsettling noise reminding us of what we're not hearing. The moving image drops to a normal speed briefly whenever the chap briefly stops speaking and reaches down to shut off and set a timer. Next, a time-lapse walking tour of Manhattan begins on the Brooklyn Bridge and ends, two-and-a-half minutes later, in the middle of Central Park. It's soundtracked by spoken German, something I took to be part of the missing speech by the well-dressed chap from the first section--a feeling confirmed by the sudden interruption of the narration by an obnoxious buzzer. The third section depicts a goldfish in a tank on the beach, waves lapping at the glass as text fragments appear on screen, apparently snippets drawn from the German monologue heard during the previous chapter. The mismatch of sound and image seems to be the primary subject here--the distance between the visual of the German speaking in the first section, the (presumably) incomprehensible audio of his speech in the second, and the appearance of a few of his words as fragmented signs in the third. Two more "early films" are collected here: Process Red (1966), another experiment with highly caffeinated montage techniques, and Carrots & Peas (1969), an exercise in stop-motion animation and colour manipulation.
These works are thought-provoking to greater and lesser degrees, but it all amounts to throat-clearing before the appearance of Frampton's first major work, Zorns Lemma (1970). Named for a principle from set theory I can scarcely wrap my poor head around, the film echoes Surface Tension in its three-part structure but is far more expansive in its scope and strategy. It begins with readings from a Bible-derived, alphabet-oriented young-readers text called the Bay State Primer and closes with an image of a couple and a dog walking across a snowy landscape, away from the camera, accompanied by a reading from Robert Grossetete's "On Light, or The Ingression of Forms". In between, there's a longish (~45 minute) segment in which single words, each one part of a moving picture of a sign taken by Frampton somewhere on the streets of New York City, appear on screen for one second each. The overall effect is dizzying (this segment of the film contains 2700 cuts!), but not unpleasant, especially as you figure out what the movie's up to. With Surface Tension, Frampton spoke of his desire to avoid merely displaying an ordered collection of still photographs (his printed photos appeared "perfectly dead" when rephotographed with a movie camera, he noted) or to create "a poem" (by deliberately placing images in provocative juxtaposition). Instead, he employed a randomizing technique to assemble the images that reminded me a little bit of the "cut-up" literature popularized by William S. Burroughs in the 1970s. I gather there was quite a bit of critical eye-rolling when Zorns Lemma screened at the New York Film Festival (it elicited a hilariously stodgy NEW YORK TIMES review that concludes with a shout-out to the Andrews Sisters), but the film seems pretty accessible by avant-garde standards.
Viewers who may be baffled by Zorns Lemma's semiotic ambitions--it ponders the possibilities of a visual alphabet, images replacing letters in a kind of cinematic iconography--may still find pleasure in its elaborate construction, or just in Frampton's evident skill as a photographer and incidental documentarian of vintage New York City signcraft. But for filmmakers in the purely visual tradition of Brakhage, Zorns Lemma was a salvo. Frampton's fastidious randomization of his own work was a repudiation of the meticulous visual sense and intellectual montage that drove much of the American avant-garde, and Brakhage himself was inspired to repudiate it with an answer film, The Riddle of Lumen (1972), with looser, free-flowing visual and editorial rhythms that offered a shambolic counterpoint to Frampton's staccato lockstep. (Sadly, Lumen is absent both here and in either volume of Criterion's earlier By Brakhage release. It can, however, be found on the National Film Preservation Foundation's two-disc Treasures IV: American Avant-garde Film, 1947-1986.) Another issue separating Frampton from Brakhage was that, among the standard-bearers of structural film (see also: Snow and Ernie Gehr), Frampton was the most interested in language. Indeed, in words that suggested a typically playful double meaning, Brakhage once said Frampton "strains cinema through language." The attention he paid to words, letters, signs, and symbols, and the elaborate and essentially randomizing systems he devised for dictating how a film would be edited, were anathema to filmmakers of the Brakhage school, for whom human instincts and imperfections (the wobbly handheld camera, the shaky mark scratched by hand in a film's emulsion) were crucial components of hand-crafted visual expression.
On a more personal note, it turned out that the film functioned as broad autobiography, with the first section representing Frampton's Protestant upbringing; the second section representing the long process of creative evolution and interaction with his urban environment; and the final section functioning as a prophecy of his coming move out of the city in 1974, after accepting a job teaching in Buffalo. Those who are skeptical of the pretensions evident in the title may, perhaps, enjoy it on this level. But it's very pleasurable, still, to sit quietly through the film's duration, watching the edit fall into place with the sure rhythms of a powerful machine. In its carefully-engineered simultaneous conjuring of entropy and orderliness, Zorns Lemma might be the quintessential structural film.
It was in the later Hapax Legomena series that Frampton's paths of inquiry extended into utterly new territory. The title itself refers to that sense of not knowing what the hell to make of something--it's Greek for words that appear only once in a given text or set of texts. In the case of an ancient text or translation from a forgotten language, a hapax legomenon can pose a special challenge for scholars and translators, who may be unable to discover the meaning of the word based on its appearance in only one context. Frampton's Hapax Legomena begins with (nostalgia) (1971), an apparently autobiographical work that folds perceptions of time in on themselves by returning to the discontinuity of sound and image he explored in Surface Tension. The film depicts a series of Frampton's still photographs placed on a hot electric element that slowly disfigures, chars, and destroys them as the camera rolls. On the soundtrack, a voice describes a different image--actually, the image that will appear next in the series. Once you figure out what Frampton is up to, the piece becomes an unusual brain exercise. You're listening to the voiceover narration because you know it will tell you something about the picture you're about to see. At the same time, you're scrutinizing the picture on screen, trying to remember what you've already been told about it. (There are other nooks and crannies in the structure Frampton builds here. For one thing, the ostensibly first-person narrative is not read by Frampton but by his friend Michael Snow--at one point, Snow reads Frampton's description of a poster he made for one of Snow's shows, part of a passage that concludes with Frampton's lament, which becomes more poignant in this context: "I wish I could apologize to him.") And, by taking the immolation of Frampton's own work as a subject, (nostalgia) made me wonder if he was inspired by John Baldessari's conspicuous act of burning everything he had made pre-1970 as a statement of dissatisfaction with his own art.
Equally mind-expanding is the next film in the Hapax series, Poetic Justice (1972), the concept of which at first seemed unbearably trite to me. It opens on a round, wooden tabletop featuring a cactus, a cup of coffee, and a stack of paper. After a cut several seconds in, the stack of paper disappears and single sheets, consecutive pages of a screenplay, start appearing on the table. As I watched, I couldn't help but start to imagine the film described by the screenplay being made. The pages insist that the film is about "you" (meaning me, the viewer) and "your lover" (meaning, well, whomever I'd like, I suppose). But there's also a "me" in this screenplay--references to "my hand," holding a variety of photographs--that brings the script's author into the picture.
HfpoeticjusticeThe script has me climb on a chair, and suddenly I'm worried. Am I going to hang myself? Soon, my lover puts a blindfold over my eyes, and I wonder what sort of movie this is, anyway. Several more pages, and the bedroom door is closed, my lover lies supine on a bed, and I'm starting to panic. A few more pages. Why is Hollis Frampton watching me fuck?
I can't think of any film that seems to work on more layers at one time: there is the film itself, there is the image represented by the screenplay pages, and then there is the image their words suggest, which lives only in the mind of the audience and will be different for each viewer. There are references to photographs that become frames within the frame of the imagined film, and later the script describes a large bedroom window, outside of which are, variously, hyenas, wrestlers, mountaineers, and (magnificently) the rings of Saturn, looming--more imagined images framed within an imagined image. Using photographed words to conjure a never-to-be-photographed image, Poetic Justice is just about the most conceptually perverse art film I can imagine--and I don't think I'll ever forget the dreamy, nightmarish moving picture I fashioned for myself as it unspooled. I don't know whether Frampton found himself in a particularly generous mood when he made this, but I'll always think of it as a work that unlocks the imagination of the audience in a tremendous way.
I'm less enamoured of Critical Mass (1971), largely because I find it unbearably unpleasant to sit through. A filmed record of an improvised argument between two actors playing the role of a couple, it's a showcase for Frampton's editorial technique--he cuts up three different copies of the scene, then edits them linearly to give the scene a repetitive stutter-step quality that extends the already nigh-intolerable duration of the shouting match. I felt about Critical Mass much the same way I feel about the neighbours just past paper-thin sheet rock having a knock-down drag-out after 11 p.m., and it makes me want to pound on the walls and/or drink myself into a stupor. This may be the intended sensation. As a work of pure vision and craftsmanship, I'll bet it made the grade in 1971, when every edit had to be painstakingly made by hand. Frampton, whose wife left him in the months between the shooting and the editing, must have felt each cut in his bones.
Hfmagellan1Frustratingly, the four films that make up the rest of Hapax Legomena are not included here. Granted, these first three are the ones that generate all the attention, but Kenneth Eisenstein's liner notes for Criterion offer a tantalizing glimpse of works said to employ "television, video, and...electronic music." Still, we do get an indication of where Frampton's head was going in the final section of the disc, which collects films from his mammoth unfinished Magellan project. In his essay included in the Blu-ray booklet, Magellan expert Michael Zryd says the project was to involve "roughly 830" separate films shown on a special screening schedule covering 371 consecutive days. (Critic Ed Halter, who has his own booklet essay here, has written elsewhere that Magellan would be made up of "about 1000" films.) Frampton had barely gotten started on Magellan before he died, completing something like eight hours out of a projected 36. The sampling chosen for Criterion's disc includes 17 separate films totalling a little over an hour, but 12 of them are tiny little one-minute vignettes called "pans" (three of these are only visible when they appear as part of the disc's menu animations, but you can dig out clean versions if you rip the disc). One of them features three coloured slips of paper tacked to a wall, another shows a cornfield, another depicts the beheading of a farm animal, etc.
The five other films range from around five minutes to a half-hour in length. The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I (1977) is the first instalment of Magellan and thus functions as a sort of overture for the entire project. It opens with the image of a letter A carved into stone, followed by the sound of an orchestra tuning, then incorporates footage of a wedding Frampton shot in a park in Puerto Rico--the sound, again, of sprocket holes--and scenes from an American Mutoscope and Biograph silent film, A Little Piece of String. Sitney sees in this formulation one of Frampton's occasional embedded nods to Duchamp via his famous artwork The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. Speaking of bare, Ingenivm Nobis Ipsa Pvella Fecit, Part I (1975) consists of motion poses by a nude young woman (reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge's serial photography), edited in a repetitive, forward-and-back stutter-step style that immediately recalls Critical Mass but feels to me unmistakably like the image from a videotape being wound back and forth with a jog-and-shuttle wheel. (I have no idea if Frampton had access to that kind of video-editing machine in the mid-1970s. Perhaps he was simply prescient of new ways of looking at footage.)
I've mentioned Brakhage repeatedly, and that's partly because that's where A Hollis Frampton Odyssey ends up--Brakhage positively haunts the following two Magellan selections here. Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part 1: The Red Gate 1, 0 (1976) was shot at a human anatomy lab at the University of Pittsburgh and clearly functions in part as a response to Brakhage's famous autopsy film The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, which was shot at the Pittsburgh coroner's office. (Sally Dixon, a curator at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art, was a friend of the avant-garde and worked as a liaison between Brakhage and Frampton and various public institutions.) Where Brakhage's filmed encounter with death itself was harrowing and profoundly humane, Frampton's images of body parts seem, to me, more morbid and grotesque. (For his part, Frampton once noted a certain "didacticism" in Brakhage's film--an odd way to think about The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, if you ask me, but maybe that's why the Brakhage never gave me nightmares while Frampton's version squicks me out completely.) Next up is Winter Solstice, which assembles images photographed at a U.S. Steel facility in Pittsburgh into a cascading series of essentially abstract compositions in fiery red, yellow, and black. Although Frampton still has a great artist's eye for shape and colour in motion, the harshness and relative monotony of Winter Solstice made me long for Brakhage's more lyrical facility with texture and light.
Hfmagellan3It's all redeemed, however, by the final film completed for Magellan, Gloria! (1979). Gloria! quotes from two different silent films referring to the 19th-century ballad "Finnegan's Wake," about an Irish drunkard, presumed dead, who wakes up during his own funeral. Those scenes bookend Frampton's observations on his relationship with his grandmother ("She kept pigs in the house, but never more than one at a time"; "She gave me her teeth, when pulled, to play with") typed out on a green-and-white computer screen. The penultimate image is that of a "resurrected" Finnegan dancing the exuberant jig of the undead. It's followed by a close-up of a computer screen, on which appears, in glowing letters, a sober dedication to Frampton's maternal grandmother, Fanny Elizabeth Catlett Cross, who died in 1973. Like Frampton's best work, Gloria! looks simultaneously backwards and forwards. It's excited about the kind of image-making that will come to pass in the future, though it clearly understands that death lives there, too.
Given the fundamental differences between projected film and home video, is Blu-ray an appropriate medium for a first encounter with this material? If nothing else, Zryd's liner notes indicate that Frampton was excited about the opportunity the then-emergent LaserDisc technology potentially afforded for personal consumption of the Magellan series. It's also interesting that DVD and Blu-ray allow viewers to fundamentally reshape his work, on a whim, allowing them to remake the films to their preferred specifications. About the first thing I did after watching Lemon was replay it at 120x speed, so I could get a better sense of how the light source was moving in its slow orbit around the fruit. And I'm hardly the only one to have pored over the middle section of Surface Tension, turning its frames into images rescued from a downtown Manhattan time capsule. Earlier this year, a NEW YORK TIMES writer blogged about it, transforming it into a viral sensation among cosmopolitan web surfers who would never otherwise stumble across Frampton's stuff. To this day, it's almost impossible to Google usable information on Surface Tension without getting caught up instead in one of several dozen reveries by aging baby boomers and others who get a nostalgic kick from the images. (Speaking of which, the images from the xerographic series excerpted here, By Any Other Name, are catnip for nostalgia buffs, featuring art from interestingly-branded grocery labels of the late-1970s and early-1980s.)
This isn't what Frampton intended, any more than it occurred to a 30-year-old Stan Brakhage that one day anyone with a fancy videogame console would be able to step through Mothlight, looking at the component bits of Rocky Mountain plant and insect life he assembled on splicing tape. But I think Frampton is likely to have anticipated it, and he might even have welcomed it. The long interview with Frampton that closes out this disc (it's a 20-minute excerpt from a 42-minute Video Data Bank interview conducted by filmmaker Adele Friedman in 1978 or '79) concludes with his observations about the coming transformation of visual media that would be ushered in by computer technology. The computer portended a revolution in "the image machine," he said, that would have farther-reaching consequences than the changes wrought by television, that most world-altering of early 20th-century technologies. At the time, he must have sounded like a starry-eyed crackpot. The digital video revolution didn't really begin until after Frampton's death, and that's a shame. He seemed well-equipped to, if not make something truly new out of DV, at least have a profound influence on video artists. (You could argue that Peter Greenaway's pioneering use of the Quantel Paintbox on Prospero's Books and The Pillow Book was a fairly straightforward extension of Frampton's legacy into narrative film.) That's just Frampton as prophet, instinctively understanding and anticipating the drastic transformation that moving pictures reeled towards as they approached the end of their first century.
Criterion's Blu-ray is a definitive but necessarily incomplete overview of Frampton's work--definitive because the films clearly got The Criterion Treatment and it feels like a miracle to see them at home with such clarity and with so much attention paid to maintaining the correct look. The 16mm source material was scanned at 2K, enough resolution to effectively capture all of the picture information; the image has soft edges, grain is obvious but muted, and many artifacts of the elements themselves have been tactfully left unmolested. Audio has received a 24-bit remaster from the original source elements in addition to being worked over with Pro Tools, but, again, with care not to alter the aural quality of a screening from film.
Because I'm greedy, I want more material--at the very least, it seems like a shame that Criterion couldn't squeeze in the rest of the Hapax Legomena cycle--and trying to come to terms with Frampton is like falling down a rabbit hole as you discover the breadth of the man's intellectual concerns. I'd argue for an ideal release to be spread across two discs, allowing Hapax Legomena to be complete on the first one and for more of Magellan to be presented on the second. Then again, that would increase the financial pressures on both Criterion, which would be investing even more in an unknown commercial property, and on the Frampton estate, which has to be concerned about the dive in 16mm film rentals that any avant-garde filmmaker's DVD release portends, especially if it includes their most famous works in toto. And, of course, this platter already contains more than four hours of prime Frampton. I have no idea how the market has reacted to A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, though I hope sales are strong enough to encourage Criterion to keep assembling programs of this type, and to convince filmmakers that it's worth allowing their work to be released for home viewing. I know these digital images aren't film prints--and I can't be the only one who still misses the whirring of that movie projector--but they get us a good portion of the way there.
*The term "noise floor" refers, in this case, to the unintentional, incidental hissing sound made when a movie projector reads and amplifies the ostensibly silent optical audio soundtrack on a piece of film; one of the advantages of magnetic or digital film soundtracks in 35mm film is the dramatic reduction or elimination of the noise floor.
  Hollis Frampton
Hollis Frampton portrait by Marion Faller, 1975
"Hollis Frampton is known for the broad and restless intelligence he brought to the films he made, beginning in the early '60s, until his death in 1984. In addition to being an important experimental filmmaker, he was also an accomplished photographer and writer, and in the 1970s made significant contributions to the emerging field of computer science. He is considered one of the pioneers of what has come to be termed structuralism, an influential style of experimental filmmaking that uses the basic elements of cinematic language to create works that investigate film form at the expense of traditional narrative content. Along with Michael Snow and Stan Brakhage, he is one of the major figures to emerge from the New York avant-garde film community of the 1960s.

Frampton's legendary intellect and equally legendary stubbornness announced themselves early. At the age of 15, he applied on his own volition to the prestigious Phillips Academy and was accepted on a full scholarship. Toward the end of his studies there, he was offered a scholarship to Harvard, only to have it rescinded after he failed to graduate by purposefully failing a required American history class. He spent several years at Western Reserve University in his native Ohio, studying a wide range of subjects but never attaining a degree. In 1958, he moved to New York with the intention of becoming a poet, but he soon abandoned that idea in favor of photography. His move to film in the early '60s coincided with the rise of avant-garde filmmaking in New York, centered around Jonas Mekas' Filmmakers Coop. 
 It was Frampton's philosophy that film, at its most fundamental, consists of a series of images that have to be arranged in some way. He saw this as a philosophical problem and believed that arranging images into a narrative was only one of many possible solutions. Instead, he often based the structures of his films on mathematical and scientific concepts. Prince Ruperts Drops takes its title from an object used in scientific instruction. The title and structure of Zorns Lemma come from "Zorn's lemma," a controversial mathematical concept. Frampton was astonishingly well-read, not only in mathematics and science, but in philosophy and literature as well. He was a great admirer of modernist writers Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, and his films reflect a breaking down of film language similar to the revolutionary ways Stein and Joyce reconfigured fictional prose. Like Joyce, Frampton moved from shorter works to much longer ones. After making mostly short films in the '60s, he spent several years on the seven-part Hapax Legomena (which includes his most famous film (nostalgia)), then spent the last decade of his life working on Magellan, a 36-hour film meant to be seen at specific intervals over the course of 371 days, which was left unfinished at the time of his death." - Tom Vick, All Movie Guide
"Hollis Frampton was a compelling raconteur: speech was another of his art forms. His insights and even his casual meanderings were immensely informative, as well as entertaining. Some of the tales (related repeatedly, as they were, from memory) perhaps lean toward the apocryphal; they are telling nonetheless." - Susan Krane, Hollis Frampton: Recollections/Recreations
"Polymath of enormous cultural range and erudition, Hollis Frampton pursued both the analytic principles of modernist reflexivity and the synthesis from them of the encyclopedic meta-text of the kind that haunted his masters, Ezra Pound and Flaubert." – David James, Allegories of Cinema

Hollis Frampton on Hollis Frampton:
"Hollis Frampton was born in Ohio, United States, on March 11, 1936, towards the end of the Machine Age. Educated (that is, programmed: taught table manners, the use of the semicolon, and so forth) in Ohio and Massachusetts. The process resulted in satisfaction for no one. Studied (sat around on the lawn at St. Elizabeths) with Ezra Pound, 1957-58. That study is far from concluded. Moved to New York in March, 1958, lived and worked there more than a decade. People I met there composed the faculty of a phantasmal 'graduate school'. Began to make still photographs at the end of 1958. Nothing much came of it. First fumblings with cinema began in the Fall of 1962; the first films I will publicly admit to making came in early 1966. Worked, for years, as a film laboratory technician. More recently, Hunter College and the Cooper Union have been hospitable. Moved to Eaton, New York in mid-1970, where I now live (a process enriched and presumably, prolonged, by the location) and work...
In the case of painting, I believe that one reason I stayed with still photography as long as I did was an attempt, fairly successful I think, to rid myself of the succubus of painting. Painting has for a long time been sitting on the back of everyone's neck like a crept into territories outside its own proper domain. I have seen, in the last year or so, films which I have come to realize are built largely around what I take to be painterly concerns and I feel that those films are very foreign to my feeling and my purpose. As for sculpture, I think a lot of my early convictions about sculpture, in a concrete sense, have affected my handling of film as a physical material. My experience of sculpture has had a lot to do with my relative willingness to take up film in hand as a physical material and work with it. Without it, I might have been tempted to more literary ways of using film, or more abstract ways of using film."
Stan Brakhage on Hollis Frampton & Photography:
"Hollis Frampton centers his consideration (always singularly) upon concept. It is a direction-of-endeavor that should have evolved supremely within the last hundred year's development of still photography. Something we might call snap cinch retarded this logical blessing -ie that photographic pictures have been taken (as an overwhelming assumption) for the purpose of prompting memory of fixing it rather than, even, as an emblematic representation of memory process. Still photography remains, as a field, crutch to thought-addendum. There are, of course, the exceptional stills we call Art; but these do almost certainly center their occasions upon a sensuosity which we might refer to as overtures to or overtones of concept. In short, the Art of still photography sits, for the most part, in a rather normal Romantic trap. The medium itself was almost perfectly designed to approximate the split-second instances of arrived at thought - Eureka! etc. etc.; but this designation in the hands of lazy humans was made way-station, an endless series of waiting-stations, along a line of wishful thinking. Perhaps it was the over-riding 19th century belief in Progress which did thus retard the assumptive values of the field of still photography. The artists did, as always, escape the medium and its box of limited expectations; but they did sacrifice some of snap's most immediate possibilities in their abounding tonal considerations and clims up gray scales, etc. Hollis Frampton was never inclined, in this fashion, to the open end of Romanticism. His temperament must always have demanded something more like a movable box. He was never surely temperamentally inclined to prop himself with pictures while waiting for a train-of-thought. Concept was certainly too huge a consideration for Hollis Frampton to think of it. Concept must always have been, for him, akin to instantaneous revelation of the conceivable, including the process of arriving at such an instant. Mathematics and poetry did surely fascinate him because the assumptive life of both these fields in the 20th century is that they be emblematic of concept (in the first place) and that at worst the be sign-posts directing one to the event of concept in both time and space. Action painting was a natural for his admiration because it primarily demonstrated frozen instants of momentum along a line of possibilities. The action painters did not often pretend to concept. Hollis had to exhaust the definite pretensions of still photography for himself."

Hollis Frampton Timeline

1936 - Born Hollis William Frampton Jr. on March 11 (to Nellie Cross Frampton and Hollis William Frampton) in Wooster, Ohio, USA: 
"I was the first and only child of the marriage. At that time my father was working in a strip coal mine for a dollar and fifteen cents a day. It was one of the two bottom years of the depression. It was also one of the two times in the history of the U.S. when the birth rate was at the absolute lowest. Thirty years later it would make it far easier for me to get a decent job because there are far fewer of me than there are of you so that we're more in demand and, needless to say, the supply being less, the price is higher." - HF 
Raised in large part in the country by his maternal grandparents, primarily his grandmother Fanny Elizabeth Catlett Cross ("my Irish grandmother with the style of a drunken sailor." - HF) [to whom the film Gloria! is a tribute], who taught him to read at the age of three with the aid of an old typewriter. As a child, rarely spoke and was by his own account, "borderline autistic." Read voraciously: 
"I had established that I could read and that I was careful and responsible and had got an adult library card when I was six from the local small town library where each Saturday I took my American Flyer wagon and loaded it with books and took it home. The librarian must have thought it was fairly amusing and anyway she was cordial. While it (the library) was small, it was open stack... I got hooked off onto hard science at a fairly early age. So that by the time I was nine and they said that they had dropped an atom bomb I had a smattering of what that meant, at least in terms of its physics and technology." - HF

1943 - With maternal grandfather, John Cross (an amateur painter), makes primitive movie out of six-foot belt collaged with images from Sears, Roebuck Company and farm equipment catalogues, and driven by handcranked phonograph motor.
1945 - Given Brownie box camera: 
"I was the victim of the doting uncle syndrome. The doting uncle gives you, (as) you come downstairs on the Christmas morning of your ninth year, this big, yellow box. It has the little camera in it and a couple rolls of film, MQ developer and hypo and a little tank, etc... Really. So that was it. And I really liked it a lot." - HF 
Moved to west side of Cleveland with parents. Still speaks only infrequently: tested at age nine years eleven months and found to have mental age of eighteen years six months. Removed from special education classes and enrolled in classes for gifted children, Wilbur Wright Junior High School. Studies French. Volunteers at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Receives scholarship to classes at Cleveland Museum of Art; studies predominantly life drawing for six semesters.

1951-54 - Applies entirely on his own accord to Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts; accepted on full scholarship. Classmates included painter Frank Stella ('54), composers David Behrman ('54) and Frederic Rzewski ('54), and sculptor Carl Andre ('53), who was his roommate the first year. Active in photography club. Writes poetry. Interest in art is fostered by painting teacher Patrick Morgan and his wife Maud, both of whom studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich. Paints. Studies German, Latin, then Greek. Introduced by teacher and friend Dudley Fitts to works of Rimbaud, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Joyce, and Pound. Sees exhibitions of works by action painters and Hans Hofmann at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy. Often goes to New York by train to visit galleries: 
"Maud Morgan had massive contacts in New York and really did know what was going on, and came and went to that city every two weeks or something like that. She was of course by the mid-early fifties ('52, '53 and '51 even) bringing back tales of extremely shaggy goings-on on 10th Street. I made my own first time stop overs in New York at that time... Seeing Jackson Pollack operating in the flesh was a considerable experience even as far as attitude, not only for an extremely hostile and wickedly smart-ass fifteen-year-old of any persuasion, but for a fifteen-year-old who the year before on his fourteenth birthday had been six feet tall and weighed 106 lbs. (That was no fun, believe me.) Of course the action painters, whatever their other attributes might have been, were uniformly not your image of an artist at all - not seemingly very intellectual (at least to use that term crudely) and rather ill-tempered and truculent and extremely stubborn, all of which reinforced some of my worst tendencies." - HF

1954-56 - Attends Western Reserve University in Cleveland: 
"I allowed myself to be admitted on the condition, which indeed I have in writing, that I not be required to take any required courses if I felt them irrelevant. They agreed to that - I don't know why." - HF 
Studies primarily Latin and Greek, also German, French, Russian, Sanskrit, Chinese, mathematics. Briefly has radio program at Oberlin College. Works for Republic Steel, then Jones and Laughlin Steel Company (in the open hearth). Considers himself a poet "... tentatively". Studies at the Institute of Design, Chicago, in the summers of 1955 and 1956, and "sneaks" into lectures in classical Chinese at the University of Chicago. Becomes interested in literary generation of the 1880s. Begins correspondence with Ezra Pound in 1956. 
"After three and a half years I was summoned by the dean who once more asked me if I intended to take a degree. By that time I already had 135 hours of credits and I said that I more or less figured that I would, or something like that. He said in that case I have to tell you that you still have unfulfilled requirements in speech, western civilization, and music appreciation. To which I replied: I already know how to talk, I already know who Napoleon was and I already like music. For that reason I hold no bachelor's degree. I was very sick of school." - HF
1957 - Travels by car to Seattle, down the coast and to Mexico over the course of about six months. In fall, moves to Washington, D.C., where he visits Ezra Pound, then confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Congressional Heights: 
"So I went to Washington, sat in the Library of Congress, sat around St. Elizabeth's, earned a living by being an electrician in Washington's only live burlesque theatre - a theatre in the round by the bay, abandoned by a Shakespeare Company that couldn't make it - right across from the Carnegie Library and two blocks from the Greyhound Station... I visited Pound nearly every day during this time, while he was finishing that part of his Cantos called Section Rock Drill (85-95), commencing work on Thrones - and had undertaken, for the benefit of his visitors, to read aloud and to annotate, orally, the entirety of the epic poem. Thus I became privy to a most meaningful exposition of the poetic process by an authentic member of the 'generation of the 80s'. At the same time, I came to understand that I was not a poet." - HF 
Completes the translation into English of the seven volume Erlebte Erdteile (Frankfurt-am-Main, West Germany: Societatsdruckerei, Abt. Buchverlag, 1925-1929) by German anthropologist Leo Frobenius, a project suggested by Pound (unpublished).
1958 - Renews correspondence with Andre, Stella and Rzewski (all now in New York). With Pound's departure imminent, leaves for New York in March. 
"Loading my possessions level with the three seats and into the trunk of my genuine 1950 Studebaker complete with torpedo nose I hurtled northward, negotiate the Pulaski Skyway, passed through the Lincoln tunnel, and arrived in Manhattan at 5:20 am on the sixth of March, 1958, five days before my twenty-second birthday, turned north into the odour of chicken soup and went up 11th Avenue until I petered out and found my way to Broadway and 113th Street where Carl Andre was staying in a rooming house around the corner from the West End Bar in the Columbia Hotel run by two old Swedish ladies who feared God, strangers and Puerto Ricans and had cause to have painted on the south side of their hotel an enormous sign that said 'The Wages of Sin is Death'. The Big Apple..." - HF 
Works briefly as a framer at the Renaissance Print Shop. Moves to fourth floor walkup apartment at 219 Mulberry Street, initially shared with Andre and Stella, then with Andre only.
"Painting in particular, and the plastic arts at large, were swinging very very high. My peers were mostly interested in that. The people I met were young painters and young sculptors who naturally wanted to drink in the same bars where Kline and de Kooning had been and so forth and so on had, and did and so spent endless evenings nursing one forty cent bottle of Ballantine beer in the Cedar Street Bar...[sic]. I finally decided that while painting was something I respected, and it was very nice that other people did it, there were things that I didn't like about doing it. It seemed to be a kind of performance first of all, indeed it certainly was at that time. It seemed to have a lot to do with first refining and then expressing (or perhaps vice versa) your personality. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was express my personality. It is still the last thing. It's almost inevitable that one will in any case, but above all I couldn't entertain the idea of seriously doing that for a long time. For awhile I liked the results; I did not like the activity. I finally didn't enjoy smearing goo on flat surfaces: it was not enchanting." - HF
Begins shooting The Secret World of Frank Stella, 1958-1962. Buys Nikon for Christmas.
1959 - In January, begins to photograph Andre's work. Works variously as assistant in commercial photo studies, an electrician, and as freelance photographer of painting and sculpture for New York galleries.
"I didn't want to announce or to give out as something that I had done, something that showed the direct signature, the imprint of my having without mediation manipulated it. I liked to do things with machines so I took up still photography, which seemed to offer that advantage, that of mediation, that of signaturelessness, of a a certain kind at least. The signature was in such things as framing and tonal scalings, abstractions as imperceptible as the infinitely thin clean line. So that one was not, as it were, the person hovering behind the artifact but rather behind the thing that made the artifact. And on the other hand, one did not have to laboriously build up this image. It was not made serially but came forward as a kind of matrix of thought instantaneously, in a manner that criticised the matter..." - HF
His photograph of Frank Stella is published in catalogue for the exhibition Sixteen Americans, the museum of Modern Art. Makes Ways to Purity.
1960-61 - Resides at 237 East Broadway then, with widespread evictions in lower Manhatten, lives in thirteen locales over a period of nineteen months. Begins full-time work as technician specializing in dye imbibition color processes in photographic laboratories (primarily Technicolor, Inc.), which he continues through 1969. Photographs avidly, heavily influenced by formalism of Edward Weston.
1962 - Hospitalised for over six months. When released borrows a friend's Bolex camera and begins filming. In fall continues "tentative experiments in film." Makes Word Pictures, which becomes basis for the film Zorns Lemma.
1962-63 - Undertakes a series of "dialogues" on art, responses composed alternately at the typewriter, with Carl Andre during Frampton's frequent visits to Andre and painter Rosemarie Castoro's one room apartment in Brooklyn.
"Briefly, though, we were both of us: in the arena of language, which is that of power. So, first, I would urge that these dialogues be read, if they are to be read, as anthropological evidence pertaining to a rite of passage and to the nature of friendship." - HF
Lives at 404 East Tenth Street.
1963 - His photograph of James Rosenquist is published in the exhibition catalogue Americans 1963, the Museum of Modern Art.
"I didn't find it a picnic to be a photographer, through the sixties, not because photography was disregarded, although of course that was true, but because my predicament was that of a committed illusionist in an environment that was officially dedicated to the eradication of illusion and, of course, utterly dominated by painting and sculpture. At that time I didn't understand how luxurious it was to find myself alienated in that way. Nothing is more wonderful than to have no one pay the slightest attention to what you are doing; if you're going to grow, you can grow at your own speed." - HF
1965 - Photograph of Larry Poons appears in August issue of Vogue. Lives with artist Lee Lorzano.
1966 - Increasingly interested in film, buys himself Bolex equipment for his thirtieth birthday. In September marries Marcia Steinbrecher (seperated summer 1971, divorced 1974). Teaches filmmaking at Free University of New York.
1969 - Receives grant from Friends of New Cinema. Assistant professor of photography, film, design, at Hunter College, CUNY. Faculty included, among others, Mark Rothko, Raymond Parker, Tony Smith, Leo Steinberg, Robert Morris (through 1973).
"Film, even in its physical attributes, has become a kind of metaphor for consciousness for me. And I think of the incremental frame as a dim but still appealing metaphor for the quantum nature, the chunk nature, of light itself. If you're watching a film, you believe you're watching a complete illusion of something real, but you're actually watching an illusion of only half of what took place. The camera's shutter was closed the other half of the time. So that there's another cinema of equal length that could have been made precisely at the same time. And when you play that back, the shutter in the projector is also closed half the time, so that half the time you're in total darkness. You are! Ok, you don't have anything particular to do, you're quite comfortable, presumably, there's very little exterior stimulus and you're there for a fiftieth of a second, which is, in terms of energy, an appreciable length of time with nothing to do but think about the frame you've just seen." - HF
1970 - Creates the film Zorns Lemma - first feature-length experimental work to be included in New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Wins wide critical acclaim. The film uses the alphabet and mathematical systems to structure the film, which becomes a "cryptic autobiography". 
"I'm a spectator of mathematics like others are spectators of soccer or pornography." - HF
In May purchases thirty acres of land in Eaton, Madison County, New York, where he spends the summer. Teaches history of film at School of Visual Arts, New York (though 1971). Visiting lecturer in history of film at the Cooper Union (through 1973).
1971 - Begins occasional work in video synthesis, image processing and xerography. Makes Reasonable Facsimilies, first series of xerographs. Creates (nostalgia), an autobiographical film in which the narrator reminisces about a series of still photographs (most taken by Frampton) while, out of synchronization, the images are shown burned on a hot plate. Participates in New York State Council on the Arts Visiting Artists Program (through 1973). Early in the year, meets photographer Marion Faller; in fall moves in with her and her son, Will Faller Jr., to 313 East 9th Street. Spends summer in Eaton, New York. Meets filmmaker Stan Brakhage (during Christmas holidays). Begins filming for long serial which metamorphoses into the monumental opus (uncompleted), the Magellan cycle, an intended total of thirty-six hours of film, organized and meant to be viewed calendrically over the course of 371 days.
"The central conceit of the work derives from the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, first circumnavigator of the world, as detailed in the diary of his 'passenger' Antonio Pigafetta and elsewhere. During his 5-year voyage, Magellan trespasses (alive and dead) upon every psycho-linguistic 'time zone', circumambulating  the whole of human experience as a kind of somnabulist. He returns home, a carcass pickled in cloves, as an exquisite corpse. The protagonist of my work must be a first person consciousness that bears resemblances to myself (if only as the amalgam H.C. Earwicker/Anna Livia Plurabelle resembles James Joyce... and, even, to Flash Gordon and Fantomas of the filmic vulgate." - HF
1972 - Travels to England in summer to research article for Artforum. Visits Stonhenge. Retrospective of films at Walker Art Center, November 16-18.
1973 - Retrospective of films at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 8-12. Moves to 803 6th Avenue with Marion and Will. In spring, teaches seminar at State University of New York at Buffalo. Invited to join staff (beginning fall semester), as associate professor, and to develop Center for Media Study and curriculum. Paul Sharits, Steina and Woody Vasulka, James Blue, Brian Henderson and Tony Conrad subsequently join faculty. (Teaches there through February 1984).
1974 - Moves to farmhouse in Eaton, New York with Marion and Will in summer. Beginning in September, commutes biweekly to Buffalo. Continues to travel extensively throughout the seventies as visiting lecturer and artist. Serves on video selection committee, Anthology Film Archives, New York. Participant, American Seminar on Film. Panelist, Coordination Council of Literary Magazines. Major retrospective of films at Fifth International Festival of Experimental Film and Video, Knokke-Heist, Belgium, December 25-January 2, 1975. Continues work on Magellan cycle.
"We are taught to read not so that we can be creative, have interesting thoughts, engage with the great minds of the past, but so that we can read signs that say 'no right turn'. We go to school in order to do that - not even in order to learn to read, but so that we shall be taught to punch in by 8:15 in the morning. By the time we have got out of school, we have learned to punch in by 8:15 in the morning, we have learned to read 'no right turn', we have also on our own looked at 15,000 hours of unregulated, ungoverned, undecoded images that constitute our real education. I grew up like that - everyone grows up like that, Magellan is a film that, like all things (since I have not had the luxury of perfect alienation, but only the partial luxury of imperfect alienation) comes out of an imperfect understanding of my culture. It is probably easiest to imagine it as a project if it is understood not as a project in drama, or in literature, nor as a project in sculpture, but as one that subsists as a work of sculpture in time rather than space." - HF
1975 - Receives National Endowment for the Arts grant to complete Straits of Magellan. Retrospective of films at Anthology Film Archives, New York (April). Receives grant from Creative Artists Program Service Inc., New York State Council on the Arts, for work on Magellan cycle. Shoots Sixteen Studies for Vegetable Locomotion (with Marion Faller). Spends late December through early January filming in Puerto Rico.
1976 - Panelist (thorugh 1978), film program New York State Council on the Arts. Travels to Edinburgh, London, Paris. Continues Magellan cycle.
"The Magellan cycle purports to be encyclopedic, but it's more like a tour of the possible principles for forming an encyclopedia - all, I hope, dutifully laid out and exemplified, but then to a great extent laid out and exemplified all at the same time. And, of course, since not all modes fit very well together, they begin to generate interferences, and, in fact, it's the interferences between ways of classifying things that begin to generate a form that interests me" - HF
1977 - In January, appears on the Screening Room TV programme with Robert Gardner. Designs, with Woddy Vasulka, Digital Arts Laboratory at Center for Media Study, SUNY at Buffalo to formulate digital computer hardware and software for graphic, sound and text manipulation. 
"Speaking as a working artist, I've never seen a computer-generated image that I found very interesting. But, on the other hand, computers have been used successfully for making music, electronic music. As a musical tool, the computer has matured. As an image tool, however, it is still young. However, we're optimistic. Things have their natural time, they come and go. The computer will hopefully only make certain tasks in art obsolete - certain loathsome tasks." - HF
Retrospective of films at Rijksmuseum, Otterlo, The Netherlands (October). Receives grant from American Film Institute for work on Magellan cycle. Receives grant from New York State Council on the Arts and Media Study/Buffalo. Again spends Christmas holidays filming in Puerto Rico.
1978 - Retrospective of films at Stedelijk van Abbemuseum and filmuseum, Amsterdam (September). Continues work on Magelllan.
"In an interview with James Joyce which took place in the '30s, after Ulysses had been in print for several years, Joyce remarked that after all this time, no one has yet noted that the book was funny. I consider the Magellan cycle a comedy. Comic art resolves itself in favour of the protagonist. In this case the protagonist is the spectator. I would hope he would have some positive experience - like pleasure." - HF
1979 - Designs, with colleagues at Digital Arts Lab, DEMON, an interpretive micro computer language for editing and modifying audio-data and manipulating sound and VOX, a language for voice synthesis. Reviewer for SUNY Research Foundation (through 1983). Resumes work in xerography. Invited as visiting artist by Light Work to use color Xerox machine at Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, where he makes False Impressions, with Marion Faller. Begins printing color xerographs, By Any Other Name (six series, 1979-1983).
1980 - Work honoured in Ten Years of Independent Film and Video, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Begins work on R (colour, sound, uncompleted). With students at Digital Arts Laboratory, designs IMAGO, computer language for creating high resolution video imagery in sixteen colours.
"I'm sick and tired of the 'two cultures' of that gulf between what is called science on the one hand, and what is called art on the other. Artists who think there is some great and fundamental gulf between science and art think in terms of a repulsive little cartoon in which the sciences are cold and unfeeling and the arts are warm and emotional. Of course, I get to be typed as an icicle, Frosty the Snowman with his cinematic calculus, which mightily annoys me and hurts my feelings. On the other hand, scientists think of the sciences as straightforward and arts as abounding in mystery. And none of these things is true. In the sciences in particular, and in the queen of the sciences - mathematics - and, indeed, in the almost celestial, clumsily named intellectual entity computer science, which has already made mathematics a kind of subset of its interests, nothing is quite as rampant as a sort of undefined gut aestheticization." - HF
1981 - Receives grant from New York State Council on the Arts and Light Work, Syracuse, New York, for the production of ADSVMVS ABSVMVS. In summer, shoots Protective Coloration, a project long under consideration. Begins to assemble earlier photographic work and to complete unfinished works.
1982 - In August, moves to Buffalo with Marion and Will.
1983 - Made full professor, SUNY at Buffalo. In November shoots Rites of Passage with Marion Faller. Receives Service to the Field grant from National Endowment for the Arts and SUNY at Buffalo for the construction of frame buffer for Digital Arts laboratory and design of software. Receives grant from New York State Council on the Arts and Media Study/Buffalo for work on R.
1984 - Dies at home on March 30, of lung cancer (Frampton was a heavy smoker).
"The mind is a labyrinth. Sometimes it's just one of those very dull labyrinths where the rat runs around one way and he gets an electric shock and the other way he gets a grain of corn; and then there are other days when it's a labyrinth that consists of a straight line... I have all the time the sense that there are perilous random seas that surround all our discourses. We really are on little rafts, and maybe we make it to the Fuji islands and maybe we don't, but in trying to bring back something of the quality of the journey, we have got to talk about more than the raft... If there is not in the tale something of the quality of the random seas as well, then you have essentially falsified it... You have, in the phrase of an old friend of mine, snipped off all the necktie ends to make it look as though the suitcase closed neatly. And something I'm more interested in now (as I'm perhaps older or more confident or less reticent or something like that), is getting a sense of that into my work." - HF
Hollis Frampton Filmography
Clouds Like White Sheep, 1962 / 25' / BW / silent / destroyed
A Running Man, 1964 / 22' / colour / silent / destroyed
Ten Mile Poem, 1964 / 33' / colour / silent / destroyed
Obelisk Ampersand Encounter, 1965 / 1'30" / colour / silent / lost
Manual of Arms, 1966 / 17' / BW / silent

Frampton on Manual of Arms:
"Courtly dances with friends and lovers, in the form of a 14 part drill for the camera, incorporating physiognomic & locomotor evidence related to the lens by 13 artists and an historian, namely: C. Andre, B. Brown, R. Castoro, L. Childs, B. Goldensohn, R. Huot, E. Lloyd, L. Lozano, L. Meyer, L. Poons, M. Snow, M. Steinbrechner, T. Tharp, J. Wieland."
Process Red, 1966 / 3'30" / colour / silent
Frampton on Process Red:
"A first attempt to approximate more than one visual modality in a single brief work. Sightings from the retina, optic nerve, cortex. With this small film, I felt that I had got the bit in my teeth".
Information, 1966 / 4' / BW / silent
Frampton on Information:
"Hypothetical 'first film' for a synthetic tradition constructed from scratch on reasonable principles, given: 1) camera; 2) rawstock; 3) a single bare lightbulb. I admit to having made a number of splices."
States, 1967 / 17'30" / BW / silent
"No, not the United etc. but the conditions, forms in which things exist. Somewhat abstracted, a solid, a liquid and a gas: salt, milk and smoke: falling, pouring and rising are the stars of this classical film. Sheets, streaks and wisps, the protagonists are all white (light). The background, zero place, is black (no light). Silence. The ongoing film reveals the ephemera compartmented in a pattern of temporal proportions in which lengths of salt sheet activity are gradually overtaken by liquid streaks which are in turn overtaken by smoke drifts. But another solid is the sliceable, arrangeable film material itself: the intercutting and the logic of the arrangement introduces something diamond-like, sculptural to the natures presented. There is a profoundly satisfying unity of ends and means that is both 'natural' (the way the protagonists behave) and 'artificial' (the artist's structure). The sum is cultured, beautiful." - Michael Snow
Heterodyne, 1967 / 7' / colour / silent
Frampton on Heterodyne:
"I began to make it when I had no money for raw stock and only several rolls of colored leader but nevertheless (had) the need to make or work on a film. As I first conceived the film, I intended it to be a kind of revenge done with the bare hands against - first of all animation - or cell animation in particular and secondly, against abstract film with a capital A as they were practiced in the late 40's and 50's as a kind of engine cooler for the art houses where I first saw serious foreign movies. As I thought about the film, I wanted it to have a very open, resilient kind of structure with the maximum possible amount of rhythmic variety, both in terms of count, beat and variety in the rhythmic changes of shapes and the rate of the rhythmic change. I used a debased form of matrix algebra to make up, in advance, the structure of the film, and tried out several arithmetic models for that structure... with very short film pieces, before I found one that seemed to suit me. As I came to make the film, it consists entirely of 240 feet of black leader into which are welded about 1,000 separate events. Each consists of one frame, and there are 40 kinds of frame, ranging from a frame that consists entirely of red or green or blue to a frame which may consist of red leader with a triangle of blue leader welded into the middle of it. I say welded because the film was put together using three colors of leader and 3 ticket punches - a square, a circle and a triangle - which I felt to be constantly recognizable and also impersonal shapes - and where one color is let into another, or where a color shape is let into black leader, it is literally welded in with acetone. I was doing all of this under a magnifying glass with tweezers and brushes and so forth... they're disposed along the continuous line of film by a scheme roughly the following: in order to avoid a scheme in which certain types of frames would, by rhythmic recurrence, fall at the same spot in the film, or in the same exact frame, I decided to use prime numbers, that is, numbers divisible only by themselves and as a starting-point since they begin to share harmonics extensively only in their very high multiples - I further decided I could use no prime numbers less than 40, because 40 is the number of frames in a foot and didn't want any single type of event to occur any more often than once every one and two/thirds seconds, and then I subjected my list series of tests that involved the sums of their digits-casting out those that didn't meet the tests so that as it turned out the, commonest event, a frame that is entirely red, occurs every 61 frames in absolutely regular repetition throughout the film; and the least common event, a red triangle on a black ground, occurs every 2,311 frames - all of this necessitated an amount of arithmetic which I did over a period of 6 weeks - reduced it to a large stock of 3X5 cards and collated them, and sat down with my rewinds and splicer and simply put the thing together - altogether on the level of personal logistics, it tied up my time and need to be making a film for about three months at the end of which I found myself with a little more money for raw stock and I could go on and make other kinds of films."
Snowblind, 1968 / 5'30" / BW / silent
Frampton on Snowblind:
"Homage to Michael Snow's environmental sculpture 'Blind.' The film proposes analogies, in imitation of 3 historic montage styles, for three perceptual modes mimed by that work."
Maxwell's Demon, 1968 / 4' / colour / sound
Frampton on Maxwell's Demon:
"I wanted to do something - to put it as sentimentally as possible - for James Clerk Maxwell who is, or was, either the last qualitative physicist or the first quantitative physicist. Maxwell is known and admired among physicists for his work in thermodynamics, which is something I don't know or understand very much about. I believe we're all steeped in thermodynamics in the physical sense; but I have particularly revered Clerk Maxwell because he became, in a very brief aside in a lecture delivered at the Royal College of Edinburgh or some place like that, the Father of the Analytical theory of color, which, in it's applications and ramifications, has given us color photography and color cinematography."
Surface Tension, 1968 / 10' / colour / sound
Frampton on Surface Tension:
"Quite frankly with Surface Tension, I didn't propose to attack so grand as the Sound-Image relationship. I wanted to make a film out of a relatively small number of simple elements, which would be of a piece, to see how much resonance I could generate among those elements. As you know, the film fundamentally contains 3 shots - a man talking while his digital clock runs; a single dolly shot from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge to the lake in Central Park; and a goldfish swimming very slowly back and forth in a tank outside the sea. Further, it contains only 2 quite simple sounds: one, the sound of the telephone ringing 37 times; and the other, a prose description which for the average speaker of English comes through as a single prolonged sound because it's in a foreign language - in this case, German. Naturally, I had other and more subtle concerns to work out within the body of each of the 5 or 6 blocks of material that I was using. I did certainly want it to be a sound film and I didn't see how I could do it without sound to build up the internal reverberation I wanted among the various parts of the film... but I wanted it to be a very simple sound film, or a film that used sound in a way more simple and obvious than most sound films have - namely, in part as the most direct kind of sensation and presentation rather than as a directly parallel explication or echo or reminder of something that happens to be going on on the screen. Maxwell's Demon, as you remember, is also a sound film, and one reason I chose the sound I did - the sound of film perforations - just plain film perforations - was not only to increase the mass of some of the interspersed shots in the film, but also because I wanted to use the first sound that film ever made which is the sound of film itself. I wanted to use the most fundamental kind of sound in Surface Tension, perhaps, simply as the next stage. As a general footnote, I should say that I think of my films in part as an effort to reconstruct the history of films as it should have been... (The narrator's voice belongs to Kasper Koenig, as indeed also the text he extemporizes)."
"The influence of minimal art (rather the aesthetic of minimal art) on the avant-garde cinema is very great. Most of the important young filmmakers, especially on the East Coast, might be considered minimalists. Certainly Hollis Frampton's SURFACE TENSION is from that milieu. The film itself has three parts: a comic static shot emphasizing the passage of time; a fast motion tour through a city with fractured German commentary; and a slow seascape with fish floating midscreen. In this last section phrases translated from the German commentary are printed over the image. Of all the films seen in this festival, SURFACE TENSION is technically and spiritually the newest." - P. Adams Sitney
Palindrome, 1969 / 22' / colour / silent
While working at a photo lab, Frampton found that the waste at both ends of the rolls of processed film - where chemicals worked on the emulsion through clips used to attach the film to the machine - produced images far too interesting to be discarded.  For Palindrome, Frampton selected images which he described as "tending towards the biomorphic", resembling abstract surrealist painting.  However, the rigid palindromic structure that Frampton imposes on the images - a motorized sequence based on "twelve variations on each of forty congruent phrases" - deviates from the subjective aesthetic of the expressive, demonstrating Frampton's interest in the "generative power" of films composed by rules and principles.
Frampton on Palindrome:
"The menacing latin palindrome 'In Girvm Imvs Nocte Et Consvmimvr Igni' (By night we go (down) into a gyre/and we are consumed by fire) serves as epigraph to this animated film. Anima is imparted to 12 variations on each of 40 congruent phrases, metamorphosed from the chemically mutilated flesh of color film itself."
"Hollis, clearly this one of your greatest films! Absolute perfection." - Stan Brakhage
Carrots and Peas, 1969 / 5'30" / colour / sound
Frampton on Carrots and Peas:
"A 'traditional' side-dish of mixed vegetables inhabits a succession of 'traditional' art-styles. The sumptuous, sometimes tiresome paradox of the static image in film, is rudely presented in the form of an art historian's slide-lecture... for which genre of discourse the spoken commentary is of about average relevance to the image."
Lemon, 1969 / 7'30" / color / silent
Frampton on Lemon:
"As a voluptuous lemon is devoured by the same light that reveals it, its image passes from the spatial rhetoric of illusion into the spatial grammar of the graphic arts."
Prince Ruperts Drops, 1969 / 7' / BW / silent
Frampton on Prince Ruperts Drops:
"Two repetitive, banal rhythmic acts - as it were from the observe and reverse of a phenakistiscope disk - factored and expanded into a cinema filmstrip. Note: Prince Ruperts Drops are not a confection or a nose candy, but a physical demonstration of extreme internal stresses in equilibrium."
Works and Days, 1969 / 12' / BW / silent
Frampton on Works and Days:
"I bought this film in a Canal Street in a junk shop of 41.00 and found myself in complete agreement with it. The ostensible pretext is the humane and practical discipline of making a vegetable garden (hence the title, borrowed from Hesiod). The gardeners are masters of their art, so that their work blossoms into overarching metaphor. I have attached my logo to the film, not to claim it as a ready-made, but in the spirit of Chinese connoisseurs who affixed their vermilion seals to paintings as a mark of admiration."
Artificial Light, 1969 / 25' / colour / silent
"Artificial light repeats variations on a single filmic utterance twenty times. The same phrase is a series of portrait shots of a group of young New York artists informally talking, drinking wine, laughing, smoking. The individual portrait-shots follow each other with almost academic smoothness in lap-dissolves ending in two shots of the entire group followed by a dolly shot into a picture of the moon. In the following synoptic outline, this entire phrase, which lasts about one minute in black and white, will be called A :
Artificial light
1 . A, upside-down and backwards
2 . A, in negative
3 . A, with superimposition of sprocket holes
4 . A, with eyes painted blue and mouths red
5 . A, scarred with a white drip mark
6 . A, covered with transparent stripes of red and green
7 . Still shots in sequence from A; a stroboscopic or flicker effect
8 . A, almost obliterated by scratches
9 . Shots from A, toned different colors by dye, in an asequential order
10 . A, with faces and hair outlined by scratches, dissolves marked with a scratched slash (/)
11 . A, spotted with multicolor drops
12 . Superimposition of A, with a copy of A in which left and right are reversed
13 . A, with all faces bleached out
14 . A, with a flicker of colors (red, green, blue)
15 . A, covered with art-type printers dots
16 . A, toned sepia
17. A, superimposed over itself with a lag of one-and-a-half-seconds
18 . A, interrupted by two-frame flashes of color negative
19 . A, colored, as if through an electrical process, in a series of two primaries
20 . A, with a closeup of a moon crater substituted for the expected moon shots
It should be obvious from the outline that the filmic phrase functions like a tone row in dodecaphonic music and serial composition. Frampton has made two very interesting manipulations of the experience of this phrase. In the first place, by opening the film with a backwards and upside-down run of it, he dislocates the viewer for several repetitions; one comes gradually to realize that there is a fixed order or direction. That progression is rigidly fixed by the first third of the film. The ninth variation violently jars us with its elliptical disorder. The rest of the film proceeds logically until the last shot which has a feeling of finality both from its variation and from being held on the screen longer...
There is a chasm between the phrase and its formal inflections. That chasm is intellectual as well as formal. Frampton loves an outrageous hypothesis; his films, all of them, take the shape of logical formulae. Usually the logic he invokes is that of the paradox... In a recent lecture at the Millennium in New York, Frampton hypothesized an atemporal alternative to the history of cinema, illustrated by a sequence of his works. With ARTIFICIAL LIGHT, which was not completed in time for that lecture, he challenges the newest historical phase of the formal cinema, the Structural film." - P. Adams-Sitney
Zorns Lemma, 1970 / 60' / colour / sound
"Hollis Frampton has used the participatory film for the indirect and serial autobiography, Hapax Legomena, a title derived from classical philology, referring to those words of which only one instance survives in the ancient texts." - P. Adams-Sitney, Visionary film.
Hapax Legomena I / (nostalgia), 1971 / 36' / BW / sound
Hapax Legomena IV / Travelling Matte, 1971 / 33'30" / BW / silent
Frampton on Travelling Matte: 
"Travelling Matte is the pivot upon which the whole of Hapax Legomena turns."
"This film metaphors an entire human life: birth, sex, death - the framing device is the fingers and palm of the maker's hand, wherein others only attempt to read the future." - Stan Brakhage
Hapax Legomena III / Critical Mass, 1971 / 25'30" / BW
"Critical mass shows a young New York couple arguing about their relationship. The film starts on the soundtrack; the screen is blank. Initially the dialogue is cut up in such a way that the couple seems to stutter as they talk (Frampton adds the stutter to such recent perceptual constructs as Warhol stares, Kubelka's flicker and Makes' glimpse). Lines of dialogue are cut into before they are finished, partially repeated, stopped again, repeated, until the phrase or sentence is finished and a new one begins in the same manner. A line like: I'm going to leave you, comes out: I'm goin'... going to lea.... to leave you... save you. An'.... When the image appears, we see the couple arguing, standing against a white wall. The picture is cut to reflect the stutter, repeating itself and going on, finishing one phrase and starting another. Later the stutter effect disappears and a second structural principle emerges. The sound and image go out of synchronization so that we hear the boy speaking while we see the girl's mouth moving and vice versa. The degree of de-synchronization varies mysteriously, disconcerting us.
There are two kinds of temporal tensions in this film. In the first part, the stutter creates a future-past tension as in Nostalgia, only on a more immediate second-to-second basis. The incomplete phrases gives us a sense of what is to come. The repetition brings us backwards, then carries us forward, stops, and returns. Time does not evolve in a linear way. We are continually moved from future to past and back again, with no true sense of a present. In the second past of the film, the sound-image disjunction brings about the temporal problem. Because of our retarded awareness of the disjunction we are never quite sure whether we are listening to something that has already been spoken in the image or to something about to be spoken. We are simultaneously either listening in the present and seeing the past or listening to the past and seeing the present." - Bill Simon
"As a work of art I think (Critical Mass) is quite universal and deals with all quarrels (those between men and women, or men and men, or women and women, or children, or war. It is war!... It is one of the most delicate and clear statements - human relationships and the difficulties of them that I have ever seen. It is very funny, and rather obviously so. It is a magic film in that you can enjoy it, with greater appreciation, each time you look at it. Most aesthetic experiences are not enjoyable on the surface. You have to look at them a number of times before you are able to fully enjoy them, but this one stands up at once, and again and again, and is amazingly clear." - Stan Brakhage
 A clip of Peter Greenaway made with Barbara Lattanzi's Critical Mass software.
Hapax Legomena II / Poetic Justice, 1972 / 31'30" / BW

"In Poetic justice we see a table upon which there is a plant and a cup of coffee. A succession of sheets of paper is placed on the table, each describing the shot of a film so that we can reconstruct the film in our mind's eye from the written descriptions. The imagined film is in four tableaux, one of which contains a major temporal problem. In this tableau, every second shot is followed by one containing a still photograph of the previous shot. The second shot in each successive pair therefore refers back to the past; the photograph freezes the action of the first shot. However, in the description for the second shot of each pair, there are instructions that do not appear in the description for the first. In each case, the written instruction describes an action that occurs after the action of the first shot so that the second shot in each pair is a rendering of the past state of events and carries the action of the imagined film a step forward. Two directions of temporal experience are mixed in a single image." - Bill Simon
"In POETIC JUSTICE, Frampton presents us with a 'scenario' of extreme complexity in which the themes of sexuality, infidelity, voyeurism are 'projected' in narrative sequence entirely through the voice telling the tale--again it is the first person singular speaking, however, in the present tense and addressing the characters as 'you,' 'your lover,' and referring to an 'I.' We see, on screen, only the physical aspect of a script, papers resting on a table... and the projection is that of a film as consonant with the projection of the mind." - Annette Michelson
Hapax Legomena V / Ordinary Matter, 1972 / 36' / BW / sound

Frampton on Ordinary Matter:
"A vision of a journey, during which the eye of the mind drives headlong through Salisbury Cloister (a monument to enclosure), Brooklyn Bridge (a monument to connection), Stonehenge (a monument to the intercourse between consciousness and LIGHT)...visiting along the way diverse meadows, barns, waters where I now live; and ending in the remembered cornfields of my childhood. The soundtrack annexes, as mantram, the Wade-Giles syllabary of the Chinese language."
"I suppose there is extra-ordinary matter. Almost everything in the world is made of ordinary matter. But where I got the title was... simple in a way. We think of matter as being gas, liquid, and solid, let's say; as occupying three states, and those are the ones that we experience directly. But there is something that physicists call plasma, which is very attenuated gas: a hydrogen atom; then you go on for a few yards, there is another hydrogen atom... There is hardly anything there. And that plasma behaves differently from ordinary matter. Well, it turns out that most of the matter, most of the substance of the universe, of the whole universe, is not the ordinary matter which we are familiar with, but this plasma, and what we are tuned to is these little cloths of dense, organized stuff, which we go flying through as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. But it turns out that it's a very special case in the universe indeed (...). I suppose I think of it as a kind of acceleration from Travelling matte, the eye is groping and feeling its way and staggering, and so forth. And in Ordinary matter the need somehow to worry about those words and still photographs, and so forth, is behind. Ordinary matter is for me a kind of ecstatic, headlong dive. (And it goes through nature, architecture, high peaks of contemporary civilization, and through the oldest monuments that we have - the scope of it in time and space is so wide...) and finally the eye that was trying to see out, through the little hole - through the fist, in Travelling matte opens up and does, to an extent, really see out, or I feel it does, and ends with something that is a very old image in my eye, of running through corn fields as a child, with the leaves slapping me in the face, and the sun hitting me, and so forth..." - Jonas Mekas interviews Hollis Frampton, Village Voice
Hapax Legomena VI / Remote Control, 1972 / 29' / BW / silent
Frampton on Remote Control:
"A 'baroque' summary of film's historic internal conflicts, chiefly those between narrative and metric/plastic montage; and between illusionist and graphic space. It incorporates 3 apposite 'found' narratives, condenses 5 ways of making, and includes a 'surprise' out of Haydn (or S.M. Eisenstein's IVAN, II)."
"I hardly can talk about Remote Control at all. There, of course, the images speed up to the point where every successive frame is different from every previous frame, so that if there is an image in it, it's a kind of inner voice within the images, as sometimes music will have many voices that can be written out on the paper, and then in the listening the real shape of the music is to be found in the voice that is generated among them. (...) Remote Control is silent. Remote Control is noisy enough, I think, without a sound-track. It was again begun as video. It was shot in a single evening, off the tube, right off the ordinary TV set, in the course of evening. Actually, I did it twice, I didn't like the first evening. But it was made one frame for one shot. Every time the shot changed, or every time it panned, so it was completely displaced, I made another frame. Exceptions are graphic things, for there's type in commercials, so that was cut out. I have to admit, I tinkered with it, I took out some frames, quite a few frames that didn't seem to be be working." - Jonas Mekas interviews Hollis Frampton, Village Voice
Hapax Legomena VII / Special Effects, 1972 / 10'30" / BW / sound
Special Effects
"It's a black frame, a white dotted line. You're seeing in the negative... just the same. (So this frame, it's not steady, it keeps sort of shaking, as if the camera is not steady or the frame is not steady) There is a little jiggle to it. That white dotted line is the frame. I wanted to affirm and honor the film frame itself. Because so much of what we know now, so much of our experience is something that comes to us through that frame. It seems to be a kind of synonym for what we are conscious of. I have only seen the pyramids of Egypt within that frame. I have only seen - endless things - most of what I believe I have experienced I have in fact seen at the movies. I've seen it inside that frame. But then, it's just my frame too, it's not everyone's. So that rather than filming it as a rock-steady kind of monument, I did film hand-held, and with a long lens, and put myself in a physical position where it would be to hold the camera steady. I wanted to shake while... That is my own frame, that is the vibration, let's say, of my own imagination and my own body, in relation to that bounded possibility of consciousness. Then you can imagine whatever you want inside of it." - Jonas Mekas interviews Hollis Frampton, Village Voice
Apparatus Sum, 1972 / 2'30"/ colour / silent
Frampton on Apparatus Sum:
"A brief lyric film of death, which brings to equilibrium a single reactive image from a roomful of cadavers."
Tiger Balm, 1972 / 10' / colour / silent
Tiger Balm
Frampton on Tiger Balm:
"After two years of massive didacticism in black-and-white [Hapax Legomena (1971-72)], I am surprised by Tiger Balm, lyrical, in color, a celebration of generative humors and principles, in homage to the green of England, the light of my dooryard… and consecutive matters."
Yellow Springs, 1972 / 5' / colour / silent
Frampton on Yellow Springs:
"A portrait of the filmmaker, Paul Sharits, in particular response to energies he generated one May afternoon in 1971."
Public Domain, 1973 / 18' / BW / silent / unreleased
"In PUBLIC DOMAIN... Frampton recapitulates cinema's infancy in a series of direct quotes from such notable primitive works as RECORD OF A SNEEZE (FRED OTT'S SNEEZE) and SANDOW FLEXING HIS MUSCLES, two 1894 Edison kinetoscopic shorts, as well as literal pieces of cinematic juvenilia (child wading at the beach, another throwing a tantrum at home, three women merrily blowing bubble pipes, and the finale, a melodramatic weighing of a newborn attended by anxious father, doctor, and nurse)--all readily retrievable/quotable fragments from our finite federal version of the 'infinite film,' the paper print collection at the Library of Congress." - Bruce Jenkins
Less, 1973 / 1' / BW / silent
"Near the end of 1973, Frampton realized that he had not finished a single film over the course of a year. He promptly conceived and executed LESS, a doubly punning work in which a minimalist Frampton generates a twenty-four frame (one-second) loop of the incremental blacking out of a nude image by photographer Les Krims." - Bruce Jenkins
Autumnal Equinox, 1974 / 27' / colour / silent

"...filmed in a slaughterhouse in South St. Paul, MN... Frampton utilizes a shooting strategy that flattens and pictorializes a palpable space of action that includes not only cattle (now seen hanging from huge meathooks), but even on occasion, figures. The abattoir is seen in the fleeting movements of Frampton's hand-held camera. The shots generally begin and end with swift panning movements which effectively flatten and abstract the objects of this work environment. And although a brief passage of green leader is used to mark each cut, the smearing effect of the rapid camera movements tends to elide the shots, to make the flattened color planes run together." - Bruce Jenkins
Noctiluca, 1974 / 3'30" / colour / silent
"Noctiluca is a three and one-half minute film designed to be shown on the second day of the MAGELLAN cycle. The title (nox/luceo) means something that shines by night, i.e., the moon, and the film indeed consists of a bright sphere, sometimes white, sometimes tinted, sometimes single, sometimes doubled and overlapped. This suggests to me the nocturnal navigation that Magellan had to rely upon in his first-ever trip around the world. (The second day of the cycle seems to be an inventory of the knowledge, machines, and arms that Magellan--and latterday voyagers like Frampton--had at the outset of his journey.) The film also refers of course to Stan Brakhage's much longer, and monumental, 1973 film TEXT OF LIGHT, which studied the prismatic reflections occasioned by sunlight passing through a glass ashtray. Frampton's film is, characteristically, more controlled and economical than Brakhage's, but no less beautiful." - Brian Henderson
Winter Solstice, 1974 / 33' / colour / silent
"Shot at U.S. Steel's Homestead Works in Pittsburgh,...WINTER SOLSTICE is full of outpourings of fire, of smoke, of sparks, of molten metal--all erupting against an otherwise black background in an activated pictorial space. The complex abstract compositions that flash upon the screen in full-scale explosions of white light or in the aftermath of effervescent sparks reflect Frampton's painterly handling of the camera (hand-held and fluid) and his rhythmic use of color (blue frames are used to mark each cut). While WINTER SOLSTICE pays homage to the work of a number of New York school painters, its steel mill setting represents, as Frampton noted, 'A pretextual locus dearly beloved by our Soviet predecessors.'" - Bruce Jenkins
Straits of Magellan: Drafts & Fragments, 1974 / 52' / colour / silent
"A sampling of forty-nine fragments from Frampton's catalogue of 'actualities,' the films from STRAITS OF MAGELLAN: 'DRAFTS & FRAGMENTS' are all silent and unedited. Several invoke directly the work of the Lumieres, as in Frampton's reworking of DEMOLITION D'UN MUR (1895) in which a dilapidated farm silo is demolished in place of the Lumieres' wall. He makes reference to his own work... and pays homage to the work of contemporaries. A complex range of formal issues are raised in other fragments. Finally, Frampton offers a number of analogues for the act of filming and cinematic seeing that include a series of appropriated 'lenses' (a stone portal, a wooden silo) and a set of 'screens' (a pool of water, curtains, a dusty window)." - Bruce Jenkins
Summer Solstice, 1974 / 32' / colour / silent
Summer Solstice
Vexilla Regis, 1974 / 6' 30" / colour / silent / unreleased
Banner, 1974 / 40" / colour / silent
INGENIVM NOBIS IPSA PVELLA FECIT, 1975 / 67' / colour / silent
SOLARIUMAGELANI, 1974-75 / 159' /colour / silent
Drum, 1975 / 20" / colour / silent

Pas De Trois, 1975 / 4.25' / colour / silent
"The question of whether certain kinds of film formalism tend to be sexually reactionary is encapsulated in this little triptych. Each of the three sections includes three kinds of information. In the first section, we see single frames of strippers dancing; single frame clusters of clear red, then later, clear yellow; and single frame clusters of what looks to be a light source. The imagery and clear colors mix retinally, and with the flickering light source, makes this section reminiscent of looking into a movie projector. In the second section we see live action footage of a little girl presumably competing in a twirling contest. This footage regularly dissolves into and out of light blue which itself is punctuated each time, between fade in and fade out, by a single frame of what looks like a movie screen. Finally, in the third section, red-toned footage of three strippers, recorded in slightly fast motion, alternates with eight-frame passages of lime green leader and, in four instances, with shots of several fish in a tank reminiscent of the fish and tank in the final section of SURFACE TENSION. Together, the three sections suggest something of film's history (the single frames of the stripper and the flicker during the first section are suggestive of Muybridge and the earliest film showings), as well as the three mechanical components of the film apparatus--projector, screen, film (the fish are in the water in the tank, as the imagery is 'in' the emulsion on the film)--and film's historical propensity to use the female figure (and the drama of its innocence and sexuality) as the focus of the viewer's gaze. PAS DE TROIS is reminiscent of Paul Sharits' single-frame films, of Robert Huot's STRIP, and of some of Frampton's earliest film work." - Scott MacDonald
Magellan: At the Gates of Death
Part I: The Red Gate, 1976 / 54' / colour / silent
Part II: The Green Gate, 1976 / 52' / colour / silent
"In the final format for MAGELLAN, Frampton had planned to disassemble these two films into twenty-four 'encounters with death' that were to be shown in five-minute segments twice a month. In their present state, seen together and roughly the length of an average feature film, the two parts of MAGELLAN: AT THE GATES OF DEATH constitute perhaps the most gripping, monumental, and wrenching work ever executed on film... Frampton in 1971 began his filming of cadavers at the Gross Anatomy Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. He returned to the lab four times over the course of the next two years and then spent nine months assembling his 'forbidden imagery' into an extraordinary meditation upon death." - Bruce Jenkins
Otherwise Unexplained Fires, 1976 / 14' / colour / silent
"Filmed in large part during HF's lecture-screening tour in the bay area: visit(s) to the Musee Mechanique, Land's End, the Cliff House. The San Francisco fog is proclaimed, as also are the cypress trees that line parts of our local beach. A visit to the Brakhage Colorado residence provided images of chickens/roosters." - Gail Camhi
Cold Walks, 1976 / 7' 30" / colour / silent / unreleased
Not The First Time, 1976 / 6' / colour / silent
"This film is composed of different and relatively commonplace subjects, but each image is a super-imposition ('double exposure') of two similar shots of the same subject, almost in the same position. The effect is amazing: one's gaze at the image becomes a double gaze, as the two images were made at different times and with slightly different framing. The viewer is engaged in a process of double-vision that returns him to image and subject in a manner more complex, more self-aware, and more temporal than the way most of us view photographs." - Fred Camper
All in Good Time, 1976 / 8' / colour / silent / unreleased
Time Out of Mind, 1976 / 7' / colour / silent / unreleased
The Test of Time, 1976 / 14' / colour / silent / unreleased
For Georgia O'Keeffe, 1976 / 3.5' / colour / silent
" of several films that Frampton planned to go into a 'portrait gallery' somewhere toward the end of MAGELLAN. He finished only two other films for this section--YELLOW SPRINGS (1972) and QUATERNION (1976), portraits of Paul Sharits and James Rosenquist respectively. As self-reflexive as the rest of MAGELLAN, these films acknowledge and explore debts that the films of the cycle owe to other artists. O'KEEFFE consists of a series of static shots of a skycraper at night, recalling her 1925 painting 'Radiator Building, Night,' which emphasizes the structure's checkered pattern of lights. Like painting and still photography, each Frampton shot is static, but since each has a different pattern of lights than the one before, cinema's time dimension is also affirmed, thereby distinguishing it from painting and photographs. (Apparently slight variations within recurring identical shots or series of shots is the format of many Frampton films.) To avoid even the 'apparent motion' of cutting from one pattern of lights to another, Frampton has spliced twenty-four frames of blue leader between shots. The homage to O'Keeffe, and the film's study of the relations among painting-photography-film, is even more complex than appears since O'Keeffe was living with pioneer photographer Alfred Stieglitz when she painted 'Radiator Building, Night.' If his work in part inspired this painting (it is more 'mythic' than documentary), it inspired in turn his thirties photographs of skyscrapers--taken from the apartment near the top of the Shelton where she painted 'Radiator Building, Night." - Brian Henderson
Quaternion, 1976 / 4.5' / colour / silent
"Strategy and imagery combat and aid each other in pairs. QUATERNION... a spatial figure of monumental attractions... interference... an undulating gyre. Hollis superimposes a fragmenting Muybridge-like grid of Cartesian elements (details of the fire escape outside the studio) against shots of rooftops superimposed in perfect scale with the billboard-like segments of an automobile, enlarged flower, and a spoon... panels of the 20' x 20' mural for the New York World's Fair in James Rosenquist's Broome Street studio--New York, mid-1960s. A discourse between the painter painting and the filmmaker criss-crossing one vector against another, undermining any single plane of reference. Rosenquist's paintings are like movie screens in which frames from several different films are superimposed and intercut. The studio becomes a theatre within which image objects collide. The filmmaker reiterates the passage from identity to difference, generating a conceptual pre-literate space... a safari by Hollis into the categorical domains of artifactual debris." - Patrick Clancy

Procession, 1976 / 4' / colour / silent
"The understandable fascination with Frampton's intellect can blind one to the frequent down-home dimension of his imagery. Here, in a most rigorously formal, even mathematical procession, we see frame clusters of light blue sky, green grass, and red (filter red) leaves; then frame clusters of the backs of dairy cows; and finally frame clusters of portions of a shiny vehicle (we can see people, objects in bulbous reflection). A trip to the New York State Fair filtered through a most rarified formal film." - Scott MacDonald
Dreams of Magellan: Part I: Ludus Luminus, Chromaticus, 1976 / 27'30" / colour / silent / unreleased
Gloria!, 1979 / 10' / colour / sound 
"In GLORIA! Frampton juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material. These two formal components (the film and the texts) in turn relate to a nineteenth-century figure, Frampton's maternal grandmother, and to a twentieth-century one, her grandson (filmmaker Frampton himself). In attempting to recapture their relationship, GLORIA! becomes a somewhat comic, often touching meditation on death, on memory and on the power of image, music and text to resurrect the past." - Bruce Jenkins

More Than Meets The Eye, 1979 / 7.5' / colour / silent
"...Frampton travels to the purported birthplace of the Eisensteinian model of cinema, the fairground, with its 'montage of attractions'... ambulating wide-angled portrait of the fair, its throng of participants, its array of attractions (Belgian Waffles, Walk Away Sundaes, Flying Bobs, the Toboggan, a Hall of Health). Interpolated within this walking tour are nine optically reversed textual passages which are briefly flashed on-screen, framed by a repeated image of a ride appropriately known as 'The Scrambler.'" - Bruce Jenkins
The Birth of Magellan: Dreams of Magellan: Part I - VI, 1977-79 / 108' / colour / sound
The Birth of Magellan: Mindfall, Parts I - VII, 1977-80 / 153' / colour / sound
"Frampton wsa especially fascinated by Eisenstein's theory of 'vertical montage,' the notion that filmic structure could be built not only horizontally (sequentially), like a melody, but vertically, like a chord. In the MINDFALL sections of 'Magellan' Frampton used desynchronized sound, along with super-imposition and a complex editing structure, to approach the possibility of vertical montage" - Harvey Nosowitz
"If you start responding to every stimulus, then you end up as a nerve gas case, quite literally. Neurons fire at once." - Hollis Frampton
The Birth of Magellan: Fourteen Cadenzas, 1977-80 / 77' / colour / sound
"The film about the bride in which two gentlemen, who we may presume to be bachelors, strip more or less bare a putative bride of some sort." - Hollis Frampton

A Lecture

By Hollis Frampton

The following is the script for Hollis Framptons performance piece A Lecture, as he presented it at Hunter College in New York on October 30, 1968. For the piece, Frampton prerecorded filmmaker Michael Snow reading the text. For the performance, Frampton used a 16 mm projector, a large screen, a tape recorder, a sheet of red cellophane, and a pipe cleaner. He started playback of the audio recording at the front of the hall, then moved to the back to operate the projector. The audio portion of the piece, along with a series of images designed to replicate Framptons visuals, is included as part of the Criterion release A Hollis Frampton Odyssey. You can re-create the performance yourself with a similar set of props (film or video projector, screen or white wall, red cellophane large enough to cover the projector, and pipe cleaner or comparable object), either reading the script yourself or playing the audio recording from the disc, and following the instructions in italics in the text below.

Please turn out the lights.
As long as we’re going to talk about films, we might as well do it in the dark.
We have all been here before. By the time we are eighteen years old, say the statisticians, we have been here five hundred times.
No, not in this very room, but in this generic darkness, the only place left in our culture intended entirely for concentrated exercise of one, or at most two, of our senses.
We are, shall we say, comfortably seated. We may remove our shoes, if that will help us to remove our bodies. Failing that, the management permits us small oral distractions. The oral distractions concession is in the lobby.
So we are suspended in a null space, bringing with us a certain habit of the affections. We have come to do work that we enjoy. We have come to watch this.
The projector is turned on.
So and so many kilowatts of energy, spread over a few square yards of featureless white screen in the shape of a carefully standardized rectangle, three units high by four units wide.
The performance is flawless. The performer is a precision machine. It sits behind us, out of sight usually. Its range of action may be limited, but within that range it is, like an animal, infallible.
It reads, so to speak, from a score that is both the notation and the substance of the piece.
It can and does repeat the performance, endlessly, with utter exactitude.
Our rectangle of white light is eternal. Only we come and go; we say: This is where I came in. The rectangle was here before we came, and it will be here after we have gone.
So it seems that a film is, first, a confined space, at which you and I, we, a great many people, are staring.
It is only a rectangle of white light. But it is all films. We can never see more within our rectangle, only less.
A red filter is placed before the lens at the word “red.”
If we were seeing a film that is red, if it were only a film of the color red, would we not be seeing more?
A red film would subtract green and blue from the white light of our rectangle.
So if we do not like this particular film, we should not say: There is not enough here, I want to see more. We should say: There is too much here, I want to see less.
The red filter is withdrawn.
Our white rectangle is not “nothing at all.” In fact, it is, in the end, all we have. That is one of the limits of the art of film.
So if we want to see what we call more, which is actually less, we must devise ways of subtracting, of removing, one thing and another, more or less, from our white rectangle.
The rectangle is generated by our performer, the projector, so whatever we devise must fit into it.
Then the art of making films consists in devising things to put into our projector.
The simplest thing to devise, although perhaps not the easiest, is nothing at all, which fits conveniently into the machine.
Such is the film we are now watching. It was devised several years ago by the Japanese filmmaker Takehisa Kosugi.
Such films offer certain economic advantages to the filmmaker.
But aside from that, we must agree that this one is, from an aesthetic point of view, incomparably superior to a large proportion of all films that have ever been made.
But we have decided that we want to see less than this.
Very well.
A hand blocks all light from the screen.
We can hold a hand before the lens. This warms the hand while we deliberate on how much less we want to see.
Not so much less, we decide, that we are deprived of our rectangle, a shape as familiar and nourishing to us as that of a spoon.
The hand is withdrawn.
Let us say that we desire to modulate the general information with which the projector bombards our screen. Perhaps this will do.
A pipe cleaner is inserted into the projector’s gate.
That’s better.
It may not absorb our whole attention for long, but we still have our rectangle, and we can always leave where we came in.
The pipe cleaner is withdrawn.
Already we have devised four things to put into our projector.
We have made four films.
It seems that a film is anything that may be put in a projector that will modulate the emerging beam of light.
For the sake of variety in our modulations, for the sake of more precise control of what and how much we remove from our rectangle, however, we most often use a specifically devised material called: film.
Film is a narrow transparent ribbon of any length you please, uniformly perforated with small holes along its edges so that it may be handily transported by sprocket wheels. At one time, it was sensitive to light.
Now, preserving a faithful record of where that light was, and was not, it modulates our light beam, subtracts from it, makes a vacancy, a hole, that looks to us like, say, Lana Turner.
Furthermore, that vacancy is doing something: it seems to be moving.
But if we take our ribbon of film and examine it, we find that it consists of a long row of small pictures, which do not move at all.
We are told that the explanation is simple: all explanations are.
The projector accelerates the small still pictures into movement. The single pictures, or frames, are invisible to our failing sense of sight, and nothing that happens on any one of them will strike our eye.
And this is true, so long as all the frames are essentially similar. But if we punch a hole in only one frame of our film, we will surely see it.
And if we put together many dissimilar frames, we will just as surely see all of them separately. Or at least we can learn to see them.
We learned long ago to see our rectangle, to hold all of it in focus simultaneously. If films consist of consecutive frames, we can learn to see them also.
Sight itself is learned. A newborn baby not only sees poorly—it sees upside down.
At any rate, in some of our frames we found, as we thought, Lana Turner. Of course, she was but a fleeting shadow—but we had hold of something. She was what the film was about.
Perhaps we can agree that the film was about her because she appeared oftener than anything else.
Certainly a film must be about whatever appears most often in it.
Suppose Lana Turner is not always on the screen.
Suppose further that we take an instrument and scratch the ribbon of film along its whole length.
Then the scratch is more often visible than Miss Turner, and the film is about the scratch.
Now suppose that we project all films. What are they about, in their great numbers?
At one time and another, we shall have seen, as we think, very many things.
But only one thing has always been in the projector.
That is what we have seen.
Then that is what all films are about.
If we find that hard to accept, we should recall what we once believed about mathematics.
We believed it was about the apples or peaches owned by George and Harry.
But having accepted that much, we find it easier to understand what a filmmaker does.
He makes films.
Now, we remember that a film is a ribbon of physical material, wound up in a roll: a row of small unmoving pictures.
He makes the ribbon by joining large and small bits of film together.
It may seem like pitiless and dull work to us, but he enjoys it, this splicing of small bits of anonymous stuff.
Where is the romance of moviemaking? The exotic locations? The stars?
The film artist is an absolute imperialist over his ribbon of pictures. But films are made out of footage, not out of the world at large.
Again: Film, we say, is supposed to be a powerful means of communication. We use it to influence the minds and hearts of men.
But the artist in film goes on building his ribbon of pictures, which is at least something he understands a little about.
The pioneer brain surgeon Harvey Cushing asked his apprentices: Why had they taken up medicine?
To help the sick.
But don’t you enjoy cutting flesh and bone? he asked them. I cannot teach men who don’t enjoy their work.
But if films are made of footage, we must use the camera. What about the romance of the camera?
And the film artist replies: A camera is a machine for making footage. It provides me with a third eye, of sorts, an acutely penetrating extension of my vision.
But it is also operated with my hands, with my body, and keeps them busy, so that I amputate one faculty in heightening another.
Anyway, I needn’t really make my own footage. One of the chief virtues in so doing is that it keeps me out of my own films.
We wonder whether this interferes with his search for self-expression.
If we dared ask, he would probably reply that self-expression interests him very little.
He is more interested in reconstructing the fundamental conditions and limits of his art.
After all, he would say, self-expression was only an issue for a very brief time in history, in the arts or anywhere else. And that time is about over.
Now, finally, we must realize that the man who wrote the text we are hearing read has more than a passing acquaintance and sympathy with the filmmaker we have been questioning.
For the sake of precision and repeatability, he has substituted a tape recorder for his personal presence—a mechanical performer as infallible as the projector behind us.
And to exemplify his conviction that nothing in art is as expendable as the artist, he has arranged to have his text recorded by another filmmaker, Mr. Michael Snow, whose voice we are hearing now.
If filmmakers seldom appear in their own films, there is ancient precedence of appearing in one another’s works. D. W. Griffith appeared in a work of Porter’s. Fritz Lang appeared in a film of Godard’s. And this is not the first time Mr. Snow and the present writer have reciprocated.
Since the speaker is also a filmmaker, he is fully equipped to talk about the only activity the writer is willing to discuss at present.
There is still time for us to watch our rectangle awhile.
Perhaps its sheer presence has as much to tell us as any particular thing we might find inside it.
We can invent ways of our own to change it.
But this is where we came in.
Please turn on the lights.
New York City, 1968

A version of this piece appears on pages 125–130 of On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton, edited and with an introduction by Bruce Jenkins. © 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Used by permission of the MIT Press. Photograph of Hollis Frampton by Robert Haller.
















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