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Hapax Legomena III: Critical Mass (1971)

A man and woman in conversation, arguing till roistering and we see gestures and words that are repeated with rough technique.


Hollis Frampton




Credited cast:
Frank Albetta Frank Albetta
Barbara DiBenedetto Barbara DiBenedetto


The film begins with a black screen; the only thing heard is a man and a woman arguing, repeating and stuttering the various words and phrases they say. Beeps and other noises are added to the audio. As the film progresses, the couple themselves is brought into focus with the dialogue and it becomes apparent that they are arguing over where the man went for a two-day period. The woman asks why she can't know; her boyfriend says it doesn't involve her. The argument goes in circles, never going anywhere and by the end of the film the reason of his disappearance is still unknown. Written by Tornado_Sam

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The Obnoxiousness of Argumentation
24 July 2019 | by Tornado_SamSee all my reviews

The goal of Hollis Frampton's "Critical Mass", number three in his seven-part series "Hapax Legomena", is to once more demonstrate the filmmaker's repeated theme of disconnected sound and image. This was a theme experimented with before in "Carrots and Peas" (1969) and "(nostalgia)" of the same year, and one used by the filmmaker quite a bit in general. Here, instead of creating a tease with the audience as had the latter film, the purpose of this movie is to intentionally annoy and aggravate the viewer by stuttering the soundtrack and throwing in beeping noises to add to the effect. The situation is simple and could easily have been shortened down to six minutes from the twenty-five it runs, but likely as not the overlong run-time was part of Frampton's goal to agitate the viewer.

The set-up is that of an arguing couple, one who apparently lives together but is in an argument over where the man went over a two-day period. The situation itself is one easy to identify with, but is made annoying and unpleasant through harsh picture contrasts and repeating sequences over and over again to show how truly obnoxious an argument can be. I warn you, there is a hugely excessive amount of swearing and cussing in the dialog which is replayed over and over again, and while a little bit might have been done for shock value it is used simply too much. Also, due to the run-time, the film tends to echo in your head long after it is done, and because of the original intent of the film being to aggravate this was undoubtedly part of the director's goal.

Frampton also experiments a different way with sound and image by sometimes fading out the picture so that only the arguing voices are heard for long periods. Other times, he brings the couples' words out of sync with their lips to play with the viewers sense of vision connected with hearing, and at the end, stops the stuttering so everything is fluid. I would say it's one only for Frampton die-hards or those used to unpleasant avant-garde films, considering the excessive use of filthy language and the general displeasing effect of the broken-up dialog.

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Release Date:

10 April 2012 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Critical Mass See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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