6 user 4 critic

Zorns Lemma (1970)

A rhythmically edited alphabet composed of street and shop signs shot in New York City and other elements is gradually replaced by repeated seemingly abstract shots in this influential structuralist film.


Hollis Frampton




Credited cast:
Rosemarie Castoro Rosemarie Castoro ... (voice)
Ginger Michels Ginger Michels ... (voice)
Marcia Steinbrecher Marcia Steinbrecher ... (voice)
Twyla Tharp ... (voice)
Susan Weiner Susan Weiner ... (voice)
Joyce Wieland Joyce Wieland ... (voice)


A voice is heard reading a series of couplets from the Bay State Primer, before there begins a series of shots. A visual alphabet, composed of street and shop signs is gone over again and again in a loop, using new signs and words each time. As the film progresses, each letter of the alphabet is slowly and progressively replaced using a new image for each letter, including a man painting a wall, a woman speaking, a clementine being peeled, etc. As each letter continues to be gradually replaced, the images for the letters already replaced progress in action: the man finishes the wall, the peeling of the clementine is completed. At the end, a shot of a couple with their dog is shown to be walking into the woods in a single long shot, whilst six women take turns speaking Grosseteste's "On Light, or the Ingression of Forms" to a rhythm, each speaking a different word every second. Written by Tornado_Sam

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1 March 2004 | by AfraciousSee all my reviews

This is an amazing experimental film from American avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton. It begins with a dark screen and a woman narrating from The Bay State Primer, an early American grammar textbook that teaches the letters of the alphabet by using them in sentences derived from the Bible, then the rest of the film is mostly silent. It presents us with a recurring structure that perpetually moves throughout a 24-letter alphabet via various signs in New York with words that propel the film along. Gradually other images are added to the loop, some of them themselves slowly developing as we arrive at them the next time around. It concludes with a man, woman and dog crossing a snowy field, while several narrators each narrate one word at a time read from an 11th century treatise, "On Light, or the Ingression of Forms", by Robert Grosseteste. Ambiguous, metaphorical and fascinating. A veritable masterpiece of structural filmmaking. 

The film is also a major influence on Peter Greenaway - it is one of the films he most admires.

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Release Date:

12 September 1970 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Zorns Lemma See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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