Nathaniel Dorsky is one of my favourite filmmakers, but unfortunately his work is mostly available at festivals because he doesn't like digital compression.
His films are totally silent and play without musical accompaniment, there is no sense of traditional narrative, and no use of actors. The representation of niches in public places rendered silent is oddly spiritual, and a key Dorsky effect (mostly found in his later films). He likes to find abstract patterns in unusual places, and often plays with focus to achieve this; he also likes grids and meshes, shots with foreground tantalisingly obscuring most of the background, capturing a certain quality of light at dusk or dawn, and fantastic botanical shots. Generally his films are extremely tranquil and occasionally breathtaking. It's very hard to make a picture without music, often filmmakers use music to paper over the cracks in their films: you can imbue a banal scene with pathos if you play Beethoven's Ninth over the top. So this is really cinema without stabilisers.
Hours for Jerome is fascinating because as an early work it does display a lot of the same traits as the stuff to come, but also there's distinctly brilliant rat-a-tat-tat editing that you don't see him do any more and the style is a lot freer. He shot it between 1966 and 1970, but didn't get around to cutting it until 1980, which then took him two years! So he had quite a big break from filmmaking.
The Jerome of the title is Jerome Hiler, Dorsky's long term partner, who is also a filmmaker as well as being a painter of stained glass. The Hours of the title is a reference to the medieval books, usually containing prayers and psalms. Dorsky's cinema is one of devotion.
The movie starts gently with some nice forest panoramas. There are some shots of some twigs with white blossoms against a light blue sky, that I've are very similar a shot in Manoel de Oliveira's Acto de Primavera which was being used as an allegory of the Resurrection. Especially in his later films, Dorsky's shots appear to have a lot of meaning behind them. The movie sunbursts with a hyper-edited sequence of green and yellow floral shots, coming off the screen like fire from a machine guns, real firecracker cinema, can't remember ever seeing anything like that before. Dorsky agrees that there's a certain youthful energy to Hours.
Then away one is taken to the city, which I think is New York but I'm no expert on American cities, especially New York which you can find a hundred different cities in if you look right. There's time lapse photography out of a nice apartment window overlooking a busy freeway and the river, there's this pure churn of light. Time lapse photography of chimneys looks quite funky as well as the passage of a sickle moon. Then some shots that were frankly astonishing, of furiously jitterbugging neon on a blue background, strange perturbed images that reminded me of the Wols painting the Blue Phantom (1951), come to life! My notes say: "glitterbugging blue swimcity".
Hours has humour as well: along comes this old lady ploughing through flood water in her bright red sports car, as close as you can come to a real life version of Mr Magoo (and later when people walk in the street in slow motion and a wizened old man slowly rotates round to check out two young ladies he's just passed).
A contender for prettiest shot is the traffic shown under the underground lines (think The French Connection); the light comes down through the gratings producing regular flickers on the cars, in all sorts of lovely green and yellow colours reacting well with red vehicles. A woman floats along the street with a pagoda umbrella casually browsing, then we're in a museum with a whale skeleton and huge big trompers (presumably mammoths?). Jerome's cats make an appearance, shots of which are again, outrageously beautiful, even when the charcoal colour one is lapping up water from a saucer with pretty flowers on the bottom.
We're back to Jerome and life in the countryside including an Arcadian flop around in a crystal stream bordered by pristine forest. Indoors there are warm shots, a sodium yellow glow from beneath a yellow lampshade, a book on Mozart, pages illuminated by red light. Some mesh shots to prefigure his later work. A line of poetry from Yeats pops into my head, "And pluck till time and times are done / The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun".
Part two of the movie starts with a time lapsed forest shot from on high, Peploe colours of Autumn trees rippled by waves of shadows. Epideictic flocking of birds, orchards heavy with red apples that look like they are made of porcelain. Jerome and friends ape around a bit in funny masks that have odd expressions.
In the city the gobsmacking shots start to spall out of the screen, the city looks dead and golden, black clouds float past, some of the skyscrapers are absolutely smothered in blackness, other parts of the image are daylit. I have no idea how he could have possibly found that shot. A beautiful contoured chrome bonnet acts as a kind of toboggan, along which I slid down streets of pure light, like some sort of dream water slide or roller coaster. It's winter time and the guys are heading down some back creeks sliding along with their hockey gear, there's some blue snowflakes fluttering down. What is the next shot, a peak into a data mine on an alien planet? No, it's revealed to be bubbles captured in thick ice after the shot pulls up. They're doing experiments with some film stock dipping it in who knows what, coca cola? Something's boiling in a clear jam jar. A black and diamanté city appears.
An incredible film.
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