Hollis Frampton 1936-1984
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