Joseph Cornell 1903-1972
Bookstalls (c. late 1930s) (9 min)
Bookstalls shows a young boy at the Paris bookstalls, dreaming of travel: dramatic sea voyages, tourists milling about, buying post cards. But we also see the day-to-day life of the Isle of Marken in this found footage; people forking hay and hanging the wash. There's a sharp cut, then, to an Asian country, and for a few moments before the return to Paris, there's the reality, again, of the dream of travel: a rice paddy being harvested, fields being cleared, no labor-saving devices. The bookstalls re-appear, and the boy is done with the fantasy. Within a few a dissolves, the boy seems to have grown into a young man. Cornell's travels through secondhand bookstores were vital to his art, but the film doesn't feel like Cornell's dream life; it feels more like a tentative exercise. -- Sarah Nichols

Bookstalls is interesting in that its footage looks old and is thus clothed with a feeling of nostalgia. It is also interesting as an exercise in putting pieces of film together. A boy leafs through volumes at a Paris bookstall and he imagines faraway places.

The whole film has a homely quality which is endearing. But I don't think it really comes off. The transition from when the boy is seen holding the volume to the still pictures which represent illustrations in the volume is abrupt. You don't quite know what is happening. In fact, there is an abruptness to the editing which I assume was deliberate, but I don't know why. To really work, I think that the boy would have to imagine himself in the place described, which wasn't possible in a collage film.

The speeded-up image of the boat was interesting because that is how people describe their trips--saying that the boat sped through the water at a breakneck pace, etc.

I think there was a little bit too much footage establishing the locale as Paris, but that is just my own taste.

I should note that Bookstalls (the title was supplied by someone other than Cornell) is a reel which was found among Cornell's film collection. He never made any attempt to present it and we don't know if he considered it finished.

-- Source: Filmnotes by John C.

The films of the reclusive artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) are as unique as his famous box constructions. Though rarely exhibited during his lifetime, these mysterious works nonetheless have had a deep and lasting influence on the world of avant-garde filmmaking . His entire body of film numbers some thirty-odd works, encompassing the incomplete and the fragmentary. It can be said that Cornell made two kinds of films in two distinct periods of activity: collage films, made by recombining found materials, and directed films,where he worked with cinematographers (including Stan Brakhage, Rudy Burckhardt and Larry Jordan) to document his fantasy/experience of wandering in New York. -Bradley Eros and Jeanne Liotta