Hilary Harris 1929-1999
Organism (1975)
Before KOYAANISQATSI, there was ORGANISM. Hilary Harris actually contributed some of his innovative time-lapse footage to Godfrey Reggio’s art-house blockbuster but his ORGANISM remains a singular achievement. Shot over the course of fifteen years, the film deepens its splendid visual investigations of how New York works by likening the city’s complex systems to those of a single biological organism. Harris is hardly the first to suggest this metaphor but it registers with fresh life in his canny montage: the flickering lights of the skyline at night correspond with descriptions of neurons firing and the flow of traffic is brilliantly juxtaposed with the microscopic movement of blood cells. Within the time-lapse frame, Harris carefully engineers continuous zooms and layers the composition so as to realize several concurrent elements of circulation. Time itself registers in many guises here: the routinized movements of a cafeteria at lunch, the precise intervals of planes touching down at LaGuardia and the long haul of a construction site. The wondrous view may be technologically enhanced but ORGANISM is unmistakably cinema with a human touch. - Max Goldberg