Zorns Lemma (Hollis Frampton, 1970)
[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]
This is, by all accounts, a short, running just over fifty-eight minutes (I’ve been using sixty as the divider between a short and a feature recently), but its rarity, and its length given the subject matter, do compel a review. (And just for the record, the lack of apostrophe in the title drives me bananas.)
I’d never been exposed to structural filmmaking before this, and it’s pretty interesting stuff. Now, I’m going on one movie (though it seems to be the structural movie, from what I’ve gleaned from other reviews), so I may be way off base, but my take on it is this: a filmmaker gets a theme, and he gets an image to represent that theme. Once he’s got both (and either one may not be readily apparent), he makes a movie involving obsessive repetition of the image in order to present the theme. Have I got that right? In Zorns Lemma, Hollis Frampton’s image is the alphabet. His theme I’m not quite so sure on; if I go by the title, it would seem to be the ideal, in some form or another. If I go by the narration, it would seem to be language. Of course, it’s possible to combine the two to come up with language as a set and the ideal as, perhaps, a transcendent language (though that would depend entirely on how Hollis Frampton felt about New York City, which I don’t know; his alphabet is comprised almost entirely of New York City street signs). We spend the majority of the film in silence, working through the same stills of the alphabet, though it mutates over time as letters are replaced by the same letter on another sign. Then there is the walking-through-snow bit, which I can’t see without thinking of Dog Star Man. (I also have no idea how close Frampton and Brakhage were, though it would make sense for a structural filmmaker to have been influenced by Brakhage, and to pay homage to him.)
Whatever ideas you come up with about what Frampton wanted to convey, however, the film itself is quite beautiful, and does keep your interest through the mutations of the stills. I have no doubt there will be those viewers who will find it boring, but I wasn’t one of them. Worth checking out. ***
…and these days you can do so free online.