DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Scott Barley Day

 

‘Like the great Jean-Marie Straub, Scott Barley creates striking images by returning us to the basics of cinema, the natural world, but abstracting it through profilmic means by reducing the landscape to pure, basic forms. The sky at night becomes a grid of uneven white points like a pin board; an abstract, grainy image of trees, green hued, are obscured into strikes of painterly lines; the sunset, seen through clouds, is stained with a natural purple tint that makes the image look as unreal as the skies in John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; a deep-focus landscape shot slowly becomes obscured by a patch of fog in the foreground. After a few beats, Barley tends to then situate these abstractions within a clearer sense of space and time. Barley, an installation artist and filmmaker from Newport, South Wales, has gained ecstatic admiration for his short films within certain cinephiliac circles, and makes his feature debut with the exhilarating Sleep Has Her House. The film begins with a characteristic bit of misdirection: a static frame, the view consumed by shadows, the locus of the image a jagged streak of turquoise bisecting the composition like a stroke of paint. The following two shots, also static, further and further outward, revealing to us that we’ve been looking at a neutral view of a sloping waterfall. The landscape we were introduced to as an impressionistic wash of pure color is now given specific shape and form.

‘The entirety of Barley’s astonishing feature is built on a fascinating push-pull between digital clarity and pictorial abstraction. For the most part, Barley constructs his lengthy, deep-focus compositions with a static HD camera, capturing landscapes that are almost jarring in their motionlessness—the only source of motion is often the lightly undulating ripples of water or the shifting hues of the sky, which at times leads the viewer to question whether they’re looking at a still or a moving image. Barley foregrounds the centrality of the natural elements to shaping the image, adding texture and dimension and determining pacing. Removed from any degree of linear forward motion, Barley’s lo-fi cinema readily recalls actuality cinema, but the overall effect is far from documentary. Unlike a filmmaker like James Benning—to whom Barley has been compared—this filmmaking doesn’t so much seem to be calling for a return to the basic properties of nature to form a resistance against modernity in cinema practices as to suggest how painterly abstractions can be created through the simplest of means. Barley crafts images that are extremely sensual in their materialism but minimal in every other sense. Although each works in isolation, when placed in succession they take on an intense emotional weight, layer upon layer of painterly compositions in a rich tapestry of gentle motion.

‘Although Barley incorporates many techniques traditionally associated with the documentary into his filmmaking techniques—natural light, real world locations, minimal post-production effects—his films are far from ethnographic. For one, despite rigorously surveying a specific, restricted space, his images are spatially vague: there’s rarely any clear sense of how one shot spatially relates to the next, and we’re left with an uncertainty regarding the geography of the landscape as a whole. The film’s landscapes are removed from any temporal markers, almost seeming to exist outside of time, creating an odd mesh with the ultra-modern digital technology used to craft these shots. Not so much an exploration of space as an exploration of the properties of the digital image, the land rendered hyper-real, almost resembling the surface of some lost planet. A land that looks abandoned, forgotten, drained of life.

‘Barley’s filmmaking seems to be essentially apolitical, surveying the natural world with a paradoxical combination of awe and a muted sense of fear, as if recognizing not only the minuscule scale on man in the face of the elements, but also the sway nature holds over the cinematic image itself. This takes over in the final stretch of Sleep Has Her House , which sees the initially tranquil tenor Barley’s montage being replaced by a sense of destruction, as a storm is portrayed with the grandeur of a rapture. The screen is plunged into darkness, periodically illuminated by lightening like impromptu strobe lighting effects. This is also the first time life is introduced into Barley ’s mise en scène, in an extended close-up of a horse’s eye reacting to the destruction, captured with a haphazard, lightly drifting, uncharacteristically handheld shot. The images are increasingly consumed by dark negative space, with the eye being drawn to a few salient details pushed into a small section of the screen.

‘If Sleep Has Her House at first calls to mind the expressionist landscapes of Peter Hutton, Victor Sjöström and, yes, Straub, the formal apocalypse of its final act recalls the smeary digital cacophony of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan, and Sleep Has Her House similarly foregrounds the forceful capacities of DV cameras. By removing his filmmaking from any traditional sense of narrative, character, and, even temporal/spatial unity, Barley invites us to see the world—and the cinematic image—anew Sleep Has Her House is a vital reminder that the most potent visual abstractions can be created through something as simple as the shifting colour of the sky reflected in water, and the most jarring shock can come from a change in lens.’ — James Slaymaker, MUBI

 

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Stills













































 

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Further

Scott Barley Website
Scott Barley @ Vimeo
Scott Barley @ bandcamp
Scott Barley @ Twitter
Sleep Has Her House @ THE ART(S) OF SLOW CINEMA
“Film is an illusion, but hopefully an illusion that can speak a truth.”
Scott Barley: Creating in the Digital Era
THE EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA OF SCOTT BARLEY
IN OTHER WORDS, NOW PLAYING: Sleep Has Her House
ACONTECIMIENTOS: 2013 SCOTT BARLEY
On SLEEP HAS HER HOUSE @ cinelapsus
LIMA INDEPENDIENTE 2017: SLEEP HAS HER HOUSE DE SCOTT BARLEY
dark is more
Onscreen/Offscreen: The “terrible sublime” of Sleep Has Her House
A transcendent film worth experiencing.
Scott Barley @ revolvy
“And the dark is always hungry.”
Review / analysis of Scott Barley’s “Sleep Has Her House”

 

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Extras


Night Will Fall: The Films of Scott Barley


SCOTT BARLEY: COME MEET YOUR MAKER

 

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Interview
from 25fps.cz

 

I first encountered your work through Vimeo and it appears as if online viewing is something you work with consciously in your creative process. For example, you recommend watching your 2015 short film Hunter “in complete darkness, with headphones.” Could you say something about the role the internet plays in your filmmaking practice and aesthetics?

The internet is an interesting place. I like how I can democratise my work, make it available for free… how I am able to reach such a wide diversity of people, and in some cases, create a dialogue with these people from around the world. If it wasn’t for the internet, we would not be having this interview. I have often said that once I finish a film, and I put it out there in the world, it is no longer mine. It is yours… anybody’s. And I think that the internet nourishes that; this ongoing dialogue, this continuation. But as far as my own aesthetics and interests in how my own work should be contextualised, the internet is not perfect. There are many problems. The internet succeeds on the foundation that it is predominantly a place for instant gratification, but from another vantage point, this very foundation condemns it to its own failure as a platform. The internet has been shaped to satisfy our needs, often in a swift, superficial, “dopamine rush” manner. When the internet is utilised in tandem with the moving image, with art, with patience, with time, with work that challenges us, the failings of the internet and the way we have come to utilise it (and of course, how it is coded for us to utilise) are lamentably apparent. The internet is a world built upon instant gratification and distraction.

My work is all about immersion. It is antonymic in that way to how the internet predominantly operates. The potential for networking with others however, of creating an ongoing dialogue between my work and the people who experience it is huge, and exciting, and is something I am really pursuing right now. But I am still very much a person who believes in the power, the intensity, and resonance of the auditorium; the cinema space, and the immersion that it uniquely offers. So in that sense, I feel like I don’t fully belong in either place fully; not the internet, not the cinema. And I don’t believe this will change any time soon. But one can look at this and perhaps regard this ‘problem’ as not the real problem at all. Instead, the true problem is behind all of this, and that problem is us. It simply reveals the inherent, reductive trappings of the way we, as human beings have been rendered to think – desiring to compartmentalise, to label, to categorise, to create borders, which are inane, reductive, and pointless when we are talking about complex matters. There is little use to discuss the problems between the internet and the cinema dialectically, because it leads us down a path of false truths, and empty confirmations. There is perhaps more truth to be found in understanding the tension that holds disparate elements together, in this case, the internet, and the cinema. Both are necessary, and both are true, and in the end, there is only the indeterminable whole and the tension within.

I know for certain that my films work best as a large screen projection, in complete darkness, with good sound equipment – not a computer, and I wish everybody had the opportunity to see the films as they were truly intended. But I don’t have full control over that, and I think it would be bad, ultimately, if I did have control over these things. My interests do not lie in pecuniary matters, and I do not wish to deny anyone from being able to see my work. So I’m in a sort of twilight world between the old (the cinema, the dark, immersive auditorium) and the new (internet, distribution channels etc.) in that sense. I embrace the internet, knowing full well that it is not perfect. I make films because I feel I need to. I genuinely feel a need. And so regardless of whether the distributive aspect is perfect, or not, I will continue to make films, with money, or no money. As long as I feel I have something to say, I will continue making films.

Your output is very eclectic. Every film I saw is different from the others, and you also write poems and paint. Is there anything particular you enjoy about experimenting – be it with different media, different cameras or different techniques?

I like feeling lost, and being in uncharted territory with my praxis. I don’t preconceive my films often. I don’t work with preconceived images. I experiment and build upon things, and see what works. I want the act of making to be a journey for me. I want to be surprised and scared sometimes. When I work, I try to occupy a place where I can doubt things; a precarious place where I feel on the precipice of failure. I want to feel the sensation that the work is its own entity, that it is alive, and seemingly a step ahead of myself. The journey is for me. Once the film is finished, it is not mine anymore. It is for everybody else. That is how I feel. Sometimes, it takes a long time for me to really begin to understand what it is that I have made, what it is that I am trying to express. But my intuition seems to know best. I never think too much. I just focus on my feelings. Also, each medium has its own unique powers of expression. As a consequence, I do shift between mediums such as writing or painting, and different ways of seeing (and hearing) within my filmmaking. Perhaps you could say that a certain idea, or a feeling can be better communicated through film than painting, or writing… or vice versa. They are just different modes of expression. I love making music too. Sound is incredibly important to me. I love all of it. I want to always feel that the work is two steps ahead of me.

I read somewhere that you used to be very obsessed with language, when you were small, but now your films are generally silent when it comes to spoken words and use only ambient sounds. How come?

I am still obsessed with language, and I adore reading and writing so much – and it’s that very reason why I don’t like to use it in my films. They’re different mediums. I see language as sacred. And I see images… the world as sacred. But we are facing a time where language is increasingly becoming an objectifier, an itemiser, an explainer of what we see before our eyes. When we use language to describe, or explain an image, we are in a sense, objectifying it, and in turn, we are killing it. We kill its mysteries and silent beauty through our inane objectification. Let’s just bask in the sonorous silence of the sunset, of the moon, the stars, the lake, in the presence of the horses, the deer, the owls, in the mountains, and the forest. Let’s not, through folly, attempt to claim the Unknown as known to us. Let us leave the unknowable to be what it is: unknowable. Beauty lies in the things that are not fully known to us. I would rather look upon the world with silent wonder and awe, rather than savage it with all the words in the world, that in this context are meaningless and hideous. Words conjure images. If the image already exists, there is nothing to be conjured. Instead, we are only using words to conquer the image. And I am not interested in conquering anything.

Amid the eclecticism, there are underlying aesthetic and thematic preoccupations in your cinematic output that can be noticed easily. Among others, there is your nyctophilia, biophilia and a certain, dare I say, cosmic sense in how you work with nature. These themes, together with what I assume is low-budget film-making practice, make me think of your films as cinema for the Anthropocene. Is there such a conscious political dimension to what you do, or am I reading too much into it?

I think all works are directly, or indirectly, political. We bring so much of ourselves into our work, through making. But also, spectators read and utilise a piece of work in multifarious ways, sometimes a political one; and work lives on, and continues to grow, taking on new meanings, long after they have been “completed”. I would say that I have, since the very beginning of my filmmaking, been making an anthropocenic statement. A statement on anthropocenic, metaphysical, and existentialist issues. I remember one critic describing my work, not as a “cosmogony”, but as a “cosmo-agony”. When I read the latter, I exclaimed, ‘Yes! that is it!’ A lot of my work is a lamentation of our disconnection with nature, or our destruction of nature, our foolishness. I am, through my own films, trying to re-establish a connection. And in a way, I guess that could be interpreted as political.

You mentioned in another interview that your art is strongly influenced by avant-garde filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Phil Solomon, Jean-Claude Rousseau, and Nathaniel Dorsky, as well as some feature-length artists like Béla Tarr. Your references appear to generally come from the Euro-Atlantic tradition. Are there any non-Western filmmakers or artists in general whom you would explicitly count as an influence?

Absolutely. There are many. I would not compartmentalise myself to being specifically influenced by Western/Euro-Atlantic cinema. I just don’t think in these terms. If I had to think of specific non-Western filmmakers, I would say I have been influenced by Yoshishige Yoshida, Jan Němec, Wojciech Wiszniewski, Aleksei German, Akio Jissoji, Kaneto Shindô, Konstantin Lopushansky, Věra Chytilová, Artavazd Peleshyan, Xu Xin, František Vláčil, György Fehér, Veiko Õunpuu… there are many more.

Watching your films, I sometimes think of films by František Vláčil, because of his baroque sensibility towards landscapes and what I feel as a strong presence of atmospheric phenomena. And, since this is interview is conducted for a Czech film magazine, I feel impelled to ask: Are there any Czech directors or films you enjoy?

Jan Němec… he has been a huge influence on me. I adore his films with all my heart. He realised that cinema is in many ways, truly about childhood, of memories. Vláčil… I like Vláčil very much. The mood and atmosphere of his films is very haunting and evocative. I like Gustav Machatý a lot. Chytilová. I also love Juraj Herz. The Cremator is a favourite of mine.

What role did institutionalized film education (film school) play in the development of your practical skills and aesthetic sensibilities?

Very little. I have had poor experiences from universities. Too many philistines; both teachers, and students. If you are passionate, driven, and you love art, you’ll go out and and make art regardless. It is not about the equipment. It’s how you use it. This is what so few students understand. The only good thing about university was the few people I met who saw the world in a unique way. In my view, there needs to be less teaching, and instead, they need to cultivate more. The system is broken. Instead of forcing an ideology on to a student, a teacher must observe what makes each student unique, and nourish that, i.e. they observe what the student sees on their horizon, and then in turn, they make that horizon bigger. They shouldn’t stamp out their creativity. Instead, they should help them realise their full potential. Many universities don’t realise they are stamping out an individual’s creativity. Teacher is the wrong word. Cultivator describes it better.

I have almost always learnt auto-didactically, or through my peers; not teachers. I do know some very talented teachers though, like Phil Solomon – an incredibly gifted filmmaker as well as professor – and I had some great teachers when I was younger, but for the most part, I haven’t had many good ones during my time at university. A lot of students and tutors saw my work as pretentious, or considered me a maverick. Until the system changes, my work will never be fully welcome in a film school. And I don’t want to be part of a system, or an industry that tries to nullify unique creative sensibility. A large part of the world that we live in is a world of selling out, of spinelessness, of denying yourself true existential nourishment; a world where courage, vision, and conviction count for nothing. I do not ever wish to be moulded into an anonymous, shapeless, soulless piece of plastic, ready to be churned out on corporate conveyor belts for the instant gratification of gormless morons. In short, the world of spinelessness, of creative censorship can get fucked.

Have you ever encountered negative feedback, by critics or people around you, to what you do?

Of course! Who doesn’t? You have to take the bad with the good. A polarised reaction is a healthy reaction. I am lucky in that the people who like my work are very passionate supporters of my work. The main reason for negativity seems to stem from an unwillingness to submit to the work itself. But I also have seen some very sad people negatively review films that I haven’t even completed or released. These people have decided to troll my work. What sad, boring lives these people must have. All I really care about is the work, and the hope that it will leave an impression on just one person. I make films out a need. I don’t do it out a desire to please others. It’s less superficial than that.

What prompted the creation of a feature-length film (SHHH)? Did its length influence the way it was made?

The idea for doing a feature-length film was an organic one. It was the right time. It was born from a desire to go deeper, darker, and narrower. I made Sleep Has Her House exactly the same way as I have made my previous, shorter works. I feel my way in the dark. I feel what feels right, and never question it, and never deviate from it. I feel, and feel alone. I love not being fully in control when making. I want the film itself to have its own autonomy as it is being made, and for it to always be a few steps ahead of me. I want it to give birth to itself.

For me, making a film is largely the same as watching one. You must not resist. Once you let go, you are no longer a captive. Just let it wash over you like an ocean. Swim with it. Drown in it. I think that my approach is more visible in Sleep Has Her House than any of my previous works, partly due to the longer running time, but also because of the stronger presence of the liminal, the mystic, and the unknown, which I feel took root with my short film, Hunter (2015), but is also there much earlier, in works like Nightwalk (2013) for example.

Can you tell me something about your upcoming projects? Do you think it could become possible to see your films at the cinema or art spaces even in the Czech Republic?

I’m working on many projects. About eight different projects right now. Another feature film is in the works, but won’t be completed for a long time. As for the less distant future, there will be lots of short films and installation-based pieces coming. Mouths in the Grass, Lustre to Void, Starless, Fugue – a film I am making with my partner, Gabrielle Meehan – and lots of other things. I am always working on multiple things at once.

As for screening my work in the Czech Republic, I would love that. But I do not have an established network in the Czech Republic. To people who want to see my work, I say, go to your local independent cinemas, your festivals, your galleries, and tell them. Something similar has started to happen in the USA with my work recently, and it’s all down to passionate spectators, who want to see my work in an auditorium setting. Of course, I do network with festivals, curators, and programmers, but that will not bring my films to everybody. There is much to do!

Any last words you could address to readers who are eager to create experimental films of their own?

Don’t think too much. Just feel. Always be curious. Always be resilient.

 

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17 of Scott Barley’s 18 films *

* Scott Barley strongly suggests that these films be watched in the dark if at all possible.

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Sleep Has Her House (2017)
Sleep is a film that goes deep, very deep. It is not just a film. It is not just visuals. And it is not just a combination of visuals and sound. It is a journey. It is an experience. It digs deep into your soul, into your dreams. It takes you into another world, into the underworld, but it’s not a scary journey at all. On the contrary, Barley is always there with you. You’re never really on your own. Barley’s film is certainly the strongest film I have seen in years. There have been many films which touched me, but not in the same way. Sleep stands out. This is as far as my words can take it. All I can do now is strongly recommending the film. Words cannot adequately translate experience. You naturally lose most of that experience because you try to find words for something that has no words. So please watch the film, and experience this magnificent journey Barley takes you on.’ — Nadin Mai, THE ART(S) OF SLOW CINEMA


Trailer

 

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The Green Ray (2017)
‘A Green Ray that never features. Instead, we sense it, seeing beyond our own eyes, beyond the hills, we sense it for an instant. We are plunged into the unknowable, beyond the horizon, beyond seeing altogether. In a single 11 minute take, Barley takes us from lush sunsets. to beyond the green ray, and into the gloaming, into the heavy night’s darkness, where we, transfixed, can do nothing but await the impending storm.’ — SB


the entire film

 

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Passing (2017)
‘A Silence. Two deer. Mother and child. Curiosity and the World. Being and responding. Love and courage. A gesture. Alone in the woods inside an imperfect image. A film of three shots. A passing.’ — SB


the entire film

 

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Womb (2017)
‘The Mouth screams. Like a shadow, it looms on the event horizon. It swells, hunting the night like a snake in the dark. The laceration tears through the stars, devouring its meal. Within the nothing swims something of a memory of movement. Far beyond, something out of the black reveals itself. In the infinite womb, limbs drift suspended, like flies in a giant spider web. An infinite sea of pale flesh. Bodies without organs. Death’s renewal awaits, as the bodies pass through the void.’ — SB


the entire film

 

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Closer (2016)
‘Only five films into Scott Barley’s filmography and I’m already completely struck down by what I’ve seen. Barley blows away so many cinematic rules with his creations. He seems to answer the questions I’ve been asking myself so often these past years but to which I never found right answers. He’s basically a one-man show, running direction, editing, cinematography, sound design and with this one even poetry for his films. I’ve always longed to know how I could achieve things on my own. I always wanted to find out how I could create those images in my head without driving myself mad with the productional issues that those big blockbusters have that I dreamt of making as a kid. Scott makes his films on his iPhone. He embraces the lack of quality in his work and creates abstract paintings out of the pixels that come forth out of his heavy editing and grading of the images. He bashes lighting and embraces the dark, something oh so many filmmakers are so terribly afraid of. At one point in Closer, he even stops portraying the film as a moving image and changes it into a slideshow of loose pictures, only connected by completely black intervals. I am so awestruck by how freely Barley seems to make his pictures and how open he is to the flaws of film. I’ve been dreading making films for a while and I’m quite scared to make my documentary this year and finish film school, but discovering his work has been an absolute eye-opener and a serious reassurance of what one man can achieve if he only puts his passion into it.’ — Leo (Willem) van der Zanden


the entire film

 

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Hinterlands (2016)
‘Begins broadly Benning-esque but steadily goes full Tscherkassky (or maybe Robinson) before settling into a fitting state of arrant, idiosyncratic abstraction; just as, if not more viscerally and sensorily frightening than Grandrieux’s White Epilepsy, only it manages to provoke the same sort of pure, physical panic in a tenth of the aforementioned film’s runtime.’ — Eli Hayes


the entire film

 

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Hours (2015)
‘Shot in a grainy black and white – with the pixels of the images producing a costant flickering – and deeply contrasted, Hours is soundless and simply “assembled” in post production: no filter, no effect. Once again, Barley uses the repetition of signs as an authorial mark and, at the same time, as the center of a formal structure conceived as a score. By repeating one or more signs in the short (the moon that ties the different shots, the clouds and the window from which the director watches the sky) Barley inundates the film with mystery, like the unexplainable experience of deja vu. At the same time, Hours is a little essay – like The Ethereal… – about the mysticism of time and the impossibility to stop it unless one freezes it with, once again, signs: the fog in The Ethereal and the moon in Hours. Moreover, if compared to Retirement, Hours shows Barley’s desire to build a shelter for himself, a spiritual isolation in another time, different and out of history, in an ethernal, threatening night.’ — Alberto Libera


the entire film

 

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Evenfall (2015)
Evenfall was filmed in late January, up in the snowy hills of Abertillery. I see this film as a companion piece to my first film, The Ethereal Melancholy of Seeing Horses in the Cold. Evenfall is the sister film. Like ‘…Horses’, it was all filmed in one location in less than an hour, using stream-of-consciousness. It is silent, set in the cold, and features one of nature’s most elegant creatures: the horse. It is the metaphors themselves that are not the same; Evenfall is a silent poem to celebrate the winter light and the sense of solitude that it brings. It is also my first film in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and it was shot entirely on an iPhone.’ — Scott Barley


the entire film

 

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Shadows (2015)
‘The crew I was working with had to come up with an idea for our graduation film in university. We came up with what we all thought was a very strong idea. The lucidity and minimalism of Bresson was a huge influence on us. We worked on the pre-production for months, and then we were told by the university that we had to do a presentation for the film, and explain our idea to the class in two weeks. We began working on it, but in the back of my mind, I was losing faith in the idea. It didn’t feel like I was letting myself become vulnerable, or that I was risking something – and I think that is incredibly important as an artist. You must dare yourself to fail. Anyway, the presentation was drawing closer and closer and I didn’t want to tell the group how I felt, as we had already put so much work into it. Then, three days before the presentation day, I received a phone call from my mother. She was worried about Doris – my grandmother. No one had been able to speak to her on the phone. Nobody would answer. I quickly drove up there, and it seemed that her legs had stopped working, and she was trapped in the bath. We called the police and we waited. It felt like ages. I could hear my grandmother crying from upstairs, and I tried my best to reassure that everything was OK, all the while I was thinking, what if she has hypothermia? How long has she been trapped in there? Eventually, the police arrived. They had to break the glass on the kitchen window. We had access to Doris’ home, but Doris had left her keys in the lock on the inside of the house, so were unable to get inside. We rushes upstairs and carefully eased Doris out of the bath and comforted her. With a few hours, everything seemed OK again, but in the back of my mind, I felt incredibly guilty. I hadn’t seen my grandmother that often since embarking on my film course, and as is the case in these situations, it makes you truly value the moments you have with your loved ones. It wasn’t until that evening that the idea came to me of making a film about my grandmother. I rang up Matthew Allen – my friend and colleague – and told him what had happened, and what he thought about re-creating the trauma as a cathartic exercise. He approved of the idea, and so the following day, I came clean about my concerns to the rest of the crew about the previous film that we had been working on for months. We had just two days before the presentation. Thankfully, the crew were behind me on the idea, and we raced to create a script that would recreate the scenes I had witnessed only the day before. The aesthetics and overall “narrative” came very quickly. Almost immediately. I knew that the film had to have no camera movement, entrenching this feeling of entrapment and isolation. The camera would be a silent observer, remorseless and unrelenting to the scenes that unfolded. Repetition was another big point for us, to instil the sense of monotony when one lives alone and is unable to walk far, and so cannot travel outside. This would then build up to the bath scene, which as close to a re-creation as to what happened as we could do. It was all about authenticity. Human authenticity. We managed to get a good presentation together in 48 hours. The presentation went well, and Grace Mahony – who was one of the production designers from a different course that was in synergy with ours – could really understand what we were trying to do, and so she joined our group, and really helped realise the vision for Shadows.’ — Scott Barley


the entire film

 

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Hunter (2015)
‘An enormous, but shielded Explosion of chasmic light from the depths of a death; a small death in the darkness of a silent Somewhere, until a musician shouts his song during the stalk, and Someone writes with light. The death of the chase is avenged way west of our world, within the Cyclical cosmos, through the striking of a balance between the Chaos that shadows create and the tragic action of a soul being stripped from its shell.’ — Eli Hayes


the entire film

 

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Blue Permanence / Swan Blood (2015)
‘Above all, an experiment. Two identical films mirror each other. The only thing that differentiates between them is colour and sound, which is simply reversed. Through the use of just colour and sound, each part invokes unique sensations in the viewer; one of sorrow, and one of fear. Not a single identifiable object features. Instead, the films focus on repetition, texture, movement and light.’ — SB


the entire film

 

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Polytechnique (2014)
‘The ways in which Barley makes the real feel unreal are astounding. It almost feels like La Region Centrale in its sheer disorientation, but instead of a landscape slowly gone berserk, Barley leaves little time for any sort of full image. Instead, it’s all abstract enough to never feel fully interpretable, but plentiful enough to see things within it. The only issues I saw were when an editing effect was obvious enough that the illusion was briefly ruined. But the amount of effects and tricks used make the likelihood of finding any really difficult. And the score from Easychord only adds to the uncertain atmosphere, with the ambiance of his composition helping to form images in your own mind, rather than either director or performer handing them to you. It’s a terrific film to make your own through what you see out of what’s in the frame. When the waves turn into mountains or caves, crushing or erupting, surrounding or expanding, it’s almost certainly a different experience each time, and a personal one for each viewer as to what they find from the images.’ — olympic puffin, letterboxd


the entire film

 

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Ille Lacrimas (2014)
‘Waves run across the surface of the sea. A blanket of fog has descended, shrouding the far side of the water in dark mist. We hear a disturbance in the sea’s surface, out of our line of sight. A man staggers into view. He is stranded. Alone. He searches for answers; in the water, in the woodland, in the hills. He finds none. As he wanders deeper into the darkness of the forest, questioning his fate and destiny, he thinks back and reminisces over fragments of his life, and what has been lost. As time passes, the man finds a cabin. He feels uplifted at the thought of shelter from exposure to the elements that he has endured. Inside the shack he encounters a book that he had lost days before. He attempts to find solace in the book’s pages; memories of days passed by. It consumes him. He accepts his spiritual end. It comes full circle.’ — SB


the entire film

 

____________
Retirement (2013)
‘Retirement. My retirement. After a long stretch of intense work on a project that I wasn’t passionate about, I finally had a little time to make something I truly wanted. Solitude. A subtle use of machinima alongside HD video.’ — SB


the entire film

 

___________
Irresolute (2013)
‘A semi-socio-political work. Influenced by the work of avant-garde filmmakers, Stan Brakhage and Philip Solomon. Nominated in Senses of Cinema 2013 World Poll.’ — SB


the entire film

 

________
Nightwalk (2013)
‘Waves of clouds and the ocean slowly crash in on one another, as do the blacks and whites of the image, and even the layers of landscapes. An unstable camera shakes to the heavy winds, and genuine unease is felt even in how vague Barley’s storytelling can be. It’s not a concrete short, with interpretations and story feeling more like smaller details to a more important whole. That whole is the immediacy of Barley’s imagery and soundscape, something he proves here as wholly unique. It took him a few shorts, but with old and new motifs of his combining wickedly into one short, Nightwalk seems like a brilliant opening to an auteur fully discovering himself. His image, his sound, and his voice.’ — olympic puffin, letterboxd


the entire film

 

____________
The Ethereal Melancholy Of Seeing Horses In The Cold (2012)
‘A silent short, focusing on the melancholic beauty of horses in the cold fog, and the metaphors that manifest, as time passes.’ — MUBI


the entire film

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi. Thank you. Oh, it’s dedicated to Zac, but most novels have dedications. It’s not a private gift. No, I haven’t seen ‘Phantom Thread’ yet. I will, I just don’t feel rushed to. Yeah, on Dolan, and I also just don’t like the self-consciously arty style shenanigans. Interesting what you say about ‘BvS’. I would have to watch it again, and I can’t imagine doing that, but I thought it was aggressively mediocre and borrowed and aesthetically dead and phoney on every level, even for that kind of film, when I saw it. I felt much the same way about ‘Bladerunner 2049’, so obviously mine is not a popular opinion. You are in the future, I thought so. It feels kind of magic talking with you. ** Chris Cochrane, Hi, Chris! Oh, man, thank you so much for the really good words. No, I think the gif works get better and better, at least to my standards, because my understanding of the medium’s possibilities and parameters are at their highest, and I can do things I couldn’t do before. It’s just that making things when you think you know what you’re doing and capable of doing always feels a bit worrying to me. I find new things by playing more confidently and daringly now whereas before I was reaching for things that I didn’t fully understand or something. I don’t know. But, really, thank you. If your trip memories are anything like, say, mine re: my big trip to Antarctica, they stay but compress, and their atmosphere kind of dries out or something. It’s strange. Nayland! Say hi back when you see him next. Big love to you! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thank you very much. Oh, it seems quite possible that anime amputee boys finally got their day in that one. Everyone, Steve has a whole bunch of field trips on offer for you this weekend. You can read his ‘brief review of footwork DJ Taye’ STILL TRIPPIN’ [which] is part of the AV Club’s guide to this week’s notable new album releases’ here. You can read his ‘piece on Straub/Huillet’s THE CHRONICLE OF ANNA-MAGDALENA BACH, which opens in New York today in a new restoration that will presumably travel to American arthouses and be released on Blu-Ray later this year’ here. And/or you can read his piece ‘on Felix and the Future’s album HOLY HANDS, VOL. 2’ here. ** Sypha, Hi. Oh, well, thank you, man. I think Zac really likes them, otherwise I wouldn’t keep making them for him. I think what the gif works do or try to do is a kind of shared interest space for he and I. In that sense, there is a special communication going on there. Like I’ve said, Zac’s and my interests and thinking about things are almost paranormally in tune, and I think he’s naturally more inside those works than people who come to them as readers. For instance, he said that three of the sequences yesterday gave him ideas re: how to visualise some things in our next film. So the gif works even have a kind of hidden workspace aspect. Anyway, blah blah, thank you. Gonna get that Pynchon in my brain pan for sure, just don’t know when. ** Jamie, Hi Jamie! Oh, I think you’re right, yes. I think there’s always some kind of self-referentiality to the form in them — well, in everything I write or make, I think — but I think that aspect was kind of forefronted in the new story, yes. Good eye, thank you. Yes, yes, I agree that my increased control of the medium allows for more looseness, or at least a more regulated looseness. I think the gifs themselves, what they show, at their best, have a perfect balance of control and looseness. I’m only really interested in gifs that seem kind of in-between, unfinished, interim, like … why stop there? Oh, the sequence with the three guys falling/sliding? Yeah, that’s a beauty. I got lucky. There’s so much luck involved in making that work. I’m pretty good. My cold seems to be dying in its cradle, thank god. Quick visit there from the folks. Nice. Well, nice that they’re such bussetters. It’s warming up here too, slightly but effectively. Don’t stress getting stuck. Totally natural. The only thing that will cause you problems is if you think the stress means something. I assure you that it doesn’t. Inspiration’s rhythm is flirty. Hitler definitely was one total dick. What does your weekend look like? Ha ha, the burrito. May your weekend suck all the beauty in the world into its black hole. Bouncy love, Dennis. ** Wolf, Wicker Woman! Oh, no, I’m just happy to know that your spoken/unspoken phrase shows me that you say gif with a hard ‘g’ like all civilised beings should. I think they could work horizontally, or that they would work differently thereby in some interesting way. The vertical scroll is a big part of how they work, but assumptions are made to be de-aquisitioned or some such. Thank you, pal. We had some snow, hardly a ton, just some fairly good droppings but, hey, it snowed in Paris! Been years. It’s over now. The temp is creeping up towards creepy normality. I’m so happy you liked ‘Afterglow’! No, I’m not surprise, it’s true, but I’m very happy. What’s your weekend? What’s its what? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Oh, no, the cold got you, I’m so sorry. Mine strangely gave up on me and has started fading to nothingness, I don’t know why. Feel so much better! Thank you very much about the gif work! Oh, okay, you can write me about your idea although I feel like I can guarantee that I’m going to love it. I’m good. I again worked yesterday, but I need to. Today I’m going to go look at art and see a film, and tomorrow I might go to the city of Metz for the day because there’s a big daylong exhibition/concert there some artists I like (Dumb Type, Ryoji Ikeda, others), but I’m not a hundred percent sure I will do that or should (I should work). How were your Saturday and Sunday? ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Thanks a lot, man. Yeah, I was deliberately seeing how seamless I could make that work seem, or more than usually. It’s always hard to isolate the reasons behind the sequences because they’re made and assembled over quite a while and involve all kinds of reasonings that are kind of a blur of purely aesthetic wants and decisions made regarding the narrative aspect. I thought, re: the narrative, that the piece needed to end with a kind of explicitness and blatancy. And I liked the simplicity of the sequence’s intention’s in relationship to the rhythm of the gif combination. And other stuff. Kind of a vague answer, sorry. The gif work is hard to parse in an articulate way, I think because it’s somehow based in language (for me) but trying evade language’s constrictions as much as possible. Or something. The new gif book, which is called ‘Zac’s Coral Reef’, is a collection of the short gif works I’ve made over the past year. When I assembled them, I began to see all the interconnections between them, and, upon doing that, I felt there was an area in the grouping that was missing or that needed to be filled in/spelled out to make the collection work as a totality. So, basically, I isolated what that missing space was and constructed a story based on what I thought would finish the grouping within that space. Which I guess doesn’t really explain much of anything, sorry. It was a missing space that suggested both a tonal and narrative need. Just got the new Breeders, but I haven’t listened to it yet. Great! I feel like I could blissfully listen to Kim and Kelley sing the phone book, as it were. How’s stuff with you? ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks, Ben. Yeah, bit of a snowday from hell you had there. Sorry. Great luck with Aye-Aye Books. They look cool. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Thanks, man, I appreciate the good words. I have a pretty vast storage area full of unused gifs at this point. Generally, when I start a new work, I look through the vault and pull out gifs that excite me relative to the idea I have. Sometimes I upload them into my work space and try to build around them, mostly via searches for new gifs, but also dipping into the reserves. The best way to find gifs is just through a general gif search using thematic cues. There are some gif-specific sites I go to like Giphy, Gifline, and several others. Thanks for explaining the meeting. Okay, yeah. So far it seems like it could have gone worse? I don’t know exactly what ‘alternative school’ is though. Is the court summons a given? Is there going to be one no matter what? Jesus, stressful. Glad you’re able to work on the novel through that and the flyaway shingles. Man. ** Kyler, Hi, K. Yeah, ha ha, my ideal is silence for the gif works. I think they suggest sounds through the images, and I like to imagine people imagining the sounds the gifs would make if they had sound, and I partly build them with the idea that there’s an imaginary, directed soundtrack going on in the viewer’s head. Oh, I’m not trying to say anything to Zac on a personal level in those works. I make them for him, so there’s that overall affection and etc., but they’re not personal messages to him at all. I don’t access or use my personal life as inspiration in the gif works. I don’t think there’s any relationship there. They’re purely imaginative. Thanks for asking and for the kind words. ** Chris Dankland, Hi, Chris! Oh, the rough outline is extremely interesting and really, really valuable. I hugely appreciate you sharing it with me. I’m going to read it very carefully once I’m out of here. I like that you particularly like those two sequences. They happen at such polar opposite ends of what the gif work allows, and I like that. Oh, uh, that sequence with gloved hands … it’s really hard for me to try to explain the ‘why’ part because, as I said somewhere above, I make them and arrange them over a longish period time, and I try to make decisions about them from all kinds of different angles, so they end up being what they are and where they are for kind of really mushed-together reasons. That sequence is a kind of energy boost that was needed and helpful at that particular spot, I think, and it partly is a kind of assault/montage of images and motifs that recur in the work, so it’s kind of trailer imbedded within the work that it’s the trailer for, and I think it suggests that there’s going to be a certain kind of disorientation ahead, and it has a specific relationship to a later long sequence that has a similar bent, so, on a micro level, those two sequences are conversing. See, ha ha, it’s hard to talk about and make much sense, even though it all makes sense to me, but I like that the sense appears kind of drugged. The Dickens thing you said is very interesting. Huh, I wasn’t thinking of Dickens, but, yeah, that’s a good point of comparison in a weird way. The title … it just felt right. I thought if the piece had a headline, that would be the most accurate headline. I think it’s a pretty good directive into the work. I didn’t think about individualised characters, no. The gif works make defined characters impossible. The best you can do is create archetypes and arrange them and create crowd scenes where specific stories or events are happening that can be discerned depending on which point you want to focus your attention on and follow through. Or you can think of them as a crowd too. Micro-descriptons is a better way to put it, yeah. I think of the figures in the works as less present than as things that dawn into the work, as in ‘they dawned on me’. The viewer being ‘me’. Or something. The story was conceptualised as a whole, but the substance of that whole and its build only came into being via a fractured concentration on the needs of the individual sequences. I fear that makes no sense. Maybe it’s a little like making a film. You have the script, but the film doesn’t become what it is until you cast the performers and choose the locations and so on, none of which you have any idea about when you conceptualise and write the film’s script. Maybe? Dude, love is the best reason in the world to lose yourself in your life. The rest of us are always out here. No, man, I’m so happy for you! And I’m really excited about my first looks into X-R-A-Y. It’s killer already. Than you so much for your great interest and questions about the gif work. I wish I could be more articulate about it. You have best weekend ever, man. ** Right. I recently discovered the work of the young filmmaker Scott Barley. I think it’s really beautiful and extraordinary work, and I’m quite enthralled by it. So, naturally, I want to share that discovery with you. I hope you’ll use the post to look into his work. You will not be sorry. See you on Monday.

14 Comments

  1. David Ehrenstein

    March 3, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Nice piece on the Bach film Steve. But it’ 1967 rather than 1968. I’m a stickler on this as 1967 was very important year for me personally. And speaking of the personal your mention in passing of your “personal life” Dennis stands out for me in that much of your writing might be seen as “autobiographical” or even “confessional” and it isn’t really at all. It abstracts the “real.”

    Scott Barley work is quite lovely.

  2. Awesome job continuing the tradition of cine-bros quietly erasing Danièle Huillet from history. I thought we left this shit behind in the 1980s but guess not.

  3. @Bob–The headline and opening sentence of my piece mention Huillet first. Every reference to the filmmakers in my essay refers to “Straub/Huillet,” not just Straub. But I had to work with the press kit I was given, in relation to the quotes from Straub. It contained no quotes from Huillet, probably because she’s now dead and CHRONICLE’s U.S. distributor, Grasshopper Film, could only talk to Straub about the process of making the film at this point. If I had access to quotes from Huillet about their film, I would’ve used them. Before you fly off at the mouth and accuse me of misogyny, you should think about the practical aspects of writing film criticism. Still, I think it’s quite clear from what I wrote that the film is a collaboration between a male and female director.

    Barley’s work sounds fascinating, and I will check out some of the shorts, although it sounds like my laptop isn’t the best place to do so. Did you see SLEEP HAS HIS HOUSE at Rotterdam?

  4. Did you hear that Burial and the Bug are releasing a collaborative single on the 30th? I’m really excited. It’s strange to me that Burial has never released a third album, but he has put out enough singles and EPs since UNTRUE to fill a double album if they were compiled on LP or CD.

  5. Dennis, The All-Father!
    Very beautiful work, this. I was put off by some of the wanky-sounding descriptions but overcame my cringe and am glad I did. Those must be even better in a ‘real cinema’ or viewing room setting, but work strangely well in the silent gloom of an almost-snowless misty London.
    I liked the one with the dead sheep and the auroras a lot; reminded me of Iceland.
    My week-end is likely to just be of the ‘catching up with all the mundane stuff I have no time to do during the week’ kind, I fear. But I will keep my eyes peeled for any small exciting happening and will report if so! You? Fun, work, both?

  6. Dennis, Great Scott Barley post. He’s new to me, but wow. These films of his are soooo haunting. Maybe it’s not intended, but I find them very scary while also being crazily intriguing. It’s great when someone comes forth with a perspective that is totally new to me. I really haven’t seen anything like these before…and I like them, however uncomfortable they might make me feel (which is probably why I like them in the first place!).

    What’s interesting about how you do your GIF novels is that it’s very much like working on a regular ol’ print novel in a lot of ways. That appeals to me. Like Sypha, I didn’t really get the GIF story thing………at first. I’m “catching on” lately. They make sense to me now, if that makes sense. Took me a while to catch up.

    (Of course, I’d still love to see a regular ol’ printed novel from you too. But that’s just me being selfish. 😛 )

    Yeah, it could’ve been worse. They could’ve expelled him entirely from Charles County Public Schools. I have this tiny feeling, with the way the meeting started, that maybe that was the intention going in. The alternative school is a school set up for bad kids who can’t function in regular school, the disruptive kids. He’ll have a one-on-one counselor there who will be in regular contact with him too. Like I said, he has an opportunity to turn shit around and graduate on time…his original graduation date before his mom fucked up his schooling by making him fail 2 years due to attendance.

    The court summons is a done deal. He’ll have to go. It’ll be an intake hearing first, with the same guy who gave him a second chance with the theft from Target back in November. I’m sure that charge will now be included. With my income, I don’t see that they’ll allow him to use a public defender. You’re looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 a charge that a regular lawyer will charge in taking the case. Totally fucks me, which is something he never realized before all this shit went down. So it’s probably going to cost me anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. I don’t have that. I’ll have to work something out with the lawyer to make payments or something. Ugh.

    That’s one of the things that LPS, at his young age, doesn’t get: how his actions ripple out and affect more than just him personally.

    Yeah, I’m pretty laser-focused on this novel. It’s coming together pretty well so far. Fingers crossed. My next bit…well, I just had a revelation while talking with Sypha about what I need to do with it. I think it’ll work and make it what it needs to be. So far, most of this is pretty spare and dialogue heavy. I think this next bit needs to be more florid in its language because of what it’s dealing with and who it’s dealing with. It just makes sense, you know?

  7. scott barley, christ its so depressing to see someone so young and with so much talent, utter bastard, im gonna watch some later

    dennis, i really liked “nobody likes them” i found it odd the way i autohated certain gifs but felt soft for others as in the way i hate the word “things” it just reads like a fork on teeth, but yeah, the gif story was really odd to me and i fell into it

    keep warm dennis, ya big muffin, alex,x

  8. One of my friends (located in the US) worked with Scott Barley on one of his own short films. I haven’t seen a Barley myself yet. Seems incredible…

    Lots of the things you mention are things I bluntly agree with, especially on Blade Runner 2049. I really like Jared Leto’s performance in that movie, but yeah he’s an awful person. I dug that one Ridley Scott interview where he called BR2049 “way too fucking long,” what a legend. On the future: ‘and the witch said, aha! I am a witch!'” 🙂 On the note of anime amputee boys, I also like the non-anime amputee non-boy movie Boxing Helena, by David Lynch’s daughter, even though it is really trashy and not very good it has a nice kind of comforting ambience that I can just deal with at any time on any level in any space. Kinda nice like that. Books 2-4 in the George Miles Cycle appeared to go missing in the post on the way to me (I have Closer, Period & obviously Dream Police sitting on my shelf staring at me with a big gaping hole for Frisk, Try, Guide) which is a little weird considering they all shipped separately, but I have replacement copies coming…. still, isn’t it a little upsetting that someone may never read those three books because there are now three copies randomly floating out there in the worldspace? Or maybe someone totally random and incidental will pick them up somewhere somehow and it’ll be even better. Who knows.

    brusht on warm limbs

    j

  9. There is a really strong sense of the uncanny in the 6 Barley films I just watched, which I’m sure would come across better in a theatrical setting. Despite his use of the iPhone (I will soon be seeing and reviewing Steven Soderbergh’s UNSANE, a thriller shot entirely on one), these seem to call for the big screen: a meditative tone and subtle changes in light and color don’t really work well on a laptop. Barley has his own voice, but THE GREEN RAY made me think of James Benning’s 13 LAKES and TEN SKIES played on top of each other, while BLUE PERMANENCE/SWAN BLOOD evoked the disorienting chaos of LEVIATHAN. The blurry, smeared quality of his images makes a great case for the expressive potential of the digital realm. I hope SLEEP HAS HER HOUSE makes it to NYC soon. Maybe the New York Film Festival’s avant-garde sidebar this fall?

  10. Hey Dennis, Nobody Likes Them is very absorbing. I like the use of space, and the seemingly clear division into sections. (It helps guide my pace, and not be anxious about whether I’m viewing the piece too fast or too slow.) I’m sure you’re not surprised that I loved the abstract but organic-looking images.

    Scott Barley’s work looks great. But I will respect his request, and wait till it gets dark.

    Been one of those weeks, followed by a packed weekend, sigh. I did finish Colin Winnette’s The Job of the Wasp, quite odd and enjoyable. The new Tin House has a story by Steven Milhauser, by the way.

    Bill

  11. Hey D-Boy!
    How are you? How’s that cold? Hope it’s left you completely.
    Scott Barley’s films are so so beautiful! I love how many of them there are online – I’ve been savouring them over the weekend. The whole post is really great, perfect for slow weekend perusal. I saw the trailer for Sleep Has Her House a few weeks ago (I was interested because of the Anna Kavan-esque title) in the midst of a sleepless night and thought it looked pretty special, but had forgot about it and was so pleased to see it come up in this post. I’m so excited by the films I’ve watched so far and thoroughly inspired. They make me very much want to make movies. I love how his films are so thoroughly digital and make that format’s limitations (for want of a better word) a total plus. Thanks so much for this amazing post, which strangely seems in some way complementary to Friday’s gif piece.
    My weekend consisted of more writing (back on track and thanks for your encouraging words which really do keep me going!), a trip to work to clear away some extremely deep snow, then Hannah’s parents arrived back from Skye to stay with us again before jetting back to Brussels today. Yours?
    What’s a bussetter, btw? I Googled it and got nothing.
    May Monday fit you like a love glove.
    Crack addicted but nihilistically enjoying every moment of it love,
    Jamie

  12. Hey Dennis – Scott Barley’s work is new to me. I really dig the few films I’ve had time to watch. Rigorous, haunting, abstract – interesting combo in ‘Hinterlands’ of floating calm and menace, Tcherkassy and Benning. Lovely work. Looking forward to watching more of these. Sent the post to a few filmmaker friends to see if they knew about Barley’s work. Where did you discover him?

    Things here are fine. Trying to make more time for the novel-in-progress, which keeps getting shoved aside by freelance work and life etc. Exploring working on a new theater piece with my longtime collaborator Jim.

    Are you familiar with Chris Martin’s paintings (not the Coldplay guy)? You a fan? Saw that Trinnie Dalton and Glenn O’Brien both contributed to catalog of his work and that caught my attention.

  13. Just as you came out with a new gif story and an experimental cinema post I happened to stumble upon “Less”, a Hollis Frampton gif from 1973. It’s almost as if it were made for the internet:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mrEfjhcLjw

  14. Scott Barley’s films are quite the find, so many ideas and detail in these. I love the bursts of Cut Hands noise in Hinterlands to pick just one example.

    Over here the snow is still a big annoyance. Tomorrow’s animation class at the DCA has been cancelled, although the building’s still open so I may go in there and watch something light and frothy like Lady Bird just to get out of the house.

    Tonight I followed up on this ‘ere blog’s recent Philippe Grandrieux Day and saw Despite the Night, which is definitely more my sort of thing.

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