Words of Mercury

Rental Format(s): 16mm film, 18 fps

Can be screened at either 18fps or 24fps. 18fps is the preferred speed.

WORDS OF MERCURY is my loving farewell to color reversal 16mm film. The Bolex camera, which has served me so well for over fifty years, became a container for a process of distillation. I wanted to extract as much as I could from my remaining rolls of Ektachrome 7285. Film emulsion is so rich with latent colors and images, it was a simple decision to make a film of superimpositions which were all shot in the camera. Anyone who has tried this knows how difficult and sometimes cruel the process can be. In the past, I had renounced it more than a few times in defeat. It's especially hard when shooting four or more layers. But I had my inspiration from a lifetime of musical listening to polyphonic choral music from the middle ages and renaissance - so many pieces in four to six voices. As it developed, only the passages I shot in four layers were satisfying to me, even though all four might not be perceived on the screen since some were sub-visual and some imitated other layers.

The flow of multiple images is sometimes broken with a single layer image, which might have the
effect of the aria - recitative relationship of classical Italian opera. (Although P Adams Sitney, in ArtForum, saw another musical model - that of plain chant alternating with polyphony). But, as a filmmaker, one is simply a practical artisan and, for me, the single-layer images serve simply as relief from the restless movement of the superimpositions. I am subject to vertigo, and to my surprise and without intention, the superimpositions sometimes mimic my episodes.

The film takes a journey from darkness and a bare world through the seasonal spreading of seeds to a place almost choked and repugnant with color - a place that invites death. The final couplet from Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST speaking of the place of death, supplies me with my title. I seem to make the same film again and again in different ways.

Some thoughts on the working process for WORDS OF MERCURY -

In filming this way, I sometimes set out with a vision and head toward that vision as well as I can. I don't think I could ever make a plan and be able to follow it. The phenomenal world isn't that cooperative, in case you haven't noticed. With film, once you have pressed the lever to shoot, there is no erasing. Even a mistaken twitch of the trigger finger will record an indelible image that mixes with what has already been shot. Whatever I might plan to do will inevitably meet with a bigger reality than my wishes. Plans are for animators, film studios, computers and situations of complete control. The best I can hope to do is to be faithful to a mental image or instinct. Yet, there are times when I encounter something completely unforeseen and go with that. Shooting this way sets up a dance or dialogue between the indifference of external events and the maneuverability of an internal choice. This dance, of course, doesn't just apply to my style of filming, isn't it the way we live our lives? The great thing about making any kind of art is this sense of it mirroring the way we navigate through the challenges of our ordinary lives. It's like a little model of experience that has more to teach us than we could ever hope to impose on it. The camera becomes like an oracular box which gives back its decisions sometimes weeks later. And, like an oracle, its renderings are not always understood at first. These churnings of images, which are like a bank of clouds, have to be put into an orderly flow. How does one edit a mystifying bank of clouds? Let the film speak. Arrange the material so that it lives. Keep logical decisions in check. (My ideas are generally pitiful and my vanity is rampant). Again, editing is a mirror. One has to bring awareness to a very subtle point. I don't try to understand my film, just bring it to life. Understanding comes after it is completed. At all points, the project has something to say itself. One can trust in that. Life isn't just inside us - it's everywhere.

P Adams Sitney on Words of Mercury in ArtForum:

Rental Fees

16mm film, 18 fps $100.00  

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