White Heart

Rental Format(s): 16mm film
Sale Format(s): DVD

WHITE HEART is one of those 'famous' films that practically no one knows about. But its advocates are passionate about it (mostly other filmmakers - it's greatly admired by Nathaniel Dorsky, Phil Solomon, and Saul Levine, for example).

"Daniel Barnett is a leading experimental filmmaker who develops complex metaphors in his films out of rephotography and other post-production techniques. [ . . .] White Heart is his longest and most ambitious work. 'Barnett's film consists of many disparate images, chosen for their strong sensual qualities, coupled with a labyrinthine and equally sensual soundtrack. After establishing the basic images, Barnett begins to interweave them, exaggerating certain qualities (color, texture) during printing. A mundane shot of a man jerkily spraying down an empty lot is adjusted so his shirt becomes a brilliant red glare. A super close-up of a fingertip holding a match is contrasty enough so every particle of sweat glistens in the lens. Concurrent sounds are similarly exaggerated and contribute to the sensual wash.... Shots are joined so that each moment resonates differently in time.' (Steve Anker, in Visions).

White Heart takes off from a series of Wittgensteinian monologues which illustrate, as Konrad Steiner writes in Cinematograph (1985), 'the huge difference in the quality of knowledge we have about the experience of others, and that which we have about our own.' It goes on to investigate meaning, in a manner which Steiner likens to the painter Cezanne: '[The film has a] chaotic livelihood, [a] sense of gathering meanings right before my eyes. In this way the film is ABOUT the genesis of meaning.... [Cezanne's] still lifes and landscapes depict a threshold of vision or perhaps an ur-vision, before the objects of that vision have been fully assimilated into the familiar, expected appearances through the action of the eye-mind. Likewise, Barnett's film depicts a threshold of meaning. We are presented with a weave of sound and image not committed to a precisely rigid message....'" (Pacific Film Archive)

Legendary among filmmakers who have witnessed it, White Heart is a symphonic exploration of cinematic meaning that unfolds through a multi-layered, contrapuntal, audio-visual montage of numerous and disparate ingredients: images of city streets, verdant forests, and ocean waves; bits of film leader and editor's marks; oblique footage of Barnett's colleagues Larry Gottheim and Saul Levine; an interview with two young missionaries; the sounds of classical music, typewriters, video tone, and, most centrally, a brief passage from Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. These elements and more emerge and re-emerge like musical motifs, continuously and meticulously altered through processes like bleaching, staining, and multiple print generation, dramatically extracting the formal particularities of the Kodachrome reversal print.

While describing Barnett's film though this catalog of components indicates how deeply it is, as MacDonald puts it, "embedded in the materiality of cinema, in its many audio and visual dimensions," White Heart is not only reducible to the rapturously tactile demonstration of its medium's specific properties. As its invocation of Wittgenstein should imply, White Heart is also an elaborate and often witty experiment in extra-linguistic signification, invoking a complex matrix of semiosis built upon an ongoing flow of rupture and repetition, what MacDonald terms its "dense reticulation of perception and conception." Barnett has said that the film grew out of "my aspiration for omnivalence," a notion he would articulate at length in his treatise Movement as Meaning in Experimental Film:

When all of the referential relationships in a set of images have the potential to cross-reference one another, that collection of images aspires to the uniquely poetic condition of omnivalence, wherein every term relates to every other term with some equivalence, a condition defined by an ultimate economy of reference, where no meaning potential is wasted. The near-symmetry of mutually equivalent reference is what creates the great artistic works of endless internal resonance, where, to various degrees, everything resembles and/or refers to everything else on some level or other, where the relationships team to harmonize the wavelengths of thought; where, in subsequent experience, dominant references can come to seem secondary and vice versa. These works are the Taj Mahals of time-based media. If there is anything that they are 'about' it is 'themselves'. They are the artifices that aspire to the ultimate coherence of nature.

Thus White Heart's ongoing intonation of the word "rose," spoken by Levine, brings to mind any number of connotations as the film streams forward. It is the deep red of saturated Kodachrome, played out on a man's shirt, and a woman's lips. It is a remembrance of Gertrude Stein's equivalent rose that is a rose that is a rose, and of Marcel Duchamp's ironic, iconic Rrose Sélavy. Paired with certain images, it is a sly evocation of the Lumieres' L'Arroseur arrosé, and Owen Land's The Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter. Eventually, Wittgenstein's full epigram is spoken, which brings not clarity, but further mystery. "Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black, for the rose is invisible. The other is painted in full detail and surrounded by black."

This play of revelation and obscurity constitutes the living pulse of White Heart. Praising the film's soundtrack, Nathaniel Dorsky locates its paradoxical force in more existential terms. "That's an amazing, rebellious film that refuses to even be a film," Dorsky remarked, "like a person not wanting to be a thing."
-Ed Halter, Light Industry

About this print:

White Heart was designed to be printed on Kodachrome 7387 reversal print stock. In 1975 when the film was finished three of these prints were made. One is in the film library at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The other two are in the possession of the filmmaker and are considered too valuable to be projected without special considerations. In order to make the film once again generally available an inter-negative has been made by Rob David of Cinelab in Colorado and one tungsten and one xenon positive print are now available.

While these neg./pos. prints are significantly different from the 7387 reversal prints in terms of color density (not saturation) they still share the same distinctive chemical sensibility and they have been deemed by the filmmaker as adequately capturing the essence of the work. Screenings of the original reversal film might still be booked by special arrangement with the filmmaker through Canyon Cinema.

Photo credit c. David Vogt 1971

Xenon and tungsten balanced prints are available, please indicate which you would like for when making booking requests.

Special rates are available for classroom screenings.

By special arrangement with the filmmaker a 4K (prores 422) file is available with the name of the purchasing institution or individual in the credits as owner of the file. The file will come with limited reproduction and distribution rights. Price $4,750.00.

Rental Fees

16mm film $500.00  

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DVD $125.00 $375.00

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