16mm, 30 minutes, color
by Philip Hoffman
The film is a series of “telling” incidents in which events, which fall short of expectations, are confronted by more “vibrant” memories of the past. The subject, the filmmaker/diarist, whose consciousness encompasses this flow or passage of time, uses failure to make his strongest points about the convergence and intermingling of anticipation and event, experience and memory. On the road, he and his friends spend time with an old buddy who makes his own music at home but has to play in a military band to earn a living, forcing them to come to terms with their own diminished expectations on the trip they are undertaking as compared to trips in the past. The story of a wood carver who lives with his family in rural Nova Scotia seems idyllic until we find that he must also work in a fish cannery to survive. The film itself is an account of failure. Spurred on by the mythology of Jack Kerouac and his life on the road, the travellers visit Robert Frank in order to learn first-hand about the Beats. Frank matter of factly dismisses their quest by noting that Kerouac is dead and the Beat era is over. In a partial response to this shattering of the myth, the filmmaker goes back over the ground of the journey once again, only this time he includes the frustrations, the dead-ends and the low spots. The smooth, linearly developing narrative that we earlier understood to be the product of the filmmakers consciousness is now questioned and replaced by a series of stops and starts, memories and reveries. The final sequence of the film marks a re–evaluation and change most emphatically. The sequence shows a beach in Newfoundland on a bright clear day; children and dogs crossing in front of the camera. Yet each time someone disappears off-frame the filmmaker jump-cuts to a new action. On the beach where the road ends discontinuity becomes a virtue, a form of concentration that validates exceptional experience, just as recollection and anticipation validate certain memories and fantasies.
– David Poole 1984
by Ilppo Pohjola
“You look like Christ coming up that hill.”
These were the first words Robert Frank said to Phillip Hoffman when he was visiting the photographer in Newfoundland six years ago.
“We were driving with a ’67 Dodge… And I only knew where he was staying from his photographs but I wasn’t sure of its exact location. We drove around and asked the way there, and they didn’t know. Finally we picked up a hitchhiker, who appears in Frank’s film Pull My Daisy, and he told me how to get there.
We stopped at the bottom of the hill and I started to walk across it. And walking up the hill I noticed there was a man sitting and looking out to the sea. I was too far to say hello and at this point I wasn’t sure of myself. What am I doing here? What was the point of all this?
And then he said something that didn’t put me at ease.”
Philip Hoffman is an experimental filmmaker for whom the making of a film, the process itself, is as important as the finished film. It is his way of keeping a diary.
” My films are a combination of everyone I meet, what I learn, e.g. from other filmmakers. It all channels through me. I’m in a way just a medium, but I might change it on the way, making it work.” He collects personal day-to-day experiences in the form of films, videotapes, audio recordings and written diaries. “When I film I write about what I film, and when I get the footage back, I write about that.” Then he examines and reworks his notes, diaries, audio, videotapes and films, analyzing and editing them to create a more meaningful understanding of past experiences and events.
“I think you should not be self-conscious when you are working with a camera, you should be in the rhythm of life. Only the editing process is analyzing.”
Gradually his films develop and certain patterns emerge. Only while editing does the final structure of the film unfold, without a script written before shooting. His film The Road Ended at the Beach (1983) is an example of this kind of theory in practice. It developed during seven years, begun when Hoffman was a student at Sheridan College and was shot during his travels in North America. Finalizing the film was also one reason to meet Robert Frank.
“I had seen his photographs and films, but what did I know about him as a human being?”
Mabou was a good place to stop.
“I wanted to meet him face to face, and ask him about his own pictures and the Beat poets. Because there has only been a few people besides Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac whose work has moved me in that way. There is something I could connect to my own world.”
The Road Ended at the Beach starts with waiting for the trip. Hoffman’s old friends and traveling companions Jim and Richard are preparing for driving and painting their van.
“There is a preoccupation in the film that it is going to be as good as Kerouac’s trip.”
The purpose of this last trip is to reunite old friendships and experiences again the feeling of the earlier journeys. They meet an old Asian man, who has traveled the world for ten years. They meet an old cyclist, who has traveled around the world since 1953 and who is now going around for the seventh time. They drive and meet old friends, and try to experience again Jack Kerouac’s and Neil Cassidy’s sizzling Mexican nights.
“But when I got the footage back, the joy and excitement of traveling wasn’t there… There are two points to be made. One is that Kerouac’s trip was written as myth. And secondly, I did not go out to create a myth with my camera. I tried to record something that is there… And the myth wasn’t there.”
The film turns into a discussion of the filmmaker’s own mind and personal growth and also the realization of myths and the need to break them.
“Kerouac’s work was not only a bohemian lifestyle. That is something the media has grabbed on. The heart of it is when he was describing simple things… ‘Sympathy for humanism’ is how he described his work. And that is something I think Beat is. Sadness of life and joy of life both happening at the same time.”
” I see myself less as an observer. The camera is something else for me… like someone playing jazz music… it puts me into rhythm with the rest of the world. It is my tool into the world.”
And life can be experienced better outside home or the place which is called home.
“I have discovered something about traveling. It’s a perfect container, an environment for the recording of life.”
Most of Hoffman’s eight films are results of traveling. His newest one, passing through/torn formations (1987) started when he visited his relatives in Europe during the summer of 1984. Hoffman’s father is German while his Polish mother was born in Czechoslovakia. He was born in Kitchener, Ontario and lives now in Toronto. The film describes his mother’s background, but is at the same time an investigation of how history can be recreated and formed differently with different kinds of media. Hoffman tried also to reunite the family by his work, their lives divided on different sides of the Atlantic.
His films are subjective recordings of his own life, while weighing in against myths and conventions.
?Oh,Zoo! (1986) is a puzzle-like study of reality and truth, how they can be created in cinema and treated by cinematic means. The framework for the film is the documentation of the making of Peter Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts. This connected again to Hoffman’s own observations on life and his experiments, which contribute to the underlying questioning of documentary evidence. What is documentation, what is narrative storytelling and what is the difference between them? It is up to the audience to decide.
“I like people to participate in these films. I leave them open for interpretation, because I don’t like to feel authority and make big statements, and secondly, I don’t have the answers.”
By doing his films he questions conventional ways of filmmaking. “I think conventions are made, that people try to mimic what has already been done. Conventions are sad and old… I am interested in every person that has their own way of looking at the world. By doing it your own way, you are unique… but not as a reaction to conventional films. It just comes out of living and being and doing what you want to do. I can’t worry about anything else.”
Robert Frank appears in The Road Ended at the Beach just in a couple of scenes, doing his own thing, nailing and looking over the sea. As an everyday person.
“I don’t know, if I would go there again, but it was part of playing out your youth. I guess I was looking for someone to give answers, but of course, you have to do it alone. I think this resolves in the film, too. And this film is not like On the Road. It describes my trip, my personal end of the road and moving to something else. The road ends at the beach. Then you have to do something else.”
Mabou, Nova Scotia
JM: Jim McMurray
RK: Richard Kerr
PH: Phil Hoffman
JL: June Leaf
Jim McMurray: How did you happen to find a spot like this?
Robert Frank: Oh, it’s just an accident.
JM: You were just up here?
RF: Well it was on a bulletin board in Port Hood. Yeah, it’s pretty nice.
Richard Kerr: What are the winters like? Pretty severe.
RF: The wind is sometimes pretty rough but it’s not too bad. I like it in the winter.
JM: Where’s the coal mines from here?
RF: Past this house here. See that house? There’s a hole going down, that’s where it used to be. It fell down the tower.
RK: Are they going to use it again do you think?
RF: No, it’s all under the water so it’s too expensive.
JM: Too dangerous too, eh?
RF: …it’s too expensive to come in here and you know look after the track here. It takes a long way to get it out from here.
JM: Can anybody come around here dig themselves and use it in their fireplaces?
RF: People use to do it, use horses, get some chunks. Not anymore.
JM: I sometimes work with, you know like iron. Bending it in a furnace. I went down to the railway tracks and they were selling coal at places where an old railway car had tipped over. All free now.
RF: Where do you come from?
JM: Ann Arbour. I saw a picture in your book. I think The Americans, of someone laying in a park.
RF: Ann Arbour. Yeah that’s with all the cars. There’s a little lake outside Ann Arbour. Not far from…
JM: Do you get away from here very much anymore or do you stick around home?
RF: Well, when I have got to go, I got to go. When you got to go, you got to go. I like it here.
RK: I just saw they had a display of your pictures at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in the spring. Were you up there at all?
RF: No. No I didn’t go.
RK: Just send the pictures and let them do the talking.
RK: I guess what you know were looking for and I guess it’s in the form of some sort of advice, is that, I imagine there’s no secret to it, but what frame of mind were you in when you did The Americans. And how conscious was it? The spontaneity, this sort of thing.
RK: Because you read so much stuff and a lot of it frankly is you know?
RF: I think spontaneity might be a way of not thinking you know. Maybe if I would define it. Spontaneity, I don’t think I thought a lot about it. It was more feeling than thinking.
RK: You just did it. What sort of line as far as equipment goes, were you outfitted with. The finest equipment of the time or were your tools just what you had?
RF: No, I had ordinary equipment. A couple of Leicas, one with a normal lens the other with a wide angle.
RF: It helps with good equipment but I think it’s more important to have good equipment when you do carpentry. It’s more exact. When you’re out there working alone I think that. Then thinking about carpentry it’s not that you’re working together with someone. But doing The Americans at the time, I think that it was wonderful to travel alone.
RK: That’s what we were talking about this morning. This is Phil’s project. I’m doing sound. Jim’s doing the driving and some other things. We were wondering, to do that he’s doing, to do it by himself, he’d be more mobile. He wouldn’t have to listen to our bitching and complaining you know.
RF: Well if it finally gels, what you do with the tape and what he does with picture. It’s an ongoing process.
RK: Have you ever tried much team work as far as film.
RF: Well with films I think you have to. It’s too hard to make films alone.
Philip Hoffman: How about Jack Kerouac and Pull My Daisy and films like that or that film. Did you shoot the film and then he did the narration?
RF: Right. He looked at the film and narrated as he looked at it.
PH: Was that a good way to work?
RF: That could be called spontaneity. I mean that certainly was a spontaneous piece of literature.
PH: Was there editing involved? I mean did you go to a third person again? After you had shot it and he had done the narration, anyone cut things out? Like, On The Road apparently has been butchered quite a bit and I was just wondering how much manipulation happens in something like this.
RF: There was very little taken out. We just had to fit it sometimes, it ran a little bit over or we wanted to put some music in, so some words were cut out, some sentences. But it didn’t happen very often. Of the thirty minutes that he narrated maybe two or three minutes were cut out and that’s about it.
RK: Earlier we were down talking to Allen Ginsberg, doing some research at Columbia, that he kept there, and I was wondering, is there… those people they seemed like such a close knit group at the time. Are they scattered now or do you have any contact with any of those people? Is it just a time and a place and now you’re in a different time and place.
RF: Well Kerouac is dead… he’s away. Sometimes I see Allen. I never kept that close in contact with them. So, I don’t know. If, Corso’s living mostly in Italy. I think it pretty much goes apart after… years.
RK: Yeah, that’s what I find with my friends. We just drift I’m out here now and they’re all out in Calgary in the real estate boom. At the time, were the conditions right to work? Where things as free as they like. You know we were only two and three years old then but we had the image that it was free, that everything went and there were no problems. Did it have that feeling to it or is that something the media played upon. Grabbed.
RF: I don’t think that it gets freer. You know good people work. They work the same in 1980 as you would have worked in 1960. I don’t think you know its people. Maybe it was freer because you knew less and you were moreinnocent. Now I wouldn’t be that free simply because I know more about it. Much more.
RK: Are you familiar with the term zeitgeist?
RK: : Zeitgeist. It’s a German word for spirit of the times.
RF: Zeitgeist, zeitgeist. Yeah.
RK: I heard that word when I was in Switzerland about six years ago. That was the word all the people were using. I didn’t know what the hell it meant. It could have been an amulet for all I know.
Frank: Well I give you another. How about Weltschmertz?
RK: Weltschmertz? We come from a German town so we get all this. A town in Ontario. It’s a rural German community, so you get osmosis over the years. It’s kind of interesting.
RF: I think this dog makes a good soundtrack.
RK: Yeah. I just did a film called Dogs Have Tales, about my other dog. I don’t go anywhere without a dog.
RF: So who is in charge of editing the film?
PH: I am. It’s a project where we all work together. I think one of the things that’s happening is in a way it’s just gone a week and things are kind of gelling… We all kind of got our separate jobs now, you know.
RK: A guy gave him a free truck. He went to California and couldn’t take it with him. It was fifteen years old and did him a favour once and he said take care of this for me it’s yours.
RF: It’s nice.
JM: It is nice.
RF: What kind of truck is it?
JM: It’s a Dodge. An old Dodge.
RF: Wonderful looking. Nice.
JM: Well we put new doors on it, but it was painted covered with flowers and beautiful things like that. But nowadays I guess you can get away with things like that. Is there anything we can help you with, any heavy lifting?
RF: No I can’t think. No, I don’t think there’s anything.
RF: How long have you been here, five, six years sort of a thing?
RF: No we’ve been here ten years. Eleven years. We came here in 1969.
RF: We built this you know? Yeah, it’s satisfying to build something.
RK: You bet it is. That’s something I was never brought up to do but it’s something I want to do.
RF: It’s satisfying to look here, you know? See the water?
RK: Eat like a king out here there’s food. There’s seafood. Want to hit the road? I think that’s right appreciate that.
RF: Well I mean it thought it would be more like having to look into the camera.
RK: No. We left the make-up girl at home. Make-up person.
RF: I always liked it when films you know had ? when you could move it around. When I was teaching in sometimes Super 8, I always liked that about Super 8 because I completely divorced it from the sound, and there’s so many possibilities then.
PH: It’s exciting… there’s always something being born,
RF: You always stumble on something that makes sense that enhances the picture itself.
PH: I think of a saying… let the feeling find its own form. It’s a good thing for me to remember for this film. That’s what I’m trying to do and sometimes it’s really hard… travelling is hard enough …rather than just taking pictures. It’stwo jobs in a way.
RF: I use to think… how is the wind doing?
RK: It’s kicking the hell out of this mic, but what can you do?
RF: Sometimes the wind sounds so beautiful. What kind of a machine is that?
RK: It’s a Sony. A Sony cassette deck. It’s got little toys on it you know …too many gadgets.
RF: You always work with one mic?
RK: This can work with two.
RF: Yeah, but you do everything with one?
RK: As much as possible. I’m not a technical person so I got to find a simple machine. Don’t need a Nagra.
PH: We’re just using this thing with 3 or 4 different lenses.
RF: Is that a combination lens? I mean that’s just one lens.
PH: It’s just one, yes. That’s one thing I wouldn’t mind for this trip is maybe not changing lenses so much.
RF: You just work with that one lens?
RF: You have other ones but then you have to take it off.
PH: Yeah, but not for this one. It’s the only one I could get a hold of, but it works out.
RF: What do you shoot? Colour?
PH: Yeah, negative. We’ve shot for three or four years now west and east. This is our second time out east. I shot super-8 and collected sound when I first started a while back, and now what I’m going to do with the super-8 is blow it up to 16mm and use it sort of as a concrete form of memory. And so over the years we have been returning to places and people to see how they’ve changed. So hopefully the film will have some history to it.
RF: How long is it since you’ve done the super-8?
PH: 1976… about four years ago.
JM: We came out here last year and got some stuff, but the car kept breaking down. It was a newer one then this. Do you still go down to the School of Design in Halifax.
RF: No I haven’t been there since at least three or four or five years.
RK: I was thinking about going there back to school for the fourth time. Think it’s an alright place?
RK: That particular one. If you care maybe I shouldn’t ask you that.
RF: Well if you feel like you need to learn something and that’s the way you feel you can learn it. What would you take there.
RK: Art education or something like that. How about teaching I do some teaching now, but you don’t get paid well when you know the stuff but don’t have the letters behind you. They don’t pay you as well. But I don’t know, change my mind every day, that’s what I got one for I guess.
RF: Well if you can go to school that’s nice. It gives you place, not in the streets.
JM: Especially out here as opposed to Toronto. I just got out, been going for years. Got a Masters Degree in Fine Arts and I finally realized that it’s not doing me much good at all. I wish I had worked all that time. The dog likes it here. He likes those cliffs, feels like he’s climbing mountains.
RF: It’s your dog, eh?
JM: It’s Richard’s dog.
RF: Oh, yeah.
JM: It was his birthday two days ago, two years old. You getting pretty stuck to this place here? I mean hard to leave?
RF: Well I’m attached we put a lot of money into it. We’ve worked on this for a very long time.
JM: Nice to make something and have something there.
RF: It seems permanent. It doesn’t change. It’s nice to watch nature. Watch the water, the wind, the sea.
JM: That’s what I like. I didn’t really want to come on this trip. It was hard to break myself away. How are the people down here? Pretty nice?
RF: Very friendly, yeah. Well they’re very discreet. There’s a lot of room, nobody bugs you.
JM: This has got a lot of Scottish history to it or something like that. The highlanders or…
RF: Yeah, they’re mostly Scottish.
JM: A lot of ***Zeetans*** (?)
RF: Some of them speak Gaelic.
JM: Yeah? Wow.
RF: It’s a good place to live. I don’t know about working. I have a hard time working here but June works a lot. She works on the building. Why don’t we stop for a while?
JM: How do you heat in the winter? Is it wood?
RF: Wood stove, coal.
JM: You just go down in your car or truck and pick it up?
RF: Yeah. When we just came here in 1969 coal was something like eleven, twelve dollars.
JM: A hundred weight?
RF: A ton. And now it’s forty and I guess that’s still cheap.
JM: Yeah. It’s a lot more down in (?)
June Leaf: It’s good huh?
RF: Can they have some tea?
JL: OK. You want some tea?
RK: Get back to work.
RF: It’s a good day for working today.
RK: Yeah. Not too hot.
JL: Are you guys having tea?
JM: Phil you want some tea? A lot of people paint their shingles. But I guess that once you’ve painted it once you’ve got to paint it over and over again.
JL: Most people paint them. They do, they like to paint them. It makes the house look fresh every couple of years.
RF: With just oil on you know, seems to keep them pretty well.
JM: That’s a pretty colour though, silver.
JL: See these are old shingles, see we’re reusing them they’re very strong. I mean, they’re just like new shingles. Look at that. That was already cracked when we took it off. See we took it off with a shingle puller. That way where you see we’re putting it back it varies.