by Barbara Sternberg
Cinecycle, Toronto, Winter 1993
by Barbara Sternberg
by Barbara Sternberg
Cinecycle, Toronto, Winter 1993
by XX – Autumn 1989
XX: Last evening in the Banff Auditorium there was a screening of three films by an independent filmmaker from Toronto, Philip Hoffman, who has been in the artist colony for the past week; rejuvenating and working on ideas and basically plumbing the depths of new ideas for, and taking shots around the Banff area for up and coming films that he may make or will make. Philip’s in the studio this evening with us. He leaves tomorrow, you leave tomorrow morning.
PH: Yes, short stay. Short stay. Good one, though.
XX: It seems like quite a homey bunch in the artist colony at the moment.
PH: Really good group. We’re working on our own, plus we seem to be working together too. Everybody’s looking at each other’s work, and it’s nice to meet new people.
XX: In the artists colony there are times when people are producing intensive work and you rarely even see them. You hear that so-and-so is here, and nobody even in the colony knew because they would sneak out in the middle of the night, and be gone by dawn. Sleep all day… or however they worked.
PH: I’m sure that still prevails.
XX: Yeah, oh yeah. It’s just that there’s a liberty that I think is wonderful when you’re in the colony. Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about your background. I know you began as an amateur photographer in your youth, and maybe you could take it up from there.
PH: Yeah, that’s just one of the stories that I put out.
XX: Is that the real one?
PH: It could be. Yeah, it was important, photography, right from the start; when I was thirteen, fourteen years old. I managed a darkroom in the basement of the house. And went out collecting images. As I was saying last night, after all these films I’ve made, about eight now, I’ve realized how that’s been so important in my work. Both being interested in the realist image in photography and questioning that image. And on the other hand, the magic that happens in the darkroom when the image starts coming up, when you’ve got the paper in the developer, in that moment of transformation, that fleeting moment that you can’t really put your finger on. Those things are happening always in your life, I think… in my life. How to try to use film to conjure that transformation? Maybe it’s in the view or in the viewer’s mind that moment might appear.
XX: So you’re saying that magical moment, which for you was when the picture started to appear in the developing process, is possibly transferred to perception? When the viewer perceives your work. Is there another place for you where that magic still exists in the making of a film?
PH: Yes, there is. It’s in the shooting and the interaction between camera and subject. I like to work from that rather than from scripts and confront my subject whatever it may be, and let the structure and the rhythms of the film come out of that moment in shooting. Sometimes I just go collecting images, and that tells me what a future film might be. Which is something evolving here for the past week in Banff, giving myself the time to concentrate on that kind of work.
XX: You use the term diarist not only for your films but the working method. So it’s a very ongoing process, you never start with a script, you collect and assemble.
PH: I don’t think it’s an unusual way of working for artists in any discipline. It’s an unusual way to work in film, when you consider that 99% of the stuff that we see on television and feature films is prefab, the script’s got to be there, or the money doesn’t happen. When you’re working with a Bolex or in Super-8, with small equipment, you have control of the costs so you can work another way. I may work on larger projects in the future, but I would always like try to hold on to the role of intuition. I’m sure this happens in feature films, when people are working with actors there must be moments when the script is changed right on the spot. This is important because filmmaking doesn’t happen on paper.
XX: In a recent interview out of the University of Calgary and in your comments last evening about the films, the word memory came up. And in seeing the films, your approach to time and the use of memory especially in the second film breaking through/torn formations… breaking through or is it the other way around?
PH: Passing through.
XX: passing through, sorry.
PH: Slash, torn formations.
XX: Those two elements. Almost the manipulation of time. Not in a way that’s so rigid you feel some sort of structural approach, but in a way that’s definitely engaging, mixed with your concern about memory. I remember in the Calgary interview you said that memory was something that we were going to have to deal with in the latter part of this century because most mass media is creating a passive viewer, creating things which are very fleeting and ephemeral so we don’t use memory in the same way. I think you’re broaching that subject in your films.
PH: The mass media freezes and packages history so when we think back, we think of what’s been documented. Why do we imagine the world before 1930 in black and white? Time should move on and it shouldn’t be pinned down. For everything that you’re doing in the present you have to remake or question the past. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do in the film, by using personal experience, and reworking it. In some of the early works I dealt with home movies more and still photographs of the past, and tried to make a history that would sit well with me at the time of the making. Now maybe in ten years I don’t like that. I’m not really sure where it’s going, but Chris Marker, the maker of La Jetéeand Sans Soleil said that memory is the most important thing we have to deal with in the latter part of this century.
XX: The first film ?O Zoo! The Making of a Fiction Film was for me the most accessible in terms of… there’s a certain lightness to it, and even the camera and editing style was much more conservative and traditional. The other two passing through/torn formations and Kitchener-Berlin both used really interesting collage and superimpositions and almost rhythmic imaging that I found quite fascinating. But before we get into that, the whole idea of history which you brought up in the second film, torn formations, you’re dealing with a very personal subject; your family, your mother’s side of the family coming from Czechoslovakia. What I wonder is, this is you making a film, but is it also you working through a very personal thing, that you had to work through and this was the way you were doing it through the making of this film?
PH: I showed it out in Vancouver, and someone said it was an exorcism, which sort of struck me weirdly at first, but then I thought hmmm… if so it’s not over. I guess there’s a lot of things we put under the table and don’t want to look at, and this was something I wanted to look at, because I thought that it might be of value, firstly to the family and secondly the issues of immigration and the incredible pain that comes through that kind of movement which is amplified by my mother’s family coming from Czechoslovakia to Canada in the 1920’s… well it wasn’t Czechoslovakia then, it was the Austria-Hungarian Empire in the twenties… and how the pain echoed down the line through the children. So in that way I think it’s universal as well as my own personal thing of dealing with it.
XX: I felt that there was enough objectivity in the film, there were enough characters, there was enough scope in the film that it didn’t look like a self indulgent home movie. Obviously it goes much, much further than that, and even though everyone in it is your family, the way you approached it and also in the way you present it, the style never allows its viewer to sink into that reverie of just thinking about it as being one specific family, it’s swirled around so that any personage becomes a sort of universal person. The first image shows your Grandmother or an old woman and her daughter, would that be her daughter?
XX: I found myself immediately identifying them as family characters. Their particular identities didn’t matter, they were people on the family tree that were established and they would come back and more of their story would be revealed by having another person down the line. I found that fascinating.
PH: I’m glad it worked like that. The formal experiment is the thing with memory… [TAPE ENDS]
XX: …and with a lot of pop videos it’s almost as if they don’t think they can keep your attention with a shot longer than two seconds. They chop it up according to certain rhythms to make it seem dynamic and exciting but sometimes it’s totally exhausting. With your work on the other hand, I’m thinking of Kitchener-Berlin, a work in progress I believe, in which you show buildings, is it a town square or something like that…?
XX: It’s swirling. It gives you a sense that they’re swirling around a crowd. And then you also have the ground—the pavement of cobblestones—moving underneath that and at first it seems impenetrable when you’re first presented with it—plus you have the sounds of bells clanging along. At first I was bewildered and then I felt that I had to make a decision, visually, what I was going to do, because I couldn’t watch the thing spinning around—it was making me dizzy for one thing—and so I concentrated on the most immobile part, the crowd sitting there. But at the same time your peripheral vision knows; it’s almost as if you’ve set up contexts within contexts. They’re going at different speeds. They’re taking up different parameters, or sizes of your visual capacity. And I found that whichever one you looked at you were getting them all because there was this counterpoint going on.
PH: It’s new, you know. When it hits its peak four images are superimposing and I’m still getting to know its effect. The same thing happened to me last night when I was watching it and I saw things that I hadn’t seen. It was interesting that you could… well you would never really watch it so many times before you could pick out every little thing, but… it’s shifting. It lets the viewer participate in a way because you’re not hemmed down to looking at only the thing that the filmmaker’s saying you have to look at. It’s giving you choices.
XX: Definitely, even if it is a whirlwind viewing. And it was interesting too, just to see some of the people from our Layton colony group and how they were perceiving the films in different ways. We talked about that. Your films somehow shows us each of us how we look, it represents the way each person sees. There were certain points where there were ways of seeing where you just allow yourself to be taken and the composite images become a unified matter in which no one image is more or less than another. In Kitchener-Berlin, I think I got a sense of what you were trying to say about Germanic culture in Canada before the First World War and after the Second World War, the alienation of being in a country which isn’t your country any longer. That repeated spiral from the Berlin Wall moves upwards into the sky. At first they seem like images that go by and by and by but because you’re not bombarded, it’s not like a rock video where you’re bombarded. I found that you’re enticed and provoked into questioning, “Well why is this scene in there, and what is that?” Some are quite short. There are some scenes of a street in Kitchener, I guess, with the streetcars when they had Berlin on the side of them. You only see them for a moment but you know this is an old picture. You just have enough time to see the Berlin on the side and you don’t know whether it’s Germany or if it’s Kitchener… if it’s Canada. And the whole thing draws you along. The sense of alienation comes through, the ambiguity between it being Berlin one day and Kitchener the next.
PH: I’m from Kitchener in Ontario and before World War I, or on the crest of that, the name was changed from Berlin to Kitchener because of the war and what was happening inGermany. So I wanted to try to deal with that, but I was afraid that people were going to say, “Well this is not a film about Germany or the German heritage, because you’ve got these images off the TV of the Pope visiting the native people.” I just kept fighting this project of doing something about the German people in Kitchener so directly because my experience of Kitchener shared many different cultures, not just the German culture and that’s what happens with migration to the new world or to Canada. The game changes and what we end up with are stereotyped images of Germany, and German dances, colliding with Canadian culture.
XX: Now this work is still in progress. You didn’t show the second half of it, last night. What’s the subtitle of the first part?
PH: A Measured Dance.
XX: A Measured Dance. That in itself is a provocative title.
PH: Yes, when I screened it in David Rimmer’s class in Vancouver he said that as a country becomes fully controlled by the state, the dancing becomes more regular and measured. Now with the wall breaking down the dancing around East and West Germany is a little less measured. They’re pretty wild on the streets right now. The measured dance also pertains to the dance of technology and the repetition which I think is shown through the repetition of television imagery, the screen flashing through the TV bars.
I used a SteadiCam for its fluidly, though put it to a different use than usual, which is to follow a doggy to his dog food in some commercial. My operator was making circular motions and trying all kinds of things which she had never tried before with a SteadiCam and that’s what you’re speaking about at the end where everything’s spinning.
XX: It gives an incredible fluidity to the piece which I found extremely musical. The composer who wrote and performed the music for Zoo and passing through is Tucker Zimmerman?
XX: Is he based in Toronto?
PH: No, he’s an American draft dodger who had a composer’s scholarship in Italy during Vietnam and didn’t come back so he wouldn’t have to go to the war in Vietnam. There he met this lovely woman Marie-Claire from Belgium, so now he lives in Belgium, he’s quite an amazing person.
XX: Did you meet him when you were in Holland doing ?O Zoo!?
PH: Yes, we had a mutual friend, Ton Maas, who was helping me out and when I told him about the type of music I was interested he said I should go see Tucker in Leiges. I had about five days and he was pretty laid back for the first four days. We just played baseball… he was still living sort of the American way…
XX: ..in Belgium.
PH: He got a baseball team going there. But anyway, on the night of the fourth day we looked at the film and it was amazing how he just… you know he wanted to get to know me as a person, he felt that was more important than seeing the film. And I can go for that kind of working relationship. He also did the music for passing through/torn formations a couple years after that. I was so impressed by the way he created a kind of… the repetition of… well, he uses a synthesizer and he mixes real instruments with it, but how he created that sort of… Philip Glass type music with a Czech quality to it.
XX: If you’d heard it without the film you wouldn’t say it was specifically Czechoslovakian, but it does have something about it… it’s almost the tonal quality, there’s a bit of an Eastern something in there. There’s one scene where the narration describes your uncle who was an accordion player and we see someone’s hands running over a keyboard and the music at that point is repetitive synthesizer which gradually blends into actual accordion sounds. It’s really quite brilliant. It’s almost imperceptible and suddenly you feel yourself drawn in by this real instrument.
PH: The image shows a piano, the sound is an accordion with a synthesizer behind it. So instead of the conventional master-slave relation between picture and sound, when you see someone’s finger hit a key then you have to hear the note we worked until the music playing with the image rather than following the image. Most films are allowed to be made because of the way words fall on a page, and not the sound in a scene. For me film is much closer to music than literature, because they are rhythm based and move in time.
XX: Light and time. Just one more question about the audio of the films; when you’re collecting shots is audio also something you’re thinking about or is it only when things start to come together in the lab that you deal with the oral dimension?
PH: The collecting of sound and images happen at the same time. In passing through/torn formations I had a rough cut of the film with all its sound except for the voice over, yet even the voice over was written during certain experiences in journal form and then once the images started coming together with the rest of the soundtrack, I started placing the narration that goes along with it and the voices collected of the family members telling their different stories. While I made ?O Zoo! I collected the voices that are in the background. When I got the images back I would write something, so there’s a big pot of soup and all these different ingredients in it and it gradually, hopefully tastes OK.
XX: Right. Little personal spice put on it in the end. I find the making of ?O Zoo! fascinating in that it’s a film made within a film- like Shakespeare’s play within a play. Were you actually working with Peter Greenaway as an assistant?
Ph: I would help out sometimes, but I had a camera and could go where I wanted. He was encouraging me to make more films because he had seen some early work that he liked. The film’s not really about him, it skirts along his feature film A Zed and Two Noughts as well as some of my side trips out in Holland.
XX: There’s a few scenes in ?O Zoo! that… I don’t know if the footage is from him or was it taken at the same time as he was filming?
Ph: The footage was shot while he was shooting as well, and I got access to all their sound. I worked in the same space they did while editing.
XX: It sounds like a really rare experience for a commercial film, although I guess this was the first big commercial feature he did.
Ph: Peter Greenaway made Draughtsman’s Contract before that, but even that was Super 16, it wasn’t 35 millimetre, and his previous short work had been done in 16mm. With A Zed and Two Noughts he was struggling with things, not always real happy on the set. And sometimes he would come up to me and say that he envied what I was doing… he has a Bolex. Actually he said after he’s starting to make a diary film.
XX: A Zed and Two Noughts is nonetheless a fascinating film and it’s definitely not mainstream. It’s quite…
Ph: Well, that was part of the reason I went over, I wanted to see how someone who has worked as an artist-he’s a painter as well, trained in art school-how he would work in the commercial industry. He has people around him, producers and that, who are interested in not so much in making money, but making films that are important for our cultures.
XX: It seems in every art right now the whole aspect of financing and support whether it be moral support, or financial support is such a big question, especially since so many art forms have integrated a certain array of technology so in order to make certain kinds of art you need an incredible amount of support and the film industry has certainly gone that way. To make so many films that are not good films and if you look at the budget it’s just astronomical.
PH: Filmmakers can really work another way. They can work like a still photographer if they want. I guess you need a grant to get the materials paid for because that’s where it gets expensive but if you can manage that then you can pick up a Bolex for five hundred bucks and you’ve got your camera that does anything. Images can be blown up to 35; I’ve seen some of my stuff blown up to 35 with the Bolex and it looks great. I mean, it’s not something that normally happens but… and just an editing bench and… You could transfer to tape if you want, there’s such a push and hype around video right now, not like in Europe, over here the attitude is let’s get all this video equipment and figure out what to do later.
XX: Yeah, figure out what to do later.
PH: Video will find its place if it hasn’t already, but it doesn’t mean film is dead. When photography arrived painting didn’t die, it changed. I think film should be an integral part of any art institute.
XX: You’ve been teaching at Sheridan College’s Media Arts Department for three years?
PH: I’ve been there about eight years part time along with doing my own work. Now I’ve taken a year off to do some other kinds of things and I’m enjoying it a lot.
XX: Great. I was just thinking of one scene in torn formations in which you show your mother through the video scanning lines. Instead of trying to clean that up, instead of looking at it as an impingement upon what you’re doing, you get these scan lines going and at one point you superimpose a fence or bars or something across it which transforms these scan lines into an iron grate.
PH: I’ve worked with video in quite a few of my last three, four films, but didn’t have the money to transfer the video to film, so when shooting the video I put the camera on its side, which places the scan lines vertically instead of horizontal, so that it would sort of match the shape of the human body, rather than cutting the head off. The reason the line is there is because I couldn’t afford getting it transferred professionally. I used an Éclair camera which allows you to change the shutter angle in order to minimize the flicker and scan lines. This way I could shoot a lot of video and decide what I wanted to use later. Once the film gets old you get scratches and it all looks like a scratch (laughs).
XX: I think we’re going to play some of the soundtrack. So for anyone that was at the screening last night you can remember the pictures, and for those who weren’t you can make your own. This is from ?O,Zoo!, and maybe it will catch your imagination and sometime in the near future you will get a chance to see some films by Philip Hoffman. You’re heading out to Edmonton tomorrow morning to show some films up there?
PH: Friday and Saturday in Edmonton, and then Tuesday in Regina.
XX: So this is the Philip Hoffman Western Canadian Tour.
PH: (laughs)Well I was in Vancouver and Calgary… so it’s been great to talk to people who are dealing in film and video through the west. You get to looking at yourself in Toronto and you need to travel so I decided to make the trip.
XX: Great. Well, it’s been wonderful having you at the centre last week and wonderful to hear and see your work and to have you here this evening. Good luck.
with Cameron Bailey
CB: ?O,Zoo!; what’s the intonation on that?
PH: You have to say with with a question mark.
PH: Something like that.
CB: OK, that was a film written on top of a film called A Zed and Two Noughts by Peter Greenaway. Anyway could you just describe the new film passing through for us?
PH: OK, I can talk a bit about it. It revolves around my mom’s history; she’s from Czechoslovakia and her family came over before the war, the second world war. And it’s sort of a collision between the old world and the new world, also it’s a collision of form and texture. Also a different genre of experimental film, if there is that, I think is also included in the making of that.
CB: You say a collision between texture and form and also different genres of experimental film. What exactly do you mean by that? What genres does it use and what’s the experience of watching the film?
PH: Well I’m not sure about the experience but I try to make it so that it’s, you know, not on experience but anyway I guess what I mean is that my background is experimental film and the films of the 60s and 70s or the films that I studied and grew through film with.
CB: Stan Brakhage?
PH: Brakhage and Snow and Wieland and you know, a lot of those experimental filmmakers. And I think, in a sense, my film covers a lot of styles. Yet I believe it has its own style, its own way of speaking.
CB: From your other work that I’ve seen, you tend to work very much with your own history; your family history, your personal history, and with your memory of say growing up or what your childhood was like and that sort of thing. How is that treated in this film and how is it different from what you’ve done before?
PH: Well I think it would be good to compare it with my first film On the Pond, which was also about family in which I was trying to somehow represent my part. It was the first film I made, about eleven or twelve years ago, in 16mm. I don’t think this film tries to represent a past. But instead, in passing through, I work through film to, I would say, I don’t try to represent a past but whatever I come upon, as I put myself in the midst of this filmmaking, looking into my mom’s past, I sort of discover as I go along and I guess put everything into a big pot and what comes out is the film. So I’m not consciously trying to remake my mother’s history but, you know, the film is very much about what’s happened to me right now and how I experience my mother’s history and the things that are happening both in the old country and Canada.
CB: What does your mother think about this? I know you make films… your films are very much involved with your family. What does your family think about having a filmmaker sort of filming them all the time? How do they react to it?
PH: Well that’s not too unusual because I’ve always had a dark room in the basement and I’ve always, you know as I was young, they were used to a camera being around. It’s not that unusual. But I also don’t think the film comes off as someone’s personal life. I think it could be anyone’s. And I try to create the characters in a way that, even though I’m using people around me, through film I recreate different types of characters, using their voices and images to match. I try to get away from this thing of having to grab onto a character. There’s no way you can in my film, passing through. And in this way it sort of takes it out of the realm of simply personal. Hopefully then, more people can get involved in the film.
CB: I noticed as well that, you talk about emerging techniques, I noticed that you have a certain resistance to the conventions of any particular form; in ?O,Zoo! I remember there’s a sequence where you tell a story and then you say-you show an image of the site of the story after the actual story has happened. You say, “This is what it looked like after everybody had left.” And that sort of resistance to showing a narrative or just sort of getting caught up, as you mentioned before, in character. And I was just wondering what’s your relationship to filmic conventions, conventions of documentary or narrative or whatever? How do you work within and outside of them?
PH: Well I think, especially with the example you gave, it allows a viewer to participate more in the making of the film and whether I use a black screen and have a narrator talk about a scene and you know maybe I might not give you that scene in the image but really I am because you can imagine it how you wish. I think the new film, passing through, is just a labyrinth of those kind of exercises, which I started with in maybe ?O,Zoo!… So how I feel about the conventions is, even in experimental film there are conventions and they must be continually broken. And so I think I’m interested in that always; to try to at least display a convention and then turn it upside down a little bit.
CB: Another thing I wanted to get your opinion on, the whole idea of ethics in filmmaking. It’s an old question, “What can you film and what can’t you?” We were talking earlier about your grandmother who is in the film and who is now in a nursing home. And your, sort of, initial reluctance to film her and also the state that she’s in now-she doesn’t necessarily know that you’re filming her. So it’s not a case of getting permission. What can you film and what can’t you?
PH: Well if we’re going to talk about my grandmother, that would be Babji, that’s the Polish of that. The film’s dedicated to her so unfortunately when I knew her as Babji when she made perogies in the kitchen, I wasn’t shading sixteen. I have to somehow deal with that in passing through, those memories. But yet I still have to deal with her and the experience that she and I are going through with her sickness. And I have to deal with it right now. I have to deal with it with my camera and she happens to be in a nursing home.
CB: OK, I’d like to ask one final question and that’s about the process of collaboration. In his film you have used a Christopher Dewdney poem and an excerpt from a work by Marion McMahon at the end. I know our relationship with Marion and I want to ask how do you work with each other? How do you bounce off each other?
PH: Well Marion gives me a bigger picture of things. To me that’s important. I hope that I can give her something as well. But I like to show people films and use it sort of as a mirror, to look back inside and Marion’s very generous so I’m indebted to her but I think she’s a big part of the film. She’s really important.
by Gary Popovich
Originally published in New Directions Catalogue (ed. Richard Kerr)
Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Saturday 19 April 1987
Films, whose natures defy easy description or those whose structures clearly break from the traditional narrative formats, would seem to break wide open the possibilities of writing on film. It is in the space between the potential viewer and the film in which writing, especially this writing, posits itself—writing for the viewer so that the viewer, in consequence, accordingly reads the film. When the writing is precisely ad hoc writing, no amount of editorial freedom can liberate the writing from the already imposed strictures that tend to find their purpose outside the film, so that writing is actually produced as a third element coming between the film and the viewer. So that ‘title,’ signifying recognition, does not pass directly to the viewer but is passed and mediated by the writing to the viewer, In effect a trilogy is established, the structure of which is apparent whenever two things come together and something is passed between them. The third element is always present, be it this writing, language in general, or films; and the third element always finds its roots in desire.
It is at the title and the passing of the title that the film itself begins operating. ?O, ZOO! and A Trilogy both veil and reveal; both actively produce some other element which situates itself as an absence in the discourse of the film and is nothing less than the film itself as an expression of desire attempting to satisfy that absence.
“I’ve come up against this problem before,” so goes one of the lines from Philip Hoffman’s ?O, Zoo!. The responsibility of the film maker and what he should and should not film occurs again and again in Hoffman’s work. In an earlier work entitled Somewhere Between, he decided not to film a dead boy lying on a Mexican road, rather to capture evocatively the spirit of the event by footage structured to suggest the absence and the loss and the truth of the event without sensationalizing it. In fact it is by cinematically putting into the foreground that absence, by selecting images or discussing their absence, that the absence becomes a presence, a presence outside of time—fictionalized, represented—re-presented.
In ?O, ZOO! absence, loss, and truth undergo a series of transformations from playful fictions concerning the film maker’s newsreel, cameraman grandfather, and the National Film Board, weaving into the ostensibly truthful documentation of the shooting of a fictional feature film in Holland, to a story on a more serious tone about an elephant—the veracity of the story remaining questionable till the end of the film.
The full title of the film, ?O, ZOO! (The Making of a Fiction Film), derives from the title and making of Peter Greenaway’s Zed and Two Noughts, the fiction film set in Holland. Hoffman’s title acts as a sudden recognition of the British cipher for Z-0-0. As an observer on the set of Greenaway’s film shoot, Hoffman takes the opportunity to make a film which questions documentary truth and raises questions about the place and function of his own footage. He prefaces his film with an introduction outlining Grandfather’s two styles of shooting, fictionalizing and blatantly and humourously revealing his fictions as the film progresses. Camera report sheets are transformed into the film maker’s daily journals, Grandfather’s black-and-white footage transforms into Hoffman’s colour footage of Greenaway’s film shoot. The strands of truth, fiction, the responsibility and integrity of the film maker, all come together in the elephant story. A voice-over describes an elephant’s struggle to get back on its feet while zoo keepers, onlookers, and other elephants try to give the fallen animal encouragement. The film maker ponders whether to process the footage he has shot or to leave it in the freezer. The entire scene is played without images—entirely black.
The film and its internal logic seem to be calling itself into question here. Structured on absence, the film (as desire) moves to fill a hole. Earlier in the film the film maker wonders whether Grandfather had hoped that someone would find his footage one day. The making of Hoffman’s film, his own fiction film, which in its final section propels the film maker through a cinematic ricorso, brings him back home to a home-movie image to grandfather and grandson together, to his innocence, his present wishes, dreams, as if Grandfather had passed title of the footage to him, to his desires sprung loose by the spring of his camera – to a calculated fiction which aspires only to poetic truth.
Although stylistically different, ?O, ZOO! and A Trilogy are remarkably similar both thematically and in the codes they use. In A Trilogy the film’s focus is on the relationship between the film maker and her son, structured both to allow and to refuse easy dissection, whence is generated the main tension of the film.
Breaking down A Trilogy into three separate pieces or even searching for parts of the trilogy as distinct sections is misleading, for trilogistic elements abound in the film (three sets of rolling titles, three seemingly distinct ages at which the young boy is shown, the three days marked out by CBC’s “World Report”, the three distinctly separate letters read by the mother, et al.). Furthermore, the film has three major distinct sections which weave in and out of each other throughout the film: (I) a woman diving into a swimming pool and a man running down a road; (2) a narrative section in which a husband and wife are having breakfast; (3) a collection of personal images, home-movie footage, and memories, most of which are optically printed and most directly evocative of Sternberg’s emotions visa-vis the themes of the film.
Each of these elements constitutive of the whole is always separate and distinct, yet always resisting separation. As if the active voice of the film maker was everywhere trying to assert its presence amidst the roar of emotion which has already denied the voice these easy delusions …the absences joined together by a fiction situated outside of presence representing loss… two movements—one always moving inward toward some unity of expression, an offering from film maker to viewer; the other a visual and aural representation of the coming apart… the recognition of hole in whole; the parting of mother and son. The opening shots record these very movements. A woman poised at the edge of a swimming pool hesitates to dive into the water. A man runs down a country road, his panting breaths are broken by occasional remarks about water, sinking, love, and giving. A breakfast scene depicts the habitual ritual reducing emotion to empty gesture: a kiss, a spoken good-bye, while “World Report” talks about disaster at sea. And throughout the film a mother and her young son are together or moving apart, at beaches, in or near the water. As images race by and emotion comes to a pitch, the now submerged swimmer from the beginning of the film breaks the surface as the loud cry of a new-born baby and the subsequent cutting of the umbilical cord mark the re-presentation of the first significant separation.
As the boy is always running or moving away from his mother, so in the end does the running man keep running. But the camera no longer stays close to him. It stops to watch the man disappear in the distance, then it returns to the woman poised at the edge of the pool to capture her dive expressing its affinity with her, situating itself in the water with her.
A Trilogy begins unveiling itself at the title so that ‘title’ is passed from the film maker to the viewer and from the film maker to the son by means of the film. The two movements then (moving together and coming apart) both unite and separate film maker and viewer, and mother and son. As the film maker passes the title to the audience she also passes it to her son—title as a form of recognition, title as film—the emotion into which both must plunge.
?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) script
(HI-CONTRAST BLACK & WHITE FILM)
A LION LAYS PEACEFULLY INFRONT OF A ROCKY FORMATION IN A METROPOLITAN ZOO. IT LOOKS ABOUT WITH ITS HEAD HELD HIGH.
The footage was found by my sister in my grandfather’s storage loft. Having been at one time a newsreel cameraman, my grandfather knew to keep the film canister well sealed, and since the loft was relatively cool and dry, there was no noticeable deterioration.
I wonder where he had to go to get this exotic footage.
ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF THE QUEENS VISIT TO CANADA. A GROUP OF PEOPLE STAND BENEATH A BALCONY AND GAZE UPWARDS WAVING.
QUEEN ELIZABETH AND PRINCE PHILLIP STAND ATOP A LARGE BALCONY LOOKING AT THE MASSES THAT HAVE FORMED BELOW. THE PRINCE IS IN A DOUBLE BREASTED SUIT WITH GOLD BUTTONS. THE QUEEN IS WEARING A WHITE GOWN. BOTH ARE WAVING AT THE CROWD.
(AERIAL VIEW) (ELS)
A SEA OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ARE GATHERED ON THE STREETS.
THE CROWD STARES UP AT THE ROYAL FAMILY ON THE BALCONY
WHILE THE QUEEN AND THE PRINCE WAVE TO THE CROWD
I recalled seeing my grandfather’s old newsreels but could never connect the pictures he made, to the old man I got to know on our summer fishing trips. There was a marked difference between the repetitive nature of the news film and the footage found in the loft.
AN ELEPHANT STANDS STILL IN A 45-DEGREE ANGLE WITH ITS HEAD FACING TOWARDS THE LEFT OF THE FRAME. IT LOOKS DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA.
I wonder whether he had hoped that someone would find the film one day.
There was something peculiar about grandfather’s footage: Watch, wait until the flash marking the beginning of the shot and then start counting.
(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)
A CAMEL CHEWS IN A PROFILE VIEW. IT FACES THE LEFT SIDE OF THE FRAME.
45 DEGREE ANGLE OF A CAMELS BACK … TWO HUMPS ARE HIGHLIGHTED BY THE SUN.
AN OLD CAR DRIVES ALONG A STREET (RIGHT TO LEFT) THAT IS LINED WITH MANY SPECTATORS.
(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)
Most of the shots are exactly 28 seconds in length. I was impressed by the precision and self-control my grandfather expressed in shooting this unusual material, as compared to the erratic camerawork displayed in the newsreels. More clues as to the nature of my grandfather’s discipline were found on a piece of paper secreted in the film can.
A FULL SHOT OF A CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT WITH DETAILS
(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)
A TIGER LAYS ON THE GRASS INFRONT OF A SET OF PILLARS THAT LINE THE WALL OF OLD RUINS IN A METROPOLITON ZOO
The footage was found in the winter. That spring, I went to the Netherlands to make a short film around the making of a fiction film. I had met the director of the film at a seminar in my native country in the fall before my grandfather’s footage was found.
A SEAL, WITH HEAD ABOVE WATER, SWIMS IN A REFLECTIVE POND.
(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)
WHAT LOOKS LIE A FLOWER, UPON MOVEMENT, SUDDENLY TRANSFORMS INTO THE HEAD OF A PEACOCK. IT LOOKS ABOUT THE AREA.
This seminar, an annual tradition since 1939, is devoted to the documentation and categorisation of all types of wildlife species, which have ever been captured on film.
A TREE ENCOMPASSES THE RIGHT HALF OF THE FRAME WITH IS BILLOWY LIMBS AD LEAVES. THE LEFT OF THE FRAME IS COMPSED OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY. AN OSTRICH ENTERS FRAME LEFT (SEEN FROM NECK UP) AND LOWERS IT’S HEAD OUT OF FRAME.
(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)
AN OSTRICH HEAD LOOKS ABOUT A FORESTED AREA.
The seminar grew out of the same institution for which my grandfather worked as a newsreel cameraman. I can still hear my grandfather’s remarks about the founder of the institution, as he put it “that old battleaxe.”
SHADOW OF A CAMERA MAN IN BRIGHT SUNLIGHT. THE SHADOW OF A MONKEY ENTERS FRAME RIGHT AND WALKS ACROSS THE WALL ONLY TO JUMP DOWN OUT OF THE SHOT.
TWO OSTRICHES STAND IN A GRASSY AREA, APPEAR TO BE KISSING, BUT THEY ARE LIKELY CLEANING EACH OTHERS FEATHERED FACES.
(OLD SOUND RECORDING)
Grandfather: “That old battleaxe, what the hell does he know abut this land anyhow? All he knows is whoring about in cramped up pubs.”
A CIRCULAR, GRASSY, CLEARING IS SURROUNDED BY A SHALLOW POOL OF WATER.
ACROSS THE CLEARING IS A SPRINKLER THAT RAPIDLY SHOOTS BURSTS OF WATER FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, TOWARDS THE CAMERA.
Though the director was from the same country as “the old battleaxe”, I couldn’t see a connection; I couldn’t see why he’d been invited to the seminar. I thought I would try and incorporate this footage with the film I would take on location in Holland. As usual, I would keep a diary of the whole affair.
TELEVISION FOOTAGE OF PEOPLE CARRYING UMBRELLAS GATHER TOGETHER ON A SIDEWALK.
This, the first entry, taken off the television set, describes details surrounding the papal visit to Holland.
THE POPE TALKS INTO A MICROPHONE ON TELEVISION. A JET TAKES OFF DOWN THE RUNWAY.
Day 1 . . .I arrive in Rotterdam at 7:55pm, May 21st . . . a new moon.
A SWAN TAKES OFF FROM A POND.
TEXT ON SCREEN (white on black):
A FENCED-IN POND, HAS A SWAN TREADING WATER BEHIND THE BARS.
TEXT ON SCREEN (white on black):
(The Making of a Fiction Film)
A SWAN SWIMMING BEHIND BARS IN A POND COMES TOWARDS THE CAMERA AND PEEPS ITS HEAD THROUGH THE BARS. A TRIPLE TAKE OF THIS IS SEEN. THE THIRD TAKE OPTICALLY REVERSES AND THE SWAN PULLS ITS HEAD BACK THOUGH THE BARS.
( MUSIC ENDS)
A STATUE OF JESUS (`THE SACRED HEART’) STANDS IN A PARK ACROSS FROM A SERIES OF TOWNHOUSES THAT ARE THREE STORIES HIGH.
THE STATUE NO LONGER HAS A HEAD, THE HEART IS THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE SHOT.
Day 2 . . . In an Amsterdam square a young boy explained to me that during the Pope’s visit to Holland someone had defaced this statue of Christ,” The Sacred Heart.” When I started to climb over the railing to take a close-up shot for editing purposes, there came a loud rapping sound from the houses, camera left. I had spent a long time setting up the shot and must have attracted a crowd from behind the windows.
CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT WITH CIRCLED TAKES AND DESCRIPTIONS
A BARREN LANDSCAPE OF FARMLAND MEETS A LIGHT BLUE SKY WITH PATCHES OF CLOUDS. THE CAR IS MOVING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT.
Soon after I arrived on the shoot, the film crew went on a two-day break, and so, as there was little activity, I took a short trip to visit some friends in the province of Zeeland.
A CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT DESCRIPTION OUTLINES 5 SCENES WITH SWANS.
A PAIR OF SWANS SWIM IN A POND WITH A SET OF BABIES SURROUNDED BY A GRASSY MEADOW. A WINDMILL AND FARM HOUSE STAND IN THE DISTANCE. THE SKY IS BRIGHT BLUE AND STREAKED WITH STRATUS CLOUDS.
My friends had been watching closely this pair of swans that had come to roost on the bank above a small pond. At night the family of swans would sit on the road, which passed by the pond. I went to the pond at dusk to film the scene described by my friends, but the swans were nowhere to be found. I put my hand on the pavement and found it still warm from the afternoon sun. I walked to the other end of the pond – perhaps they were there. *(1)*
A MAN IS HOLDING AND WINDING A BOLEX CAMERA. THE MAN STANDS NEAR A WATERS EDGE THE RIPPLES MOVE SOFTLY TOWARDS THE SHORE ON WHICH HE STANDS.
DISSOLVE TO: A BUILDING SITS ON TOP OF A TRIANGULAR SHAPED HILL THAT TOWERS
OUT OF A CRATER LINED WITH GREEN TREE TOPS AND BUSHES.
A CAMERA CREW DOLLIES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA.
DISSOLVE TO: A CONSTRUCTION PLATFORM SHOT FROM THE GROUND, TOWERS INTO A DEEP BLUE SKY. ITS SAFETY RAILINGS HOLD A LARGE REFLECTIVE BOARD THAT GLISTENS IN THE SUN.
DISSOLVE TO: THE SAME CONSTRUCTION PLATEFORM NOW CONTAINS A MAN HOLDING THE LARGE REFLECTIVE BOARD. HE MOVES IT AROUND AND IT CREATES LENS FLARE IN THE LENS.
A MAN IN WHITE (D.O.P SACHA VERNY) HOLDS A STILL CAMERA FACING THE CAMERA IN THE CENTRE OF THE FRAME. HE STANDS IN THE GRASSY FIELD THAT LEADS BETWEEN TWO LARGE TREES TO THE TRIANGULAR HILL WITH THE BUILDING ATOP OF IT. HE SEEMS TO CATCH THE LIGHT COMING FROM THE REFLECTOR BOARD.
HE LOWERS THE CAMERA AND TALKS TO SOMEONE OFF SCREEN.
A CAMERA CREW LEAVES THE FRAME (LEFT TO RIGHT). ONE OF THE CREW MEMBERS (IN THE FOREGROUND) WALKS TOWARDS THE BUILDING ONTOP OF THE HILL AND POINTS TOWARDS IT.
THE FRAME BEGINS EMPTY AND THE TWO CREW MEMBERS WALK IN TOWARDS THE RIGHT OF THE FRAME FROM THE LEFT SIDE.
AN OPEN FIELD SQUEEZES BETWEEN TWO LARGE BILLOWY TREES. THE PATH IS BLOCKED BY A FENCE WHICH A CAMERA CREW DOLLIES INFRONT OF (LEFT TO RIGHT).
THE CAMERA CREW DOLLIES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT INFRONT OF THE GRASSY FIELD THAT LEADS BETWEEN TWO LARGE TREES AND TO THE TRIANGULAR HILL WITH THE BUILDING ATOP OF IT.
DISSOLVE TO: THE SAME SHOT SET UP AS ABOVE, ONLY THIS TIME, A LADY WRAPS AN XLR CABLE AND EXITS THE FRAME.
THE DIRECTOR (PETER GREENAWAY) ENTERS THE FRAME TO MEET THE CREW, WHEN HE IS A THE CENTER OF THE FRAME, THE SHOT FREEZES.
DISSOLVE TO: A MAN STANDS INFRONT OF AN UNDERGROUND AQUARIUM. DARKNESS SURROUNDS HIM EXCEPT FOR THE LIGHT COMING FROM THE TANK. HE PEERS INTO THE TANK.
Oliver: where’s pipe? He is supposed to be the keeper of fish.
Boy: Does he keep Red Herrings?
CLOSE UP SHOT OF FISH SWIMMING IN A TANK.
Boy: Do you keep lots of black and white fish?
Oliver: The also have Parrot fish, Rat fish, Elephant fish, and Tiger Sharks , but there are no Swan fish. We have Angel fish.
Boy: Can I have one?
A MAN STANDS IN THE CENTRE OF THE FRAME LOOKING UP AT THE BUILDING ATOP THE TRIANGULAR HILL THAT LIES BEYOND THE TWO TREES ON THE GRASSY PATH.
A CAMERA CREW DOLLIES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT AGAIN, FILMING THE HILL.
A CAMERA CREW DOLLIES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT INFRONT OF GATE BLOCKING THE GRASSY PATH BETWEEN THE TWO LARGE BILLOWY TREES. THE ACTORS (OLIVER AND OSWALD), DRESSED IN WHITE ARE APPROACHNG THE GATE
Oswald: Come on Oliver you’ve done enough.
Oliver: This tiger walks ten miles up and down this cage every day.
CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT READING: DAY 7
(SOUND OF TIGER GROWLING. ENTER SOUND OF CHILDREN)
A TIGER BEHIND BARS PACES BACK AND FORTH.
Today the production moved to the zoo for scene 68, in which one of the twins has locked himself in the tiger cage
TWO TIGERS ARE IN THE CAGE. ONE IS URINATING ON THE CAGE FLOOR, WHILE THE OTHER PACES AROUND THE CAGE. EVENTUALLY THE SECOND TIGER BEGINS TO PACE AS WELL.
Since the enclosure was overcrowded with actors, crew and on-lookers, I went over to the other side where the tiger was waiting patiently for it’s call. Two curious Dutch boys asked me if they could have a look through the viewfinder to see what I was filming. The boys came to the zoo quite often, and they knew all of the most interesting places. They decided it would be best if they became my guides. I agreed.
TWO DUTCH BOYS STAND ON EITHER SIDE OF THE FRAME GAZING INTO THE MUDDY POND. A SWAN SWIMS TOWARDS THEM AND BOTH REACH DOWN TO TOUCH IT.
Dutch Boy: Most of the animals are two, like Noah…you have a woman and a man. When you have a woman and a man you get children…so when you get more beasts you get more people come to look
LS OF TWO BOYS AS THEY LOOK AT THE CAMERA AND GIGGLE. A PAIR OF SWANS GLIDE BY BEHIND THEM.
A CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT LISTS 6 SCENES THAT ARE ALL OVER EXPOSED.
OVEREXPOSED IMAGE OF A STREETSCAPE. AN EASLE-LIKE STRUCTURE ENCOMPASES THE LEFT SIDE OF THE FRAME AND IS PLACED ON A 45 DEGREE ANGLE EXPOSING A SIDE OF THE EASLE THAT IS DECORATED WITH POSTCARD-TYPE IMAGES. PREDOMINANT IN THE FRAME IS VERMEER’S `HEAD OF YOUNG GIRL’. THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE FRAME CONTAINS A PAIR OF OVERSIZED WOODEN SHOES NEAR THE EDGE OF A ROAD. TWO CHILDREN BEGIN TO PLAY IN THE SHOES BUT LEAVE WHEN THEIR PARENTS CLIMB INTO THE LARGE SHOES.
A young boy and girl were playing by a large pair of wooden shoes in front of a shop in the Delft Square.
THE MOTHER AND FATHER OF THE CHILDREN STAND IN THE SHOES AND FACE ACROSS THE STREET, PRESUMEDLY, TO HAVE THEIR PICTURES TAKEN BY AN OFF-SCREEN PHOTOGRAPHER. THE MOTHER AND FATHER STEP OUT OF THE SHOES AND WALK AWAY, LEAVING THE CHILDREN TO RETURN TO PLAY IN THEM AGAIN.
They were shooed-away by their parents, presumably, who were having their pictures taken with their feet in these oversized shoes. After the photo was snapped, the kids returned. Do you see the Vermeer painting in the midst of the Delft blue pottery? The painting is called “Head of Young Girl”, and is the only picture on display where the subject is looking back at you.
THE YOUNG BOY AND GIRL CONTINUE TO PLAY IN THE OVERSIZED SHOES. THE BOY STARTS TO TAKE HIS PANTS OFF.
THE FRAME IS EMPTY EXCEPT FOR THE EASLE AND THE SHOES.
(DURING THE PRECEDING, SIMILARILY FRAMED 4 SHOTS, THE EXPOSURE GRADUALLY SHIFTS FROM OVER-EXPOSURE AT THE START, TO NORMAL EXPOSURE BY THE END OF THE SEQUENCE)
LATE IN THE EVENING THE TWINS (OLIVER & OSWALD) STAND AT EITHER SIDE OF THE FRAME AND LOOK TOWARDS THE CAMERA. THEY ARE NEATH A PILLARED ARCHWAY. A CORRIDOR LINED WITH PILLARS GLOWS GOLDEN IN COLOUR FROM THE SETTING SUN.
A PHOTOGRAPHER TAKES A PICTURE.
Oswald: I cannot stand the idea of her walking away.
Oliver: What is the 1st thing that happens?
Oswald: The first thing that happens is the bacterium goes to work in the intestine.
Oliver: What sort of bacteria?
Oswald: Bisocossis Populi. There is supposedly 130 000 Bisocossis in each lick of the human tongue…. 250 000 in a French kiss.
Oliver: Suppose Eve kissed Adam.
CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT LISTING 5 SHOTS ABOUT THE BOY AND GIRL, MAN AND WOMAN AND THE ROTTERDAM PARK.
A BOLEX CAMERA IS WOUND UP AND THE HANDLE LOCKED BACK IN PLACE.
A LARGE WOODEN APPLE SITS IN A PARK, INFRONT OF A MUDDY POND. THERE IS A BRIDGE OFF TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE FRAME, WHICH HAS A LOT OF PEOPLE CROSSING IT. ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE FRAME A COUPLE PLAY FETCH WITH THEIR DOG.
I walked through the park past the large wooden apples. From the other side of the river I could see two lovers taking advantage of the shade of a birch tree. A young boy parked his bike behind the apple and snuck around to see what the couple were doing. A teenage girl, perhaps the boy’s sister, came from the other side of the apple and put her hand on his shoulder – they stepped down to the river for a talk. Meanwhile, ten boys and a German Sheppard had gathered at the far side of the park. The boys were tossing sticks toward the couple so that the dog would disturb them. Soon the boys surrounded the apple and the couple left. Shortly afterwards the young boy and teenage girl left as well. I crossed the river and this is what I filmed after they all left.
A DINING ROOM SITS JUST ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF A PAIR OF OPEN DOORS WITHIN A ROOM. THE DINNING ROOM TABLE SITS IN OPEN SUNLIGHT AND IS PREPARED BY DIFFERENT WAITERS. ANOTHER ROOM SITS DIRECTLY ACROSS FROM THE TABLE, ALSO WITH ITS DOORS OPEN.
A SERIES OF DISSOLVES SHOWS A LADY SITTING DOWN AT THE TABLE AND A GROUP OF WAITERS ENTERING AN EXITING THE ROOM FROM ACROSS FROM THE TABLE TO SERVE HER. AS THE SCENE PROGRESSES, THE ATTIRE OF THE LADY CHANGES UNTIL
SHE IS FINALLY WEARING A RED FEATHERED HAT AND A RED DRESS. AS THE SCENE PROGRESSES VARIOUS PEOPLE (CREW MEMBERS, D.O.P, DIRECTOR) CONFRONT THE LADY AS THEY SET UP THE SHOT. SHE IS LOOKING AWAY FROM THE CAMERA.
The Twins: And the ostrich eats anything at all…and buries it’s head in the sand when it is afraid… and the elephant lives to be 100 and never forgets a face. So, you see, between us, we know everything.
Boy: You don’t know everything.
Oliver: Between us we do.
Boy: Alright then, you see that woman over there? What color knickers is she wearing?
Oliver: Ah. Red ones.
Boy: No s e doesn’t.
Oliver: How do you know?
Boy: I know.
Oswald: Well, Oliver, you could always go over there and find out.
Boy: Go on. Ask her.
Oliver: Excuse me ma’am. Sorry to trouble you. I think we may have met before. Um. May I trouble you in the interest of that child’s education? Could I ask you a few questions?
Woman: If you like.
Oliver: Are those Ostrich feathers?
Woman: Who are you exactly? Do I know you?
THE LADY IN THE RED DRESS LOOKS BACK OVER HER SHOULDER DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA WHICH HAS UNTIL THIS MOMENT, BEEN VOYEURISTICALLY VIEWING HER FROM BEHIND. AS SHE TURNS TO THE CAMERA, THE LIGHT CATCHES HER EYE.
A CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT IS TAPED TO A SINGLE PIECE OF LINED PAPER. A PAIR OF HANDS WRITE: “DAY 17”
From a distance I heard the scream of a beast. Moving closer to the source of the sound, I saw that an elephant had fallen down and was struggling to get up. Outside the enclosure, I noticed that a group of people had gathered to watch and inside some elephants and zoo workers had surrounded the fallen animal, trying to give it encouragement as it rocked its huge body in the sand. As I watched I tossed over and over in my mind whether to film the scene or not.
I’ve come across this problem before.
Like the crowd that had gathered, I was feeling helpless; I wanted to assist the beast and filming would make me feel that I was doing something constructive. Maybe the television network would buy the film and show people that tragedy is right at their doorstep.
I took out the tripod, set up the camera and looked through the viewfinder.
The compressed image caused by the telephoto lens intensified the sounds coming from the huge rolling body. I pulled the trigger: listen to the spring slowly unwind, and watch the elephant’s painful rhythm. I wind the camera tight and press the trigger for another burst of 28 seconds. Now the zookeeper is shoving bales of hay under the elephant as the others surround it. This only gets the elephant more aroused. The heat is intense and in its excitement the elephant plunges back into the sand and with one last scream, stretches out its body… and then it stops moving. The attendant says that the elephant has had a heart attack. My throat is parched, and sweat pours off my body; I watch the dust settle. I go looking for a drink, pushing through the crowd, fixed on the image I’d filmed; as if my mind was the film and the permanent trace of the elephant’s death was projected brightly inside. Somehow it’s my responsibility now. I wonder why I took the film. There seems to be no reason to develop the negative; my idea of selling the film to the network now seems just an embarrassing thought, an irresponsible plan.
I decide to put the film in the freezer. I decide not to develop it.
THE TWINS STAND ON A STAGE WHICH IS DRAPED IN FLOWING PLASTIC
WASHED BY COLOURED LIGHTS IN THE NIGHT. THEY PEER AT THE CAMERA.
A CUL-DE-SAC, WITH A MONUMENT AT ITS CENTRE, IS SURROUNDED BY A SERIES OF FLAMINGOES THAT PASS BY THE CAMERA. A GROUP OF PEOPLE SURROUND THE BASE OF THE MONUMENT AND TRY TO CONTAIN THE BIRDS. THE BIRDS RUN AWAY, LIT BY TWO FLOOD LIGHTS ACROSS THE ROAD.
A MAN TRIES TO WRANGLE THE BIRDS BY MAKING A ZIGZAG PATTERN, LEADING THEM TOWARDS THE MONUMENT.
DISSOLVE TO: THREE MEN TRY TO GATHER ALL THE BIRDS INFRONT OF THE MONUMENT. AS THEY STEP BACK, THE BIRDS RUN IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
A SERIES OF DISSOLVES SHOW A FEW CREW MEMBERS/ACTORS AND BIRDS CROSS IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA. THE CREW AND ACTORS ARE LEAVING. THE BIRDS REMAIN, UNABLE TO BE CONTAINED BY THE PEOPLE.
IT’S DAWN. ONE OF THE BIRDS STANDS ABOVE A PAIL AND FEEDS FROM IT, IT’S HEAD BOBBING (IN RHYTHM WITH THE MUSIC).
A MAN WINDS A BOLEX CAMERA.
IT IS DUSK. THE CAMERA LOOKS DOWN ON A PAIR OF SWANS WITH THEIR BABIES, BATHED IN BLUE EVENING LIGHT. THE POND REFLECTS THE COLD BLUE SKY.
Day 3. From the roadway I could see the other end of the pond, and the moon moving arced bodies of the swans, silver silent in soft evening moonlight. I walked cool summer night remembering, my grandfather and his grandson laid quiet in lakecalm, star counting: fishermen; heroes.
Weary walking, I cranked the camera until it locked tight
Tightly, the taunt spring wound tightlytight…. tight…. *(1)*
(DISSOLVE TO) A SMALL BOY AND HIS GRANDFATHER WALK SIDE BY SIDE TOWARDS THE CAMERA. A BLACK HALO SURROUNDS THE EDGES OF THE FRAME.
(HI-CONTRAST BLACK AND WHITE FILM)
ELEPHANT STRUGGLES TO GET UP. ZOO WORKERS PUT BAILS OF HAY UNDER ELEPHANT. ELEPHANT RISES. ZOO WORKERS PAT ELEPHANT ON TRUNK. RESURRECTED ELEPHANT IS GREETED BY ANOTHER ELEPHANT.
*(1)* After Ph left Zeeland and his Dutch friends, Ignace Verlaan told him by letter what became of the family of swans. A gang of boys cornered them, chased them onto the bridge, beat them, leaving them to die on the hot wooden planks. The story sprung a return to `Day 3’, at the conclusion of the film, and the `out-of-order’ telling of the tale. The shot of the evening swans on the pond, seen at the end of the film, was shot, then held out to the light of the full moon, which accounts for the overall blue wash. – Ph
by Tucker Zimmerman
I want to take you into the actual process of working on music for a film. I want to do this with a piece of music that I am not so pleased with. This is intentional. I had a lot of trouble with this film music. The film was made by Philip Hoffman, a Canadian filmmaker. In Canada, Phil met Peter Greenaway who liked his work and invited him to come to Holland to make a documentary on the shooting of his new film which was A Zed and Two Noughts. Phil shot his documentary in the summer of 1985, and at the end of that summer he came to me from London, where he had met a mutual friend who told him of a composer living in Belgium who writes a similar kind of serial music that Greenaway used in his film.
At this point Phil and I didn’t know each other. This was our first meeting. One of the things I sensed about Phil was that for me to write successful music for his film I would have to become his friend. This was not as drastic as it may sound. We did become friends—and not only because of the work we did on the music for this film. However, everything that Phil does is personal. And in many ways, at the start at least, this was a difficult situation to be put in. It is much easier if the relationship between filmmaker and composer is detached. Then it is simply a transaction.
As it turned out, Phil had four days to spend with me. And for the first three days I think I drove him crazy because I refused to talk about music, film music, or even the specific work at hand. So we had conversations about other things. I had him doing other things, such as playing baseball (he is not the first filmmaker I have subjected to my baseball test, nor will he be the last—I can tell a lot about a person once I get him or her out throwing a baseball). Later Phil told me that he had serious doubts about my own sanity, about my capabilities—whether I knew how to write music for films at all.
Finally, on the last day we got down to talking about his film. We went to the RTB in Liege where I had the use of a Steenbeck, and I saw the unedited footage on the small screen. After the screening, I was not sure I could do the job. I must say that when I look at most films the first time, I know what needs to be done and how to do it. With Phil’s film I didn’t know what I was looking at. I’d never seen this kind of work before. It was not just a question of what kind of music I would write, but if I could do it at all. I wasn’t sure I was the right person for this job.
One of the first things we discussed was the music of Michael Nyman, the composer of Greenaway’s film. Phil thought that my music should somehow connect with Nyman’s. He wanted something with a mechanical nature to it. My first reaction was that Phil’s film did not need minimal music, that it was not a ‘minimal’ film, that it needed another kind of music.
Another element that became important was that this was the first time that Phil had worked with a composer. He had used music in some of his previous films—one features a saxophone solo— but it was done without a great deal of preparation. This new film would demand a composed score.
So understandably, Phil was a little nervous about this new adventure. And he reacted by wanting too much control over the music. He had these elaborate charts. Music should be here and music should be there. Which is OK. If a filmmaker says he wants 37 seconds of music at this point here, and another piece of music over here for 13.5 seconds, that’s no problem. But if he gets too specific about how all these various pieces should be related—and not only in musical terms—then the job becomes too restrictive. The composer is shut out of the process and his input is denied. This is a trap that Phil fell into with his unbelievable schemes which I couldn’t decipher. And this is getting back to what we talked about before about trust — learning to trust the composer and letting him get the job done. Phil couldn’t trust me, and as it turned out, he found he couldn’t trust himself either. In any case I agreed to do the music, still unsure I could, thinking maybe that I was jumping off a cliff.
Phil returned to Canada and then began a series of long telephone calls. The plans kept changing and the phone bills kept going up. We exchanged letters with a lot of conflicting decisions. We were wasting time. He told me later that he was confused about the music. He admitted it.
(Later, when I did the music for his next film, he gave me total freedom and the music came out quickly and we were both pleased with the result.)
Anyway—concerning the film we were working on back then—the film presented certain problems to me that I wasn’t sure how to solve. It was supposedly a documentary about the making of a feature length fictional film. It’s called ?O,Zoo!, and subtitled: The Making of a Fiction Film. But what Phil did was a lot more than that. He created a fictional documentary. A documentary is one thing, but a fictional documentary is something else. For example, let’s take the opening sequence. The old footage that his grandfather, who was a newsreel reporter, had shot a long time ago and which Phil discovered in his attic. As you quickly find out, there is no grandfather, there is no attic and there is no old footage. You begin to see that this is all something that Phil has created himself. It is imaginary. Then you start realizing, you say “What’s going on here?” And what is going on is that he’s playing around with the documentary, with its traditions, while making a fiction film.
Now for the music. Phil is saying ‘mechanical’ and I still don’t know what to do. I’m struggling, trying out this and that kind of music and unsure of what I’m doing.
Another problem was that Phil had shot some of the same things Greenaway had shot and would probably use in his film—from a different angle and not all of the time—for as you will see, Phil spent a lot of time with his camera doing other things, which at first sight might appear to be unrelated to the Greenaway film, but which in fact are not. You have the scene with the tigers. What does Phil do? He goes around to the back of the cage where the tigers are waiting and gets into a conversation with two boys. Those scenes Phil shot on set were the same as Greenaway, and to which Nyman would probably write his own music. So the problem here is twofold. First, I don’t know what music Nyman will compose, and second I must compose my own music for a different ‘angle,’ just as Phil’s camera was shooting that scene from a different angle.
Finally Phil and I established the idea that we would start with ‘source’ and move away from that and progressively deeper into the illustrative (or a non-real music). I was talking earlier about sound effects and how music can be mixed with good result with natural sound. So we started with the water sprinklers. Tapping and making a spraying sound. Of course this is not the real sound of water sprinklers. This is the noise generator on my synthesizer making a ‘false’ sound effect. This tapping allowed me to establish the pulse of the first piece and I moved on from there, inwards, into the illustrative. The plan was then to get progressively deeper into the illustrative until you reach the end where the boy is walking with his grandfather, coming home from a fishing trip, and you’re hearing music that is almost straight out of a Hollywood film from the 40s or 50s, if not in colour at least in style and gesture. It has the same nostalgic, or sentimental type of feeling to it, but of course its function here is quite different. Its function is to make you aware that I’m fooling around with these emotions, that the music is almost a parody of itself. So I am playing around with ‘false’ music in the same way that Phil is playing around with a ‘false’ documentary.
So I hope you get the idea. It’s a very complex thing. Let’s look at the film.
by Barbara Sternberg
…speaking to Philip Hoffman about his summer in England ‘apprenticing’ with filmmaker Peter Greenaway (Draughtsman’s Contract, The Falls): Philip was especially interested in Greenaway as someone who has bridged the gap between shorter experimental films and (low-budget) feature-length works accessible to a broader audience. Philip wanted to see how Greenaway operates within the commercial industry, yet maintains his control; how he can make films for the ‘public’ without compromising his conceptual and visual concerns. Philip is an independent filmmaker (On The Pond), The Road Ended at the Beach, Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encaraclon) and a freelance cinematographer. He worked on Kevin Sullivan’s Krieghoff and Megan Carey. And recently on Richard Kerr’s On Land Over Water. His films have been screened at the National Gallery, Ottawa; Zone Cinema, Hamilton; The Funnel, Toronto: Museum Fodor, Amsterdam; London Filmmakers’ Co-op, England. Philip teaches part-time in the Media Arts Department at Sheridan College.
He first met Peter Greenaway at the ’84 Grierson Seminar where the idea arose of going to England to observe Greenaway shooting his newest film Zed and Two Noughts while Hoffman made a short film of his own. Philip speaks highly of the experience – the opportunity to look over the shoulder of cinematographer Sacha Vierny, to follow the filmmaking procedure right through, to see what worked, what didn’t, how adjustments were made, when to let an idea go, and generally how communication was effected. Philip is still glowing from the warmth of his reception. Besides access to the shoot and the use of his editing facilities, “more than just that,” says Phil, “Greenaway appreciated that I am trying to be inventive in film against all odds. He even took prints of my films and showed them around—that kind of cooperation!”
Interest was shown by Kees Kasander of Allart’s Enterprises (the Dutch producer of Greenaway’s film) in Hoffman’s short premiering along with Zed and Two Noughts at the London Film Festival in November. Philip returned to Canada at summer’s end with his film? O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) in rough-cut stage and with this deadline in mind.
Unfortunately, he won’t make the festival. Although the film had been accepted into the N.F.B. PAFFPS programme, Ontario Region, Philip was reminded in September that this is a Low-Priority Programme—the film would he printed when there was time, perhaps three to six months. He was also told that he would have to reapply for completion money and that the programme is ‘on hold’ for now. Philip was disappointed by a system that is supposed to help, but even more by the lack of interest, respect or enthusiasm shown—they didn’t even ask to see the film!
The N.F.B.’s aid to independents IS helpful, but the whens and hows are always uncertain – and that’s less than helpful. Philip has decided to apply to the Arts Councils and hopes to complete the film for the Berlin Festival in February.
(Originally published in Cinema Canada 1985)
*Footnote: When Hoffman tried to use NFB facilities to edit his film, he was told he would have to wait his turn as the editing machine were all in use. Meanwhile, Gary Popovich another PAFFPS recipient, and partner in experimental crimes, invited him into the space he was given. Hoffman was surprised to see many machines on the floor unused, so the film was eventually edited at the NFB, though they do not know that. This was the last film Hoffman made with support of the NFB.