Category Archives: Films

Proposal for Destroying Angel

(16mm/B&W & Color/30 minutes)

by Philip Hoffman in collaboration with Wayne Salazar
August 1995

BACKGROUND

In 1994 I collaborated with Finnish filmmaker Sami van Ingen to produce Sweep (1995/32min). The film chronicles a journey to James Bay, in search of the place that Sami’s great-grandfather, Robert Flaherty, had been and to Kapuskasing, where my mother’s family first settled when they arrived in Canada from Poland. The film represents my continued interest in the ephemeral nature of conscious memory. It furthers my understanding of how preferred, abstract views of history are a deterrent to realising history as it is manifested in one’s identity and the activities of daily living.

In Sweep, rather than approaching these concerns alone as I had in the past, I chose to work collaboratively with an artist who was grappling with similar issues. The intersection of public and private histories was starkly visible through the figure of Sami’s great-grandfather. Robert Flaherty had made a significant contribution to the public history of ethnographic filmmaking and had left a remarkable family legacy of the great ‘genius’ artist by embodying this myth and by repeated intergenerational stories of his valour.

Our reflections were informed by a shared commitment to view the Western European colonization of Indigenous people and their cultures in light of our respective histories. We started by attempting to dismantle the division between public and private history vis a vis Sami’s great-grandfather. Formally, the film manipulates the conventions of the decidedly male ‘Road Movie’ genre which informed my earlier film The Road Ended At the Beach (1983/33 min). As expected, we immediately confronted the dilemma of how to shoot in an others’ culture, a dilemma which is the focus of my earlier filmSomewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion (1984/6 min). The collaborative nature of this project created new possibilities for reformulating old questions about representation. Keeping in mind Flaherty’s dubious legacy of filming the ‘other’, how were we to shoot, what were we to film? These crucial questions changed through the process of collaboration from “How do we film in this Native culture?” to “What does the way we shoot tell us about the privilege we are seeking to disavow?” We filmed with this question in the forefront of our thoughts with a view to examine how the nature of our looking was always already coded as entitled by virtue of our recognisable status as privileged citizens. Thus the subject made object of the film is not others who we encounter on our privileged passage into lands of otherness, but ourselves in relation to the looking which we have been entitled to do. As the process evolved and the questions became clearer, so to was there an alteration in the way we deployed conventions borrowed from the ‘Road Movie’ tradition. The film concludes with an awareness of how the public world lives in us, despite our best intentions to live beyond the grasp of its constraints. The fantasy of mastery of living beyond this realm means not being responsible for how we inevitably can’t and don’t.

Wayne Salazar, co-maker of the proposed project, Destroying Angel, has, in past works, explored the tension between history and memory, between fact and fiction. In Some Lies”, the essay that follows, he tells faithfully remembered stories from different stages of his life linking them together through the common themes of lies we live by and the construction of gendered identity. These stories culminate in a fictionalized present, (the beer with Leandro) an imagined scene used as a vehicle to conclude the telling of events remembered. Wayne’s concern with the construction of gender relates to my exploration of masculine subjectivity.

In Cuba/USA (1991/19 min), Wayne explores different notions of freedom through the life stories of three Cuban painters living in NYC. He focuses on how these artists’ memories of their lives in Cuba have deeply affected the form and content of their art. Each artist tells a history of events (i.e. Castro’s ascension to power) in relation to the lived histories of these artists. Through their stories and their work the divisions between proper history and personal memory are shown to be invested divisions which in fact, in real material conditions of lives lived, simply do not exist. Clearly there is a relationship between history and practice which the startling images of their art beautifully declare. Just as the stories of these artists cut across divisions between private and public vis a vis the recent history of Cuba, Wayne’s HIV seropositivity status is the point of contact between a public ostensibly objective history of AIDS and his lived ostensibly subjective experience of the disease itself.

As a visual artist Wayne has recently treated his relationship to his parents and his HIV seropositivity. He has painted self-portraits that highlight his body and the limitations his disease has put upon it, abstracted pop art images of the drugs he takes, and images of his present self with his parents. Moving these images and his project from the canvas to the screen will allow Wayne to continue this exploration using narrative as a means to get at things he wasn’t able to in two dimensions.

Waynes ability as an artist and his appreciation of process in the act of creation is complemented by his experience as a programmer at the Hawaii International Film Festival. There he created a very well-attended experimental film section of the Festival and wrote the accompanying program notes.

CURRENT PROJECT

Destroying Angel has evolved through an artistic practice which is integrally connected to my everyday life. The co-director, Wayne Salazar and I met in Sydney in 1991 where we were both attending the Sydney International Film Festival. Wayne was moved by my work to think more deeply about what he learned about family relations and how that history lives in him, disguised by popular notions about agency, free will and choice. I was moved by Wayne’s openness and his ability to speak his process out loud with a unique combination of vulnerability and strength.

Growing up in North America, we had both been differently shaped in relation to dominant and preferred modes of being masculine which, amongst other things, limit the ways in which men can relate to themselves and to others. Wayne’s capacity to resist those dominant modes, made real through the ways he interacted with me was instructive and contributed to my capacity to move onto work collaboratively with Gerry Shikatani in Opening Series – 3 (8 min/1994) and Sami van Ingen in Sweep. I met Wayne at a time when my work was turning more towards collaboration and it seems in retrospect, that our chance meeting was perfectly timed.

Wayne came to visit for the first time in May 1995 following a trip to Upstate New York to visit his mother. The time spent with his mother was troubled and Wayne used this experience as a catalyst for self reflection and revisioning about identity, love and death. In this state of mind Wayne began to notice similarities between the landscape of his childhood and the Southern Ontario landscape in which he presently found himself: there were instances of his past that were visiting him in his present in startling ways.

Building on what we had already created through exchanges over time, beginning with my desire to learn from Wayne’s ability to be fearless about how he felt, and Wayne’s interest in my past work on family and identity, we started shooting a film together. What you see in the support material are shots that Wayne took, a few I took. The images which he shot during his visit play on the tension between scenes from his history and his present day life. For example shots of rural landscapes, traveling in a car and a dog running interact with a long shot of the drugs which he takes as part of the daily effort to keep well in light of his HIV seropositivity. Upon viewing this last shot, Wayne recalled his mother’s attempted suicide by overdose of prescribed medication and the subsequent care-taking she needed which fell upon him to provide. He remembered the tension between her growing dependency on him and his struggle as an adolescent for independence, for a sense of himself outside of the roles of child turned caretaker.

I have attempted to describe the process-driven nature of this project. As such, we can’t predict how the images mentioned above, or any subsequent images will be used. However, since we are both curious about the inevitable role of storytelling in representations of both memory and history we have an idea about how we might formally explore this role. Two sequences from Destroying Angel will be re-enactments of childhood memories – both stories pertain to our relationships with our respective fathers and memories of our respective pasts (see Story Excerpts which follow). Our intention is to use a voice-over narrator to tell stories we tell ourselves about the past, rehearsed histories which restrain the excess of emotion connected with memories of those events, an excess which we are taught to believe the present is too fragile to handle.

Memory will be viewed from a variety of perspectives: memory as fiction, as history made flesh in the present moment through our desire. The challenge will be to deal with memory via the manner in which it produces emotional responses which confusingly appear like phantom pain, and which are disproportionately strong in relationship to the current situation. Such a phenomenon is connected to an event long forgotten consciously, but visible in the lingering pains confusingly present in response to events which remind us of what we are afraid to remember. For example, in the story Rabbit, I lingered on a recent incident involving the accidental death of a rabbit only to recall a hunting expedition with my father when I was young where he unwittingly wounded a rabbit who then suffered a painful death. The tyranny of memory made it difficult to recall that painful episode and thus to grasp why a similar incident in the present was so intense without any particular referent. It was only upon reflection that I was able to recognise my reaction as a response to an event long ago forgotten. It is our intention through the process of making this film together, to create an ever-changing satisfying present through recreation/reintegration of the past. In doing so the revenge of the repressed will be seen as a liberatory moment of self discovery made possible through collective reflection, not to be viewed as pathology nor solely the jurisdiction of the analyst couch, but rather an activity that belongs firmly in the social world which produces the repression in the first instance.

The stories will be told through words and images – words will give content of the memory, images will show a re-enactment of the stories, though the scenes will not be scripted. Place and elements of the original story will be brought together and integrated through the present moment. For example Wayne’s father was a traveling insurance salesman. While shooting images taken from the car during his visit with me, Wayne dislodged memories of having traveled as a child with his father while he worked his way across the U.S. selling insurance door to door. This memory became an important avenue to recalling other times of intimacy with his father and his recollection of how he had learned about love. Ingredients of the memories will blend with unpredictable and spontaneous present moments. Symbols from the memories will interplay with present moments and bring forward the way the mind/camera shapes this interplay into something new. This will stand as metaphor for making memory anew, for making a new living present passing moment. The process of making the film will be used as a vehicle for transformation of the memory maker into a living moving changing present and sitting comfortably with that present – allowing it to grow and transform, rather than solidify as ‘The Past’. The process will always take into account the making as part of the story, and integrate the process of the making with the process of memory.

We will start with three of the stories enclosed (Story Excerpts – RabbitDogTraveling Salesman). As the project grows and transforms, we will incorporate other stories you will read here. In addition stories of the past will surface and be integrated (through editing) with stories already told. This transformative process will create one new fluid narrative about relationships: son to father, father to

son, friend to friend.

By relying on this process to date we have been able to put shape to a project that could not have otherwise been conceived. Hence our faith that by continuing to trust the process, the film will figuratively make itself.

LOGISTICS OF COLLABORATION

Filming Locations:

Mt Forest Ont – Philip’s home

Ithaca NY – Wayne’s mother’s home

San Francisco – Wayne’s home

The film & sound post production will be done in

Toronto/Mount Forest by Philip with collaboration from Wayne through videotape swapping, electronic mail, and two trips for Wayne to Toronto/Mount Forest. This method was successfully used in the making of Sweep with co-maker Sami van Ingen.

Production Schedule:

August 95 to May 96

on Super-8, Hi-8 and 16mm, Wayne and Philip will shoot day to day images from home, pertaining to proposal content

November 95

Wayne to Toronto/Mount Forest/Ithaca – 2 weeks

shooting

plan and record sound

finish 1st rough cut

March 96

Philip to San Francisco – 2 weeks

additional shooting

narration recording

hi-8 edit and kine

finish 2nd rough cut

May 96

Wayne to Toronto/Mount Forest – 2 weeks

final picture and sound edit

sound mix

June 1996

1st answer print complete

REGARDING THE SUPPORT MATERIAL

In the best of all worlds, I’d like you to watch any one of my more recently completed films in order to get a sense of my filmmaking practice, including: how I handle ideas over time; explore the relationship between sound and image; and push the borders of my formal practice vis a vis experimental image making. Fantasies aside, I realise you are operating on time restraints given the number of applicants and support material you must view. In this light, I have selected excerpts from several of my films including passing through / torn formations (1988/43 min)

?O,Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) (1986/23 min) and Sweep (1995/32 min)and entitled the tape Past Work Excerpts. These excerpts will focus your attention on the elements which will be further pursued in Destroying Angel i.e. storytelling/memories and collaborative production, and thus hopefully establish the link between past work and the concerns of this proposal. A second tape is included in the support material and is entitled Shooting Test – Destroying Angel. As mentioned, it includes some of the shots Wayne and I took during his recent visit to Mount Forest. I have also sent along Sweepproviding there is time to view the entire film.

STORY EXCERPTS

Wayne’s stories:

Salesman

He wasn’t home much, only on weekends, because he worked as a traveling insurance salesman. Picture this: a man with a thick Spanish accent, who had immigrated to the States from Guatemala when he was 32 years old, crisscrossing the Mid-west in his car, selling life insurance to farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin. And he was good at it.

A couple of times a year he’d take me along, and I’d help him find the little towns on the map so we could plan our route. When we got there, I’d play with the kids and with the animals. I got to see rich and poor and in-between, and to know another way of life.

Dog

I remember when I was five years old, I wondered what people meant when they used the word `love’. I knew it wasn’t something I could point at, like ‘ball’, and it wasn’t a simple action, like ‘run’. I thought about it sometimes.

That summer my dad took our dog for a walk. This was unusual but it made sense because Chico was a big dog, and whenever my brother or I took him for a walk he always ended up pulling us off our feet and running away, to be found hours later by an irate person who’s flower bed had been dug up on the other side of town. When dad came home he was carrying an empty leash.

“Did Chico run away again?” I asked

“No,” he said and then he explained that he’d gotten rid of Chico because he was too much trouble. He was given to the pound. Chico wasn’t coming home anymore.

“But I loved him!” I blurted out through my tears and suddenly I realized I new what that word meant.

I became a cat person like my mother.

Mother

My mother lives alone, in a house in the woods, with a cat named Kisa. The house is very `gray gardens’ at this point: unpainted outside for ten years, or inside for twenty. The walls and ceilings are stained from the smoke of cigarettes she chain smokes. Mold grows amongst the crumbs in the refrigerator. The bushes have grown as high as the house; the bottoms of them have been eaten away by deer in the night. She’s lonely, pining for love and human contact, but too afraid of being hurt to be able to give in the give-and-take of an emotional bond.

I hadn’t looked forward to the trip to see her. It had been three and a half years — not coincidentally, I believe, the same amount of time I’ve been living with HIV. She’s in denial; we never talk about it. She never, for instance, asks me how I feel. I want her to nurture and support me, but since I was a child it was always I who nurtured her. It was I who stood by her as she divorced my father, when her father and my brother turned against her. It was I who helped her through her attempts at suicide.

The first day of my visit to her house I was angry at her for her silence about my illness. The second day I kept reminding myself that she had never in my life been nurturing in the way I was hoping for now. I accepted that, but was still angry.

The third day, over a bottle of wine, she matter-of-factly began a conversation about the way our society keeps people in a state of prolonged childhood–keeping kids at home too long, and in school even longer–when biologically we’re programmed to leave home much earlier, at the age of 14 or so. We are meant, she said, to become independent earlier.

How then, I asked, do you account for the deep connection we continue to want with our parents, the longing we maintain for our parents’ love? Well, she said, it’s true, we all want that unconditional love. (In her case, especially, this is true: Her parents never made her feel loved. An only child, she was an accident, and always knew it.)

But I always felt loved unconditionally, I said. What I didn’t feel, and still don’t, is nurtured.

“Oh, I know,” she said, not missing a beat. “I leaned on you for far too long — I feel terrible guilty about it. I made you the parent.”

I was stunned. I didn’t know she was that aware of it.

“Yes,” I said, “that’s it exactly. So as your child, I’d like it if you could be more nurturing. And as your parent, I think you need to face my illness now, rather than later. It will only get harder for you.”

“I try not to think about it,” she said, and the waitress brought the check.

A Beginning

Today Richard said something I want to talk to him more about. I’m not sure I understand it, or can repeat it here. It has to do with the legacy people with AIDS leave to generations of survivors. He feels it benefits society, or our culture, to see PWAs conquer their demons, to find peace in their lives before they die. A legacy of peace, not struggle; of contentment, not confusion. More on this later, I guess.

Philip’s story:

Rabbit

The last time we killed a rabbit was when I was nine. Dad and I went on our winter weekend cottage trip to the lake, me running home, breathless at lunch hour Friday. Dad would pull me out of school in the afternoon sometimes so we could get an early start.

We’d go for long walks with the gun (that’s what men did), under the pretense of hunting. Mostly we walked quietly, taking in the sights of the freshly fallen snow.

The rabbit jumped out, startled us at close range, its big feet sliding across the thin cover of fresh snow, and dad knee deep, two thick legs, grounded – he reacts without thought and fires. The rabbit takes the shot, from dad’s 12 gauge. I don’t remember him ever hitting an animal except this time he did. The animal winces and scrambles to an alcove for cover. Screaming pain. We walk through some evergreen, and into the clearing to see the suffering animal – butterflies surface in my stomach; dad felt bad. The creature just stared up at us.

Twenty three years later we’re on the road to Holland Centre, in the July sunrise. After a few days of rest and work at the lake, the cottage now their home, dad is driving me to the bus for my trip back to my home, Toronto. As we leave the laneway dad slows down to let a rabbit cross our path. He says that there’s been alot of them around, and its nice to see them back again. We don’t talk much as usual, me, a bit anxious about making the bus. Dad was glad I came to help him fix the dock and haul loads of sand to the beach

for the soon to be arriving grandchildren. He liked being with his son, few words, just the bond of working together, passed down from his dad to him and him to me. I felt comfortable within this wordless intimacy.

Traveling on gravel dad turned and pointed at some beautiful wildflowers, purply branches. I ask dad to hurry. “I’ll be late..” He steps on it just as a small rabbit arrives in full view, through the clear sights of the car’s windshield. It scampers hesitantly in front and falls beneath the car’s dark, hovering body. Fur flies up behind us. The double thud tells us that the animal did not find a route through. I try and break the tension with a remark about having rabbit tonight. shit – ! Dad is silent.

As we drive I can tell it hurts him. He recalls for me other times when rabbits and dogs find their way through. Waiting for death under the car’s body – the silence could last a lifetime. And then magically across the road – safe.

Dad places the gun barrel against the rabbit’s ear to stop the pain, and fires. What’s inside comes out. The suffering stops. We trudge home through the snow…silent, defeated.

As I sit on the bus and replay the scenes to myself, I wonder where all the butterflies had gone this time…years of silence had closed tight the road from heart to speech.

I wonder whether dad went back and dragged the rabbit off the road and put it in the bushes as a makeshift burial. I imagine he might do that. Maybe I’ll call him tonight, see how he’s doing, find out what happened.

CKLN Interview

with Cameron Bailey
(March 1988)

CB: ?O,Zoo!; what’s the intonation on that?

PH: You have to say with with a question mark.

CB: ?O,Zoo?

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.

A Reading of Philip Hoffman’s ?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) and Barbara Sternberg’s A Trilogy

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)

?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.

(VO)

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.

(HIGH ANGLE)

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF THE QUEENS VISIT TO CANADA. A GROUP OF PEOPLE STAND BENEATH A BALCONY AND GAZE UPWARDS WAVING.

(PAN UP)

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.

(LS)

THE CROWD STARES UP AT THE ROYAL FAMILY ON THE BALCONY

WHILE THE QUEEN AND THE PRINCE WAVE TO THE CROWD

(VO)

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.

(VO)

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.

(PANNING)

AN OLD CAR DRIVES ALONG A STREET (RIGHT TO LEFT) THAT IS LINED WITH MANY SPECTATORS.

(WHITE FLASH ON SCREEN)

(VO)

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

(VO)

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.

(HIGH ANGLE)

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.

(VO)

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. 

(LOW ANGLE)

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.

(VO)

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.”

(ENTER MUSIC)

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.

(VO)

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.

 

(VO)

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.

(VO)

Day 1 . . .I arrive in Rotterdam at 7:55pm, May 21st . . . a new moon.

(SLOWMOTION)

A SWAN TAKES OFF FROM A POND.

TEXT ON SCREEN (white on black):

?O, Zoo!

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)

 

(COLOUR FILM)

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.

(VO)

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

(VO)

Day 2

A BARREN LANDSCAPE OF FARMLAND MEETS A LIGHT BLUE SKY WITH PATCHES OF CLOUDS.  THE CAR IS MOVING FROM LEFT TO RIGHT.

(VO)

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.

(VO)

Day 3

(ENTER MUSIC)

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.

(VO)

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.

(SLOW MOTION)

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.

(SLOW MOTION)

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.

(END MUSIC)

 (VO)

Day 5.  The director told me that the production was a slow massive wheel. All you could do was get on it, and let the momentum of the wheel carry you where it would.

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.

(SOUND RECORDING)

Oliver:  where’s pipe?  He is supposed to be the keeper of fish.

Boy:  Does he keep Red Herrings?

Oliver:  No.

CLOSE UP SHOT OF FISH SWIMMING IN A TANK.

Boy:  Do you keep lots of black and white fish?

Oliver:  Yes.

Boy:  Zebrafish?

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?

(ENTER MUSIC )

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

(SOUND RECORDING)

Oliver:  It’s beautiful, Does Zelba know what she’s really got here?

(END MUSIC)

BLACK SCREEN

Oswald:  Come on Oliver you’ve done enough.

Oliver:  This tiger walks ten miles up and down this cage every day.

Director:  Action

CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT READING:  DAY 7

(SOUND OF TIGER GROWLING. ENTER SOUND OF CHILDREN) 

(VO)

Day 7

A TIGER BEHIND BARS PACES BACK AND FORTH.

(VO)

Today the production moved to the zoo for scene 68, in which one of the twins has locked himself in the tiger cage

(SOUND RECORDING)

Dutch Boy: Strange sounds…grrrrr…horrible beasts

BLACK SCREEN

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.

(VO)

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.

(SOUND RECORDING)

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.

(VO)

Day 12

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.

(VO)

A young boy and girl were playing by a large pair of wooden shoes in front of a shop in the Delft Square.

BLACK SCREEN

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.

(VO)

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.

 

BLACK SCREEN

 

THE YOUNG BOY AND GIRL CONTINUE TO PLAY IN THE OVERSIZED  SHOES. THE BOY STARTS TO TAKE HIS PANTS OFF.

 

BLACK SCREEN

 

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)

 

BLACK SCREEN.

 

 

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.

 

BLACK SCREEN.

 

Oliver:  Suppose Eve kissed Adam.

 

 

CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT LISTING 5 SHOTS ABOUT THE BOY AND GIRL, MAN AND WOMAN AND THE ROTTERDAM PARK.

 

(VO)

Day 16

 

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.

 

(VO)

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.

 

(ENTER MUSIC)

 

 

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.

 

 

Director:  Action

 

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.

 

BLACK SCREEN.

 

(END MUSIC)

 

 

A CAMERA NEGATIVE REPORT IS TAPED TO A SINGLE PIECE OF LINED PAPER.  A PAIR OF HANDS WRITE: “DAY 17”

 

 

(VO)

Day 17

 

BLACK SCREEN.

 

(VO)

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.

 

(ENTER MUSIC)

 

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).

 

BLACK SCREEN

 

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.

 

(VO)

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)*

 

(SLOWMOTION)

(DISSOLVE TO) A SMALL BOY AND HIS GRANDFATHER WALK SIDE BY SIDE TOWARDS THE CAMERA.  A BLACK HALO SURROUNDS THE EDGES OF THE FRAME.

 

BLACK SCREEN

 

END CREDITS

 

(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.

 

BLACK SCREEN

 

 

END

 

*(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

 

 

 

 

 

O Zoo: The Making of a Documentary Film Music

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.

On (Experimental) 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.