Category Archives: Films

Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion (script)

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

looking through the lens at passing events,
I recall what once was and consider what might me


(black and white)

A man plays a trumpet in an outdoor street mall in front of some shops in Boulder, Colorado. He is wearing dress pants, a white golf shirt and a top hat. To his left are two men sitting, one playing on a makeshift drum set and one playing a banjo. In the background a few pedestrians stroll by paying no attention to the black street band.


TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

Somewhere Between
Jalostotilan and Encarnation

There is a static shot (color) of a street corner in a small Mexican town.  The sky is blue with a few clouds. The street is vacant except for a man sitting in his buggy drawn by a donkey. The street scene is dwarfed by a huge Coca Cola sign. A white taxicab with green stripes drives down the horizontal street followed by a yellow pick-up truck (frame left to right). A child, followed by mother, jog across the vacant street, to the opposite side of the road. They begin to walk down the sidewalk of the street.


TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

on the road dead, lies a Mexican youth
I put down the camera
the cop car passed right by


A shot, framed between two pillars, shows the partial view of an interior of a church. Moveable chairs sit in rows facing frame right.  There is an isle between them, making two sections. Two children enter frame left and sit on the two chairs on the outer sections at the edge of the isle. They talk amongst themselves. A third, smaller child enters frame left and walks down the isle to the row ahead of the two who are sitting. The child looks back at the two and tries to climb up onto the seat. Unable to do this, she looks back at the pair and attempts the climb again.

A hand-held dolly shot (frame right to left) exposes the degrading walls of a Mexican street. The camera pans right to include the alley being traveled upon. On the opposite side of the road is a line of parked cars in front of some two-story houses with white windowpanes. The camera tilts up the paint chipped wall towards the clear sky. Above the wall towers the steeple of a church.

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

reaching out, the white sheet
is pulled over the dead boy’s body
the children wept

In the distance a group of people are gathered just outside the pillared entrance to a Roman Catholic church. They all face away from the camera, kneeling on the cobblestone walkway outside. A few people enter frame right and join the Mexican worshippers.

A hand-held dolly shot (frame left to right) faces the bare walls of the exterior of some houses. As the camera turns a corner, the alley can be seen, as well as two lovers embracing in the corner. At the end of the narrow alley is a ‘T’ junction created by another building.

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

i should have a bible.
you suppose I lent it to someone
or someone stole it



Dominant Primary Image 1

A painter sits on a chair in front of a  painting of Jesus. He is painting a copy.

Secondary Image 1

A close up shot of painter. He continues to paint a copy of the face of Jesus.

Third Image 1

Cars pass by on a roadway, a blue brick wall covers the frame.

Single Solid Image 1

A close up shot of a brush paints Jesus. The camera pans down the brush to the painter’s hand.

Dominant Primary Image 2

In a profile shot, the painter paints the brow of Jesus. The `original’  painting faces the camera.

Secondary Image 2

An extreme close up shot of the religious painting.

Third Image 2

A static shot of a blue brick wall.


New Dominant Primary Image 3

A religious procession, ` The Feast of Fatima,’ makes its way up Bathurst Street in Toronto. A girl in a white dress and veil walks past and looks towards the camera (right to left).

New Dominant Primary Image 4

A pair of kids dressed in angel-like costumes walk in front of the camera and out of frame (right to left).


***Shot Altered from New Dominant Primary Image 4 to Single Solid Image 2

Cars pass through and intersection where the kids crossed as two more people walks past the camera in religious costumes and look at the camera.

A low angle shot films the top of a house and an overcast sky masked by power lines. The statue of Jesus  rolls through the frame (right to left).

***Shot Altered from Single Solid Image 2 to Secondary Image 3

(Secondary Image 3) The camera tilts down to a group of  Portuguese worshippers walking dressed in religious attire, carrying the statue.  Some look at the camera.

Dominant Primary Image 5

A close up shot of ladies faces cross the frame (right to left).  They looks into the camera.  More people cross the frame.

*****Shot Altered from Dominant Primary Image 5 to Secondary Image 4

Dominant Primary Image 6

An extreme close up of the bottom of a woman’s white dress crosses the frame (left to right). The camera pans to the right and exposes a line of people walking down the street (left to right).


*****Shot Altered from Primary Image 6 to Secondary Image 5

Dominant Primary Image 7

A low angle shot of a Mary statue clasping her hands passes through the frame (right to left).


TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

The beggars stopped me
A voice through the window.
I gave the young girl a peso

A hand-held shot travels from left to right down a sidewalk. A young child wearing a white dress stands in front of a paint chipped stone wall. She has one hand to her mouth and the other holding out a silver shiny tray. The camera continues to travel towards a group of Mexican street musicians. A man wearing a dress shirt, dress pants and black cowboy hat plays a trumpet. To his left are two young kids. The one in the foreground is standing still looking away from the camera, the other stands against the wall in behind the first playing a drum that is harnessed around his neck. To their left, a man is playing a large drum.


TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

the little girl
with big eyes
waits by her dead brother.

(Black and White)

In an outdoor street mall in Boulder, Colorado is a large snail sculpture with a massive shell which faces the camera. On top of the `snail’ sits a young girl who is pushing down on the shell, in rhythm to the music

(Black and White)

A rippling pond sits before a forested area that leads to a street with bypassing cars

TEXT ON SCREEN (White on Black):

big trucks spit black smoke
clouds hang
the boys spirit left through its blue





The Value of the Parochial: Film and the Commonplace

(an excerpt from a larger article publication forthcoming)
by Janine Marchessault

I was still a young boy when I saw my first film. The impression it made upon me must have been intoxicating, for I there and then determined to commit my experience to writing…. I immediately put on a shred of paper, Film as the Discoverer of the Marvels of Everyday Life, the title read. And I remember, as if it were today the marvels themselves. What thrilled me so deeply was an ordinary suburban street, filled with lights and shadows, which transfigured it. Several trees stood about, and there was in the foreground a puddle reflecting invisible house façades and a piece of the sky. Then a breeze moved the shadows, and the façades with sky below began to waver. The trembling upper world in the dirty puddle—this image has never left me. 

— Siegfried Kracauer (Ii, 1960)

We can see the development of strategies based on coincidence, accidents, indeterminacy, endlessness, and contingency in documentary and experimental filmmaking of the post war period expressly in this light. As a means to work through some of Kracauer’s insights around cinema and the “whole world”, let me turn to a specific work—the short ‘travel’ film Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion (1984) by Canadian filmmaker Philip Hoffman. The film was shot under the influence of Jack Kerouac and inspired by the Beat Generation. Kerouac went on the road in the fifties to wander and to have experiences, to create a scene across cities, New York, San Francisco and Mexico. ‘On the road’ refers specifically to a mode of writing that is quite literally writing while en route. It is after The Town and the City and through On the Road that Kerouac developed his art of ‘spontaneous prose’, an improvisational method of writing in time connected to the flow of life like jazz.  Famously he used a full roll of Teletype paper that matched the road and typed the novel almost continuously over three weeks. The roll enabled him to write without stopping, without interrupting the flow of words, essentially mirroring the experience of driving. Kerouac like Gertrude Stein before him, associates writing with a phenomenology of the mind, a writing that is “composed on the tongue rather than paper” (Ginsberg 74). Kerouac’s writing does not seek to transcend mediation so much as it does to document its actions so that writing becomes a record of the connection between inner and outer structures of perception, binding bodies to places through time. As much as it pushes the boundaries of presentness, writing like film, is always in the past. Although the fact of mediation between word and image is altogether different as Kracauer would stress.

Hoffman made Somewhere Between, after attending a conference devoted to the legacy of On the Road in Boulder, Colorado. Yet Hoffman’s film is not so much on the road (the highway) as it is on the street, featuring two cities (Boulder and Toronto) and towns somewhere between the cities of Guadalajara and León. The film cuts across various scenes in these places with lengthy (often twenty-eight seconds) unedited sequences of action and black leader as “measured pauses” (Kerouac’s silence or breath) between sequences. These juxtaposed moments play out a reflexive rhythm that foreground the randomness and stubborn indeterminacy of the images of everyday life, and of their placement in the film.  We are presented with situations that are delimited without being explicated. The film opens with a text on the screen: “Looking through the lens/ at passing events/I recall what once was /and consider what might be.” Two early sequences in the film give image to these words. The first is an image of what is now a cliché of globalization. The static camera poised on a street corner in the centre of a small town in Mexico, frames in long shot, a mule and buggy parked beneath a large red Coca-Cola sign, a tangle of telephone wires above low rise dilapidated buildings. The only movement in the frame is the cars, driving in and out of it, and a woman and child crossing the street. Yet movement and layers of interaction are implicit in the juxtaposition of the mule and the global corporation, which co-exist in this place. This image is preceded by another static shot of a church down the street, doubly framed between two pillars of a Catholic arch. Looking in, the camera reveals someone deep in prayer. After a motionless few seconds, a child interrupts the stillness of the sequence, enters the frame and begins a game of crawling up and down on chairs. The child’s sudden appearance is precisely that kind of “unexpected incident” that Kracauer delights in—“the stirring” of nature and people that the Lumiére films first captured. The kind of “spontaneous writing” that we often find in experimental ethnographies favors a self-reflexive methodology[1]. In this instance, focusing on the physicality of the scene to include the temporal structure imposed by the camera (i.e., the spring wound Bolex’s 28 second take) and the filmmaker. The acts of “looking through the lens” as Hoffman’s text tells us, calls upon a time-based aesthetic where past and future co-exist beyond the edges of the frame. Yet it is not only the film strip/ flow of life analogy that foregrounds this temporality. It is also the reoccurring themes of religion and children, of tradition and horizons that Hoffman finds across the different places in the film. Given that the film concerns the story of a Mexican boy run over by a truck somewhere in Mexico, these themes resonate throughout. The boy’s death is an event that the filmmaker refuses to film (or include in the film) but instead conveys through a poetic text on the screen that is intercut throughout the film. Filled with black holes overwritten with the poem that remembers the boy’s death, the film’s architectonics are structured by the words that never conflate the commonalities between the situations. The poem embeds the boy’s death in all of the images of the film so that it is not inconsequential to the corporate sign, the superstructure in the opening images but rather stands in a contiguous relationship to it as to all the images in the film. The melancholic saxophone that draws the line from Mexico to Colorado to Toronto, seems to synchronize momentarily with the musicians and children holding out cups to collect money in these different places but then separates and floats over them from an off screen space that leaves the frame open to a multiplicity of found stories:  children playing games on different streets in different cities, a crowd kneeling outside a church, the Feast of Fatima procession in a Portuguese neighborhood in Toronto, little girls dressed as angels and streets lined with telephone poles,  the beautiful patina of pealing walls aged by the weather, graffiti palimpsests in different languages, a paint brush sketching a likeness of Jesus from a painting of Jesus, a child crawling up and down on a large sculpture of a sea shell in an outdoor street mall, a pond surrounded by trees at dusk. The camera stages situations from a distance and in long shot; sometimes the movements of bodies are slowed. But it is the materiality of the built environment that is framed to equalize the human and the non-human (trees, benches, windows, sidewalks, statues, cars, signs) which are counter influencing and interpenetrating processes. We see here the manifestations global cultures, national and urban idioms and technologies that the film stages as commonplace.

In the study of localities, filmmaker and anthropologist David MacDougal points out that it is not singularities but interconnectivities and flows between particular cultures that lead to the cinema’s capacity for deeply phenomenological and pedagogical gestures. Somewhere Between gives us the interval or the interface between places where identities and experiences take up their meanings in Hoffman’s memories of a shared world. Yet it is also the characteristic of the “found story” that it remains open, fragmented, that it burn through myths and clichés. It must resist the “self-contained whole” that would betray its force by casting a tight structure with a beginning, middle and end around its anonymous core. The found story Kracauer explains arises out of and dissolves into the material environment, often in “embryonic” forms that reveal patterns of collectivity (Theory 246). The found story comes from the aesthetic of the street and we should add, holds infinite possibilities for the psychic investment in the whole even as it takes it apart. In the end, Hoffman may well have broken with Kracauer’s prescriptive visual aesthetics by staging reality with word, image and black leader in a way that actively petitions the dreamer to envision what was and what might be. What holds the spectator’s interest in Hoffman’s film is the gap, the place of imagining: the black smoke from the truck, the children weeping, the sky and the boy’s spirit as it “left through its blue”.

[1] Take for example the films of Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol, Jean Rouch, Agnes Varda or Chris Marker who use the camera as an intrinsic aspect of performance. We could also include some of the more self-reflexive documentaries by the Unit B directors at the NFB of Canada. Cf. Catherine Russell  Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999).

Read whole article here

Avant Ghosts of Mexico

by Jeremy Rigsby

Travelogues are films made by tourists. They are defined by their creators’ decision to remain on unfamiliar terms with unfamiliar surroundings. These are not documentaries, which presume or strive for some unmediated relation to their subjects. Unless they can demonstrate that they are provisional and selective, documentaries are prone to be mistaken for the truth. Unless they can demonstrate that they are art, travelogues are largely the product of hobbyists who can afford vacations. Travelogues may affirm their artfulness by appealing to an aesthetic derived from the lyrical avant-garde, or, more frequently, by adopting the discursive strategies of fiction films. Somewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion  takes the latter route, all the way to a Mexican crossroads of the Real and the Imaginary.

The fictive convention relied upon by Somewhere Between establishes an artificial contiguity between the film’s two discrete components: intertitles alternating with images (of Mexico, mostly). This convention is associative editing, a neat version of the so-called Kuleshov effect, whereby details noted in the intertitles are presumed to refer to the images they immediately follow or anticipate by the simple virtue of proximity. The dead youth is nowhere seen or implied in any of the footage. The titles state that Hoffman “put the camera down.” But the cop car that sped by his corpse must be the very one just seen passing the Coke billboard. Likewise the beggar girl who was conceded a peso is identified as the beggar girl who then appears. And the girl with the big eyes awaiting her dead brother? There she is, her imputed lingering iterated by symbolic association with a concrete snail. Much of the film’s remaining footage is neutral and irrelevant to the text, but marshaled to support a funereal aura through melancholy slow motion or sepulchral, greenish-black tints.

That the film’s apparent coherence of text and image is a construction of cinematic artifice should be obvious, but the film condescends to underline the point. The soundtrack, a plaintive sax solo, twice jars incongruously with footage of musicians playing visibly different tunes, prompting suspicion of any facile congruence between events and their remains in the picture world. And in a sequence quite exceeding the credulity that associative editing might sustain, a funeral procession plods down conspicuously non-Mexican (i.e. Toronto’s) streets, a near-parodic intrusion that must be rationalized as a metaphorical digression on the universality of death, or some such thing. All these contrivances and retractions cumulate in a film whose reliability as documentation is severely undermined by its imperative to simulate fiction. Somewhere Between thus exploits a special tension inherent to the travelogue as a genre. Conventions that would affirm the continuity of narrative films, or the veracity of documentaries, are here destabilized, indeterminate, somewhere between… where, exactly?

Clearly not the poles of a debate concerning the film’s ethics, which it suffered when it was first exhibited in 1984. Its supporters regarded the omission of the child’s death as a noble refusal of spectacular and exploitative documentary practices. Its detractors, conventional ‘journalistic’ documentarians, considered the film irredeemably deprived of the potential impact conferred by such a powerful image.

Both these arguments assume the film’s images support the text, signifying only the conclusive absence it describes. But the latter position does implicitly contain a more incisive interpretation: footage of the accident or its aftermath would confirm that it actually happened. This shopworn raison d’etre of the journalistic documentary finds application here; an appeal to evidence validates the skepticism this film seems designed to provoke. Its issues aren’t ethical but ontological. Did the dead youth exist, or did Hoffman invent him? Given the film’s lack of positive evidence, coupled with its protracted insistence that it be acknowledged as a synthetic construction, the question remains. There are two plausible answers. In the first instance, Hoffman sifts through a large amount of Mexican vacation footage to find a few shots that, by chance, contain imagery similar to details he recalled of the accident and to the text he wrote to describe it. Or he returned from Mexico with a relatively small amount of attractive but disparate, mismatched footage which he united into coherent form by fabricating the accident as a kind of plot device.

Occam’s razor might suggest the second option, but that’s not the rub. As film critic Rita Gonzàlez writes “…international filmmakers have been drawn to the notion of Mexico as a transgressive or mythic space, an eidolon that they have done their part to perpetuate.” [1] As the avant-garde film canon attests, south-of-the border has been a popular destination for filmmaking tourists, the special condition of their alienation in Mexico circumscribed by this imperative to solicit visionary experience. The roster of sojourners include Bruce Baillie, Bruce Conner, Richard Myers and Chick Strand, who made most of her career around Guadalajara and once confidently decared “Mexico is surrealism.” The Mexican travelogue is almost always their projected phantasmata. The ‘reality’ of the death in Somewhere Between is akin to the ‘reality’ of, say, the quintessentially Mexican peyote hallucinations in Larry Jordan’s Triptych In Four Parts: that is, as real as permitted by illusory circumstances. The virtue of Somewhere Between is to be conscious of its complicity in this tradition of cultural mystification. It inspires and permits doubt. It doubts the authenticity of the particular experience it describes, the authenticity of Mexico as an experience of the ‘mythic,’ perhaps ultimately even the authenticity of experience in general. Typical of the traveler’s tale is a tendency to embellish. Rarely is it so evocative, or so obliging, of the tendency to disbelieve its teller.


  1. In ‘The MexperimentalCinema,” catalogue essay published by the Guggenheim Museum, 1999.


Letter from Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway
28 St Peter’s Grove
London W6

January 24th 1984

Monique Belanger
Arts Awards Service
Canada Council, Ottawa

Dear Ms Belanger,

I met Phil Hoffman at the 1984 Grierson Seminar. His films were a breath of fresh air amidst so much conventional material. His films blithely side-stepped the orthodoxies so taken for granted by those who believe documentary cinema is an educational rostrum, is about questions of balance, is essentially a dissertation on something described as ‘truth.’ Meeting him in the context of his films backed up my impressions of his aims and abilities. His work is an encouragement to those who want to use autobiography as subject matter, personal vision as a trademark, and show how small resources can be a positive virtue.

It was Phil’s suggestion in London several months later that he would like to be some sort of witness to the feature production of the film Zed and Two Noughts in Rotterdam in the Spring of this year—which I am certainly agreeable to—though I will not hide the fact that I believe, as a filmmaker with a personal vision, he is well past the apprenticeship stage. What he needs now is opportunities, encouragement and experience. Since his method is to work with a camera as a constant companion, I would wish he could be encouraged to make a modest film whilst he is in Rotterdam and London, certainly to be encouraged to shoot some two or three thousand feet of 16mm. The desirability of his presenting a script before hand, as far as I can see, is not necessary, considering his work method. In fact, I think it ought to be a condition of his association with the Zed and Two Noughts project that he shoot on his own on any subject whatsoever.

Most of the relevant detail of the production of Zed and Two Noughts Phil has already mentioned. It is perhaps not so strange a co-production, as seen from a British point of view, but nonetheless will present a nicely complex mixture of finance, production, cast and crew that aptly mirrors the complexity of the film’s structure and content—the ambivalent diversity of species and purpose—of beasts and men—both sides of the cages in a zoo. Phil has volunteered not just to stand by and observe but to offer practical help which will always be useful on such a modestly budgeted, ambitious film.

If he (and you) believe that he (and you) can profit by his experience with the production, then I am certainly happy to invite him. If there is anything else you would like to know, I am sure I can help, though I would be obliged, as I am sure you would understand, to keep bureaucracy to a minimum. The production of a feature film is very time-consuming and demanding.

Here’s hoping that you can agree to Phil’s participation.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Greenaway

The Road Ended at the Beach

16mm, 30 minutes, color
by Philip Hoffman

Road / Poole article

The film is a series of “telling” incidents in which events, which fall short of expectations, are confronted by more “vibrant” memories of the past. The subject, the filmmaker/diarist, whose consciousness encompasses this flow or passage of time, uses failure to make his strongest points about the convergence and intermingling of anticipation and event, experience and memory. On the road, he and his friends spend time with an old buddy who makes his own music at home but has to play in a military band to earn a living, forcing them to come to terms with their own diminished expectations on the trip they are undertaking as compared to trips in the past. The story of a wood carver who lives with his family in rural Nova Scotia seems idyllic until we find that he must also work in a fish cannery to survive. The film itself is an account of failure. Spurred on by the mythology of Jack Kerouac and his life on the road, the travellers visit Robert Frank in order to learn first-hand about the Beats. Frank matter of factly dismisses their quest by noting that Kerouac is dead and the Beat era is over. In a partial response to this shattering of the myth, the film­maker goes back over the ground of the journey once again, only this time he includes the frustrations, the dead-ends and the low spots. The smooth, linearly developing narrative that we earlier understood to be the product of the filmmakers consciousness is now questioned and replaced by a series of stops and starts, memories and reveries. The final sequence of the film marks a reevaluation and change most emphatically. The sequence shows a beach in Newfoundland on a bright clear day; children and dogs crossing in front of the camera. Yet each time some­one disappears off-frame the filmmaker jump-cuts to a new action. On the beach where the road ends discontinuity becomes a virtue, a form of concentration that validates exceptional experience, just as recollection and anticipation validate certain memories and fantasies.

– David Poole 1984

Philip Hoffman: A Life In Films

by Ilppo Pohjola

“You look like Christ coming up that hill.”

These were the first words Robert Frank said to Phillip Hoffman when he was visiting the photographer in Newfoundland six years ago.

“We were driving with a ’67 Dodge… And I only knew where he was staying from his photographs but I wasn’t sure of its exact location. We drove around and asked the way there, and they didn’t know. Finally we picked up a hitchhiker, who appears in Frank’s film Pull My Daisy, and he told me how to get there.

We stopped at the bottom of the hill and I started to walk across it. And walking up the hill I noticed there was a man sitting and looking out to the sea. I was too far to say hello and at this point I wasn’t sure of myself. What am I doing here? What was the point of all this?

And then he said something that didn’t put me at ease.”

Philip Hoffman is an experimental filmmaker for whom the making of a film, the process itself, is as important as the finished film. It is his way of keeping a diary.

” My films are a combination of everyone I meet, what I learn, e.g. from other filmmakers. It all channels through me. I’m in a way just a medium, but I might change it on the way, making it work.” He collects personal day-to-day experiences in the form of films, videotapes, audio recordings and written diaries. “When I film I write about what I film, and when I get the footage back, I write about that.” Then he examines and reworks his notes, diaries, audio, videotapes and films, analyzing and editing them to create a more meaningful understanding of past experiences and events.

“I think you should not be self-conscious when you are working with a camera, you should be in the rhythm of life. Only the editing process is analyzing.”

Gradually his films develop and certain patterns emerge. Only while editing does the final structure of the film unfold, without a script written before shooting. His film The Road Ended at the Beach (1983) is an example of this kind of theory in practice. It developed during seven years, begun when Hoffman was a student at Sheridan College and was shot during his travels in North America. Finalizing the film was also one reason to meet Robert Frank.

“I had seen his photographs and films, but what did I know about him as a human being?”

Mabou was a good place to stop.

“I wanted to meet him face to face, and ask him about his own pictures and the Beat poets.  Because there has only been a few people besides Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac whose work has moved me in that way.  There is something I could connect to my own world.”

The Road Ended at the Beach starts with waiting for the trip. Hoffman’s old friends and traveling companions Jim and Richard are preparing for driving and painting their van.

“There is a preoccupation in the film that it is going to be as good as Kerouac’s trip.”

The purpose of this last trip is to reunite old friendships and experiences again the feeling of the earlier journeys. They meet an old Asian man, who has traveled the world for ten years.  They meet an old cyclist, who has traveled around the world since 1953 and who is now going around for the seventh time.  They drive and meet old friends, and try to experience again Jack Kerouac’s and Neil Cassidy’s sizzling Mexican nights.

“But when I got the footage back, the joy and excitement of traveling wasn’t there… There are two points to be made. One is that Kerouac’s trip was written as myth. And secondly, I did not go out to create a myth with my camera. I tried to record something that is there… And the myth wasn’t there.”

The film turns into a discussion of the filmmaker’s own mind and personal growth and also the realization of myths and the need to break them.

“Kerouac’s work was not only a bohemian lifestyle. That is something the media has grabbed on. The heart of it is when he was describing simple things… ‘Sympathy for humanism’ is how he described his work. And that is something I think Beat is. Sadness of life and joy of life both happening at the same time.”

” I see myself less as an observer. The camera is something else for me… like someone playing jazz music… it puts me into rhythm with the rest of the world. It is my tool into the world.”

And life can be experienced better outside home or the place which is called home.

“I have discovered something about traveling. It’s a perfect container, an environment for the recording of life.”

Most of Hoffman’s eight films are results of traveling. His newest one, passing through/torn formations (1987) started when he visited his relatives in Europe during the summer of 1984. Hoffman’s father is German while his Polish mother was born in Czechoslovakia. He was born in Kitchener, Ontario and lives now in Toronto. The film describes his mother’s background, but is at the same time an investigation of how history can be recreated and formed differently with different kinds of media. Hoffman tried also to reunite the family by his work, their lives divided on different sides of the Atlantic.

His films are subjective recordings of his own life, while weighing in against myths and conventions.

?Oh,Zoo! (1986) is a puzzle-like study of reality and truth, how they can be created in cinema and treated by cinematic means.  The framework for the film is the documentation of the making of Peter Greenaway’s A Zed and Two Noughts. This connected again to Hoffman’s own observations on life and his experiments, which contribute to the underlying questioning of documentary evidence. What is documentation, what is narrative storytelling and what is the difference between them? It is up to the audience to decide.

“I like people to participate in these films. I leave them open for interpretation, because I don’t like to feel authority and make big statements, and secondly, I don’t have the answers.”

By doing his films he questions conventional ways of filmmaking.  “I think conventions are made, that people try to mimic what has already been done. Conventions are sad and old… I am interested in every person that has their own way of looking at the world. By doing it your own way, you are unique… but not as a reaction to conventional films. It just comes out of living and being and doing what you want to do. I can’t worry about anything else.”

Robert Frank appears in The Road Ended at the Beach just in a couple of scenes, doing his own thing, nailing and looking over the sea. As an everyday person.

“I don’t know, if I would go there again, but it was part of playing out your youth. I guess I was looking for someone to give answers, but of course, you have to do it alone. I think this resolves in the film, too. And this film is not like On the Road. It describes my trip, my personal end of the road and moving to something else. The road ends at the beach. Then you have to do something else.”

A Conversation with Robert Frank (1980)

May 1980
Mabou, Nova Scotia

JM: Jim McMurray
RK: Richard Kerr
PH: Phil Hoffman
JL: June Leaf


Jim McMurray: How did you happen to find a spot like this?

Robert Frank: Oh, it’s just an accident.

JM: You were just up here?

RF: Well it was on a bulletin board in Port Hood.  Yeah, it’s  pretty nice.

Richard Kerr: What are the winters like? Pretty severe.

RF: The wind is sometimes pretty rough but it’s not too bad. I  like it in the winter.

JM: Where’s the coal mines from here?

RF: Past this house here. See that house? There’s a hole going down, that’s where it used to be. It fell down the tower.

RK: Are they going to use it again do you think?

RF: No, it’s all under the water so it’s too expensive.

JM:  Too dangerous too, eh?

RF:  …it’s too expensive to come in here and you know look after the track here. It takes a long way to get it out from here.

JM: Can anybody come around here dig themselves and use it in  their fireplaces?

RF: People use to do it, use horses, get some chunks. Not anymore.

JM: I sometimes work with, you know like iron. Bending it in a furnace. I went down to the railway tracks and they were selling coal at places where an old railway car had tipped over. All free now.

RF: Where do you come from?

JM: Ann Arbour. I saw a picture in your book. I think The Americans, of someone laying in a park.

RF: Ann Arbour. Yeah that’s with all the cars. There’s a little lake outside Ann Arbour.  Not far from…

JM: Do you get away from here very much anymore or do you stick around home?

RF: Well, when I have got to go, I got to go. When you got to go, you got to go. I like it here.

RK: I just saw they had a display of your pictures at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in the spring. Were you up there at all?

RF: No. No I didn’t go.

RK: Just send the pictures and let them do the talking.

RF: Yeah.

RK: I guess what you know were looking for and I guess it’s in the form of some sort of advice, is that, I imagine there’s no secret to it, but what frame of mind were you in when you did The Americans. And how conscious was it? The spontaneity, this sort of thing.

RF: Ah.

RK: Because you read so much stuff and a lot of it frankly is you know?

RF: I think spontaneity might be a way of not thinking you know. Maybe if I would define it. Spontaneity, I don’t think I thought a lot about it. It was more feeling than thinking.

RK: You just did it. What sort of line as far as equipment goes, were you outfitted with. The finest equipment of the time or were your tools just what you had?

RF: No, I had ordinary equipment. A couple of Leicas, one with a normal lens the other with a wide angle.

RK: Yeah.

RF: It helps with good equipment but I think it’s more important to have good equipment when you do carpentry. It’s more exact. When you’re out there working alone I think that. Then thinking about carpentry it’s not that you’re working together with someone. But doing The  Americans at the time, I think that it was wonderful to travel alone.

RK: That’s what we were talking about this morning. This is Phil’s project. I’m doing sound. Jim’s doing the driving and some other things. We were wondering, to do that he’s doing, to do it by himself, he’d be more mobile. He wouldn’t have to listen to our bitching and complaining you know.

RF: Well if it finally gels, what you do with the tape and what he does with picture. It’s an ongoing process.

RK:  Have you ever tried much team work as far as film.

RF:  Well with films I think you have to. It’s too hard to make films alone.

Philip Hoffman: How about Jack Kerouac and Pull My Daisy and films like that or that film. Did you shoot the film and then he did the narration?

RF: Right. He looked at the film and narrated as he looked at it.

PH: Was that a good way to work?

RF: That could be called spontaneity. I mean that certainly was a spontaneous piece of literature.

PH: Was there editing involved? I mean did you go to a third person again? After you had shot it and he had done the narration, anyone cut things out? Like, On The Road apparently has been butchered quite a bit and I was just wondering how much manipulation happens in something like this.

RF: There was very little taken out. We just had to fit it sometimes, it ran a little bit over or we wanted to put some music in, so some words were cut out, some  sentences. But it didn’t happen very often. Of the thirty minutes that he narrated maybe two or three minutes were cut out and that’s about it.

RK: Earlier we were down talking to Allen Ginsberg, doing some research at  Columbia, that he kept there, and I was wondering, is there… those people they seemed like such a close knit group at the time. Are they scattered now or do you have any contact with any of those people? Is it just a time and a place and now you’re in a different time and place.

RF:  Well Kerouac is dead… he’s away. Sometimes I see Allen. I never kept that close in contact with them. So, I don’t know. If, Corso’s living mostly in Italy. I think it pretty much goes apart after… years.

RK: Yeah, that’s what I find with my friends. We just drift I’m out here now and they’re all out in Calgary in the real estate boom. At the time, were the conditions right to work? Where things as free as they like. You know we were only two and three years old then but we had the image that it was free, that everything went and there were no problems. Did it have that feeling to it or is that something the media played upon. Grabbed.

RF: I don’t think that it gets freer. You know good people work. They work the same in 1980 as you would have worked in 1960. I don’t think you know its people. Maybe it was freer because you knew less and you were  moreinnocent. Now I wouldn’t be that free simply  because I know more about it. Much more.

RK: Are you familiar with the term zeitgeist?

RF: What?

RK: : Zeitgeist. It’s a German word for spirit of the times.

RF: Zeitgeist, zeitgeist. Yeah.

RK: I heard that word when I was in Switzerland about six  years ago. That was the word all the people were using. I didn’t know what the hell it meant. It could have been an amulet for all I know.

Frank:  Well I give you another.  How about Weltschmertz?

RK: Weltschmertz? We come from a German town so we get all this. A town in Ontario. It’s a rural German community, so you get osmosis over the years. It’s kind of interesting.

RF: I think this dog makes a good soundtrack.

RK: Yeah. I just did a film called Dogs Have Tales, about my other dog. I don’t go anywhere without a dog.

RF: So who is in charge of editing the film?

PH: I am. It’s a project where we all work together. I think one of the things that’s happening is in a way it’s just gone a week and things are kind of gelling… We all kind of got our separate jobs now, you know.

RK: A guy gave him a free truck. He went to  California and couldn’t take it with him. It was fifteen years old and did him a favour once and he said take care of  this for me it’s yours.

RF: It’s nice.

JM: It is nice.

RF: What kind of truck is it?

JM: It’s a Dodge. An old Dodge.

RF: Wonderful looking. Nice.

JM: Well we put new doors on it, but it was painted covered with flowers and beautiful things like that. But nowadays I guess you can get away with things like that. Is there anything we can help you with, any heavy lifting?

RF: No I can’t think. No, I don’t think there’s anything.

RF: How long have you been here, five, six years sort of a thing?

RF: No we’ve been here ten years. Eleven years. We came here  in 1969.

JM: Wow.

RF: We built this you know? Yeah, it’s satisfying to build something.

RK: You bet it is. That’s something I was never brought up to do but it’s something I want to do.

RF: It’s satisfying to look here, you know? See the water?

RK: Eat like a king out here there’s food. There’s seafood. Want to hit the road? I think that’s right appreciate  that.

RF: Well I mean it thought it would be more like having to look into the camera.

RK: No. We left the make-up girl at home. Make-up person.

RF: I always liked it when films you know had ? when you could move it around. When I was teaching in sometimes Super 8, I always liked that about Super 8 because I completely divorced it from the sound, and there’s so many possibilities then.

PH: It’s exciting… there’s always something being born,

RF: You always stumble on something that makes sense that enhances the picture itself.

PH: I think of a  saying… let the feeling find its own form. It’s a good thing for me to remember for this film. That’s what I’m trying to do and sometimes it’s really hard… travelling is hard enough …rather than just taking pictures. It’stwo jobs in a way.

RF: I use to think… how is the wind doing?

RK:  It’s kicking the hell out of this mic, but what can you do?

RF: Sometimes the wind sounds so beautiful. What kind of a  machine is that?

RK: It’s a Sony. A Sony cassette deck. It’s got little toys on it you know …too many gadgets.

RF: You always work with one mic?

RK: This can work with two.

RF: Yeah, but you do everything with one?

RK: As much as possible. I’m not a technical person so I got to find a simple machine. Don’t need a Nagra.

PH: We’re just using this thing with 3 or 4 different lenses.

RF: Is that a combination lens? I mean that’s just one lens.

PH: It’s just one, yes. That’s one thing I wouldn’t mind for this trip is maybe not changing lenses so much.

RF: You just work with that one lens?

PH: No.

RF: You have other ones but then you have to take it off.

PH: Yeah, but not for this one. It’s the only one I could  get a hold of, but  it works out.

RF: What do you shoot? Colour?

PH: Yeah, negative. We’ve shot for three or four years now west and east. This is our second time out east. I shot super-8 and collected sound when I first started a while back, and now what I’m going to do with the super-8 is blow it up to 16mm and use it sort of as a concrete form of memory. And so over the years we have been returning to places and people to see how they’ve changed. So hopefully the film will have some history to it.

RF: How long is it since you’ve done the super-8?

PH: 1976… about four years ago.

JM: We came out here last year and got some stuff, but the car kept breaking down. It was a newer one then this. Do you still go down to the School of Design in Halifax.

RF: No I haven’t been there since at least three or four or five years.

RK: I was thinking about going there back to school for the fourth time. Think it’s an alright place?

RF: School?

RK: That particular one. If you care maybe I shouldn’t ask you that.

RF: Well if you feel like you need to learn something and that’s the way you feel you can learn it. What would you take there.

RK: Art education or something like that. How about teaching I do some teaching now, but you don’t get paid well when you know the stuff but don’t have the letters behind you. They don’t pay you as well. But I don’t know, change my mind every day, that’s what I got one for I guess.

RF: Well if you can go to school that’s nice. It gives you place, not in the streets.

JM: Especially out here as opposed to Toronto. I just got out, been going for years. Got a Masters Degree in Fine  Arts and I finally realized that it’s not doing me much good at all. I wish I had worked all that time. The dog likes it here. He likes those cliffs, feels like  he’s climbing mountains.

RF: It’s your dog, eh?

JM: It’s Richard’s dog.

RF: Oh, yeah.

JM: It was his birthday two days ago, two years old. You getting pretty stuck to this place here? I mean hard to leave?

RF: Well I’m attached we put a lot of money into it. We’ve worked on this for a very long time.

JM: Nice to make something and have something there.

RF: It seems permanent. It doesn’t change. It’s nice to watch nature. Watch the water, the wind, the sea.

JM: That’s what I like. I didn’t really want to come on this trip. It was hard to break myself away. How are the people down here? Pretty nice?

RF: Very friendly, yeah. Well they’re very discreet. There’s a lot of room, nobody bugs you.

JM: This has got a lot of Scottish history to it or something like that. The highlanders or…

RF: Yeah, they’re mostly Scottish.

JM: A lot of ***Zeetans*** (?)

RF: Some of them speak Gaelic.

JM: Yeah? Wow.

RF: It’s a good place to live. I don’t know about working. I have a hard time working here but June works a lot. She works on the building. Why don’t we stop for a  while?

JM: How do you heat in the winter? Is it wood?

RF: Wood stove, coal.

JM: You just go down in your car or truck and pick it up?

RF: Yeah. When we just came here in 1969 coal was something like eleven, twelve dollars.

JM: A hundred weight?

RF: A ton. And now it’s forty and I guess that’s still cheap.

JM:  Yeah. It’s a lot more down in (?)

June Leaf: It’s good huh?

RF: Can they have some tea?

JL: OK. You want some tea?

RK: Get back to work.

RF: It’s a good day for working today.

RK: Yeah. Not too hot.

JL: Are you guys having tea?

JM: Phil you want some tea? A lot of people paint their shingles. But I guess that once you’ve painted it once you’ve got to paint it over and over again.

JL: Most people paint them. They do, they like to paint them. It makes the house look fresh every couple of years.

RF: With just oil on you know, seems to keep them pretty well.

JM: That’s a pretty colour though, silver.

JL: See these are old shingles, see we’re reusing them  they’re very strong. I mean, they’re just like new shingles. Look at that. That was already cracked when we took it off. See we took it off with a shingle puller. That way where you see we’re putting it back it varies.

On The Pond (script)

S  = Sisters
D = Dad
M = Mom
P = Phil
B = Cousin Brad
C = coach
A = announcer
Ba = Babji

S: Oh my… isn’t that beautiful.

S:…and you know who’s got the life preserver on…

M: Philip of course… and Marcie looks like a little girl.

P: What do I look like?

M…you look like an Eskimo, yes.

B: Are we going to do it tomorrow?

P: Yup.

S: …oohhh…

B: Hey, that’s me.

S: Bradly and Philip.

M: ..and the old Princess.

P: Yup.

M: Oh, is that ever precious. That was in our back yard, in the old house.

P: Yup.

S:…aaahh, Colleen.

S:…aahhh, look at the lake.

D: Colleen, that’s a good one of you.

S (Colleen):I don’t think I look so bad and you know Phil, we used to go fishing all of the time.

P: All the time.

M: You loved it.

S: Look at my feet, how I always stood. My favorite shorts.

P: I tell ya, that’s a good looking one there.

S: …that’s  beautiful… you look beautiful… Mom, you’re a hot chick boy…

S: I Wish I knew you better then.

M: We went out walking, it was Thanksgiving.

D: ..and you were feeling lousy.

M: Yeah.

D: ..we’re trying to cheer you up, but Phil’s looking at you

S: ..aaahhh…

P: ..ooohh..

S: Look at my glasses.

S:(softly) …oh really…

S: …I must say, I didn’t look as bad as you did…

D: …Colleen..

S: She knows?

S: …it’s so long ago…

D: There you can see where the cottage was.

S: Oh my God.

S: …and the ice was just as thick as could

D: We could skate it on the whole lake.

P: Bobby Orr.


D: You have the right stance there.

S: Oh, I want to go back.

(sounds of a hockey game)

S: I wish we had those scarves.

M: Where are those scarves?

S: I like them.

Ba: I’ve got some like that.

S: See the cottage is the same, oh no…

(hockey game sounds, laughter as boy falls, people laughing at the next photo)

C:…30 seconds and keep goin’, goin’, goin’, while we’re on the outside thirty seconds. I think we can wear them down. Everybody’s got to want it… everybody’s got to bust there backsides to get it.  Same starters…

(sounds of team psyching themselves up, sounds of projector, hockey crowd, dog)

A: It’s off the goalpost!

(crowd cheers, panting as boy does pushups)

M: Is that our old Princess?

M: Look how fat she was.

S: Yes she was.

S: Oh my…

M:I think about her often though.

(piano, sound of dog and boy playing hockey)