by Gary Popovich
The films of Philip Hoffman exemplify a process in which raw, amorphous experience undergoes examination, whereupon the filmmaker’s initial emotion and volition are sublimated to a state of cognition. The filmmaking process acts as a catalyst organizing nature, objects, people, events, film (and other media), memory, and time into a comprehensible form for understanding experience. The phenomenological (both that which is captured on film and that which is Lot captured on film) is ordered into an ontological system by the act of filmmaking.
Nature, or objects in nature, rarely stand for something else in Hoffman’s films. Buildings, dogs, vehicles, ponds, and beaches have a relationship to the past, or conjure memories of the past, which stir the filmmaker to put the stories, events, and memory fragments in relationship to the present. As experiential images captured on film they open a context which demands questions from the filmmaker during his editing: Where was I then? What happened? Why did I want to remember it, to capture it on film? What is its relationship to the past, and to similar older film footage? Was it the colour, or form which captured my eye, or did it serve as a respite from the hectic interaction with people? The inherent form, colour, or movement of a shot is reason enough for its inclusion in his films. Objects are often allowed to perform purely cinematic purposes, as opposed to symbolic purposes, so that the filmmaker predicates the logistics of his personal cinematic memory as the sole means of structuring his film.
In his films Hoffman acknowledges the influence of the Beat poets, especially of novelist Jack Kerouac; but I think Hoffman’s form puts into practice the theoretical work done by poet Charles Olson at least to the degree of success attained by the so-called Beat filmmakers (Robert. Frank for example), if not to a greater degree of success, using Olson’s ‘projective’ or ‘open’ form. Olson’s poetics, even in the often idiosyncratic and abstruse language he uses, do clearly strike to the root of Hoffman’s manner of formal organization:
if he (the poet) stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. It is in this sense that the projective act, which is the artist’s act in the larger field of objects, leads to dimensions larger than the man. For a man’s problem, the moment he takes speech up in all its fullness, is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place alongside the things of nature. …breath is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. And when a poet rests in these as they are in himself … then he, if he chooses to speak from these roots, works in that area where nature has given him size, projective size.1
I believe the references to language, speech, and breath are applicable to Hoffman’s films in terms of his relationship to the camera. Repeatedly the camera is alluded to being an extension, or inextricable part, of the filmmaker’s body. The act of becoming one with the camera, and one with nature, is exemplified in The Road Ended At The Beach (1983) where Hoffman (as he is dancing over rocks in a stream, camera looking at the rocks and water) concedes that the best time “is when I’m on my own with the camera” or inSomewhere Between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion when he incorporates the breath, or duration of the spring wind, of the Bolex camera (approximately 28 seconds) into the film as he would his own physical and motor capacities for maneuvering with the camera.
Nature is appreciated for what it is, and displayed as such; mountains or rivers, people or objects, do not derive their significance as symbols but as elements which the filmmaker must confront or through which he must pass. In The Road Ended At The Beach confrontation leads to revelation as object or event recalls a similar more pleasing moment in the past, so that cinematically even the past and present confront each other, thereby manifesting the personal visions, and memories of the filmmaker.
When objects and nature are used in terms of symbols, Hoffman is less successful. Freeze-Up (1979) is weakened by the predictability of movement from the good, calm, bright, warmth of the country to the cold, dark, fast and impersonal city. The images are less than inspired, as if Hoffman’s heart was not at one with the material, creating a coldly impersonal work that cries out for his presence. His strongest work includes himself as a participant in the action. This he has learned to do quite well with growing confidence from On The Pond (1978) to The Road Ended At The Beach culminating in his latest film Somewhere Between where he has learned how to remove actual images of himself from his film while retaining a personal quality through reference to the relationship between himself, his camera, and passing events.
Freeze-Up also suffers due to the restrictive reading of nature which is reduced to a few probabilities rather than leaving it open, for the most part, as it is in The Road Ended At The Beach and Somewhere Between. Vestiges of restrictive signification of objects are still in evidence in The Road Ended At The Beach (such as the ‘Feeling Satisfied’ sign which is a rather trite comment upon the growing disenchantment of the travellers with their journey) but these have disappeared in Somewhere Between. When Hoffman does not take the elements he works with into himself, and resorts to the imposition of foreign elements (whether they be resonant with understandable symbolic cultural signification or not) the phenomenological remains in the realm of phenomena and neither the audience nor the filmmaker has come any closer in understanding the ontological relationship between the filmmaker and his work. However, when Hoffman’s bond with nature and his art is most successfully manifested through the depiction of his vicissitudinous relationships between people, events, and objects he, in a practical sense, captures the essence of the theoretical definition of art proposed by Nietzsche in his famous dictum* “art is not merely imitation of the reality of nature but rather a metaphysical supplement of the reality of nature, placed beside it for its overcoming.”2
At the same time Hoffman must ask himself in what way film, or the camera, gets in the way; in what way does it restructure the manner in which we look at experience by the nature of cinematic selectivity of shooting and editing? The presence of the camera is repeatedly acknowledged; the filmmaker grapples continually with the meaning of what he has recorded on film and what he would have liked to record. In On The Pond snapshots and slides from the filmmaker’s childhood are buttressed against live action footage of a young boy playing hockey and the filmmaker sifting through hockey memorabilia. The old slides are thus instilled with an emotional quality which reaches the audience, capturing, in their juxtaposition with live footage, quite successfully the spirit of what was initially only of private value. For all its slides, its periodic self references, and the opening slate, On The Pond is not nearly as reflexive or self-consciously reflective as The Road Ended At The Beach. In this film a trip east documented by the filmmaker and two friends is edited with film footage of previous trips to the east and west coasts of Canada, with occasional references to trips undertaken by Conrad Dube, a physically handicapped bicycle rider who has clocked 308,000 km. world-wide; Rup Chand, an old Tibetan friend who inspires Hoffman to keep a journal after talks about trips to the far east; and Kerouac and Cassidy, who seem to have been the seminal influences of filmmaker-road traveller Hoffman. The film is laden with photographs, old films, inter-titles, conversation about previous films of Hoffman and his filmmaker friend Richard Kerr,3 conversation concerning the present film, references to the camera, and shots of the filmmaker both travelling and at work on the film.
The trip, full of disappointment and frustration, is continually set in contrast to more glorious or exotic trips in the past. This trek to the east coast, having been consciously planned as a trip for documentation on film, by its very nature is conducive to introspection and comparison by the filmmaker and his art. His hopes may have been set too high in anticipation of dazzling film footage of adventure. Pressed by his preconceived needs and the cost of such an undertaking he feels the trip is failing to deliver that which was expected; the result is a documentation of his own reflective thoughts and cinematic perceptions concerning failure to measure up to the past, failure to realize the idealized preconceptions one might have about a trip that would seem to hold great promise, and failure to actually see the richness that the present does hold (albeit hidden during the actual shooting) so that the finished film is a rich mosaic that successfully captures the predilections and artistic turmoils of the filmmaker in the midst of trying to understand his artform.
A brilliant example of this occurs through the use of a repeated fragment of dialogue over two shots that although formally similar, contextually reveal the filmmaker’s reflections on the disparity between. bright expectation at the beginning and introspection towards the end. As the three friends set out in their van, Hoffman gives us a shot from inside of the van looking out to the road ahead (the characters in silhouette, the road ahead exposed for detail), while on the soundtrack Jim, the driver, sings and comments about the “big last run” of the van. After the meeting with Robert Frank (which is disturbingly anti-climactic due to Frank’s stand-offish manner) Hoffman cuts in shots of the stern of a ferry and the wake behind it, ferry smoke stacks, a shot out of a porthole which dissolves to red, then dissolves to a shot of himself in a room listening to sound from the film, to a shot from inside the van once again — this time with the view out of the van windshield over-exposed while the interior of the van is exposed for detail. As we hear Jim repeat “the big last run” Hoffman’s voice comes on the soundtrack to says “The trip begins again. Now I look inside the van.” From ‘this point onward the shots of past trips come into disparaging collision with the present due to their perceived banality and mundaneness, and especially due to Hoffman’s harsh interpolatory comments such as: “I recall more exotic trips … he (Jim) told me he’d rather be at home … he (Richard Kerr) must have felt imprisone1 by the van … I expected adventure, but the road had died since the first trip west with Jim … the best time for me is when I’m on my own with the camera.” With shots through mirrors, looking back, from an automobile speeding through the rain on a distant western trip and some final disparaging remarks, the camera ends up on an eastern beach in Newfoundland with no further to go. The camera itself seems to reflect on how far it has come, looking incessantly at a large rock in the ocean, with reflection, and the return, its only alternative.
Hoffman appears in Somewhere Between only through the first person singular ‘I’ in the intertitles. Retaining its personal quality through the titles, the film’s images (gathered from various locations in Mexico; Boulder, Colorado; and Toronto, Ontario) organize the phenomena of experience into a system that attempts to understand the myriad of spiritual feelings and spiritual acts in a universal sense. The text tells the story of a dead Mexican youth encountered by the filmmaker “on the road.” Among the visuals are Mexican street scenes, pious worshippers in front of a church, children inside a church, street bands, and a religious parade. The filmmaker, at this point in his career, realizes the richness of documenting his own searching attempts to bring together related experience. In one segment an artist is copying a painting of Christ. Superimposed over the image of the artist is a close-up of his hand and brush in motion; however, as the brush moves it seems to be tracing the outline of, and painting, the artist himself, so as to say that as one creates a work of art one is actually drawing oneself. The subject of much of 20th century art involves artistic activity as a paradigm of experience and free activity without prescribed norms. Hoffman himself seems to feel that by making the process of filmmaking a large part of his subject, he can best demonstrate the action of filmmaking and his relationship to it.
Along with nature and reflexivity, children too figure prominently in Hoffman’s films. After a clapboard is removed from the shot, On The Pond begins with an outdoor nighttime scene and a young boy’s voice asking: “Are we going to do it tomorrow?” A voice, which we assume belongs to the filmmaker, responds with a simple “yes.” What they do the next day is both shoot the film and play some hockey. The. boy plays a role similar to that which we can imagine Hoffman to have played as a young boy fascinated with hockey and the ice skating pond. In fact the boy acts as a means to manifest the filmmaker’s own personal childhood experiences and emotions. He captures the boy’s joy, his preoccupation with, and concentration on, hockey, as well as the attendant fears and embarrassments. Intercut with this footage are slides projected off a screen, while on the soundtrack the filmmaker’s family provides a commentary.
In a wonderfully evocative scene we see an array of old slides of the pond area is a young woman’s voice says “I wanna go back.” Hoffman then dissolves from the slides to live action slow motion footage of the young boy stick-handling a puck around his dog. He then inserts a.match cut of pages flipping, then a match cut of the boy waving his scarf in the direction of the dog and the camera while on the soundtrack we hear the growing buzz of an arena crowd. As the boy, now stick-handling again, falls to the ice, the soundtrack crossfades from a shouting crowd to the family laughing loudly, whereupon Hoffman finally cuts to a slide of a bald headed boy (undoubtedly Hoffman himself) standing out amongst other family members. The scene delineates a complex relationship between the private and fragile self-conceptions of childhood, and the often disquieting insouciance of the public (family included), while Hoffman leaves no doubt that an adult filmmaker, too, is not immune to this kind of suffering.
In The Road Ended At The Beach Hoffman begins by looking, as with the eyes of a child, back to his heroes in literature (Kerouac) and photography (Frank) and to previous trips, soon finding himself asking what it means to confront their stories with his own self-styled model of their journeys. They have become older; their legends demystified, they have become part of mundane reality. For Hoffman, action must be put on hold; the time for reflection ha come. By the end of the film he has come to the edge of land and water where he stares out at a large enigmatic rock in the ocean. On the soundtrack and in front of the camera, children, oblivious to Hoffman, are able to transform the distant rock into their personal plaything singing to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey.” Hoffman stares at the rock trying to comprehend after all the distance he has come; the children accept it as part of their experience. The song recalls a similar scene in Robert Frank’s film Pull My Daisy in which a child interrupts the narrative track, which is otherwise dominated by Jack Kerouac, by singing “Humpty Dumpty.” The child’s nursery rhyme has as much validity as the musings of a wild poet. But where this makes a rupture and sets the apartment confined poets in search of adventure accompanied by Kerouac’s musically phrased “let’s go … let’s go!” in Pull My Daisy, Hoffman, in The Road Ended At The Beach, seems to say ‘we’ve been… let us stop now and examine where we have been … let us try to comprehend.’ Realizing that it is his own personal journey that matters most, and that some aspects of nature and existence can best be understood, or come to terms with, through the imagination, Hoffman is able to work more confidently and universally in scope in his next film.
Where in The Road Ended At The Beach documentation on film seems to be the pre-text for the journey, in Somewhere Between the journey serves as a pre-text for the triangulation of simultaneous spiritual events (Toronto, Boulder, and Mexico). Through the inter-titles we get the story of the dead boy on the Mexican road; the images show us children playing in an empty church, a child begging for money in front of a street band; a little girl playing on a large sculptured model of a snail, and children dressed as angels in celebration of the Feast of Fatima. A certain ambiguity arises from these images in juxtaposition with the text. The last title tells us “the boy’s spirit left through its blue.” In the visuals the children seem to be cinematically orchestrated in concert for the redemption, safe passage, or re-incarnation of the boy’s spirit; but the film is full of walls. The camera searches along them, over them, through doorways, but we can only get a glimpse at what lies beyond due to interruptions such as a hesitant and shaky camera or a deliberate cut away. Throughout the scene in which children parade as angels and an artist copies a painting of Christ, Hoffman has superimposed a blue wall. The camera’s long look at the end of The Road Ended At The Beach (the realization point) has superimposed its lesson over much of Somewhere Between, so that barriers and the inability to-entirely understand all experience is now accepted and the filmmaker is free to express and orchestrate the feelings he has, upon seeing the dead boy, without attempting an explanation.
The manner in which time is used, in two of the three films discussed here, is a direct reflection of the difficulty in dealing with present experience. Feeling the past encroaching upon each present moment, camera in hand, Hoffman documents the apparent lack he feels. In both On The Pond and The Road Ended At The Beach this is initiated by memory, discovered and analyzed as he sifts through the past and present visual and aural material .he has gathered, and communicated to an audience by means of his editing. The film, as finished product, is the result of trying to come to terms with the present.
In Somewhere Between the present no longer intrudes upon the filmmaking. The first title reads:
looking through the lens at passing events
i recall what once was
and consider what might be
Initially this would seem to be the same approach employed in The Road Ended At The Beach; however, the consideration of “what might be” is no longer predicated upon a restrictive reading of a dichotomous past-present laden with inquietude. Hoffman, having extricated himself from the obfuscatory fetters of time, is now able to consider a harmony among pro-filmic events. The intertitles often mix the past and present tenses in the same breath.5 The images have a timeless quality;6 while space is rendered ambiguous, inasmuch as one is not sure whether—certain images were shot in Toronto, Boulder, or Mexico.
Two clear aspects of time do emerges (1) Hoffman before the lens considering time, and (2) the present time of sitting through the actual screening of the film; all other aspects of time are emotional and spiritual. When a title announces:
the little girl
with big eyes,
waits by her dead brother
The corresponding image is not from Mexico, not from the same time, but is emotionally connected to the text — we see a young girl climbing and crawling upon a large sculptured snail in Boulder. Her face, and backward glances toward the camera, suggest numerous unanswerable questions which one could well imagine the dead boy’s sister posing — and the filmmaker no less. An immemorial tenor is suggested that parallels Hoffman’s superimpositions of the painter’s brush strokes upon himself, placing the camera in a long line of tradition which finds itself pre-occupied with spiritual questions or spiritual imagery in an often secular sense. It is secular to the extent that Hoffman’s imagery is of the mundane, of the quotidian, while the narrative text, delivered with white letters on black, attempts to conjure a sense of the extra-mundane (such as in the final title when “the boy’s spirit left through its blue”).
Up to The Road Ended At The Beach Hoffman displayed a methodical structuring of the interactions of various time elements; with The Road Ended At The Beach he seems to have found synchronicity to be a fundamental, or necessary, grounding to his work. Yet the ideas, feelings, and impressions are more contiguous than they are synchronous. The contiguous past and present elements form a dialectic through the editing, resulting in an asperous look to the film akin to the image we might have of the filmmaker on his journey. The counterpoint in Somewhere Between is of a deeper weave; the narrative text suggestively imprints images on the mind (that endure in a manner similar to the persistence of vision properties in viewing motion picture images) forcing the viewer to juggle these images with the actual visual images in the film, so that the film’s structure resembles that of a musical fugue. As opposed to distinguishing the two, if one allows both sets of images (the filmic and the suggested) to come together as one, a preterite film image tense co-existing with the past-present tense of the text creates a form of preterite present tense (as articulated by the filmmaker in the opening title) releasing the filmmaker and the viewer from the restrictions of time. In effect, the viewer plays as much a hart in structuring the work as the filmmaker has — choosing where, how,*and when to accent the two sets of complimentary images. The intrusive and/or disjunctive editing style of The Road Ended At The Beach has been replaced by a simplified form of cutting on the breaths, or lengths of the Bolex camera’s shot, alternating with an intertitle so that the intrusions and/or disjunctions are within the shots not in their juxtaposition.
In The Road Ended At The Beach the camera “got in the way” between Hoffman and his subjects; it prevented the filmmaker from realizing on film his preconceived ideas of how the trip would unfold and how it would, or could, be documented. In Somewhere Between an intertitle tells us:
on the road dead, lies a mexican youth i put the camera down the cop car passed right by
In order to come closer to events, to get in tune with them, at times it is necessary to lay the camera down, looking not through the pre-figured limitations of a lens and with the sensibility that accompanies the act of filmmaking, but to see with one’s own eyes and to look for the existing relationships.? The result is a feeling of synchronicity with objects, people, and events represented by images from Toronto, Boulder, and various locales in Mexico (excepting the area where the dead boy was encountered). The rough handheld camera searching through a Mexican alleyway, the children wandering among the empty congregation chairs framed between two solid church pillars with a large crucifix visible in the background, the street bands in Mexico and Boulder, the religious festival in Toronto replete with a large sculpture of the virgin and with children parading as angels, the young girl on the snail, and the quiet stream are a result of the sublimating of the initial emotion inspired by the dead child and the power of willing initially foreign elements to move in harmony with one another and with the narrative text. This attitude in the filmmaker is arrived at through the persistent efforts to understand the phenomenological in terms of his relationship to the art of filmmaking, but could only have reached this state of fruition by the ongoing realization (through On The Pond and The Road Ended At The Beach) that the form of a film suggests itself if one is able to see clearly the relationships between seemingly disparate elements (objects, events, and people), the camera, and the eye of the filmmaker. So the somewhat unspecific ‘somewhere’ between Jalostotitlan and Encarnacion8 is rendered explicitly as everywhere between what one can see and what one can imagine.
In relation to time, and in its two states of liquid and solid, water plays an important role in Hoffman’s films. The water in On The Pond, in its frozen state, is an arena of inward reflection that catalytically allows the filmmaker to reach back in time to his own childhood. The juxtaposition of documented evidence of the past (snapshots and slides) with the shots of Hoffman, as a filmmaker, returning to the frozen pond reveal the disparity between what the slides signify to an independent observer and Hoffman’s own personal feelings towards the frozen moment which only through his manipulation can relay to the audience the same warmth and emotional depth he feels in them. What has not changed, one senses, is Hoffman’s emotional relationship to the public and private aspects of his chosen activity (the love of hockey as a youth, and hockey and filmmaking as an adult) so that over the course of time only the ability to articulate feelings has changed — it has become more adroit.
The Road Ended At The Beach begins and ends with the sounds of waves. What surfaces through the course of the film is Hoffman’s dissatisfaction and attempts to come to terms with the shards of recalled time,- both in memory and on film, that suggest that the present view of things is grossly at odds with one’s past idealized perceptions. The finished film, in effect, creates a new past which, once examined by the filmmaker, has a validity and importance which was not recognizable during the actual shooting of the film. This idea is not reactionary in and of itself as the past is not so much romanticized as it is misunderstood in its relationship to the present; so that the methodical work of the filmmaker pushes forward his understanding and ability to deal with the present tense of his filmmaking by taking into account his initially unfocussed way of perceiving the past.
The waves and water bracketing the film suggest that the problem is immemorial and is, of necessity, a problem which Hoffman must deal with if he is to grow as a filmmaker.
Each image in Somewhere Between begs a question, is a hypothetical response to the story of the dead boy. From the questions he posed about time, his frustrated ideals, the inability to communicate as effectively as he would like, and tumultuous emotions he felt in The Road Ended At The Beach Hoffman has learned not to expect concrete answers but to keep his camera searching for the unity of experience and emotion which he feels is bound to all that his camera chooses to record. The last image of the film, a serene stream in the woods,9 with the saxophonist exhaling his final quiet breaths into his instrument, predicates the value of the unanswerable questions concerning life and death and the contradictory elements of existence with which the filmmaker has now learned to live. Although tinged with a sense of regret or helplessness, Hoffman, with the last title, draws us an image of pathetic fallacy that both asserts the inexorable and oblivious march of time and his own sense of the synchronicity of mundane elements:
big trucks spit black smoke
the boy’s spirit left through its blue
The multi-media piece The River, Hoffman’s latest work, reflects his growing interest concerning the reproduction of images and the representation of pro-filmic events on both film and video, as well as dealing with motifs (such as nature, time, and water) that have surfaced in previous films. The first piece of The River is a 3 minute 16mm film showing a river and river bank from the point of view of the cameraman on a boat. The film captures the glimmering of the sun reflecting off the water, the texture of the leaves on the trees, and a three dimensional look which one has come to expect from realistically represented images. The film is silent, so the movement of objects (dropping of a bobber, splashing of a paddle) and the movement of the boat has an ethereal quality.
The next piece is on black and white video with sound. The images, although sharp and crystal clear, look decidedly different from the film image in fact, the water and reflections from the water have an abstract look about them. The camera is often moved jarringly and the sound is harsh and it intrusively accentuates the movement of the boat and the boat’s objects which had all been smooth and slick in the film. The boat scrapes by branches, and at one point comes into collision with a fallen tree protruding from the shore. Nature, in this video, is something to contend with; and appropriately we get shadows and reflections of the cameraman (Hoffman) shooting his images, as well as shots of the microphone being buffeted about by the gear on the boat during a long camera pan. If the film portion exuded a seamless string of ethereal images, the video portion undermines, by interruptions, the false serenity of the original footage.
The final piece is the original 16mm film flipped on its horizontal axis, so that the image is reversed, and recorded onto video directly from a screen projection of the film. The 1/24 second flickers of the film are captured on video resulting in further abstraction; the three dimensional quality and the glossy look has disappeared. The sounds, including those of birds, seem louder and incommensurate with the images — as if they were overcompensating for the deterioration of the representational images.
A significant work in images and representation, and the meaning various processes construct in relationship to pro-filmic and filmic events, The River remains more of an exercise (albeit an important one) than a finished product. The original film footage seems to have been shot prior to the intent of incorporation into a larger multi-media piece — but Hoffman’s most successful shooting has always preceded the conscious conceptualization of a final form.
The various forms of media, with which Hoffman has been preoccupied in his films were in need of undergoing the type of examination that The River offers — in fact more rigorous examination is still necessary. In making The Road Ended At The Beach the filmmaker learned not only that the camera got in the way, but how it got in the way; in Somewhere Between it was learned how the filmmaker, the camera, and the pro-filmic events could be rendered accordant. Using the process of filmmaking to order phenomenological events into an understandable ontological system, Hoffman has documented both his own growth in film and his growing understanding of his relationship to filmic and extra-filmic experience. With The River he turns outward to the territory, as yet only peripherally explored by him, in which spectator-screen-image-filmmaker relationships are to be explored, so that the process of filmmaking will provide him with a means of epistemologically querying the cinematographic sound and image.
1. Olson discusses three “simplicities” by which composition by field, or projective composition, is accomplished. “(1) KINETICS A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.” As such the poet “can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. (2) FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT … right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand. (3) ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.”— Charles Olson, Selected Writings; Poetry New York, 1950.
2. Continually, Hoffman seems to be enmeshed in a struggle to understand his reasons for making a film, or for turning on the camera, partly believing that film (like music in Nietzsche’s statement): “is not a copy of the phenomenon, or, more accurately, of the adequate objectivity of the will, but an immediate copy of the will itself, and therefore complements everything physical in the world and every phenomenon by representing what is metaphysical, the thing in itself,” so that not only is Hoffman caught questioning his own will but also the meaning of images that can seem to be a reflection of the will and an exact copy of nature at one and the same time. Without resolve he continues to search for an allusive oneness with nature in balance with a belief that “existence and the world seem justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon.”
Nietzsche quoted from: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans by Walter Kaufmann; Random House, Inc., 1967.
3. A short segment of Kerr’s film Dogs Have Tales is inserted into Hoffman’s The Road Ended At The Beach as Hoffman mentions that the two friends attended college together (“we made films together”). Hoffman himself appears in the shot from Kerr’s film.
4. Shortly before the end of The Road Ended At The Beach Hoffman inserts a close-up of a child’s face looking directly into the lens of the camera. He then cuts back to Robert Frank who says, about the beat generation,: ? Maybe things were freer because we knew less.” After more shots through a rain splattered car windshield (from one of the trips west) washed in somber colours and replete with mirrors, a ‘Feeling Satisfied’ advertising sign, and a blue moonlit evening, Hoffman cuts to his last shot on the beach in Newfoundland looking out to the rock where we hear and see children again.
The disillusionment and dissatisfaction Hoffman feels as his static camera peers, blinking (the shot is composed of a series of jump cuts), attempting to understand loss, change, and find meaning in what he sees (and has seen) while joyful sounds of children playing about assail his private thoughts, -places him in the same deplorable position in which Wordsworth found himself:
… I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality. At that time I was afraid of such processes. In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as is expressed in the lines - ‘Obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings; To that dream-like vividness and splendour which invest objects of sight in childhood, every one, I believe, if he would look back, could bear testimony …”
William Wordsworth, Introduction to “Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood”
After The Road Ended At The Beach, these thoughts seem to be reconciled in Somewhere Between.
reaching out, the white sheet
is pulled over the dead boy’s body the children wept
6. The action in most shots is langourous; nearly each shot is separated by an intertitle; three of the shots are in black and white, thereby obscuring their contemporaneity; the selected Mexican locations appear ageless, even in the second shot in which a large red Coca-Cola sign, and speeding cars traversing the frame horizontally, try to dominate the image, an old Mexican in a mule cart draws torpidly up the centre of the-frame and stops.
7. By placing his camera down on the ground and refusing to show images of the dead boy, Hoffman may seem to be following an accepted wisdom, stemming as far back as the Greek classical tragedy, in which the most explicit, violent, or horrifying act does not take place before the eyes of the spectator (leaving it to the power of the imagination) or he may be taking into consideration the dubitable efficacy of presenting spectacular or gratuitous shots to an audience already immune to such images due to their inundation from the mass media; but I contend it was a more personal moment derived from the filmmaker’s own history in film together with the attendant awareness that he would be able later to capture images commensurate with his feelings at the time, synchronous to his perceptions of the passing events in the narrative text. Although unconscious decisions are made in the filming, the material itself would suggest its own place in the editing stage.
8. Near the otherwise inconsiderable little town of Jalostotitlan is an ornate graveyard; Encarnacion, a town 60 km. away, is the Spanish word for incarnation. Somewhere on the road between these two towns lies the dead boy.
9. The first image and last two images of the film are shot in high contrast black and white with yellow light added in the printing stage. Although many of the shots in the film reflect a minimal amount of manipulation (superimpositions, wide angle lenses) the first and the last two shots are almost painterly in their look. The first shot is of a Boulder street playing; on the soundtrack we hear the saxophone playing upbeat jazzy phrases that for a moment seem to be synchronous to the image. We soon realize that the saxophone has been added later and sound and image are not synchronous.. Through the course of the film the saxophonist’s breaths (and lonely, mellow phrasing) develop synchronously with the breaths of the Bolex camera; and as the boy’s spirit leaves through its blue (in the intertitles), and the last two black and white-yellow coloured shots (the girl on the snail and the stream in the woods) come up on the screen, and the saxophone exhales a sigh, it is the filmmaker’s manipulation which manifests the harmonious concert of elements derived from his perception of the synchronicity of people, events, and objects.