Images. Light. Played in a silent loop to an audience captivated by the depth of the projection. If the prospect of sitting in a hushed room and watching footage of everyday objects (an old man’s glasses, a steampipe, shadows of a gateway) seems daunting or boring, think again.
This weekend, “devotional” filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky will come to New Haven to present three of his latest offerings to the world of 16mm cinema. “Sarabande,” “Winter” and “Song and Solitude” will be playing this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Whitney Humanities Center, followed by a question and answer session with the director.
Some of Dorsky’s earlier works were played in February to a stunned audience. “Everything’s more vivid now,” said one of the audience members after leaving the auditorium. “It’s like I’ve taken some sort of hallucinogenic.”
Scene caught up with Dorsky via telephone on Wednesday night. He talked about subjectivity in his filmmaking.
“If you make something right for yourself, it’s right for the audience,” he said, “Not in a way that’s small-mindedly individual, but in a way that’s universal.” He added that he thought the more the self was “genuinely” included in the film, the more universal it becomes.
The Dorsky effect is one to be reckoned with. The experience approached and attained in these short (15-21.5 minute) films is one that can only be described as the high sublime.
Such an experience turns out to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, and the alienating quality of the sublime in nature is negated in Dorsky’s artworks. Yes, one is awed and bewildered by the beauty of the onscreen images, but the way in which the objects and scenes are made to bask in radiance through the director’s stunning knowledge of what to film, and more importantly, what light to film in, makes one reflect on one’s own surroundings more intensely than before.
Organizer Richard Suchenski GRD ’11 said an important aspect of Dorsky’s films is the way in which objects are “decontextualized and sometimes unmoored from their surroundings, allowing connections to develop which resonate not only between shots but also across the films as a whole, encouraging more active forms of awareness.”
Dorsky also spoke about the films he released this year, “Winter” and “Sarabande.”
He said he wanted to capture the San Francisco winter solstice with “Winter.”
“It’s unlike anything on the East Coast,” he said. “The light is winter light. It’s low, dark, short days, but rather than being ice-cold and everything being deadly, it’s a time when wildflowers are coming out and the green grass is coming up through the old ground … the plum trees are blossoming during the first weeks of February and at the same time, the sycamore trees still have their leaves turning brown from autumn.”
“Sarabande” differs in its inspiration. Dorsky said he was trying to capture the essence of the eponymous baroque dance form.
“Dark and stately warm, graceful tenderness of the Sarabande,” is the idea that Dorsky worked with in producing this piece. It is especially remarkable in the corpus of Dorsky’s work, as the camera is moved more than in any other film of his.
“With Sarabande, I tried to include my own body more,” he said. “I began to take the risk of moving the camera more while I was shooting … and there’s some kind of sublime balance in the discord.”
Dorsky added that he was especially honored to be invited by filmmaking professor Michael Roemer, who was Dorsky’s boss on the first film he worked on when he was 19. “I learned so much from him about integrity in cinema,” he said.
The event is entitled “Poetic Cinema,” and, although Suchenski said that the reasons for choosing the title were “practical … to avoid confusion with the longer set of screenings held earlier in February,” the title manages to sum up what Dorsky is trying to do with his cinema — create a poetry of image and illumination.