Meet Robert Beavers,

Experimental filmmaker



QWhy did you choose to come to speak here at Yale and what’s the purpose of this event?

AI am interested in finding a particular space for the reception of my films, of course — not only my films, but the poetic and sensuous filmmaking that stands outside of either commercial filmmaking or the art world. One of the few and best audiences we have, probably, is in the universities.

QBut generally, you’ve tended to avoid universities — you left America to make films at 18 …

AI didn’t think that it would help me to become a filmmaker. When I chose to begin to make films, which is now quite a while ago, I was attending a prep school in Massachusetts and actually left that school and went to New York to a film laboratory directly and made my first film in New York, before I went to Greece in 1967. It was a different context — I followed the course, you could say, of an apprentice and an autodidact, rather than studying. I still believe that you have to find an audience and you have to develop a constellation which is basically outside commercial networks of any kind. I think I may find that at Yale.

QYour works have been very well-received in Europe — to what extent has your work been well or poorly received here in the U.S.?

AI’m satisfied. I would be happy with more opportunities to show the work, but on the occasions it has been shown in New York or elsewhere, there were very fine audiences. Also at the Whitney [Museum of American Art, New York], there were about three and a half weeks of screenings in 2005. I think that’s one of the advantages sometimes that the museums can give — they can have prolonged retrospectives or exhibitions and allow audiences to grow into the work.

QWhat importance does color have in your film work?

AColor, at the moment, has, for me, a great importance, and I feel a kind of return to a complete commitment and love of color, and a sense of its relation to the human psyche. I think the kind of film that I have made and that I am most interested in is communicating with these basic sensuous elements of film. Color is also an important element in relation to sound; also how darkness and light are used in relation to color is different than in other visual media — all of these things interest me. We are creating structures and we are also presumably creating narratives that are not dramatic. The structures are more like the forms of other time-based or other measure media such as poetry or music.

QHow would you say the art of cinema fits into what you call the “Visionary Tradition”?

AThe art of cinema, when it is allowed to exist, fits into it, if it has to be visionary, but there are various elements: There is the psychic depth and generosity of someone like [Hans] Dreier, and there are the speculative filmmakers of the New American Cinema pioneers, whether it’s [Stan] Brakhage or [Gregory] Markopoulos, who are reaching to communicate through the image in ways that have not been done before. I am not a filmmaker who came to filmmaking through the so-called “plastic Hollywood shell” of the feature film. I am a filmmaker who became excited by the inter-subjective possibilities of the film-image and of sound directly, and also excited by the possibilities of the spectators who can open that door to the visual and not need the actor to carry them through the dream of film — I want them to be awake.

QSo you say you want your audience to be “awake.” What does that mean?

AI want them to be conscious and feel a conscious light of vision, and not the dream-state that is often associated with film — I want them to consciously see. That is like passing through a door; some people cannot pass through that door to reach a conscious sense of vision in their seeing films, or seeing any image.

QIs this “conscious sense of vision” liberating?

AWell, it’s an experience. It can be like listening to the music of a composer you don’t know. It doesn’t mean you have to understand; it’s simply saying that it is necessary to have an openness that allows the image to reach you. Whether it is understood, that is not always so important.

QSo would you say that cinema is a mode that allows viewers some sort of aesthetic appreciation of the world or the structures of the world?

AI think it goes even beyond the aesthetic. I am very direct and I am very, very happy with the aesthetic possibilities of film and the aesthetic richness of the medium, but I think it goes beyond. With the great filmmakers, there is an experience in time that is unique, that can satisfy and that makes our questions disappear. It’s a generosity in the vision of certain filmmakers, and I think that’s a gift that goes beyond the aesthetic.