Anthology Film Archives is currently hosting the Walking Picture Palace, an annual avant-garde film showcase which this year includes “Illuminated Hours and Days,” a round-up of recent work by Nathanial Dorsky. Program 1, which includes his films Sarabande and Winter among others, screens tonight.
Winter is the 20-minute companion piece to Dorsky’s Eisensteinian/Mahlerian Sarabande, which mounts like a double helix out of dialectical clashes in color, speed, location, and abstraction/figuration as it builds twining strains. Winter is more traditional, horizontal lieder accelerating fluidly through a San Francisco Indian Summer refocused to single strains of light and sudden bursts of clarity.
The film looks shot day-for night, and often like Dorsky’s held a flashlight to an underground civilization, so that time, season, city and country are already in sickly dissolve; Dorsky’s abstractions—silhouettes, liquids, and window reflections—make it seem like the simple play of light could wash them away. In Dorsky’s comedy, the city is an enclosed playhouse with a view onto the galaxy; repeatedly Dorsky emphasizes living things that look like toys (someone’s body, face unseen, and a dog that looks stuffed gazing cockeyed at the cosmos) and toys that look alive (an extended magic lantern show). The effect is a sleep-walking city moving unconsciously to a dance, the rhythm as always in Dorsky’s crescendos of light and montage. Where Sarabande ends portentously on its opening shot, Winter finishes in a frantic burst of roses, as though there’s no way to grasp these things but the last, most insignificant shot, is let to spin on in the imagination.