Visiting artists are always invaluable resources. I have found that when I learn the most in cinema it is from a visiting artist presenting and talking about their work. There is a sense of practicality that allows theory to be more realized that I think is possible without the perspective of a constant creator. It could also be the brand new perspective from someone who has a load of experience and a completely foreign background to the voices I am used to hearing. So even in a case where I was underwhelmed by the actually films I can find great, great value in the context given by the presenting artist.
This is largely the experience I had when Christopher Harris came in March to show us as well as talk to us about his filmography. His work as a whole is good, though I would avoid going farther than that description. It is clear that Harris has an understanding of how to use form to inform content. The way he shoots his films tell you just as much about the films as the subjects which is surprisingly not been my experience with the majority of experimental films I have seen. However, I also found many of his films to be one note. While he is clearly a talent his films rarely grabbed my imagination or interest in a intellectually stimulating way. Over all Harris’ work drives an unsatisfying balance between well made and provoking while also sometimes being typical or even trite.
Before I start analyzing some of the work I had a more passive reaction to I will write about the aspects I find worthwhile. Let us go back to this idea of form as text along with subject. In Harris’ film Reckless Eyes which explores the history of race in America with images of Angela Davis and Pam Grier and footage taken from the landmark of racism that is D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. There are several images in the piece but the two primary ones are a poster or newspaper clipping of Davis, Grier, and a man in black face preparing to attack a woman from Birth. Both are iconic but are not simply put in instead Harris distorts them to limit our view. It is not rare for film to have texture but the film is not just texture has a presence but also the stock itself.
After his presentation I asked him some questions and he emphasized the point of if you release something on a medium have the product reflect that, i.e. he uses only footage from actual film stock if he plans on projecting it. This care can easily be seen in his work. While I do not fall into this more purest view of the found footage genre I do think the connection between form and exhibition is admirable. While talking to him I could easily tell that no matter what separation of time there was from him and the production of a film he was still very conscious of not only the process but also his mindset while making it.
Another film shown was his Distant Shores and this was one of the ones that I had previously referred to when talking about his works that I found little value or interest in. Both from a technical and an intellectual stand point the film just passed through my mind and try as I might even now having rewatched it I cannot find anything to grasp on to. This is not a case where I did not understand the film more of I simply found nothing to analyze. I do think that Harris had ideas in mind for this film and others that seemed to be, for lack of a better word, underwhelming but nothing comes through the text or subtext. Like many of his films this was shot on actual film stock which I know is a draw for many in this digital age and it is the only aspect of the film that stands out but he does not actually try to innovate or experiment with the technique. The film exists for its own sake and while it is certain unoffensive it is also borderline meaningless. This is only highlighted when his works like Reckless Eyes show how much he has the ability to say.
Some works of art are like an arrow. They pierce into the consumers heart and get stuck. It remains with you and while it may work its way out sooner or later it does remain for a time informing how one looks at the world. Some works of art however are like waves. They crash and rush over you, these waves; but there is no lasting impact. They will be pulled out by the tide and you will be left with nothing of it to hold onto but the shallowest coating of memory. Harris’ work demonstrates this idea by having some work that lands so hard it cuts into you and others where you can barely take note while watching.