Is animation the maximum distillation of the powers of cinema? If we’re talking about the work of Jean-Michel Bouhours, the answer is YES. His films cast a magic spell, and the combinatorics of their frames, filmed one by one, multiplies the possibilities of the moving image as if they were loaves and fishes. His films are kinetic events that, from the seashore or any corner, take our eyes on unimagined perceptual adventures.
Jean-Michel Bouhours (who, as well as being a filmmaker, is a curator, art historian and writer) began in the mid-seventies to build films frame by frame. This is a method he arrived at by pursuing the visual correspondence of the compositional modes of avant-garde musicians such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley and La Monte Young, in which the frames, in his words, function as musical notes. Using repetitions and progressions, he creates films with an intricate structure in which each combination of frames offers a changing moving image. Post-structural cinema that aims to go a step further than what Kubelka, Kren and Sharits started.
We begin with two films inspired by Steve Reich’s “repetitive” compositional models: Rythmes 76 (the title is a tribute to Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21), made from a still photograph of views from his window, and Je ne le répéterai pas, a reworking of the main sequence of his flickering film from 1976, Chronoma, made with photographs taken using a motorized camera of a high-voltage electric tower. Chantilly*, made together with Patrick Delabre, multiplies the variables of combinatorics thanks to a screen divided first into nine, and then into 16, in a nod to the history of abstraction: “Vassili Kandinsky, Paul Klee or Augusto Giacometti seem to have been summoned up in a Mondrianesque grid” (Bouhours dixit).
The incredible Chronographies uses a series of photographs of a snowy landscape and a street corner to create a film in which we seem to be sliding at full speed down an alpine slope. Interspersing the photographs, coloured versions of them and paintings with chromatic variations of each, this infinite movement comes to life. Both Vagues à Collioure and L’Air present live action sequences that are “cut” with paint. In the former, still frames, drawings, paintings and collages come into play in a film that bathes on the seashore in an allusion to the Cubists and Matisse. In L’Air, reeds moving in the breeze alternate with rapid sequences of brightly coloured paintings and abstract motifs, creating unusual visual effects.
Rythmes 76, 1976, Super 8 to digital, no sound, 18’; Je ne le répéterai pas – Chronoma version courte, 1996, 16 mm, 10’; Chantilly, Jean-Michel Bouhours and Patrick Delabre, 1976, 16 mm, no sound, 13’; Chronographies, 1982, 16 mm, no sound, 17’; Vagues à Collioure, 1991, 16 mm, 6’; L’Air, 2019-2020, digital, original version with Catalan subtitles, 3’
16 mm and digital screening. Copies courtesy of Light Cone.
*A new digital version of this film will be screened nonstop from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 in the Xcèntric Archive. Chantilly revisited, 2020, digital, vocal composition by Gustavo Giménez