Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 7:30pm
Dan Barnett's White Heart

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

White Heart, Dan Barnett, 1975, 16mm, 53 mins
Introduced by Scott MacDonald

To mark the publication of Scott MacDonald’s Binghamton Babylon: Voices from the Cinema Department, 1967-1977, Light Industry presents a rare screening of Dan Barnett’s White Heart, one of the most rich and astonishing films produced within the redoubtable circle of artists at SUNY Binghamton during the Cinema Department’s heyday.

Legendary among filmmakers who have witnessed it, White Heart is a symphonic exploration of cinematic meaning that unfolds through a multi-layered, contrapuntal audio-visual montage of numerous and disparate ingredients: images of city streets, verdant forests, and ocean waves; bits of film leader and editor’s marks; oblique footage of Barnett’s colleagues Larry Gottheim and Saul Levine; an interview with two young missionaries; the sounds of classical music, typewriters, video tone, and, most centrally, a brief passage from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. These elements and more emerge and re-emerge like musical motifs, continuously and meticulously altered through processes like bleaching, staining, and multiple print generation, dramatically extracting the formal particularities of the Kodachrome reversal print.

While describing Barnett’s film though this catalog of components indicates how deeply it is, as MacDonald puts it, “embedded in the materiality of cinema, in its many audio and visual dimensions,” White Heart is not only reducible to the rapturously tactile demonstration of its medium’s specific properties. As its invocation of Wittgenstein should imply, White Heart is also an elaborate and often witty experiment in extra-linguistic signification, invoking a complex matrix of semiosis built upon an ongoing flow of rupture and repetition, what MacDonald terms its “dense reticulation of perception and conception.” Barnett has said that the film grew out of “my aspiration for omnivalence,” a notion he would articulate at length in his treatise Movement as Meaning in Experimental Film:

When all of the referential relationships in a set of images have the potential to cross-reference one another, that collection of images aspires to the uniquely poetic condition of omnivalence, wherein every term relates to every other term with some equivalence, a condition defined by an ultimate economy of reference, where no meaning potential is wasted. The near-symmetry of mutually equivalent reference is what creates the great artistic works of endless internal resonance, where, to various degrees, everything resembles and/or refers to everything else on some level or other, where the relationships team to harmonize the wavelengths of thought; where, in subsequent experience, dominant references can come to seem secondary and vice versa. These works are the Taj Mahals of time-based media. If there is anything that they are ‘about’ it is ‘themselves’. They are the artifices that aspire to the ultimate coherence of nature.

Thus White Heart’s ongoing intonation of the word “rose,” spoken by Levine, brings to mind any number of connotations as the film streams forward. It is the deep red of saturated Kodachrome, played out on a man’s shirt, and a woman’s lips. It is a remembrance of Gertrude Stein’s equivalent rose that is a rose that is a rose, and of Marcel Duchamp’s ironic, iconic Rrose Sélavy. Paired with certain images, it is a sly evocation of the Lumieres’ L'Arroseur arrosé, and Owen Land’s The Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter. Eventually, Wittgenstein’s full epigram is spoken, which brings not clarity, but further mystery. “Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black, for the rose is invisible. The other is painted in full detail and surrounded by black.”

This play of revelation and obscurity constitutes the living pulse of White Heart. Praising the film’s soundtrack, Nathaniel Dorsky locates its paradoxical force in more existential terms. “That’s an amazing, rebellious film that refuses to even be a film,” Dorsky remarked, “like a person not wanting to be a thing.”

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.

Photo: David Vogt