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March 25, 2013

An Evening with Robert Beavers

Since the late 1960s American avant-garde filmmaker Robert Beavers (b. 1949) has been dazzling audiences with his breathtakingly precise and poetic meditations on history, place, art and architecture. Born in Massachusetts, Beavers has spent much of his life in Europe, where he moved with his partner the celebrated filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos until his death in 1992.  In 2002 Beavers completed a painstaking re-editing of his films into a larger cycle entitled My Hand Outstretched to the Winged Distance and Sightless Measure. In addition to his own extraordinary filmmaking, Beavers has dedicated himself to the restoration of Markopoulos' films and the realization of Markopoulos' life work, the reassembly of his films into an ambitious mulit-part cycle designed to be screened on a dedicated outdoor site outside the Greek village of Lyssaria. The Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome back Robert Beavers with a program of four films, including his fascinating latest work, The Suppliant.

With the completion of From the Notebook of… (1971) and The Painting (1972), my thinking shifted more towards what we as human beings share, and this change was visible in the way that I prepared Work done. It led me to film simple man-made objects and acts. My first choice was a block of ice in a workshop (a botega) in Florence. By looking at the ice I let it dictate the order and length of shots and camera movements. The chain of associations that I drew out of the ice block became metaphors for my filmmaking and developed the theme of 'work' as shared experience.

In visits to The Uffizi I had seen how the Florentine painters communicate through space and composition. I searched for objects and sites in Florence and the Grisons that spoke to me with the same clarity as the early Florentine paintings. It is curious how my choice of locations in the Grisons acted like a pendulum, bringing me always back to a clearer sense of Florence and its deeply visual Catholic religion.

My way of linking two distinct geographical points and developing the theme of work continued in AMOR. Through close-up observations of a tailor's workshop and the process of cutting and sewing a suit, I moved back and forth between locations in Rome or Verona and the hedge theater in Salzburg. Turning the lens in front of the camera's aperture and showing my hand entering the film frame were my means to establish the architectural space of the film. The power in the hand, searching for contours and making connections, established a rhythm through repeated gestures.

By concentrating upon formal and metaphoric elements in the image and sound, I reached a freedom of association. In AMOR, the combination of the tailor's work, the façade renovations and the hedge theater became a hymn to the creative force that holds the world together, but there appears also to be an undercurrent of violence. Perhaps it stemmed from the psychic tension of my isolated self.

A concentrated and patient waiting allows what is hidden to become more conscious. My search for connections, points of inspiration and intuition, was sometimes unlocked through travel, sometimes through reading a book or seeing a painting.

Years later, I returned again to Italy to film Francesco Borromini's architecture in Rome and a grove of trees with empty birdcages (a roccolo) on a hill outside Brescia. I traveled between these points and to the hedge theater in Salzburg, this time in snow. In filming The Hedge Theater, there is a step forward to a more song-like empathy and gentleness. I reflected upon filmmaking through my enthusiasm for Borromini's architecture and the metaphor of sewing, intertwined with my experiences of love, poverty, and exile.  

In hindsight I see a connection between the gesture of the beggar's raised arms and hands in the painting of St. Martin in the final part of The Hedge Theater and the similar gesture of the small Greek statue, filmed for The Suppliant. My journey has been from the material sobriety of the objects in Work done through the interior erotic labyrinth of AMOR to The Hedge Theater and The Suppliant, each with its messengers of mortality, eternity. – Robert Beavers


$12 Special Event Tickets - Robert Beavers in Person
Monday March 25 at 7pm

Work done

US 1972/1999, 35mm, color, 22 min


US 1980, 35mm, color, 15 min

The Hedge Theater

US 1986-90/2002, 35mm, color, 19 min

The Suppliant

US 2010, 16mm, color, 5 min




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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700