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February 18, 2013

The Poetic Semiotics of Peter Rose

With his academic genesis in mathematics, Peter Rose (b. 1947) initially approached film through its formal structures, analyzing and choreographing space and time through inventively rhythmic, dynamic systems. The “diachronic motion” of the multiple screens within Analogies: studies in the movement of time or the hypnotic, pulsing trance of Incantation’sinvocations present kinesthetic explorations imbued with a performative, lyric spirit usually absent from the colder structuralist cinema of the 1960s and 1970s.

Rose’s experiments with the language of film logically extended to incorporating the antics of linguistics itself. Multiple voices, languages, titles and texts, signifiers and signified encounter one another, overlap or miss each other completely, often transmuting into invented languages or undecipherable ideograms. The imageless Secondary Currents constructs its elusive story through the subtitles and narration of the very arthouse films most subject to analysis; yet, the words misrepresent and mistranslate, the cognitive gaps exemplifying the existential quandaries described. Rising to his absurdist best in The Pressures of the Text, Rose’s earnest attempts to clarify and explain collapse into an anarchic confrontation between the media and its inconclusive messages. His films ridicule the verbal obfuscation of academia while treasuring the beauty of words as they detach from their intended meanings – splitting open the closed-circuit of intellectual jargon and releasing these spectral shapes, allowing them to fall as they may upon the audience’s surprised imaginations.

As he disrupts the linear narrative from within, Rose’s work points to the spaces in between syntax and systems, ushering forth a third, nonverbal experience – ultimately evoking the elemental origins of communication or perhaps an unbounded, timeless expressiveness. The longing within the transcendental journey of The man who could not see far enough touches the limits of perception through both the spoken and the cinematographic to build new, vertical constructions on top of the narrative horizon. And his most recent investigations carry on in this vein through gestural “transfalumination” performances, in which he illuminates passages through the night with bright light beams – turning the shadows and objects on the periphery of our perception into parallel underworlds.

Deconstructing the hegemony of naming, objectifying and categorizing within systems, Rose’s work opens up a mysterious realm of pleasure, ridiculousness and poetry through endless forms of expression. Expectation and context exit, or perhaps as a Peter Rose narrator might say, they have simply “evanished into a softime warble.”

The Harvard Film Archive warmly welcomes Peter Rose here to accompany an evening of his short films and videos. — Brittany Gravely

$12 Special Event Tickets - Peter Rose in Person
Monday February 18 at 7pm


US 1970, 8mm transferred to 16mm, color, 8 min

The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough

US 1981,16mm, color, 33 min

Studies in Transfalumination

US 2008, digital video, color, 5.5 min


US 2003, digital video, color 5 min

Secondary Currents

US 1982, 16mm, b/w, 16 min

The Pressures of the Text

US 1983, digital video, color, 17 min

Total Running Time: 84 min


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