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March 20 – April 10, 2016

Points of Departure... Alfred Guzzetti

To trace Alfred Guzzetti’s career in film and video is to follow a trail through the intersections of motion picture media and form. Just as other, early interests—including still photography, music composition and English literature—fold elegantly into the structure of his moving image work, his films and videos likewise encompass a diversity of forms while always seeking a rigorous understanding of the specificity of those particular forms. He operates dexterously among avant-garde film, video and installation, as well as a variety of documentary genres: autobiographical, ethnographic, and film essay. In addition to many years teaching film at Harvard, he is also the author of numerous essays on film, as well as the innovative investigation Two or Three Things I Know about Her: Analysis of a Film By Godard (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

In 1960s Cambridge during the awakening of the 16mm verité explosion, Guzzetti—who already had some youthful film experience—took the first film class at Harvard taught by Robert Gardner; after graduating, he began teaching a new media course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He made a few short films and a double-projected documentary, Notes on the Harvard Strike (1969). This led to his first significant film, Air, a dense “film opera” that was heavily influenced by both his musical background and his frequent trips to MIT’s Film Society, a screening series that featured the films of complex sound-and-image composers like Peter Kubelka and Bruce Baillie.

Having been exposed to a range of personal and ethnographic documentary by the early 70s, Guzzetti sought to pursue his own path using a subject he knew well by expanding backwards in time and deeper into the present. The result was Family Portrait Sittings, which opens an autobiographical door onto the vast landscape connecting his family to the history of immigration in America. He continued making personal ethnographies and then joined filmmaker Richard P. Rogers and photographer Susan Meiselas on his first works abroad, Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family (1985) and Pictures from a Revolution (1991), which covered the Nicaraguan revolution from alternative points of view. He also collaborated with Ákos Östör and Lina Fruzzetti on the ethnographies Seed and Earth (1994) and Khalfan and Zanzibar (1999), depicting life in rural Bengal and Zanzibar, respectively.

Impressed with the audio quality of video as opposed to 16mm film’s mono soundtrack, Guzzetti also began creating poetic, short video works in the early 90s, meant for gallery display. Working with audio and visual montage in addition to scrolling text—often detailing his own dream narratives—Guzzetti again imparts a musical sense of composition and rhythm, drifting in and out of dream, memory, mediated reality and a never-existent present. Whether at home, in a foreign land or in an unlocatable mental space, Guzzetti questions perception and representation while deeply observing the mysterious forces that shape existence. His rhythmic approach translated well to his many collaborations with composers via multi-screen installations or video pieces made for live orchestral performances.

Scott MacDonald compares Guzzetti’s editing technique to Nathaniel Dorsky’s “polyvalent montage,” wherein “each shot subtly refers backward and forward, each cut reveals both change and continuity within a complex, evolving montage structure.” Perhaps also relevant is the musical concept of counterpoint, in which independent musical lines harmonize and melodically interact. Guzzetti’s montages are of parallel modern realities—the connected and the alienated, the everyday and the exotic, nature and city, motion and stillness, the mirror and what it reflects, the film and what it represents—and their occasional, revelatory points of intersection.

Alfred Guzzetti will join us for two evenings to discuss these multivalent intersections and interactions within his evolving oeuvre. – Brittany Gravely

Film descriptions by Brittany Gravely, David Pendleton and Jeremy Rossen.

Special Event Tickets $12
Alfred Guzzetti in person

Sunday March 20 at 7pm

Family Portrait Sittings

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1975, digital video, b/w, 103 min

Using photographs, interviews, home movies, and footage shot in Philadelphia and abroad, Family Portrait Sittings lays out the history of the filmmaker's family, including grandparents, parents and other relatives. Divided into three sections and proceeding chronologically—from the Guzzettis’ origins in Italy to their life in the United States—the film not only chronicles the family’s intimate events but also inserts them into the history of 20th century America. Guzzetti carefully includes the recounting of customs that document a shift from immigrant community to assimilation into a less communal, contemporary America.

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Special Event Tickets $12
Alfred Guzzetti in person

Saturday March 26 at 7pm

A Tropical Story

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1998, digital video, color, 10 min

Taking its title from the conjectured subject of a film in a dream, A Tropical Story ventures into foreign lands both internal and external, discovering where they intersect and where they diverge. Moving between life’s stations of transition, Guzzetti’s existential tour contemplates the transience of all life, the mutability of all perception.

The Tower of Industrial Life

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2000, digital video, color & b/w, 16 min

Resembling a glimpse inside the DNA of modern existence, Guzzetti’s breathtaking composition seems to harness all the visible and invisible forces that connect and disconnect humanity. The various natural, political, violent, serene, exhilarating and alienating powers comprise a mediated complex through which the focal point of mortality appears both ever-present and faraway. Guzzetti pinpoints this surreal tension by recognizing its inherent blindness.

Calcutta Intersection

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2003, digital video, color, 10 min

A busy three-way intersection in Calcutta flows with the pulsing synergy of daytime life and movement, while the news headlines of the day fade in and out along the bottom of the frame in this observational, single-shot work.

Still Point

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2009, digital video, color & b/w, 15 min

Façades, cityscapes, landscapes—a series of images shot with a still camera—Guzzetti shifts his video work from that often made to be seen on a monitor in a gallery to that meant to be experienced large-scale, in widescreen. The images themselves are visually simple, but also stunningly beautiful and emotionally complex. There is a surface tension to the work, so that seemingly placid shots can seem ominous, or at least portentous. The work’s title and a final dissolve between two images seem to indicate that Guzzetti is exploring the relationship between the moment and its division by past and future.

Time Present

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2013, DCP, color, 17 min

Guzzetti uses HD video to explore street scenes, portraits, seascapes and skyscapes in slow motion and with startlingly vivid detail, as the camera seems to move more quickly than the mostly static pedestrians it captures. As in the films of Jean Epstein, the slow motion serves to render the moment more potent, as it makes the spectator more aware of the passing of time, as does the evocative use of sound and the score by Kurt Stallmann. DCP courtesy the filmmaker.

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Saturday April 2 at 7pm

French Gestures (Gestes)

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1974, 16mm, b/w, 27 min

Inspiring Laurence Wylie, Harvard’s renowned scholar of France, sought to create his book Beaux Gestes: A Guide to French Body Talk, Guzzetti’s resulting documentation of dozens of gestures and their meanings finds the filmmaker’s fascination with language at its most explicit application. Surprisingly engrossing, this straightforward educational film is a fascinating sidelight on Guzzetti’s interest in fusing language and image.

Scenes from Childhood

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1980, digital video, color, 78 min

Straightforwardly and sympathetically, Guzzetti films children at seemingly unsupervised and unselfconscious play, with parents very rarely in evidence, and usually only as offscreen voices, at that. We watch as a small group of children (Guzzetti’s own and those of friends) interact, in various times, places and combinations, revealing in the process their developing mastery of language, technology and their imaginations. This merging of the impulses behind documentary, ethnography and home movies comes to life through Guzzetti’s patient, precise aim of the camera.

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Sunday April 10 at 7pm

Air

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1971, digital video, color & b/w, 18 min

Guzzetti takes the pulse of a certain cross-section of the American left in the early 1970s and comes up with a complex portrait of a time that Scott MacDonald has described as “both exhilarating and frightening.” For example, calm, elegant pans are accompanied by radio reports on political torture. The elaborate soundtrack often juxtaposes two voices, one in each channel, while a collage of documentary footage shot on the streets of Cambridge and Boston alternates with staged moments and with tender portraits of Guzzetti’s friends.

Evidence

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1972, 16mm, color, 16 min

If Air is the portrait of a group of people in a specific place, Evidence expands to include the whole US. During a cross-country road trip with Richard Rogers, Guzzetti placed mounts on the car, so the camera could fasten securely to either the front fender or the passenger door. He paired the resulting footage with music and recordings from the car radio to provide a snapshot of the nation in the turbulent early 1970s. Print courtesy the filmmaker.

Rosetta Stone

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1993/2001, digital video, color, 10 min

The first in Guzzetti’s “Language Lessons” video cycle, Rosetta Stone may provide a kind of key to the others, including The Curve of the World, if only through its scrolling mantra, “Within a short time, all knowledge and consciousness of this form of writing was lost.” New screens materialize inside the central screen; they may be windows or mirrors or both. Guzzetti’s multiple dialects intersect yet do not appear to actually touch, while all things solid seem held together by motion and the vacillations of memory and interpretation.

The Curve of the World

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1994/99, digital video, color, 6 min

The moving image allows Guzzetti to follow simultaneous, separate paths—some through the cryptic metaphor of dream, some through ordinary reality, others purely emotional and abstract. The paths are also territorial demarcations: flags, borders, the Berlin Wall, the edge of the earth, the work of art. These may be precise boundaries yet they are sometimes invisible, often ephemeral. They mark the difference between inside and outside, synthetic and natural, past and present, experience and memory.

Under the Rain

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 1997, digital video, color, 11 min

An elliptical journey through China, but which China, whose China? The China of the imagination, of memory, of dream, of mediated culture? Serene rural landscapes alternate with the clang of city life as Guzzetti’s rippling, rhythmic structure displaces and disorients while holding onto certain constants, such as movement, change and the moon.

Time Exposure

Directed by Alfred Guzzetti
US 2012, digital video, b/w, 11 min

A return to Guzzetti family history grows out of photographs taken by the filmmaker’s father, and one street scene in particular. This film/video essay about the tension between still photography and the passage of time revisits not only the 1930s but also the 1970s, during the making of Family Portrait Sittings. Ultimately, Guzzetti’s musings spiral out from one photograph to a moving consideration of the mysteries of existence.

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