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November 10 - 13, 2016

Time and Tide. A Tribute to Peter Hutton

"For the immediate world, everything is to be discerned, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole of consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands: so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all of consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is." – James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941  

Peter Hutton merchant marine IDWith a heavy heart, the Harvard Film Archive pays tribute to Peter Hutton (1944-2016), a visionary artist and beloved professor, mentor and friend.

For over four decades Peter Hutton used 16mm film, most often silent and black-and-white, to meticulously craft intimate, lush, beautiful portraits of places—cities, landscapes, the sea—which drew upon traditions of 19th-century landscape painting, still photography and early cinema.

Born in Detroit to a former seaman, Hutton followed his father’s example, paying his way through art school by working as a merchant marine. Initially spending his first ten creative years as a painter and sculptor, he turned to cinema after discovering the underground film scene in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1960s. Bruce Conner, Harry Smith and Kenneth Anger were important influences.

Peter Hutton would eventually teach filmmaking at Hampshire College, SUNY Purchase, CalArts and Harvard, where he and Robert Gardner formed a lasting friendship. Restless travelers and explorers, Gardner and Hutton were kindred spirits whose mutual admiration is clearly evident in Hutton’s 1977 appearance on Robert Gardner’s now legendary Screening Room television show. In 1984, Hutton began teaching at Bard College, where he remained until his death, as Director of the Film and Electronic Arts Department.

Hutton also regularly worked as a professional cinematographer, frequently shooting other filmmakers’ work, including that of some of his former students—Ken Burns, Lizzie Borden and Robert Fenz, among many others—despite his busy schedule as a teacher and filmmaker.

Masterfully harnessing the purposefully limited tools of his palette, Hutton carved many of his most exquisite cinematic experiences from a fixed shot and reversal black-and-white film stock with no soundtrack. His profound understanding of the emotional and textural depths of the photochemical gave an aching, haunting beauty to his work. Smoke, shadow and sunlight transform Manhattan in his cinematic reverie on the city, the exquisite New York Portrait series. Scholar Scott MacDonald writes that At Sea, one of Hutton’s austere, silent masterworks, remains “a sweeping meditation on global commerce, labor and geography in the 21st century, which chronicles the birth, life and death of a merchant ship.” And Hutton’s early film July '71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon is a joyful, affectionate diary of the people and places Hutton encountered while living in the Bay Area. 

Despite the international recognition he deservedly received over the years, Hutton remained modest and humble. “I’ve never felt that my films are very important in terms of the history of cinema,” he told MacDonald. “They offer a little detour from such grand concepts. They appeal primarily to people who enjoy looking at nature, or who enjoy having a moment to study something that’s not fraught with information… The experience of my films is a little like daydreaming.” – Jeremy Rossen

Special thanks: Carolina Gonzalez-Hutton, Toni D’Angela, Antonella Bonfanti—Canyon Cinema, Documentary Educational Resources and Oona Mosna.

Thursday evening’s show is co-sponsored by the Visual and Environmental Studies Department.


Free Screening
Introduction by Alfred Guzzetti

Thursday November 10 at 7pm

Screening Room (excerpt)

Directed by Robert Gardner
US 1977, digital video, color, 10 min

 

July '71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 1971, 16mm, b/w, silent, 35 min

Print courtesy Canyon Cinema.

New York Portrait I

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 1979, 16mm, b/w, silent, 16 min

 

Boston Fire

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 1979, 16mm, b/w, silent, 8 min

 

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Friday November 11 at 7pm

Florence

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 1975, 16mm, b/w, silent, 8 min

 

At Sea

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 2007, 16mm, color, silent, 60 min

 

 

 


 

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Introduction by filmmaker Fern Silva
Sunday November 13 at 5pm

New York Portrait, Chapter II

Directed by Peter Hutton
1981, 16mm, b/w, silent, 16 min

Print courtesy Canyon Cinema.

Study of A River

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 1997, 16mm, b/w, silent, 16 min

Print courtesy Canyon Cinema.

Time and Tide

Directed by Peter Hutton
US 2000, 16mm, color, silent, 35 min

Print courtesy Canyon Cinema.

 

 

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