(Film Review) HYPNOSIS DISPLAY (Directed by Paul Clipson, Music by Liz Harris) @ Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University
Hypnosis Display, a collaboration between filmmaker Paul Clipson and Portland musician Liz Harris (also known as Grouper), is a haunting and poignant experience, and worthy of the status of a minor classic, at least among experimental films. The film was screened as part of the annual Time Based Arts Festival, at the Lincoln Performance Hall on the Portland State University campus. Harris live-mixed the soundtrack with an array of tapes and notes on a desk next to the screen.
I got excited about this show because I have been a long-standing fan of Liz Harris. She is a very inspiring artist who, to me at least, is one of the few musicians who have told honestly the story of the Pacific Northwest, one of rain, dark woods, and cautious people.
Clipson has been a frequent collaborator with Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Prior to this show, Paul Clipson was just a name to me. However, I will be sure to look more into his work now. I can recommend Within Mirrors in addition to this film.
Hypnosis Display is a non-narrative film in which imagery of nature slowly transitions into imagery of human civilization. It is set in the United States, though I’m not sure if it was set in the Northwest, as a few sections looked as though they were shot in New York. Clipson shot the film on 16 millimeter, with some sections in black and white, and others in color. The film’s photographic subjects are not exactly random– the motifs that will catch the eye most are telephone poles, eyeballs, trains, traffic jams, and running water. Clipson’s images mesh and bleed chaotically, and they have a kind of “distance” to them– they are faded or saturated as if from a dream, an affect that is enhanced by Harris’s ghostly drones.
As with most experimental films, the film’s foregoing of a clear narrative sort of dooms it to invite strongly divided opinions and vague responses. My friend Gary, for instance, commented that he found the film to be a little overwhelming. Clipson commented in this interesting piece with Light Cone that he often uses in-camera editing, in keeping with his desire to film not with specific intentions in mind, but just with creating imagery with the potential to be interesting. With this in mind it is impressive to reflect on how attuned Liz Harris’s tapes are with the images in this film. Because of this, Hypnosis Display, despite its lack of a clearly articulated narrative, is one of the most emotionally provocative “unstructured” films I have seen in my life. Though the film’s avalanche of streaking, twisting, flickering cinematography contrasts with Harris’s slowly shifting drones, about 30 minutes in something interesting started to happen for me. I began to experience the integration of sound and image as a single sensibility speaking directly to me. And towards its ending, the work begins to take on a very affecting ideological slant. Strange monologues enter into the soundtrack, and one in particular is very affecting– a young woman rambles on for a few minutes about feeling isolated from others. Her monologue quickly becomes disjointed as she transitions from talking about herself and her difficulties in connecting with others to talking about a world that she sees as being full of people who spend their waking hours dreaming about the world through their computers. All the while, streaking traffic lights and a pensive woman wandering the streets fill the frame. Later, another voice, male, talks about an image he holds to be symbolically important: a disembodied eye. The gentle sadness of this collaboration’s articulation of dissociation is very moving and seems genuine. Art like this seems to remind us that, even with all our technology, we still forget how hard it is to fully understand the world, and that the temptation to dissociate from the world can be very strong.
Liz Harris’s soundtrack for this film can be counted among her best work ever– it is, at least, the music I’ve appreciated from her the most next to her two Violet Replacement albums. For this undertaking she utilized many field recordings, in addition to her own whispers, whistles, and murmurs, which gave a cool ambience to the rolling waves of sound. Also, towards the middle of the film, she utilized some harsher-sounding noise, something I had not heard from her before.
I will be keeping my eyes peeled for a DVD release of this lovely, fascinating film in the coming months. Please also keep supporting the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art festival, which makes interesting shows like this not only possible, but very welcoming and accessible.
Photo taken on a point and shoot by me.