- Lateness and the Politics of Filmic Excess
The film begins in stillness with a photograph (fig. 1). After a few seconds, the still photograph begins to slowly move. This movement is caused by the burning of the photograph, as though the friction of the image's temporal tensions were igniting it from within. But the film began before this photograph with a casual off-screen male voice that preceded the image's appearance, first as a testing of the microphone's level that seems to be a discussion between two individuals, and then over the film's title the voice announces that what is to come are a series of a dozen photographs that the voice's unidentified owner made over the course of several years in the recent past. As the first photograph appears and begins to disappear in smoke and flame, the voice describes a photograph with an image of the artist Carl Andre, a picture frame, and a metronome. The disappearing image contained none of these things—this is the viewer's fading recollection as the description unfolds and the memory of the image that might have been an empty darkroom falters. As the photograph deteriorates and the hotplate beneath is revealed, the description ends and the film cuts to an identical static shot but with a different photograph that slowly begins to burn (fig. 2). This second image is of a man who appears to be crouching or kneeling behind a table that steadies a picture frame, which is positioned within the photograph to hold the man's face. The man's bare right arm reaches up from below the table and around the front of the frame to hold still a metronome. This second photograph contains elements that recall the description that accompanied the previous image, inviting the viewer to attempt to match what they remember to the quickly disappearing [End Page 273] photograph even as a new description unfurls that seems to match neither photograph. This basic process is repeated across thirteen photographs that arrive too late for their description and thirteen descriptions that arrive too early for their photograph over the course of roughly thirty-six minutes in Hollis Frampton's (nostalgia) from 1971.1
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 274]
(nostalgia) is distinguished by a simple but irreducible enigma that is generated by numerous temporal excesses; the time of the film is never identical to itself, never without remainder. The film's excesses of temporality are produced by layering a set of contradictions and anachronisms upon one another: images disjointed from their verbal description, filmic images that remain static, photographic images that produce filmic motion at the cost of their own destruction, a beginning that does not initiate but seems to follow something missed, and an ending that offers resolution only in its blankness and terror. The accumulation of these excesses is what I will be defining as (nostalgia)'s figuration of lateness: its mimesis of the contradictory logic of modernist progress. In this account, lateness is the excess, obsolescent temporality left behind by modernity's production of the new. Walter Benjamin articulates this dialectic of novelty and obsolescence in capitalist modernity by observing that fashions, herald of the ever-new, "are a collective medicament for the ravages of oblivion. The more short-lived a period, the more susceptible it is to fashion."2 (nostalgia), in a manner that echoes Benjamin, depicts modernist temporality as an unsettling of the very telos that undergirds it, demonstrating the entropy endemic to progress.
(nostalgia)'s articulation of progress occurs through an imbrication of political and personal histories in a version of Benjamin's "dialectical image."3 The film produces in its enigmatic contradictions hints of a possible, though not imminent, utopia: "Ambiguity is the manifest imaging of dialectic, the law of dialectics at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image, therefore, dream image" (Benjamin, Arcades, 10). (nostalgia) appears at a moment when the catastrophe of modernist progress is beginning to collapse...