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tom moody

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Not a big fan of Joseph Cornell's boxes--too much about the romance of old stuff scrounged in swap meets, too in love with their own delicacy, too frequently visually inert--but he deserves his place in history as the Father of the Remix. From Senses of Cinema:
Rose Hobart (1936) consists almost entirely of footage taken from East of Borneo, a 1931 jungle B-film starring the nearly forgotten actress Rose Hobart. Cornell condensed the 77-minute feature into a 20-minute short, removing virtually every shot that didn't feature Hobart, as well as all of the action sequences. In so doing, he utterly transforms the images, stripping away the awkward construction and stilted drama of the original to reveal the wonderful sense of mystery that saturates the greatest early genre films.

While East of Borneo is a sound film, Rose Hobart must be projected at silent speed, accompanied by a tape of "Forte Allegre" and "Belem Bayonne" from Nestor Amaral's Holiday in Brazil, a kitschy record Cornell found in a Manhattan junk store. As a result, the characters move with a peculiar, lugubrious lassitude, as if mired deep in a dream. In addition, the film should be projected through a deep blue filter, unless the print is already tinted blue. The rich blue tint it imparts is the same hue universally used in the silent era to signify night.

Rose Hobart was only one of several mythologized actresses who populated Cornell's hermetic world. Many of his boxes were homages to the actresses that formed his pantheon: Lauren Bacall, Hedy Lamarr, Greta Garbo and Deanna Durbin, among others. (Yawn. --tm) In Rose Hobart, Cornell holds Hobart in a state of semi-suspension, turning the film itself into a sort of box. She moves her hands, shifts her gaze, gestures briefly, smiles enigmatically, perhaps steps slightly to the side, and little more. The world appears as a sort of strange theatre, staged for her alone.

But the root of Cornell's genius as a filmmaker is his singular version of montage. Cornell's version of continuity is the continuity of the dream. He does not juxtapose images so much as suggest unlikely but still vaguely plausible connections between them. Hobart's clothing may change suddenly between shots, but her gesture is continued or she remains at a similar point in the frame. Unlike most collage filmmakers, Cornell does not rely on cheap irony or non sequitur. His films are unsettling because their inexplicable strings of images are like reflections from the deep well of the subconscious. In fact, one of the most arresting images in Rose Hobart comes when a solar or lunar eclipse is paired with the image of an object falling into a circular pool of water. Hobart simply gazes bemusedly at this spectacle, as if it were little more than a parlour trick.
Yes! That sequence is amazing, I wish it was in this Quicktime clip from the Walker Art Center. The Cornells of today are lurking on YouTube and/or being busted by the intellectual property police. Too damn bad.

- tom moody 4-23-2006 9:40 pm [link]