PRINT January 1970


The Underground Festival at the Elgin Theater, La Raison Avant La Passion, Cat Food, and 1933

At the Underground Festival that ran night and day in late December at the Elgin Theater, Snow’s films were pure reflective intelligence within an exacting, hard-nosed compositional system. The direct opposite is a random, hit-and-miss quality in Joyce Wieland’s La Raison Avant La Passion, a veritable pasture of expansive landscape imagery. The film is divided into three sections, a green section of the East. Coast, then a middle which is an ode to Trudeau (mostly Canadian flags and hot orange-red-pink face shots) and lastly an extraordinary white endlessness of snowscape. With its dry middle tone color, enough landscape texture for eighty Fitzgerald travelogues, and a straight-to-the-point, brisk camera eye that always runs far ahead of the transitory abstract insertions that try to hold the imagery in place, La Raison Avant La Passion is a clutter of love for Canada, done in the nick of time before it changes completely into a scrubby Buffalo suburb. Its image is very rectangular: an endlessly outpouring ribbon streaks horizontally across the screen; occasionally it swells and bends, digesting mountain-rimmed lakes, gorges, rivers, going past farm buildings, in and out of Montreal. It never quite outdoes, in 85 minutes, the grandeur of the first ingenious moment, a swelling impression of the Atlantic Ocean seen right side up and upside down.

Wieland’s Cat Food is about a rotund cat and how he eats a fish. An explicit movie and an exercise in simplicity, it has three elements: well-fed, insatiable cat, pretty-but-dead fish, all on a tabletop with a flat black background.

1933, an even harder haiku-like movie to examine in depth, has the numerals of the title on a blank screen alternated with a street scene of quick walkers, who suggest the fast-funny actors in old movies. Wieland repeats the recipe six times and that’s it.

Manny Farber