Alan Ross

Chicago Filmmakers

Given the many disparate scenes which compose one of Alan Ross’s films, their most striking quality is the continuity and persistence of Ross’s eye. By his initial filming he establishes a definite contact with the real world and then manages to convert these real-life scenes into abstract ideas.

Ross’s film “voice” is established by various technical effects. His 8mm, silent, color, 60-minute Histories begins with scenes that rapidly flicker on and off. An image is rapidly there and not there, a constant pulse unifying the different pictures and transmitting the idea that light emerges from dark or, perhaps, known emerges from unknown. As a part of the overall unity, Ross leaves his camera on scenes for long periods of time defining slow-moving spans which force the viewer to look into, rather than at the images. In one scene with his camera close on the parallel planks of a ceiling and the watery eyes of a man Ross depicts not so much who the man is as what he is and where he is.

By tipping the camera angle, Ross puts the viewer into the role of an objective observer who can see gestures as gestures and hear words as words without having to attach them to the “personality” on the screen. Particularly in Papa, a 45-minute, black and white, sound film, the many images of eyes, hair, mouth, hands, pants, shirt seem an attempt to absorb everything about the man. The film’s larger concern—besides a documentary of Ross’s grandfather—is love.

Many of Ross’s images are extremely death-oriented. For example, in the Histories a black enameled door is a center toward which, away from which, and ultimately into which a black-robed woman ecstatically dances, her partner a single long-stemmed white lily—sexuality? life? Similarly, when Papa walks upstairs to his bedroom, Ross turns the image upside down so that the door is at the bottom of the screen and Papa seems to walk down toward the door—to a different horizon.

Despite these devices, Ross’s characters rarely look posed. His transitions—based on a juxtaposition of images which do not necessarily follow in time but which share similarities in visual shape and underlying meaning—only rarely look rough. Perhaps there ought to be more of a tension here between Ross’s life-death world and the outer random world. If his work wants anything it is to broaden his eye without weakening it.

C. L. Morrison