(The First Look Festival runs March 15-19 at Astoria New York’s Museum of the Moving Image. Check out this movie review of The Sparrow Dream. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
“There is an infinite number of qualities in fire.”
No one has written more eloquently about the work of Robert Beavers than Rebekah Rutkoff. Between her words and his own, further illumination of these remarkable (and, unfortunately, rarely-screened) films is improbable. Indeed, it is a daunting prospect to even attempt. So it goes.
Audiences in New York, mid-March (and London, in September of last year), have (or had) the opportunity to see an as-yet-unnamed—and, possibly, as-yet-incomplete—cycle of short films by a filmmaker of indisputable mastery of the 16mm medium. His composition of the frame, the exquisite editing, the diegetic sound (or its simulacrum), the tactile aspects of filmmaking made apparent in its making (in his characteristic shifting of the lens-turret of the camera or the aperture, for instance) are all uniquely his own, marking Beavers as one of the few individuals immediately identifiable from a mere handful of moments of viewing. Or, as he has said of his process, “…filming begins in the eyes of the filmmaker and is shaped by his gestures in relation to the camera.”
Of cause for celebration is not merely the North American premiere of his first film in four years, the exceptional The Sparrow Dream, but the opportunity to see this relatively recent sequence of works together. His earlier cycle—the unbelievably extraordinary My Hand Outstretched to the Winged Distance and Sightless Measure, reworked from eighteen earlier films—is arguably among the greatest long-form achievements in the history of cinema, along with Gregory Markopoulos’ twenty-two-part Eniaios (of which Beavers is inextricably linked).
If, as a viewer, you have been fortunate enough to see his subsequent, post-Hand Outstretched… films in Toronto, Wavelength-wise, or the Bay Area (BAMPFA or elsewhere) or other cities in-between or farther afield, it was already apparent that these works were interrelated. “Der Klang, die Welt…” [“The Sound, the World…”], for instance, returns to the Zurich apartment of Listening to the Space in My Room except we are now able to hear Dieter Staehelin, since passed, describing the impact of music throughout his life, while he and Cécile Staehelin play—cello and piano, respectively—a composition of Bohuslav Martinu. Reverberations across time while within time, an adequate if approximate definition of music and film and time-based artworks in general.
“I dreamt that I was speaking to a sparrow and that she told me her name.”
With Pitcher of Colored Light opening the program, The Sparrow Dream concludes the series (for the moment) literally, a bookended returning to the spaces and places of the former, between two worlds on opposite sides of the Atlantic: Europe (where Beavers has lived intermittently for decades) and North America (where he was born). A figurative conclusion as well since this nearly-half-hour short brings together elements seen and themes expressed throughout the five earlier films (and, arguably, all of his work since the mid-1960s to the present).
“Fatherland, motherland, birthplace. In one place, speaking of another. In one time, speaking of another.”
What differs slightly here, …Dream-wise, is Beavers’ elegiac narration. Interspersed with infrequent imagery from an Adventures of Odysseus illustrated book, the adventurer has returned home from far-away lands where the former home and the traveler have changed exponentially. In some ways perceptible and, in others, not.
“To be thinking of one place while being in another. What does it mean? What holds it together?”
These films of variable durations could loosely be called “documentary” or even “personal documentary” but such terms are largely insufficient. Beavers’ mother appears and reappears. Filmmaker Ute Aurand is a regular on-screen participant, caught in occasional glimpses from one location to another. Spaces shift from Berlin—Kreuzberg, specifically—or back to Falmouth or Weymouth, Massachusetts. Strolls in the Tiergarten. Visits to the garden of his mother’s former home throughout the seasons. Reoccurring statuary, essentially. Dreamlike imagery and associations of a fleeting reality.
“Sleep. Thought. And memory.”
It is through this cycle that something far greater is achieved, in unity, which was already unprecedented individually. The Sparrow Dream, as a summation perhaps, exists almost as an ersatz photo-album of a lifetime. Not the life of a lone individual but of the indefatigable humanity of itinerate explorers everywhere.
If an opportunity to see this program is at all a possibility, you should not miss it. Give yourself to this sextet-into-one and it, altogether, will give itself to you.
— Jonathan Marlow (@aliasMarlow)
THE SPARROW DREAM (2022) dir. Robert Beavers [29min.]
PITCHER OF COLORED LIGHT (2007) dir. Robert Beavers [24min.]
THE SUPPLIANT (2010) dir. Robert Beavers [5min.]
LISTENING TO THE SPACE IN MY ROOM (2013) dir. Robert Beavers [19min.]
AMONG THE EUCALYPTUSES (2017) dir. Robert Beavers [4min.]
“DER KLANG, DIE WELT…” (2018) dir. Robert Beavers [5min.]