An Interview with Alfred Guzzetti

Article excerpt

Despite his considerable accomplishments and his longevity as a moving-image artist, Alfred Guzzetti is little known among aficionados of avant-garde cinema. There are at least two reasons for this. First, throughout his career as filmmaker and experimental video artist, Guzzetti has been remarkably resistant to selfpromotion. Second, his reputation has been impeded by what was, for several decades, the gap between the worlds of avant-garde film and experimental video: many of the places that showed avant-garde film did not make experimental video available, and vice versa. As a result, the many aesthetic relationships between Guzzetti's films and videos and the work of canonical avant-garde filmmakers have not been generally recognized.

Guzzetti began making films during his college years in the 1960s, first as contributions to various forms of stage performance and then, beginning with Air (1971), as a complex, poetic form of self-expression. Air, one of the remarkable films of its moment, was followed by other experiments, and in 1975, by one of the canonical early personal documentaries, Family Portrait Sittings, an investigation of the ways in which families mythologize themselves. During the 1980s and early 1990s Guzzetti confirmed his reputation as a documentary filmmaker with in-close cinema verite investigations of family life and childhood Scenes from Childhood, 1980; Beginning Pieces, 1986); documentations of aspects of the Nicaraguan revolution, made in collaboration with filmmaker Richard P. Rogers and photographer Susan Meiselas Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family, 1985; and Pictures from a Revolution, 1991); and ethnographic film, including Seed and Earth (1994), made in collaboration with anthropologist Akos Östör. Guzzetti's interest in documentary continued, even once he returned to his more experimental roots during the 1990s.

Beginning with Air, a film inspired in part by Peter Kubelkas Unsere Afrikareise ("Our Trip to Africa," 1965), which he saw at Fred Campers MIT Film Society, and throughout his subsequent development as a filmmaker, Guzzetti was frustrated by the limitations of 16mm sound. Guzzetti's first love was music - he studied music composition at Harvard for two years - and the difficulties of working with the subtleties of sound and music at the same level of sophistication as it was possible to work with imagery dissuaded him from returning to the kinds of experiment that characterize Air (the sound for Air was recently re-mastered and is now a good bit closer to what was originally intended). By the early 1990s, however, Guzzetti had become excited about the possibilities of video, in large measure because the then considerable limitations in editing video imagery were compensated for by the possibilities of magnetic sound.

The mid-1990s saw Guzzetti's completion of a series of distinctive experimental Hi8, then DV videotapes, beginning with Rosetta Stone (1993, revised 2001), and followed by The Curve of the World (1994), Variation (1995), The Stricken Areas (1996), and What Actually Happened (1996). In these videos, made to be shown in gallery situations on monitors, Guzzetti explored the options that video made possible, including the increasingly easy manipulation of visual text. As video cameras, editing options, and projection continued to evolve during the 1990s and 2000s, Guzzetti's developing sophistication as a video artist continued to manifest itself in remarkable videos, including The Tower of Industrial Life (2000), Down from the Mountains (2002), History of the Sea (2004), and Still Point (2008), the first Guzzetti video made in high definition for large-scale projection.

Hopefully, times have changed fully enough for Guzzetti to receive the attention he deserves. In March of 201 1 I had the privilege of programming part of the annual Brakhage Symposium, hosted by the Brakhage Center at the University of Colorado, and in one of my programs, I cross-cut between films by two of the most highly regarded avant-garde filmmakers and Guzzetti videos; I showed Summerwind (1965) by Nathaniel Dorsky, Guzzetti's Air, I. …