Academic journal article The Space Between

Close Up & Wars They Saw: From Visual Erotics to a Transferential Politics of Film

Academic journal article The Space Between

Close Up & Wars They Saw: From Visual Erotics to a Transferential Politics of Film

Article excerpt

"And for more than ten years, the consciousness of the world has concen- trated on events which have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm."

-Wallace Stevens, "The Noble Rider and The Sound of Words" (1942)

In an unpublished interview conducted by Virginia Smeyers in December 1979, Bryher (born Annie Winifred Ellerman in 1894) repeated: "film was not my métier," retrospectively attributing her excitement about film and filmmaking to H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Kenneth Macpherson.1 While there may be some truth to this, her insistence upon her non-centrality in the trio's venture into cinema protests too much. Bryher, H.D., and Macpherson made three experimental films together, including Border- line (1930). In addition, Bryher's money funded Close Up (1927-1933), to which all three contributed work. It was, after all, the first international journal of its kind that surveyed every aspect of avant-garde film, includ- ing work by Sergei Eisenstein (featuring first translations), Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, Oswell Blakeston, Robert Herring, Hanns Sachs, Doro- thy Richardson, and Bryher herself. Close Up remains a rich repository of many stills from now lost films.2 Anne Friedberg describes the journal as "situated symmetrically on the brink of two decades; at the threshold, as well as between silent cinema and sound film" (4). Close Up also re- flected the hydraulic shift from the relatively liberating Weimar culture of the 1920s to its increasing repression in the 1930s. It is no coincidence that the journal shut down with Hitler's rise to power in 1933. The journal functioned, to quote my epigraph from Stevens, between the "intervals of a storm."

Bryher was the daughter of a shipping magnate, Sir John Eller- man, the richest man in England when he died in 1933. Close Up had been launched six years earlier, at which time Bryher was already using her wealth to fund numerous artists along with H.D., her greatest "star." Af- ter all, they were each other's most significant relationship. When they met in 1918, H.D. had already garnered much attention for her poetry, having been dubbed an "Imagist" by Ezra Pound. Macpherson was Bry- her's "second husband of convenience" (after she divorced bisexual Robert McAlmon in 1926), and although he was mostly attracted to men as sexual partners, Macpherson had a truncated affair with H.D. during the first year of Close Up. He was keen to make films with H.D. and Bryher as well as work on the journal. As this interpersonal sketch suggests, while the magazine bears the imprimatur of the tumultuous historic times during which it was produced, it also mediated the entangling relations among those involved.

This essay zooms in on Bryher's cinematic collaboration with Macpherson and H.D. However, it must be prefaced by an explanation that this task is obscured by Bryher's own personality. She consistently puts herself in the background. For instance, she credited Macpherson as "Editor" on the masthead of Close Up, naming herself alongside Oswell Blakeston, another gay friend, as "Assistant Editor." Bryher occluded her- self within POOL, the name of the "production company" she created to fund the journal as well as assorted other books, including her own Film Pi'oblems of Soviet Russia (1929). Further, she and H.D. both advanced Macpherson as the one most responsible for Borderline, released in 1930, for which H.D. wrote the pamphlet "Borderline: A POOL Film with Paul Robeson" published in the November 1930 issue of Close Up.3 In fact, Jayne E. Marek claims that Bryher's "extensive role" in modernist literary and film culture has been eclipsed in part by her "characteristic modesty" (101). In my own view, she paradoxically meshed her generous funding of others with her sense of inadequacy, what I call elsewhere her "melan- choly of money."4

Bryher's direct collaboration with H.D. and Macpherson is most visible in Borderline, a collaboration I return to as indelibly linked to Close Up. …

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