Single-Takes and Great Complexities: A Conversation with Morgan Fisher

By Camporesi, Enrico; Censi, Rinaldo | Millennium Film Journal, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Single-Takes and Great Complexities: A Conversation with Morgan Fisher


Camporesi, Enrico, Censi, Rinaldo, Millennium Film Journal


American artist and filmmaker Morgan Fisher (b. 1942, Washington, D.C.) is critically acclaimed for his unique avant-garde films, which investigate the definition of film itself. He has had one-person exhibitions at the Tate Modern (London), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and Austrian Filmmuseum (Vienna), among others. He recently exhibited paintings at Bortolami Gallery in New York ("Interior Color Beauty") and at China Art Objects Galleries in Los Angeles ("Exterior and Interior Color Beauty"). Fisher is an extremely rigorous and cultivated artist, as his background in art history suggests, and he has conducted through his filmic work an in-depth analysis of the cinematographic apparatus. In this interview he discusses a wide range of topics, covering not only his personal path and work but as well as film criticism and theory, abstraction and structural film, and exploitation genre films. This interview took place in Milan, on April 1, 2012, the day after a screening of a selection of his films at O' gallery organized by Atelier Impopulaire, the curatorial platform run by Pia Bolognesi and Giulio Bursi.

[The recorder is activated as we discuss film criticism]

MORGAN FISHER ... People took Pauline Kael very seriously... I was not a regular reader of The New Yorker, but if a copy came into my hands I would look at it. She was a huge fan of Brian De Palma, which I could never understand. And recently there have been books about her, there's been a biography, and also a collection of her essays.1 After she died, Artforum invited a number of people to reminisce about her and how important she was, in what amounted to a series of eulogies. Everyone just fell in line and did what they were supposed to do and said nice things about her, except for one person, and that was Annette Michelson.2 On the contrary, Michelson mentioned by name the person who did what she thought Pauline Kael should have been doing, namely being serious about popular films in a more or less popular journal, and that was Manny Farber.

Can I go on more about Pauline Kael? There was a film, I forgot the title, it came out many years ago, and it was about two friends: one's an artist and he gets all the girls and the other guy is a friend who doesn't get the girls.3 That's the situation. And I happened to know someone who was an assistant editor on this film. When you finish the rough cut of a feature you invite people who don't know the material to look at it, because they have a fresh eye and can see things you hadn't, and I was one of these people because I knew the assistant editor and also because I had some experience with editing. There was a sex scene where there was the artist guy and a woman, and she was lit in a very unflattering way, but there was nothing to cut to, because the director didn't shoot what's called coverage. That means that you have at least one other angle that you can use. So they had to use this unflattering shot because they had no coverage. Then I read that Pauline Kael criticized the editors for not protecting this woman, as if she somehow knew that they had an alternative, but I knew they didn't. She was pretending that she had somehow been intimately involved with the production, that she somehow had access to the film in a way that the ordinary people who see the film did not. That's an example. But another example is in her review of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.4 There is a scene where someone, maybe Harrison Ford, is rolling down a track in an old mine inside a mountain and I think there's cutting back and forth between him and someone on another track, and she said something like: "You can imagine the editors cackling with delight as they cut this sequence." It's not the same as her pretending to know that the editors could have protected the actress but failed to, but it's similar in that she's reminding you that she knows there is this thing called post-production, where the film gets put together, as if you don't. …

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