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  • 1859
  • When Worlds Collude
  • Fred Worden: "...modern masters at mid-career"
  • The After Life
  • Here
  • Everyday Bad Dream
  • Throbs
  • North Shore
  • Time's Arrow
  • One

  • THE ACADEMIC HACK
    Writings by Michael Sicinski, 2008
    Post-Dated Selections from the 2008 New York Film Festival VIEWS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE "sidebar"


    Sicinski's Top 10 Movies of 2008

    1859 by Fred Worden

    In his program notes, Worden brings the snark. "LSD is illegal. 1859 is not." Although this sounds like a trippy come-on, Worden promising that his new film will transport you to some psychedelic new headspace, it's also a kind of warning. Not all acid trips are pleasant, and 1859 can be downright punishing at times. However, not entirely for this reason but partly for this reason, I think it's one of the richest, most eyeball-exploding film experiences I've had in years.

    It's an 11-minute silent work, but that silence is deceptive. There's nothing peaceful about 1859, aside from some vague nostalgic inklings its title might momentarily evoke. (There are specific references to the histories of optics and astronomy in the title, but the piece in no way relies on this peripheral data. For me, it's hard to stop thinking about "1869," a brand of pre-mixed biscuits I used to eat as a kid. Point is, any and all literary content is far beside the point in this piece.)

    Built from a brief clip of a lens flare, which Worden shows in its entirety several times, 1859 plays like an earsplitting piece of experimental music, sort of a visual analog to the amped-up microtonal symphonies of Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham. It's well worth noting that Worden dedicates 1859 to Bruce McClure, whose audio-visual performance works frequently entail an aggressive but strictly modulated noise barrage. One's ears are seldom road-tested to such an extreme degree, and the same goes for your optic nerve in 1859. The single flare serves as a kind of bassline or refrain, against which Worden fragments, deconstructs, and zeroes in on select micro-moments of this pure-light phenomenon. He begins, innocently enough, with a pulsating dot in the lower right hand corner of the screen, the beginning of the diagonal flare's stippled movement across the black field of the screen.

    Through video editing, going frame by frame as well as with radical jump cuts within the 30-frame sequence, Worden generates piercing flicker effects, penumbras and scotomas on the viewer's sensitive eyeballs, as well as pure physical effects on the body. There is a push and pull, a shallow yet celestial space Worden provokes by circling these "spheres" of light one around another on the diagonal, as well as playing that shape against the all-over quasar of the flare whiting out the entire field of vision. In time, an entire white-hot / black-hole alternation of forms dominates 1859, forming a sort of luminescent eyeball of its own, staring back but also jabbing, puncturing anyone who dares look it in the "face." 1859 is frightening at times because it demands so much of its viewer's physical sensorium. But it also exhilarates the eyes, asking us to differentiate between the narrowest shades of hot white light and deep darkness, and then provoking the anxious question of whether what we perceive is actually "up there" or just Worden pulling magic optical rabbits out of our all-too-vulnerable skulls.

    In the end, 1859 shows us two small lights flickering next to one another at a slight tilt, slowly going out. Our exhausted eyes, ready to see the larger world anew.



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