John Cage – From Zero (The Films of Frank Scheffer, Vol. 1)

by | Oct 30, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

John Cage – From Zero
(The Films of Frank Scheffer, Vol. 1)

Four Films on John Cage, featuring the composer, The Ives Ensemble, Isbelle Ganz, Michael Pugliese
Studio: Allegri Film/Mode Records 130
Video: 4:3 full screen color & B&W
Audio: PCM stereo
Subtitles: French
Extras: The Making of Fourteen documenary (14 min.); Individual
interviews with Frank Scheffer and Andrew Culver (39 min.), English,
French & German liner notes
Length: ?
Rating: **

I’ve seen other films on John Cage previously, and in fact attended a
workshop he held at one point.  I found most of that, as well as
the audio LP  “Indeterminacy” not only interesting but often
mind-bending. Can’t say that about Scheffer’s work sampled herein.
Scheffer uses Cage’s own famous theories of chance in the making of his
own films.  The first – 19 Questions – is just a head shot of Cage
asking a series of questions of himself and then answering them in the
length of time determined by I Ching means and timed with a stopwatch
in his hand. At the end of each he stops the watch and throws a glance
of smug satisfaction towards the filmmaker.

Fourteen is performed musically by the Ives Ensemble, and every aspect
of the short film was subjected to chance operations. Paying Attention
started as a videotape of an interview with Cage. Scheffer and Culver
worked independently on the image and sound using change operations and
then the two were put together for the final film. Pure chaos to me,
but evidently high art to others. The concluding short film is
Overpopulation and Art, which has on the soundtrack a Cage work titled
Ryoanji for four voices and percussion and on the screen jerky closeups
of the terrain of Stony Point, NY as well as downtown Manhattan. This
one seemed to jell more effectively for me, and included the
fascinating observation that as of about 1950 more people now are alive
on this earth than had been alive on earth for our entire history up to
that point. The extra interviews are very poor quality and occasionally
the sound cuts out. I believe I’ll leave future volumes in this series
to someone else.

– John Sunier 

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