But First a Little Ru-Ru

An Interview with Robert Breer

Robert Breer is, arguably, the most accomplished contemporary in a tradition of experimental animation that begins with Emil Cohl and Winsor McCay and includes, among others, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, the Whitney Brothers, and Jordan Belson. What distinguishes Breer’s work, however, is his decision to use frame-by-frame filmmaking not fundamentally to create a particular form of experience (narrative, abstract, meditative...) but to conduct explorations of the viewer’s perceptual and conceptual thresholds. Breer’s gift is to be able to do exploratory film work with a wit, a technical dexterity, and a knowledgeability which make his films accessible to a much broader audience than most experimental/avant-garde filmmakers are able to attract. During the middle part of his career he was also a sculptor, designing and building elegant (and amusing) “floats” which move very, very slowly along the floor or ground. The largest of these were made for the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion, designed for Expo ‘70 in Osaka by the Experiments in Art and Technology group.1 In fact, one of the more fruitful ways of thinking of Breer is to see him as an artist fascinated with making things move and with the ways in which their motion can affect those who perceive it.

Breer’s first films – Form Phases I (1952), Form Phases II, III (1953), Form Phases IV (1954) – seem closely related to Richter’s Rhythmus 21 and some of Fischinger’s work: shapes of colored paper are moved around to create continually changing abstract configurations that intermittently draw the viewer’s awareness to the materials and processes used. The films seem to flip back and forth between exercises in two-dimensional design and indices of the three­ dimensional materials and processes being used. As he became increasingly interested in film (before be­ ginning to make films he was a painter living in Paris), Breer began to explore a variety of techniques. For Un Miracle (1954) he cartooned with paper cut­-outs to create a tiny satire of Pope Pius XII. In Image of Images (1956), A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957), and Inner and Outer Space (1960), the focus is the drawn line and Breer’s ability to use it to create a continuous metamorphosis of 2-D abstract design and 3-D illusionism.

To define Breer as an animator, as I have done, is misleading, for beginning with Recreation (1956) and Jamestown Baloos (1957) he began to explore the impact of radically altering the imagery in successive frames in a manner which has more in common with Peter Kubelka’s films and theoretical writings than with any area in the history of animation up to that point. If Breer’s earliest films can be seen, in part, as an attempt by a painter to add motion to his work, these films seem an attempt to reveal film’s potential in the area of collage. Instead of creating a homogeneous, conventional film space into which our eyes and minds can peer, Recreation and Jamestown Baloos create retinal collages which our minds subsequently synthesize and/or decipher. In Eyewash (1959) and later in Fist Fight (1964), Breer used his single-frame procedure to move out of his workspace and into the world in a manner which seems related to the hand-held, single-framing style Jonas Mekas was using by the time he made Walden (1968). In many of these films, Breer includes not only drawing and the movements of cut-out shapes but imagery borrowed from magazines and objects collected from around the home. One is as likely to see a real pencil as a drawn pencil; in fact, the inclusion of one kind of image of a particular subject is almost sure to be followed by other kinds: a drawn mouse by a real mouse or a wind-up mouse, for example. Of all the films of Breer’s middle period, Fist Fight seems the most ambitious. Thousands of photographs, drawings, and objects are animated into a fascinating diary of Breer’s environment, his background, and his aesthetic repertoire.

By the mid-1960s Breer was moving away from collage and back toward abstraction in a series of films – 66 (1966), 69 (1968), 70 (1970), and 77 (1977). 69 is not only the most impressive of these (among other things it creates a remarkably subtle palette of shimmering color); its paradoxical structure enacts a procedure which seems basic to much of Breer’s work. 69 begins as a rigorously formal work: a series of perspectival geometric shapes move through the image again and again, each time with slight color, texture, and design variations. But, as soon as we begin to become familiar with the various shapes and their movements, Breer begins to add details which undercut the hard-edged formalist look and rhythm established in the opening minutes. By the end, 69 seems to have turned, at least in part, into its opposite: the shapes continue to rotate through the frame, hut they sometimes “wilt” into flat, two-dimensional, cartoonlike shapes as they do. For Breer, the homogeneity of most film experiences – the seemingly almost automatic tendency for commercial narrative films as well as for documentary and experimental films, to establish a particular look and procedure and to rigorously maintain it throughout the duration of the presentation – represents a failure of imagination which needs to be filmically challenged.

During the 1970s and 1980s Breer has produced a series of first-rate films which bring together many of the procedures explored in earlier work while continually trying out new procedures, new attacks on filmic homogeneity: Gulls and Buoys (1972), Fuji (1974), Rubber Cement (1975), LMNO (1978), TZ (1978), Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons (1980), Trial Balloons (1982), Bang! (1987), A Frog on the Swing (1988).

I talked with Breer in January and February 1985. This is the final section of our discussion. Earlier sections of the interview will be published elsewhere.

(1) Fuji (Robert Breer, 1974)

Scott MacDonald: No matter how your films begin and what they look like, you seem to have a need to do a bit of something very different, something which goes against the pattern or tone of what you’ve set up. I can’t think of any film of yours that’s “pure.” For a while 69 looks like it’s going to be a consistently hard-edged film, then it shifts into something else just long enough to keep it from being uniformly hard-edged.

Robert Breer: Do you know the joke about the two explorers who get captured by the natives and tied to trees? The chief tells the first one, “You have two choices: death or ru-ru.” The explorer thinks a bit and says, “Well, ru-ru.” “Wise decision,” says the chief who unties him. Then the whole tribe beats him up and abuses him sexually and completely destroys him and throws him down dead in front of the other explorer. The chief asks the second explorer which he prefers, death or ru-ru? The second explorer is very shaken up by what he’s seen and finally says, “Death.” And the chief says, “Very wise decision – death it is – but first, a little ru-ru.” I love that joke. In my work there’s always a little ru-ru.

69 undoes itself. It starts out like a system, then the system breaks down and goes to hell. During the editing I came up with the idea that it should break down, so I shuffled the cards. I thought it served me right to undo my own pretense at formal purity.

When exactly did you shuffle the cards?

First I shot each sequence several times. I was thinking of serial repetitions and building a texture. But I got bored with that. It was too systematic, and I wasn’t responding to it anymore, so I said “What if.” I started shuffling the cards and shooting them in random sequences and shuffling more and more.

Also, there were some accidents. This was before dimmers were available and I had a parallel circuit for the lights and a double-throw switch, so I could put them on half-light (Vanderbeek had shown me how to do that).2 I shot a sequence on the low light by accident, and it was brown and dismal looking, but somewhere during that scene I had turned the lights on for a second and there was a flash of proper lighting embedded within this dark stuff. Instead of dismissing all that material, I took advantage of it in the best tradition of experimental filmmaking. I went back and deliberately shot a lot of stuff at half-light, with a few sprinklings of properly lit imagery.

Hans Richter and I were invited to the Flaherty Film Seminar in 1969. They showed his early films and my films on the same program. He was in his eighties then. The two of us were taken out on the lawn and confronted with the audience. I was very self-conscious being there with Richter. I knew him, so it wasn’t that strange; but some guy in that audience piped up and was aggressive: “Ah,” he said, “69 was OK, but I’ll tell you, I wasn’t moved by it.” I defended myself lamely, saying it wasn’t a film for everybody, any more than chamber music is for everyone. Somebody else asked me what all that stuff was at the end, and I said it was "the analysis of the synthesis" – a little pretentious, I admit, but that’s what it was. The first part was synthesis and the last part was whatever the opposite is.

You’re very early in experimenting with flicker effects. They’re an element in some of the earliest films, and you come back to flicker often.

I don’t like to make claims about priority – except when I see other people making claims. I think it’s silly to claim anything. You do need to question things. Jasper John’s favorite saying is, “According to what?” That’s a disturbing question because it leads to speculation: Is this necessarily wrong? What is wrong in some circumstances is right in others. If you question everything, you’ll question why you have to eliminate flicker. Flicker is disturbing. It’s unnatural. But you might say, “Wait a minute, it has an impact.” It’s not necessarily evil. It doesn’t make you have flat feet, or burn your retina. It’s just another tool we’ve overlooked. I question all the time. It started out with my questioning the existence of God when I was a little kid. I read something by Sinclair Lewis when I was twelve or thirteen years old and challenged God to strike me dead. I gave Him about fifteen minutes, thinking if He was all that powerful, that’d be plenty of time. And nothing happened, and I went down and told my parents I wasn’t going to go to church anymore. I never had believed in God, but I’d been too scared to announce it. Of course, I had some awful experiences as a little kid at Catholic school, so I already had bad vibes about religion. But I questioned and got away with it. In film a lot of things have been repressed for so long that they’re fresh. I explore the medium for that kind of thing. There’s an awful lot of conformism. That’s the natural tendency, just for the sake of convenience and safety. You learn what doesn’t kill you; you play it safe. But when it comes to art, you can do stuff that’ll “kill” you. A basic example of that is the oscillation of light and dark in the projector. Of course, the modern cinema device was designed to eliminate flicker, but you can bring it back and play around with it.

During the late sixties you began to make a new kind of kinetic sculpture – what you call “floats.” How do you see them relating to your film work?

In my films, I deal with a medium designed for motion and bring it to a point where things go by so last that they start standing still: the interruption of continuity is so great that finally there isn’t much, if any, continuity, and I have what amounts to a static picture where everything is on the brink of flowing into motion but never quite does. With the floats, it’s the same and in another sense the opposite. Sculptures are “not supposed” to move, but these do, just barely. In each case I’m challenging the limits of the medium, or confusing the expectations that one might normally have.

And there’s something more to it. Since childhood model airplane-making days, I’ve always had a great satisfaction in putting things together, pounding nails, sawing wood, sandpapering. Even though I hate it sometimes, it makes my muscles feel good. My brain had gotten me into a kind of painting that didn’t have a hell of a lot to it past the conceptual stage. In my geometric paintings I just had to cover vast areas of canvas: it was like house painting. It didn’t involve making minute decisions every time I put the brush on the canvas. So painting left me somewhat unsatisfied. When I started doing films, there was a lot more involvement with making things. There was the camera apparatus itself, and making thousands of images for a film put a demand on my imagination that doing one painting didn’t. Starting to make sculptures had a workshop satisfaction that filmmaking didn’t. It got me involved in the world of switches, wheels, electricity, object making. It made me feel good. I could even listen to the radio when I worked. And I got high on the idea that when I was through with them, these things had their own autonomy. I didn’t think I was Pygmalion, but the idea of making art objects that were restless was intriguing to me. I was trying to create a sort of gallery presence with them and didn’t want their activities reduced to anecdotal events, so that people would wait to see what happened when they bumped into each other. But I did get a certain pleasure in the unconventional behavior (in any behavior at all!) of these art objects.

One collector who was being persuaded to buy one of the floats was very worried. She asked me what would happen if one of them went across the room and ran into one of her paintings. Bob Rauschenberg, who did buy a bunch of them, was worried that his dog would take after them. If you spend money on something, you don’t want it bitten by the dog, but courageously he bought them, and his dog never showed any interest at all. There were some junior high kids who used to come to the gallery after school. They’d lie down on the floor of the gallery and wait until the floats would nudge up to them. Those kids understood that the floats were atmospheric, which was the point as far as I’m concerned.

(2) Gulls and Buoys (Robert Breer, 1972)

Why did you start working with the rotoscope in Gulls and Buoys (1972)?

I don’t know why. I’m slow on the uptake in a lot of things technically. The rotoscope is an old idea. I knew I wanted to make a film. That comes as an urge. Gulls and Buoys started in the South of France. We took four kids down to an apartment in a chateau that we rented for $80 a week. I was supposed to be on vacation for once. I had gotten this heavy number about not always working, but I still wanted to. The place was very bare of furniture. There was a desk and a desk lamp. The desk had a deep drawer, and I put the lamp in it and made a light table with a piece of broken glass. I bought cards in a little stationery store. I’d buy them out every day – fifty cards – and then the next day she’d get more. I just started drawing. I outlined my hand, and then I took the key out of the desk and outlined that. I guess from that I got the idea that since I’m outlining the reality anyway, I could do the same thing with a projected image. When I got back to the States, I dug up this footage of gulls I’d shot from the back of a ferry boat, and the footage of swans. It was all good stuff I had shot when I was trying to make a film after I did the NBC thing for Brinkley.3 I’d gotten a lot of 7252 stock, but I was so ignorant that I couldn’t get the lighting right and the stuff looked flat. Of course 7252 stock does look flat in the original. It’s only a printing stock. But I was very slow coming to this, and I was so disappointed in the live action material that I abandoned the whole project. l’d had this Walt Whitman idea, Walt Whitman’s America or something, probably just a typical Hallmark card idea – well, not that bad, but it’s probably just as well that I didn’t get the shots right. Anyhow, I decided I’d use that footage, but that I could draw those gulls better than I’d photographed them. For the rotoscoping I just remade my old Craig viewer. I took the top off it and enlarged the screen to 4 x 6, bought index cards that would fit, and started tracing and cranking through the images one at a time. It was very crude. I couldn’t see the gulls sharply at all and realized that it would be silly to pursue it in too much detail. I decided to be sketchy about it and assume that the general movement would show. I could enjoy myself with drawing for a change and not have to worry about the relationships from one image to the next. Three or four years ago I rotoscoped David Bowie.

How did that happen?

Pennebaker asked me to do it for that film he made with Bowie in his last incarnation as Ziggy.4 So I did some sample sequences which were sent to Bowie, who liked them, though as things turned out that material was never used. But at one point Bowie decided he wanted to learn animation and wanted me to teach him. Pennebaker sent him a tape of my films and Bowie’s ten-year-old son ended up using Fuji to teach himself how to animate. But nothing else came of it. I still have that material somewhere.

Fuji (1974) seems the most conventional narrative you’ve done. We experience a particular, chronological train ride. Did you shoot the original footage of that trip with this film in mind?

No. I had a neat little $50 Super-8 Kodak camera, which I still use. The handle folds up, and you can slip it in your pocket. A no-focus, idiot camera. I shot the footage out the window of the Tokaido Express, a 135-mile-an-hour train. You can’t go to an exotic place like Japan and not record your trip to show the folks, so that’s what it was, just a mindless bunch of footage out the window, without the possibility of refined focus and with no thought of the future. I didn’t dig that film up until three years later when I was fishing around for an excuse to do some more rotoscoping. (I’d just finished Gulls and Buoys.) What attracted me to the footage was the mountain in the background and the possibility for motion perspective in the foreground. The film plays with deep space and the flat picture plane of the screen.

Maybe what makes Fuji seem more conventional than the other films is the sound of the train, which is more continual than the sound in many other films, and has a clear, direct relationship with the visuals.

The sound was put on six months after I finished the film. Actually, I showed Fuji in Pittsburgh as a silent film and realized there that maybe it should have some sound. I used all kinds of contraptions in my studio to create the train ride noises. Of course the Tokaido Express doesn’t sound anything like my clackity clack, but the soundtrack does for that film. One trick that I was real happy with is the interruption of the sound near the end. After using the relentless clackity clack at various paces and pitches, I stopped it right at the climax of the film, or I should say I created the climax of the film with this sudden drop into total silence. Then just at the end the sound creeps back in as a little coda, and we see the person on the train (Frannie Breer) in live action. I withheld the sound in a couple of other places too.

Rubber Cement (1975) uses a lot of collage; it seems a return to something like the sensibility of Fist Fight or Jamestown Baloos.

I hadn’t thought of that. I do have a tendency to pick up on neglected practices. It’s possible that I had become collage starved.

How did your involvement with xerox in Rubber Cement came about?

I was invited to be a member of a seven-member NYSCA panel that was formed to give artists access to Xerox machines. Part of the privilege of being a panelist consisted of getting an identity card to go into the Xerox Company. They’d just came out with a color machine. I had to share the time with some of the artists we selected: Bob Whitman was one and Steven Antonakis another. Anyhow, I didn’t have a lot of time on the machine, but I generated a bunch of images by playing around with frames from some of my old films (70, for one). I was hoping that if Xerox looked at my film, they might think I was worthy of a little more indulgence, but I had a negative reaction from their PR people; they weren’t even curious to see the film. So when I realized later that I had misspelled the company name in my title tribute, “Thanks to Zerox,” I was happy to leave it that way.

(3) Rubber Cement (Robert Breer, 1975)

77 is in the mold of 69. Like the earlier film, it explores color: the early part centers rigorously on primary colors, then at the end there’s a dispersal of that control into a crescendo of color.

I intended to make a black and white film, to reduce elements and simplify everything. But DuArt informed me that it would cost more to shoot in black and white than in color. I had always secretly admired the effect of black and white images in color film, and this discovery made it easy for me to decide to shoot on color stock. Then I thought, well, it does seem a shame not to let the stock see some color once in a while I had thousands of black and white images, and the idea of now adding color to the images had coloring book qualities I didn’t think too highly of: the color would have had a passive, ornamental role, rather than be part of the structure. My answer was to add color to the film by hand, which I’d done once before, in Eyewash (1959). Only this time I decided to hand color the original. What this means in an animated film is that if you screw up and overpaint, you’re undoing weeks of work. You can’t correct. It was a situation I liked, a challenge to the predictability of my techniques. It heightened the intensity of making the film. It was a way of reversing the usual progression toward greater control and less risk so that at the very end of the filmmaking process, every­ thing would still be up for grabs. I hoped some of my excitement would rub off on the whole film. In the same spirit, I spray painted the ending of LMNO (1978) a year later. I looked at 77 the other day and thought that, while the film does have a mix of extreme control and some out of control stuff, there’s too much of the former.

LMNO (and TZ too) uses a lot of sexual imagery, more than most of the other films. 

In LMNO there are these tiny objects that rain across the screen from top to bottom. Some look like sets of cocks and balls. The others look like upside­down coffee cups. The origin of those is pretty complicated. They were made with rubber stamps sent to me by Claes Oldenburg, one ordinary rubber stamp very carefully divided down the middle. One side had this giant lipstick on it (in the scribble form it looks like cock and balls, which is typical of Oldenburg: he’s always dealing in phalluses and so forth); the upside-down coffee cup shape doesn’t quite fit as the opposite of his phallus – it’s not quite the vagina shape, but it relates. Anyhow, I play with those shapes in LMNO and in Rubber Cement.

Those rubber stamps were the culmination of a drawing contest Oldenburg and I had during a period of time when we both were having sculptures made up in a big sculpture factory in Westhaven. Mine was a big float, now in Stockholm, that you can sit on and ride. Every time I’d go up there there’d be a drawing of his lipstick on caterpillar treads; it looked like a tank and was aimed aggressively at a sketch of my coffee cup-shaped “rider float.” I had to retaliate with a drawing which had my float getting underneath his sculpture and driving off with it – my point being that my sculpture was motorized and really worked, while his only looked like it would move. When I came back the next time, I found a drawing of the two of these things going over a cliff – his point being that while my float was motorized, it didn’t know where it was going. At the bottom of the cliff, the lipstick is stuck in the ground and the treads are up in the air. My sculpture was cradled in the treads of his as though on a pedestal of his sculpture, and there was a guy standing there scratching his head, wondering what kind of sculpture this was. My reply to that was to have the cliff that they had gone over collapse and create an avalanche that covered both of them completely. He came back and had a helicopter with a magnet fly over and pull them out of the debris. I retaliated with the same helicopter flying too close to the sun: the blades dropped (in another version it was hit by lightning), and the two pieces fell into the ocean and disappeared. His retaliation was to have the ocean turn into the contents of a pop bottle, and the two sculptures became bubbles going to the surface in huge numbers. I didn’t know how to answer that. I ended up making vast numbers of little sculptures half his and half mine out of Play-doh. I put them in cotton, in a box, and sent them to him. His answer was the rubber stamp, and of course you send a rubber stamp to an animator and it’s going to get into his films. All that time I never saw Oldenburg.

TZ, LMNO, Swiss Army Knife (1980), and Trial Balloons 11982) seem to be blends of collage and animation with bits of live action. Do you still see each film as a new exploration or is the newness now in the particular mixes of techniques you’ve already explored?

You didn’t use the word “rehash” but that might be your question. New wine in old bottles, or is it old wine and new bottles, I forget. I’m always hoping for a totally new kind of image, but I’ve been around long enough to know that repeating myself is something I can’t help. I don’t think you fall into ruts; I think you’re born into them, but that every effort to break out is a healthy one and should be nurtured. When I was a kid, I thought style was going to be for­ ever elusive, and that it was something some people had and others didn’t. Now I realize that style is something everybody has in spite of themselves. Anyhow, the way I’d put it is that in those films I was looking for a maximum range of technique.

How did the little piece you did recently for the light sign on Times Square come about?

I was commissioned by a group at the Public Art Fund, along with several other artists, mostly painters. I think that John Hanhardt recommended me. I went down to Times Square and looked at the sign, and everything on it looked the same. The advertisements seemed to be exploiting the sign to its fullest. The sign is made up of 64 light bulbs in one direction and 128 in the other, so it’s a fairly coarsegrained screen, and most of the possible variations had been covered. Had someone come to me when the sign was new, I would have been excited by it, but by this time I felt I was getting the leftovers. But then, on the other hand, who the hell am I, if I can’t accept a challenge of that sort? I did the artwork, and six months later (February of 1985) they actually got the thing up on the sign: thirty seconds every twenty minutes for two weeks. Franceso Torres, the Spanish artist, did one; and Michael Smith, the performance artist, another – twelve artists in all, so far. Most of the messages to the public the other artists did (the series is called “Messages to the Public”) were polemical: “everyone should stop messing around with armaments” – the usual appeals to civilized behavior. I had a feeling that mine would at least be refreshingly free of moralizing, though I’ve been guilty of the same thing myself in the past. Anyhow, I made a car­toon using metamorphosis, things changing into one another: not a political message but, I hoped, some kind of aesthetic whammy. I tried to do something that could be construed as simple and popular and at the same time thought-provoking, and hopefully a new experience, not based on a story. I don’t know if I pulled it off or not. I only saw it broadcast once, though I do have a flipbook of it. A programmer sit­ting at a keyboard translated my images into the digital sign, which meant that he had to redraw some of my pictures because they didn’t translate automatically. My thirty seconds has now been recorded on film by Mark Daniels as part of a BBC program on my work that Simon Field is doing.

John Rubin called me last year to say that he’d got­ten a stipend from NYSCA to float his cinema once again and commission some films and he asked me to do something.5 I found the idea kind of interesting: I hadn’t done a two-screen film. I used the basic Times Square images for his film, expanded on them, and added sound, so I do have a two-screen version of that material, though it’s another case where I really haven’t seen the result.

Have you ever thought about making a feature­ length animation? That’s been the fantasy, and in some cases more than a fantasy, for a number of serious animators.

To do an animated feature is reminiscent of fakirism, beds of nails, and other activities where you try to extend your normal capacities beyond the ordinary. The idea of filling up twenty-four frames every second for an hour or two hours sounds pretty dreary to me and, unless it was one of these full­ blooded collective efforts like the Disney features were (which I’m not interested in anyway because in the long run that sort of collective process usually takes all the corners off the film so that it’s no longer very expressive), everything would get stretched thin, and you’d see the stretch marks. At the rate of ten minutes a year, it would take me six years. So, no, I don’t have any feature film yearnings, certainly not for films that would look like the shorter films I’ve made.

What else have you been working on?

Well, I’ve been sawing wood and painting window frames for what seems like years. I have six hundred feet of new material I haven’t told anybody about; it hasn’t congealed into a film and might never. I play with words on the screen and do some rotoscoping – usual techniques, but with a different look maybe. I got interrupted so many times last year in the middle of this film that it might be lost forever. I do have plans to make a new film dealing more with the soundtrack-picture relationship than I have in the past. At least that’s my concept now: anything can happen to change my mind. As far as how the future looks: from where I sit it looks compressed. As a little kid, I was told there was a Beyond, but I never got a convincing picture of it. So without a Beyond, I have a kind of trapezoidal vision of eternity. It’s like looking at the table I’m sitting at; the table tilts away in perspective, but it’s sawed off at the end: it doesn’t go to an infinity point. My sense of time compressing does make life a little more savory, though I don’t know if it was ever unsavory. Right now I’ve got a couple of shoe boxes full of index cards and half an urge to go up and fiddle them into a sequence, and I follow my urges pretty much. They don’t always take me into doing a film, but !’Il return to the euphoria of putting out a work of art because it’s a high you can’t get any other way that I know of.

(4) Rubber Cement (Robert Breer, 1975)

  • 1See Billy Kluver, Julie Martin, Barbara Rose, eds., Pa­vilion (New York: Dutton, 1972).
  • 2Stan Vanderbeek, American animator, b. 1931.
  • 3In 1962 Breer shot footage of the kinetic art show programmed by Pontus Hulten for an episode of David Brink­ley’s Journal. (Until recently Hulten was director of the Beauborg Art Museum in Paris. He curated The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age for the Museum of Modern Art in 1968.) Breer had syncopated the footage including the king of Sweden’s visit to the show. The ma­terial was used on the air, but, to Breer’s frustration, in a convenrional talking heads piece.
  • 4Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1983).
  • 5For some years John Rubin has managed the Floating Cinema, a dual-screen film exhibition program presented on bodies of water – lakes, the Hudson River, the New York State Barge Canal.

Image (1) from Fuji (Robert Breer, 1974)

Image (2) from Gulls and Buoys (Robert Breer, 1972)

Images (3) and (4) from Rubber Cement (Robert Breer, 1975)


This article was originally published in The Velvet Light Trap, no. 24, Fall 1989.

© All rights reserved by the artist and his rightholders / Courtesy of Light Cone


Milestones: Robert Breer takes place on Monday 2 October 2023 at 20:00 in Art Cinema OFFoff, Ghent. You can find more information on the event here.

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati zei ooit: “Ik wil dat de film begint op het moment dat je de cinemazaal verlaat.” Een film zet zich vast in je bewegingen en je manier van kijken. Na een film van Chaplin betrap je jezelf op klungelige sprongen, na een Rohmer is het altijd zomer en de geest van Chantal Akerman waart onomstotelijk rond in de keuken. In deze rubriek neemt een Sabzian-redactielid een film mee naar buiten en ontwaart kruisverbindingen tussen cinema en leven.