Distribution Automatique

Saturday, June 11

*Emma's Dilemma*, a film by Henry Hills

was shown last night at Anthology Film Archives.
Although there was an earlier showing of parts
of the film at the Museum of Modern Art, this was the
first complete showing of the 87 minute-long film.
Many of the interviewees were present in the audience,
including Carolee Schneeman, Ken Jacobs and
Kenneth Goldsmith; as well as the Bernstein
family, including Susan Bee's father Sigmund
Laufer as well as Charles Bernstein's mother-
aka the Countess Bernstein (more on that later).
The film focuses on a 12 year
old Emma Bernstein (she is now in her first year
at the University of Chicago) interviewing such
art world luminaries as the artists
mentioned above, as well as
Richard Foreman, Tony Oursler,
poets Lee Anne Brown and
performance artist Julie Patton
and poet Susan Howe. Audience
sightings: Rodrigo Toscano, Bob
Perelman, Francie Shaw, Mimi Gross,
Mira Schor, Bradley Eros, Nada Gordon,
Bruce Andrews, Laura Elrick,
Sally Silvers, Jay
Sanders, Rob Fitterman, Jean Foos,
Abigail Child, Dirk Rountree.

Henry Hills is the consummate
experimental filmaker and this
film will be a delight
for those in search of films
that defy to an extreme
the current Hollywood
model of seducing audiences
determined to protect their limited
or waning attention spans.
Hills is a filmaker who deserves
to be recognized as a
prime contemporary leader of the
avant-garde. If you question
whether such a thing exists,
you are now required to
consider the career of Henry
Hills closely. One could understand
why in the course of this witty, but
uncompromising film, Charles
Bernstein makes a point of
comparing his own aesthetics
closely with that of this filmaker.
Hills defies every precept of
conventional film making:
not only in relation to plot,
but in his insistent and
very thoroughly,
even obsessively,
explored visual and psychological
interests: notably physical gestures
and their expression of situation and
personality. In one of the most outstanding
scenes in the film, Emma is interviewing
Ken Jacobs and the camera focuses on the filmaker's
hands. I did not quite understand all of Henry's
technical details when he explained to
me how he advanced and reversed the
images in doing a study of Jacob's hand
gestures that move rapidly again and again
to create an image
of a whirling globe. Also, the focus on
aspects of "home movie or video" is
suggestive of his wit and avant-gardism
(I'm thinking now of Stan Brakhage and
Vito Acconci), in this case the family
of the poet Charles Bernstein,
his wife the artist Susan Bee
(whose paintings take on a
spectral and stunning stature in this film),
their son Felix (who ends the film
with a show stopping dance in a tutu)
and, of course, the interviewer, their daughter
Emma Bernstein. After the showing
Henry spoke about his fascination
with Emma's rapid personal
transformations going from age
12 to 16 or 17; indeed it is
fascinating to witness the huge
number of psychological and
social changes observable in
Emma's appearance, styles
and attitudes in the course of the
film; her pre-teen and teenage
boredom and sarcasm
occasionally emerges, but
Henry certainly seems to
enjoyably focus on her appealing,
sphynx-like demeanor but- even
more significantly- engages her
prescient and impressive
youthful insights into his own
work and the work and ideas of
such artists as Tony Oursler,
Richard Foreman and Carolee
Schneeman. Sighted also in the
film: poets Sianne Ngai and Fiona
Templeton. The segment on
Richard Foreman is phenomenal;
Foreman is amazingly relaxed with
Emma and startlingly
forthcoming for this usually
extremely reticent playwright;
he does a dance, he kids around
with Emma in delightful and
memorable ways. The filmed
sequences of the play Foreman
was working on at that moment
will doubtlessly be treasured by
future viewers; they richly and
uncannily capture the essence of
Foreman's art, which is itself
so replete in visual concerns and effects
(his work could easily be included in
a compendium of contemporary
installation artists). Another interview
worth seeing more than once:
the one with Susan Howe, where
many of her words appear in writing, words
animated in white on the screen as she speaks.
In another segment, Emma uses the word
"like" innumerable times, that also appear
animated in white on the screen. As a group walked
to a bar with Henry afterwards, Henry
reminded me about a talk Carolee gave not
long ago at the Bowery Poetry Club which
included an intricate take on the use of that
ever-present word. Also, in the after-screening
discussion, Emma and Henry were present to
answer audience questions. Kenny Goldsmith
asked Emma if her friends at the University of
Chicago ask her questions about her artistic family
milieu. She said she doesn't like to mention this
so often (audience laughter) but
she occasionally
surprises people when they
learn she is the daughter of one of their
favorite poets.

Hills seems here to be paying
tribute to artists who
have made it one of their prime
concerns to enlarge the
boundaries of their
chosen medium,
another clear example of his
avant-gardist values.
Both Henry and Emma
mentioned afterwards that
several interviews were
cut from the lengthy film; some with artists,
also footage of the late,
great, Jackson Mac Low.

Emma's engaging and perceptive
commentary is certainly one of
the more entertaining and
vibrant aspects of this
many faceted, complex film. At one point she
says (of the Bernsteins), "My
parents are arty, but not hip."
(Charles later agreed, admitting to
a lack of interest in being fashionable;
another calling card of the avant-garde).
At another point, Susan Bee's collagist
paintings spin into innumberable rectangular,
interpenetrating, transforming fragments.
Later, over drinks, Hills mentioned to
me his memory of going to a nightclub
with CB in the early 80's (thanks to the
Warhol set connections of Charles Bernstein's
mother-known as "the Countess
Bernstein") and feeling they "kind of
stood out there." One wonders
if Emma as yet sustains her 12 year old stated
dream that "an agent might see me
in the film and call me up." Emma also
mentions a serendipitous,
but ultimately frustrating moment when
the filmaker and interviewer happened to
capture Parker Posey in a sponaneous
interview, now lost to us due to a worn-out
camera battery.

Henry Hills' *Emma's Dilemma* is a
cinematic, psychological and
tour de force. We should
be grateful to him for so boldly
and entertainingly keeping
alive fast fading, 19th and
20th century utopian visions of
complete artistic freedom.
A Henry Hills retrospective
tomorrow night, Sunday June 12
at 7:00 pm
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue at 2cd Street
At Philosophy Box
1511 Lexington Avenue
(Between 97th & 98th Streets)
Yu-Whuan, Director)

Abigail Child, New York
Premier of *Cake and Steak* (2004)

also showing: *Kitas Window Image*
by Jackie Matisse

and Miguel Trelles, New Work

from June 8-June 26,2005
Weds-Sun, 2-8 pm

opening reception:
Saturday, June 11th, 6-8 pm
and book party for Abigail Child's
*A Critical Poetics of Film* (2205)
University of Alabama Press
Nada Gordon on Emma's Dilemma

Ululations {click here}

Over the Bridge: Toni and Nada's Musings
Coming Home from Emma's Dilemma

ululations {click here}