A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 23, 2012 by  

“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is a wonderful collection of the best of Hollis Frampton (not a release of his complete work), but it’s a long awaited release that Frampton fans have wanted to see for a very long time.  For Frampton’s films, it’s about illusionist complexity as a whole and Frampton even said, “the trained eye and the trained mind will respond in the way that he indicates”.  Some may find these films redundant, didactic or effete, but others may find it complex, surreal and cerebral.  As a fan of avante-garde films, I was fascinated by its complexity and audaciousness.   These films are about how you interpret it on your own, through your own personal experience.  “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © The Estate of Hollis Frampton. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607

MOVIE RELEASE: 1966-1979

DURATION: 24 Films (266 Minutes)

DVD INFORMATION: Color & B&W, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: April 24, 2012

Directed by Hollis Frampton

An icon of the American avant-garde, Hollis Frampton made rigorous, audacious, brainy, and downright thrilling films, leaving behind a body of work that remains unparalleled. In the 1960s, having already been a poet and a photographer, Frampton became fascinated with the possibilities of 16 mm filmmaking. In such radically playful and visually and sonically arresting works as Surface Tension, Zorns Lemma, (nostalgia), Critical Mass, and the enormous, unfinished Magellan cycle (cut short by his death at age forty-eight), Frampton repurposes cinema itself, making it into something by turns literary, mathematical, sculptural, and simply beautiful—and always captivating. This collection of works by the essential artist—the first release of its kind—includes twenty-four films, dating from 1966 to 1979.

Many Criterion Collection fans have wondered when the company would release more anthology collections featuring avante-garde filmmakers.

We have seen the release of films by Stan Brakhage via two anthology volumes on Blu-ray but yet, fans have hoped to see an anthology or special release showcasing the work of Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Ernie Gehr, Andy Warhol, Marie Menken, Pat O’Neill and Hollis Frampton, to name a few.

With the support from those who enjoyed the “Stan Brakhage Anthology” release, Criterion Collection has chosen some of the best work of avante-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton,  in order to help introduce Frampton’s oeuvre to curious cineaste but also please a following who have wanted to see a more thorough collection of his hard-to-find films.

Hollis Frampton is one of the most unique and talented filmmakers, especially when you follow his career as a student at Harvard University and Western Reserve University who was looked at by his peers as a genius but at the same time, he was also the type that walked the beat of his own drum and while taking a lot of classes that he wanted to take, he never graduated.

But it’s the third of learning of art that inspired Frampton.  From his friendship with painters Frank Stella, sculptor Carl Andre to developing a correspondence with modernist poet Ezra Pound, Frampton would take an interest in photography documenting Carl Andre’s work.

And with his pursuit of creativity, Frampton would explore his ideas through filmmaking and showcasing his experimental use of film, audio and also digital art through the use of computers during that time of his life.

While creating a plethora of films, some to have been shown in museums and galleries, the film that he is best known for is his 1970 experimental film “Zorns Lemma” but like a painting, many have had their own take and perspective of Frampton’s work.  He would later follow up with the Hapax Legomena films and many more that would follow, including what would have hoped to be his magnum opus, the Magellan films.

But unfortunately, Hollis Frampton’s life was cut short at the age of 48 due to lung cancer and for many avante-garde and fans of Frampton’s work, his ultimate project “Magellan” would never be completed.  Yet, Frampton still leaves behind a body of work that is celebrated to this day.

“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” features the following 24 films which were selected by film preservationist Bill Brand and Frampton scholars Bruce Jenkins and Michael Zryd, in consultation with Frampton’s former partner, Marion Faller:


Hollis Frampton’s most successful film “Zorns Lemma” (1970) is included.
Manual of Arms (1966 • 17 minutes, 10 seconds • Black & White • Silent)
Process Red (1966 • 3 minutes, 37 seconds • Color • Silent)
Maxwell’s Demon (1968 • 3 minutes, 44 seconds • Color • Mono)
Surface Tension (1968 • 9 minutes, 30 seconds • Color • Mono)
Carrots & Peas (1969 • 5 minutes, 21 seconds • Color • Mono)
Lemon (1969 • 7 minutes, 17 seconds • Color • Silent)

Zorns Lemma (1970 • 59 minutes, 51 seconds • Color • Mono)


Within Frampton’s oeuvre, “Hapax Legomena” is the only multi-part set of films that was completed.
(nostalgia) (1971 • 36 minutes, 7 seconds • Black & White • Mono)
Poetic Justice (1972 • 31 minutes, 28 seconds • Black & White • Silent)
Critical Mass (1971 • 25 minutes, 11 seconds • Black & White • Mono)


Hollis Frampton began working on his “Magellan” movie back in 1972 and would continue to work on it until his death in 1984.

The goal for Frampton was to create a film that was 36-hours long and it would be shown for 369 days (369 because the first two days of the cycle overlaps the last two days of the preceding calendar year and the last two days of the cycle overlaps the first two days of the following calendar year, source: Brian Henderson – “Propositions for the Exploration of Frampton’s Magellan”, note: You will also see the figure of 371 days used.).  At the time of his death, Frampton had completed around 7-8 hours.

The schedule was planned around Ferdinand Magellan’s annotated calendar and the film would feature 1,000 films, divided into 24 sections, some films would allow for a few minutes of screenings while longer works would be featured during equinoxes, solstices and other specialized dates.

The Birth of Magellan
The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I (1977–1980 • 5 minutes, 41 seconds • Color • Mono)
Straits of Magellan
Pans 0–4 and 697–700 (1969–74 • 1-minute each • Color • Silent)
INGENIVM NOBIS IPSA PVELLA FECIT, Part I (1975 • 4 minutes, 48 seconds • Color • Silent)
Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part I: The Red Gate 1, 0 (1976 • 5 minutes, 10 seconds • Color • Silent)
Winter Solstice (1974 • 32 minutes, 36 seconds • Color • Silent)
The Death of Magellan
Gloria! (1979 • 9 minutes, 36 seconds • Color • Mono)


“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607” is presented in Black and White and color.  And because a lot of these films were low-budget and experimental, quality varies for many of the films featured in this collection.

According to the Criterion Collection, the films are presented in their original aspect ration of 1:33:1.  These new high-definition digital transfers were created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from original 16 mm A/B/C/D rolls, internegatives and prints.

“Critical Mass”, “Gloria!”, “Lemon”, “(nostalgia)”, “Poetic Justice” and “Zorns Lemma” preservation film elements courtesy of Anthology Film Archives, New York.

“INGENIVM NOBIS IPSA PVELLA FECIT, Part I; Less; Process Red; The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I” and” Winter Solstice” film elements courtesy of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, New York.


“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607” showcases films that are silent or have audio.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtracks were remastered at 24-bit from original optical and magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.


“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Hollis Frampton Interview – (20:08) 1978 interview by Adele Fried for the Video Data Bank at the School of Art Institute of Chicago.
  • A Lecture – (23:04) A lecture given by Hollis Frampton on October 30, 1968 at a college in NYC.
  • By Any Other Name – Featuring a gallery of artwork by Hollis Frampton.

Please note that the following narration or commentary is also included for the following films:

  • Remarks by Frampton (Maxwell’s Demon) – (2:48)
  • Remarks by Frampton (Surface Tension) – (:54)
  • Commentary – 1977 Interview for TV series “Screening Room with Robert Gardner” (Lemon) – (7:17)
  • Remarks by Frampton (Zorns Lema) – (5:58)
  • Remarks by Frampton (Films for Hapax Legomis) – (2:32)
  • Remarks by Frampton (nostalgia) – (2:56)
  • Remarks by Frampton (Poetic Justice) – (2:47)
  • Remarks by Frampton (Critical Mass) – (4:12)
  • Remarks by Frampton  (Films for Magellan) – (2:17)


“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey – The Criterion Collection #607” comes with a 46-page booklet with the following essays: “Nostalgia for an Age Yet to Come” by Ed Halter (critic and curator), “Early Films” by Bruce Jenkins (writer and media historian), “Zorns Lemma” by Bruce Jenkins (writer and media historian), “Hapax Legomena” by Ken Eisenstein (writing his dissertation on Hollis Frampton in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago), “Magellan” by Michael Zryd (teaches cinema and media studies in the Department of Film at York University in Toronto) and “Notes on Preserving and Presenting the Films of Hollis Frampton” by Bil Brand (owner-operator of BB Optics, which specializes in the preservation of films by artists).

“A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is a fascinating collection of works from the avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton.  Intellectual, witty and creative, there was no doubt that there was no limit to the creativity of Frampton’s work and perhaps the work on “The Magellan Films” would have been his magnum opus if he did not die from cancer.

But I do know that for years, there have been a group of Criterion Collection fans who absolutely adored the release of the “By Brakhage Anthology” and many have been clamoring for a release of may it be Maya Deren, Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger and Hollis Frampton, to name a few.

And fortunately, the Criterion Collection will be bringing out 24 of his films on Blu-ray and DVD titled “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey”.

First, it’s important to note that “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” and its films are not as easily reviewable for the public because it’s subjective.  What I find fascinating, it would be a disservice to say that these films are easily accessible especially those who are expecting films that they hope they can understand.

In fact, the beauty of Frampton’s work is that even if you look online, everyone including those who research Frampton’s work have their own perspective of what they think the film is about.  The good news is that there are “remarks by Hollis Frampton” giving insight to why he made the film.  But Frampton is not the type to tell people what the film is about, he can tell why and for what purpose but not how one should react to it.

Starting off with the “Early Films”, “Manual of Arms” is a black and white, gritty silent film as we see images of Frampton’s friends with various sources of lighting.  Then we see one smoking, one cutting his nails, one sitting down and fascinating editing of back-and-forth images, short images unlike Andy Warhol’s “Screen test” which fixates the camera on an individual for minutes and letting the individual play with the camera with a variety of emotions.  With “Manual of Arms”, it’s frenetic, gritty and this style of editing would be a signature style for Frampton for his films.

“Process Red” is a short three minute film which one can picture being shown via a loop at a museum or gallery.  Another silent film which goes from white images to red, but this time, instead of the back-and-forth imagery, it’s a loop of moving images, sped up and then repeated.

For “Maxwell’s Demon”, the film is another three minute short which has audio but it features buzzing to go along with the colors and a man exercising.  According to Frampton, this film was to pay homage to James Clerk Maxwell, the Scottish physicist and mathematician.  While known for his work on electromagnetism, Maxwell was also involved in teh field of optics and the study of color vision.  In fact, the first color photograph was taken by Maxwell and for Frampton, as a photographer and filmmaker, his goal was to create a short film based on the imaginary and pure energy of James Clerk Maxwell.

In the film “Surface Tension”, it’s a three part film that deals with the passage of time (a sped up film of a man playing with a clock while a telephone is ringing), the passage through space (featuring a sped up tour of the city but audio featuring a man speaking in a foreign language) and the third part, a disregard of time and space featuring a goldfish caught in an aquarium as the beach tides roll in, and titling is seen on the clip.

For the short “Carrots & Peas”, we see visual images of carrots and peas in this five minute short, while a voice is played backwards.  Where in “Lemon”, we see an image of a lemon as light goes around it and then focuses on the background, turning the lemon to a silhouette.  Interesting commentary included as Robert Gardner and Hollis Frampton discuss the lemon, while Gardner goes into discussion if the film is mean to be a symbol of eroticism.  Is the lemon a breast and the end, a nipple?  Once again, the beauty of Hollis Frampton films is one’s ability to have their own perspective and opinion.

Hollis Frampton’s most recognized work “Zorns Lema” is a 1 hour film in which Frampton came up with the idea of what he was unable to capture on actual photo stills while showing people, he can go in different order and loop through film.  So, what we have is moving images combined with video stills of titles, brands, etc.  I will say that when I first watched this film long ago, my perspective was a counterculture film about America being eaten away by corporations.  Money that is often spent towards corporation branding or material things.  So, that was my perspective when I first watched this film back then.  But it turns out that the film was an “open allusion” to alphabetization and the encyclopedic tradition.

This leads us to “Hapax Legomena”, where there are seven films, only three are presented.  According to Frampton, each film is interrelated but are detachable parts and my favorite shorts included on the Blu-ray and possibly the most accessible.

For “nostalgia” (the first film of “Hapax Legomena), this film is a story about Hollis Framptons photos.  Narrated by artist Michael Snow, each photo has a story behind it, and while Snow is telling the story, we see the photos being burned.

The second film of “Hapax Legomena” is “Poetic Justice”, a half hour film about a filmed script.  What we see on the table is a cactus, a cup of coffee and a script/screenplay and the pages changes.

The third film of “Hapax Legomena” featured is “Critical Mass” , this is a witty film made during the time that Hollis Frampton was teaching at the State University of New York, Buffalo.  He brought in two individuals who are great at improvisation and can be volatile in a story about a couple who live together, but the young man disappears for two days and returns.  What we get is a 25-minute argument but edited in a way that that each word is repeated and audio that plays in black and then we see video in which the video, similar to the audio is cut and replayed throughout the argument.

And the final films are “The Films of Magellan”, possibly the most complex work of Hollis Frampton that was not completed.  Broken down to “The Birth of Magellan”, “Straits of Magellan” and “Death of Magellan”, this was part of the work that was done by Frampton, worked on since 1972 up to 1984, the year he died.

Footage that ranges from a flickering cloud, a watch swinging back and forth to images of a naked woman walking, stretching, fiery embers leaving and returning and many more visual images.  These were films designed to be shown via a cycle of films for 369 days (or 371 days) with differing lengths, each day.  While the film ends with “Gloria!”, it was not supposed to be the final film but it was the latest film of the Magellan cycle to be completed.

But the film is not easy to be explained,  but for Frampton, the films were a study of the way humans perceive experiences, the relation of the mind and the “metahistory of film”.

And with that being said, this leads me to the question that I have been asked, “is ‘A Hollis Frampton Odyssey'” worth buying?  And it’s important to note that as a cineaste, I am intrigued and fascinated by avante garde works of filmmakers in various parts of the world.  I’m intrigued by the most abstract, complex, comprehensible and incomprehensible work, even if these films range from the 1890’s to the present, I watch these films to observe of what was the intention of the filmmaker.  Granted, earlier works were done for the sake of experimenting with new technology but with Hollis Frampton, this is an intellectual that saw life much differently than the average person.

He made his films not following any traditional path but creating films of his own accord, but with purpose.

I often hear a joke about artistic, avante-garde films that if one would throw a splatter paint on the wall, avante-garde cinema fans will have an interpretation of it.  And that is how I enjoy Frampton’s films, like a painting that I can sit and observe for many minutes at an art museum, “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is a release where one can sit and observe and come up with their own opinion.

And if Hollis Frampton was alive today and was able to continue his work, using today’s technology, I often wonder what kind of work he would create.  Similar to Chris Marker, Frampton would later incorporate digital artwork in his films, but with today’s Internet age, I wonder if he would be satisfied with the human experience through his film “Magellan” if completed.

I think of these things and once again, I’m rather fascinated by avante-garde films, may it be comprehensible, accessible, boring or fascinating, and yes…even incomprehensible and complex.  And by saying that, I know these type of films are not for everyone.

For Frampton’s films, it’s about illusionist complexity as a whole and Frampton even said, “the trained eye and the trained mind will respond in the way that he indicates”.  Some may find these films redundant, didactic or effete, but others may find it complex, surreal and cerebral.  As a fan of avante-garde films, I was fascinated by its complexity and audaciousness.  These films are about how you interpret it on your own, through your own personal experience.

Overall, “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is a wonderful collection of the best of Hollis Frampton (not a release of his complete work), but it’s a long awaited release that Frampton fans have wanted to see for a very long time.  Not only do you get 24 films but you also get a good number of include remarks by Frampton and fascinating special features as well.  On Blu-ray, as expected, various footage ranges in quality and for now, this Blu-ray release is the definitive version of Frampton’s work in one collection.

For avante-garde and Hollis Frampton fans, “A Hollis Frampton Odyssey” is highly recommended!


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