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The filmmakers of Harvards Sensory Ethnography Lab often cite as inspiration James Agees description of documentary work as the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is. Of course theres nothing simple about it: at their best, the SEL films (Sweetgrass, Foreign Parts, Peoples Park, Leviathan, Manakamana) remind us that reality, when fully perceived, is always too muchtoo much to see, too much to hear, too much to bear.
Watching Jerome Hiler’s recent works In the Stone House and New Shores, I am struck by the fact that films so intimately attuned to the here and now of emulsion passing before the projector’s bulb should also, essentially, be of the past.
Strange as it sounds, I sometimes think that Nathaniel Dorsky’s films are never clearer than when they slide out of focus. Dorsky often remarks that his films work best when the viewer isn’t trying to understand them, but these shots make sure of that.
D.A. Miller begins his 2008 Film Quarterly essay on Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo (1958) by confessing that his initial experience of the film was not a happy one.