Shipwreck Theory is a four part (still unfinished, forever work-in-progress) video series that runs from
The Reading, The Writing, The Knowing, The Meaning.
Part one: Clay Shards Bind Clay, Blin, Art by Riven
Part two: The Science of Singularity, What Talking Means, O, Fortuna, Epistolary
Part three: Ida Lupino, Tohu Wabohu, Room, Thick Bone Like Katanga, Western
Part four: Kletis, Vocables.
Here is a teaser for the series that Mike devised.
Shipwreck Theory I (The Reading) (video series) work-in-progress
Clay Shards Bind Clay (video, 2004) 8 min
Formerly part of a long series, this piece is presently being reworked. But here is the remnant, the version that nobody liked. It reads a famous modernist text in a fragmentary manner, producing (one is given to hope despite abundant resistence) something surprising and engaging. New version will be part of a series of “readings,” with somewhat different (though undoubtably equally unwatchable and obscurantist) imagery.
PS: Before you flag this, imagine that you’re watching it in the Louvre. (Ok, I know, some of you would flag the Louvre.) Well, it is what it is. So do your worst.
PPS: The title is an anagram. Clever, no?
Blin (video, 2005) 33 min
With texts clipped from Joyce’s Dubliners (hence ‘Blin’), collaged with reworked moments of daily life, a pregnant conversation, a partner swollen with new life, a newly familial landscape.
Art by Riven (video, 2007) 9 min
Shipwreck Theory II (The Writing) (video series) work-in-progress
The Science of Singularity (video, 2004) 8 min
A grizzled philosopher waxes impenetrable on death, existence and suchlike. “A zany romp!” (LA Times)
What Talking Means (video, 2006) 7 min
Amazingly, this film actually got screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Here’s the catalogue description, which I didn’t write: “How awfully close she is, so close I can see the breaths she takes, the way she holds that cigarette, the way her look drifts out over the lens without saying IT, the thing she’s holding back, the way her words never quite manage to arrive, to enter you like a knife, and yet she takes you apart all the same.”
Hmmm… perhaps. And yet…? Music: The River 1 by William Basinski
O, Fortuna (video, 2007) 14 min
A tale of Mike’s friendship with Mickus, sung up at the camp, the island getaway, the last mother, the picture divided as they were not, the lines of flight scrolling until Montaigne dies and then returns in order to birth the project of self-portraiture. The filmmaker practices death. “Even in your dying, and despite my state of wreckage, I was accruing benefits, coming closer than I had ever been to death, your death, watching you sink from the safety of the shore, and soaking up the knowledge to be had, the macabre poetry of it.”
Epistolary (video) 20 min
Shipwreck Theory III (The Knowing) (video series) work-in-progress
Ida Lupino (video) fragments
Tohu Wabohu (video) fragments
Room (video, 2007) 5 min
An insignificant piece, formerly part of a long series, flagrantly cast upon the blank and merciless seas, now washing ashore here. An embarrassing remnant of the excess of past loneliness, inexplicable then and now, inexplicably, defunct. Music “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno
Thick Bone Like Katanga (video) fragments
Western (video) fragments
The bits from the opening of “Have Gun, Will Travel.”
Shipwreck Theory IV (The Meaning) (video series) work-in-progress
Kletis (video) fragments
to be called
something like the neutral in that it dismantles all paradigms
Vocables (video) fragments
“…writing, from one work to another, would be only the effort of the vocables to exhaust what which is said – the instant – in order to take refuge in the unsayable, which is not that which cannot be said, but rather, on the contrary, that which has been so intimately, so totally said that it no longer says anything apart from this intimacy, this unsayable totality.” (Writing of the Disaster, Blanchot)
The video will contain: the complete list of what you need to say when you are in exile; precise advice about the making of simple objects; a retrospective view of things that have been said; a systematic manual of poetic exercises; a memento of table manners and polite usage; a rehabilitation of hidden memory; a description of different everyday lives; an analysis of potential recurrence; observation techniques applying to people you know; a concentrate of individual sensations and their explanation; a method of one-voice dialogue; a plan to visit nature.
Video work 1987-2002
Non-Compatibles (video, 2002) 57 min
This is a part of what was once a two-hour film having to do with, among other things, the relation(s) between film and poetry, the question of artistic influence, the nature of art and its sources. It foundered as it was, though there are useful bits amongst the wreckage (so says Crusoe). Slowly but surely the remnant’s becoming something else, although this transformation has been/continues to be a painful (and slow, very slow) process. It may have taken its toll on friendship, and the like.
Music “Orphee (Orpheus) Theme from the Original Film Soundtrack” by Various Artists. A surviving fragment from a foundered film (if you can stand that much alliteration, and who can?)
Ithaka (video, 2001) 17 min
A Greek thing (“it’s Greek to me” as they say) about wayward voyages and returnings. A M Allcott provides the fragmentary tale throughout, a neo-Greek family romance/tragedy transplanted to Utah. With the famous poem by C P Cavafy. (You know the one! Too big to upload in one piece, so look for Part 2, on the off chance you’re interested.
(Now that I see it up here, it appears that all the movement of the water around the rectangular “island” in the middle of the frame, has caused the images within the rectangle to become heavily pixilated, and sometimes unintelligible. It doesn’t resemble the original much at all. One hopes you’d get the gist, nevertheless. One has, however, learned not to be too hopeful.)
Ithaca (video, 2000) 11 min
Someone returns, supposedly: but who? A hero? A lover? A father? Some adventurer, or just an errant soul? A mere nobody? A plotter? A thief? And returns to what? What can this “Ithaca” be, if indeed it can be something more than mere nostalgia, the wounds of returning?
A piece about loss, and finding, and founding. Setting keel to breakers, forth on the winedark sea. In the sinking whalebrow.
I Built a Cottage For Susan and Myself (video, 1993) 11 min
A sketch, a glimmer, a first foray into work that treaches completion in 2002. The poet Susan Howe at her desk, reading, writing, in brief conversation. Shot in Buffalo, NY with a camera that wouldn’t relinquish its digital solarization setting. Containing a reading by the poet of the final “scattered” pages of “Thorow” from her volume Singularities.
Diary of Kitty Lo (video, 1987) 25 min (with Jill Glessing)
Narratives of Egypt (film series, 1984-87)
In 1984, Cartmell began Narratives of Egypt, a four-part series that deals with the father in Prologue: Infinite Obscure, the son in In the form of the letter “X”, the lover in Cartouche, and the mother in Farrago. Using a speculative etymology, Cartmell “adopts” the American writer Herman Melville as his father, using selected passages to ruminate on death, language and paternity. The final section, Farrago, remains incomplete.
“Cartmell implacably explores and deconstructs from within, via a profoundly Bazinian cinema that is all mummification effects, the great male signifiers of Sex, Death, Cinema, and God. Cartmell’s films are filled with floating, talking heads that scream their negativity, bloodlust, rapine and savagery, all in the name of a dead god: “I shudder at the rigor of the ancient Egyptians,” says a voice in Cartouche against images of the great pyramids, “it was here that the idea of Jehovah was born.” Profound explorations of the “hideous allegory” (Melville) of naming Cartmell’s films, if much about the death of God the father, are also, in the loving images of Cartmell’s son Sam, about the growth of the son/sun, and so too cinema, but within the recognition that film images are only meaningful as signs of death (past or future).” (Michael Dorland, Cinema Canada No. 132, July/August 1986)
Prologue: Infinite Obscure (16mm, 1984) 18:40 min
The film began with the idea of doing a “remake” of “Moby Dick” using the parts of the text that John Huston omitted from his version. A number of other issues began to take precedence however: the politics of the translation process; the relation of filmic to hieroglyphic writing; the possible intersections of (auto) biography and fiction; the articulation of (filmic) writing and (homo) sexuality.
In the Form of the Letter X (16mm, 1985) 5 min
This film is predicated upon the quasi-fictional discovery that Melville’s name and my name mean the same thing: both came from an old French verb “meler” meaning “to come together, to meet, to intersect” and both are names of towns at crossroads. By exhaustive translation, I reduce them both to “X,” the Greek letter chi (as in chimera), and the rhetorical trope “chiasmus.” The structure of the film is chiasmic (that is, it contains two parallel sections, but the second is reformed/deformed in reverse) and functions as a signature. The text is from Melville’s “Pierre” and is written chiasmatically in the second section. The film is concerned with names in general, with the question of naming and identity, and with problems attendant to naming (eg. paternity).
Cartouche (16mm, 1985) 8 min
A nameplate on a funery monument; a container for explosive powder (cartridge); an inscription of the filmmaker’s name; a touch. “Cartouche” is an attempted elegy, a mnemotechic for a friend who died. Still obsessed with naming and attendant concerns.
Farrago (16mm, 1987) fragments
A medley, a conglomeration. L. mixed fodder for cattle. stem: farr, a grain.
Reservoir (16mm, 1983) 6 min
Read Memory Entire (S8mm, 1982) 11 min
Check Theory Girls Enticed (S8mm, 1982) 6 min
Woman Water Huron Goodbye (S8mm, 1981) 11 min
Katus Interruptus (16mm, 1980) 4 min
The Star That Ought To Guide You
Part of the original set for Shipwreck Theory.
I’m Sick of Love
This is another short that was part of an early draft of Shipwreck Theory. A riff on Hal Hartley’s Flirt.
Scalping and Composition
“The talent of composition is very dangerous.” Arising from a video void, the camera hovers over a clutch of Thoreau texts that point to the dangers of composing. We are invited to read over the artist’s shoulder. These fragments were made in preparation for Non-Compatibles, his hour-long trek alongside American poet Susan Howe.
Farrago 22 minutes 2015 (by Mike Hoolboom)
In 1984, Mike Cartmell began Narratives of Egypt, a four-part series that deals with the father in Prologue: Infinite Obscure, the son in In the form of the letter “X”, the lover in Cartouche, and wraps it all up in Farrago, a word meaning: a medley, a heap of fragments. Using a speculative etymology, Cartmell “adopts” the American writer Herman Melville as his father, using selected passages to ruminate on death, language and paternity.
Farrago remained incomplete when Mike died, this is my version of the closing chapter, which continues Mike’s project of remaking Moby-Dick, and presiding over the unholy marriage of Egypt and Melville. What brings them together is the act of naming. What else might obsess an orphan like Mike but the name, which Derrida insisted was at the root of language itself. After centuries of mystery, the cartouche (a circle drawn around a set of hieroglyphs that depicted the name of the emperor) was used to decode the language of the pyramids, it turns out that naming was the key to it all.
This farrago deploys footage from the previous three movies in the series made by Mike. There are titles (all originally written by Melville) from Prologue, Sam (Mike’s son) runs towards the camera from In the form of the letter “X” and a woman’s face reprises a moment in Cartouche. The sound and light show from the Giza Pyramids, unchanged for decades, was looped by Mike in Cartouche (“You have come tonight to the most fabulous and celebrated place in the world.”) and is played out in much greater length here. There are brief audio voice-over fragments from Prologue (“in this critical ocean”), as well as excerpts from an interview with Mike in August 2004.
Alongside these Mike fragments there are images of sailors and whales, the conversion of the natural world into a scientific imperative (echoing Ahab’s quest, perhaps), and a conflation of Egypt with a motion picture world, a crypt of pictures that draws an audience. It was made in the summer of 2015, a year after Mike’s death, more or less, as a memorial, a parting conversation, another way to hold him here for a moment more.