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Autumn Fire

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

How presumptuous, that Hollywood! And what gullibility, when we uncritically endorse or proselyte Hollywood’s version of the story. If sound came in and 1927, and everyone but Chaplin was using it from 1929, then what do we with Herman Weinberg? Maya Deren? Stan Brakhage? (And what of Japan, or the Soviet Union?) The industrial/commercial part of the story is okay, until it becomes the only story. Then it’s a lie, or a crime even. The fact that there was no place for and that hardly any one ever saw this exquisite thing, or all the exquisite things like it, pretty well proves the inadequacy of market worship, even, partly/potentially, the iniquity of the market. Only the philistines could claim that if Autumn Fire were worthy then it would have found a place. We might add that a film this delicate, this dramatically other would have been pearls-before-swine besmirched if it had found a place in that setting, with all its inapt motives and methodologies. And in case you are coming up with the answer I think you’re coming up with, Steinway pianos ($$!) are no answer either. It’s a scandal!

The film itself? It’s a lovely, melancholic fantasia on the themes of absence and longing. It quite resembles that sundered-lovers portion of Jean Vigo’s celebrated masterpiece L’Atalante, and it compares quite favourably therewith. Autumn Fire makes me think about Maurice Tourneur (Rex Ingram, Clifford Brown, Michael Powell) and the pictorialist tradition in film. We usually think of pictorialism as operating in representative settings. But as Weinberg’s terrific picture sense (composition, duration, juxtaposition, with all those things adding up to a story that’s both conceptually and emotionally clear) demonstrates, there’s plenty room for modernist pictorialism as well. Indirectness, fragmentation, more than a nod to the apparatus. The things that we admire in those late 19th and 20th century painters—we’d better add Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs too (et al.!)—also operate quite wonderfully in the medium of film.

Finally, Autumn Fire strongly reinforces the great Colin Low’s assertion that twenty minutes is about the perfect length for a film. Shorts!