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Andrew Noren

[Copyright Estate of Andrew Noren, Charmed Particles 1978, courtesy Rise’ Hall-Noren.]
I have just been alerted (thanks to Jason Brooks) to an obituary for Andrew Noren, whose extraordinary diary film, Kodak Ghost Poems, I recall seeing at Oxford in around May 1969*. I may have misremembered the date, but I can still see some of the images now.

Kodak Ghost Poems was later retitled Huge Pupils following a letter to Noren from Eastman Kodak with a courteous request to remove the reference to Kodak. [Noren’s partner, Rise’ Hall-Noren tells me: “Eastman Kodak was impressive in the restraint and courtesy they exercised in their request to remove their trademark name.  This would have left an impression on any young artist who at the time had very little money.”] Why? Surely they would be honoured to be mentioned? Surely all marketing is good marketing? Well, the reason is this: although the film’s colour was vivid, a tribute to the quality of the Kodachrome emulsion, the subject matter was a taboo-breaking depiction of the body and of sex in an era of such taboo-breaking films. I was 21 years old at the time and it made my eyes pop. They came onto the optic nerve, OK. It also contained portraits of many film-makers and artists working in New York at the time, so this more conventional aspect of the diary film (not in itself a conventional genre) came into play.

Nearly 50 years on, I suspect I might find some of the film boring, explicit depiction of the physical functions of the body having become less than mesmerising for me, but what was fascinating about the obituary for Noren is the idea that in his later work, “the eroticism of his earlier work was sublimated into the sensuous play of light and shadow” (J Hoberman) with films like The Phantom Enthusiast (1975), Charmed Particles (1978), The Lighted Field (1987), Imaginary Light (1994), Time Being (2001), Free To Go (2003) and Aberration of Starlight (2008). I hope we get some sort of a chance to see these.

I have a dim but marvellous memory too of having seen The Wind Variations (1968) at the International Festival of Avant-garde Film that ran in London in 1973. It was shown along with Part 1 and excerpts from Part 2 of Kodak Ghost Poems, the title of which had not yet changed. It was the 18 minutes of Wind Variations that I remember rather than that showing of KGP. The 1973 festival I think of as belonging to Ken Jacobs (see http://www.timcawkwell.co.uk/ken-jacobs) but there were other gems as well.

For J Hoberman’s resurrecting obituary, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/27/movies/homevideo/andrew-noren-avant-garde-filmmaker-fades-to-black.html

There is an extremely interesting Noren website: www.andrewnoren.com

*In the package of American underground/avant-garde films brought to the UK by Larry Kardish.