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Color Correction introduction and post-screening discussion with Haden Guest, Margaret Honda and Henriette Huldisch. Friday September 27, 2019.
Haden Guest 0:00
I want to thank you all for coming tonight. I have the great pleasure to welcome artist Margaret Honda for a very special screening of three works that all date from 2015: the 35 millimeter film Color Correction, preceded by two versions of her 16 millimeter film, Wildlowers.
Honda only recently turned to cinema and has, for much of her career, been best known for her celebrated work as a visual artist and a sculptor, who has exhibited at major galleries and museums around the world. Honda’s work across her career has been guided by a close and intuitive attention to the specific material properties of the different media with which she works. She has often turned to everyday and industrial materials, such as drywall and metal framing in a recent piece entitled Sculptures, or the ladders and marbles in the 1994 interactive installation Recto Verso, or the barbed wire used to create rather ominous body armor pieces early in her career. Honda's path as an artist has been somewhat unusual in that she carefully avoided an MFA program and instead studied first, art history as an undergraduate and then, decorative arts in Winterthur’s celebrated interdisciplinary program in American Material Culture. This grounding in materials and material history clearly informs all of her work, but takes on a particular charge in the films, and especially seen in a theater like this—that we will see and experience tonight.
These films together not only conjure but embody the purest quintessence of the photochemical processes that for over 100 years, until the recent shift to the digital, were the bedrock of the cinematic industry and imagination. Processes that remained remarkably stable for over 100 years. Honda has sometimes referred to her films as readymades, pointing to the ways that they fully embrace. It also takes an insightful distance from the same industrial processes and practices for which they were intended. In Color Correction, Honda asks us to consider the spectacle and mystery of cinematic color, creating a work using the color timing strips, the punch-card-like ribbons that are used by commercial film labs to precisely control color through the careful modulation of light and chemicals upon the film negative. The title Color Correction refers to the very process that created it. Although here, in contrast, Honda's not using a negative but instead processing the same 35 millimeter film strip that we will see projected, giving us an even more direct contact with the alchemical artistry that is all too often overlooked by film viewers. Indeed, Honda's imageless films allow us to see and experience exactly that which the moving image and narrative typically distract us from and to meditate upon 35 millimeter as more than just a substrate, a support for the image, but instead a material unto itself imbued with the history and mystery unique to its material properties.
Preceding Color Correction, we're going to see two versions, as I said, of Wildflowers, which is also an imageless film, made using long-ago-expired Kodachrome stock—Kodachrome being a color stock now extinct, that was considered by many artists and cinephiles, myself included, to have made possible some of the most glorious colors rapturous. When film stock ages it, of course, takes on different properties and reacts differently, unexpectedly, to the chemicals designed to awaken the latent image. Wildflowers has a soundtrack spoken here by fellow artist and filmmaker Morgan Fisher. The first version we will see is in French, the second in English.
I'm really delighted that Margaret Honda is here tonight to discuss her films and her vision with us, and we're going to be joined for the conversation that's going to follow the screening by Henriette Huldisch, who's the Director of Exhibitions at the wonderful MIT List Visual Art Center. The screening was organized in conjunction with the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, and I want to thank the two artists who ran a two-day seminar—that's Matt Saunders and Jennifer Bornstein, to which this screening is attached. I want to thank all the seminar participants who are here as well tonight. I also want to extend a special welcome back to Morgan Fisher, whose films we proudly screened here at the Harvard Film Archive a few years back now. On a personal note, I should say when I first moved to Los Angeles and was finding my way as a graduate student and a film-goer, I encountered Margaret Honda. We were working together in a bookstore and I'll never forget her kindness and her generosity then. I feel like it’s a kindness and a generosity that shows in her films as well, and to the intimacy and care that she gives to the materials that she so deeply respects.
I'd like to ask everybody to please turn off any cell phones, any electronic devices you have. Please refrain from using them. We're going to screen the two 16 millimeter films back-to-back, followed by a very short pause and Color Correction, and then we'll have our conversation. So please don't go anywhere. And now, with no further ado, please join me in welcoming Margaret Honda.
Margaret Honda 5:59
Thank you all for coming this evening. And thank you so much, Haden, for inviting me to screen these films and Henrietta in advance of our conversation, it's a real pleasure to be here and just briefly, Haden gave such a wonderful introduction to both films, I just wanted to say about Color Correction that normally Color Correction is something that you're not intended to know about, and you're certainly not intended to see it. Color Correction is really about making the film that you see, dealing with color continuity throughout the film with density and exposure, making sure that nothing sort of stands out. So it's meant to be invisible. And I wanted to make a film where we could see something that's normally invisible. I also was able to make a film where I wasn't able and didn't really plan on saying what it was I wanted from the outset. So it's basically the process gave me this film; I had no idea what it was going to look like until I saw it. And, and that was a real pleasure. It was a very sort of freeing experience. And I wanted to also offer you the freedom of having your body back when you watch the film.
Wildflowers, there are two versions, as Haden said. The film premiered in France, and so there's a French version, and then there's also an English version. I shot California wildflowers because they were the most colorful things I could think of. And I shot it in 2014, which was a drought year, not a superbloom year. So I felt that I was shooting something that was about to become extinct on something that was already extinct. And my Kodachrome was actually a bit more extinct than I realized, because when I was shooting, I heard this crackling noise when I was [shooting with] the camera and I thought, “Oh no, there's something wrong with the camera.” The camera was fine, but the emulsion was crumbling off the base. But no problem, you will still be presented with Wildflowers this evening. So thank you again and enjoy.
Haden Guest 8:41
[INAUDIBLE] –what we're not about to see and just thinking about the importance in your work of absences and voids that become paradoxically something else, that become a kind of a presence, that transform into something else. I'm thinking about…. in sculptures we have the space of the studio sort of measured out without the work within them. But in Wildflowers, we have the flowers which are evoked then by this wonderful voiceover by Morgan Fisher. And I was wondering if you could speak then about the use of the voiceover to mark what we're not seeing and also, I wanted to ask you about Morgan Fisher's role in this work in the selection of his iconic voice for these films.
Margaret Honda 9:36
Well, I had taken pretty accurate notes when we were filming, and so I knew exactly you know how long each flower would be up on screen, and so it was easy actually to then sort of time the voiceover to go with the film. We did the French version first. And I needed somebody who could speak French. And I had to do this right around Christmas time because I was getting ready for this show in France. And Morgan speaks French, so.... [LAUGHS] That's how that happened. And then because he was the voice for the French version, we decided to keep him as the voice for the English version, as well. The French version, you probably noticed, didn't have the Linnaean names for the flowers. It sounded weird [INAUDIBLE] go into a French accent. So that's the only difference between the two. But interestingly, when this was shown in Marseille, some people thought that it was some sort of pedagogical film that’s shown to schools and things like that, so something about the voice, it sounded to them—I wouldn't say that it was contemporary—it sounded to them like maybe it came from a slightly different era.
Haden Guest 11:29
In terms of cadence also, and intonation.
Margaret Honda 11:32
Right, right. I think people said basically the accent would be slightly different now versus years ago.
Haden Guest 11:44
The thing about this idea of absence or the void, perhaps, your work, I was just thinking about each incantation of the flowers that we're not seeing but asked to imagine. In some ways we think about the color in Color Correction, that each color marks a shot that we're not seeing, in a sense. So I was wondering if you could talk about this idea that that absence is kind of liberating in a sense and gives something else.
Margaret Honda 12:21
When I shot Wildflowers, I was trying to make a sort of normal [film]. I thought I would get back a negative had, you know, images of flowers on them, but the lab contacted me and said, “You know, your film doesn't have anything, there's no discernible image on it, do you want it back?” And I said, “Well, of course I want it back.” But I think at that moment, I then understood what the film was going to be, because it's not really my process to go back and reshoot or to try to get something on film that conforms to some predetermined idea. I'm very much interested in what happens with the materials as they go through this highly industrialized process. This film came back with no images, but as I said, I had my shooting notes, and so I was able to work with that. So the voids actually were extremely liberating, because I think if there were images, I don't know that I would have had a voiceover; it would have just been images of flowers. And I don't know what kind of film that would have been. I don't know if that actually would have been a film for me. But not having images, actually, is what made it work for me.
And also, Wildflowers was shown in an exhibition that took place in Marseille, in which I rebuilt all of the fifteen studios I had worked in my career to scale, but none of them had any architectural elements or ceilings because the ceiling and the space was kind of low. They just had openings. And basically it recreated the volume of the studios with just the white paint that they normally use in the galleries. So there were these empty spaces that were also extremely generative for me, and hopefully also for people who are viewing it. And then also this film was screened in the exhibition and also hopefully offered sort of generative moments for people in the same way that these empty spaces had for me.
Henriette Huldisch 14:59
Did you show the film in a cinema situation in that show, or was it...?
Margaret Honda 15:04
Actually, in that case, Wildflowers was shown on a loop. The setup for that exhibition was there was a kind of ring, a rectangular ring, of the studios that formed this void, this rather large void in the center that was actually naturally very dark because of the height of the walls. So we turned that space into the screening room, there was a dark enough corner, and we set up the projector. And so when you walked into the exhibition space, you could hear this voice, but you didn't really know where it was coming from. And then you had to walk through three studios that actually naturally had two doors to them anyway. So you could walk into the interior screening room through those spaces.
But normally, I try to screen my films– I don't try, I do screen my films in theater settings and cinema settings because they're made for that. They're not really made to go on loops in exhibitions, especially a film like Color Correction. You know, I want to highlight how different the experience is watching a film like Color Correction versus whatever the film would have been that the tapes came from.
Henriette Huldisch 16:34
In talking about the cinema situation, one of the things that I love about your film work is that I can sort of come to it from two opposing sides. One is thinking about the relationship to the historical, cinematic avant garde, perhaps, but then, less intuitively, the relationship to commercial filmmaking and specifically narrative Hollywood cinema. And of course, you live in work in Los Angeles, where that is quite palpable in a way. And I was really struck in some of your writing, and then also a recent interview you did—that was, I think, part of your show in Berlin—when you talked about a real collaboration with the lab technicians, and this really rich ecosystem of, if you will, a back-of-house aspect of production of people who work in labs, who print the films, time the films. You could add negative cutters to that or something like that: people who have a really deep material knowledge of the filmic medium completely contingent on commercial filmmaking in a way but are also under pressure and kind of disappearing. And of course, we just watched something that is also this shadow of a feature film. So I'm just wondering if you could talk about your relationship to Hollywood film, to commercial filmmaking?
Margaret Honda 17:48
Well, I never planned on making films. It just kind of happened that I had an idea for a 70 millimeter film, which was the first film I made. And there's only one lab in the world now that you can work with for 70 millimeter. And I began working with this lab Fotokem in Burbank, and developed these relationships with people who were—I was very lucky—they're extremely interested in the work that I was doing, because it's unlike anything that they normally do. I mean, they do work with experimental filmmakers, but most of the time they work with commercial filmmakers. And I think that I'll be able to keep making films, as long as these people are at the lab. When I contact them, they'll always talk to me. They'll always help me figure out what it is that I'm trying to do and figure out a way for them to do it. I think the budgets for my films, while they're extremely high for me, are probably like a fraction of a second of a normal Hollywood film. And they're aware of that and they do their best to try to help me make my work. But that's like half of the story. The other half is getting it projected properly. And so working with somebody like John Quackenbush here at the Harvard Film Archive, other projectionists who I've worked with in Los Angeles, that's like the other side of things. Coming into this, I didn't really think about that. I just figured the hard part was making the film. But you know, you can have a film but then in order to get it projected properly, you have to have somebody who really knows what they're doing and who actually cares. So I'm very grateful to be working with people in various places all over the world who projected my films, and that's really the whole ecosystem that makes it all possible. And I think we wouldn't be looking at this work, it wouldn't exist in this way, unless these people, were still around.
Haden Guest 20:25
What’s such a revelation to me is thinking about this is, you know, the commercial film that we don't see, that we don't know, we don't want to know this. And the kind of noise and just clutter of commercial cinema and the ways in which this film is so tranquil, to me at least. It becomes a generous and meditative sort of space and experience which is, to me, the exact opposite of what so much commercial cinema is, and then thinking about what Henriette was saying about this relationship within this larger ecosystem between the avant garde, experimental cinema and commercial cinema—something what like David James has written about so insightfully—and the ways in which this film seems to me kind of like a metric film. We have the measurements of each shot, here, offered to us, and yet, it becomes something else. There’s a sort of musicality to it, there’s a shifting poem of light...
Margaret Honda 21:39
It’s one surprise after the other, like you don't really know what's going to come next, you don't know when it's going to come. One of the first times I showed the film, somebody told me that on some of the holds where there's one color on the screen for maybe longer than ten or fifteen seconds. somebody was waiting for the film to start burning because they thought that it had gotten stuck in the projector. because there was no dirt or anything and so they couldn't tell that the film was actually moving through the projector.
I don't know what the film was where the timing tapes came from. Oh, and this is getting back to Henrietta's question. The person who found the timing tapes for me for this film has since retired. He was going to be my source for additional films, because the idea was to make this work as an edition, with each part of the edition being made from a different set of timing tapes. But this person is no longer working, and so I have to find another source for that.
Henriette Huldisch 22:59
Have you made another one?
Margaret Honda 23:01
No, I'm still trying to get–. It's a little tricky. You know, you kind of have to do it quietly.
Henriette Huldisch 23:10
Right. Because I'm really curious if it was completely different, or...
Margaret Honda 23:15
You know, it doesn't matter to me. I doubt that this was an action film. It seemed like there wasn't enough cutting. I don't know what kind of film it was. But I would be open to using–. I mean, I wouldn't know if the tapes were from an action film. I asked that they'd be given to me without any information other than the fact that it would be a feature-length Hollywood film made during the same era of the print stock that we're using. So something relatively recent. And for this film, I really did not know what it was going to look. It could have been all white; I would have been happy with that. It could have been all gray, I would have been happy with that. Like it didn't matter, because there's a sort of construction to it. There are rules for making it and those rules would apply to the additional films that I would make for the edition. And even if it looks different, it would still be the same film.
Henriette Huldisch 24:19
Just to go back to the experience of watching it, and you were talking about kind of a meditative experience—which I agree with—but I also think it's actually a really intense physical experience, which is what you were alluding to in your introduction, and I think in different ways. One, there's like the intense visual perception and the moments where the blue kind of seems like this climactic moment or something and the certain unmooring of any sense of time where you are in the film, but then also it's I mean, like in a really direct physical kind of Cagean way where you’re sitting there thinking like “I'm breathing too loudly” or something like that. So maybe you can talk about that a little bit more.
Margaret Honda 24:55
I do think it is a really intense physical experience. I can't speak for anybody else in the room, but for me, it has actually gotten better. I think I've seen the film maybe about nine or ten times. And the first few times I was like ready to pass out at the end because I was actually doing a kind of like quality control check on the film. I was checking for dirt, for scratches. I was like–
Haden Guest 25:27
Kind of like performance anxiety.
Margaret Honda 25:29
Yeah, and, you know, worried that there would be like something on the film. Now, I have a distributor for the films and so they can worry about that. And so it makes it a little easier for me. But, I do know that the first few times—once I got over the sort of projection anxiety—I did notice if my stomach gurgled, or if I felt like I was gonna burp, it's really kind of nerve wracking, because it's so quiet in the cinema. And, you know, that becomes sort of the soundtrack for the film: whatever ambient noise or lack of noise is in the room.
Haden Guest 26:23
But as the print ages... I mean, I love the fact that you kept the cue marks and so you actually know, I was actually much more aware of the cues than– I oftentimes lose them. You know, every twenty minutes in a reel, there's the two dots, so you could keep track... I usually get lost after a couple of reels in a feature film, but here I was very aware of those and they became almost like events in the work, but also the flurry of dirt and how I imagine with each screening that dirt is going deeper, the particular matter is going deeper into the reel, no? Reel One, it’s further in. Reel Two, a little bit less. And both of the heads and the tails of each of the reels.
Margaret Honda 27:14
That is something that I'm still struggling with—signs of wear for the film—because there's a few scratches in this print as well that I noticed. And I mean, it's a particularly Hollywood problem, once unblemished youth gives way, [HADEN LAUGHS] what we all become in life, what do you do about that? The Hollywood thing is just to erase it all. And I probably could get this printed cleaned. And that would take care of a lot of dirt, but definitely not scratches. So when I was looking at the tests a couple of days ago, I realized I was gonna have to decide at what point I just pull the film from circulation and strike another print. And I think this one can be cleaned, and it'll be fine as long as there are no more scratches on it. I think the scratches are really the hardest part because those are so visible, and you can't really get rid of them. And also, you can't really splice into this film, because you couldn't really match the colors. And also the film doesn't have frame lines, because it wasn't made with a negative. So you just have these sort of bands of color one right after the other. And also, if one reel goes bad, basically the whole print has to be redone, because you can't really match a single reel to the ones before and after. So, it is a question that weighs heavily on my mind. and I think I just have to look at the prints and see at what point I just can't live with things.
Haden Guest 29:22
No, but just thinking about how in your work and just in general, this idea that you have this interest in the kind of material intention, so what a material is meant to be or wants to be, a tension that exists between them. I can't help thinking though, in terms of a photochemical print, you know, deterioration and wear is in fact part of its intentionality, if you will, right?
Margaret Honda 29:54
I mean, it will happen unless you have a print that you never run through a projector. And I do have those. I do have archival prints that never get run through projectors. But for the ones that are “use copies,” for lack of a better term, yeah, they're gonna get worn out. And I think they just have to be replaced. I mean, even films with images on them get to a point where all you're looking at is the wear and tear and you're not really looking at what's going on in the film itself.
Haden Guest 30:43
Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between– In terms of Color Correction, these moments, which are so magical in the film, where we see the color sort of awaken or recede as opposed to like cuts and things. I imagine you discovered a lot as you were making this film and working with these artist-technicians. I started to read a little bit about color correction; the literature is just vast.
Margaret Honda 31:14
It's a big subject. And there are people who are really, really good at it, and they've been doing it for a long time, and they can look at things and it's kind of amazing. I think the shots in this film, where it almost looked white meant that there wasn't a whole lot they had to do to that shot. It's the ones that are more colorful, where there was something going on with color or the density or something. And, I mean, any color timer can look at these tapes, and they have a series of like five holes in them, and depending on how the holes are placed, people can look at them and they could tell you like “This is twenty points of blue” or something. They can actually read what the holes are. I can't do that, but they definitely can. And obviously I didn't do any color correction on this film; I just printed it. But what it does is it shows you what somebody who you don't know, who hopefully is in the credits, but you don't necessarily know, but this person works extremely hard. This is a tool that works extremely hard in the film itself. And you know, it's a way of showing that. As I said earlier, it's something that is meant to be invisible as so much in Hollywood is, but this was an opportunity to make that thing visible.
Haden Guest 33:08
Just thinking about the title and you know, again I love the way it makes us reconsider this idea that there is a “correct color” and what we're seeing here though, is that these colors that we're not supposed to see that are yet part of this kind of enforced grammar, if you will, of what is correct or proper for colors and I can't help but think… I mean, some of these blues are really just exquisite. What was the response of the technicians with which you work? Have they seen the film?
Margaret Honda 33:47
They have and I think they were kind of baffled at first. At first, they didn't want to do it and then they did it and I think they were ultimately very pleased with it. I think they also are used to seeing their work as invisible, as okay, you know, this skin tone, this patch of grass, whatever, looks right. It looks the way it needs to look. So that's how they're used to seeing their work. They're not used to actually literally seeing what they do. And even though the person who printed this film is not likely to have been the person who worked on the original, I think he was still kind of unsure, like does this make sense?
Haden Guest 34:50
But I can't help but think that when a color timer, a colorist, looks at a film, they're looking differently. They're looking intensively at the colors in the same way that perhaps someone who makes the sound would hear the sound. In a sense, you're giving us one possible entry into their way of seeing, way of sort of measuring color within the shot.
Margaret Honda 35:20
Yeah. When I was working on this film, I got this printout of all the shots, and it had the shot number and then how many points of the red, blue or green light was in each shot. And I went over that with the timer I was working with, and it was really interesting, because he would say things like, “Oh, that's where there's like a really big jump here,” or “These all look kind of okay.” It's like he could look at the numbers and have a sense of whoever did this was doing okay, but this seems like a strange thing that the numbers really jumped. And there are certain areas that were like a very sort of deep turquoise on the screen. And I asked him about that. And he said he thought that this might have been done on shots that were done on possibly on an optical printer, so it was with a different stock, and that somehow made the changes much more dense. So there's all kinds of mysteries, but I think for the timer I was working with, he sort of understood the changes as being within kind of normal limits, and so it was okay. Somehow the film was okay.
Henriette Huldisch 36:51
I mean, would you say that you're also kind of exposing something that is, in fact, a completely constructed and subjective system? Of course, most narrative filmmaking aspires to something that we think looks kind of natural, which it's not at all; it's completely artificial, and in fact, looks nothing like what we really see when we look or we think we see, because we transpose back from film onto the world. So is there an element in which that also comes into play?
Margaret Honda 37:19
Oh, for sure. You know, also film color is very different from, as you said, the colors that are in the natural world. It is far more limited. Also, if you think of skin tone corrections, like, who determines that? And you know, whose skin tone are you basing that on? I mean, what this does is, for me at least, it shows one element of the highly constructed work that happens on a commercial film. And as I mentioned before, it's not really the way that I work—to keep trying to get a shot a certain way, to edit—I didn't want to make any of those decisions, like all of those decisions have been made for me in this film, including the length of the film, the number and length of the shots. I was simply showing one aspect, basically filtering out the picture and sound and showing what was done to the picture to actually make it look the way the director wanted it to look. And who knows what that was, I have no idea.
Henriette Huldisch 38:44
I think that brings up one thing that I think is really important in relationship to your work, which is the use of limitations or sort of working around limitations in all of these films that you've made over the last ten or so years, I think, but then also I was reading something about earlier sculptural work of yours—which I was really fascinated by—particularly works like Fish Trap or Sift from the late 80s, early 90s, where you, in Fish Trap, took a sculpture that was an animal trap or approximated an animal trap, that was sitting in your studio, from what I understand, was taking a lot of space, and you didn't have much opportunity to show it and you decided to melt it down into metal ingots, kind of metal bricks, and then exhibited it that way. And then you melted it down again. Similarly with Sift. And I wish I could see these works. But I'm really intrigued by this kind of reduction to the base material of the sculpture. And I think you made a very concerted... You consider it the same work and I think it's such a radical gesture, and it is also really critical repositioning vis a vis the value, the market, ownership of the work and I think in your film work, you're doing something different, but kind of an equally important shift in terms of the way you treat the material you’re working with.
Margaret Honda 40:01
Right. I'm actually always looking for the limitations in processes that I work with. And I'm also trying, at least with the films, I have tried to figure out, like, what the normal process is, and then either take something away, like the negative for this film, or kind of switch things around. And that's really the only way I know how to work is to find out what the parameters are for production in film, for example, and basically, to work with that. Like, that's my real medium is the existing kind of structure of how things get made. For Fish Trap, that you just described, all of that is true, you know, it was taking up space. It was a work that I kind of knew was basically drifting into invisibility. And I thought, well, if it's going to be invisible, if it's probably not going to be shown again… I like the work; that wasn't the problem. But I just thought, you know, maybe I want to have some control over that level of invisibility. And so that's where melting it down came from. And then the question was, well, if I melt it down, then what form does it take? And so I just asked the foundry to use whatever ingots they had on hand, and just, you know, pour it. It was thirty-five pounds of metal, so they had three ingots, and they poured them into the ingots. And then I showed the work again, and melted it down again. And this foundry had two sort of medium-sized ingots that we used instead of three. So I try to involve the people I'm working with as much in the process, and it also relieves me of having to make some sort of aesthetic decision, like I want it to be in the shape of something. You know, I don't like to make those kinds of decisions. I mean, that's part of the reason why I make the kinds of films that I do, because I don't see myself as part of a narrative tradition. I don't write stories, I don't have ideas for how I want stories to be told in a visual sense. I just want to know what the materials and the processes are, and how I can work with those.
Haden Guest 42:53
It's so fascinating that this is completely antithetical to the idea of what a director is. You know, the whole romantic idea of the director is that he or she decides on everything, who is master of that universe. And it seems this freedom to release yourself from the burden or expectation of all these decisions seems to be something–
I don’t get to scream at people. [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 43:24
[LAUGHS] Right, which is, I suppose, that's the ultimate dream of many would-be directors, right? Tyrannical control. But no, just to follow up on Henriette’s great question... I mean, this idea, though of being an artist who wants to make minimal interventions, perhaps, is one way of seeing it, but I was wondering if we could talk about the idea of the readymade, which you've used to describe your work, and I know that it’s a charged term most often associated with a certain mode of art or anti-art, perhaps, but here this idea of the industrial processes themselves as a kind of readymade, no?
Margaret Honda 44:14
Yeah. I know, we had started talking about this, and I thought about it some more. And I think in terms of Color Correction, I think somebody once suggested that the film was a readymade. That’s still possible; I still have to think about that some more, but I think what is definitely the readymade is the timing tape. And for Sift what was the readymade was just the foundry process, you know, being able to sort of melt things down. I try to look for things that are already in place and to use those things. And I do also try to tread really lightly. You know, it's not about having, again, an idea that I have to insist on getting on film. It's like, well, what can I get on film using what is available to me, you know, given my budget, given my abilities, given my lack of skill, all of that? And it's been really lovely to work this way, I have to say.
Haden Guest 45:38
Maybe we'll take questions from our audience. And... Oh! Let's take a question from the very back a voice that you heard earlier this evening.
[INAUDIBLE MORGAN FISHER COMMENT]
Haden Guest 45:54
No, I don't think it is. We can hear you, Steven will run over there quickly. Steven, run over or walk quickly if you don't mind. Oh, it's on now. Okay.
En français si’l vous plait.
[LAUGHS] Oui! Vous avez quelque chose à dire?
Okay, first of all, I don't speak French as any native speaker here realized immediately, but I can fake it.
For the first time, I thought about this film in relation to what Annette Michelson called “the empty frame.” Some of us with long memories recall that probably in the earlier middle 70s, after the moment of the structural film, she was examining what these films all had in common, or what many of them had in common, and what she said they had in common was “the empty frame.” It's a little embarrassing that I'm struck only now by the fact that you've made a film that can be related to what Annette Michelson was describing forty-five years ago. And I'm just wondering if that gave you anything to talk about, the possible relation to an earlier moment.
Margaret Honda 47:45
People have asked me about or have tried to place my work within the rubric of structuralist film, American structuralist film. And that's a history that I deeply appreciate, and I think in many ways, I'm indebted to. But I also recognize that it's not my history, it's the history of people who were producing work at a certain time in a certain place and in response to certain cultural and social ideas. And I started making films in 2013, so it's only been like, six, almost seven years, for me. And I started making films at a time when film was really, you know, like, Kodak had gone into bankruptcy, labs were closing, people were getting laid off. It was a very bad moment for the actual production of film. It's not why I did it. I did it because I had a film idea, and I wanted to work on film. But I've come to understand that my history really starts at that moment, even though I'm aware of things that have come before me. So I mean, I think, that history, I hope is still being written. I hope I still make more films. But I think I'm certainly responding to my time and my cultural concerns.
Henriette Huldisch 49:41
You know, it's funny, because obviously, I mean, I was thinking of structural film and I was going to ask you about it and then I decided not to, to kind of actually think about the work more in relationship to sculpture. But I think about structural film also kind of like minimalism in that I don't know of any artist who's ever been associated with a label who really feels that that's a very good descriptor of their work. So you know, but I do think you can make an argument maybe with certain relationships in terms of form, structure, the emphasis on the apparatus where yes, I mean, I think there's a continuity. At the same time, to me, you come, obviously, from a completely different place.
Margaret Honda 50:19
Also, I do think that there are there are definite, like bridges between–
Haden Guest 50:25
To metric film, I feel like there's a clear affinity, so to speak.
There was a question there in the middle, please. Thank you. The microphone’s coming. Thank you.
Audience 1 50:43
I was curious, the thing that I had expected and didn't see in the film was a sense of conversationalness in the color correction process, because in in my experience of it, there tends to be color correction to match a shot to a reverse shot and the sense of conversation and the sort of back and forth of correcting within the rhythm of conversation. And it was interesting to me in your film that the rhythm was so much slower than that. And so I was just curious whether the color timers that you worked with addressed [it] or the timing tape talked about that absence of a sense of conversation, back and forth. I don't know if this question makes sense to you.
Margaret Honda 51:35
So you mean, you're talking about like, literal conversation.
Audience 1 51:38
A literal conversation, yeah.
Margaret Honda 51:41
Right. I think there were some moments where it looked like there was like this shot, counter-shot. You know, there did seem to be some moments like that. As I said, I don't know what the original film or what the source film was, so I have no idea what kind of film it was. It was definitely a Hollywood film, but I don't know what the story was.
Haden Guest 52:17
I was thinking it was like Terrence Malick or something like that, honestly. I was thinking there was the kind of slow, leisurely pacing to it—not leisurely per se—but it seemed to me there are a lot of sort of expanded scenes. But you're right, there didn't seem to be a lot of like shot-counter-shot or the kind of symmetries that one would expect with more classical narration.
Margaret Honda 52:36
Yeah, so I have no idea. I don't know that there are lots of like monologues or... Yeah, I have no idea.
Haden Guest 52:42
Night shots. It could be that there are a lot of night shots, I don’t know.
Henriette Huldisch 52:46
Haden Guest 52:51
Anyway. I'm not sure if we have a final question? Let's take one final question there. Yeah.
Audience 2 53:00
So did you look at a number of these timing tapes before you chose this one?
No, someone else chose it for me. I just said, “Please get me a full set of timing tapes. I don't want to know where they're from. They just need to be from a certain era so that we can use it on the same print stock that we're using now.” And they showed up.
And had you ever seen a timing tape before? I mean, this is the first time I've seen one.
Oh, okay, so–
Audience 2 53:25
So you knew what you were getting, or…? I don't mean in detail, but just in general?
Yes. The first film that I made was a 70 millimeter film where we had to generate a timing tape for it, because I wasn't working with a negative. And so when I realized that the timing tape for that film was essentially the original—it was like the negative for that film—then I realized that I could use a timing tape. I could use any timing tape, to make a film. So yeah, I did have experience with timing tapes, just from a slightly different angle.
Henriette Huldisch 54:08
Sorry, are timing tapes usually kept in commercial productions?
If you have to make additional prints…
So that’s alway there as a reference...
Margaret Honda 54:17
You usually keep them, and sometimes you have to redo them if they're coming from a different lab or if the stock changes.
Haden Guest 54:25
Those are kind of like really important that they’re kept.
Margaret Honda 54:27
That's why they're hard to get.
Haden Guest 54:29
Right. Exactly. Did you have a final question? No? Okay. I'm sorry. Oh, you had your hand up before. Okay.
Well, I really want to thank Margaret Honda for this wonderful evening and conversation as well as Henriette Huldisch. So please join me in thanking them both.
Margaret Honda 54:50
It was only after distinguishing herself as a renowned sculptor and artist that Margaret Honda (b. 1961) began to work in cinema. Her films to date—the 70mm Spectrum Reverse Spectrum (2014), the 35mm Color Correction (2015) and the 16mm Wildflowers—each bring to bear the same exactitude of material and method as her art practice by harnessing the photochemical processes refined over a century by the film industry to produce commercial exhibition prints. For the three films Honda closely collaborated with Hollywood professionals, lab technicians whose unique contributions to cinema are all too rarely acknowledged or engaged and who have been facing an until now delayed extinction as the studios and commercial interests conspire to make film an obsolete luxury afforded only to elite auteurs. The result of Honda’s patient collaborations are films in the purest sense, unique photochemical objects, shaped and stamped by the precisely controlled variables of chemical, temperature and those calibrated yet intuitive decisions and compensations that the lab technicians alone are able to make. As objects that must be projected in a theater to be experienced and understood, Honda’s films are vital interventions that demand a committed spectator and institution able to appreciate cinema refined to its purest quintessence, as the controlled projection of light through a plastic and photochemical substrate. Honda’s films—often both camera-less and imageless—give vital life to the texture and grain and palpable experience of film as film, freed from the burden of representing and meaning more than the already profound surface. Honda’s imageless films also embrace cinema as a pure mode of conceptual and, in a sense, performance art, as objects that give renewed meaning to the post-Duchampian object and find meaning and resonance in the emotive traces and resonances of industrial production.
For her first HFA program, Honda will present three films: two versions of her short 16mm work Wildflowers, first in French and then in English—both spoken by fellow filmmaker-artist Morgan Fisher—followed by her celebrated work on 35mm, Color Correction. The HFA is pleased to welcome MIT List Visual Art Center Director of Exhibitions and Curator Henriette Huldisch to join the post-screening conversation. The Harvard Film Archive gratefully acknowledges its partnership with the Radcliffe Institute seminar organized by artists Matt Saunders and Jennifer Bornstein. – Haden Guest
For my first film I used only 70mm print stock, a printer and a timing tape specifically made to control the printer’s light valves in order to produce the color spectrum. When I saw that the tape alone served as the printing element, I understood I could make a film using existing timing tapes from any movie. That was the idea for Color Correction. I was able to get timing tapes from an unknown recent narrative feature. For my purposes, the tapes could have come from any other film of the same type and era. This interchangeability of printing elements and the strict rules for finding and printing them are the basis for making Color Correction as a multiple, using a different set of tapes for each print. While working on Color Correction, I was given two 16mm Kodachrome magazines and I used these to make Wildflowers. Kodachrome processing had stopped a couple of years before, so I knew I was basically working with black-and-white negative. I decided to shoot California wildflowers. In the midst of a drought, they made me think of the material I was about to use—something known for its color but facing a limited future. The magazines had expired in the early 1960s, and as I was shooting I could hear the emulsion crumbling off the base. I couldn’t have tried to make the film you’re seeing. It made itself.