Filmmaker Focus: Fred Worden

In this exclusive edition of Filmmaker Focus, Fred Worden peels back the process of his nonrepresentational cinematic pursuits.

Notes on the Making of When Worlds Collude by Fred Worden

One thing leads to another, or so they say. My most recent film, When Worlds Collude, has its origins in the film that came directly before it. That film is entitled 1859 and is a film that I worked on intensely for over a year. 1859 was entirely generated out of a 30-frame clip of a lens flare and is dedicated to Bruce McClure. I made the McClure dedication because I wanted to see if I could work with the same visceral power of pulsing bright light that McClure so artfully unleashes in his 35mm projector performance pieces. 1859 is also the latest installment in a lineage of filmmaking I’ve been pursuing for 30+ years.

The driving aspiration of all those films has been to see, to be concrete about it, if frames could be collided in such a way as to bring into being a fundamentally different kind of film experience – one not based on reading the meaning of images (narratively, metaphorically/symbolically or as information about the natural world), but rather a visual unfolding that speaks directly to the nervous system and does so in a sensual visual language that approximates and thereby resonates with the neural language that underlies perception and consciousness  –and I’m talking about perception in the sense of seeing your hand in front of your face. The cascading waves of neurons firing that constitute the infrastructure of our moment-to-moment conscious experience are modeled by the film through rhythmic, polyphonic flows of pulsing light and a complex web of motion dynamics. It’s not about generating metaphorical or symbolical images, it’s not about ideas. It’s about direct experience –like music. 

Sounds a lot like abstract filmmaking, eh?  One of the ideas that came to obsess me during the making of 1859 was that a better word than abstract to describe this approach would be “nonrepresentational.”  Why nonrepresentational? Because that word gets at the fundamental split with both conventional cinema and even most experimental cinema. A camera captures an image; something from the world, and the projector then “re-presents” it at the moment of projection. What’s actually occurring on the screen, an on-off bombardment of individual image-bearing pulses of light (frames), comes to be “read” as that thing from the world. Ah, the so-called “illusions” of cinema, how seductive and satisfying they are. But it has to be said: to take what’s given and through an act of interpretation, read it as a recognizable form from the natural world (a face, that car, those clouds, etc) is a basically a literary mode of engagement. Non-representational filmmaking, as I conceived it, would be a horse of a fundamentally different color.

I was so pleased with myself to have settled on “non-representational” as key concept. I saw it as my intellectual take-away from the making of 1859. Then, before the idea could even settle in, some internal spoilsport in my back brain began irrepressibly chaffing at such top down intellectualizing. These kinds of ideas are never good enough, this internal voice seemed to say. And I have to admit that I had long ago come to recognize that most of my “ideas” are, in the long run, wrong. They more often than not serve as little more than utilitarian prods to get me from one point to another. In this case, the idea of non-representational filmmaking carried me from 1859 to When Worlds Collude –but it did so in the weirdest, most backhanded of ways.  To wit: to honor my dissenting voice and as a way of perversely testing the validity of my non-representational idea, I began to toy with a selection of highly representational images. Just to see, you understand... Nothing more than to prove to myself that 1859-like results simply couldn’t be had working with images that forcefully recreated the appearances of the natural world.

Posted on December 09th, 2008