Manohla Dargis has written a stop-in-your-tracks kind of piece about the filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky in the Sunday Times. His rhapsodic appreciation of a body of work completely captured me even though I have never had the oppoortunity to see any of Dorsky’s films. (His book, Devotional Cinema, is now on order so there will be more about that here at some later date.)
These excerpts speak to more than Dorsky’s work, clearly:
Although the narratively conditioned brain may attempt to piece together a story from these images (once upon a time in winter there was a tree), Mr. Dorsky’s work requires a different kind of engagement. These are films created for contemplation, and they both invite and resist interpretation.
Although Mr. Dorsky gestures in certain interpretive directions…he never forces you down this or that path. Then again, what can the image of eye-poppingly purple flowers mean? “Interpretation,” as Susan Sontag memorably wrote “is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” A few pages later in the same essay, “Against Interpretation,” she extols transparence in art (and criticism), writing that it “means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are.” Art, as Sontag persuasively argued, doesn’t stand for something else but is itself a thing, and while Mr. Dorsky’s films can inspire explanatory reveries, they are also beautiful objects.
“If we do relinquish control,” Mr. Dorsky wrote in his short 2003 book “Devotional Cinema,” “we suddenly see a hidden world, one that has existed all along right in front of us. In a flash, the uncanny presence of the poetic and vibrant world, ripe with mystery, stands before us.”
Thoreau said that “you must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” There’s a similar imperative, an urgency, about being in the here and the now in Mr. Dorsky’s work, even if the world in his films is of his own making. (Thoreau wrote that it was “necessary to see objects by moonlight — as well as sunlight — to get a complete notion of them,” which nicely fits Mr. Dorsky’s duskier imagery.)