Babette Mangolte (b. 1941)
Four Pieces by Morris (1993)
The film is a reconstitution of the seminal performance work done in the early Sixties by the sculptor Robert Morris.
Four Pieces by Morris is a dance film is exactly that. Four pieces by sculptor Robert Morris. Robert Morris is an extremely ascetic creator whose structural compositions have less to do with the theatre and more to do with installation. We have a workman moving white boards back and forth across a stage finally revealing a female nude reclining on a couch behind the last one. The woman does not move, the workman does not notice her. Nothing happens. The sonic backdrop is an intense recording of street sounds and construction which was distracting and irritating to my ear but was supposed to serve to "heighten the presence of the performer".
Each one was more tedious than the next, with perhaps the exception of the lecture on perception in the third piece.
Film is the medium of duration, but what we call duration is historically determined. Film spectatorship expectations greatly change in different generations. My biggest question was how to represent the sense of time of another generation. I gambled that if I could create a sense of heightened presence of the performer on screen by restructuring the sound space of the image, I could use the distended time-duration of the Sixties to my advantage and emphasize the importance of the performer’s body.
The film’s premises rest on maintaining the concept of art as displacement / art as a frame which I thought was at the center of the impact of the performances at the time when their making revolutionizes the new dance in the New York art scene of the early Sixties.-- Babette Mangolte, 1994
The making of the film was extremely pleasurable because the daily contact with Robert Morris was intellectually stimulating and fun. I also had all freedom to devise the complex tracking shots and gliding camera work, which are meant to be seamless and invisible. I trained myself to know the movement so well that I could guide the tempo of the tracking shot by pure instinct. The task was particularly challenging in Site and Waterman Switch. I also felt that showing two renditions of Waterman Switch was interesting, the first one emphasizing the proscenium effect of the choreography, the other one using point of view shots and inducing the spectator in the narrative. The sound track was the most interesting element to invent for me. It is by sound that you create presence. I feel very grateful that Robert Morris gave me total freedom in the matter. -- Babette Mangolte September 2004