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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey [Blu-ray]  


(24 films, dating from 1966 - 1979)



Review by Gary Tooze



Video: Criterion Collection, Spine # 607



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 4:27:38.245

Disc Size: 49,633,252,999 bytes

Total Feature Size: 44,976,224,256 bytes

Video Bitrate: 18.99 Mbps

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: April 24th, 2012



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit






• Audio commentary and remarks by filmmaker Hollis Frampton on selected works
• Excerpted interview with Frampton from 1978 (20:08 in 1080i)
• A Lecture, a performance piece by Frampton, recorded in 1968 with the voice of artist Michael Snow (23:04 in 1080P)
• Gallery of works from Frampton’s xerographic series By Any Other Name
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an introduction by film critic Ed Halter; essays and capsules on the films by Frampton scholars Bruce Jenkins, Ken Eisenstein, and Michael Zryd; and a piece by film preservationist Bill Brand





Description: An icon of the American avant-garde, Hollis Frampton made rigorous, audacious, brainy, and downright thrilling films, leaving behind a body of work that remains unparalleled. In the 1960s, having already been a poet and a photographer, Frampton became fascinated with the possibilities of 16 mm filmmaking. In such radically playful and visually and sonically arresting works as Surface Tension, Zorns Lemma, (nostalgia), Critical Mass, and the enormous, unfinished Magellan cycle (cut short by his death at age forty-eight), Frampton repurposes cinema itself, making it into something by turns literary, mathematical, sculptural, and simply beautiful—and always captivating. This collection of works by the essential artist—the first release of its kind—includes twenty-four films, dating from 1966 to 1979.



The Man:

Hollis Frampton is known for the broad and restless intelligence he brought to the films he made, beginning in the early '60s, until his death in 1984. In addition to being an important experimental filmmaker, he was also an accomplished photographer and writer, and in the 1970s made significant contributions to the emerging field of computer science. He is considered one of the pioneers of what has come to be termed structuralism, an influential style of experimental filmmaking that uses the basic elements of cinematic language to create works that investigate film form at the expense of traditional narrative content. Along with Michael Snow and Stan Brakhage, he is one of the major figures to emerge from the New York avant-garde film community of the 1960.

Excerpt located HERE

As Frampton's photography moved toward exploring ideas of series and sets, it was natural that he begin filmmaking. He based a lot of his early films on concepts, which he applied clearly and cleverly. All of his very early works were either discarded or lost. His earliest surviving work was Information (1966). His early works were reasonably simple in construction. A few of them including Maxwell's Demon, Surface Tension, and Prince Rupert's Drops were based on concepts from science, a subject he was well read on. As he got on, his films gradually increased in complexity.

His most significant work is arguably Zorns Lemma (1970), a film which drastically altered perceptions towards experimental film at the time. He was seen as a structural filmmaker, a style that focused on the nature of film itself. In an interview with Robert Gardner he stated a discomfort with that term because it was too broad and didn't accurately reflect the nature of his work.

Zorns Lemma remains the most widely known of this films. It is formed in three different sections. The first is a reading (by Joyce Wieland) of the Bay State Primer, a puritan work for children to learn the alphabet. The sentences used had foreboding themes such as "In Adams fall, we sinned all." The second section is based on a text based work by Carl Andre, which started out with an alphabetical list of words for each letter in the alphabet. Each subsequent list is replaced with a letter until it is just letters. In Zorns Lemma, the concept is reversed. It starts off with a twenty four letter alphabet (I/J and U/V are considered one letter), each letter shown for one second of screentime and then looping. The second cycle replaces each letter with a word that starts with each letter. Gradually the word stills are replaced by an active film shot, such as washing hands or peeling a tangerine until there are only moving images. The third section contains a seemingly single shot of a couple walking across a snowy meadow. The sound is of six women reading one word at a time from Theory of Light.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is an incredible anthology package on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.  The image reflects the production limitation but beyond that it still looks better than I would have anticipated. The quality, on the dual-layered Blu-ray disc, varies dependant on the condition of the sources.  We have almost 4.5 hours of material here (specific shorts - Zorns Lemma is actually an hour - are listed below) but it fairly consistent showing grit and grain. There are, of course, scratches and marks - more, usually prevalent at the titles sequences and beginnings of the works. The brightness of colors makes gives the impression of a more recent production. Overall these are immensely watchable and the 1080P resolution brings out the texture and thickness.


Manual of Arms (1966 • 17 minutes, 10 seconds • Black & White • Silent)
Process Red (1966 • 3 minutes, 37 seconds • Color • Silent)
Maxwell’s Demon (1968 • 3 minutes, 44 seconds • Color • Mono)
Surface Tension (1968 • 9 minutes, 30 seconds • Color • Mono)
Carrots & Peas (1969 • 5 minutes, 21 seconds • Color • Mono)
Lemon (1969 • 7 minutes, 17 seconds • Color • Silent)
Zorns Lemma (1970 • 59 minutes, 51 seconds • Color • Mono)

(nostalgia) (1971 • 36 minutes, 7 seconds • Black & White • Mono)
Poetic Justice (1972 • 31 minutes, 28 seconds • Black & White • Silent)
Critical Mass (1971 • 25 minutes, 11 seconds • Black & White • Mono)

The Birth of Magellan
The Birth of Magellan: Cadenza I (1977–1980 • 5 minutes, 41 seconds • Color • Mono)
Straits of Magellan
Pans 0–4 and 697–700 (1969–74 • 1-minute each • Color • Silent)
INGENIVM NOBIS IPSA PVELLA FECIT, Part I (1975 • 4 minutes, 48 seconds • Color • Silent)
Magellan: At the Gates of Death, Part I: The Red Gate 1, 0 (1976 • 5 minutes, 10 seconds • Color • Silent)
Winter Solstice (1974 • 32 minutes, 36 seconds • Color • Silent)
The Death of Magellan
Gloria! (1979 • 9 minutes, 36 seconds • Color • Mono)
















Audio :

Many of the shorts are silent but about half have sound and they are rendered in a linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps. This, again, belies the weaker production roots - but is very acceptable - all things considered. There are no dramatic flaws that I could ascertain. There are no subtitles. My Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked like all Criterion Blu-rays to date.


Extras :

Selected works offer an audio commentary and remarks by filmmaker Hollis Frampton. There is an excerpted interview with Frampton from 1978 running just over 20-minutes. He seems like an incredibly cool guy. We also get 'A Lecture'; a performance piece by Frampton, recorded in 1968 with the voice of artist Michael Snow at Hunter's College. It runs about 23-minutes in 1080P. There is a gallery of works from Frampton’s xerographic series By Any Other Name, plus the package contains a booklet featuring an introduction by film critic Ed Halter; essays and capsules on the films by Frampton scholars Bruce Jenkins, Ken Eisenstein, and Michael Zryd; and a piece by film preservationist Bill Brand.


NOTE: Just an observation. With all the works included this is a complexly authored disc - it may take longer to load on your Blu-ray player than previous ones. Mine was a little clunky, but that may also mean I require a firmware update. Just say'in.



This is an incredible encompassing package. For those unfamiliar with the Avante-Garde; simply put - it is a camera exploring and observing life - often through unique images - and the pace helps expose beauty - often neglected previously. Suggested reading is the DVDBeaver article - At Home and Abroad: Some Views from the Avant-Garde on DVD by Daryl Chin. My goal as a cinema fan is to always be growing and exposing myself to new material, hopefully, without prejudice. A Hollis Frampton Odyssey caused me to appreciate this genre more than anything I have seen so far - even the brilliant By Brakhage. This is quite overwhelming - if you open yourself up to viewing it. We give the Criterion Blu-ray one of our highest recommendations and except to garner multiple votes in our year-end poll. For fans of the Avant-Garde - this is absolutely essential. 

Gary Tooze

April 19th, 2012


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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