I have, just now, been filled again with a passion for my project of making films using my “landscape” improv form, the form in which language is used more for the sound, texture, and the feeling state evoked by the voices and words, rather than the discursive meaning of the text.

Earlier this month I had the first public screening of “Suggestive Gestures,” my new film which is not only my first feature length work but also my first film using the landscape improv technique. The screening, at Anthology Film Archives in New York (as part of the New Filmmakers series) was very successful, with a good sized crowd who were very extremely positive about the film, but that actually is not the reason for my renewed enthusiasm for the landscape form. It is because I have been spending the holidays in a rural, isolated part of Vermont, a place where the landscape is so overwhelmingly beautiful (in a quiet way) that I am reminded of all the original reasons why I started this particular project.

I have actually had a project somewhat like this one in mind for as long as I can remember. The term “landscape” is borrowed from Gertrude Stein, the first person to suggest that performances could quite naturally be structured in such a way that the audience would enjoy them as one would enjoy a landscape: as a sequence of emotional or energy states, or moods, which change over time, passing like the weather in a landscape, without any particular reference to a narrative or any intellectual content. I was fixated on this idea almost from the first time I began thinking of myself as an “artist,” somewhere around age 12 or 13. As such, this idea probably represents the most personal, deepest thing which I have to say. It is my particular window on the world, the peculiar gift which I am here to offer.

Even though a film like “Suggestive Gestures” is more abstract than my previous films, and uses an even more radically unfamiliar use of language, I noted with considerable interest that audiences seem to find it more accessible and easier to understand than the earlier films. One reason for this is that the earlier films pitch themselves in an ambiguous spot, midway between everyday discursive language and a totally abstract use of words, and so they constantly (deliberately) challenge and confuse the viewer about how to respond to the text. Is it telling a story? Does it make sense? Is it just a play of sounds and feelings?  The films move ambiguously back and forth between these positions, forcing the viewer to reassess what they are hearing at each point.

In contrast, the landscape film is quite unambiguous. One can hear immediately that the words are being used for their sound quality and the feelings they evoke, and that the film will not have a story-line or any substantive intellectual content. The viewer is not troubled by the question of whether or not they “get” the film, because it is immediately clear that there is nothing to get. The film uses words, music, and images to create a sequence of imaginative feeling states, which are obviously simply there for the viewer to enjoy. In today’s culture of sampled sounds and eye candy video, it is not such an obscure idea for audiences to grasp.

The winter landscape in Vermont is strikingly beautiful, in its muted palette of hushed grays, browns, and white snow. Just as striking, to the city dweller, is the extreme silence of the snow-muted countryside, in which the wind is virtually the only sound, punctuated at long intervals by the distant lowing of a cow or call of a crow. Standing in the midst of this beauty and this silence, I feel full to bursting. I am filled with the power of the light, colors, and forms which make up the landscape, the sparse power of the sound of wind, and the complex awareness of my own body sensations, even when simply standing still. This experience is so absolutely full and rich that not only does it not need anything added to it, in a sense there is no possible psychic room to imagine anything else added to this, the simple human experience of being alive on planet earth.

It is exactly this which I am trying to express with my landscape improvs and films. I would like to provide the viewer with a way of moving through a landscape of language, sounds, and images which encourages them to simply hear, to see, to feel, to experience their own physical and emotional sensations, and to revel in the enough-ness of the experience. This experience, the fullness and enough-ness of being in the landscape, seems to me to be an essential tool for living on earth.