An Interview with Nathaniel Dorsky


“Experimental films are a little bit like weeds—seeds that got caught between the cracks in the sidewalk.”

Why Anthology Film Archives in New York City is Nathaniel Dorsky’s favorite place to screen a film:
It has perfect sight lines
The crowd is great
It has an Eastman projector
The projector was built by a man named James Bond


An Interview with Nathaniel Dorsky


“Experimental films are a little bit like weeds—seeds that got caught between the cracks in the sidewalk.”

Why Anthology Film Archives in New York City is Nathaniel Dorsky’s favorite place to screen a film:
It has perfect sight lines
The crowd is great
It has an Eastman projector
The projector was built by a man named James Bond

An Interview with Nathaniel Dorsky

Will Epstein
Facebook icon Share via Facebook Twitter icon Share via Twitter

No filmmaker more joyfully and succinctly embodies the poetry of the medium than Nathaniel Dorsky. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Dorsky has been making experimental films since 1963. His films are silent and use the intimacy of that silence to draw us deeper into the subtle beauty of his images. Luminous combinations of shapes and light fill the screen, revealing the mysteries of our everyday life and offering glimpses of the sublime. His films are shot and screened exclusively on 16 mm, so screenings are rare events. Few have been as lucky as I was when, on an afternoon in January 2023, after a bite of exquisite dark chocolate, I was led through a trapdoor in his living room, down a set of stairs into the darkly glowing sanctuary where he edits his films, and treated to a private screening of two new works: Dialogues and Place d’or, the latter of which he had finished tweaking just the night before. As the projector began to roll and Dorsky’s images filled the wall at eighteen frames per second, the medicinal quality of his work immediately took hold. 

In Dialogues, the first film he screened, flowers, branches, and other similar forms shimmered with a vibrant fragility, becoming sculptural beings that communed with one another within the frames. About halfway through the piece, the projection darkened completely, until I noticed a milky-white swirl in the upper-left-hand corner. Suddenly, the whole screen brightened and a clear image of the Pacific Ocean emerged: the milky-white swirl became a foggy summer sky balanced above equally murky water. Shot at a diagonal, a solitary oil tanker could then be seen moving across the horizon, slowly making its way toward the bay. The clarity of this image, its devastating grays juxtaposed with the abstraction of the previous cut, thrust me into a bardo-like confusion. It felt akin to what the first viewers of North by Northwest must have felt when the crop duster swoops down from the sky and begins flying directly toward an unsuspecting Cary Grant. The image stayed with me until days later, when, in a dream, I found myself on a beach, a giant whale’s tail rising from the water, threatening to crash down on me and my umbrella through the foggy sky.

The pretense for my being in San Francisco and spending the afternoon with Dorsky was a performance at Gray Area on Mission Street, part of a short tour I was doing promoting my album Wendy that was soon to be released on Fat Possum Records. My San Francisco show comprised two parts: the first, a live improvised score to films by two other luminary filmmakers, Harry Smith and Jordan Belson, performed by me, Ben Goldberg, Michael Coleman, and Jordan Glenn; and the second, a set of songs from my record. It might seem incongruous for a musician, especially one who often works with film in both composed and improvised contexts, to be captivated by a silent filmmaker, but I can’t help but feel that Dorsky’s films are singing to me. As he said in our conversation, “They’re not films without sound; they’re silent films. Which means the silence has to be palpable.” 

The following interview took place at Dorsky’s home. In his cozy and vibrant apartment, built during World War II for shipbuilders and their families, I studied the curious colored glass electrical insulators that lined the windows, as well as several reproductions of works by the early Renaissance Italian painter Piero della Francesca that adorned the walls. We sat in his living room as our conversation swooped and swerved through an array of fascinating and unexpected topics. While we spoke, the green, gold, blue, pink, and purple auras created from light passing through the insulators glowed.

—Will Epstein

I. Not Quite Flowers

THE BELIEVER: When I first walked in we began talking about these cutouts of Piero della Francesca paintings you have around your apartment. Do you think a lot about painting when you’re shooting, or is that a different mindset?

NATHANIEL DORSKY: Oh, yes, very much. Painting seems closer to film than photography. Still photography is an instant and you expand out from that one moment, but film takes place in time in the same way as painting does—a good painting might have twenty minutes that it gives you. Also, I try not to use film as a type of journalism or as a window into something, but rather to turn the screen itself into something.

BLVR: You turn the screen into a world.

ND: Yeah, into a world.

BLVR: I know it’s very touristy of me, but whenever I’m in San Francisco I can’t help but think about Vertigo and Hitchcock. I think a lot of those filmmakers who came from the silent era talk about wanting to create a language that’s unique to film in a way that feels somewhat similar to what you’re talking about.

ND: Vertigo is a very powerful urban poem for this city. Hitchcock’s brilliance is that the stories are a montage. In other words, his films are not a story that he photographs. The story itself is the nature of shots and cuts. People always say, Oh, this film is Hitchcockian, but it is rarely true.

BLVR: Yeah, when people say that, they’re talking about something that just has to do with plot points. People also consider him the filmmaker who is super into psychology and symbolism, but that in a way feels kind of surface-level to what’s actually going on.

ND: There are a lot things you are told are true that aren’t true.

BLVR: That is true. [Laughs]

ND: You know the [Jean] Renoir film Rules of the Game?

BLVR: Yes.

ND: When I was growing up, the critics were basically leftists and all the leftist critics were saying, It’s a takedown of the upper class. So you go to the movie and you say to yourself, Hm, I guess it’s a takedown of the upper class. Then one time you’ll see it without that at all and you’ll realize it’s fabulous. It’s just fabulous and you can really experience the love of it all. I mean, probably my favorite films are narrative fiction. Experimental films are a little bit like weeds—seeds that got caught between the cracks in the sidewalk. We’re not quite flowers, but then again, wildflowers are the most tender.

II. The Rings of Saturn

BLVR:I think the first time I saw your films was at Anthology Film Archives for The Arboretum Cycle.

ND: Oh, you were there? That’s my favorite place. It has perfect sight lines. It has the best projector, which is called the Eastman 25 or Eastman 40, which was built by a man named James Bond. He’s the go-to person in America for projectors. And the crowd is great.

BLVR: Yes, very devoted.

ND: It’s just fun. It’s one of the few places that would make me want to get on a plane. I’ve been writing them, calling, and leaving messages, because I have these new films I want to show. You know, The Arboretum Cycle was sort of a turning point; it started a different arc—one based less on the various and more on deepening the specifics of one thing. All the films I’ve done since are a special group of films. A lot of them are shorter—some of them seven minutes, nine minutes, you know—but it seems they do everything they have to do in that amount of time. There’s no need for them to be longer. They accomplish what has to be accomplished. I don’t want it to be like when someone you know starts to talk a little too long about the same thing.

BLVR: As somebody who works in sound and music, I also felt like the sound of silence in that room was such a moving thing. It was very powerful, almost like there was a sound emitting out from the screen.

ND: Definitely. In other words, they’re not films without sound; they’re silent films. Which means the silence has to be palpable.

BLVR: And it has a shape to it that changes as the film goes along too.

ND: Yeah, you’re really working with the shape. I guess it’s more like dance that way. Like tension and release—that kind of thing.

BLVR: Do you think at all about the sound in the room while the film is screening?

ND: No, like Cage? Do you know that piece by John Cage?

BLVR: Yes, “4’33”.” It premiered in Woodstock, New York actually.

ND: Oh, yeah, I know that story. I’ve worked on many documentaries and it always comes up.

BLVR: In almost every documentary.

ND: Find me one that doesn’t mention it. [Laughs]

BLVR: I just did the score for this documentary about Nam June Paik. I think they tell that story.

ND: It’s like, Hold on, here it comes! Of course, it’s always different because of the four minutes. [His phone pings.] It must be the dentist. [Reading the text aloud] “Yes, I am at my dentist.” Oh, now Jerome, my partner, is at the dentist.

BLVR: Do you guys go to the same dentist?

ND: Yes.

BLVR: Maybe I should go. I don’t like my dentist that much.

ND: Do you like nitrous?

BLVR: I feel like I haven’t had enough to know.

ND: That’s the spirit. If you have the nerve, ask for nitrous just for a cleaning. It’s kind of interesting. It’s like you go out to where you’re sitting on one of the rings of Saturn, looking up at the nighttime sky, and then you hear this voice that says, “Open a little,” and you go right back to the chair and you move your head to the right. You do what you’re supposed to do. It isn’t like you’re out of control, but it makes the pain very enjoyable. They could charge you anything for that and you’d do it.

BLVR: Sounds amazing.

ND: The dental chairs are located in a greenhouse in the backyard with tropical plants and music.

BLVR: Wait, this sounds way, way better than my dentist in all ways.

ND: Anyway, the nitrous is interesting. You know what’s really good is if you’re getting a root canal or a post, or something that’s gonna take an hour and a half or two hours, then it’s timeless on the nitrous. You have no idea how long you’ve been there. There’s no time. Anyway, I know it’s a little childish to speak about the dentist in this way.

BLVR: [Laughs] No, it’s great. But back to what we were saying about your films. They feel very much like music to me.

ND: Well, Jerome, my partner, and I are big fans of, I guess what you call in the Western tradition “classical music,” but also all kinds of world music and stuff.

BLVR: Yeah, there’s something in a Mozart symphony where you feel that the placement of every note is done with intention and that’s very much how I feel watching your movies—like each gesture of light or each cut has some alchemical purpose to it.

ND: Well, one thing I was gonna say is, I don’t believe young people like classical music. There’s a very good conservatory here in San Francisco called the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and they have two or three concerts a week that are free, and it’s so wonderful because the audience is filled with music students. We have such a good time. Besides that crowd, though, I don’t sense that young people are in touch with classical music.

BLVR: It doesn’t seem like it.

ND: They only know music as an adornment to language.

BLVR: Or as an adornment to life—something that’s just there in the background and taken for granted.

ND: There’s that, but what I mean is, they don’t know about music itself being the emotional landscape of a human being. They don’t know that. And so it limits their filmmaking tremendously. Because if your film or your music comes out of itself, each moment develops into the next moment. It’s very different if you’re directing it from outside the piece. It never deepens if the film isn’t going forward out of its own newness.

BLVR: Watching your work, I feel like I’m seeing both improvisation and composition at work. Do you think in those terms at all?

ND: Yes, because—if I may call it [this]—“the creation” is a combination of chance followed by judgment, and judgment in “the creation” is reality. If something works, if it functions, it survives, and if it doesn’t, it dies. But the initial thing at work is chance. How many planets do you have to throw onto the table before one works, so to speak, from our point of view? You might have to throw a few hundred. But then the one that works, works. So in that sense we’re sort of talking about a combination of chance and discretion. I mean, it’s interesting to call a certain period of four minutes of sound “the work,” like Cage does, and it’s different every time you perform it, but in a certain way, it’s declaring nothing to be something.

BLVR: That’s a lot of the work of making something, though.

ND: Someone might say, What’s the difference between openness and discretion? How can you be open and discreet? Well, the openness involves being open to what you experience. In other words, you have an idea, you’re gonna take a chance and put it down—then the important thing is to be open to your reaction to it. And that’s where discretion comes in, by being open to your reaction. That means you don’t let Mr. Lazy convince you that everything in your film is working perfectly. For instance, maybe you’re working on a film and every time it comes to a certain shot, you realize you’re spaced-out. Every time. And finally you go, Why am I always spaced out during this shot? Or: Why is my mind telling me it’s good? Which, of course, means it’s bad.

BLVR: So you listen to yourself in those moments and that’s where the discretion comes.

ND: Yeah, and finally Mr. Lazy goes, Oh! It’s because the shot before is two seconds too long, and because it’s too long, you’re done by the time you come to the cut. Things like that. But the main thing is to be open to your own reaction. Especially [as I’m] getting older, I realize it doesn’t involve memory. It just involves recollecting your experience when you first saw the shot. What did I actually feel when that happened? And I find I can remember that because it’s sort of a body–muscle memory kind of thing. You can remember when that shot came on, and no matter what your brain rationalized, it wasn’t right, even though you wanted it to be, because you’re ready to move on.

BLVR: It’s a very nourishing feeling to be in touch with yourself in that way.

ND: Yeah, it’s fun and then it becomes a real practice, the art-making. It’s the practice of being self-observant. You don’t have to be observant of the thing you’re making: that happens automatically. The honest part of your mind delivers the answers a couple of seconds before the narrator does. At least that’s my experience. A lot of times, I’m doing things and I know the answer but Mr. Mind has to go and think about it first and then state to me the answer. But as I’m doing that, I’m going to myself, Wait a minute. I already know the answer. I already know it. You’re busy saying this to yourself but you already know it. You already had the experience.

BLVR: I really feel that kind of openness, too, when I’m watching your films, and I think there’s a kind of buoyancy that comes with that. I don’t think humor is the right word, exactly, but I think there’s a lightness and a buoyancy that are very enlivening.

ND: Refreshing, maybe, is a good word.

BLVR: Refreshing, yes. Do you feel like that kind of openness translates to when you’re shooting? Even in regard to the technical process of shooting, do you have a filmic language that you’ve developed and are working with, or do you try to start from zero every time?

ND: Well, through your lifetime, everything changes. There was a long period of time, maybe twenty years, when I was making these polyvalent pieces, where every shot moved forward for its own reason and reverberated with other shots you’d seen in the film. Then at a certain point, I got tired of the problem-solving of that. I’d start a film and go, Oh, I don’t want these things. I know these problems. So then I asked myself, What would be new for me? What would be real for me? And then, ironically, I went to an earlier stage, back to when I was about nineteen or twenty. Moving forward was like coming back. It started during The Arboretum Cycle with a lot of articulation happening just through the film getting brighter and darker. Now I’m in this phase where I’ve made about twenty films like that and I drive people mad [laughs], getting brighter and darker. But it was a way of treating the Bolex more like an instrument than as a recording device. So I’ll be out shooting and looking at something and the breeze comes and I open the lens so the frame starts to fill with light and then I darken it down. It’s very similar to playing a musical instrument, I think, and you can start to play yourself as an instrument, in a sense.

BLVR: Right, it becomes an extension of yourself. It’s interesting that The Arboretum Cycle films are the first films I saw of yours, because they really felt so fresh to me. So it makes sense hearing that you were just coming to something new.

ND: I had the theory for a long time, but I didn’t have the courage to enact it. Well, I don’t know if it’s courage, but it took a while.

BLVR: It’s just a natural process, maybe, of digesting.

ND: It first happened with a film in which I took things from all these failed projects and made something else altogether from the material.

BLVR: That’s a good feeling.

III. Crown Jewels of the Wire

ND: Do you know what an insulator is?

BLVR: Like the things on top of power lines?

ND: On top of telephone poles.

BLVR: Do they still make them? I’ve never seen anything like these before. [Points to the window]

ND: No, these are from the age of the opaque ceramic insulator.

BLVR: But these are glass, right?

ND: Yes, and I have ceramic ones too. I started to collect them when I was a kid and so have amassed these over many, many years. Collectors got excited about insulators because they were usually made by bottle companies who produced them without any intent for the color. They just used scraps of glass but they came out in all these fantastic variations.

BLVR: Kind of like sea glass.

ND: Oh, do you want to see my sea glass collection?

BLVR: Oh my god, I would love to.

ND: Not everyone gets to see this…

BLVR: They’re so beautiful.

ND: Every piece of sea glass is completely done, you know what I mean?

BLVR: They’re so soft.

ND: The blues are quite rare. They remind me of when you read about Crete or something—the colors are so incredible. They’re all from walks on beaches through my lifetime. There’s a beach on Angel Island that is a fantastic glass beach. It’s one of those places where there was an immigration station, like on Ellis Island. I got my insulator collection before the internet, so I don’t know what it’s worth. There’s a magazine the collectors put out about them that lists the values for them, and so on.

BLVR: Just for insulators?

ND: Of course! Yeah, in fact, some of the insulator magazine issues are quite dear.

BLVR: Your insulators are unbelievably beautiful.

ND: I could not afford my insulator collection at this point. Some of the insulators are intentionally colored. This company intentionally made them blue because they were sharing the poles with another company.

BLVR: This insulator has such an unusual shape.

ND: Yeah, that’s French. If these were all people on an airplane and someone said, There are two people from Paris here, you’d pick those.

BLVR: Amazing. That’s true.

ND: They’re very happy here in the windows—they get hot during the day and they warm the apartment… and you can also conduct them.

BLVR: With what?

ND: A baton. [Laughs] Now it’s a full chorus—it takes about fifteen minutes. The sun comes around in the building and then the light shines through the first one, and then over fifteen minutes, this chord opens up.

BLVR: That’s amazing. Did you ever make any light organs or anything like that?

ND: Like a keyboard attached to the insulators? Well, in a sense, yeah.

BLVR: You do kind of conduct light with your films, anyway.

ND: I do. These insulators are very sexy. This insulator has something that kind of looks like semen swimming around in it. My most valuable insulator is this, a yellow one from a company called Diamond. When I saw that, I knew the money was fleeing my pockets. I saw it at an insulator convention. They have shows like comic-book shows, you know, like at a county fair. And I saw this and I said, “I’m powerless.”

BLVR: You felt the money leaving you like a spirit.

ND: This one is what in the hobby they call “shows good.” Meaning that it’s damaged but you can hide it. I could never have afforded it if it weren’t for that.

BLVR: I like that: it’s very show-business language.

ND: You want to see the insulator magazine? It’s called Crown Jewels of the Wire. It’s gotten worse and worse over time, though, because of computer graphics. They used to be very homemade. When I first got it, it felt very much like something we would do in Cub Scouts.

BLVR: Oh, wow. [Looking at Crown Jewels of the Wire] It’s sort of like a zine. Do they still make them?

ND: Yeah. I sent something in once and got it on the cover.

BLVR: Really?

ND: It features an image from [the Cathedral of] Saint John the Divine in New York. They have stained-glass windows dedicated to certain professions, and they have one showing a lineman going up a telephone pole with an insulator.

BLVR: Oh my gosh.

ND: You can see the one little insulator there on the pole.

BLVR: Wow, that’s great.

ND: I was so proud that I got a cover. Being into insulators is like going to a sex club, because everyone agrees that these are interesting. You don’t have to be apologetic. You know what I mean? Everyone’s agreeing that this is worth gathering about.

BLVR: Yeah, you don’t have to explain yourself.

ND: Oh, and then there was a rebellion. There was a group that wanted to have no more buying of insulators, only trading—that was their new morality. So a counter-magazine, an insulator magazine in opposition to Crown Jewels of the Wire, came out, called The Rainbow Riders’ Trading Post.

BLVR: It was a war within the insulator community.

ND: Insulators are a very, very American thing. There’s no insulator shows in San Francisco. You have to drive at least two hours outside the city.

BLVR: How did you get into them in the first place?

ND: Kids my age used to lie on the back seat of their car when their parents were going on a trip, and you’d watch the wires go shoo, shoo, shoo [makes whooshing sound]. Each of the telephone poles has insulators. You’d see these things shining in the sun and it was like these votive things out of reach, out of sight, pulling the energy down from the heavens. And they flashed by, and eventually that affected your marrow.

BLVR: It’s great you remember having that experience. I’m fascinated by the editorial board of this insulator magazine. [Looking at the table of contents of Crown Jewels of the Wire]. This Carol McDougald seems to be the real queen…

ND: Well, at the time, the McDougalds, she and her husband, published the magazine and then they sold it to another couple. There’s all sorts of stories in there about, you know, stopping to get gas in a place and there’s an insulator for twenty-five cents that’s worth thirty-eight thousand dollars. They have all sorts of stories about going to old glassworks and digging things up.

BLVR: Thirty-eight thousand dollars: wow. It’s literally like finding jewels.

ND: Crown Jewels of the Wire, yeah. Photographs don’t do them justice. You know what’s the best time to photograph insulators? On a dark, rainy day. They look so beautiful on a dark day. Unlike most collections, which just exist in boxes, these are actively joy-giving. It’s not like you’re just collecting baseball cards.

BLVR: I’d love to get into them.

ND: If someone goes nuts for them, then I respect them. If they say, Oh, those look like dicks or something… I mean, what does a dick look like? A dick looks like an insulator. [Laughs]

IV. Pen Pals

BLVR: You’re friends with Peter? [Points to photo of Nathaniel, Jerome, and Peter Lamborn Wilson, a.k.a. Hakim Bey]

ND: Yeah.

BLVR: I live in Woodstock, so I knew Peter.

ND: When we took that photo, he had moved to Saugerties, New York. We were very fortunate, because many years ago, Jerome and Peter and I were made roommates, by chance, at Naropa [Institute]. It’s a funny story—one of the reasons we went to Naropa to teach was because there was going to be a national insulator convention in Denver. So that was the real reason we were there! But I said to Jerome, “Sh, don’t tell anyone.” But we told Pete we were going to an insulator convention, and he just sat there and made a prune face. Later that day, we came home with this gorgeous insulator and he says, “Hmm.” He was a slow melt; he goes, “They are kind of charming.” And then, “Are you going back tomorrow? Can I come?” [Laughs]

BLVR: That’s hilarious. I mean, it seems right up his alley.

ND: I got him a bunch over the years.

BLVR: Now I keep seeing insulators in different objects all around the apartment…

ND: You’re going mad! [Laughs]

BLVR: For instance, where’s this painting of an insulator from?

ND: Oh! That was a gift from Piero. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding. I’ll explain: An aunt had given me a bar mitzvah present of a photo by Margaret Bourke-White and it was hanging above the refrigerator there. Then one day, the poet Larry Fagin was visiting from New York and they left The New York Times on the couch and I looked down at it and it was the Sotheby’s auctions, which were saying Margaret Bourke-White prints were selling for fifty-five thousand dollars. So I walked into the kitchen and went, Oh, it’s fifty-five thousand dollars on the wall above the refrigerator. So I got it sold around 1990, and Jerome and I took a trip all around Italy. There’s a town called Ravenna, which is famous for mosaics: it’s where the Roman Empire descended to around the six or seven hundreds. Anyway, there’s a church outside Ravenna called [the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in] Classe, and there was a teenage boy who was working in the card department and he came up to Jerome and me and said, “I want to practice my English. Can I have your address?” And we have been writing each other to this day.

BLVR: Wow.

ND: And so he, at one point, like a good pen pal, asked, “What are your hobbies?” Universal pen pal question. So I wrote back, and I said, “This is gonna sound strange, blah, blah, blah, but I collect these things called insulators.” So he began to go to flea markets in Italy, and occasionally he’d send us one. Anyway, he likes to paint and do crafts, so that’s where that painting comes from. He also did the clock in the kitchen.

BLVR: Oh my god, the clock is amazing, also with insulators!

ND: Yeah, of course. [Laughs]

BLVR: That’s fantastic. How long ago did you start writing to him?

ND: 1990.

BLVR: Wow.

ND: There’s a mosaic over there that he also did.

BLVR: I was noticing that.

ND: He did that.

BLVR: That’s really great. Has he ever come to visit?

ND: No, but he was almost a teenager then… Now he must be seventy or something.

BLVR: That’s what happens.

ND: Unfortunately, now there’s email.

BLVR: Oh, is that what you do now with him?

ND: Yeah, but always a package will come from Italy…

BLVR: Wow. That’s so sweet.

ND: Yeah, email for pen pals is not ideal. FaceTime I enjoy, I have to confess. I like it because you don’t have to talk; you can just smile at each other simply—it’s a way of feeling a heart connection.

V. “The Oddest Thing”

BLVR: How did you begin your work on Dialogues?

ND: Before starting work on Dialogues, I had no film to make, but I wanted to do something, so at a certain point I decided to just start, and it became a portrait of what the San Francisco summer is like.

BLVR: What is it like? I’ve never been here in the summer.

ND: There’s no summer. [Laughs]

BLVR: When did you finish Dialogues?

ND: I think it was shot in June [2022]. I kept the fog at a discreet ratio, but in the film there is kind of a face-off, somehow, between the life force and—I don’t know what you call it, the other one—oblivion?

BLVR: While watching it, I felt a kind of void, but one that I wanted to fall into.

ND: I think you can feel it’s a film made by an older person. I don’t mean that it’s old-fashioned or stodgy; I mean there’s a lot of death in it. Shakespeare has a line from The Tempest about being older, where every third thought is of death. It’s such a great line. Dialogues feels a little like that feeling.

BLVR:But it’s a beautiful depiction of it, and you made the void feel soft, in a way.

ND: I didn’t kick you into a muddy hole?

BLVR: When you first cut onto that angled shot of the ocean, where the screen is all dark and there’s just this glowing white swirl on the top, that completely knocked me out. It was very surprising. I love being put into that kind of place of confusion, which I think gets you into that void kind of place, but in a very beautiful way. In this film, the way the images are talking to each other throughout gives me a very fluid sense of time. How do you think about time when you’re cutting?

ND: Film is like music: it creates its own time. It’s the oddest thing.

BLVR: It’s such a beautiful film, and quite sculptural, painterly, and musical. It’s really like all the art forms in one.

ND: That’s fair. I don’t mean that I’m uniquely capable of that; I just mean that is the nature of cinema—it fits. Would you like to see another film? This one’s more like generic Nathaniel…

BLVR: Please. [Nathaniel screens Place d’or.]

ND: So this one, Place d’or, came from a couple of afternoons at North Lake in Golden Gate Park. I was there and it was a kind of a drizzly gray autumn day and the trees were trying to be cheery and it touched me in the way seasonal things are touching, and I just kind of went for it. You know, it’s expensive to make a film, but it’s good for me; it’s good for my mind to do it. The problem-solving—I enjoy it very much.

BLVR: I felt like for so much of it, I was looking through three different planes. There were the leaves closest to me and then the landscape behind it and then an echo of humanity in the background with the car, and then there were a couple shots with people passing through the landscape.

ND: I mean, normally you would want to eliminate the cars because it’s distracting, but I was somehow touched by them; they were sort of like arrows flying through the image.

BLVR: Yes. The cars were glimmering silver forms. It was a nice silver-and-gold moment.

ND: Yeah, so I didn’t mind the cars. I mean, if someone wants to complain… [Laughs]

BLVR: It was magnificent. In some of those Piero paintings we were looking at, gold is such a powerful presence too.

ND: That’s true—there’s a thing you can’t see in the reproductions of the paintings, but if you went to London to the National Gallery to see [Piero’s] The Baptism of Christ, you’d see he has this beautiful little gold dust in the paint coming down through the tree. It’s totally un-
photographable. It’s like what you might do with a fresco, where you apply the wet plaster and the mineral would make a sparkle.

BLVR: I’m gonna have to pilgrimage.

ND: Of course. It’s fun to see them in situ, in Italy, but that’s a big project. And at the National Gallery, they have nice sandwiches.

BLVR: And that makes it all come together. [Laughs]

ND: Yeah, and they’re not those prissy little English sandwiches.

More Reads

An Interview with William Kentridge

Natasha Boas

An Interview with Jim Jarmusch

Melissa Locker

An Interview with Julie Otsuka

Courtney Zoffness