Conversations around books, music, and architecture
CLASSICAL PERIOD is a long, circling conversation around, away from, and back to an 1864 translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. The translation is by Henry Longfellow, its endnotes are copious, the result of an over twenty-year engagement with the book.
The film presents a portrait of Cal, a friend since a decade, and some friends of ours. It is also a chance to record some places important to me: my grandmother’s house in South Philadelphia, the upstairs room of my friend Michael Carwile’s apartment.
People meet in sun-filled rooms, on street corners at dawn, and in shadowy apartments – their status as characters in a fiction always being thrown off-kilter by a camera and a microphone whose gaze and ears linger in a grey zone between objectivity and subjectivity.
Cal, Evelyn, Chris, Sam, and Michael. They discuss books, architecture, music – Denise Levertov, Beethoven, Philip Massinger, Vitruvius, Edmund Campion, Edmund Wilson. They sit in silence, alone, reading, thinking, the texts occupying their days filling some kind of void. Rather than as a background to a dramatic story, literary interests are brought to the fore here. They are the very substance of the film.
I felt myself at an impasse with the kind of behavioural-composite character studies I had been making. In this film, I have removed narrative and its related trappings to focus solely on people, most notably Cal. The film contains no exposition, which, even if I had barely used it in my previous films, still felt like a hindrance. Here there is simply what the camera presents, projected in the present tense.
CLASSICAL PERIOD is a fiction in colour 16mm filmed in Philadelphia, PA with a small cast of non-professionals. Notes for the film were made between October 2015 and February 2017, most often in Vienna’s Cafe Jelinek. Filming and editing occurred between February and August 2017. (Ted Fendt, 5 January 2018)
10 April 2016
Up around 7. Bus to Philadelphia with S.E.. Meet S.R. at Starbucks to discuss him being in the movie. His interest in classical music, especially Max Reger and Brahms. Think of the Boulez recording I have of Schoenberg’s “Drei Stücke für Kammerorchester”. Maybe something about the transition from Reger to Schoenberg? In the afternoon, film two rolls of C.E. reading with Bolex.
23 May 2016
At library most of the day. Read a few cantos in “Inferno” [first part of “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri -Ed.] in Longfellow translation, and two chapters in a book called “Bach and the Patterns of Invention”. E-mail quote to S.R. Late 35mm Straubs. S.E.’s comment about how the final shot of reel 1 and all of reel 2 of ARTEMIDE could be a film in and of itself. Monumentality of the man with his hand on the tree.
4 June 2016
In Manhattan early. Breakfast at B&H, lots of coffee. Got my own copy of Longfellow's “Comedy” yesterday and began reading.
5 June 2016
Afternoon phone call with C.E. about who else could be in the book group. Suggests C.S., who he was in a book group with. Opening of Straub-Huillet retro at MoMA, see MACHORKA-MUFF, NICHT VERSÖHNT and CHRONIK [CHRONIK DER ANNA MAGDALENA BACH, 1968 -Ed.], then dinner at fancy French restaurant near MoMA with H.H., A.O., J.S., B.U. and others.
13 June 2016
Go to NJ with J.R., meet up with C.E. and then meet C.S. at a bookstore. Long talk about his interests in psychology. He should definitely be in the film. Dinner with my parents at Dante & Luigi’s. Beautiful sun and signage to see on the way. Mario Lanza mural. Spaghetti and meatballs, red wine.
16 June 2016
Coffee in the Village with E.E. Ask her to be in film. She agrees, thankfully, and I give her the outline of events as conceived up until now. Then off to work. Four 35mm features in a row. Home at midnight. Up late reading Levertov’s early poems, found on shelf in J.R.’s collection of New Directions paperbacks.
20 June 2016
Arrived in Vienna, at long last!
2 August 2016
Scanning amateur films all day with S.Z. in archive. Then beer at café in Heiligenstadt, discuss model trains. Vecchiali film at Filmmuseum, then dinner at Herzogs Wirtshaus with C.H. My first taste of ‘gewutzelte Mohnnudeln’. Easily the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.
28 October 2016
Malipop with D.K. Zwickelbiers... Discover The Necks, Erik Truffaz’s ‘Doni Doni.’
25 December 2016
Empty train at dawn to Philadelphia with M.R.’s 16mm camera. Dad and J. pick me up, then we pick up Grandmom R., and head home. Average age at our family gatherings is now around 85 and no one can hear anything. Finish reading “Paradise”.
26 December 2016
M.C.’s in Philly to look at his living room as possible location. Upstairs sitting room is better. Visit every independent bookstore in town to find one for film. Settle on two near Penn. Buy Dostoyevsky’s “Demons”, Levertov’s “Sands of the Well”, Seneca in Latin and a Latin dictionary for C.E., an older study of Dante.
2 January 2017
Back in Philly after week of working non-stop. First thing I ate this year was bread pudding J.R. brought me back from P.J. Clarke’s. See M.S. in Fishtown in the cold rain, long catching-up talk and decide to use her living room and dining room for two different scenes in film. Train back to New York. See Malick’s THE NEW WORLD. At home, drink whiskey and read essay on Canto V of “Purgatory” written for a panel talk at NYU in the late ‘60s.
4 January 2017
Meet E.E. in morning at diner. Long conversation about Canto V of “Purgatory”. Take copious notes. Straight to library to attempt first draft of this scene, which needs to be long and which I have been putting off until now, completely uncertain as to how to begin. Large blank spaces left for C.E. to fill in. No break for lunch, starving in evening. Fanelli’s for meatloaf and Guinness.
5 January 2017
Beginning of two weeks in booth without a day off. This should more or less pay for film stock and lab costs in February.
21 January 2017
Disappointing phone call with D.D. Get off work relatively early. Short, annoyed walk and then to Milano’s. Lisa is working! Drunk.
10 February 2017
Rehearsal of Dante scene at S.R.’s. Seemingly goes well. Record audio of most of it. S.R. provides cold-cut lunch. Bus back to New York with E.E. Dinner at B&H and Pialat’s NOUS NE VIELLIRONS PAS ENSEMBLE at Anthology in the evening. Milano’s alone until late, lots of Rolling Rock and generous shots. Trying to keep my mind on my books and the film.
15 January 2017
Preparing to leave for NJ to begin filming. Final packing. Two Elaine May films at Anthology, then Milano’s again. Run into C.M. Drunk, drunk…
23 February – 4 March 2017
Everyone managed to get here, I have made it here, and we can begin. Filming!
1 April 2017
Re-shoot what should be first scene of film with C.E. and E.E. Much colder than when we were filming this before.
3 April 2017
Rare day off. Agreed to cover so many of J.F.’s shifts that life is now mainly just shuttling to and from the booth and my house. Use the day off to go to work anyway to see three French films not seen in several years. S.E. in town from Vermont. LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAINE, DÉTECTIVE and LES DEUX ANGLAISES ET LE CONTINENT. Then burgers and beer at Flame with S.E.
15-16 April 2017
Miéville retro at BAM. Only two days I can make it. Breakfast and long walk with M.R. from Berlin, then series of masterpieces: ICI ET AILLEURS, FAIRE LA FÊTE, LOU N’A PAS DIT NON, HOW CAN I LOVE (A MAN IF HE DON’T LOVE ME BACK), APRÈS LA RECONCILIATION, MON CHER SUJET. Party at D.D.’s with S.E. & G.H.K. to make me feel less uncomfortable. Don’t drink much. Back at BAM for LE LIVRE DE MARIE and JE VOUS SALUE, MARIE. Sipping beers with S.E. at Frank’s.
18 April 2017
Cutting film at home. Making very intuitive and rather fast decisions. I think Robert Frank said ‘first idea, best idea’? In any case, I know what I don’t like, or what doesn’t work. Afternoon at library. Trying to determine what to film in June, especially with E.E. Two incredible Vladislav Vančura films at MoMA with S.E. Then Fanelli’s—steak sandwiches, Guinness, and eventually some whiskey.
1 May 2017
Coffee at Third Rail and then several hours at the library, going through old issues of “Film Kritik” and Zukofsky’s “Test of Poetry” to pass the time. To forget romantic predicaments that still seem to distract me? I don’t know. Apple cake and tea at Little Poland, then to Quad to see KING LEAR. Meet S.N. at Fanelli’s. Grilled chicken salad and Brooklyn Lager. S.N. leaves. I move to the bar and stay a while longer.
17 May 2017
Soul Night until 3AM. Sipping pilsners at bar. Several shots with D., bartender. New favourite song: ‘I am Controlled by Your Love’, Helene Smith. Talk to Scottish girl who is going to Austin, TX to see a man who looks like Jesus she slept with last year.
19 May 2017
Finish “Interpretation of Dreams”, begin reading “Civilisation and its Discontents”. Break for lunch. Begin to read essay analysing Freud’s childhood (Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, in “Early Freud and Late Freud”). Stop halfway through to begin intense self-analysis of my own childhood, especially of several mother figures, feelings of abandonment.
28 May 2017
Taking long breaks between looking at film so that the rhythms feel fresher and I am less ‘inside’ it. CHINATOWN SQUAD at MoMA. Down to Chinatown with S.E., S.E. and B.W. for noodles & soup dumplings at Spicy Village. Meet M.P., B.B. at Milano’s.
1 June 2017
Can’t sleep. Wake up early. Go to Philadelphia. Rehearsal with C.E. and S.R. We run through what S.R. will talk about and what he and his friends will play – Beethoven’s Trio in C Minor. Attempt at new dialogue for E.E. scene on bus back. Unhappy with results. Drink two bottles of Portuguese wine with G.R. after tacos in Sunset Park.
5 June 2017
Movie day after week of non-stop projecting and translating. S.E. in town too. DISHONORED at Metrograph, walk to Film Forum for Lubitsch double feature, THE MAN I KILLED and ETERNAL LOVE. Drinks at Blind Tiger for first time in a several years. Spain for the free appetisers and Campari sodas. Pizza at Joe’s. Early night.
9-11 June 2017
Final filming. Long walk along Schuylkill River with B.W. and S.D. in morning. Afternoon: film scenes with E.E. & C.E. in park. B.W. behind the camera. Next day at S.R.’s. Attempt eight takes of music performance, musicians happiest with first.
1 August 2017
Begin marathon of projection work. Three weeks. Fortunately I’m mainly showing DCPs.
10 August 2017
Show ‘finished’ film to R.B., the only person I can trust in these matters. He suggests cutting first scene and last shot, which I know immediately is right and do so. Prepare reels for negative cutter.