At a time when avant-garde filmmaking leans more toward sensations and form than intellect and analysis, David Gatten’s ambitious 16mm cycle Secret History of the Dividing Line attempts a rare feat: an investigation of the borders between word and image influenced equally by Stan Brakhage and Ludwig Wittgenstein (both veterans of related pursuits). The results are formidable: Of a planned nine, Parts I through IV—one of 10 programs screening this weekend at the New York Film Festival’s Views From the Avant-Garde sidebar—currently run 97 minutes, yet indeed feel like the finely constructed beginnings of a grander architecture still to come. Gatten’s project samples from the massive library of colonial Virginia gentleman William Byrd II, with occasional dips into his daughter Evelyn’s journals, producing artfully composed typographies that suss out an invisible web of connections and epiphanies. But Gatten also expresses the indigestible bulk of history’s verbiage through a mobile concrete poetry: Not all his quotes allow for reading; some words flutter past too quickly to serve as more than compositional elements, while others appear in negative, close-up and grainy, like luminous alphabetic windows. Attempting to glimpse a lost world recorded through texts, Gatten offers the paper-thin screen between past and present as just one of his project’s ultimately ineffable dividing lines.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 20, 2005