Quietly awe inspiring in their precise, intricate construction, the films of Robert Beavers have no true parallel in avant-garde cinema, although they bear the influences of his mentor, Gregory Markopoulos. Beavers’s musical editing of iconic shots could be traced back to Markopoulos’s pulsing rhythms, and both share old-world sensibilities; the passionate Greek mythos of the elder filmmaker, in a recapitulation of history, becomes tempered by Beavers into a neoclassical formalism, influenced by Renaissance and Victorian art. Beavers moved to Europe from the U.S. with Markopoulos in the late ’60s and has remained an expat since. His films are filled with the architecture and landscape of those ancient realms, invested with an outsider’s fascination. Now the 20-film cycle that comprises nearly all of his completed films to date, collectively entitled My Hand Outstretched to the Winged Distance and Sightless Measure, screens for the first time in its entirety at the Whitney.
Early Monthly Segments collects studies shot between 1968 and 1970 and was completed in 2002 (this unhurried artist finishes pieces over a span of decades). In it, he begins to articulate his distinct cinematic lexicon: close examinations of Mediterranean light, the elaborate use of mattes and color filters as cinematic punctuation, associative editing and visual rhymes, and a variety of in-camera effects. Segments also includes diaristic episodes of the couple’s life together. In one shot, Markopoulos sits in a room, wearing a stiff, high-necked collar, holding over his heart a pocket mirror that flashes light into Beaver’s camera, an image that reappears in The Count of Days. Diminished Frame visits Berlin in 1970, where neoclassical architecture takes on more ominous historical undertones, while Still Light photographs a young man on a rocky coast, refocusing into soft colorfields. From the Notebooks of . . . , another early film, remains the key to his work, an exhilaratingly subtle self-portrait of his methods. Its evocation of da Vinci suggests that human handiwork might re-create the elegance of natural forms.