Jerome Hiler. The colour of glass

Two sessions programmed by Francisco Algarín Navarro on the cinema of Jerome Hiler and its relationship with the Gothic art of stained glass. «Dreaming of a film which overlaid stained glass and neon lights, Hiler received what was perhaps the most fundamental piece of advice in his artistic career from writer Ken Kelman: "Don't film stained glass, make films that are like stained glass”.»

As a student of Natalia Pohrebinska at the Pratt Institute in New York, Jerome Hiler trained as a painter, devoting many of his teenage years to producing large format paintings. During his youth in the early 60s, he worked with the photographer Frederick Eberstadt and also as a musical copyist, producing scores for modern composers. During this same period, also in New York, he discovered jazz at The Five Spot, the durative yet transient ballets by George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet and avant-garde films at the Bleecker Street Cinema. Hiler was enormously impressed by experimental films made by Marie Menken, Harry Smith or Stan Brakhage, and also impacted by two film-makers that he would soon be working with: Gregory Markopoulos, with whom he shared a flat, assisting him at the The Illiac Passion (1964-67) shoot —for which he was also the costume designer— and Nathaniel Dorsky, his life partner, whom he helped to make his last sound film, Summerwind (1965). He also worked as a projectionist at the Filmmakers' Cinematheque, and that was basically all the training Hiler got as a film-maker. Shortly beforehand, around 1964, he had begun to teach himself to film using a Bolex camera lent to him by Markopoulos —coloured glass, his future profession, was already present in the close-up he filmed: three images of the rose window in the church of St. John the Divine repeated in the same frame. Dreaming of a film which overlaid stained glass and neon lights, Hiler received what was perhaps the most fundamental piece of advice in his artistic career from writer Ken Kelman: “Don't film stained glass, make films that are like stained glass.” 

Except for small films made as gifts (Fool’s Spring [1966-67], Gladly Given [1997]), some commissions (Target Rock [1969-2000], or Library [1970] and Hollywoodesque exploitation Revenge of the Cheerleaders [1978] where he worked with Dorsky) or a documentary (Music Makes a City, on the Louisville Orchestra, made with Owsley Brown III), Hiler filmed every day for over 30 years without thinking of making a film. He was rather more shaping a cinema that practically never saw the light (publicly) —he only showed different configurations of his reels to a small group of friends in home projections— up to 2011, when he began to show his films at festivals, film libraries and museums. On the one hand, there are his four new films, recently filmed and edited: Words of Mercury (2010-11), Marginalia (2016), Bagatelle I (2016-18) and Ruling Star (2019). On the other, the three films comprising material that he had been compiling since 1964: In the Stone House (1967-70/2012), New Shores (1971-87/2014) and Bagatelle II (1964-2016), directly editing originals that had only been shown openly in 2004, on two one-hour reels in London. Hiler never made copies of this personal material, so he could only show what was available. Having used some reels so often that they were damaged, or having got rid of some material because he considered it irrelevant, he clearly demonstrates his scarce pretension to create a cinematographic project over these years.

In the Stone House was filmed between 1967 and 1970, the same period as Hours for Jerome, by Nathaniel Dorsky, as both film-makers moved from New York to a stone house in the New Jersey countryside, on the shores of Lake Owassa. Through recurring people and places, Hiler constructs sequences that weave a vital —and occasionally seasonal— ‘narration’, frequently comprising overlays of two or more layers of disparate motifs, which alternate with other sequences that appear just once. Avoiding any type of hierarchy between different states of consciousness, both modalities work with the same feeling of floating, and an identical, complex articulation of colour which is clear in the cuts regarding pace, proportion and weight, in the dialectic between the material filmed in colour or in black and white and in the use of coloured gels and filters. His second ‘retrospective’ film, New Shores, which amasses material filmed between 1971 and 1987, begins where In the Stone House ends —as the film-makers travel and move house from New Jersey to California— and it finishes by returning to the stone house in its epilogue, including material dating from the time of the previous film and in turn opening a time tunnel to Hours for Jerome.

The metaphor of the pressed flower inside a book which opens up again many years later has maybe never been so enlightening in this extraordinary experience of multiple and condensed time. His third ‘autobiographical’ film, Bagatelle II, covers Hiler’s complete timespan as a film-maker. From night-filming of cars, bridges and neon lights —the oldest material that the film-maker kept— to the trains in his childhood neighbourhood of Jamaica, Queens or a shot filmed while editing the film, paying homage to the recent death of Peter Hutton. Furthermore, Bagatelle II also interweaves long sequences of painted film which allude to the present. Disappointed by cinema, Hiler began to make stained glass in the late 80s. Drawn by the intensity of the colour of glass, and by its tenacity compared to ephemeral film colour, he spent fifteen years working on several decorative pieces. The stained-glass technique —using paint to block light passing through enamelled glass— is transferred to the cinema by means of paint and corrosion in Bagatelle II. Hiler sprays fabric dye on the film, on which he has stuck cut-out blocking templates that produce new shapes when sprayed, after which the material is removed, and it is left to dry. On stained glass, the colour is not provided by the paint, but is found in the actual glass. Several layers are painted, and the textures are scraped. The paint blocks the light. Bagatelle I weaves a solitary portrait of an artist capable of transforming a chaotic world and, among the overlays in Words of Mercury, we see some of the pieces painted by the film-maker, and a glazier at work. Through the glass, Hiler returns to his pictorial roots —technically a long way from stained glass, finally connected to his films.

Francisco Algarín Navarro

Programme 1

Cinema Before 1300
Jerome Hiler, 2023, 100 min

Programme 1

Programme 2

Words of Mercury
Jerome Hiler, 2010-2011, 25 min

Jerome Hiler, 2016, 23 min

Bagatelle I
Jerome Hiler, 2016-18, 16 min

Ruling Star
Jerome Hiler, 2019, 22 min

Programme 2
Promoted by
Gobierno de Navarra
Organized by
With the aid of
Con la financiación del Gobierno de España. Instituto de la Cinematografía y las Artes Audiovisuales Acción Cultural Española Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia Financiado por la Unión Europea. NexGenerationEU

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