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Rameau’s Nephew by Diderot (thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen

Michael Snow

Canada, 1974
270 minutes, Colour, Opt
Available formats: 16mm

‘Snow’s longest work to date, the more than four-hour ‘Rameau’s Nephew By Diderot (Thanks to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen ,’ which he began after his return to Toronto in 1971 and completed in 1974, marks a significant departure in his cinema. Snow described the film as a ‘talking picture,’ and this comment–coupled with his mention of the French encylopedist , philosopher, and author Diderot in the title–pointedly announced to audiences that the film would be encyclopedic and philosophical in the way that it inventoried and explored the nature of sound. Unlike his three major works of the sixties and seventies, Rameau’s Nephew …is not unified by a single visual strategy that creates a dominant perceptual shape. Rather, it consists of some twenty-five sections, significantly different in length. Each segment is a meditation–often comic–about the nature of recorded sound, both abstract and representational, about the many possible kinds of audiovisual relationships, and about their philosophical implications. According to Regina Cornwell [Snow Seen, 1980], running through the film, “is a philosophical discussion about reality, appearance, illusion, representation, verisimilitude, which is undercut by humor in the form of sophisms, paralogisms , puns, repetition, variation, excess.” A single brief, but characteristic example from the sprawling work with its maze of internal cross-references will have to suffice: In the eighth sequence, we see Snow’s hands drum an empty kitchen sink that gradually fills with water and then is emptied again. The episode is, of course, based on a verbal joke about ‘sync’ or synchronized sound, the most familiar way that sound is used in film. This formulation of the idea in turn links up with a multitude of similar humorous experiments with synchronization in other sequences.’ – World Film Directors, Volume II 1945-1985, edited by John Wakeman