Interview with Geoffrey Alan Rhodes

June 3, 2009 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

This is the first in a short series of interviews on artists who are featured in our special and upcoming edition of INtransit: Can You Hear Me Now. Geoffrey Alan Rhode’s film, Tesseract is a fascinating and multifaceted look at Eadward Muybridge. -sam smiley

What sparked your interest in Muybridge and the topics in Tesseract?

I came to the story of Muybridge inadvertently. When I was first conceiving of this multi-channel film, I wanted to adapt a story written by Steven Millhauser, “Eisenstein the Illussionist,” which tells the history of stage magic’s demise in the face of cinema at the turn of the century. I was in contact with the author, but wasn’t able to get the rights because it was already optioned (and, in fact, was made in to the film “The Illussionist” with all the smart bits taken out). But telling the story to a friend, it made her think of an essay by Hollis Frampton on Eadweard Muybridge, “Fragments of a Tesseract.” Reading it, I immediately realized the resonance between the multi-channel form and Muybridge’s work and saw, as well, the connection between all these great upheavals at the turn of the century… the moving image, Taylorism, the end of stage spectacle… And Hollis Frampton was an amazing thinker. His essays are only beginning to be re-discovered. He saw in Muybridge’s obsession with pulling apart time a resolute humanism— a current against the regimentation of time… a view of time and movement as obsessional and inconceivable.

How did you decide on the use of multiple screens in your video? How
did that influence your editing?

The idea for making up the screen into multiple parts preceded the content, as I stated above. It was one of my first formal film ideas, it came to me when I was 19 and reading Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics” while staying at my brother’s place in Boston (we shared a fascination with comics in the 80’s). I was struck by his comparison of cinema and comics as to how they communicate time. He calls the process of communicating action in comics “closure” where the reader has to reconcile the “gutter” between frames and imagine the movement (whereas cinema, of course, just moves). I was fascinated by the idea of bringing this irreconcilable difference in to the film frame and what that could make possible. It did make editing a nightmare. The amount of editing choices grows exponentially when you split up the screen. I didn’t feel like an editor, but a layout artist working in four dimensions: where in the x,y on the screen and how large, what’s on top and what’s underneath, and when does it happen. I wound up having to give myself limits, compositing the material based on my original drawings and then editing those mixdowns more like a normal film.

What did you have to do with respect to researching this topic?

I have slowly become a better expert on Muybridge. At the time of production I was most concerned with images and original text (Muybridge’s defense attorney’s speech and the events of his crime are taken directly from the reports in California newspapers of that year). In researching the timeline of his life I was struck by how flexible that history is… most biographies have slightly different years for the events– especially the sequencing of his experiments leading up to his more famous Motion Studies. In the editing room I found that I had to follow his process in a way. In order to produce the animated sequences of his photos, I scanned in almost 2,000 original photographs (a small portion of his 80,000 negatives!) and then produced individual animations of each. All this done on a home computer, waiting for the render bar to clear. Once animated, I discovered in those images while sitting in my dark editing room a certain melancholyâ especially in the image of the young lady joyfully dancing. It occurred to me that all these people are long gone. In fact, they are the end of history… I will never see the image of someone moving before those years of Muybridge’s obsessive production; before that it is still photos, then paintings, then nothing.

What did it take in terms of time and coordination to get all the cast
members and tech people together?

The project was generously funded by the Princess Grace Foundation, a really exceptional funder of moving-art works. Still, much of that was reserved for post, and the film was produced on a shoe-string. What made it possible was the arts community in Buffalo, New York. No where else could I have found such an exceptional community of theater costumers, actors, photographic collectors, and antique locations willing to donate their time and resources. And Buffalo is a city of that time period, its most famous hay-day the 1901 Pan-American Exposition when some of the first Edison films were produced and the first city lighting grid assembled.

What impassions you as an artist/cinemat0grapher?

I am quite attached to ideas and visions. I once read a Pat Conroy book where one of the characters says that he is capable of anything as long as he can see it in his head before-hand. I am like that. I can have very convincing images in my mind of how something will be, and without those, I have no idea how to create or want to.
For more information on Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and his work you can visit his web site at

Entry filed under: Interviews and articles.

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