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Premiere: Two Years At Sea

By MAX GOLDBERG  |  October 18, 2012

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London-based filmmaker Ben Rivers has proven a restless creator since first making a splash with several gorgeous hand-processed 16mm portraits in 2006 and 2007.

I Know Where I'm Going and Slow Action filter landscape studies through musings on geologic time and imaginary utopias, whereas Two Years at Sea, here in its local premiere, expands upon an earlier portrait (This is My Land) of a mild highlands sage living off the grid. Languid documentary images of Jake's routines are intertwined with a highly active (though nearly wordless) soundtrack. Editing is motivated more by sensory association than exposition, drawing the viewer into a lyrical comprehension of Jake's environment. The space between sound and image invites reverie in all Rivers's films, but recent work like Two Years at Sea edges towards the cosmological domain of myth.

Also showing in the same program at the HFA (with the director in attendance) is Rivers's mesmerizing new short, Phantoms of a Libertine. Initially conceived within a larger installation of mementos from a recently deceased photographer friend, the 16mm film finds a hermetic universe in the artist's drawer. Witty captions for unseen travel snapshots evoke the peculiar moment after death when a person's private effects are suddenly public and undecipherable. As Rivers arranges the scraps of art, pornography, and advertising into florid collages, we're treated to the quiet spectacle of one imagination contemplating another.

Phantoms is even more poignant when considered alongside two of Rivers's earlier films, not included in this program: Slow Action's ruminations on extinction are here resized to fit the personal anonymity that awaits us all, and the tender and unfamiliar regard for a closing factory in Sack Barrow now grasps for a crumbling palace of the mind. If collections border on a "chaos of memories," as Walter Benjamin wrote, Phantoms represents a tempestuous return to disorder.

TWO YEARS AT SEA BY BEN RIVERS :: Harvard Film Archive :: October 20 :: 7 pm :: hcl.harvard.edu/hfa

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