The Films of Richard Serra

In order of screening, tonight's films are:

Hands Catching Lead
is Serra's first film, and the first of several “performances with hands.” Here his right hand tries to catch pieces of lead. Because of the tight framing, the hand also looks as though it is trying to grasp the edges of the frame. The strain of the task also becomes increasingly evident.
• Photographed by Robert Fiore. (1968, 3-1/2 mins, silent, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

Hands Scraping
uses the hands of Serra and Phil Glass engaged in the simple procedure of clearing a pile of steel shavings off the floor methodically. The film involves a kind of choreography that transcends simple expediency. The film reduces the frame to one sequential structure in which the action demonstrates a reductio ad absurdum, for more energy is expended at the end to do seemingly less work.
• Photographed by Robert Fiore. With Phil Glass. (1968, 4-1/2 mins, silent, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

Hands Tied
lasts as long as it takes Serra, whose hands are tied with a rope inside the frame, to untie the knots. The hands acquire a physical expressiveness of their own which is akin to that of the thief in Bresson's Pickpocket.
• Photographed by Robert Fiore. (1968, 3-1/2 mins, silent, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

demonstrates the disparity in perception between what is seen by the cameraman looking through the lens and what is seen by a person looking directly at the same place.
• Photographed by Robert Fiore. (1969, 22 mins, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

Color Aid
takes its title from the brand name for packs of colored paper used in art making and teaching. The colors are stacked randomly and shot in close-up; each one acts as a color field which registers shifts in the grain of the paper and of the film. Each remains on screen from three to thirty seconds as Serra's fingers enter the frame to wipe one off, revealing the next. Within the randomness of the wipes there are occasional abrupt changes of saturation and some subtle transitions of value. Serra's fingers are toned by the color value and saturation pervading the frame. The soundtrack is of the sheets of paper being removed one after the other.
• Photographed by Robert Fiore. (1971, 36 mins, color, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

Railroad Turnbridge.
“In 1975 I began to film on a bridge in Portland, Oregon. The bridge, a five-part drawspan turnbridge, was constructed by the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1909-12 over the Willamette River. The center section (270 yards long) rotates electrically on a cylindrical axis. The bridge opens and allows the boats to pass through; turns, closes and locks, carrying the trains over. I shot this film. I wanted to look through the camera closely at something I like and understand: steel structure. The bridge and the film became mutually interdependent: the bridge enabled me to examine movement in filmic structure; the filming became a way of isolating and concentrating certain iconic elements of bridge structure. I think of this bridge as a railroad over a void: in the film, its structure is both means and end.” Richard Serra
• (1976, 19 mins, silent, Print Courtesy of Castelli-Sonnabend)

Steel-Mill 1978 (Ruhr Valley)
is the working title of Serra's most recently completed film which has its premiere at this screening. “The film presents the workers' response to conditions in a West German forging plant preceding the first national steel strike in 50 years. The film's contradiction is its subject: juxtaposing a political consciousness (voice of the workers) with inherent problems of constructing a film as film (the viewpoint of the filmmaker). The workers' evaluation of themselves and conditions in the mill presented through a German interview and a simultaneous written translation opens the film. The images and soundtrack that follow point to the inevitable contradiction between the voice of social change (the text) and the task of making a film.” Richard Serra
• Co-Directed by Clara Wyergraf. Sound Editing by Lizzy Borden. (1979, 35 mins, Print Courtesy of filmmaker)

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