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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Hollis Frampton Odyssey: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
A Hollis Frampton Odyssey: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // April 24, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted May 14, 2012 | E-mail the Author

Image courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Hollis Frampton (1936-1984) was an American experimental filmmaker whose influence would be felt long after his untimely death. Frampton's interest in visual media grew after he struggled within the confines of high school and college; soon enough, the early twenty-something began photographing his friends, including minimalist artists Carl Andre and Frank Stella. By the mid-1960s, however, Frampton's attention had shifted to film, where it would largely stay for the remainder of his life. His early work was driven firmly by concept, structure and design rather than plot and characters, which also remained something of a hallmark for the avant garde filmmaker. Interestingly enough, the later years of his life were spent exploring the link between computers and art. Though Frampton wouldn't be around to see the leaps and bounds made by the computer industry during the last few decades, he most certainly would've been involved in some way. Or perhaps he might have ignored these breakthroughs entirely.

A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, compiled by The Criterion Collection, is an exhaustive collection of the late artist's most influential and lesser-seen works. This 264-minute minute compilation spans the bulk of Frampton's years as a filmmaker (1966-1984), as his earlier projects were purposely discarded or lost over time. This largely fascinating body of work has been divided into four main sections: "Early Films" (1966-69, six films @ 4-18 minutes apiece), "Zorns Lemma" (his influential 1970 film, 60 minutes), "Films from Hapax Legomena" (1971-72, three films @ 26-37 minutes apiece) and "Films from Magellan" (1972-1984, three films @ 6-53 minutes apiece). These range from accessible to ambiguous; as expected, the subject matter varies wildly. Those entirely new to Frampton's work are better off starting with films like Nostalgia (listed under "Films from Hapax Legomena", and seen above), where artist Michael Snow describes a series of Frampton's early photographs as they each smolder on a hot plate. As for Snow's descriptions...well, the way in which they're presented shouldn't be spelled out beforehand.

As viewers go deeper and deeper into A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, frustration will undoubtedly set in on several occasions. These are truly experimental films that don't regularly follow a clear path; the people you see onscreen aren't necessarily "characters" and what's behind them isn't always part of the story. In other words, they shouldn't always been taken at face value or dismissed outright. Luckily for those seeking a few answers, Criterion has included a 44-page booklet with plenty of descriptive essays, most of which allow us to appreciate the respective films a little more. I'll admit that a number of this films turned me completely off with repetitious sounds, visuals and/or ideas, but there's plenty of fascinating imagery lurking just below the surface. Today's review covers the Blu-Ray edition of A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, which pairs five hours of content onto one great-looking (and good-sounding) disc.

Image courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p transfers of all 24 films look uniformly excellent. Originally shot in 16mm, these films exhibit bold color palettes, a thick layer of natural grain and rich black levels. Image detail and textures are incredibly striking at times, especially the shadowy faces from Manual of Arms and the charred paper remains of Nostalgia. Of course, some instances of dirt, vertical scratches and other damage can be spotted along the way, but this is often a source material issue and nothing more. Artist and film preservationist Bill Brand---who served as one of this collection's telecine supervisors---contributed a valuable essay which details the "damage" that was carefully corrected or, in some cases, left intact. Brand's essay can be found in this release's accompanying booklet.


NOTE: This review's screen caps were obtained from Criterion and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.

Less noticeable but still important, this release's LPCM mono soundtrack usually gets the job done perfectly. Although a handful of the included films are silent, those that make use of sound are, at times, about as ambitious as one-channel audio can be. Dynamic range obviously doesn't have a great deal of punch, but the homemade craftsmanship of A Hollis Frampton Odyssey still makes for a fascinating listen. Unfortunately, optional English subtitles have not been provided during the main feature or extras, which may have helped to clarify certain portions of audio (whether English or otherwise).

Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design

Seen above, this one-disc release is housed in Criterion's typical clear, stocky Blu-Ray keepcase and decorated with dual-sided artwork. A valuable Booklet is also tucked inside, which includes written contributions by Hollis Frampton, Ken Eisenstein, Bruce Jenkins, Michael Zryd and Bill Brand. Criterion's menu designs are clean, concise, easy to navigate and free from annoying forced trailers and piracy warnings. The 264-minute main feature is divided into four sections that represent different stages in Frampton's career, and handy "Play All" options are included for each group or the whole collection.

Bonus Features

The main attraction is a 1978 Interview with Hollis Frampton (22:13, 1080i), moderated by filmmaker Adele Friedman and taped for the Art Institute of Chicago's Video Databank. It's a frank and, at times, bristly chat with the well-spoken artist, but fans should definitely consider it a valuable supplement.

Up next is "A Lecture", a simulated version of Hollis Frampton's 1968 performance piece at Manhattan's Hunter College (23:10, 1080i). Original audio from the performance (including collaborator Michael Snow's narration) is presented here, while the appropriate visuals---in this case, a film projector and a slideshow of images Frampton would've used---combine to give us a virtual front row experience.

Last but not least is "By Any Other Name" (1080p), a collection of images from Frampton's 1979-83 image series of the same name. Essentially, it's photocopied designs from product labels of the era...so while I question its artistic merit, "By Any Other Name" is interesting from a historical perspective.

Final Thoughts

Polarizing, creative, eye-catching and, at times, painfully repetitious, A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is a one-of-a-kind release that experimental film fans will enjoy and appreciate. Every else might as well flip a coin. Either way, it's obvious that a lot of care and attention went into this collection, which doubles as a time capsule and a concise career retrospective for the late artist. Criterion's Blu-Ray does more than just present these films in chronological order: it pairs them with excellent picture and sound quality, tossing in a handful of bonus features for good measure. Die-hard fans probably own A Hollis Frampton Odyssey already, but all other interested parties should try before they buy. Rent It first.

Image courtesy of the Criterion Collection


Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.

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