Two Experimental Short Films from the 1980s Directed by Women: Measures of Distance (1988) and Adynata (1983)

One of the primary ways in which I tend to use YouTube is as a resource for watching short films, which are often ill-served by other platforms (whether online streaming services or physical media, not to mention film festivals and cinematic screenings, or even TV). Whether that’s catching up on the work on the LA Rebellion’s women filmmakers, random recommendations like Possibly in Michigan, the short films that feature on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s favourite 1000 films list (one of which, Adynata, I review below), some short films littering the lower depths of Kristen Stewart’s filmography (I can’t bring myself to review them here though I pondered doing a post), or of course music videos, amongst other ephemera. There’s a lot there to enjoy, and I expect if I do future posts about short films, YouTube will be a key resource.

Measures of Distance (1988) [UK/Canada]

I was introduced to this short video piece recently at a conference, in relation to Chantal Akerman’s News from Home (1977), and the comparison seems apt in many respects. It’s not just at a thematic level — letters from the artist’s mother being read out structure the piece — but about what it expresses regarding exile, specifically in relation to a turbulent political history. Hatoum’s mother (in Arabic in the background, but translated by an English voice, both provided by Hatoum) speaks about displacement from her place of birth, and the ravages of war making communication difficult. She also speaks of the place of women in her society and the way that the candid photos which punctuate the film are expressions of that. All the while, the scrawled Arabic handwriting, like barbed wire, snakes across the screen in front of the image. For a 15 minute piece, it’s deeply layered and affecting.

Director/Writer Mona Hatoum منى حاطوم‎; Length 16 minutes.
Seen at home (YouTube), London, Saturday 12 November 2016.

Adynata (1983) [USA, black-and-white and colour]

The title refers to a figure of speech (adynaton) in which an exaggerated impossibility is used to state the impossibility of something else (the usual example is “when Hell freezes over”), and I suppose like any avant garde film there are multiple levels at work, but my primary reading is that this enacts to some extent the impossibility of recapturing the past, as well as the contortions and appropriations involved in attempting it. I mean obviously that’s just one, possibly rather surface reading, as nothing is explicitly stated and there’s a wealth of imagery at work.

Director/Writer Leslie Thornton; Length 28 minutes.
Seen at home (YouTube), London, Sunday 31 July 2016.


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