Poetry News

Don't Miss Henry Hills's Emma's Dilemma: TONIGHT in New York City

By Harriet Staff

Tonight, in New York, for the very first time in its finished state: Henry Hills presents Emma's Dilemma, the experimental film he's worked on since 1997, with a focus on Emma Bee Bernstein and the downtown arts and poetry scenes. More about the film from the Microscope Gallery website:

Henry Hills’ Emma’s Dilemma reinvents the portrait for the age of digital reproduction. In a set of tour-de-force probes into the images and essences of such downtown luminaries as Richard Foreman, Ken Jacobs, Tony Oursler, Carolee Schneemann, and Fiona Templeton, Hills’ cinematic inventions literally turn the screen upside down and inside out. In this epic journey into the picaresque, we follow Emma Bee Bernstein, our intrepid protagonist, from her pre-teen innocence to her late teen-attitude, as she learns about the downtown art scene firsthand. In the process, Hills reimagines the art of video in a style that achieves the density, complexity, and visual richness of his greatest films.

With: Emma Bee Bernstein, with Jackson Mac Low, Eduardo Allegria & dancers, Fiona Templeton, Richard Foreman, Ken & Flo Jacobs, Roberto Juarez, Kenny Goldsmith, Susan Howe, Tony Oursler, Cheryl Donegan, Felix Bernstein, Keith Sanborn, Julie Patton, Susan Bee, Carolee Schneemann, Lee Ann Brown, and Charles Bernstein.

And from Hills himself on the making:

I knew Emma her entire life. I was inspired to work with her on this project upon hearing her comments after attending a screening of my films when she was 9. The sophistication of her observations was uncanny for such a child. This was before mini-DV, though, and I was uncomfortable working in 8mm video and was unable to raise funds to shoot with her in 16mm. She had just turned 12 in 1997 when we began shooting. The project was to consist of her interviewing a range of artists about their work. Poet Jackson Mac Low was the first subject, followed after a few months by interviews with Ken Jacobs and Richard Foreman which became separate films, NERVOUS KEN (2003) and KING RICHARD (2004). We continued working together on a more or less regular basis until she was 16 and then did a final shoot the next year. As we progressed I felt the main center of focus subtly shifting from my artist subjects to my teen protagonist. I had all along intended to take an experimental (rather than documentary) approach to the interview material, to fragment and reassemble it in various ways, frequently riffing on the subjects’ own work, exploring qualities of this new medium of digital video. In this final version these explorations strangely function as interstitial material.

When this exhibit of Emma’s polaroids was announced, my longtime dear friend, poet Charles Bernstein, Emma’s father, asked me to put together some unseen outtakes out of the 30 or so hours I had shot with Emma. I took this opportunity to finally finish this project which had lain dormant for so many years. I had been somewhat fearful of approaching the material after Emma’s death. There is a bizarre aspect to editing, intensely focussing on and analyzing minute moments of time, revealing gestures and vocabularies and manners of speaking and moving, which to the editor seems like spending time with those recorded (even if I never met them). It was fantastic to hang out with Emma one last time, and only when I finished, really in the sound mix, did I feel the tragedy. I sent a preview copy to Charles and he wrote me yesterday:

You really pulled the whole work together in the new version. It takes on a narrative force, as a quest, with the time stopping or opening up in those stuttering moments, which operate as networks of stoppages in Duchamp’s sense..It’s like having Emma back, in flickering moments; and then not.

The material is basically assembled in chronological order. This is primarily a film about Emma and her changes from 12-17 (before she made any of the work in this show), but it includes much of the archaeology of its making.

Originally Published: June 18th, 2012