Silk Ties (2006)

Dir. by Jim Jennings

Avant-garde cinema remains a new frontier for me. I don’t have the vocabulary for it yet, and I often find myself mystified (in the best sense of the word) by the experience of most experimental films. At this point I trust my critical judgment only to the point of distinguishing the very, very good from the very, very bad, and Jim Jennings’s Close Quarters (2004), which I saw at TIFF 2005, impressed me to the extent that I now use it as shorthand for the style of filmmaking that discovers transcendent beauty in the everyday. Close Quarters, which was shot entirely within Jennings’s New York home, is a montage of near-abstract images — shadows moving against a wall, light pouring through a curtain, the face of his cat — but his mastery of chiaroscuro never subsumes the “real” subjects of his gaze. Or, as Michael Sicinski puts it (much better than I could):

The film is a play between the urge to “escape” the domestic via an aesthetic sensibility, and an undiluted love for the domestic, a gathering of bodies and shadows as co-equal loved ones. This is the film that a certain segment of the avant-garde has been trying to make for nearly fifty years, and the painful, radiant beauty of it — its full embrasure of a sliver of ordinary life, one that shines forth simply because it is so unreservedly loved — brought tears to my eyes.

Jennings’s latest, Silk Ties (2006), is a lesser film, I think, but it was still among the best shorts I saw in 2006. A city symphony in miniature, Silk Ties is never short of stunning to look at. Like so many great photographs, the stark black-and-white images here seem to have been stolen from some slightly more magical reality. (After seeing the Jennings film and Nathanial Dorsky’s Song and Solitude on the same program, I walked away wishing I could recalibrate my view of the world around me, which, I guess, is one of the more noble functions of a-g cinema.) If I was less moved by Silk Ties than by Jennings’s previous film, then (borrowing from Michael’s comments) I wonder if it’s simply a matter of his moving from a domestic space to a more impersonal cityscape. His changed relationship to his subject would, perhaps, necessitate a changed relationship for the viewer as well.