Henry Hills

Experimental Filmmaker

Henry Hills


2012 MIFF Shorts Award “arcana” wins BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM at Curtas Vilo do Conde 2012 (Portugal) and BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT FILM at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival, nominated for Austrian Filmprize (Kurzfilm Oesterreichischer Filmpreis 2013).

Thank You, Melbourne

30 min, PAL DV

This project began with an invitation from composer John Zorn to make a short film based on a text he wrote in the 80’s (“Treatment for a Film in Fifteen Scenes,” ARCANA. New York: Granary Books/Hips Road, 2000). Lewis Klahr, as well as several younger filmmakers, are also making versions of this ‘treatment’. Zorn and I have worked together frequently over the years (he starred in my film MONEY and suggested the musicians for the soundtrack of SSS; I made 3 music videos for his band Naked City, and worked closely with his arrangement score & his suggested visualizations of several sections in making the storyboard for LITTLE LIEUTENANT; he wrote a special soundtrack, released as a Tzadik CD, for MECHANICS OF THE BRAIN; and I recently made a 60 min. direct-to-DVD documentary/translation of his “opera” collaboration with playwright Richard Foreman, ASTRONOME; plus he wrote soundtracks, also Tzadik CD releases, for two Martina Kudláček documentary features which I edited). This text, a list of 254 ‘shots’ (with blank spaces dividing the list into 15 groupings) which are described with varying degrees of specificity in usually one to five words, begins as if it were the cutaways only, i.e., no action or dialog shots or facial close-ups, from a classic film noir. Primarily ominous urban imagery, the apparent structure quickly becomes too complex, however, to readily interpret and seems an invitation for improvisation--certainly more of a musical than a traditional narrative structure. I was immediately attracted to this idea as it seemed to require the opposite approach from that which I have typically taken in my work. In my last two films, for instance, I composed from a set of 2 or 3 images which I filmed again and again to explore subtle variations in different lights & states-of-mind and over time. The list itself became such an item in my life that it seemed appropriate to include it as a physical element. In gathering imagery (mixing 16mm Bolex footage with many different kinds and qualities of video), I took advantage of my current living situation, rotating back and forth between Vienna and Prague, New York and North Georgia. When I decided to use Zorn music recorded in the same period the text was written as the soundtrack, it all came together. The resulting film is kind of a film noir cooking show with an alchemical twist, and includes a descent into the underworld, historical and autobiographical elements (including a long swim), and a subplot of the adventures of a charmingly bewildered Slovakian poet/philosopher.

Starring Robert Gal, Martina Kudláček, Henry Hills, and Eve Heller.

A globally composed, musically arranged montage-round: so Henry Hills’s arcana appears to be, a fulminant 30-minute cut-up epic that takes footage – both found and shot by the filmmaker – and crosses it in an almost arithmetic manner with a pre-arranged soundtrack. The basis is a written film treatment of the musician John Zorn, in which 254 scenes, bundled into 15 sequences, are captured in short, sometimes cryptic descriptions. Hills, very much in the style of a Harry Smith or Bruce Conner, has collected takes of radically differing origin for each of the 254 script directions and funneled them into a complexly ramified stream of associations. The sequence of scenes is underscored, or rather, interlocked, with pieces from the John Zorn composition The Bribe (1986), a musical tribute to crime fiction writer Mickey Spillane.

Noir fictions such as Spillane’s form the atmospheric baseline of arcana, whose wealth of associations does not stop with the crime and pulp fiction cinema of the 1950s. Much more, the image flow contains numerous recurring motifs – such as acts of cutting, water, and the atmospheric images of tiles, fences, steps, as well as countless diagrams – from such different sources as B-movies, newsreels, or historical avant-garde films, all of which dovetail together with video or 16-mm footage of everyday miniatures. At the same time the film plays tenaciously on the themes of alchemy and esoteric knowledge, as if a kind of ars combinatoria of a higher degree was behind the sequence of cuts. This, however, remains elusive to the degree that arcana upholds a bridge between start and finish by means of a musically synchronized montage that maintains a resonance of many voices, a mystery play of images in the best sense.

-Christian Höller (Translation: Charlotte Eckler)