I may have been at a loss of words yesterday after seeing Breaking the Frame, Marielle Nitoslawska’s superb film on & with Carolee Schneemann, but cultural critic & essayist G. Roger Denson was not. He had a long, well-thought out article in the Huffington Post. Below are the first paragraphs; you can read the whole article here.
It is questionable whether even Sigmund Freud has received a cinematic treatment as evocative of his impact on the culture around him as Carolee Schneemann has received from Marielle Nitoslawska’s film, Breaking the Frame. But then Freud and most other biographical subjects haven’t had the good fortune of having their every waking step imprinted as persistently–and as presciently–as Nitoslawska recorded Schneemann for what came to accumulate lovingly into several years. The reward has been more than gratifying for both filmmaker and subject, reaching as it does as deeply into Nitoslawska ‘s own creative reserve to mirror her impressions of a woman who came as close as any artist in America to being a sibyl-like seer of aesthetic and political possibilities for the last decades of the great modern century.
Whether we credit Nitoslawska’s indefatigable burrowing through five decades of Schnemann’s personal archives, or her reading of the psyche of a woman who has lived to see herself become an American Treasure, Nitoslawska, a graduate of the Polish National Film School in Lodz, composed a consummate fusion of music, imagery, narrative and time that goes beyond the ordinary crafting of a biographical profile. Imposing cinematic rhythms and restraints that make Schneemann seem at times a mythopoetic cypher–an icon we value as much for her reflections on Nature as for her calling out of the power-intoxicated anthropomorphisms that indict the human steerage of Nature into misogynistic and erotophobic dead ends.
The film also owes considerably to film editor Monique Dartonne (also known for her work on the film Incindies) and sound editors Catherine Van Der Donckt and Benoit Dame, who together with Nitoslawska craft a total artwork evoking an epochal tonality that we immediately associate with the bohemian enclaves of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, if not beyond. Those viewers wanting a linear and hard-focused factuality may be put off by the attention to cinematic mannerisms that function as visual corollaries to the cadences of lyric poems or the notation of songs. But even the most stoic audiences should be impressed by the kaleidoscopic phasing of a life that came to embody, if not reconcile, a number of otherwise conflicting artistic and intellectual movements of her day.
While the filmmakers’ lenses and microphones make themselves generously evident, this is entirely in accord with the way that Schneemann herself made film and performance art in her early years–with the artist’s own voice generously heard. Following Schneemann’s lead, Nitoslawska supplies her own stream of voiceover to Breaking the Frame, a convention that here doubles as her framing of scenes and her appraisal of Schneemann as an artist.
“Your flamboyant acts of transgression. Physical and metaphysical connotations. Orifices of erotic sensate bodies, tunnels linking inside to outside. PORTRAIT PARTIALS. Sacred vitality–invoking, conjuring, living.”