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Scratch Focus / July 16, 2020


Scratch Focus is a new online streaming space that aims to encourage the exploration of Light Cone's catalogue, a constantly evolving archive that is now made up of around 5500 films. Every month, we invite you to discover the work of a filmmaker from the collection on our website.

We begin with a selection of films by Larry Gottheim, a key figure in the history of American avant-garde cinema since the 1970s. A still active filmmaker, his current work often uses the simple structure of his early films and also relates to minimalist and conceptual artistic practices.

Larry Gottheim was born in New York in 1936. In 1969, he founded the Department of Film at Binghamton University, New York, where he taught 16mm filmmaking for more than three decades. This highly influential department attracted some of the most talented artists, scholars and filmmakers of the time, including Ken Jacobs, Hollis Frampton, Peter Kubelka and Ernie Gehr, among many others. In the 1990s, Gottheim also worked for a brief period as director of the New York Film-maker's Cooperative. Gottheim's films are part of museum and archive collections around the world, including Light Cone.

In the first period of his work (1969-1971), the films were made as sequence-shots (continuous or semi-continuous shooting), thus signifying his rejection of conventional montage. In his first short films, completely silent (with the exception of Harmonica), the analysis of movement and visual rhythms within the shot paved the way for his later work with the sound material. These are meditative and minimalist films, very often rooted in the landscape tradition. Larry Gottheim also reflects on the relationship of film to painting and the analogies between the possibilities of the camera and the activities of consciousness, notably in Blues, Corn, Fog Line, Doorway, Thought and Barn Rushes.

Constantly evolving over the course of his career, his work gradually turned into a cinema of montage based on formal structures. With the Elective Affinities series (1971-1981), composed of four feature films (Horizons, Flying Flies, Four Shadows and Tree of Knowledge), he developed his interest in thought and consciousness in cinema, as well as his experiments with the soundtrack.

Later, he continued to work on the concepts of formal association and the relationship between image and sound. In Mnemosyne Mother of Muses (1986) and The Red Thread (1987), he approaches his autobiographical experience by confronting it with repetitive structures, marking a deep interest in questions on anticipation and memory.

Larry Gottheim's most recent films incorporate elements of a documentary approach. They are also a continuation of his work on the relationship between image and sound and formal structures, and include his first video works: from Machete Gilette... Mama (1989) and Your Television Traveler (1991) to the most recent Chants and Dances for Hand (2016) and Knot/Not (2019).


Elective Affinities IV
1981 / color / sound / 57' 45

« A central element is a documentary film about paranoid conditions. Another is a flow of images of an apple tree in my back yard filmed impulsively, without forethought, the opposite of the static camera of Fog Line. The radical breaking with the previous passivity of the camera has deep psychological dimensions. (...) The film points to a deeper reality than what is on the surface. »
– L.G. (read more)

1986 / 16mm / color / sound / 16' 00

« There is a double retrograde motion. A flow of images goes forward, linked to a sound track that is going backward. Then the directions are reversed. (...) Memory is both a subject of the film and an essential part of its structure. The material evokes many other emotional and philosophical ideas. »
– L.G. (read more)

1987 / 16mm / color / sound / 15' 30

« My actual image appears as an ironic avatar of my real filmmaker self. It is challenged by a woman, a weaver with whom I was in a relationship. (...) The division into « acts » is a somewhat ironic echo of the formal structures of previous films. The real me, the filmmaker me, is there, for example in the piano passages and above all with the children in the schoolyard, a ceremonial dance. »
– L.G. (read more)

2016 / color / sound / 40' 00

« There are many scenes of Voudou ceremonies, a violent uprising, and images from my personal life that include my Haitian son Hand. The sound track is always the sync sound that accompanied the images. These images are stark brief blasts of vibrant phenomena and sounds. The viewer/listener can recall some of them and do a kind of editing in the mind. »
– L.G. (read more)

2019 / color / sound / 22' 00

« "Knot" — wrapping things up, tying things up. "Not" – cross out, erasure. Material from a documentary about conductor Wilhelm Fürtwangler, material from a graffiti stencil work on a brick wall near where I live, a stencil of a girl writing something on the wall, what she wrote crossed out by another act of graffiti. These are the main elements. »
– L.G. (read more)

Light Cone distributes Larry Gottheim's films, see the complete list here.
Several films by Larry Gottheim have been digitized and color-graded at Light Cone, under the filmmaker's supervision. Larry Gottheim often says that these new digital versions have allowed him to rediscover what he had seen and wanted to film during his shootings.


address Light Cone
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related link Larry Gottheim (official website)