David Gatten – Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002)

Paired texts as dueling histories; a journey imagined and remembered; 57 mileage markers produce an equal number of prospects. The latest in a series of films about the division of landscapes, objects, people, ideas and the Byrd family of Virginia during the early 18th century.
—David Gatten

The films in Gatten’s Secret History of the Dividing Line, A True Account in Nine Parts incorporate both approaches within an aesthetic that is rigorous, but not rigid, subtly expressive, but not self-involved. For example, Secret History of the Dividing Line is rigorously structured and it incorporates a “hand-touch sensibility.” Like each of the subsequent films in the project, the title film is divided into a brief introduction and three sections, each of which is organized mathematically (Gatten describes some of the details in our interview). The first section begins with what appears to be a scratch down the center of the filmstrip (it was actually made by painstakingly tearing the filmstrip in two, then reassembling it), which leads into a series of visual texts: a timeline of dates of important historical and cultural events leading up to and away from the life of William Byrd II of colonial Virginia, who founded the city of Richmond; led the surveying party that drew the boundary (the “dividing line”) between Virginia and North Carolina; wrote one of the first detailed descriptions of American nature, History of the Dividing Line (written soon after the surveying expedition, but not published until 1841); and assembled one of the largest libraries in colonial North America. After the sequence of dates, the “scratch” divides the frame in two, revealing on one side, passages from Byrd’s official History of the drawing of the Virginia/North Carolina boundary, and on the other, comparable passages from his secret history of the same events, written before the official history and circulated privately to other colonial gentlemen. Gatten’s work with visual text, along with his precise, mathematical organization, recalls Frampton’s Zorns Lemma, while the “scratch” evokes the many filmmakers who have worked expressively directly on the filmstrip (Douglas Crockwell, Len Lye, Harry Smith, Brakhage, Schneemann, Lawrence Brose, Carl E. Brown, Jennifer Todd Reeves…).

*This is a rip from a VHS copy of the 16mm film. Quality of transfer and VHS tape are not the best.

210.76MB | 20mn 9s | 640×480 | avi



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