The Work of Brian Frye

Brian Frye, a young filmmaker, has arranged a compilation of his work, available through Peripheral Produce, entitled Waste Book #1. The tape is a collection of seven of Frye's short films, which will be discussed here.

The first film on the tape is called Robert Beck is Alive and Well and Living in New York City. The filmmaker appears to be more in character than the actors, because he goes to lengths to make sure that everything about the film is authentic for another time period. In this case, it looks to have been made in the 1930s. In viewing it, one might easily forget that Brian Frye is only thirty years old. Judging by his work, one would assume that he was far older, and perhaps already deceased.

Frye doesn't leave his obvious passion for ancient filmmaking there, however. The next selection on the tape, Anatomy of Melancholy, can only be called a work of Brian Frye's in the editing. In this piece, Frye takes footage of outtakes from a gothic 1950s melodrama and edits it to tell a story. The title of the piece is very appropriate, as the scene that had been shot was of family members mourning at a funeral. The film has some comic value, watching the hopelessness of the actors as they consistently forget their lines, and of the camera operators: especially in one segment, where a woman falls out of the frame to the ground, weeping, and the camera tilts down to her several seconds later. This film is not simply an outtake reel, but it tells the story of the actors and filmmakers and their frustration in trying to make their own film work.

The third selection on the compilation is entitled Kaddish, which is a three part story about marriage. Each segment of the film is presented in a contrasting style. The first part is filmed in traditional silent movie style, consisting of a man and a woman getting together for dinner. The second part is just a black screen, but audio takes over for the image and we can hear the minister marrying a couple. The third part incorporates both image and sound, but they seem to have compensated for each other's existence by being reduced in their ability to relay information. For example, the image is dreamy and cuts quickly around a reception at a wedding, while the audio is not narrative but simply music.

The fourth film on the tape is called Oona's Veil. It consists simply of a camera slowly trucking around the head of a young woman, and this persists for eight minutes. The film is silent, and the only twist that is put on the film is the fact that the majority of the film being used is ruined; looking like perhaps someone had spilled a vat of ink on it. Most of what is seen on the screen is black smudges. One of the things the film suggests is that it is difficult to see where the camera has moved to until the black clears up for a moment and you can re-adjust yourself to the new point of view on the veil, which the girl wears.

The Letter was an interesting film to watch. Like Frye's other film, Kaddish, this film does not let audio (in the form of narrative, anyway) and image coincide. There is a black screen while a man discusses his feelings about being the new priest at a church. Footage then suddenly kicks in and the audio has gone. The footage is clearly shot from the perspective of the man who was just speaking, as people gesture directly to the camera and talk to it. Most of the film then explores the land surrounding the church, and the film ends by returning once again to the black screen, and we can hear the new priest giving a sermon.

Across the Rappahannock is the first film on the compilation tape to be shot in color. It documents an apparent reenacted battle of the Civil War. Again, it is shot completely in silence, even when the guns are fired there is no sound. If it makes a difference, the film crew for the documentary sides with the Union.

The last film on the tape is called Lachrymae. This film, also in color, consists of still life shots of a cemetery. It progresses more like a slide show than it does a film. However, after the first few minutes, fireflies appear in the cemetery, adding a flare to the film. Near the end of the film, a firefly is seen being played with by gentle human hands. The film then reverts back to still shots of the cemetery, complete with fireflies, and then ends.

Frye's interest in older film technology is very intriguing, and equally impressive. While the majority of his work may not have been shot by him, he can certainly be labeled a film artist through his manipulation of existing footage and his passion to make a story out of seemingly useless material. He has a strength in being as big a fan of film art as he is a participant, and it shows in his work.

-- Tom Farrell, 2004

Brian Frye