"You take a canvas, divide it up like a checkerboard... and go from there." - Man Ray

Duane Michals: 1939-1997
Duane Michals: 1939-1997
About the film
  • Year
  • Categories
  • Duration 14 minutes
  • Producers Sydie Lansing, Gerrit Lansing
  • Directors Edgar Howard, Theodore Haimes

A haunting and evocative film by the photographic master of mystic innuendo, Duane Michals.

This film is divided into sections, some of which reproduce in Michals’ well-known photographic stories, sequential images that add up to form a narrative. “The Bogeyman” is a child’s nightmare in photo-animation. Did it happen, or not?

Then we get to a cryptic message from the artist, as though from beyond the grave (hence the title “1939 – 1997”). We watch over the artist’s shoulder as he writes “It is no accident you are reading this, I am making black marks on white paper, these are my thoughts.” This brings another concern of Michals’; the act of writing, which has predominated in his exhibitions.

“The Human Condition” shows the subway stop immolation of a young man who turns into a galaxy, stressing the spiritual nature of existence. The artist’s voice returns: “A failed attempt to photograph reality — to photograph reality is to photograph nothing — I can only fail.”

Other sections: “People Eat People,” “The Spirit Leaves The Body,” “Things Are Queer,” “The Pleasures Of The Glove,” and “Chance Meeting” — all deal with perception, reality, phenomenology. They also provoke thoughts of change, and above all, mortality: “He was becoming silence.”

In the final sequence, Michals reveals his “guardian angel” in a burst of unexpected color.

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