July ’71 in San Francisco, Living at Beach Street, Working at Canyon Cinema, Swimming in the Valley of the Moon (1971)
Directed by Peter Hutton
Hutton was born in 1944 and passed away this June. In between, he traveled the globe, with an interest in filming both the sea and the sky. He photographed landscapes in and around Berlin, Budapest, Ethiopia’s salt flats, northern Iceland, Lodz, New York, San Francisco, and his native Detroit while insisting that amazing films are always unfolding around us, wherever we happen to be. His results were silent, fixed-frame 16mm short-to-medium-length films, more often than not unfolding entirely in vivid black-and-white. He studied painting and sculpture before turning to cinema, trained himself as a photographer, taught for many years at Bard College, and remained known to friends as “Sailor” for the decade he’d spent working manual labor on ships, about which he’d often playfully tell stories peppered with self-interjections of “Oh, jeeze.” He considered his films to be “sketchbooks”—unpolished, atemporal gatherings of scenes and episodes he liked—and himself not as a filmmaker, but as someone dabbling with film as a means for self-expression. He was, and remained until the end of his life, a person of colossal modesty.
A Hutton film takes the camera-eye as protagonist on a journey around a particular place. The Museum of Art and Design’s screening of four Hutton films opens with an early half-hour-long journey through the rural area enveloping Canyon Cinema, the California-based filmmakers’ co-op whose shelves he built and which now distributes his films. This record of a summer spent as much as possible outdoors treats us to myriad delightful sights including glistening water with plants and frogs upon it, running geese, an enormous caterpillar crawling on a branch, cliffs, water, shadows of boats and bicycles, laundry swaying in the wind, and eternally blooming clouds. For among the few times in Hutton’s films, people are also featured, such as the folks baking bread, the nude woman on the ground doing yoga, the bearded man playfully striving to kiss the small bird on his shoulder, and the floppy-haired youth somersaulting before the camera that he has opted to leave at rest. None of the film’s beings are identified by name—they simply all are, cheerfully and collectively, and together they form their place in the world. Aaron Cutler (August 4, 7pm at the Museum of Arts and Design, as part of a Hutton tribute program followed by a Q&A with curator Michael Renov)