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Issue 01, Volume 02

Two New Films by Jerome Hiler

by Maya Rosmarin

In the Stone House and New Shores abstractly chronicle Jerome Hiler’s time spent with several artist friends in the 1960s, after they abandoned the frenzy of the Manhattan art scene for a cabin in rural New Jersey. Hiler refers to the titular stone house as a personal Valhalla, and communicates the quiet, welcome isolation of living in the woods by making his two most recent films silent.  The images have a sleepy, meditative quality, so sound might have felt intrusive; it would have overwhelmed the quiet trance into which the two films lure their viewers.  They have an entirely self-conscious type of silence, however – perhaps reflective of Hiler’s lingering anxiety after having left behind his life and career in the city.

Hiler invites his viewers into his youth, offering an erratic and fragmentary glimpse inside the life of a 1960s counterculturalist.  In doing so, he prompts a similar type of reverie and reflection in the audience.  The two films connote his fading memory in that they are broken up by interjections of darkness - each shot is separated from the next by a split second of an empty black frame.  Like memory, these two short films hop from thought to thought without much notice, sometimes leaving gaps in logic from things lost or forgotten.  With this technique, Hiler lends us his nostalgia; even if we weren’t alive at the time the film was shot, it’s hard to resist adopting his nostalgic daydreams as our own.

Watching In the Stone House is at once wholly relaxing and deeply exhausting.  For instance, in a series of shots of white bed sheets wrinkled and tangled in themselves, the cuts are harsh, and the shots are clipped short.  They feel unfinished, and the effect is dizzying.  Even so, this large bed dressed in clean, white sheets looks comfortable and inherently tempting.  The warm, soft image is juxtaposed with shots of cold, salty winter roads and stalactitic icicles hanging from the eaves of the stone house.  Hiler transforms the ice from its literal form into a kaleidoscopic pattern of lights until it is unclear was it ever was.  This transformation is evocative of fading memories – something that was once clear and defined is susceptible to being morphed into a blur, just an abstraction of what it used to be.  Hiler remarked that he himself had not seen either film in over 30 years, so he, like the audience, was left wondering what would come next.

The crackling of the 16mm film is reminiscent of an old home movie – albeit a very technically sound one.  In the Stone House and New Shores are not shot in black and white, but they come close to it, using minimal color.  Hiler frequently alternates the bright white of snow and ice with plain black frames.  In a few instances, he uses colored lenses to look out on the snowy backyard of the house, but even they are understated, muted blues and sepias.  Maybe the most notable use of color is in a shot of a solar eclipse; it’s a striking shot of the sun blackened by the moon, but punctuated by a distinct, glowing purple ring around the outer edge.  Hiler’s decision to use an understated color palette echoes his decision to make his films silent; in muting sound and color, Hiler creates a subdued mood, offset by the relatively vibrant shot of the eclipse.  Hiler’s camera lingers longer here than it does elsewhere in the films, implying a sentimentality for this moment far deeper than that for the sheets on his bed.  It seems that this type of natural beauty might have been what he was looking for when he left Manhattan.

In the Stone House and New Shores both provide us with an intimate look into their maker’s private life – as intimate as watching Hiler soap up in the shower – and the film’s human subjects are treated with the same degree of affection and familiarity. One shot stands out, of a woman sitting at a typewriter, looking up at the camera and smiling relaxedly. Hiler invites us to borrow his nostalgia by creating moments quiet and comfortable enough that we can live them vicariously: these people might not be familiar to us, but they seem it. We’re made to feel at home, even in a cold stone house.


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