Vincent Grenier
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Michael Sicinski ‘s Reviews
From his “The Academic Hack” web page.

North Southernly (Vincent Grenier) [v/s]

Lots of filmmakers who began their careers working in 16mm, and exploring the specific properties of that medium, have turned to digital video in recent years. Unfortunately, some have stumbled, and others are still finding their way. This makes sense; after all, video is as different from celluloid as the saxophone is from the cello, despite the widespread discourse around "transmedia" interchangeability. For an example of an artist exploring the aesthetic possibilities of video to their fullest, one need look no further than Vincent Grenier and his recent work. He's not just "working in video." He's a true video artist, and North Southernly is a subtle, complex study in the textures and gradations of layered video imagery. It's a landscape piece that takes one of the properties of video that's usually seen as a drawback -- its tendency to flatten out deep space -- and treats it as an occasion for dense, painterly modernism. Grenier cites an interest in 13th century Chinese painting as an influence on this piece, and that only serves to emphasize the connections between early Asian art's perspectival ambiguity and the spatial push-pull of certain Abstract Expressionists. North Southernly's surface is agitated but coaxed to evolve slowly, different qualities of light flattened out into jagged yet airy spatio-temporal juxtapositions, off-whites and peach-oranges melding with deeper, more saturated nighttime colors. The image track is so subtle that at first Grenier's choice of soundtrack struck me as defiantly perverse. John Cage's "Credo" is a percussion piece that incorporates jolts of found sound from all manner of popular music. So, in a way, North Southernly presents the viewer with a sort of Philip Guston canvas in time, then throw some hip-hop at you. Bizarre. But, over time, it begins to make perfect sense. Even though the piece is an interface between two "Asian" aesthetics (Cage always having claimed a Buddhist lineage for his practice), there's an undeniable Charles Ives feeling -- the enfolding and collision of discrete sonic and pictorial spaces into surprising new wholes -- that manages to be both serene and exhilarating. [NOTE: I really need to see this piece again,not only because its modulations are so spectral and incremental, but because Cornell Cinema's video projector really wasn't up to the task.]

Tabula Rasa (Vincent Grenier) [v/s]

Many works in this year's selection began life on film but were completed as videos, but most of them, sadly, evinced no cognizance of this formal hybridity. Grenier's tape is the exception, and as such was one of the absolute standouts of Views From the Avant Garde (NY Film Festival) 04. A stark, observational portrait of a public school, Tabula Rasa begins by exploring the empty halls of the building and setting those images off against a fragment of voiceover. A man, at this point apparently insane, explains that the wall is staring at him and threatening his safety. Later, we hear the interview fragment again, this time in its entirety. (A teacher is actually describing a technique he uses to disrupt potential aggression between students.) This example encapsulates Grenier's strategy throughout the piece. Portions of audio-visual material are layered to form quizzical, disjunctive poetic moments, whose basis in documentary reality are clarified only later. On the purely visual level, this is largely accomplished through his graphlike, vaguely De Stijl spatial compositions and his subtle video blending of color and tone, creating articulations between spaces that reveal otherwise unobservable experiential facts. In this way, Grenier proffers the truth value of his work only after it has been refracted through his gentle, exacting lyricism. In its transformative, non-doctrinaire representation of the mundane, Tabula Rasa recalls the work of Bruce Baillie, films like Tung and Valentin de las Sierras, work that I had previous considered without equal.

2004 TOP TEN

1. Lenten Light Conversions (Lynn Marie Kirby, U.S.) [v/s]
2. Dogville (Lars von Trier, Denmark / Sweden / U.K. / France / Germany)
3. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, U.S.) [v]
4. The Two Minutes to Zero Trilogy (Lewis Klahr, U.S.) [m]
5. Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs, U.S.) [v]
6. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
7. Tabula Rasa (Vincent Grenier, U.S.) [v/s]
8. Raja (Jacques Doillon, France / Morocco)
9. Our Music (Jean-Luc Godard, France / Switzerland)
10. Skagafjördur (Peter Hutton, U.S.) [m]


Anaconda Targets (Dominic Angerame, U.S.) [s]
Doppelganger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, U.S.)
Hero (Zhang Yimou, China / Hong Kong)
Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Hong Kong)
L'Intrus (Claire Denis, France)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, U.S.)
Orchard (Julie Murray, U.S. / Ireland) [s]
Precarious Garden (Ernie Gehr, U.S.) [s]
The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia)
The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin, Canada)
Tomorrow We Move (Chantal Akerman, France / Belgium) (my #11, as it were)
Yuva (Mani Ratnam, India)



This page was updated on 9/20/06