Back in college, I had an amazing cinema professor. Technically, I was an English major, but being that it was a liberal arts school, I was able to take a host of different classes – everything from in-depth courses in intaglio print-making through one laborious semester of rudimentary economics (which I barely made it out of alive). During the course of my junior and senior years, I took full advantage of the opportunity to take a couple of cinema classes. While I didn’t really harbor any great desire to pursue filmmaking as a career, being an aspiring member of the creative class and a longtime movie-obsessive, it spoke directly to my interests. Several of my cinema-major friends took the same classes, which gave the evening sessions a more social flavor. Apart from a few pivotal literature courses, I honestly can’t think of a single class I enjoyed more during my four years at the school.
The professor and head of the school’s theatre/cinema department was a great, formidable character named Dr. Elliott Stout. You can hear his inimitable voice as captured by my friend and classmate Clark Bavin in this homage to the great man from our senior year in 1989. I actually lived across the street from the cinema annex (the building in the opening shot). The house I lived in with five other similarly inclined idiots during my senior year appears in the background throughout. I want to say I vaguely remember Clark filming it and shouting abuse at him during pivotal set-ups. In any case, Dr. Stout would go onto to teach for another thirteen years after we graduated. He retired in 2003 and passed away in 2010.
In any case, one of the classes I took with Professor Stout focused on kind of a mixed bag of cinema. We spent half the semester doing in-depth examinations of Hitchcock’s celebrated work (which I totally loved), and the other half exploring the frontiers of the avant garde. As such, we were routinely treated to viewings and giddily detailed ruminations on groundbreaking pieces like Bunuel’s “Un Chien Andalou,” Michael Snow’s “Wavelength,” Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” (this was and remains my favorite of the bunch) and an enigmatic work from 1970 by Hollis Frampton called “Zorn’s Lemma.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it’s essentially a “structural experimental” piece without a narrative. I’m not going to tell you too much more about it, as I think it’s best experienced and interpreted without embellishment from a third party. The reason I’m invoking it here, however, is that it was filmed – presumably in the very late 60’s or early 1970 – in Manhattan.
Here’s it is now. Please note that the screen remains black for the first few minutes.
Well, it didn’t dawn on me at the time, but being that I learned much later on that it was filmed in New York City, I recently watched it again … naively thinking it might be interesting to try to identify some of the signage depicted. That task proved to be entirely impossible and, honestly, not the greatest use of my time. I mean, in the 47 years since the release of “Zorn’s Lemma,” I doubt much of those visual resources are still around, to say nothing of the fact that tracking any of them down would be laborious and anticlimactic.
I did discover the next best thing, however. In 2011, a filmmaker named Dan Browne put together an homage or “reboot” of Hollis Frampton’s original film. Here it is now. Eagle-eyed Manhattanites might recognize some of the signage. Right off the bat, I recognized the Thai restaurant, Lantern, on Second Avenue and East 16th and the old façade of the Empire Diner in Chelsea.
Anyway, see what you can spot.