December 4–18, 2023

Snow in December

There won’t be any summing up. Perhaps there will. These observations are in my life with my work.”

Michael Snow

The more familiar one gets with Michael Snow’s cinema, the easier it is to see how each film’s concept suggests a clear and direct, possibly romantic line tethered to the medium’s origins: the camera moves, the pictures talk, the colours bloom as if for the first time. Yet Snow was never a plain illusionist, and the enduring power of his cinema lies in how each component, undone from its typical alignment (sound reinforcing image, acting reinforcing narrative, hue and shade reinforcing a sense of reality), broke through to another place. In this limitless amphitheatre of the mind, sculpture, painting, sound composition, and philosophy all enjoy equal footing.

Snow’s moving-image practice began in Toronto at Graphic Associates,” a studio helmed by a post-NFB, pre-Yellow Submarine George Dunning, who intentionally sought out artists with the capacity to test the limits of the medium. Crucially, Dunning made studio time available to those who needed it, like Snow and his future partner Joyce Wieland. Painters, more than any other kind of artist, were an early reference point for Snow, who once said he aspired to Cezanne’s ability for holding, in one image, total abstraction and clear-cut reality. Many labelled him cinema’s Duchamp, for his punning and disjunctive” play with image and sound (Annette Michelson). For Snow, cinema’s ability to extend the modernist transformations happening in other fields of art into a durational system—and crucially, for a captive audience—held untapped potential.

There are now multiple generations of avant-garde artists post-Snow, yet, even with his passing earlier this year, his work remains boldly unassimilable. If at first encounter they may prove disarming or impenetrable, when seen at a quality far exceeding the degraded VHS rips that float around the internet, films as unlike one another as So Is This, *Corpus Callosum, and Presents can thrill in their constant, captivating mutability. Each film’s images hold the potential to simultaneously fray and restitch the fabric of the medium—both as an immediate experience, and in our imaginative reconstruction of the films hours or years later.

The Cinematheque last presented a retrospective of Snow’s work following the completion of the monumental multi-site Michael Snow Project in the 90s. This three-week engagement presents his epochal Wavelength, followed by a selection of more rarely screened but no less revelatory works.

List of Programmed Films

Date Film Title Director(s) Year Country
2023-Dec Wavelength + ←→ Michael Snow
2023-Dec So Is This + A Casing Shelved Michael Snow
2023-Dec Presents Michael Snow 1981 Canada
2023-Dec *Corpus Callosum Michael Snow 2002 Canada