Ariel: An Explanation
Nathaniel Dorsky | 1983 | 16 minutes | silent speed | 18 fps | 16mm | color | silent
Ariel is also a film that came about through circumstance. I had purchased quite cheaply a number of rolls of out-dated 16mm Anscochrome, which at the time was a small competitor to Eastman Kodak. Their color scheme was red and white, setting them apart from the Yellow Kodak and the Green Fuji. Anscochrome was their Kodachrome, so to speak, but with an extremely different process and look. Stan Brakhage’s Anticipation of the Night was shot on Anscochrome, both daylight and higher speed versions for nighttime exposure.
As these things seem to happen, one day Anscochrome suddenly announced the termination of its processing labs. So now I had these lovely rolls of film that could not be processed. Sometime that same year I was visiting a dusty old camera store in Hollywood and I noticed that they had a box of Anscochrome processing kits intended for slides. These too were quite out of date and I bought them for almost nothing.
At that time I had been working on two meticulous longer films, Pneuma and Alaya, and so it was a great pleasure to jump into the physicality of mixing chemicals in buckets and home processing the Anscochrome. I decided not to run it through a camera and add photographic images. I loved hand-processing but had seen too many examples of hand-processed image films. I wanted to see what I could do with the abstract qualities of only the film itself.
Of course I mis-processed it in anyway I could, sometimes making the chemicals much too hot and then rinsing the film in ice water, all types of distortions like that. I even began to rub and scratch the film’s soft and wet emulsions during the processing. It was enjoyable to be so directly involved with film. Then I edited this material into what was to be called Ariel.
I have not struck a print off the original since it was first made. I wonder now what a new print would look like from this hand-processed material? I am sure that the film was not properly washed or stabilized in the end and that it has all been slowly developing over these last three decades.
The only print in distribution is at Canyon Cinema. I have two personal prints and a few copies have been also sold to museums and universities. Perhaps that is all there will ever be.
Ariel will be shown at the New York Film Festival’s Views from the Avant-Garde this coming October, 7th, at 8:30 pm. I have not seen it myself in well over twenty years.