An excerpt from an article on the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival’s Wavelengths Series
Nathaniel Dorsky’s two latest films exist as independent entities. However, as per the artist’s preference, they are being presented as a diptych, both in Toronto (where they are screening with Peter Hutton’s Three Landscapes) and soon after in New York (where they’ll play alongside Misplacement, the new Jerome Hiler film). This is wise, because the two films both represent new twists in Dorsky’s highly refined filmmaking style, and they speak to one another in ways I find quite suggestive. Song is the subtler of the two films, in some respects operating more in line with Dorsky’s previous efforts. But if there are certain light and refraction effects that seem familiar (Dorsky won’t stop being Dorsky), he is arriving at them in unique ways. The first shot of Song shows a door swinging open to reveal a transmitted reflection of bare winter trees. The image is familiar, but the movement is not; this kind of manipulation of planes is far more straightforward than usual, since in the past Dorsky has preferred to observe objects in glass moving against one another contrapuntally.
Song is a film that incorporates more camera movement and more rack focus than we’ve seen in Dorsky’s films, and again, counterpoint seems to be the key idea here. A frequent tack is the depiction of a thicket of flora, the foreground out of focus, the midrange coming in sharp. What does this do? For one thing, it often creates what I would call “vortex shadows,” a deep skein of tangible figure that practically generates its own ground. But it also produces harmony in the evolution of the shot, the focused elements moving with and against the heavier, softer-edged emanations. This, combined with the emphasis on diagonal anchor-forms that put a stake down in an otherwise dissipating image, produce an inevitable musicality that runs throughout Song. (Watch for a stunning gold-glitter skull in shot #10!)
Spring, on the other hand, is easily one of the most kinetic films Dorsky has produced, a strange amalgam of stolen moments of beauty from the human world (city scenes, fragments of portraiture) and a nature study whose visual assertiveness occasionally seems to stop just this side of Rose Lowder. Dorsky is exploring the potentials of mobile camera—one shot that appears to be taken from a boat ride is astonishing, wherein jabbing drops of rain form white diagonal lines in the frame, as if Dorsky had taken a stippling tool and gone Len Lye on his answer print. But even in fields of wildflowers, where before Dorsky might have held still and allowed the sun and wind to orchestrate the shot, the camera becomes an agent of change, gently charging through the stems and bending them down.
Dorsky’s cinema has been transcendently optical, but Spring finds him dabbling in the dark arts of the haptic, bringing a sensuality that was always present in his work right to the fore. When we see charcoal-dark shots that slowly allow images of faces to emerge, or a single shot late in the film in which a cheek seems to be pulling away from the lens, Dorsky is assimilating bodies into the overall “spring” of the plant life, which is the dominant force throughout this film. Whether it’s the slow opening of the aperture, which lets light “bloom” onto the scene at hand and into our eyes, or the very frequent penetration of the Z-axis (by stems, branches, an extremely naughty selection of glowing red flowers), Spring is a film that reaches out to us, that asks us to imbibe the flesh of the world.
As for the final shot—first one, and then another pair of men’s feet entering a vestibule, its carpeted pathway glowing red-hot in the midday sun—well, how better to celebrate this symphony of dehiscence? Dorsky has already titled a film Triste; perhaps now it’s time for Tryst.