Waterworx (A Clear Day and No Memories)

(6 minutes, 16mm, 1982)

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The waterworks in the Beaches area of Toronto is the source of an eidetic-like image from early childhood. It was always an enigma to me, and after returning years later to shoot this film, I was still not satisfied it was merely a filtration plant. Its architecture functioned more significantly as some kind of temporal metaphor. Wallace Stevens’ ironic and equally enigmatic poem, “A Clear Day And No Memories,” was sought out to address this phenomenon, and to appear as interruptive graphic for the same reason the editing is interruptive—that is, to both work with the alluring nature of the image, yet force an intellectual distancing.

Just as the supposedly clear air is used as the protagonist in Stevens’ poem, the precisionist clarity of imagery is foregrounded in the film. The structure reinforces human memory processing, and later, when the first half of the film is repeated (recalled), the Stevens’ text, generated by computer memory, runs across the screen in a style contradicting the mood of the picture and sound, which are now forced into the background. (RH)

“The first of three “cine poems” (also including Landfall and Beach Events) that incorporates both oral and written text into the image in a manner that does not simply explain the image but extends the dimension of the film in a further direction. Waterworx focuses on a large water processing plant located on a seemingly isolated bluff that overlooks Lake Ontario, As no establishing shot is provided, the feeling of the architectural space remains enigmatic as the camera traverses the façade. Hancox’s father had once told him that tubercular children were once brought to lay at the site and so in the background there are sounds of children playing accompanying the initial exploration of the building. At the midpoint the exploration is completed and the camera repeats its tracking over the imagery. The haunting images of the building are initially re-absorbed relative to the textual references.” (Cathy Jonasson, “Recent Canadian Experimental Films,” Catalogue published by Canada House, 1990)

“What I find most impressive about Waterworx is Hancox’s ability to fuse Stevens’ poem and his own imagery and sound, not only without doing damage to the poem, but so that the film provides an effective reading of it... The clear, empty vistas of the film (empty action, of people) reflect those of the poem, and yet both are haunted by the presence of the poetic mind in its process of forming what we are experiencing.” Scott MacDonald, Afterimage, March 1986

“Rick Hancox’s Waterworx (A Clear Day and No Memories), in its moving tour past structure, through landscape, dominated by hard blue sky, all woven with the Wallce Stevens poem, seems often also all-of-a-weave with the late paintings of Jack Chambers. Both celebrate a rural landscape as hard-edged and flat-coloured as the mindscapes of elder Lawren Harris.” (Stan Brakhage, Some Words on the North, American Book Review, May-June 1988)

Waterworx consists of eighteen shots of the filtration plant taken from a slow-moving car and composed like moving tableaux. Because of its sprawl, the plant is never seen in its entirety. The space around the buildings is defined by the manicured lawns that end in a low wall looking out over the lake. Because the buildings are low and are approached by a descending drive, and because the bluffs are high enough so a visitor looks out over the horizon, one’s view of the sky over the lake is unusually expansive. On the day(s) Hancox shot the film, the sky was the brilliant cloudless blue and the air had the crystal cleaness not unusual during the cooler seasons in southern Ontario. After a first ‘tour’ of the site in near silence, a second is taken with the Stevens poem superimposed, one line at a time. The main pictorial device of Waterworx is a boxed composition that fuses landscape with architecture. A reinforced version of framing, this boxed composition is articulated at three levels: the design of the shots, the camera’s consistent position (as a withdrawn and mobile presence), and symmetrical repetition of the montage into two circuits through space.

The shot design in Waterworx consistently places the rich blue sky and water behind the yellow-buff colour of the walls and, by cooling the deep blues of the sky and lake, define a high degree of contrast. The inside/outside perceptual antimony McGregor describes is in this film a subtle framing device: the gliding mobility of the car moves through, yet stays withdrawn from the space it records, but is itself never seen or felt as a presence in the space. The doubled itinerary of the journey boxes in the image and the frame by marking out a labyrinth around and through the buildings. In fact, is is only after viewers have traveled through the maze of the architecture of Waterworx that they are rewarded with an unobstructed view of the infinite horizon of lake and sky.

Finally, if the visual composition of the film is boxed, the Stevens poem/wartime song redoubles this enframement; it is here that one is subjected to the most apparent inside/outside arrangement because it is here that the image track is turned into an interior landscape—that of memory. The scenery of Waterworx is transformed by the words. They codify the Deco buildings into a past—someone’s past, someone hearing the song from a past-that subjects space and time to the work of a private, murmured memory.” (Bart Testa, Spirit in the Landscape Catalogue, published by the Art Gallery of Ontario, 1989)

Available from:

Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre
37 Hanna Ave. #220
Toronto, Ontario Canada M6K 1W8
telephone: 416-588-0725, e-mail: bookings@cfmdc.org
web: www.cfmdc.org

Canyon Cinema
145 Ninth Street, Suite 260, San Francisco, CA 94103
phone/fax: 415-626-2255 email: films@canyoncinema.com
web: www.canyoncinema.com

(printable version of description)

Reviews, Articles, Text & Notes:

A masterwork of Art Deco, by John Bently Mays, The Globe & Mail, July 29, 1992

Some Words on the North, by Stan Brakhage, American Book Review, May-June 1988

Waterworx by Philippe Mather, Experimental Film Class, Concordia University, April 8, 1987

The Poetry-Film: Rick Hancox, by Scott MacDonald, Afterimage, March 1986

Letter to Rick Hancox, by Mike Hoolboom, June 6, 1984

Engaging Poetry with Film: A Personal Statement by Rick Hancox
Words and Moving Images by William C. Wees and Michael Dorland, eds. (Montreal: Mediatexte, 1984)

Excerpt from an unpublished essay by Scott MacDonald

Waterworx onscreen text (a transcription of a poem by Wallace Stevens)

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