The Long and the Tall of It.
by Gerald Saul - temporarily displaced/exiled to Toronto
November, 1994.

Observations on Et Resurrectus Est by R. Bruce Elder

The Cinematheque was far from full for the Toronto Premiere of Et Resurrectus Est, R. Bruce Elder's final chapter of his The Book of All the Dead cycle of films. Elder's brief introduction included the reading of a John Donne poem which he felt was a principle inspiration during the film's editing. He also acknowledged his two collaborators (both in attendance); Alexa-Frances Shaw who performed much (all?) of his optical printing and Al Mah who composed/performed the music and produced the sound.


The film begins with layered optical printed images; highway travel mixed with computer generated text and graphics. The layers and constant fragmentation of images quickly became impossible to comprehend in their entirety and I found myself watching one bit or another, changing my attention every 10 or 20 seconds between the various moving images or the 2 or 3 lines of text.
The soundtrack (although it periodically drops to a single voice for a sentence or two) similarly consists of music with at least two voice tracks speaking continuously. I am uncertain of how many voices I was hearing, perhaps up to six as it built to a constant din. With such an abundance of aural and visual information, no linear string could be extracted (I could not see the trees through the forest nor hear the tree fall in the logging camp).

The source images Elder collected for this project consisted of both filmed and videotaped elements. The film is further fragmented into landscapes and the [sexual] body. Video can be broken down into television (Gulf War, Space Arm, Pablo Picasso) and into computer images (again fragmented into science and sex). I am considering computer generated images to be structurally the same as video images, just as a hand painted film remains in the medium of film.

Underlying and interwoven within the film is an implied narrative regarding Dante's hell and Virgil's struggle within it. Science and sex are used repeatedly in representation of the world [the hell] we exist in. Science, whether through Einstein or fractals/chaos theory or Dante's theology, all try to find truth within the universe. However, the film gives no answers, exhausts us with the search and thus implies that no answers can be found. Sex [non-intellectual, mechanical, empty] appears ugly and without purpose, as do even the renaissance paintings. In fact, below the attractive, dynamic surface of this film, I see all elements as individually ugly. As I came to realize how profound/profane the ugliness that Elder has chosen to subject us to was, I felt a bit disappointed. Perhaps I felt the lush beauty was wasted; like heaven cast down into hell.

Television was treated as the conveyer of the Modern age. A brief history of modern art flashes by on the video screen as the screen itself slips backward into the darkness of the film frame, further distancing and minimizing it.

I asked Mr. Elder about his feelings about video as an art form, as he had denounced it when he spoke at the Plains Conference in Saskatchewan (1989 if memory serves). He replied that his opinion still has not changed, but video may be used effectively as an element within a medium such as film. Although I am not a follower or strong advocate of video art, I do not share Elder's dismissal of its potential power and value. However, the best evidence in criticism of video might be found within Elder's film itself. I feel that the video aspects of Et Resurrectus Est weaken the film and slow it down considerably. Simple computer animation portraying mechanical movements are clean and fluid and serve only to remind me of the lack of spirit of the machine. Only the fractals, the depiction of which only exists via computer, seem worthwhile, conforming to the film both visually (speed) and thematically (patterns of chaos). Crude in comparison, the computer generated nude woman sex object, programmed to fulfil [our? Elder's?] virtual reality lusts, is repetitious and I'd call it laughable if it wasn't so boring.

Don't get me wrong, the film is a truly wonderful visual feast. The optical printing by Alexa-Frances Shaw is some of the best I've ever seen. The images blend together, drifting within floating masks with such a fluidity that I would have watched it another two hours. No rest is given to the eye or the ear. With the integration of the text and the lushness of the montage/collage, I was reminded of the experience of Prospero's Books; a fragment of the budget but an even further excess of stimulation. I do not know what other works Ms. Shaw has done but I will definitely look.

I found Et Resurrectus Est to be an amazing experience; a visual spectacle depicting an unredeemable world shrouded in pessimism. It washed over me with its layers of pictures and sound until I was all but lost in its richness.

Et Resurrectus Est
Canada, 1994, 135 minutes
Filmmaker: R. Bruce Elder
Co-Filmmaker: Alexa-Frances Shaw
Music and Sound Production: Al Mah

Gerald Saul 2005