The Transformable Moment: The Films of Stephen Broomer • Reviewed by Tyler Tekatch 1
The Transformable Moment: The Films of Stephen Broomer
Book Review by Tyler Tekatch
Stephen Broomer’s films open portals to the golden age of experimental film. The mythopoeia of Stan Brakhage, the iridescent surfaces of Bruce Baillie, the structuralism of Michael Snow and the quotidian wonder of Jack Chambers are all present in Broomer’s corpus. That’s not to say that Broomer’s films simply retread the same territory as those of the greats. Rather, Broomer reworks his influences so thoroughly that they become something new. Chromatically dense, at once concerned with the historical and the personal, Broomer’s work provokes layered meanings and rewards analysis. The Canadian Film Institute’s recently published volume of essays on this young Canadian filmmaker expertly mines his films to offer insightful readings of his works.
Dan Browne’s opening essay on the artistic process offers thoughts on the mysterious origin of inspiration, the muse, before giving us a high view of the diversity of Broomer’s subjects and filmmaking techniques. Bruce Elder uses Broomer’s films as a starting point for a broader theoretical discussion of a particular mode of construction based on permutational or algorithmic forms that has a great lineage in art and filmmaking and yet has received scant attention among critics and theorists. The essay by Clint Enns picks up on Elder’s challenge to further explore how this permutational process manifests in Broomer’s works. This thoughtful ordering and analytical progression is a rewarding way to dig deeper into Broomer’s work. The book's trajectory continues with close readings of the films from perspectives both rigorously analytical, and wonderfully personal and idiosyncratic. Broomer's corpus is diverse and it is not plainly obvious what unites his work. Curator Andréa Picard provides the most deft summary, stating that Broomer’s work is above all “compelled by the essence of layers: Photo-chemical layers, ghostly, digital strata, thick impasto-like ones, albeit of an opaque and luminescent nature.”
What makes this volume estimable is the assorted modes of enquiry taken to its subject, which are as diverse as Broomer’s films. The mixture of heavy theory, textual analysis, interview and personal encounter gives a fascinating snapshot of an artist who is establishing himself within Canadian avant-garde film.
Stephen Broomer’s films have screened throughout Europe and North America, including the Toronto International Film Festival, Views from the Avant-Garde (New York), the Berlin Directors Lounge, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, and the Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland).