CHUMLUM (1964)

Director: Ron Rice
Year: 1964
Time: 23 mins
Music: Angus MacLise with Tony Conrad
Eye of Sound: Somewhat reminiscent of Cohen's Thunderbolt Pagoda, but more refrained, compounded and elegant, Chumlum was shot during the making of of Jack Smith's Normal Love and features such "stars" from the Factory/NYC underground as Beverly Grant, Mario Montez, Tiny Tim and Smith himself. As in Thunderbolt Pagoda, actors are depicted in pseudo-oriental costumes, engaging in orgiastic feasts and general dolce fare niente hammock ethics, in what seems to be an endless opium sea-trip under the signs of sensual imagery and gender ambiguity. Chumlum's forte is, as you may have guessed from the pictures, the constant superimposition of images, veiling each actor and scene behind another and fragmenting the screen's integrity to a point in which background and foreground are often no longer discernible. Limbs and faces pile up in disruptive forms, creating collages we thought possible only in animation films. Dimensions accumulate layer upon layer, and even individual layers often comprise several levels of visual depth, actions being constantly hidden behind a translucent object of some sort. This intensive nesting of dimensions could well be like a sea-sickening trip, and part of the reason why it isn't may be found in MacLise's soundtrack. Unlike his contribution for The Thunderbolt Pagoda, where more was thought to be more and the final result sounded like a huge soup bowl where any ingredient could be added without altering the global flavor, MacLise's journey into exotic tunings and instruments is here very focused and restrained. Played with cembalo (and barely audible tablas) under the musical direction of Tony Conrad, MacLise's Chumlum is a solid take on minimalism in which micro-change makes dissonance and consonance lose their significance. Strange as it may sound, it is perhaps MacLise's pattern-repetitions that hold Chumlum together and render its dangerously vertiginous multi-layered movements a soothing experience.

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