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J. Hoberman on The Haunting Lives of Jewish Material-Memory Film.

"Last night I was in the Kingdom of Shadows," reported Maxim Gorky after attending a program of "Living Photography" at the Nizhny Novgorod Fair during the summer of 1896. "The extraordinary impression it creates is so unique and complex that I doubt my ability to describe it with all its nuances." You may feel the same way after an hour spent with the video installation Letters to Afar, currently at the Museum of the City of New York.

Created by the Hungarian media artist Peter Forgacs using film material largely drawn from the 75 or so landsmenshaftn films, mainly 16mm and 8mm amateur movies of Polish Jewish communities, made between World Wars I and II and held in the YIVO archives, Letters to Afar is played out on nine intermittently reconfigured screens. Projected images are variously doubled, frozen, mirrored, slowed down, or staggered, their shadowy presence underscored by the Klezmatics' spare, almost jazzy accompaniment and occasional bits of ambient sound. Forgacs' new work is the most epic and immersive example of what might be called the Jewish material-memory film, a form defined by the reworking of amateur movies by or about (mainly) European Jews and their New World descendants.

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Author:Hoberman, J.
Publication:Tablet Magazine
Date:Nov 20, 2014
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