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Milestones: Robert Breer


Robert Breer, Fuji (1973) © Light Cone

Art Cinema OFFoff 
Lange Steenstraat 14
B-9000 Gent

Together with Sabzian, we dedi­ca­te an eve­ning to the work of the American film­ma­ker Robert Breer (19262011). We’ll screen the 1976 epi­so­de of the pio­nee­ring tele­vi­si­on series Screening Room in which Breer talks about his work and pre­sen­ted six of his films: Recreation (1957, 2′), A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957, 3′), 69 (1968, 5′), Gulls and Buoys (1972, 6′), Fuji (1973, 9′) and Rubber Cement (1976, 10′). Whereas Breer showed his films on tele­vi­si­on for this occa­si­on, we’ll screen them on the ori­gi­nal 16mm film for­mat and alter­na­te bet­ween the TV show and the film projector.

Screening Room was a legen­da­ry tele­vi­si­on series that ran for almost ten years from 1972 until 1981. Essentially a talk show about inde­pen­dent cine­ma, it offe­red film­ma­kers a chan­ce to show and dis­cuss their work on a com­mer­ci­al (ABC-TV) affi­li­a­te sta­ti­on. The series was devel­o­ped by the film­ma­ker Robert Gardner (Forest of Bliss, 1986), hos­ting the con­ver­sa­ti­ons in a uni­que­ly acces­si­ble and enter­tai­ning way. It was one of tho­se rare instan­ces of tele­vi­si­on ack­now­led­ging a cine­ma exis­ting beyond the main­stream. Once an unli­ke­ly sce­na­rio, film­ma­kers such as Jean Rouch, Jonas Mekas, Bruce Baillie, Yvonne Rainer, Peter Hutton, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, and others had final­ly made their way from the so-cal­l­ed under­ground into the nation’s living rooms.

Asked how he arri­ved at film, Robert Breer points to Jacques Ledoux, the cura­tor of the Royal Belgian Film Archive who scree­ned one of his first expe­ri­ments as a self-taught film­ma­ker when Breer was in Brussels in 1956 for a show of his pain­tings. The film was recei­ved with gre­at enthu­si­asm whi­le his pain­tings were then most­ly igno­red or dis­ap­pe­a­red into pri­va­te col­lec­ti­ons. Although wor­king within the ani­ma­ti­on medi­um, Breer brings an almost docu­men­ta­ry qua­li­ty to his films and in a way shows their own making. In a let­ter to Jonas Mekas, he wro­te: It has to do with reve­a­ling the arti­fi­ces instead of con­ce­a­ling them. The fact of that rab­bit sit­ting insi­de the magician’s hat is the real mys­tery, not how it’s dis­si­mu­la­ted. The hat should be transpa­rent and show the rabbit.”

Breer ini­ti­al­ly stu­died engi­nee­ring at Stanford and decla­red that sin­ce my child­hood model air­pla­ne days, I’ve always had a gre­at satis­fac­ti­on in put­ting things together, poun­ding nails, sawing wood, sand­pa­pe­ring.” He is well-known for wor­king on ordi­na­ry 4‑by-6-inch index cards avai­la­ble in eve­ry sta­ti­o­na­ry sto­re, becau­se it’s less of a tedious busi­ness and more direct.” He drew or pasted pie­ces of dif­fe­rent mate­ri­als and pho­to­graphs on them. Breer often incor­po­ra­ted actu­al pho­to­grap­hed ima­ges of rea­li­ty – eve­ry­day objects and his own hand, as in Recreation, or part of a face, as in Fuji. Making use of the roto­sco­pe, a machi­ne to pro­ject ori­gi­nal foot­a­ge, fra­me by fra­me, onto a sheet, he some­ti­me redrew from actu­al 16 mm and 8 mm film – in the case of Fuji and Gulls and Buoys from a fer­ry and train jour­ney in Japan and the South of France, res­pec­ti­ve­ly. Real ima­ges are tra­ced into sket­ches, con­tours are emp­ha­si­zed, ima­ges beco­me impres­si­ons, recor­dings beco­me inscrip­ti­ons,” as the film­ma­ker and scho­lar Ute Holl once descri­bed the process.

His home-recor­ded sound­tracks fur­ther root the films in the world they emer­ge from. It may or may not sur­pri­se that Breer often named the French poet docu­men­ta­rist Jean Vigo as a powerful influ­en­ce, more than the pio­neers in ani­ma­ti­on or abstract pain­ting. Vigo’s spi­rit of free asso­ci­a­ti­on in À pro­pos de Nice (1930), for instan­ce, and the kind of cut­ting he does the­re, moved me. And I like Zéro de con­dui­te (1933), his anar­chism, his humor and his esprit. I could iden­ti­fy with him. I have an aver­si­on to just pure­ly abstract films.” In a career that spans more than fif­ty years and inclu­des more than for­ty films but also pain­ting and kine­tic sculp­tu­re, Breer explo­red the noti­ons of spa­ce, sha­pe, color, per­spec­ti­ve and motion.

Milestones is an ongo­ing series of stand-alo­ne scree­nings, hosted by Sabzian, of film-his­to­ry miles­to­nes, refe­ren­ce works or land­marks, films that focus on aes­the­tic or poli­ti­cal issues and sti­mu­la­te deba­te and reflec­ti­on. This is the fifteenth install­ment in the series. For each scree­ning, Sabzian publis­hes texts that con­tex­tu­a­li­ze the event.

→ You can read more about each of the films on Sabzian

→ With an intro­duc­ti­on by Edwin Carels

→ Followed by a free recep­ti­on in the fra­me­work of VAF’s Open Cinema ini­ti­a­ti­ve and the start of OFFoff’s new film season


Screening Room: Robert Breer © Documentary Educational Resources (DER)

Screening Room: Robert Breer

US • 1976 • 75' • colour • digital • en • en sub

Robert Breer


US • 1957 • 2' • colour • 16mm

A Man and His Dog Out for Air

US • 1957 • 3' • b&w • 16mm


US • 1968 • 5' • colour • 16mm

Gulls and Buoys

US • 1972 • 6' • colour • 16mm


US • 1973 • 9' • colour • 16mm

Rubber Cement

US • 1976 • 10' • colour • 16mm