Meeting With Khrushchev (1997) by Brian L. Frye; 16mm, b&w, silent, 25 minutes.

This is the "color" version of a preliminary scan made by Jeff Kreines on a Kinetta scanner.

"Frye's Meeting With Khrushchev is not an easy film to like, but repeated viewings reveal a work of immense weight, a moving combination of intense nostalgia and thoughtful meditation on the impossibility of ever completely understanding history.

About a half hour in length, Meeting With Khrushchev is a refilming of a sequence perhaps 15 seconds long showing a meeting between the Soviet premier and President Kennedy. Frye slowed it down in reprinting, resulting in a sequence just over a minute in length, then he rephotographed it 20 more times with varying degrees of magnification; for the final film he intercut all 21 strips, editing in a way that seems neither random nor precisely calculated. We might see shots of grain patterns, sometimes colored by hand processing, shots of the action that are a little clearer (Kennedy's back, for instance, might be barely distinguishable), and occasional views of the "master shot," showing Kennedy turning or Khrushchev emerging from a limo. Ultimately their meeting comes to seem part of an almost mythic past, and the grainy patterns and home processing suggest the decay of old frescoes or manuscripts — filmic metaphors for the way culture is lost to time.

On a primary level Meeting With Khrushchev is a film of denial: we cannot know these figures, what they were about or what history is about, because they're creatures of celluloid. By intercutting grainy images with images that are fairly clear with images in which eyes, say, are about the same size as the grain, Frye "proves" the thesis that great events on film remain merely film. But across the work's running time, Frye elicits an odd contradictory magic: the sudden emergence of recognizable figures like apparitions from the chaos of random abstract forms gives them an unfathomable power, as if they were Homeric characters out of a past we can barely apprehend. Indeed, in one program note about this film Frye uses a quote from what is perhaps Western civilization's greatest ode to heroism, the Iliad.

This footage comes from a time before Frye was born, of course, but he says it wasn't chosen by chance. Citing Hannah Arendt's book The Human Condition, he calls the Kennedy era "the swan song of political life in America. Arendt talks about words and deeds, how the action of the citizen can be significant. The president is the stand-in for the political life that's been relinquished by the populace. But I don't think people think about the president in the same terms anymore — he's no longer someone you expect to respect." And indeed the larger-than-life cultural status of Kennedy and Khrushchev — emblems of a struggle for world power — heightens the impact of these fragments. Frye's form once again denies any heroism, but the denial here and elsewhere isn't just political or epistemological: the self-abnegating severity of his images, their weird standoffishness, has an almost irrational emotional component."

Fred Camper, Reality in Reverse: Pictures of an Exhibition(ist): Films by Brian Frye, Chicago Reader, September 11, 1998, at fredcamper.com/Film/Frye.html

"The longest 25 minutes of my life." Edward Smith.

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