Hollis Frampton’s Lemon (1969) examines the nature of vision, illusion, spatiality, and film. Unlike Frampton’s Nostalgia, Lemon is silent. It is a minimalist movie, in which a single static shot of a lemon continually changing in appearance as the light on screen changes. The film is thematically similar to Frampton’s Poetic Justice, which also examines film’s physical presence.
About his deceptively simple 7-minute film, Hollis Frampton said, “As a voluptuous lemon is devoured by the same light that reveals it, its image passes from the spatial rhetoric of illusion into the spatial grammar of the graphic arts.”
Hollis Frampton’s Lemon depicts the deceptive appearance of film images. It is a formal investigation of movie appearance on screen reminiscent of Michael Snow’s Wavelength. As the light gradually illuminates the lemon, its distinctive shape appears in a three-dimensional spatial form. But as the light recedes, the lemon loses its spatiality and takes the illusive two-dimensional flat-surface form of an illusion.
Lemon is a typical structuralist film that emphasizes its formal structure. It is characteristic of Frampton’s work, which investigates the nature of film appearance and its relation to the audience’s perception. Unlike Nostalgia, for example, Hollis Frampton’s Lemon is silent and focuses strictly on the nature of vision.
The lemon emerges from the almost complete darkness of the film screen, and eventually disappears back into the darkness. Thus, the lemon’s appearance is itself a lie, an illusion created by light and film.
The “content” of the film, the lemon, does not change all throughout the film. Yet, through form and structure, its appearance radically alters. Thus, Hollis Frampton’s Lemon is an exercise in light manipulation to change the appearance of images—in a way, Frampton did with light what Michael Snow did with space in Wavelength.
The film elevates the lemon to a superstar level, a sort of ironic protagonist in a non-narrative movie. Why Frampton chose exactly a lemon is not clear and may be largely a random decision, but the fruit nevertheless possesses the “voluptuous” quality the director refers to. As a rounded and yellow object which makes the reflections of light especially shiny, the lemon has the qualities of a superstar, almost like a sexy female in a Hollywood movie. The shiny qualities of the lemon are important to emphasize the nature of illusion. Hollis Frampton’s lemon appears from the nothingness of the movie screen, and eventually dissolves back there. It thus symbolizes the vanity of cinema.
Hollis Frampton’s Lemon is a formal analysis of the nature of film, appearance, and illusion. The director establishes an almost humorous picture of a lemon and its elusive presence on the film screen.
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