Hollis Frampton’s Carrots and Peas: Reducing Cinema to Its Structure

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Hollis Frampton Carrots and PeasIn 1969, the same year Hollis Frampton made Lemon, the experimental director also released Carrots and Peas, a short film that shares obvious similarities with the more popular Lemon. Both films playfully examine the nature of cinema, but unlike the silent Lemon, Carrots and Peas deals with the relationship between cinema sound and image, a topic also explored in Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia.

Carrots and Peas continues Hollis Frampton’s reduction of cinema to its essential elements—sound and image. Narration is abandoned altogether in favor of the playful showpiece of film’s physical presence. Cinema’s inability to escape its own presence on screen is one of the central themes of Frampton’s work, most extensively explored in Poetic Justice. The best explanation of Frampton’s experiment comes from a lecture he presented at Hunter College in 1968.

It seems that a film is anything that may be put in a projector that will modulate the emerging beam of light. […]Film is a narrow transparent ribbon of any length you please, uniformly perforated with small holes along its edges so that it may be handily transported by sprocket wheels. At one time, it was sensitive to light. […]A film is a ribbon of physical material, wound up in a roll: a row of small unmoving pictures.

While Poetic Justice focused on the “filmness” of cinematic images and their technical structure (“a beam of light”), Carrots and Peas does the same for cinematic sound too. By using incomprehensible sound (which sounds like a voice-over played backwards), Frampton eliminates the perceived “meaning” sound may have, and instead exposes its reduction to incomprehensible units.

Double Articulation and Hollis Frampton’s Carrots and Peas

For Hollis Frampton and other structuralist filmmakers such as Michael Snow and Paul Sharits, linguistics and word play was a common theme, most notable in Hollis Frampton’s Zorns Lemma, Michael Snow’s So Is This, and Paul Sharits’ Word Movie. When film historian and critic Paul Adam Sitney coined the term “strcturalist cinema,” consciously or not, he made a connection to the structuralist and post-structuralist literary movements that sought to break down language to its individual structural units much like the cinema of Frampton reduced film to its building blocks: sound and image. (Although Frampton didn’t quite accept Sitney’s label.)

Hollis Frampton Carrots and Peas

Carrots and Peas reduces film to its building blocks: sound and image. To call attention to the “filmness” of the appearances on screen, Frampton uses unrealistic light filters and exposes the images as a “beam of light.”

Around the 1960s, interest in linguistics was huge, and one of the main circulating ideas was the so-called “double articulation.” Simply put, it is what linguists such as Charles Hockett recognized as one of the distinguishing differences between human and animal communication—the ability to string together meaningless sounds such as /k/, /æ/, and /t/ into meaningful words such as “cat.” Although the connection was most likely unintentional, Hollis Frampton’s Carrots and Peas is essentially a reduction of the meaningful words to their meaningless sounds and could be seem as an artistic expression of double articulation.

On the bigger scale, Carrots and Peas is yet another investigation by Frampton of the building elements of cinema. It reflects the structural and post-structural linguistic trends of reduction of the whole into parts. In art, Cubism started by reducing the 3-dimension spatiality to a flat 2-dimension surface, and reducing the larger whole of an object to its building geometry forms. Then Bauhaus took geometry a step further into abstraction and reduction, before abstract expressionism and late minimalist art abolished the “bigger picture” in favor of fragmentation to the building blocks of art—color and simple lines.

However, this is a very crude overview of the trends in 20-century art. Filmmaker George Maciunas was probably more accurate by arguing that “anything can be art.”

You can watch Hollis Frampton’s Carrots and Peas on Hulu.