Avant-garde cinema lost one of its most treasured and irreplaceable artists this year with the passing of Peter Hutton (1944-2016). A fixture at Bard College, where he taught for more than thirty years, Hutton began making films in the early 1970s and had continued to create exquisite and carefully crafted works up until his death. With this extensive retrospective – anchored by a RE-VISIONS screening of five works newly preserved by Anthology, but also comprising all of the films that are currently in circulation – Anthology pays heartfelt tribute to him.
Hutton’s luxuriantly austere films evoke 19th century landscape painting, still photography, and the sui generis cinema of the Lumière brothers to offer an expansively paced, contemplative way of viewing the world. Hutton’s childhood fascination with the sea led him to enlist in the Merchant Marine at the age of eighteen, a way for him to travel and see the world. His experiences working on cargo ships would ultimately have a profound impact on the meditative nature of his films.
Beginning his creative career as a painter and sculptor, Hutton gravitated towards film while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he completed his first major work, JULY ‘71 IN SAN FRANCISCO, LIVING AT BEACH STREET, WORKING AT CANYON CINEMA, SWIMMING IN THE VALLEY OF THE MOON (1971). Relocating to NYC, Hutton made NEW YORK NEAR SLEEP FOR SASKIA (1972), a dreamy exploration of the play of light and shadow on the cityscape that represented his move towards a slowed down, more reflective style.
This established a pattern in which Hutton’s films reflected the geography of wherever it was his travels took him. However, it was New York’s Hudson River Valley that would prove the filmmaker’s most enduring muse. Arriving at Bard in 1984, Hutton began chronicling the landscape of upstate New York in works that recall the American Luminist paintings of the 1800s. Shot in the Catskill Mountains, LANDSCAPE (FOR MANON) (1986-87) presents a succession of rapturously lit tableaux punctuated by segments of black leader. Hutton continued his studies of Hudson Valley landscapes in works like IN TITAN’S GOBLET (1991), STUDY OF A RIVER (1997), and TIME AND TIDE (1998-2000). Attaining a beauty that is never simply cosmetic but genuinely radiant, these works, like all his films, are peerless achievements, exuding – and inspiring – a profound sense of wonder.
“These seemingly simple films offer lessons in the art of seeing and fashioning images that make you wonder how anyone could produce something simultaneously so humble and so astounding.” –Tom Gunning
Very special thanks to Carolina Gonzalez Hutton, and to Antonella Bonfanti (Canyon Cinema Foundation), Peggy Ahwesh, and Samuel La France (Toronto International Film Festival).