Experimental Essays 'RIPRODUZIONE VIETATA'
Films by Roger Hewins
by Harvey Nosowitz
Chicago Journal November 9, 1983
British experimental filmmaker Roger Hewins makes films that work like essays, presenting ideas and provoking thought about the way we look at art. He sees his films not only as finished works, but as part of an ongoing process of thought. As as result, Hewins has given more thought than many experimental filmmakers to the way his films are programmed and screened. For his upcoming show at Chicago Filmmakers (November 11, 8 pm) he has assembled a program that includes, beside his own work, films by other filmmakers that explore the social and perceptual context in which works of art exist. Hewins' Riproduzione Vietata - Pictures From Florence (1980) explores the ways in which social and technological developments effect our perceptions of the art of the past. The film focuses on a particular historical incident, the relationship between the fifteenth-century Italian painter Fra Filippo Lippi and his model and lover, Lucrezia Buti. Using postcards and snapshots of Lippi's work and other familiar Renaissance artworks (Michaelangelo's David, Botticelli's Birth of Venus) Hewins concentrates our attention not on the paintings themselves but on the relationship we have to their reproductions (here Hewins seems to owe a debt to art theorist Walter Benjamin's seminal essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) and on conflicting interpretations of the historical situation, in which the works were created.
Riproduzione Vietata is composed of five sections. The first parodies the conventional art historical film, panning endlessly across reproductions of paintings while a neutral male voice offers a detached (but clearly subjective) version of Lippi's life and work. In the second section, a female voice, obviously untrained, discusses two kinds of reproductions (photographs and postcards) of art, and the difference in the way we respond to them.
The image in this section is similar to that of the first until, to our surprise, the camera pans past the reproductions and shows us the narrator herself. The remaining sections explore other angles: a radio commentator's version of Lippi's life and work, Italian Renaissance art from the point of view of a travel agency's itinerary, and finally an interview with Lucrezia Buti herself, which calls into question many of the presumptions voiced in the film's first section.
This thoughtful, funny film is the most elaborate and ambitious of Hewins' works to date. Also on the program are Hewins' Duet, which uses traveling mattes to explore the Cinemascope frame (since Filmmakers doesn't have the facilities to show 'Scope, the film will be shown compressed to the standard 16mm format) and Mona Lisa, which compresses the art-historical argument of Riproduzione Vietata to a quick one-liner. Hewins describes the latter film as an "icebreaker." Films to be screened by other artists include Anita Thatcher's Homage to Magritte, Bruce Conner's Vivian, and the hilarious Definitions of Art by Raymond Hoepflinger, a Swiss filmmaker currently living in Chicago.