Passio at Tribeca

Paolo Cherchi Usai’s modern silent film Passio, comprising found footage put to a score by Arvo Pärt, continues to make a considerable impact with the few screenings that it has had so far. It has now received its American premiere at the the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. This is the blurb from the festival programme:

Arvo Pärt’s 1982 “Passio,” based on the Passion in St. John’s Gospel, has been called one of the last masterpieces of 20th-century Music. Now it has inspired a silent film by Paolo Cherchi Usai. Together, they comprise a profoundly moving, unforgettable “oratorio for moving image and sound,” and a dramatic, often unsettling meditation on the very act of seeing.

The poet Rika Lesser once wrote to Pärt, “Yours is the only music I’ve ever wanted to live inside. Sometimes I wish that the music would stop, congeal, erect a lasting structure around me, one that would silently vibrate and, resonating, enclose me.” We are honored to be presenting this extraordinary work in two of our own city’s most magnificent “lasting structures,” the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28) and Trinity Church, Wall Street (Sunday, April 29). This will be only the second time—the first was in Adelaide, Australia in February of this year—the work has been presented accompanied by live music.

Paolo Cherchi Usai is one of the world’s most respected film historians and scholars. With Passio, he has drawn on his immense knowledge of world cinema to create a stunning and revelatory film of surprising emotional and narrative power, one that explores the impending crisis of visual culture and its reflection in politics and society. Its disturbing images, drawn from a century of filmmaking, are woven into a tapestry of mysterious beauty and violence. This not a pleasing or easy film to watch. It is an impossible film to forget.

    “In the 1970’s, an engraved disc was sent out on one of the Voyager missions which left the solar system, and is headed for deep space since then. The disc contains our human existence in shorthand: a man and a woman saluting the aliens out there, a schematic depiction of our solar system, and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” After having seen Cherchi Usai’s Passio, I think the experiment must now be repeated. If a similar mission is planned for the future, I propose that NASA launches this masterpiece into outer space.”

    Werner Herzog

Cherchi Usai does not want the film to be distributed conventionally in cinemas, nor to have a DVD release. He has also destroyed the negative. Just seven prints exist, for screening with live orchestra and chorus. Catch it when you can. Maybe in outer space.

Hopwood’s Living Pictures


Another addition to the Bioscope Library. Henry Hopwood (1866-1919) was Custodian in the Library of the Patent Office in Chancery Lane, London. His Living Pictures is a comprehensive history and handbook on the technology of the new science of motion pictures, published first in 1899 and then in a revised edition by his colleague R.B. Foster in 1915. It is a thorough, knowledgable account of the subject, based around patent applications, but expressed in an engaging and sometimes philosophical style which makes it a pleasure to read today. It still used as a standard reference source.The 1915 revision is available for downloading from the Intenet Archive in DjVu (16MB), PDF (45MB) and TXT (570KB) formats.

The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn


Autochrome of a fringe-maker in Galway, Ireland during May 1913 © Musée Albert Kahn

The BBC4 Edwardians season has just shown part one of a nine-part series on the remarkable Albert Kahn collection of early colour photographs and actuality films, taken from Kahn’s Archives de la Planete. Kahn was a millionaire Parisian banker who decided to create a visual record of the world in the early twentieth century using the new Autochrome photograph process invited by the Lumière brothers (also inventors of the Cinématographe, of course). He sent photographers to over 50 countries. They took more than 72,000 colour pictures and around 100 hours of (monochrome) film footage, recording sights and scenes across the world in an unprecedented documentary exercise.

The first four parts are being shown under the slightly misleading title of The Edwardians in Colour. The remaining five parts will feature in a future set of programmes on the 1920s.

Update: For background information on Albert Kahn, and links to various sources, see the Seaching for Albert Kahn post on this blog.