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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas


Margaret Honda's experimental 70mm short movie "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum"
A movie made without a camera

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Gerhard Witte, Berlin (Germany) Date: 15.09.2017
Margaret Honda's Poster Art: "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" presented at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2014 – at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 2014 – at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York (the movie's US premiere) in January 2016 – at the Los Angeles Hammer Museum (together with "Color Correction") in June, July and August 2016, and (see in the image below) at the 58th BFI (British Film Institute) London Film Festival in October 2014.

Click to see enlargement

"Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" is a camera-less film made by exposing 70mm print stock to precisely calibrated colored light in a film printer, resulting in a uniform field of color with no frame lines. Moving gradually through the visible light spectrum from violet to red, then back to violet, the colors' relative densities and durations follow those in the spectrum itself. Symmetrical in its construction, it is the same film shown starting from either end and is not rewound between screenings (author's note: a so-called Palindrome). The film can be presented only by means of a 70mm film projector. The subjective visual effects of the film, enhanced by the size and brilliance of 70mm projection, make you aware of the act of watching and so remind you of the body you inhabit. (Information by Margaret Honda from the film data sheet of the Berlin International Film Festival 2014)

"Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" (running time 21 min / color / aspect ratio 2.2:1) is projected with a 2.500-foot (762 metres) long roll of a 70mm film, and without sound onto the screen. It was entirely produced at the lab. It exists no negative. The film's subject is "color". There is no plot, and there are no explanatory texts.

To date, it has been shown at following venues (in special sections of film festivals, and also as part of exhibitions at museums):

1) World Premiere in section "Forum Expanded" at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, 8 February 2014 at Arsenal 1 cinema (Potsdamer Str. 2) at 3.00 pm, cinema description here.

2) in section "Wavelengths" at the 39th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) at Bell Lightbox Cinema 1 on 12 September 2014 at 7.15 pm,

3) in section "Experimenta" at the 58th BFI (British Film Institute) London Film Festival on 16 October 2014 at NFT1 auditorium at 9.00 pm,

4) US Premiere of the movie in section "First Look" at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on 17 January 2016 at 5.30 pm at Sumner M. Redstone Theatre. Previously, had also been shown Margaret Honda's second color silent film "Color Correction" (2015 / 35mm / running time 101 min / aspect ratio 1.85:1) at 1.30 pm at the festival. More about this movie at the report's end.

5) in section "Made in LA: a, the, though, only" at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles at Billy Wilder Theater (together with "Color Correction") on 12 June 2016 at 3.30 pm, on 6 July 2016 at 7.30 pm, and on 7 August 2016 at 2.00 pm,

6) in section "Pause: Margaret Honda" at KW (Kunst-Werke) Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin in the period from 18 till 20 August 2017 – every evening between 6 pm and 9 pm.

About FotoKem: it is a premier independently owned film & video postproduction facility based in Burbank, CA, USA. Established in 1963, FotoKem is a unique full service facility that embraces the entire sequence of motion picture and television postproduction by combining full-scale laboratory services with advanced digital finishing. It is currently the only lab in the world that still processes 65mm negative and 70mm print stock, but there is the chance of a new lab in Europe.

More in 70mm reading:

Margaret Honda's "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" in 70mm

Margaret Hondas experimenteller 70mm Kurzfilm "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum"

Spectrum Reverse Spectrum

Gerhard Witte's in70mm.com Library

Internet link:

True Colours: On Margaret Honda’s Style (an article from "Cinema Scope" trade magazine)

First Look 2016: Margaret Honda's Films at the Museum of the Moving Image

"Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" reminds the author a bit of the film overture of the musical "West Side Story" (USA, 1961) by Robert Wise, shot in Super Panavision 70

Berlin's KW Institute for Contemporary Art

On the house front of the KW is written – Man kann erklären: ein Werk, das die richtige Tendenz aufweist, braucht keine weitere Qualität aufzuweisen. Man kann auch dekretieren: ein Werk, das die richtige Tendenz aufweist, muss notwendig jede sonstige Qualität aufweisen.

You can declare: a work that shows the correct political tendency need show no other quality. You can also declare: a work that exhibits the correct tendency must of necessity have every other quality. Walter Benjamin (Images taken by the author)

KW Institute for Contemporary Art aims to approach the central questions of our times through the production, display, and dissemination of contemporary art. Since its inception, 25 years ago, KW has established itself, not only as an institution, but also as a dynamic and lively space for progressive practices within the Berlin art scene, as well as in an international context. By means of exhibitions and various event formats, KW has aligned itself towards the current tendencies of the national and international art and cultural discourse, and has actively developed them on a collaborative level with artists, institutions, and by means of commissioned works. As an institution for contemporary art without a collection of its own, the team at KW maintains a high degree of flexibility in creating its programs and addressing its audience.

Under the responsibility of director Krist Gruijthuijsen, the current program evolves around the central objective of using the participating artists’ perspective as a starting point, entailing their subjects and points of view as ways to reflect on social and political issues. The institution is thereby conceived as a social space that facilitates contemplation and exchange between different protagonists and cultures, consistently challenging its audience. The building complex includes exhibition halls, apartments, offices, and event spaces, as well as the Café Bravo in the courtyard that was designed by Dan Graham in 1999.

In addition to its internationally renowned exhibition program, KW collaborates on a regular basis with national and international partners, such as MoMA PS1, the Biennale di Venezia and Documenta in Kassel.

KW Institute for Contemporary Art is institutionally supported by the Senate Department for Culture and Europe. The program of KW is kindly supported by the KW Freunde e. V.

A leaflet was arranged for the event in Berlin giving this interview (here slightly shortened), which is also available on the Institute's website:

During preparations for the presentation of "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" at KW, the following conversation took place between Margaret Honda and Anna Gritz, Curator at KW.

Anna Gritz: You came to filmmaking late in your work, after having worked in sculpture, installation, and photography for many years. Intriguingly, you managed to find a way to continue exploring a set of concerns that has accompanied your practice for a long time, but through the new parameters of the medium film. Can you talk about your transition to film?

Margaret Honda: My transition to film was the result of a ten-minute conversation. A few years ago, I was talking to someone about things that come in wide rolls and he mentioned 70mm print stock. I never considered making a film, but I was drawn to 70mm film, because it is inconceivable for me to work on the scale of a movie like "Lawrence of Arabia". (Author's note: photographed in Super Panavision 70)
Margaret Honda, also active in the field of sculpture, installation and photography, produced "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum". She has written a book (ISBN 978-2-9522763-8-2) with the title "Writings" (2015 / 100 pages), which was co-published by Triangle France and Künstlerhaus Bremen (Germany). It was published as a signed and numbered edition on the occasion of a solo exhibition "Sculptures" at Triangle France, a non-profit contemporary arts organization located in Marseille, and provides a comprehensive description of her artistic work. (Photo courtesy of Margaret Honda)

I think it helped that I had so few options. I realized that using a negative didn´t make any sense, and that led me to the idea for "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum". My idea was to run the print stock through a printer and capture the full range of colors that could be produced through the printing process. There would be no camera, no negative, no images. My intention was to work with film, not to make a film.

"Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" was produced entirely at the lab, and it was as much an experiment for them as it was for me. I was asking them to make a print without a negative, and initially I didn´t know how long it should be, or even what it should look like. I wanted the process to determine those things, and it did. The running time is the length of a single 2500-foot roll of print stock, and the densities and durations of the colors follow those in the visible spectrum.

Anna Gritz: For "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" (2014) you exhaust the color potential of the medium of 70mm film, moving through the full range of the film stock. The twenty-one minute long film correspondingly matches the material's potential for displaying color with our visual capacity to perceive it. There is no storyline or plot to distract from the encounter. This is rather a self-conscious approach that heightens our awareness of the act of perception. How do you bring together the process of making the work with the process of experiencing it?

Margaret Honda: While making this work, I was mostly thinking about film as a material, not about film as the carrier of an image. "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" is constructed as a palindrome and includes properly oriented head leaders at both ends, which are also projected. It can begin from either end. It displays the full spectrum of Kodak 2383 print stock, and it is a record of how the emulsion responded to the printer's lights. The work has no frame lines since I didn´t use a camera or an optical printer. The film exists as a 70mm print and will never migrate to a non-native format. How the work is presented is an extension of how it was made. "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" employs the protocols of industrial film production, so it is screened like other industrially produced films – in a theatre setting, with a projection booth, proper seating, and specific screening times. This is the conventional context for viewing films, foregrounding the relationships between the viewer, the film, and the physical setting. Any disruption of these relationships is immediately apparent in this context.
The auditorium (with around 50 seats) and the movie experience. Image courtesy of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum", 2014, Courtesy of Grice Bench, Los Angeles, installation view: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2017, photo: Frank Sperling.

Click to see enlargement

Anna Gritz: Working closely with technicians, projectionists, cinemas, and labs is a key interest of yours – an extension of your investigations into a given, intrinsic set of factors that shape the outcome of the work. Taking into account that these relationships form a highly instable, "eco-system" as you call it, comprised of an ever-changing number of factors, the work takes on a volatile, process-driven dimension. How do you define what factors become part of the consideration when making the work?

Margaret Honda: For "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" I was very fortunate to work with Vince Roth at FotoKem. He is an unparalleled color timer with decades of experience, and he has now also become a friend. This film exists because of his efforts. It will be a real crisis when Vince retires. It means losing part of the culture, not just a single individual. The technicians, the projectionists, and the people who work with the equipment or at the supply houses form a network with an extremely deep knowledge of the industry. This is the "eco-system" I have come to depend on, because a film like "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" is both difficult to make and equally difficult to project. To get to the point of screening the film, everything matters. As this system shrinks, fewer films are made and shown, which is absolutely devastating for the people whose jobs primarily depend on film.

I´ve worked with film for less than five years, but in that time I have faced situations where I couldn´t do something because someone retired and was not replaced, or I couldn´t get the appropriate materials, or I couldn´t screen a film because the projector was not in good repair. Once, I almost missed a screening because the shipper hadn´t ever seen a 70mm print and was holding it for X-rays. I used to think that the loss of projectors and projectionists would be the end of 70mm film, but I now know that Kodak discontinuing an emulsion will have more immediate and lasting consequences for me.

When I began working on "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" in 2013, FotoKem was one of only two labs in the world that processed 70mm film. A year later, it was the only one. If you work in film, you understand that the ground is constantly shifting, but for now it is still possible to figure out a way to get things done.
For showing "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum", a Philips DP70 projector had been installed into the booth of the KW. It was projected onto a wall area with a size of approximately 12 by 5 metres. Robert Haag takes care of an exact performance. (Image taken by the author)

Anna Gritz: The introduction to timing tapes in the process of making "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum" prompted the production of your second film, "Color Correction" (2015). For this film you gained access to the color correction timing tapes of an unnamed Hollywood film (author´s note: Margaret Honda informs in an interview: "Correcting the color is the last step in making a film and the corrections, made shot by shot, are encoded in paper ribbons called "timing tapes"). These tapes, which usually determine the amount of color correction of each shot in the film, were used for "Color Correction" without the images to which they once corresponded. The 101-minute long film is like a shadow that offers a viewing experience that is usually unavailable, something that is reminiscent of your work "4366 Ohio Street" (2004–ongoing) in which you reproduce your childhood home at full-scale in a series of print editions. How would you describe your relationship to source material, and what dictates the points of departure for your work?

Margaret Honda: I generally tend to think about what I want to do more than what things I want to make. So, methods and tools are often my starting point, but not necessarily the subject matter. I studied material culture, so I´m extremely interested in what happens when you rearrange certain steps in a procedure or remove a defining element of something, while still maintaining a strict sense of the discipline.
The auditorium and the movie experience. Image courtesy of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum", 2014, Courtesy of Grice Bench, Los Angeles, installation view: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2017, photo: Frank Sperling.

Click to see enlargement

For "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum", a timing tape was generated to control the printer's light valves. When I understood that the tape and nothing else served as the printing element, I realized I could use an existing timing tape to make a film. With "Color Correction", I was willing to accept whatever the timing tapes gave me. I was completely indifferent to their source and would have used any set because I wanted to make a film where I ceded control over all aesthetic decisions. Other people had already determined the gauge and running time, the number and length of the shots, and the color corrections. I did nothing to alter any of that.

Additional information about this film here.

At the report's end still some impressions of the screening of "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum"

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All images by courtesy of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, "Spectrum Reverse Spectrum", 2014, Courtesy of Grice Bench, Los Angeles, installation view: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2017, photo: Frank Sperling.
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