Hollis Frampton

By: Jacob Mikanowski
March 11, 2013


During the brief post-war heyday of American avant-garde film, HOLLIS FRAMPTON (1936–84) was the pattern-crazy Newton to Stan Brakhage’s poetry-mad Quixote. Born to a coalminer in the depths of the Depression, Frampton was raised by his Irish granny, who taught him to read out of Shakespeare’s Tempest. At fifteen, he won a scholarship to Philips Andover where he met Carl Andre and Frank Stella. He was offered another scholarship to Harvard but lost it when he refused to take a history test. Instead, he went to study with Ezra Pound when Pound was in his sage-in-exile phase at St. Elizabeth’s in D.C. Frampton began his artistic career taking pictures of his friends’ studios as they were inventing minimalism in Greenwich Village lofts. In one of his earliest completed films, (nostalgia), he burns those same photos on a hot plate while calmly narrating their contents. That film was one section of a giant multi-part work called Hapax Legomena. It’s hard to find the whole thing, just as it used to be nearly impossible to view the entirety of Magellan, a filmic Stonehenge which should ideally be viewed over the course of 371 days. But if you ever get the chance to see them, do: it’s like getting a chance to do ergot with the ghost of Kurt Gödel. Frampton loved puzzles, paradoxes and algebraic rules; like the title of one of his best essays, his films are pentagrams for the conjuration of narrative, with beauty on the edges and a demon within.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Raoul Walsh, Douglas Adams, and Wanda Gág.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


Art, HiLo Heroes, Movies