Richard Foreman Tries the Movies (Again)

Richard Foreman Tries the Movies (Again)
Film still from "Once Every Day"
(Courtesy Anthology Film Archives)

A serious movie-goer and longtime partisan of what used to be called the New American Cinema, Richard Foreman has cited the influence of Robert Bresson on his approach to non-acting and the example of avant-garde film practice on his unique Ontological-Hysteric Theater.

The relationship was recognized early on. Foreman staged most of his early productions at the old Filmmaker’s Cinematheque on 80 Wooster Street. Reviewing one of these for the counterculture monthly Changes, documentary filmmaker Victoria Schultz called Foreman’s work spiritually closer to that of “Stan BrakhageJack SmithJoseph CornellMichael Snow, and others than to contemporary experimental theater… The most striking point the film-makers and Foreman have in common, besides total control of production (the film-makers shoot, direct, and edit; Foreman writes the plays, directs them, and designs the settings) is the tendency to do away with conventional plot, story-line, and dramatic narrative.”


Foreman has also expressed a certain ambivalence regarding cinema, best articulated in the title of his 1987 piece, “Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good,” and the fact that every other decade or so, the artist experiments with a feature-length film or video work. Call it beginner’s luck but the straightforward PortaPak production “Out of the Body Travel,” made in 1975, is still the strongest of those I’ve seen; “Once Every Day,” at Anthology Film Archives through February 14, is the most recent. The presentation is pure Foreman: People have the same weight as props. The movie features a gaggle of non-actors, several ripe young women among them, stuffed in uncomfortable places, engaging in repetitive movements, or staring deadpan at camera, as Foreman himself can be heard barking orders or demanding an answer to some philosophical query. (On-stage direction or dialogue delivered word by word are two tricks Foreman picked up from Jack Smith).

Where Foreman’s plays are actually dramatic, as well as ritualistic and object-like, “Once Every Day” feels immaterial – it lacks presence. The weirdness seems gratuitous (and weirdly sub Lynchian). As demonstrated with his earlier movies like “Strong Medicine,” Foreman can’t activate a screen the way he does a space. “Once Every Day” opens with a cry of “Help me” and the plaintive SOS is repeated throughout – too frequently to be ignored. Far be it for me to give a genius advice, but I wish that, rather than search for a cinematic equivalent to his theater, Foreman would just try to direct a movie and see what happens.

Read more J. Hoberman at Movie Journal.