Sink or Swim

Sink or Swim ★★★★★

It felt as if the act of writing it down would make it really come true, so she used a pencil instead of her favorite cartridge pen.

This time, the structural similarities to some of Hollis Frampton's work reminded me why I adore Friedrich's work while merely respecting his.

While no less precise in its construction than (Nostalgia) or Zorn's Lemma, Sink or Swim is so achingly personal, so impossibly emotional, that one almost wants to read imperfections into it. Hindsight hasn't given Friedrich the answers any more than it's helped heal the wounds of her upbringing. It has, however, given her the language with which she might gain a sense of perspective and purpose -- or at least the means to begin speaking that language.

Frampton starts at A and ends with Z in the longest, most famous section of Zorn's Lemma. He's a schoolmaster and his film is effectively pedagogical. It teaches us to read a new kind of film and interpret a new kind of cinematic language. Friedrich reverses things. She's surely teaching the viewer, but more importantly she's learning, using 1989's vantage to make connections and draw conclusions she never could have as "The Girl." To watch Sink or Swim is to witness not just a recollection, but a reckoning. If Frampton seeks to place memory and experience within a rigid formal structure, Friedrich seems committed to dissecting that very structure. Though she adheres to it, the film's every frame attempts to answer for how it got to be that way.

By Cleanth Brooks' definition, Frampton is a scientist and Friedrich a poet. Where Frampton imposes a sense of order, Friedrich only seems to do the same. Really she's reminding us at every turn how misleading any appearance of "order" really is.

"The poet," as Brooks writes, "does not use notation at all -- as the scientist may be properly said to do so." No, "the poet, within limits, has to make up his language as he goes."

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