Old Hat ★★★★


From my Ann Arbor Film Festival report for Keyframe:

It’s a great thing when you make a major new discovery, and based on the film Old Hat, I’m pretty confident I’ve made one in Zach Iannazzi. This is a film that starts out unassumingly enough—dark footage of a figure tending a fire, revolving Asian-style shades, a house and tree silhouetted from below against a midnight-blue sky. In fact, the relative connections between these shots will seem obscure, if not arbitrary. But once Old Hat gets going, the “random” shots will assert a most unexpected logic, flashing onscreen between black leader, sometimes with fades and other times with straight cuts; Iannazzi proceeds to give us an ersatz “history” of the known avant-garde.

The format itself recalls Frampton’s Zorns Lemma and Brakhage’s The Riddle of Lumen, as well as Nathaniel Dorsky’s “spiritual montage;” individual shots indirectly mimic James Benning (a distant road), Ken Jacobs (1950s footage from the Lower East Side), Robert Beavers (a classical gargoyle with a frame), Brakhage (scratched and painterly sequences) Bruce Conner (black-and-white image of a 1940s prairie home), and many more. These are not exact parodies by any means; Iannazzi is no pastiche artist, and Old Hat would not be a very interesting film if he were.

Instead, Iannazzi is posing a question that any film artist has to grapple with in 2016. How do you make films? Has it really all been done? Are we doomed to simply reiterate earlier aesthetic gestures? Old Hat ends with an image of a skyscraper against a bare blue sky. It’s a generic glass box, indicative of the International Style. Perhaps that’s where Iannazzi feels experimental film has gotten stuck, and he’s trying to think his way out.