José Val del Omar

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José Val del Omar

#1 Post by knives » Tue Mar 22, 2011 8:18 pm

José Val del Omar (1904-1982)


Life is only a slowed-down explosion, and I try
to compress it to turn it into ecstasy: into eternal instant


Note this is a very limited filmography covering only what is known to me at the moment. Sr. Val del Omar made over a hundred films in his lifetime though most of which were destroyed either by the director himself or the environment they were housed in.

Acariño Galaico (De Barro) (1961, 1981-1982, 1995)

Fuego en Castilla (1958-1960)

Aguaespejo Granadino (1953-1955)

Pelicula Familiar (1935-1938)

Vibración de Granada (1935)

Fiestas Cristianas/Fiestas Profanas (1934-1935)

Estampas 1932 / Estampas de Misiones (1932)

En un rincón de Andalucía (1925) destroyed by the director

All of the films listed so far are available from Cameo in Spain.

Internet Resources

Official Website
Last edited by knives on Wed Mar 23, 2011 11:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#2 Post by knives » Tue Mar 22, 2011 9:22 pm

If it's kosher I'm going to cross post the relevant comments into the '30s list thread.
As I go through the set, chronologically, I'll be posting in here my thought on the various films. I hope everyone at least gets enjoyment out of my little comments and in the best of cases actually watches a few of these or buys the Cameo set which is bilingual.

First up, of course is Scenes 1932.
For those like myself who were introduced to the world of Sr. Val del Omar via Fuego en Castilla such as myself this film may come as something of a shock. Not only is this the earliest surviving film of his, but also the first he allowed public screenings for. The movie at first appears plain and ordinary, a reel long documentary in the Schoedsack mold, definitely makes one question why this is the film he planned on introducing himself with.

The answer to that question much like the film is so subtle that most may not figure it out. The film is a statement, a code of conduct and ideals told through gentle visuals. Cinema will allow people to become equals sharing in each others happiness and pain. Even before that graces the screen we get a written manifesto stating that the film makers will get movies to even the poorest of villagers. It could easily be interpreted as a communist statement which considering the environment is very risque and self aware.

Immediately after we get a view of one of these villages, or at least it appears as one village though it is suggested that it is many villages, first at a distance showing the town's scope and then at the intimate level showing building and people as they run off frame. We must wait for the villagers to be comfortable having their photos taken before they enter the frame completely, but with a strong looking female sheep herder we finally get a full view of these 'humble people'. They go about their business ignoring the film crew. Even the goats seem to not care. There's distance in how they are shot, but also more than a little curiosity in how they live and work. There appears to be an emphasis on the women as we see several do the same job in the same sort of framing in the period of about a minute. There are men, but they never hog the space.

Sadly, but with a happy heart these proceedings don't last forever and a group of engineers ride into town with their gramophones and projectors to set up a theater. First comes a clumsy truck looking like it will fall over in one of the many puddles it barely passes over. While it is always an assured thing that success will come to the people it is never an easy thing. Eventually for instance all traces of modernity must be dropped as the equipment is lugged over by mules.

This entire sequence and the next few to follow is done with a quiet sense of humour that reminds me heavily of Bunuel in it's nodding at the natural absurdities in life. Easily the sturdiest laugh comes from when the crew rides into town on bicycles wearing suits and umbrellas that absolutely clash with their surroundings. During parts of this modern march the film is split so that we see the tiniest sliver of the previous frame up top.

I'm not sure if this is intentional on Val del Omar's part or a problem with the transfer itself, but it does give the humble suggestion that the past is always affecting the view of the present. These modern men may slowly take this village into contemporary times, at first only the smallest of children are willing to 'act' for the camera, but it still is a poor village that is being ignored by the rest of the world. Their existence will become a past existence again if we choose to pat ourselves on the back for one good deed. The film finally closes on the image of a massive crowd after witnessing the first educational film shown at their new movie theater.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#3 Post by knives » Thu Mar 24, 2011 2:06 am

Fiestas Cristianas/Fiestas Profanas
While most of Val del Omar's work is missing, including a large portion of the series this film was a part of, we can nonetheless see how he developed his directorial voice over the years with what remains. This particular film becomes a great example of that. He began shooting it as far back as 1931 and did not finish until after his next film had already premiered in 1935. Val del Omar conceived it as an installation piece with various films being added on after it's private premier in a religious museum in 1934.

The movie starts off rough and naturalistic like it's predecessor and only as he moves from location to location that a more mature and savvy voice develops. One that asks the legitimacy of the world around it. By the end of the film Val del Omar treats his human subjects no different from the objects they carry around.

The movie itself shows how different missionary sites celebrate various christian holidays. Some of the film is missing, but what remains, saved by Val del Omar's assistant during the civil war, is from three different sites that totals to about fifty minutes in length. Over this remaining time we see a great development of grammar particularly in his editing techniques. The film also manages to much more silently express its themes with the entirety of thought coming from the visuals. The story, or what can be considered a story, is still indebted to intertitles, but this is perhaps a necessary evil in explaining where and why different things take place.

We begin during Holy Week in Lorca where a parade is taking place. Again Val del Omar shoots at a distance allowing the entire town to be absorbed before getting intimate with the architecture and then the people. At first they keep their distance looking mournful. It is not until a man who leans on a building turns his head toward the camera that the film is invited to become a part of the town. Val del Omar will go back to this man several times over the course of this first part showing a desire for repetition.

In a way this repetition takes Soviet montage theory to it's breaking point. We see the same shot at different lengths and in different contexts until the shot becomes a total blank slate that has a sort of joyful meaninglessness. Val del Omar uses montage to create blank spaces. He also uses montage traditionally, weaving a story where there is none. Images are shown which manage to be totally meaningless even in context, but they create a story through mood. After the scene of the beggar not reacting for example we get intercutting footage of villagers preparing for a parade and horses marching all with the shadow of religion overseeing everything. We are reminded constantly of how these images are not related as the true events around their footage is revealed yet somehow the movie still convinces that this is a story rather than several.

Finally though we are left to a single tale as the festivities begin. All three festivals are christian in nature which at first puts the title in an ironic position, but I don't think that's the actual purpose. While some of the jokes come from the same place Val del Omar is not Bunuel. Val del Omar appears to be a true believer, but he's willing to look at the hypocrisy of the situation. Right before the people of the parade enact in religious imagery, some of which does look rather inappropriate within a christian context we get a sign telling the audience that they are not trusted. The audience is warned only once more before the movie goes down the rabbit hole.

We soon move onto to a different holy week parade opening on an amazing thing that is shot in as mundane a fashion as possible. Cloaked men carry crosses on their backs as statues follow. Val del Omar makes no difference between the men and the statues. Even those in the audience are not spared as several shots make it look like a mannequin is watching the parade. On a theoretical level I find this to be the most interesting aspect of the film. Images can pensive and active like people. In film anything can communicate a range of ideas and statements. what does it mean when a child is shown in a full priest garb. It's very possible that the image means nothing or it could just as easily be satire and that's easily the largest joke of the film. What we see only has the meaning that we apply to it and reality be damned.

We end with a spring festival. This seems to be the contrasting secular party of the title. It's more modern and sleek. We have to be reintroduced to the world and in a completely different way with the insects and foliage acting as our guide. Statues again work as people reminding the audience that humans exist in this world. In what must be an attempt at humour as the parade goes on it begins to look more and more like the christian festival with the cross replaced with the farmer's donkey. Even if Val del Omar is a true believer he is smart enough not to care if someone else isn't.

In all the film manages to be like Scenes 1935 in that there's the pleasant surface reading. A tale of humanism where religion and secularism meet and a more complex meta interpretation where Val del Omar is commenting on the nature of documentaries and the essential lying in their DNA. Does it really say anything notable is we are looking at a real man or a doll?

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Re: José Val del Omar

#4 Post by knives » Fri Apr 15, 2011 1:36 am

Vibración de Granada

Sorry it's been so long, got side tracked from talking about this film which is the best of the '30s survivors so far and the first serious entry into experimentalist, though of a different sort from what he would develop.

The film announces itself loudly witha set of quickly flashed scribbled card. This is going to be different and a tad nonsensical. It starts out how we expect by now though with an overview of a city. This city is different though. It's modern, healthy, empty. There's no smiling faces in this virtual Atlantis, just cold white stone and splashing water. Fish and birds surround the reflections of plants, but there is no humans. The humans have been replaced by the artificial such as planes, the only sign of life.

The film is mourning with the element that Val del Omar seems to see Granada (as referenced in his last film) as being the only true life. A set of fountains that cry upward. I don't want to get into trashy poetry which I'm no good at anyways, but the feelings the movie produces by showing environments calls for language to match it.

The movie is rather cleverly split in half though with the title and real introduction of the film not coming until the halfway mark. It nearly seems like Val del Omar is trying to extend his early scenes into their own movie. He's very curious about how to tend to mood without creating story. I've already said that he's taking Soviet theory to it's logical extreme and for this first half he reaches it through his city symphony exploration.

When the film does introduce itself we get a second and third card that gives the essence of a story: Salt, moon and water/ Early one morning. This gives an aesop feeling to me that is immediately broken by the introduction of a human. In this case it's a very elderly woman. so were the previous cards a reference to what we are seeing now or what we have already seen. I believe the man has just made intertitles a necessary creative element.

Sadly this does lead into something typical with expository intertitles as the woman weeps. Humourously Val del Omar seems to agree and ditches her does the same thing to a young man and than goes back to what truly interests him, the landscape. I really have to wonder why he chose to break the form with these two. What does their separate stories do to help the movie?

Before I can ponder too hard on that we get the slowest quick cutting I've seen. Scenes are established and dropped so that they fall over each other functioning as one scene. Women sleep on one hand, a house burns, more architecture. Is this supposed to be interpreted all in the same second? Are all of the images intended to become one event, one frame? Val del Omar's photography definitely overlaps here with a set of images not only communicating about the past and future images, but also being internalized as the same image. I'm instantly reminded of that Flaming Lips record that really is a few that only becomes whole when played together. Each section, but a minute or two long, falls upon itself in the same manner creating a mood rather for the story told at the beginning.

For the last minute this breaks to become an outro, unlike our into though humanity is present, growing, and getting better even as it dies of old age a new generation stands tall. we are left with a web running past a river.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#5 Post by Guido » Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:24 am

Matt Losada has written a piece on the DVD release of Omar's Trìptico Elemental for Cinema Scope.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#6 Post by rohmerin » Fri Apr 15, 2011 11:26 am

The DVD box is beautiful, opened is in a cross form. Each side is like a painting. Pictures, details and screen captures from the DVD.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#7 Post by zedz » Fri Apr 15, 2011 5:50 pm

Indeed! I just received this and was very impressed by the presentation.

Oh, and in the grand hierarchy of back-of-the-box pull quotes, getting Victor Erice to write a poem about you must rank right up the top!

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Re: José Val del Omar

#8 Post by zedz » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:53 pm

A million gracias to knives for drawing my attention to this filmmaker and this incredibly handsome package of discs. It’s a beautiful presentation, with a thick bilingual book containing an introductory essay and credits and programme notes for all of the films, and a cruciform digipack holding the five discs.

The first three discs collect VDO’s extant films, primarily the Elemental Triptych that’s his magnum opus. These discs are sparsely populated, and the three central films appear twice: individually and as the compiled triptych. Although this smacks of redundancy, each of these films is so significant that you can understand the rationale for dedicating a disc apiece, even though they only run twenty minutes each, and the supporting Val Del Omar films on each disc are geographically and contextually related.

Despite the slender surviving filmography, Val Del Omar is an undeniably major figure. As a technical innovator he might not be quite up there with Fischinger or McLaren, but he’s only a couple of steps behind, and he’s also as consistently formally brilliant.

Starting at the top, with the triptych:

Watermirror of Granada – VDO’s first masterpiece, made between 1953 and 1955, seems very clearly to be an answer film to Anger’s Eaux d’Artifice. He shoots the waterworks at the Alhambra with a lot of the same techniques, and I think there’s even a snatch of Vivaldi on the intricately collaged and processed soundtrack. However, when one sees his Vibration of Granada from two decades earlier, and finds a number of identical shots contained therein, you have to wonder whether there was any cross-fertilization going on. As with the two other elemental films, VDO goes well beyond the ostensible subject of the film, extending his meditation to the people and the place in much more general terms. There’s a welter of experimental effects at work – lens distortions, pixilation, slow motion – but it’s never random and the bravura technique not only works in the broader context of the short film, but resonates across VDO’s entire career.

Fire in Castile – Simply a breathtaking masterpiece: incredibly original and incredibly accomplished in its mind-bending technical effects. This has instantly become one of my favourite films of the 60s - it’s positively addictive. Would make a great companion piece for Svankmajer’s The Ossuary.

Galician Caress – After a single viewing, this film seems just as rich and mysterious as Fire in Castile, with the same immediately recognisable mastery and the same potential for endless revisiting. In both cases you find yourself looking at shots with no idea how they were achieved, allowing you to fall back into a pure, innocent kinaesthetic thrill.

Those three films are the backbone of Val del Omar’s work and reputation, and the other surviving works are basically fragments or different kinds of projects entirely.

The major ‘fragment’ is Vibration of Granada, which is a very early run-through for Watermirror. It’s a fine, personal film in its own right, but it’s even more fascinating in comparison to his other work, as he’d go back to the same site more than once in later years. Also included are three documents of regional festivals made during the 1930s. These were completed as part of VDO’s pedagogical work during his time with the Misiones (also documented in the much more formal and traditional compilation Scenes 1932) and they provide a revealing counterpoint to Vibration.

The earliest of the three documentaries seems to have preceded Vibration, and it’s rather straight, fully focussed on being a record of a particular event rather than on being a work of art (though VDO can’t suppress his artfulness entirely). The second film, apparently shot just after Vibration, shows VDO getting slightly more expressive, discursive and individual, and the third, documenting a spring festival in Murcia, becomes a full-blown lyric film, with the ritual goings-on intercut with delirious close-ups of nature and elaborated with associative and rhythmic montage. VDO has particular success using movement within and of individual shots as a montage component in this film.

The final authentic VDO film is a brief flurry of home movie footage from the 30s. Charming enough, but not much different from other such records from the period.

So – what happened next? The collection of documentaries and reflective films on disc four of the set start to answer that question, with tantalising glimpses of post-triptych films: mile-a-minute Mekasian memory films; highly coloured revisitations of the Granada material, and brain-melting psychedelic whatsits.

This disc includes short films that draw on that later work (excellent, but I wanted to see this material unmediated) and two more substantial documentaries. The first, Ojala Val Del Omar is a good, arty documentary – very evocative, but a little too arty to actually provide the concrete info I was craving. The second, Laboratorio Val Del Omar is a dense academic study (quite literally – it was a PhD thesis film) and I found it terrific in its methodical interrogation of the filmmaker’s career and aesthetic. Still, all this just made me the more hungry for those incredible later films.

And this is what the final disc of the set delivers, after a fashion. It seems that none of VDO’s post-triptych work was formally completed, though much of it exists in such a highly developed form that it has circulated with semi-official titles and everything. The film on the fifth disc, Throw Your Watch in the Water collects most of this material together. We have no idea how (or if) Val Del Omar would have actually assembled and released this work, though I’d say it’s pretty much a dead cert that he wouldn’t have thrown it all together as a feature.

Still, this is probably as close as we’re going to get to the great unfinished work of VDO’s later years, and it’s pretty fucking stunning. The compilation is actually very intelligently assembled, starting with the familiar (some Watermirror material leading into his later, colour revisitations of the same places and shots) then gradually, progressively becoming more and more audacious and amazing until, at the forty minute mark, we’re launched into an incredible avalanche of deep psychedelia that lasts an intense half hour before gently easing back to calmer closure with some of the most personal footage from the archive. A remarkable close to a remarkable set, on target to be my pick of the year.

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Re: José Val del Omar

#9 Post by swo17 » Fri Jul 13, 2012 11:34 am

A note for viewing the Triptico Elemental in the Cameo set: The individual films are presented twice, once individually on various discs, and again all together on Disc 3. There is an untranslated note in the booklet explaining that on Disc 3 only, two of the films (Aguaespejo Granadino and Fuego en Castilla) have been presented preserving the diaphonic sound technique pioneered by Val del Omar. This is a two speaker setup with the right speaker positioned in front of you and the left speaker positioned at equal distance directly behind you. Somewhat annoyingly, the films are presented with the sound actually coming out of the front left and right speakers (as opposed to, say, the center and rears in a surround sound setup, although perhaps two rear left and right speakers wouldn't quite produce the same effect as having one directly behind you). So to achieve the desired setup, I had to rewire my receiver, switching out the front left and back left channels, and then position myself halfway between the two speakers while facing the screen. But it was worth the effort! Most of the audio ends up coming from behind you, which is disorienting enough, but there are occasions when it feels like it is slicing through you as it passes to the front speaker and back, having a somewhat similar impact as the sound design for the final scene of Melancholia. The narration track on Aguaespejo Granadino gets a real workout too, constantly echoing back and forth. As if these films weren't trippy enough already!

EDIT: Here's a good essay I've found on the Triptico Elemental.

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