At one point in Holly Fisher’s feature film Out of the Blue, an on-screen text appears which reads, „Bring out all glissandi. They are not just ‚ornaments.‘ ” This is an instruction by composer Lois V Vierk regarding the interpretation of her piece Words Fail Me, written in the score’s legend as direction to the musicians preparing for performance of this work. Fisher includes several such instructions in addition to the full 20-minute music composition within her film. To me these words apply not only to this film as a whole, but to many of her other films as well (thinking Ghost Dance; Here Today Gone Tomorrow aka Rushlight; Softshoe for Bartok).
In Western music tradition, glissandi – the sliding towards or into certain notes, thus foregrounding them – are indeed used as ornaments; they are a means by which the performer may add some warmth, charm, or „personality“ to their interpretation. Glissandi in that tradition demonstrate the player’s virtuosity and confidence, making sure listeners deem themselves to be “in good hands”.
Here, however, the glissandi have become emancipated. In the first movement of Words Fail Me, they seem braided into the melodic lines, melodies, into the phrases themselves, and made a fundamental part of their expression – standing next to stable notes, equal to them instead of heightening their importance. In the second movement, slow glissandi are broken up into jagged fragments, shards, relentlessly driving forward, downward, upward, as if in a frenzy. I think that Fisher’s expressive description of Vierk’s music as “uncanny movement through space” stems from, among other things, the composer’s use of glissando. Both music and film build a sort of fictional architecture, opening up rooms which might not be possible in reality, where askew angles, warped walls abound. The glissandi can be regarded as warped walls connecting past, present, and future in a single line, and which is analogous to what is happening with images in the hands of the filmmaker/editor. The glissando is about transitioning or mediating between two stable notes, one in the process of fading away, the other in the process of emerging. The feeling of in-between-ness, as conjured up by the glissando reverberates throughout the film. The question arises, is there a filmic glissando? And if so, what would it look like?
I believe the glissandi in Out of the Blue are to be taken both in a literal and in a broader sense. They are central to they way the film moves forward. Considering the broader sense of this concept, it seems no coincidence that Vierk’s instruction to bring out all glissandi appears over one of the film’s most crucial images.
The sky and snowy landscape as seen from an airplane are superimposed upon a “snowy”, noisy malfunctioning television, while the shadow of a hand seems to touch this mixture, this “fictional architecture” of imaginary and unbuilt structures, as an onscreen text states, of earth and sky, of reality and (lacking) image, of real and fictitious snow, of beauty and noise, of order and disruption. It is an impossible touch, but one that reforms those disparate elements into a unity, a unity which is not just rigidly imposed upon its elements but is alive, moving, shifting, scintillating. All of its elements at other points in the film are linked with their own distinct chains of associations; the lacking image, in particular, is connected to an image lost in the editing room, as well as to 9/11. Other associations include the plane trip crossing the Atlantic during which real life seems to be suspended, the haze between waking and sleeping, doing laundry, or the “need to talk” (hinted at by both on-screen texts and the sound of a calmly ringing phone): in-between spaces, phases of transition, all brought together yet preserved in their autonomy by this touch which works as a glissando: a realm of connection, letting both the eye and the mind wander, indeed glide between its various parts. These elements are connected not to smooth a transition to a new image or a new idea, but invite the viewer/listener to dwell on the connection itself.
A narrower translation of the concept of glissando into film language is perhaps obvious. In Out of the Blue as well as in Fisher’s work in general, one can find many instances where a film shot lingers, and slowly glides into the next one; where the image is abstracted, where movement crystallizes, or where one image-box which makes up only part of the screen interacts with either the full screen or another image-box. The beauty of a “gliding” image lies not in perfect proportions or perceived order, but in this abstraction of well-known sights which leads the viewer to discover uncharted viewpoints; as if one would take a step back from one’s personhood, only to become awash with surprising sensations (there is a car wash scene in Blue which illustrates this point perfectly).
The most literal instances of glissando in the film are the many images of gliding, of being afloat. Falling leaves, a swimming goose, a plane hovering over the coast line, recurring shots of continuous pulling back of an island and of moving towards an obscure door, cartoon characters stuck in an air bubble – these moments all recall a glissando.
The performance of Words Fail Me is at the very center of Blue. The rest of the film revolves around it, appears, in hindsight, to be structured by it, by its two contrasting movements. Until the first notes arise, a cloud, a haze of contrasting images, texts, associations is being built, or set afloat; a fluid framework from which the music is borne, airborne. But it is only much later that one realizes how music and film inform each other, without one even remotely illustrating the other. Both keep their independence, their own, contrasting rhythm, and their own ways of moving uncannily forward as they still mirror each other. At times, the musical glissando becomes a filmic glissando, and vice versa.