A globally composed, musically arranged montage-round: so Henry Hills’s arcana appears to be, a fulminant 30-minute cut-up epic that takes footage – both found and shot by the filmmaker – and crosses it in an almost arithmetic manner with a pre-arranged soundtrack. The basis is a written film treatment of the musician John Zorn, in which 254 scenes, bundled into 15 sequences, are captured in short, sometimes cryptic descriptions. Hills, very much in the style of a Harry Smith or Bruce Conner, has collected takes of radically differing origin for each of the 254 script directions and funneled them into a complexly ramified stream of associations. The sequence of scenes is underscored, or rather, interlocked, with pieces from the John Zorn composition The Bribe (1986), a musical tribute to crime fiction writer Mickey Spillane.
Noir fictions such as Spillane’s form the atmospheric baseline of arcana, whose wealth of associations does not stop with the crime and pulp fiction cinema of the 1950s. Much more, the image flow contains numerous recurring motifs – such as acts of cutting, water, and the atmospheric images of tiles, fences, steps, as well as countless diagrams – from such different sources as B-movies, newsreels, or historical avant-garde films, all of which dovetail together with video or 16-mm footage of everyday miniatures. At the same time the film plays tenaciously on the themes of alchemy and esoteric knowledge, as if a kind of ars combinatoria of a higher degree was behind the sequence of cuts. This, however, remains elusive to the degree that arcana upholds a bridge between start and finish by means of a musically synchronized montage that maintains a resonance of many voices, a mystery play of images in the best sense.
Translation: Charlotte Eckler