Near the end of his short film Home Improvements, Robert Frank sits in a truck outside his home on the remote coast of Nova Scotia. He holds the camera himself, announcing the banal steps involved in scraping the ice off his windshield and driving his trash down the street to be picked up. It's strangely comedic, the documentation of such a menial task paired with Frank's deadpan commentary from behind the camera. When the garbage man finally arrives, surprised to find someone waiting to film him, there is an awkward encounter. "It's a big moment," Frank tells him. The man lifts up the plastic bag and blankly stares into the camera.
No doubt, this is not the first puzzling look Frank's filming has elicited. His films, especially the more personal work in Cinema Project's upcoming series, are explanations of the "big moments" that pass through every day. Scenes alternate between morning cups of coffee with his wife, a birthday party, a ride-along with the local mailman, still shots of photographs, and Frank filming himself talking about the weather and the past. Brief, often confessional moments are woven into self-referential montages, echoing themes of memory and perception. One of the giants of American photography, Frank's films are a self-deprecating, funny, and uniquely honest look at the artist's life--one filled with equal parts success and tragedy.
After reaching critical acclaim in the late '50s for his influential photo book, The Americans, Frank shunned photographic stardom for filmmaking. His first feature-length film, Me and My Brother, is an odd take on fact, fiction, and mental health featuring Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and his catatonic brother, Julius. It is the earliest of Frank's films screening this week, and it plays on its own night.
The rest of the films, compiled mostly of work from the '80s to the present, play out like a video diary. Frank's relationship with his wife, his daughter's early death, and his son's mental illness and eventual suicide all bubble up between instants of absurdity and reflection--between the "big moments" of the everyday.