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Frame by Frame

Jerome Hiler

Jerome Hiler in 1970

Jerome Hiler might be called the phantom of the cinema. I have known Jerry since about 1965, when I borrowed his Bolex to shoot a film of my own at St. Theresa’s Church across the street from his apartment, and even then, living on the lower East Side in a small flat, he had already amassed many hours of gorgeous 16mm footage, all neatly edited into related segments on large stacks of 400′ reels; I sat there, entranced, for hours, watching his work, all of it silent, which knocked me out then, and does still.

But Jerome is a very private person, and doesn’t really feel like sharing his work with the world — at least for the most part. I may be one of perhaps 100 people who have seen several hours of his work; in the mid 1980s, I sent him several thousand feet of outdated 16mm raw stock, Ektachrome reversal film, and he promptly went out and shot several brilliant short films with it, including one called Acid Rock, so named because near the start of the film, the camera passes over a trolley car with the words “acid rock” scratched on it.

The film consists of three rolls of film straight out of the camera, with only three splices in the completed film, to put them together to make a 9 minute silent film of almost indescribable beauty. To my knowledge, this was the first film he exhibited publicly, sometime in the early 1990s; and, at this point, Jerome had been making films for nearly forty years. Since then, Jerry has changed the title of the film to Gladly Given, and expanded it “a bit from three rolls at this point.”

When I wrote about Jerry’s work in my book The Exploding Eye, I did a long interview with him for the book, and then asked him to send some stills from his work. He laughed, and responded, “that’s like saying to a poet, ‘send me a word’ — I can’t do it.” I laughed too, but on a certain level I understood. At 24 frames per second, one image can hardly capture the essence of an entire film, no matter how evocative it might be.

Lately, Jerome has been into stained glass rather than film, although he recently completed a feature film, Music Makes a City, and he also teaches and lectures from time to time, but of course, I wish he would hold a marathon screening of his work, just as it is — pull out any ten or twelve 400′ reels, and run them for an unforgettable evening.

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About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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