The Head of a Pin – experimental films by Su Frederich 2004 and A. Sokurov

‘So what exactly is this “nature” that’s so lovely and such a respite if it’s filled with death and dismemberment? And what changes when we try to learn about it instead of just treating it as a pretty backdrop to our daily work and worries?’

Su Frederich, experimental filmmaker

USA / 2004 / 21 min / Colour / Video.

click image to play 3 min. clip

While one film critic, Jill Godmilow, has described the  above film as “…delightful and sobering…a quasi-scientific, relaxed proof of the intense power of narrative, ” experimental film critic Scott MacDonald argues that The Head of a Pin can

‘serve as a metaphor for the gap that has formed between the humanities and the sciences…  ‘ both of which only partially and imperfectly reveal the worlds we create and the earth on which we depend (MacDonald, 2009)  

More recent research on the Personal Camera: subjective cinema and the essay film is to be found in Univ. College Cork  film lecturer, Laura Rascaroli’s, 2009 book.

The essay, diary format has been a convention in experimental cinema over many decades offering immediacy and intense personal perspectives. Audience empathy towards a personal narration structures and forms is often compelling.

The Russian filmmaker Sokurov’s Spiritual Voices – the War Diaries’ 1995 offers personal narration over quiet and silent war landscapes and young soldiers; his observations of memories of being a soldier, classical music, readings of seemingly unrelated texts whose relationship to the theme gradually evolves, for e.g Mozart’s letter on the grief felt on his mothers death echoes the grief of war, are woven together to create a rich personal vehicle of aesthetic experience that reflects on universal and profound realities of war, grief and the innocence that it collides with.

‘The film develops as the author’s diary, where unbiased narration is dissolved in the lyrical intonation. You watch the real persons in the particular circumstances on the screen. They are Russian frontier–guards on the Tadjik–Afghani border. But it is also a piece of art, where aesthetic laws give the theme and arrange the facts taken from life’. Alexandra Tuchinskaya

Rascaroli’s book is an ‘exploration of an elusive but increasingly compelling field: essayistic cinema. The essay film, together with its cognate forms – the diary, the travelogue, the notebook and the self-protrait – is cinema in the first person’

thanks to Dr.Nils Lindahl Elliot of Mediating Nature and the Centre for Enviromental Communication and Education for alerting me to Laura’s text.


MacDonald, Scott (2009)  Ruminations on Nature Film in Adventures of Perception: Cinema as Exploration, p. 181 (this essay first published in 2006)
Rascaroli, Laura (2009) The Personal Camera: subjective cinema and the essay film Wallflower Press.

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