Invisible River: Recent Films of Robert Todd

Boston based filmmaker Robert Todd came back to Milwaukee to showcase a few of his more recent cinematic explorations. I have found myself growing very fond of Todd’s work as well as his demeanour as an artist. His eyes and ears are highly focused, but there is a humbling aloofness in how he talks about his work. He does not hide his films behind convoluted concepts, but speaks directly and admits when he has reached the limits of his understanding. His work, like that of Nathaniel Dorsky or Jim Jennings, strives not for knowing, but for the ineffable.

Rose (2008, 9 min.)
A sensual, but cheeky exploration of the body. A tender black and white rendering of unidentifiable body parts. Todd referred to it as an affair between himself and his Bolex.

Qualities of Stone (2006, 11 min.)
Perhaps, I won’t see a more lovely film this year. Qualities of Stone transcends the rather clumsy textual description Robert Todd provides for the film. “Stone is an analog to mineral, the common denominator between organic and inorganic life (as crystalline forms). This one moves closer to the flesh of the film – a much more interior film. It lives within the near present.” I can agree with the last sentence of this summary, but flesh feels to physical where as Qualities of Stone was more cerebral. Todd’s haunting mixture of ethereal sounds and acute visual perception rewarded me with a truly to euphoric experience. I imagine this is the sensation people seek when they take hallucinogenics.

Riverbed (2008, 18 min.)
As great as Qualities of Stone was, Riverbed was just as maddening. The films structure follows an invisible stream, but like the river that cannot be seen, the films structure feels just as absent, even sloppy. So disappoint, the film left me with a crushing headache and a desire to revisit Qualities of Stone.

Passing (2008, 19 min.)
A eulogy for his father-in-law. A backyard universe. At times touching, the film, with its attention to fire, water, and wood reminds me a great deal of Leighton Pierce’s Wood. This comparison is a compliment to Todd, but Passing is not as transcendent.

Gathering (2009 – work in progress, 4.5 min.)
The record of a tree planting, its roots and soil mixed with the ashes of Todd’s father-in-law is poignant, but not powerful. Too often, it feels like a family film, shared.

Repair (2009, 15 min.)
Todd’s work has a great kinship to the films of Jim Jennings and Nathaniel Dorsky. Yet, when Todd removes sound from his films, his work loses the magic that allows Dorsky or Jennings films to stand silent. I am not suggesting that Robert Todd is unable to make great silent films, but rather that after having heard how wonderfully he works with sound, a silent Robert Todd  feels incomplete.


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