Jack Chamber’s longest film, called “one of the few great films of ALL cinema” by Stan Brakhage and ignored by most everyone else aside from Fred Camper, is a beguiling experience. Its first half consists of a series of dense superimpositions of material that seems to be stock newsreel footage of London, Ontario. Significantly, the forms buried here only begin to become legible when shadow crosses shadow—otherwise everything is a blown-out blur. There must be a profusion of contradictory images before any one image makes sense. That’s the theory that informs the flow of the whole film.
Chambers said that the theme of The Hart of London is ‘generations,’ which is accurate but something of an understatement. What comes through is a real feeling for the history of the city, and the relationship between children and their parents, but also the relationships between the residents and the city fathers, between local events and national attention, between daily life and its translation into news fodder, and finally between humans and the wider animal kingdom. It’s a film that studies particular cases and circumstances under wider notions of hierarchy, ancestry, and history. In a sense, it’s an ecological film.
Chambers utilizes found footage with a sincerity rare among North American avant-garde filmmakers. Unlike, say, Bruce Conner or Kenneth Anger, who take old stock footage or clips from a DeMille spectacle and deconstruct the ideological underpinnings of the footage, Chambers presents scenes of London life that could serve as a chronicle of local history vivid enough to impress the town council. The images of London professionals and politicians spill one into another like an arcane corner of memory yearning for resurrection and annotation. Rather than critiquing these images, Chambers uses them as a point of departure. By the time his chain of associations has led to a startling and unexpected full color scene, we’re clearly in the presence of a major film.