Heavy-Light, a film by Adam K. Beckett


In the early 1990s the UK’s Channel 4 still operated as an avant-garde television channel, broadcasting films, dramas and documentaries that the other channels would be unlikely to show. Late nights were often filled out with resolutely uncommercial fare, as was the case when Abstract Cinema was shown in 1993, a 50-minute documentary by Keith Griffiths that traced the history of abstract cinematic experimentation from the animations of Oskar Fischinger to the growing field of computer graphics. The documentary was followed by an additional 25 minutes of abstract shorts, one of which, Heavy-Light (1973) by Adam K. Beckett, is a particular favourite.

Most of Beckett’s films are free-form doodles, hand-drawn and dreamlike in their endlessly shifting and often erotic metamorphoses. Heavy-Light is different for being the product of some optical process that sends billowing waves of vivid colour blooming out of darkness. The effect is very similar to Jordan Belson’s films where the realisation is equally mysterious and the result equally (that word again) psychedelic; a bonus in Beckett’s film is the excellent score by Barry Schrader. Beckett died young at the age of 29 so there isn’t much of his work to see although a few of the animated films are also on YouTube at the moment (see here, here, here and here). They may not remain there for long so watch them while you can.

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4 thoughts on “Heavy-Light, a film by Adam K. Beckett”

  1. Hi John- This post jogged a memory I’ve been gnawing on for a many years hopefully you can solve this mystery,you seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge (at least to me) of Brit TV shows,so maybe you are familiar with this film.
    First a little background.Family and I visited London in April 1998(!) at Easter time probably from Thursday the 9th till the 14th or so. My son was sick the entire time (of course,a family tradition) but I remember watching a beautifully strange film while comforting him at night when he couldn’t sleep.
    It seemed to be entirely composed of intercut shots of a astronaut(?) walking in a desert and then diving into a large glass walled tank in a large dimly lit warehouse. Repeatedly. I believe there was no dialogue-maybe some random radio transmission in the background. The shallow diving into the pool was beautifully filmed,but there was no discernible plot. It was quite hypnotic. I was fascinated that something this abstract and experimental could actually end up on TV. Of course I feel asleep before the end.
    I know it’s a crazy long shot,but do you have any idea what I was watching?

  2. That doesn’t ring a bell at all, and I used to see most things even if I wasn’t paying attention since the TV would usually be on with the sound down. A lot of European films snagged my attention that way. What you saw may have been restricted to the London area although that only applied to the ITV network. The BBC channels and C4 were nationwide. ITV never showed anything that uncommercial even late at night.

  3. It sounds like a montage of NASA Apollo astronaut training – they often undergo survival training in the desert and also use deep tanks of water to simulate walking in space. The radio transmissions may have been their comms.

    Off topic I know, but I just found out George Martin has added to the list of this year’s departed. Sad times…

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