The repeated accelerating flickers between black and white or solid color frames photo-kinetically induce an alpha meditative state. Into the climax of these generative alternations of spectral opposites, the dots enter and enact movements which are as carefully "choreographed" in the sense of purely visual "music" as had been the imagery in the "Film Excercises", including variations, inversions, harmonic and contrapuntal balances and imbalances, etc.
The screen is scrupulously sustained as a flat expository surface, and a reflexive consciousness of the film material process is maintained by the use of flickers, transparent/white backgrounds, scratches, and solarized, step-printed episodes, in which the hand-wrought, irregular textures also recall (for those familiar with this background information) both James' expertise as a raku potter and the Alchemical processes of transmuting elements, in this case the colored chemicals of the film emulsion by the "solar" Fire. (…)
James worked on Yantra for about eight years (1950-58), meticulously painting the patterns of pin-point dots on paper cards, and hand developing and solarizing much of the footage.
-- William Moritz, 1977
Yantra was conceived as a silent film. It received its soundtrack when it was shown in one of the Vortex Concerts; Jacobs and Belson mixed portions of Dutch composer Henk Badings' “Cain and Abel” to form an uncannily appropriate and exciting musical counterpoint to the images.
The lack of exact synch and the relative obscurity of the original score (which has never been recorded, I believe) rescue Yantra's track from the problematic status of other "found" music for non-objective films.
- William Moritz, 1977
1921 | Los Angeles·CA, USA / +1982
At 18 James began collaborating with his older brother John on non-objective films in 8mm. As he studied Eastern philosophies, he realized that certain cosmic principles did not yield easily to verbal explanations, but could be seen and "discussed" through the abstract shapes in his films.
For six years after the famous "Film Exercises", James tried to codify an ideographic vocabulary or alphabet for the expression of visual ideas.
Finally, he was aesthetically and spiritually satisfied only by the reduction of all building components to their simplest form: the dot or point.