Watching Paint Dry or Dorian Gray by Jo Ann Kaplan
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Watching Paint Dry or Dorian Gray by Jo Ann Kaplan
Watching Paint Dry, Jo Ann Kaplan

Watching Paint Dry, Jo Ann Kaplan

Jo Ann Kaplan: Self-Portrait… or… Watching Paint Dry… or Watching Dorian (become) Gray. A Diary… or… A Film…

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A film about what?  About watching myself get old?  Yes, certainly.

In which of these artefacts is the “watching myself get old”? In the paintings of me? I look old in all of them, or so I’m told. Or is “watching myself get old” in the shots of me? There aren’t many of those so far, and none of those is full-face. In fact, I haven’t yet come up with a ‘standard’, singular or full-face form for doing this. YouTube is full of this kind of thing – would mine be any different or more interesting?

A film taking how long to make? Until I die? Will it never end and never be a ‘film with a shape’ but just an open-ended document? And what’s wrong with that?

And speaking of YouTube, would it be boring?  What is ‘boring’?  ‘Tiring, uninteresting or dull’, my dictionary says; qualities which may induce ‘impatience’. Well, boring is as boring does, and impatience is not a virtue – it’s a creature of advertising. Anyway, open-ended, shapeless and boring is hardly new. Call it an Oldie Screen Test.

So should I accept the Warholian ontological leap? Make a Lifetime Empire State? Well for a start I’m not shooting real time – a figment of the 25fps imagination in any case. Anyway, Andy projected @ 16fps – the old romantic.

I’m shooting bursts of fixed lengths at fixed intervals – a form of very crude animation or time-lapse. I don’t want to think too much about the filming whilst I’m painting, so I let the camera run for an entire day sometimes because it’s troublesome to turn the camera on and off and re-set the interval rate, the shutter speed, the exposure etc. And mini-DV is cheap. So I was always going to edit – remove and re-arrange material after shooting. I can’t help it – I’m an editor – it’s what I like doing best. What governs my choice of what to drop or what to leave in? By and large, some perception of there being a change, or else some suspense in waiting for a change which may or may not come. Sometimes just curiosity.

What about sound? I’m shooting sync sound as I go along just because it’s there and I can. So that means it’s the radio over the air, as I almost always have the radio on whilst I’m painting or drawing, almost always tuned to Radio 3. Sometimes there is the sound of the washing machine, or my own walking around or washing brushes, or talking to myself or cursing or shouting when something goes wrong or doesn’t work. But all of it as short discontinuous bursts, like the picture. Is it boring the have the sound rhythm always match the picture rhythm? Is it boring to always have the picture rhythm the same.  Yes, probably.

In any case, sound is mysterious, and it modifies picture in unpredictable ways. And yes, definitely, I want to play with it but haven’t yet very much.

And text? Text in vision maybe more than text as heard, and considered as part of potential graphic playing with picture material in post-production, along with continued ‘painting’, as in Photoshop or After Effects.  And of course, as a way to keep asking questions in the course of editing. Another way to keep the film open-ended, in progress, experimental, if you will.

Do I care if this film is never finished? Not really. After a long period of not making anything, the desire remained to make a film of my own choosing and within my own means – financial, temporal, technological. To make a film or films in the time I have, with the money I have and with the machines I have.  As simple as that.

Does it matter if anyone sees it? Well, yes of course, but no, not really. I please myself first in any case, and I am my own most critical audience.  Nothing really worth it has ever been made in any other way.

About the Author: Jo Ann Kaplan was born in New York City and had a fine art training at Hunter College, City University of New York (BFA, MFA). She began making films in 1969. She has been living and working in the UK since 1974, and has directed films and TV programmes across a broad range of subjects and formats, including a documentary about Maya Deren and an arts programme written by Angela Carter. Editing work includes animation, dance and experimental films, as well as documentaries and arts programmes. She draws and paints on Sundays.

She is currently working on a long-term project which involves self-portraiture in transparent watercolour and time-lapse filming on mini-DV, and is revising a dance film with Dana Caspersen of the Forsythe Company.

She teaches film editing at The National Film and Television School, The Royal College of Art, Goldsmiths College Department of Media and Communications, and other art and media colleges in the UK.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | Tagged with , , , , , , ,


  1. Tony Dowmunt says:

    What an amazing and touching film JoAnn – feels ‘finished’ in many ways to me – certainly beautifully structured by the move from daylight to evening and the moving closer in to your mouth .. the jagged, pacy editing contrasted nicely with received notions of ‘slowing down’ in old age, and there’s a kind of unsparing but tender beauty in your focus – in the shots of your face as well as on the paper – on your wrinkles. Reminded me of Varda in the Gleaners when she focuses on her hands.

    Thanks for showing it.

  2. What a beautiful, sensual piece of work JoAnn. I can almost taste the bitterness on those lips as you draw them in ever finer detail, but ultimately the sweetness of being true to the subject matter shines through. The interplay of sound, light and fast editing is edgy and challenging. For some reason i kept being reminded of these few lines of Dylan Thomas’s poetry:
    “Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light”
    In these days when youth is prized above everything and many ageing women subject themselves to the indignities of knives and needles, vainly chasing the unattainable, it takes a brave woman to step up to the mark and simply say this is my face, these are my hands and I want to show you what is happening to them. It’s almost as if Time is forced to look at itself.
    There is a dignity in the female ageing process and you have discovered a profound way to describe it. A work in progress indeed!

  3. Jo Ann… Aging…Brave of you to go there! The film is touching, yes, but taken with the text funny too!

    There is something about the inevitability of aging that makes the work poignant and amusing by turns. We will all be “there” eventually, and the work communicates its messages well!

    S x

  4. Brave and beautiful Jo Ann. It’s so absorbing to watch. The fragmented sound fading in and out works really well. As Tony says it looks pretty finished. It’s an important challenge to create beauty within ageing and to show culture does not have to reside only with the new and the young. You still have plenty to say!
    Maybe this is just how we can work now, an essay, an impression, something achievable without money and posted on the internet. Continual work in progress. Don’t stop.

  5. ellie epp says:

    jo ann, it’s lovely to find you online in this form


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