on Bas Jan Ader: Nightfall
This black and white film starts out with Ader's name and date and then switches to the tittle of the work. Both of these are written in the artist’s fluid wholly legible cursive. The title information and the artist name shake minutely giving the viewer a sense that the artist is holding the camera. If film piece wasn’t silent I would expect to hear the breath of the cameraman as we read the title pages together.
Cut to Ader standing in a garage or root cellar of some form. Ageing brick lining the walls with a large wooden door center stage behind him giving the sense that this location is a stage more than any of his other work. He is dressed in his typical all black uniform of sorts which seems all the darker for the two bright white lights which are on the floor on either side of him. Ader is standing on what appears to be a block of indeterminate material and there are what appear to be the electrical cables looped across the floor, which were running the bulbs on either side of him.
He stands looking at the camera his face expressionless as if he is trying to speak without speaking. He looks down and his body sways as if he has been snapped out of a trance and now he is giving the same communicative stare to the block at this feet. After a moment he sways again and from the shadows that are cast upon the door behind him we know that he has stepped forward and is not in fact standing on the block but behind it. The shadows also reveal and personify the darkness that Ader represents in contrast to the light of the two bulbs in the room. And any movement he makes shifts the balance of light and dark in the enclosed space of the image.
As Ader stands contemplating the block at his feet his face is lit in such a way that the angles and sharp points of his face are thrown into skeletal relief and I cannot help but see the halo of white light which surrounds his figure. His poise references that of a saint. This moment is broken when he bends down to pick up the block which is revealed to be a slab of stone which appears to be quite heavy as Ader struggles to pick it up and hoist it onto his left shoulder. As he shifts his hands to balances it his whole body becomes same absorbent darkness of his uniform with the occasional peek of part of his face. His figure becomes just a silhouette precariously holding this slab. After a time he finally gets it balanced on the palm of one hand and positions it over the light to the left of him. He slowly moves his arm and the block away from his body and gravity takes hold and overcomes his physical limits and the slab falls and crushes the bulb casting half of the frame into total darkness.
Ader in releasing the slab hops back from the shattering glass and stares at the viewer again in what could be seen as both apologetic and unapologetic. He confronts the viewer in his new guise as a barley visible specter half cast in the darkness of his own making. There is a moment where he glances down at the evidence of his destruction and then he tips his head upward and his features become completely indistinct for a moment as he is staring up. At this moment he is perhaps mournful of his actions, and then he slowly looks back at the camera. He stares for what is likely the longest he has in the whole of the film once again seemingly trying to communicate to the viewer with his stare daring you to question his actions. Then almost reluctantly he steps over to the slab and repeats the struggle of lifting it once again. But now to his right shoulder and with more confidence. He is familiar with the weight and presence of the slab. And in no time at all, with a confidence that was not present in the destruction of the first light he tips the slab from his palm and extinguishes the rest of the light in the room. This final destruction of the illuminating bulb is a more confident action perhaps due to the understood inevitability of the action. The first was a struggle because he had yet to commit to it but once the slab fell from his hand it was as if Ader became that slab, that boulder rolling downhill unchecked, obeying gravity gravity or the inevitable. The result of total darkness was certain. The moment’s in-between the first light going out and the second were time for the viewer to come to terms with these facts of fate that Ader knew with a certainty.