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Like a Dream That Vanishes

Like a Dream That Vanishes

Year: 1999
Language: English
Format: 16mm Colour
Runtime: 44 min
Music: Rainer Weins
Like a Dream that Vanishes screened at a number of high-profile international festivals, bringing Barbara Sternberg renewed recognition. Like several other important Canadian avant-garde films – such as Jack Chambers’ The Hart of London (1970) and Philip Hoffman’s passing through/torn formations (1987), for example – it is a difficult work to sum up, offering neither a neat structure nor a single underlying idea. However, sections from an interview with the philosopher John Davies, shot the year before he died, provide a kind of conceptual anchor to which the film repeatedly returns. Davies speaks about the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s ideas on miracles and God, and about Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. His final words in the film could be taken as its credo: “The world isn’t a very tidy place. Nature is not very tidy – it’s thought to be, but in fact, it’s pretty messy.”

Sternberg intercuts these interview fragments with fleeting images taken from everyday life — fall leaves, a teenager’s party, flowing water, children at a playground — all shot in the filmmaker’s characteristic handheld camera style. The imagery often shifts between clear representations and the materiality of the film plane, with flaring camera-roll ends and sections of pure colour and light.

What unites Sternberg’s disparate material is a concern with the temporality of all existence, a preoccupation not so much with death as with the fleetingness of every moment of experience. The themes of the film are closely tied to fundamental aspects of cinema: the image perpetually vanishes, only to be replaced, instantaneously, by another image.

By: Chris Gehman