Joseph Cornell

His influence on me touches the very foundation of my life


In 1965 I worked as Joseph Cornell‘s assistant on boxes and films. I filmed his work extensively, and as much as I could of him. (It is the only film footage that exists of Cornell.) Until 1978 I couldn‘t edit the film. When I finally learned it would be a kind of personal journalistic tribute to the man who taught me so much, it fell together. What you see are the close-up interiors of many Cornell boxes, some collages, and a few shots of Joseph. You hear the things he said to me (as I recall them) and the thoughts I think about it all. If you are a Cornell fan, there isn‘t any other film on him.


These are the first three of the six films Cornell gave me to finish before he died. I have not changed the editing structure. I have made the films printable. They are the first known fully collaged films, i.e., films made from found footage, and were done sometime in the ‘40s. Cornell combines Vaudeville jugglers, animal acts, circus performers, children eating and dancing, science demonstrations, mythical excerpts, and crucial freeze-frames of faces into a timeless structure, totally unconcerned with our usual expectations of "montage" or cinematic progression. He collects images and preserves them in some kind of cinematic suspension that is hard – impossible – to describe. But it‘s a delight to anyone whose soul has not been squashed by the heavy dictates of Art.


Cornell‘s editing has not been tampered with. It is sometimes minimal (the editing), sometimes extensive, always sensitive. I did not change it, as when I did the entire re–edit of Cornell‘s Legend for Fountains. JACK‘S DREAM, for instance, is a puppet animation into which Cornell has inserted a few shots from other material – just enough to throw it into the sphere of artful fantasy. Whereas CARROUSEL is a fully edited animal piece. There is no way now of determining the order in which the films were made, or even the exact years, but it was some time in the ‘40s.

I have added soundtracks to two of the films, using existing notes which Cornell left.