Bob with Books
In this 1971 film by Nancy Holt, Robert Smithson sits on the rooftop of 799 Greenwich St. in New York—the loft and studio space that the couple shared starting in 1963. In the opening shot of the film Smithson takes a sip of his Budweiser, then grabs a book from the tall stack to his left. After opening the book at random and reading for a moment with the book balanced on top of his knees, Smithson appears to lose interest in the book, sets it down to his right, and reaches for another. This cycle repeats itself for the duration of the three-minute film. Each time Smithson picks up a new book from the stack, Holt quickly zooms in on Smithson and the book before retreating when he sets the book down.
At the end of the film, Holt zooms in on the disheveled pile of discarded books. This chaotic pile of books manifests Smithson's interest in the accumulation of knowledge resembling geologic strata and the idea of the earth’s history and geology as a book out of order. In his 1968 essay "Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects," Smithson wrote "The strata of the Earth is a jumbled museum,” and two years later in the film Spiral Jetty (1970), Smithson narrates “The earth’s history seems at times like a story recorded in a book. Each page of which is torn into small pieces. Many of the pages and some of the pieces of each page are missing.”
Holt's direction and cinematography raises questions about scale and perspective; zooming into each book (or layer of knowledge) allows for concentration on one subject but also causes the viewer to lose focus on the scene at large.