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`The Lighted Field': no story, but moments of visual splendor

Andrew Noren describes ``The Lighted Field,'' his new film, as a ``comedy of mirrors'' and a series of ``ghost-pictures from the `other' world, which is this world.'' Lest that sound too mystical, be assured that ``The Lighted Field'' is rooted very much in the real, everyday world Mr. Noren shares with us - a world of subways and sidewalks, cats and trees, homes and families.

Yet it's very much an ``other'' world at the same time, transformed by Noren's camera into a visionary realm of phantom shapes, impossible textures, astonishing tricks of light and shadow. Mingling the roles of visual poet and magician, Noren uses his eyes on his own terms, seeing worlds of cinematic and emotional resonance in places most of us would pass without a second glance.

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``The Lighted Field'' is part of an ongoing work called ``The Adventures of the Exquisite Corpse,'' named after an old surrealist game, which will ultimately constitute a cinematic diary of Noren's whole life. I thought it would take him a long time to top the last installment in this project, the gorgeous ``Charmed Particles,'' and sure enough, ``The Lighted Field'' has been eight years in the making. Noren's time and effort have paid handsome dividends, though. His new work has moments of visual splendor that soar far beyond the tricks and tropes of most poetic film.

Although it tells no story, ``The Lighted Field'' has a structure that's apparent even on a first viewing. It begins with abstract shots of dancing, fragmented light. These give way to images of sleep and dreamlike passages borrowed from preexisting films. Later we move to cityscapes and finally to pastoral scenes and glimpses of family life. This structure is not rigid, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. But it gives ``The Lighted Field'' a sense of balance and purpose that lighten the viewer's task of sorting out the film's quick, often flickering images as they whiz across the screen at ``charmed particle'' speed.

Noren is obsessed with light, and the most dazzling asset of ``The Lighted Field'' is its incredibly rich black-and-white photography. (No army of ``colorizers'' could improve on its luxurious variety.) Also striking is Noren's habit of ``pixilating'' shots by flicking the camera's on-off switch at a rapid pace, reflecting his highly personal approach to the technical procedures of filmmaking. This gives a high-energy pulse to ``The Lighted Field'' that complements the homey quality of its main subjects.

At times, it must be said, Noren merely seems to be fooling around with his camera and his method, tossing off easy effects that lengthen his film without deepening it. At other times, though, his skill and insight are breathtaking - and even transcendent, as when two ``found footage'' shots from old films (one showing an execution, the other a river and an animal) conjoin to make a hopeful statement on the prodigious subjects of death and rebirth.

Noren began his ``Exquisite Corpse'' project 20 years ago, and in that time it has evolved from a youthful ``diary film'' into a mature examination of the filmmaker's experience. From its nonfigurative introduction to the loving family scenes that culminate it, ``The Lighted Field'' is an achievement of uncommon beauty and intelligence.

The Museum of Modern Art presented the film's premi`ere to start the new season of its adventurous ``Cineprobe'' series. The series will continue through Jan. 25 with Monday-night programs by Stuart Sherman, Alan Berliner, and other noted independent filmmakers.

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