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Jerome Hill’s Film Portrait:

Individuation as Artistic Vocation

Don Fredericksen

From Millennium Film Journal No. 35/36 (Fall 2000): The Millennium


Jerome Hill tells us in Film Portrait that he was taught the “authenticity of dreams” already in his childhood. I take Hill to be pointing to several qualities: the felt reality of dreams, not only for the dream-ego, but to the waking ego; the sense dreams carry of being truthful—even when we do not comprehend the truths they body forth; and the manner in which they draw the waking ego into response.

When I initially sat to write this essay for delivery at a symposium, the particular venue crept into my thoughts as an inhibiting factor. The symposium was focused, after all, on Jungian and archetypal perspectives upon popular film, popular culture. Perhaps this was not the appropriate place to speak about Jerome Hill, a personal filmmaker. Hill died in 1972, but that night he visited me in a dream, and gave his view on the matter.

The dream: I am projecting Film Portrait to the symposium’s members in preparation for my talk. I am changing reels. Behind me a man prepares to leave, saying as he goes—in a voice clearly intended to let everyone know his feelings and to garner accompanists—”you mean some people are still watching this film!” My spirits sink; his antipathy confirms my fears. About one third of the audience follows the man out. Just then, also behind me, I hear Jerome Hill call. I turn. He is accompanied by a woman. He is smiling as he comes forth to shake hands. I realize I must have invited him to the symposium. I am sorry and embarrassed that he has had to witness people walking out on his film. To my surprise, Hill expresses delight in being asked into the symposium, saying explicitly that he has made several nourishing contacts in conversation. He ignores the departures with the civility attributed to him by those who knew him. The woman echoes his sentiment. Deeply heartened, I put up the second reel for those who remain.

Next morning, I knew I must finish and deliver the paper as scheduled. Otherwise, the delight Hill and his woman companion expressed would be confined to the dream. But this would violate the dream itself, i.e., their attendance at the symposium at my invitation. I had to do my part to insure that their attendance—which was already present in the dream—would come to pass in social reality. The authenticity of this dream, and the responsibility it called forth, was the matrix out of which the following essay was born.


Why Jerome Hill? Within the history of film there exists a relatively unknown tandem between Jung and a significant set of filmmakers in the personal film mode. This tandem is often characterized by the influence of Jung’s writings upon the filmmakers’ lives and work: in the instance of James Broughton, a Bay-area filmmaker, by analysis with the Jungian analyst Joseph Henderson; and in Jerome Hill’s case, a significant acquaintance with Jung himself, through Hill’s cousin, Maud Oakes. 1 Outside this tandem, made by fairly direct influence, there exists a much larger number of personal filmmakers whose work openly invites Jungian and post-Jungian commentary. (By post-Jungian, I mean especially James Hillman and those who work within his definitions of archetypal and imaginal psychology.) 2 In these instances, the crafting of films accurately described as symbolic, archetypal, mythic, imaginal, or liminal already suggests the utility of some form of Jungian hermeneutics, including amplification. 3

Furthermore, because these films are usually the work of individuals working alone, and because they are the kind of individuals they are, the films become part of the process of self-realization, i.e., individuation. Here, more frequently than is the case in the commercial narrative mode of filmmaking, films are a constitutive and integral part of the artists’ individuation, not just representations about individuation. We can accurately state that they are among the very instruments of self-realization. For this reason, one finds here creative processes closely akin to Jung’s description of “active imagination,” or to Marie-Louise von Franz’s “alchemical active imagination.” 4

The fact that this link between Jung and personal filmmakers is unknown is not surprising; the mode itself is largely unknown. By and large, public exhibition venues exist only in metropolitan museums and art institutes, and in universities. Within the academic study of film, the personal film tradition is generally ignored, because it lacks the social influence of documentary and commercial narrative film. Or, conversely, it is denigrated as self-indulgent, narcissistic, obscurantist, elitist. And it sometimes is. But, from a psychological point of view, these qualities invite interpretation, not unreflective dismissal.

One correctly diagnoses this situation, albeit only partially, as a result of the lack of interest our extroverted and philosophically materialistic culture has in an essentially introverted manner of filmmaking.

Additionally, the film medium itself seems at first glance to favor the extroverted and materialistic attitudes, given its extraordinary capacity and tendency to take a kind of molding of the face the world presents to the camera. Much of the credibility, power, and fascination of documentary film depends upon our recognition of, and acquiescence to, this filmic molding of the world’s face. Understandably, if somewhat ironically, it also undergirds the impression of reality we attribute to the fictional worlds of commercial narrative films.

But even documentary filmmakers know that film is always more than a molding of the world’s face. One of the best of them, the Australian ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall, states that awareness this way: “The film image becomes a piece of evidence, like a potsherd. It also becomes, through the denial of all other possible images, a reflection of thought. In that double nature is the magic that can so easily dazzle us.” 5 Thought in film can operate, of course, in extroverted and introverted modes, in tandem with the other psychic functions—sensation, feeling, and intuition—but, to acknowledge any of these functions as factors in filmmaking is to acknowledge the reality of another world, the world of the psyche, which they presuppose.

By and large, the filmmakers in the personal film mode have started from this end of the stick, the reality of the world of the psyche, and in an introverted manner (although there are exceptions). In their works they provide ample evidence that film can manifest not only thought, but intuition, sensation, and feeling in their introverted vector.

Jerome Hill was a filmmaker in this tradition, which goes all the way back into the teens and twenties in Europe and America, when some artists in the traditional fine arts (novelists, poets, musicians, and, especially, painters) recognized in film a new and additional medium for personal expression. 6 Due to a number of factors, paramount among them the Great Depression, the rise of totalitarianism, and the expense of sound filmmaking, European and American personal filmmaking died out in the thirties. In 1943 an American renaissance of such work began with Maya Deren’s psychodramatic short Meshes of the Afternoon. Jerome Hill, after substantial work in painting, music, poetry, architecture, and documentary filmmaking, publicly entered this second heyday of the personal filmmaking tradition in 1961 with a Jung-inspired feature-length film titled The Sand Castle. I say publicly, because Hill had already made a personal film in the early thirties, which was unreleased at the time, but incorporated in full in Film Portrait, his autobiographical film, released in 1971, just prior to his death. Three years after The Sand Castle, in 1964, Hill released another feature-length film, Open the Door, described in Film Portrait as a Jungian black comedy with lyric overtones! These two films resulted from Jung’s suggestion that Hill not complete a planned film biography of him, but make films illustrating aspects of Jung’s psychology. Maud Oakes mentions that the biographical film project was not completed because of “difficulties” in the professional relationship between Jung and Hill. She does not name these difficulties. Hill had already made film biographies of Grandma Moses and Albert Schweitzer, winning the 1957 Academy Award for documentary film for the latter. Hill’s footage of Jung was posthumously edited by Jonas Mekas, and released in 1991, under the title Dr. Carl G. Jung; or Lapis Philosophorum .

Why Jerome Hill? Because he is representative of the tandem between Jung and personal filmmakers that needs to be better known, and interpreted, by scholars sympathetic to Jung’s psychology and its development by other analyst-scholars. 7 Of this need one rightfully expects a demonstration. Film Portrait is itself one such demonstration; a second, derivative one is the following commentary.

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Film Portrait was Hill’s last film. Within weeks of its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art he was dead from cancer. In 1989, Stan Brakhage, probably the world’s most seminal and prolific personal filmmaker, called it “the only direct autobiography we have in film,” and cited its influence on subsequent autobiographical films by himself (Sincerity and Duplicity), James Broughton ( Testament ), and Jonas Mekas (Diaries, Notes, Sketches ). 8 Brakhage’s characterization of Film Portrait as a “very straight attempt to present autobiography on film” is accurate, but incomplete, insofar as the film also includes discussions of the history of film (Hill observes that he and the medium grew up together), and of the temporal and alchemical character of film. The latter topic takes Hill rather directly into the philosophic issue of film’s ontology. Nonetheless, Hill’s life, his vocation as a film artist, informs whatever else the film attends to. The film is most fruitfully interpreted as a filmic anamnesis, and as an anamnestic film. The first function informs its making; the second its viewing by the creator and others. 9

Jung’s utility in understanding Hill’s films does not come down to one idea; it draws instead from a multiplicity of notions and sources, all of which can be linked psychologically, but which do not necessarily follow one another in strict logical fashion. (Hence the tribulations we all experience trying in our writing to be both psychological and logical.) These include Jung’s own autobiographical statement (Memories, Dreams, Reflections ), individuation, persona, and vocation psychology, the puer-senex and puer-mother tandems, the function and attitude typologies, the depth psychology of alchemy, and the relationship of aesthetic creation to psychological self-realization. No full application of these interpretative parameters will be attempted here. Instead, I will work selectively and suggestively, in the hope that my observations will draw the reader back to the film itself.

Briefly, I will sketch out how the film can be understood from a Jungian perspective as an anamnesis of individuation, then as a demonstration of film as an alchemical medium of expression.

First, as an anamnesis of individuation: Hill was the grandson of James J. Hill, the railroad baron who pushed the American railroad from east to west on the idee fixe that “people should move along a line of shared weather.” 10 This grandfather, who lived next door in St. Paul, dominated the extended family. In Film Portrait he hovers over Hill’s early life as a negative senex. “The negative senex is the senex split from its own puer aspect. He has lost his ‘child’ “is the way James Hillman describes this archetypal constellation—a fact poignantly implied in Hill’s remark that “this family to which I belonged did not belong to me.” 11

As one might expect, such a familial environment carried within it severe persona expectations. Hill suffered from these because his nascent artistic vocation, his inner calling to a life of image-making, had little legitimacy in his grandfather’s eyes. The business and political personae considered legitimate, i.e., “manly,” within this environment would have been experienced by Hill as socially-sanctioned, publicly-imposed masks of feigned individuality, very much in keeping with the persona psychology described by Jung in Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

"/The persona/ is, as its name implies, only a mask of the collective psyche, a mask that feigns individuality, making others and oneself believe that one is individual, whereas one is simply acting a role through which the collective psyche speaks." 12

Vocation psychology, described by Jung in “The Development of Personality,” is a quite different matter, insofar as it involves heeding an inner voice which sounds the call to personal integrity, and which insists on being obeyed:

What is it, in the end, that induces a man to go his own way....It is what is commonly  called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a man to emancipate himself from the herd and from its well-worn paths. True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as in God, despite its being, as the ordinary man would say, only a personal feeling. But vocation acts like a law of God from which there is no escape. The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing to one who has a vocation....The best known example of this is Faust, and an historical instance is provided by the daemon of Socrates. 13

Symbolic intimations of Hill’s vocation come early in Film Portrait; their presence marks the gradient that leads, not without gaps, into his adult life as an artist—and, at the film’s end, to Hill’s comparison of himself to Faust.

Hill’s response to this environment is clearly marked by aspects of puer psychology, aspects of which he kept to the end of his life, if this final film is believed. These include an early and deep response to beauty; a creative relationship to the feminine through a series of females—including his mother, a blind Native American shamaness, Maud Oakes, and female characters in his 1932 personal film, The Fortune Teller ; emphasis upon creative renewal and “possibilities”; and the overcoming of time as embodied in the senex. These last two aspects begin and end the film.

The first scene has the 66-year-old Hill shaving and musing intuitively over his future as an old man: possible futures, impossible ones (e.g., Pope or family patriarch), hoped for and unhoped for ones. He longs for a present that remains present, but acknowledges that the present is always already past. “This is the me that am,” he says, “or, rather, the me that was at that moment and never will be again. The me that am, alas, does not last as long as a single cinematographic frame.” Hill will find his personal solution to the problem of time’s passing in his alchemical view of film, as we shall discover later.

That a consideration of history, including personal history in autobiography, should call forth the puer-senex pair James Hillman states is not a surprise. As he puts it:

Our polarities—senex and puer—provide the archetype for the psychological foundation of the problem of history. First, in the conventional sense, puer and senex are history   as a process through time from beginning to end. And second, history as a problem in which I am caught, for which I suffer and from which I long to be redeemed, is given by the pair as Father Time and Eternal Youth, temporality and eternity, and the puzzling paradoxes of their connection. To be involved with these figures is to be drawn into history. To be identified with either is to be dominated by an archetypal attitude towards history: the puer who transcends history and leaps out of time, and is as such a-historical, or anti-historical in protest and revolt; or the senex who is an image of history itself and of the permanent truth revealed through history. 14

In this context Hillman speaks of a need: the “human ideal in which the polarity youth-age works towards a balance.” 15 As Film Portrait draws to its close, its own “old age,” Hill, himself near death, appears to be striving for just such a balance, perhaps made possible by his relationship to two charismatic embodiments of the positive senex: Albert Schweitzer and C.G. Jung. This balance, like the problem of time’s passing, will partially find its expression in Hill’s alchemical view of film’s ontology. It is also evident in the film’s conclusion.

The film’s very last image is Hill’s replication of the putatively first “public” film images, shot by the Lumière brothers at La Ciotat in 1896. This image and Hill’s voice-over are philosophically rich: the train, Hill tells us, still arrives at La Ciotat, providing proof with his 1971 image. By this gesture he simultaneously identifies himself with two of the progenitors of film, renews their seminal beginning of film by placing its duplication in 1971, and asserts the power of film to overcome time by preserving the past.

Just prior to this concluding image, Hill is seen swimming in the surf of the Mediterranean Sea with a woman. In voice-over he expresses his faith that film’s possibilities are “still wide open,” symbolically linking his own creativity and film’s with the sea as an image of the creative matrix we now call the unconscious. This image is the last of the series linking Hill’s creativity and self-realization to his relationship with women. They are all, one cannot resist saying, pregnant with significance, none more so than the very first, in which Hill finds his vocation while spending his early childhood nap-period in his mother’s room. There, by manipulating the double shades on the windows, Hill discovers for himself the principle of the camera obscura, and in the process finds the means to invert his grandfather’s next-door mansion. The power to manipulate and, in one sense, overcome his grandfather’s world through such means was not lost on Hill. This, in answer to his own voice-over question, is where children’s games lead: in his case, into a life of image-making via painting and filmmaking. We know from Donald Winnicott, the English child psychoanalyst, how the capacity and license to play elicits what he calls the “true self,” and here we see Hill’s true self being born, as it were, in the womb which was his mother’s room. 16

By way of contrast, soon after this, Hill includes newsreel footage of the family, shot by a Hollywood cameraman brought into the family by his father, in which Hill is made to pretend to be working on a painting that is not his own, but a professional’s. The two scenes present with clarity the difference between images linked to his true self, and one linked with a false self imposed by his father. Little wonder, then, that Hill states that he was, during his childhood, “living a life apart,” and being initiated personally, secretly, into the “mysteries of the unconscious,” including the “authenticity of dreams.

The second incident occurs when Hill is twelve or thirteen. At this time his father was taking the family along on extended trips into traditional Blackfoot Indian lands, where he was in the process of helping “without guilt” to uproot the Indians for a national park, which the railroad would supply with tourists. Here a most peculiar event happens. Hill tells us the Blackfoot were still “authentic”; their authenticity must have struck a resonant chord with this adolescent boy who was already initiated into the “authenticity of dreams.” He learned something of their songs, dances, and sign language. Then he was accepted into the tribe by an “ancient blind woman,” and given an Indian name. The symbolism of these matters did not escape Hill: in the voice-over he tells us he shared his new name with no one else, although he now shares it with his viewers at the end of his life. He means the name was a secret; he also means it separated him from his family. In both cases, this secret name is a marker of individuation, which is partly defined as the process of differentiation and self-realization of the particular and limited individual one is. The holding of personal secrets as a crucial aspect of individuation, especially early in life, is well described by Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections . 17

The woman’s blindness marks her as a seer, whose simultaneous initiation of Hill into the tribe and into himself gives his individuation-saga an appropriately shamanic character. Here we meet one of the ironies in stories of individuation: had Hill not been the grandson of a rich, powerful man, he would have never gained such contact with the Blackfoot; yet, that contact initiated him into a realm his grandfather would never understand, a realm that fed Hill’s differentiation from his grandfather’s world. While the family participated without guilt in the destruction of Native American culture, Hill’s own individuation was being aided by his initiation into it. By this irony Hill was provided the opportunity to be initiated by a culture where the liminality of traditional rites of passage still operated; thus he could say with authority “here ended my childhood.” 18

Hill’s next creative experience of the feminine does not occur until 1932, when he was twenty-seven. In that year he made his first complete film, The Fortune Teller. (Earlier films, including one titled The Magic Umbrella, made in 1927, and included in Film Portrait, were not considered truly his own by Hill; he described The Magic Umbrella as a “home movie.” 19 Hill portrays the intervening years as a wasteland in which he “did what he was told to do, what he was supposed to do.” For six years he was seriously ill with thyroid problems. Of the period between his thirteenth and twenty-third years he shows almost nothing in Film Portrait. The next several years he played at living, unknowingly waiting, he says, for certain events and things, in order to experience the reality of the present and to imagine a livable future. The image Hill provides of these empty years has him and friends dancing in forward and reverse motion, back and forth, around an empty center. The “event” was his decision to settle in Cassis, France, on the Mediterranean. Nearby was La Ciotat, the summer residence of the now-aged Lumiere brothers.

The”thing” was the Eastman Kodak 16mm Special, whose significance resided in the fact that it was the first 16mm camera whose engineering and optics allowed the non-studio filmmaker a full range of expressive possibilities. One might say metaphorically that the Eastman Kodak Special allowed the 16mm film gauge to escape its home-movie persona, and to gain a vocation as a medium for artistic creativity. In this sense, the medium, like Hill, is realizing progressively its artistic nature. (The home movies Hill includes from this period have the same lack of integrity he himself suffered: “heads cut off; no action carried through to completion.”) Hill himself seems to have seen it somewhat this way, insofar as the camera constellated in him a fruitful “investigation of the pictorial language of cinema,” as he states it. With these newly discovered “laws” of pictorial language, Hill seems to have understood that he could see the world anew, exercising his imagination in the creation of an imaginal reality—echoes of MacDougall on film’s “double nature.” The result was The Fortune Teller , a haunting, beautiful, and serene film; unreleased until its inclusion in Film Portrait, almost forty years later.

This film marks Hill’s birth as a film artist of psychological depth and power. In it a washerwoman receives a conch-shell call to leave her drying laundry and have her fortune told by another young woman, a gypsy. After the first cards are drawn—the Queen of Hearts and the Jack of Spades—stones cover the cards. In turn, the stones are covered by water, and abstract designs shimmer across its surface. A submerged man’s body emerges into these designs, superimposed over the sleeping washerwoman’s face. Out of the water’s shimmering body emerge flowers. The woman makes a wreath for her head, over which are superimposed lights, and the swimming man in the shimmering water. Emerging out of the sea, the man stands at the boundary of sea and land, a pregnant, liminal space, betwixt and between. The wreath appears to be floating on the water. Time reveals it is attached to the head of the woman, who rises out of the sea to stand next to the man. (This description is incomplete, but sufficient for an initial, suggestive interpretation.) 20

At the very least, one can say about this film that it expresses Hill’s deep receptivity to the feminine, here more appropriately called the anima than the mother or shamanic crone, given the youth of the washerwoman and the gypsy fortune-teller. The authority with which the film expresses psychological depth also reveals that here the anima is functioning as Jung claims it should: as an inner bridge between the ego and the transpersonal unconscious. 21 The filmic story is not a capricious invention, but a symbolic externalization of an inner psychic process, in which film images and film techniques operate as matter did for the alchemists, who, in Jung’s thesis, were projecting inner transformations onto matter. Here we have the first clear indication of how film was operating alchemically for Hill—and, parenthetically, for a significant set of our personal filmmakers. 22

But why did Hill hold back this film for almost forty years? I believe it is because this film for Hill carries an essential secret: he was homosexual. This does not appear to be a secret Hill hid from himself, but a personal truth he wisely chose not to broadcast in an explicit manner. That is, the film is not an exercise in self-delusion, but a poetic rendering. The film’s mystery and power are not in the secret, but in the rendering.

Hill’s familial environment, presided over by his patriarchal grandfather, this hidden fact may well have been a cause for Hill’s adolescent sickness and his silence about his teens and early twenties. These may have been the years when Hill first experienced the homosexuality that was part of his integrity. The blind Blackfoot woman could give him his true name, his individuated name, but she could not protect him from the outer and inner pressures which the particulars of his individuation-sage apparently produced.

These are matters perhaps better interpreted by gay film scholars, but the following intuitive responses and speculations are not, I think, out of order: The Fortune Teller did not “click” for me until I imagined Hill identifying himself with the washerwoman, in which case, one can imagine the fortune-teller as Hill-the-washerwoman’s anima—she guides his ego to the “sea.” From this point of view the man’s appearance in the film signals Hill’s yearning for, and acceptance of, a male lover—whom he meets face-to-face by emerging out of the same sea in which we first saw the man submerged. The imagery suggests both birth (in this case, the emergence of Hill’s homosexuality) and the alchemical operations solutio and coniunctio—the latter the culmination of the entire alchemical opus, signaling the union of opposites, frequently imaged as sun and moon, or male and female. The importance of solutio is signaled by the alchemical directive: “until all be made water, perform no operation.” “Basically, solutio turns a solid into liquid....Water was thought of as the womb and solutio as a return to the womb for rebirth,” is how Edward Edinger describes it. 23 Here the womb is Hill’s own alchemical filmmaking, into which he was first born in his mother’s nap room. At the psychological level, he is now capable of birthing himself, the proof of which is his “child,” The Fortune Teller.

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The Fortune Teller is the last film Hill entirely “quotes” in Film Portrait , even though the major portion of his life as a filmmaker occurs after 1932. Obvious reasons come to mind, especially the fact that the other films are available elsewhere. Less obviously, but more psychologically significant, they are less integral to his individuation, his film portrait. The Fortune Teller, on the other hand, stands at the center.

What Hill does pursue in the latter part of Film Portrait is his alchemical view of film. He states this in voice-over in a scene of himself editing, introducing it with Rembrandt’s famous etching of Faust in his laboratory, looking at a magic, mandalic mirror. Hill wittily compares himself with Faust-as-alchemist through a similarity of outfits, but without naming Faust as such, or following up the comparison in any full way. Rembrandt’s etching is reproduced in Jung’s “Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy,” although Hill probably first saw it elsewhere, given its fame. 24

Hill is not the first filmmaker to use the editing room to declaim self-reflexively on the nature of filmmaking. He undoubtedly knew Dziga Vertov’s 1929 meta-documentary The Man with a Movie Camera, in which Vertov’s wife is shown editing, cross-cut with shots of the shooting of the shots she is editing, the very shots themselves, and temporal manipulations of them, e.g., freeze frames.

A comparison of Vertov’s and Hill’s respective goals in these editing room scenes reveals their deep and deeply significant theoretical differences about the ontology ands functions of film. Perhaps their one agreement is that film is a machine-art; however, they draw radically different conclusions about the significance of this fact. Vertov’s goals include: to give image to a sophisticated dialectic materialist theory of reality and of film; to reveal the filmmaker as a machine worker among machine workers—especially as the worker whose instrument allows him to reveal to all workers their interconnectedness; and, to demystify the filmmaking process by showing that it is a machine-process that places a rational, dialectic logic drawn from the material world upon an equally material representation of this world. That is to say, in this view, film itself is essentially a material object, with the capacity to represent the material world’s essential logic. As a Marxist theory, Vertov’s film theory sees the cultural, social, and psychological spheres as epiphenomenal upon the material world, and as governed by the same logic.

Hill’s “kino-pravda” qualitatively differs from Vertov’s. For Hill film is still magic, and the filmmaker’s function is “not unlike the magicians.’” Hill shows himself editing not to demystify the process, but to honor the mysteries contained in it. Most crucially, his alchemical vision of film breaches any philosophical materialism, in which the psychic realm is epiphenomenal upon the material one. For Hill, as for Jung, psyche’s relationship to matter is decidedly more complex, and includes the view that the psyche must first be considered on its own terms, sui generis, and, if possible, like to like. Hill would additionally agree, I believe, with Hillman’s observation that “in alchemy, consciousness is united with matter from the start.” 25   MacDougall’s non-alchemical characterization of the “double nature” of film comes to the same conclusion from different premises.

In Film Portrait this unification of the material and the psychological realms manifests itself in a series of unions of opposites, i.e., in examples of the coniunctio. For example, Hill’s technique of drawing colored stick-figures upon familial black-and-white photographs in the early part of the film can be thought of as unifying the familial world’s face (or persona) with expressions of Hill’s own psychology and artistic vocation, thus generating a third thing, a coniunctio, which is in neither aspect alone. This particular coniunctio implies others, especially the unification of the imaginative possibilities expressed in the stick-figure animation (the world of the puer) with the limitations set by using photographs shot by others in the family (the world of the senex). 26

Hill’s coniunctio of the temporal and the eternal at the film’s end achieves his alchemical solution to the issue he raises in the film’s beginning scene. As I suggested earlier, it also presents his attempt to balance the puer-senex polarity of “Eternal Youth and Father Time.” The result has what Hillman calls the “puzzling paradoxes of their connection”—especially in Hill’s notion of the “eternal moment.” How does this crucial coniunctio take place?

Hill, as filmic-alchemist of modern times, sits at his editing table. He imagines the unedited footage on his left as the future, the edited footage on his right as the past. Might we not imagine the footage in the synchronizer as the present, he muses in voice-over? This proposition is not as simple as it sounds, insofar as matter and consciousness are both present in this hypothetically present film-tense. Hill’s image of the present is neither materialistic nor mechanistic, nor can it be reduced to those levels and retain his meaning. Consciousness is already part of the “double nature” of the film running through the synchronizer, and present, as well, in the editor’s work upon it. Hill is hinting that the consciousness used in filmic creativity allows one to manipulate the “normal” chronological temporal register, e.g., by reverse-motion, stop-motion, and the editing together of shots taken at widely separated times. Such a notion is unexceptional in film theory, where it falls under the distinction between filmic time and time registered outside the film experience.

More exceptional, especially when seen as an alchemical coniunctio, is Hill’s subsequent, explicit claim that the “only real and valid present is the eternal moment seized and set down once and for all—that is, the creation of the artist.” This claim for the unifying of time and eternity into the “eternal moment” through artistic creativity manifests puer psychology’s desire to transcend history, especially in the context of Hill’s further statement that “in the cinema, time is annihilated.” The paradoxical aspect of Hill’s two claims resides in his sure senex-knowledge that film is also and inescapably a temporal art —of which his temporalizing of the editing process is but one dimension. Thus, whatever annihilation of time the film artist’s creativity achieves necessarily happens in time.

Evidence exists that this coniunctio of Father Time and Eternal Youth remains unstable at the conclusion of Film Portrait. Hill’s case for Eternal Youth is certainly more passionately pressed. Father Time’s case is present, but largely implicit. We have in this case an instance of what Edinger calls a “lesser coniunctio”: "The lesser coniunctio is a union or fusion of substances that are not yet thoroughly separated or discriminated. It is always followed by a death or mortificatio. The greater coniunctio, on the other hand, is the goal of the opus, the supreme   accomplishment....The experience of the coniunctio is almost always a mixture of the greater and lesser aspects." 27

I am suggesting intuitively that Hill, as he neared Father Time’s ultimate claim upon him and his creativity, sought a coniunctio with this Father, but that it remained unstable—because his puer’s coniunctio with the maternal unconscious remained the stronger factor in his personality. Edinger’s observation is suggestive in this regard: " The lesser coniunctio occurs whenever the ego identifies with contents emerging from the unconscious. This happens almost regularly in the course of the analytic process. The ego is exposed successively to identification with the shadow, the anima/animus, and the Self. Such contaminated coniunctios must be followed by mortificatio and further separatio." 28

In Hill’s situation, there appear to be two lesser coniunctios influencing one another: the stronger (puer-mother) adding to the instability of the weaker (puer-senex); the weaker attempting to redress the influence of the stronger. Here Edinger’s observation that a lesser coniunctio is always followed by a death lends deeper poignancy to the image of Hill and a woman swimming in the Mediterranean, about which I spoke earlier. There, I echoed Hill’s voice-over faith that “this is a wonderful time, when everything is still to be accomplished in film”—the sea providing a symbolic image of the creative matrix (hence its “maternal” character) from which these accomplishments will arise. Now we can view this same sea as the realm outside of time, under whose surface Hill is about to slip in death, reclaimed, as we all are, by the source of our life and creativity.

Although I cannot pursue this line of thought here, I would suggest that artists of a specific type—those whose creativity arises from an especially permeable membrane between the conscious and unconscious minds—suffer a particular danger in the lesser coniunctios of the two, because of their very understandable conscious tendency to identify with the unconscious source of their creativity. As a consequence, Father Time’s claims upon them (i.e., their aging) will come as a surprise, and, ultimately, as a tragic blow. The unconscious, having been for so long the nourishing partner to their creativity, finally does not save them from the limits of life within time. The strongest expression of this dynamic that I am aware of in film occurs in the life of Federico Fellini, but it also appears to inform Hill’s life. 29 This line of thought leads to the thesis that the lives of at least this type of artist will be characterized by repeated lesser coniunctios, which will be in ultimate conflict with time—but which will also be the source of their creativity . Their individuation will be marked by their struggle against time in the service of further creativity. In this regard, their individuation will involve a fight against the sense of limitations Jung took to be essential to the very definition of individuation:

The feeling for the infinite, however, can be attained only if we are bounded to the utmost. The greatest limitation for man is the ‘self’; it is manifested in the experience: “I am only that!” Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious....In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination—that is, ultimately limited—we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite. But only then....Uniqueness and limitation are synonymous. 30

One of the dangers of the lesser coniunctios about which Edinger spoke is the forgetting of this fact. So, about artists of Hill’s type, we can say that their particularly colored artistic vocation yields a particularly colored individuation.

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There remains the need to provide brief alchemical amplifications for several symbols that appear in Film Portrait prior to Hill’s own mention of alchemy. Their presence evidences an alchemically resonant sensibility at work throughout the film, not just in its conclusion. I have already argued for this notion in interpreting as alchemical Hill’s use of superimposed abstract, expressionistic, and impressionistic imagery in The Fortune Teller. The further examples are: Hill’s fascination with green; his childhood desire to live within an emerald; and the Queen of Hearts and Jack of Spades drawn in The Fortune Teller . These instances are not optical techniques, but symbolic contents evident also in places other than film, to which one goes for amplification.

Amplification, one must always remember, is the search for functional parallels; it is not the piling together of every recorded meaning for a symbol—which would result in a species of hermeneutic vertigo. 31 Its aim is to enlarge the intuited significance of a symbol with functionally parallel material, while maintaining the attitude that one has not reduced the symbol by this process to a wholly known meaning—which Jung defines as a sign, or semiotic unit. 32 It proceeds by trial and error, with intuition, but not devoid of logic.

Hill’s statement that he can hardly begin to explain the extraordinary power the color green exerted on him as a child tips us to its symbolic function in his life. Reinforcing this is the accompanying expression of his desire to live inside an emerald. Within the body of the film itself a clear and witty amplificatory hint exists that both the color and the gem function to connect the child to the unknown and the unconscious: when all else failed, he tells us, his nurse could get him to sleep by showing him the Irish flag.

The following small sampling of traditionally assigned meanings appear to be functionally parallel with Hill’s symbolism, and to amplify it. 33 The emerald has been held to be the stone of occult knowledge, and the jewel of clairvoyance, fertility, and immortality. The alchemists regarded it as the stone of Hermes, and considered its light capable of piercing the most closely guarded secrets. Hermes is the god who presides over transitions across borders; from a depth psychological view this includes the membrane between the conscious and unconscious minds, whose permeability so early and profoundly impressed itself upon Hill.

The Holy Grail was a chalice carved from an enormous emerald. The emerald is taken to be the expression of the seasonal, cyclic renewal of nature, and in this sense a symbol of spring—as against the deathly, regressive forces of winter. (Here sounds a parallel with the puer-senex dynamic in Hill’s childhood.) It is thought to be moist, watery, lunar—as against the sapphire’s dry, fiery , solar character. The Romans connected the emerald to Venus. (Here sounds a parallel with the puer-senex dynamic in Hill’s childhood.) It is thought to be moist, watery, lunar—as against the sapphire’s dry, fiery , solar character. The Romans connected the emerald to Venus. (Here sounds a parallel with the puer-mother dynamic.)

Green is thought to be the color that mediates opposites, e.g., blue/low/cool and red/high/hot. It is the color of hope and immortality —”the eternal youth promised to the Elect.” In China its qualities are taken as yang, feminine, centripetal. In Orphism green is the light of the spirit which at time’s beginning made fruitful the primordial waters. In many mythologies, green deities of annual renewal winter underground, where they are regenerated by chthonic red, e.g., “Green” Osiris and “Red” Isis, and “Green” Persephone and “Red” Hades—or the puer and the mother/Mother.

The alchemists described their secret fire (“a living and radiant spirit”), capable of reconciling opposites, as a “green translucent crystal, malleable as wax, saying ‘this was what nature used under Earth for whatever art created, since art should be bound to copy nature’.” 34

Lastly, in respect to green, consider this extraordinary entry from the diary of a recovering schizophrenic: "As I became better, I felt myself slipping into a wonderful peaceful state. My whole room was green. I felt as if I was in the depths of some pool. It was as though I was back in my mother’s body. I was in Heaven, in my mother’s womb." 35

The parallel with Hill’s healing discovery of his artistic vocation in his mother’s nap room—his “green” room—points to the transpersonal character of the symbolism in both.

These traditionally assigned meanings for green and the emerald appear to parallel and amplify the functions the color and the gem serve in Film Portrait, as symbolic harbingers of Hill’s individuation through an artistic vocation. The gradient of this individuation is marked from early on by a cluster of associated qualities: an early and creative attachment to the feminine (in women and in himself); an early sense of living apart, while being initiated into the secrets of the unconscious; an early sense of mystery per se, especially as carried within colors and translucent solids such as glass, and allied with beauty; and a senex-puer-mother triad whose tensions would lead him into the alchemically resonant task of unifying opposites. Beyond childhood, and precisely at the time of Hill’s emergence as an artist of symbolically expressed psychological depth, the Queen of Hearts and Jack of Spades drawn in The Fortune Teller functionally parallel this latter task in Hill’s individuation.

The common playing deck Hill uses in The Fortune Teller derives from the “minor arcana” of the Tarot. That the drawing of Tarot or Tarot-based cards is open to a Jungian hermeneutic has already been made clear by Richard Roberts, who co-authored Tarot Revelations with Joseph Campbell:

The common attitude towards Tarot, prototype of modern playing cards, is that Tarot is fortune-telling, and therefore, utterly bereft of value. However, in Tarot and You I note that “Tarot is above all a symbolic system of self-transformation” comparable to what Jung terms the “individuation process”....Proceeding on that, I created the Jungian that the connection may be seen between inner formative factors and outer life events. This procedure is valid not only from the point of view of Jungian psychology, but also from that represented in the Emerald Tablet, an eighth-century touchstone of Hermetic wisdom, in which we read, “As Above, so Below”; or, from the psychological standpoint, “As within, so without.” 36

Insofar as alchemical work is a projection onto matter of transformative processes occurring in the unconscious mind, it shares with Tarot readings the capacity to reveal the deep psychological relationship between inner and outer worlds. Hill’s use of Tarot-based cards in The Fortune Teller can reasonably be interpreted, therefore, as another means, functionally parallel to his use of specific optical techniques, for making sensible this relationship.

Campbell suggests the psychological significance of the minor arcana’s face cards in the same study:

But is it not strange and interesting that each of the four suits should culminate in face cards representing figures of the nobility? Knave, Knight, Queen, and King! This would seem to me to suggest....that ascent along any of these lines may lead to spiritual realizations of equivalent value and importance; such values being represented in figures of the nobility, since the cards were the playthings rather of the nobility than of priests. 37

Taken as symbols of Hill’s inner transformation during this emergence of his mature creativity in film, the Queen of Hearts and Jack of Spades point to a “spiritual realization” involving a coniunctio of the masculine and the feminine, in which the latter is ascendant over the former.

In common playing cars the Cups suit of the minor arcana becomes the Hearts; the Swords become Spades. The “as within, so without” significance of Hill’s use of these suits shows forth in the traditional belief that the Cups and Swords symbolize the two paths, through heart and spirit, that an individual must take in quest of initiation. The Cup suit has to do with “celestial fecundating Water, the life of the psyche linking created beings to the godhead,” and also “the seer’s chalice, female receptivity, the Mother.” 38

The Swords, on the other hand, refer to the realm of air, and the “spirit which penetrates and gives matter form by creating that agglomeration which will become the human being.” Also, it refers to the “magician’s sword, shaped like a cross, recalling the fecund marriage of male and female principles; also the penetrative action like that of the Word or the Son.” 39

The suits missing in Hill’s first drawing are the Rod (Diamonds), traditionally the realm of the Father, and the Shekel (Clubs), the Earth realm. In a second, larger drawing of four cards—10 of Hearts, and the Aces of Diamonds, Clubs, and Hearts—the Father’s realm appears, but not that of the Earth.

This brief amplification of Hill’s use of the Queen of Hearts and Jack of Spades in The Fortune Teller offers further evidence for the predominance of the mother(and anima)-son tandem in Hill’s individuation and artistic creativity. It has both inner and outer manifestations, e.g., the mother can appear inwardly as the unconscious matrix of Hill’s creativity—along with the anima, which bridges that matrix and the ego, and outwardly in his sexuality. Crucially, in both spheres, it is this tandem whose transformations etch the deepest path in Hill’s psyche.

Lest it be thought that we have eliminated by this hermeneutic amplification the mysteries inherent in Hill’s vocation, individuation, and artistic creativity, let me rephrase an earlier point: amplification does not seek to eliminate mystery; it seeks to amplify it, by garnering something intuitively about its meaning. Mystery and meaning are not mutually exclusive within a symbolic attitude; and no other attitude more fully mirrors the reality of the psyche.

And, the train still arrives at La Ciotat. 40


This essay was first presented in a shorter version at the Jacobson Symposium, Creighton University. I want to thank Professor John Hollowitz for the invitation to do so. I also want to thank most heartily M.M. Serra at the Film-makers’ Coop for providing a copy of Film Portrait during the writing of this essay, and during the symposium. Lastly, I want to thank Lenore Olmstead for pointing me to Tarot Revelations.


Don Fredericksen is the director of the undergraduate program in film at Cornell University, and a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist.