Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: Tom, at school you studied electrical engineering. What interested you about film?
Tom Bessoir: I studied electrical engineering and mathematics at The Cooper Union from 1975-80. I took advantage of the art school and studied film and video in addition to my courses in the engineering school. I didn’t sleep much! There were many repertory cinemas in NY in the 1970s so I had developed a love of many genres of film. What interests me about film making is that it is a time based medium.
John Wisniewski: Any filmmakers who inspire you?
Tom Bessoir: I studied film with Robert Breer at Cooper Union. Breer got me thinking of the medium as a frame-by-frame presentation of images. My film “prime perfect” was directly inspired by Tony Conrad’s “The Flicker.” Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” might be the greatest film ever.
John Wisniewski: You collaborated with Thurston Moore, Tom. Could you tell us about this.
Tom Bessoir: I needed a soundtrack for a new color flicker film I had been working on. I thought Thurston Moore’s music would be a perfect fit. I sent him a rough cut and he was gracious enough to compose and perform the soundtrack.I’ve known Thurston for almost 40 years. I have photographed him since the early days of Sonic Youth. BTW the last Thurston Moore Group record “Spirit Counsel” is fantastic.
John Wisniewski: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?
Tom Bessoir: My experimental filmmaking process is pretty solitary as I don’t film actors or use a crew. But I do sometimes draw on the talents of other artists and musicians I know to help realize my visions.
John Wisniewski: You are also a photographer, Tom. Could you tell us about this?
Tom Bessoir: I learned the craft of photography from my father who was a professional photographer when I was young. I started photographing bands on New Year’s Eve 1978. I was seeing John Cale play at CBGB and I borrowed a friends camera. I photographed a lot of bands on the downtown scene throughout the 80s. I pretty much stopped shooting bands when I moved to San Francisco in 1994.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about your collaboration with John Baumann?
Tom Bessoir: In 2016 I had made the flicker film “prime perfect.” I often received comments from the audience about how the film reminded them of More code. So I set about to make a short film about the history of Morse code. I decided to have scenes for different historical Morse code messages.
I had met John Baumann at Cooper and we have been friends ever since. I brought him into the project to animate the sinking of the Titanic to go with the SOS message.
John Wisniewski: What are some of the audience reactions to your films?
Tom Bessoir: It’s all over the map with both judges and the audience. For example for “Prime Perfect” I heard from one festival director, “There seems to be a problem with your video. It runs with only flashing lights and bleeps.” While another festival reviewer wrote “Was very well executed and great especially for those who love Conrad’s work and/or minimalist film.” I’ve been told by audiences everything from “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” to “The visuals hurts my eyes.”
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about any future Projects?
Tom Bessoir: I am expanding on my previous film “Pescaria” which used a handful of my photographs. In the new film I am using Audubon’s “Birds of North America” elephant portfolio as source material. I am also working on an abstract color study tentatively titled “Spectrum.” I posted a 30 second except on Instagram. And finally, a film inspired by Richard Serra’s “Equal” on exhibit at MoMA. I am looking forward to film festivals happening in person again. I love having an undistracted audience, sitting in the dark, under my control for a few mi
Tom Bessoir’s experimental films often use mathematics to explore perception and the structure of film. In the arts, Tom Bessoir is best known for Microfilm (1979), Digits of Pi (2019), and his photography documenting downtown NYC.