Nostalgia is a key work by a major figure in the history of American avant-garde filmmaking. Hollis Frampton was a precocious child, as ambitious as he was brilliant. In 1958 he moved to New York City, at first sharing an apartment with painter Frank Stella and sculptor Carl Andre, with whom he had attended Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts. Frampton worked briefly in painting and then turned to photography, which had interested him since childhood. By the early 1970s, he was working primarily in film.
The images for Nostalgia were made by burning thirteen of Frampton's favorite photographs, including his portraits of Andre and Stella, on a primitive hotplate. On the screen each print comes gradually to life with a wisp of smoke; circular scorch marks appear, made by the burner as it eats into and obliterates the photograph; finally only ashes remain twisting on the hotplate. This destruction of a still image in order to make a moving image clearly demonstrates Frampton's shift from photography to filmmaking.
Frampton wrote voice-overs for the thirteen photographs, the texts ranging from the theoretical to the personal and anecdotal, including references to friends and acquaintances. As one photograph burns, the voice-over for the next photograph—as yet unseen—is heard, and so each image is first established through the use of language. The distance and relationship between language and image is a major concern for Frampton, as is memory. Frampton evokes his own past in the film, while requiring the viewer to remember each text until its related image appears. Nostalgia is thus an essay on human consciousness as revealed in language and image, in desire and anxiety, in personal and cultural memory.