Reflections on Love of 3 Oranges

In 2020, XFR Collective partnered with experimental filmmaker Naomi Uman and the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve two of Uman’s early works: Love of 3 Oranges (1993) and GRASS (1997).

The first, Love of 3 Oranges, is one of Uman’s earliest films yet contains elements and ideas that run throughout her subsequent work. Filmed in an apartment with friends, Uman hand-painted each frame of the black-and-white camera reversal original to create vibrant colored elements that leap off the screen. Oranges thus combines live-action, stop-motion animation, and many of the hand-made manipulation techniques that would come to define Uman’s aesthetics into a sensual and visceral depiction of femininity in operetta form.

To mark the preservation of this important work, we asked Naomi to reflect on the origin of Love of 3 Oranges and her creative career. This is what she said.

my life has, in many ways, been a series of detours

I was in a film class with john hanhardt as a visiting professor on the history of experimental film, at columbia university in 1993. it was required to take a class outside of one’s major. (mine had switched from pre-med, wanting to be a veterinarian but failing chemistry to wanting to study linguistics and that major did not exist, so i studied a lot of latin, italian and spanish and got a degree in medieval studies…… )

in this class we watched “annabelle, butterfly dancer” the hand colored classic by edison. 

a light went off in my head when i realized that i could make artwork without drawing….

that film could be a form of artistic expression which did not involve rendering something that looked like reality, with one’s hand.

the TA (teaching assistant) for the class was james mangold (“walk the line,” “copland’” “wolverine” etc). he was a grad student while i was an undergrad even though i was already in my thirties. i had gone to cooking school straight out of high school and he was in his early twenties. james was very nice and helpful, and checked out the school’s bolex for me and gave me a quick lesson on how it worked and sent me on my way. the class was not a production class, but we were told that as a final project we could make a film/video or write something. i told james that i wanted to try something like i had seen on the screen. he suggested 16 mm film, and gave me some tips and off i went.

I lived on the corner of avenue d and 5th street. my next door neighbor carmen was about 12 years old by the time i shot this film, and she was my friend and my assistant on this project. gaye, the actress, lived a few floors down. gaye was also a close friend who had become involved in a stormy love relationship with a talented swedish artist who lived in a cool loft in brooklyn. he had gotten her hooked on heroin and she was going downhill really quickly. their relationship was often volatile and she was somehow consumed by love. that is where the idea for the movie came from. carmen, gaye and i were otherwise just playing around with the fruit in my kitchen, experimenting with different ways to both bring it to life and destroy it at the same time. along the way several rolls of film wound up as spaghetti inside the camera, only to be exposed when i opened the camera in daylight and ruined the film. live and learn

naomi uman
mexico city 2020

Old interlaced telecine (left) vs. new preservation film scan (right).

Old interlaced telecine (left) vs. new preservation film scan (right).