What a busy weekend!
Back in New York for less than a week, and just in time for the 14th Views for Avant-Garde. I wasn’t the faithful cinephile that I perhaps could have been. I attended 5 programs in all, one on Saturday and 4 yesterday.
There’s a transient feel to all of my interactions with outside stimuli cause I’m well… transient at the moment. In between homes, is a rather peculiar space to take in an intense event like Views (and some of the other programs I’ve attended).
Friday started not with Views, but with a really lovely screening, Raw Stock: No Wave films from Downtown New York 1976 – 1984, at Scott Keirnan and Ethan Miller’s loft/gallery Louis V E.S.P. Those boys sure no how to bring in a crowd (they sure did for me back in May when I hosted my screening of Luther Price's Meat in their space). Well, their weathered brick loft space was a really perfect locale to take in the two super8-to-video transfers that we watched in the PACKED space. Tina L’Hotsky’s Barbie was lighter fare, and as D joked, after swallowing a lifetime of first-year Barbie artwork, it is difficult to approach any feminist critique of gender stereotypes when the tried (tired) and true Barbie is paraded out for one further go around the physiognomy arena.
The second film, She Had Her Gun All Ready by Vivienne Dick, was far more luxurious. Lydia Lunch and Pat Place sit at a grimy Lower East Side kitchen table in a kind of attitudinal stasis. For a while, all Lunch delivers are repetitions of the prying demand, “What are you gonna do?” It’s all awash in red gels and slanty cameras. Then the scene moves outside and the narrative (somewhat sadly) begins. There’s a stalking and a murder, which takes place on the Coney Island rollercoaster, the Cyclone. Lydia meets her maker in an impeccably shot murder scene (shot on the Cyclone) where Place wraps a scarf around her neck a la Isadora and takes Ms. Lunch on the last thrill ride of her life. This whole affair was a primer for the January release of the trio of presenters’ documentary, Blank Cinema: New Cinema, New Wave, New York.
The following morning I attended my first Views program: Mirror of Shadow and Cinders (sounds kind of like a CINdYTALK song, doesn’t it?), a real hodge-podge of techniques from strictly film documentary (Manon de Boer’s Dissonant) to digital animation and manipulation (Karen Yasinky’s Marie). Viewers seemed to really respond to the latter work. Me, I like the idea in the encyclopedic program notes: a faithful line-drawn reanimation of Marie’s stoic confession scene in Au Hasard Balthasar. But interrupting (intervening, perhaps the filmmaker would argue) the vibrant black-on-white-plane digital squiggles of lines were color pixels and frenetic explosions that didn’t strike me as all that necessary outside of formal parameters. The soundtrack of digital blips and whirs would be a premonition of the proceedings, an understandable, if not rather conspicuous trend in current avant-garde practices, conjoining with its cousin practice, the, perhaps more art-world-friendly sound art.
Lewis Klahr (full disclosure, the man who taught me everything I know about watching avant-garde film some 7-years back when I was a bratty Calarts student) presented the finest of his 3 Views offerings, A Thousand Julys. Klahr is best when he frees up the comic book clippings that compose his cut-and-paste animations from their iconographic platitudes, either by way of affective narrative techniques (see False Aging) or by formal intervention. Here, he takes the latter road (though, not without a trace of the former) layering the sheets upon a lightbox, so that both sides of the story shine through with filmy opacity. Lines of the face overwrite lips and figures layer, one upon the other in psychical configurations. A gorgeous luminosity breaks through the sheets of newsprint, lulling like the backwards-then-faithful pairing of a tune by (if I am correct) Françoise Hardy.
The other standout of the program was SHU (Blue Hour Lullaby) by Phillipp Lachenmann. In this 12-minute static shot of a Southern California correctional facility (CCI, the program informs, a state of the art, solitary confinement unit). A slow smattering of goofy-white CG stars begin to fill the twilight sky. As the light dims, and the assortment of inserted stars accumulate, growing nearer, and a rewarding reveal clarifies them, not as stars, but a technical insertion of overhead aircrafts. I could do without the program details that these planes were documented at various international terminals across the world. I’d rather dream of this space where interaction is forbidden playing host to a barrage of nightly overhead visitors, come “blue hour.” An indexical desire for factuality, for sure. That seeminly documentary nature was what made me so filled with awe. But maybe I’m just being whimsical.
In the evening we checked out Greenpoint’s kickstarter bred Bring to Light: Nuit Blanche, a streetfair that purported to recreate Paris’ famous fete, but instead made me feel like I was trapped in an extended Future Sounds of London music video. “Yes, the nineties are most certainly back,” I remarked to my friend Joe as we I passed by a Jaguar blaring Jungle music, parked across from a frozen parking construction site, onto which was thrown some video straight out of MTV’s Amp.
The open studio that participated did nothing to rescue me from befuddlement. Though Scott Chasse was nice enough to offer assorted mini Hershey’s treats. I walked into his space because I thought his pop masculine-ideal paintings were reuniting Sylvester Stallone and Brian Dennehy. I left dejected, however, after the artist’s girlfriend informed me that it was not Brian Dennehy, at all, but William Shatner. Some strategic planning with the fabulous Renata Espinoza, fashion blogger extraordinaire and member of the Kate Bush Dance Troupe, and an assortment of Greenpoint bars later, I found my kind of (still 90s) projected light in some Skinny Puppy performance videos, writ large on a bar screen.
The next day, I made it over to Views to catch Dani Leventhal out front. We chatted about her upcoming projects and her parent being in town. She could only attend her Views screening because of it. Her Hearts are Trump Again was her now-signature, astute blend of video diary and assamblage. The charming Fern Silva’s In The Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails. Silva, who has just earned his graduate degree from Bard, shot his rather ruminative piece on a recent trip to Brazil. The film begins rather metaphysically then becomes much more a tourist film, until returning to a kind of preternatural point at the films close, burrowing (literally) down an existential rabbit hole (okay, snake hole) and blending beautifully his documentary footage with more mechanical light renderings.
The program, Landing on the Edge, was sort of set up as the Stephanie Barber show. Barber, who has been achieving much interest as late having just published a book/dvd of her scripts and assembled her works for a Anthology retrospective, showed an extended collaborative work that she made with Xav Plae called razor’s edge. Plae looks as hipster as his name, and this detracted from the film which truly picks up when the camera starts to emphasize Barber in a dual role, in lieu of Plae’s penis in obnoxiously tight polyester pants. The film is a remake of Sumerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, or rather, an adaptation of the bits Barber retained, having read the book 10 – 15 years prior. They decide to reenact these rememberances, and, unsurprisingly, the film becomes an extended play of impressional hyperbole. Instances that were probably slight reactions in the book (which I have not read) extend into long, repetitive scenes. These scenes are affective, again particularly when played by Barber, who has a commanding sense of her own dexterity of physical performance.
Barber began the next program, Séance, about which I can regretfully say very little other than: DEAR MICHAEL ROBINSON, WHO ARE YOU AND HOW HAVE I LIVED ALL OF THESE YEARS OF MY LIFE WITHOUT YOUR CINEMA? I AM TRULY BOWLED OVER. YOURS ALWAYS, BRADFORD NORDEEN.
These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us recasts Cleopatra-era Elizabeth Taylor as Michael Jackson’s mother and spiritual guide, shepherding him into an afterlife of neon pyramids and ice ballet routines. I sat transfixed, my jaw slack, as the opening sequence exhumed a diamonte Jacko outfit for scrutinous speculation and digitally animated wizardry, with Taylor (or as Robinson reminded us before the screening, “DAME Elizabeth Taylor”) reciting a most uncommon prayer in voice-over. We’re then hurled into a Pharovian disco of the dead, something that Kenneth Anger might have done if he had taken ecstacy instead of all those darker drugs that fueled his 1970s productions. Liz peers through a peephole and catches Jackson in his Egyptian dance-number for “Black or White.” Robinson’s film is truly noteworthy because of the avant-garde’s (unfortunate) disinclination to explore figures of popular culture. Everyone has their tastes. Some people prefer the formal basis of the program that followed, Song Cycle, with its expertly executed exposures, a fetishistic handling of filmstock and mildly Thureauvian sentiments. Me, give me Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, shining like the two sparklers stuck in Robinson’s digitally animated pyramid. If these are the gates to wherever Michael went, take me there too!
Rounding out the festival was a program called Fatal Attraction: An introduction to black and white magic. Deborah Stratman started things off right with her usual gusto, with These Blazeing Starrs a free-form rumination on astrology or, as she puts it, “ice-covered fireballs and their historic ties to divination.” It was very good. (but, again with these aural blips!) A couple star-centric films followed. Then Luther Price showed his new film Sorry, a crowd favorite, which interjects a banal Christ film with abrupt splices from an informational reel about the health hazards of the parasitic housefly. Martin Arnold was up to his signature, stuttery tricks, playing a rather crude joke on an already-suggestive vignette featuring Mickey Mouse and Goofey in bed. A sex act of Arnold’s making, the staccato repetitions of Mickey’s laugh translated into “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”s and Goofey writhed in various positions of sexual gratifications, jerking, sucking and fucking in Mickey’s lap. Similar mechanical interventions (of a more optical printer type) met Peter Tschekassky’s found, commercial reels of product pushing models. The best chapter in Coming Attractions, “Cubist Cinema No. 1” was thrown into a state of eruptive jouissance, a treat to behold. But the most shocking and memorable film on offer here was Pawel Wojtasik’s Pigs, which, yes, documented pigs. The intense soundtrack mounted in a wall of beastly cries that will leave me in gulping screeching visceral nightmares for years to come. Not since Jurassic Park have creatures been so vocal, vicious and overexpressive. These pigs, in what I’m sure is probably a quite quotidian occurrence, felt way avant-garde.