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Views from the Avant-Garde

October 7, 2008

Views from the Avant-Garde: Short Notes (2008)

novel_city.gifNovel City, 2008 (Leslie Thornton) - While Leslie Thornton's 1983 film Adynata posed questions of exoticism and alterity in its cultural examination of China, Novel City represents a different, yet equally jarring notion of otherness - one borne of China's rapid industrialization, economic transformation, and cultural amnesia at the turn of the century. Interweaving excerpts from Adynata with modern day shots of China from Jin Jiang Hotel - the site of Mao Zedong and Richard Nizon's meeting in 1987 - Thornton creates a sense of alienation and displacement through the paradoxical sameness of mimicking, familiar images: ubiquitous Jumbotron advertisements, a Chinese opera singer dressed in a Western tailored suit, a promotional photograph of Barack Obama.

Horizontal Boundaries, 2008 (Pat O'Neill) - Composed of overlapping and bisected frames to create composite, dynamic, often accelerated images of California landscape, the film suggests convergence with Michael Snow's WVLNT, creating an oppositional visual image that is equally natural in its presentation of nature and unnatural in its superposition of disparate landscapes, where the idea of a permanent, static landscape is subverted by diurnal movement and human interaction.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 07, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Views from the Avant-Garde

America Is Waiting, 1982

america_waiting.gifAssembled from found film culled from propaganda reels, public service announcements, and movie westerns and set against a percussive, industrial soundtrack by David Byrne and Brian Eno, Bruce Connor's America Is Waiting is a terse, but potent statement on the Reagan-era reactionary culture of moral righteousness, military aggression, and Cold War paranoia. Juxtaposing images depicting circa 1950 Americana that exemplify idealized notions of innocence, benevolence, rugged individualism, and glorified violence that define the national psyche - a child playing with a realistic toy rocket launcher, and identification with a hero riding a white horse who uses his gun to exact justice - Connor subverts the implicit morality of these conflated images in the closing shot of a lamb violent suckling in an open meadow: reflecting both society's role as naïve consumers and complicit perpetuators of cultural (and sociopolitical) dysfunction.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 07, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Views from the Avant-Garde

New York Lantern, 2008

ny_lantern.gifOne of the highlights from the Views of the Avant-Garde program was veteran experimental filmmaker, Ernie Gehr's New York Lantern, a painterly, intuitive, and unexpectedly political three-part composition (as demarcated by three distinct musical scores) assembled from black and white and color tinted vintage photographs taken around New York City at the turn of the century. Opening to the interlacing images of livery drivers, women buying produce at a farmer's market, and laborers riding on a ferry, the first part culminates with a photograph of people looking out from a guard railed platform towards the island of Manhattan (perhaps immigrants on the passenger deck of a ship bound for Ellis Island) that underscores the embodied idea(l) of the city as a beacon for hope, inclusion, and opportunity. The second part reflects the city's vitality in its faster paced interlacing images that depict the population density of crowded residential apartments, bustling streets, forbidding high rise buildings, and omnipresent clock towers that reinforce a constant awareness of time, and consequently, its economic implications. The third part returns to the visual themes of the first part in its portrait of working class life, concluding with the repeated, indelible of image of immigrants looking out towards the city's downtown harbor - implicitly casting their longing gaze on the financial district and the future site of the World Trade Center - the haunting juxtaposition now suggests estrangement rather assimilation, separated by intranscendable waters of privilege, isolation, and exclusion.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 07, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Views from the Avant-Garde

Nathaniel Dorsky: Winter and Sarabande (2008)

sarabande.gifBookending with representations of twilight - an opening shot of light transmitted through a foregrounding grating, and a closing shot of the sun setting below a line of trees - Nathaniel Dorsky's Winter and Sarabande convey forms of progression: a movement from dawn to dusk, shadow to light, grey tones to color, emptiness to space. Composed of quotidian images shot primarily through meshes, screens, structural occlusions, glass, and translucent objects, the films represent an indirect gaze, creating a rhythm in the absence of repetition through variations in shot length and image editing. While Winter suggests a more temporal progression in its evocation of seasons and a paradoxical juxtaposition of coldness and verdant growth (created by San Francisco's rainy, chilled winters), Sarabande represents an visual progression in its collage of found, implicitly disrupted (or causational) images: reflections on mirrored surfaces, cast shadows, light diffraction through obstructed or porous surfaces. Illustrating a penchant for natural geometries (a shot of brightly colored red objects create a kaleidoscope effect with its refracted image through prismatic glass before shifting to reveal a Christmas tree shop window display), mirroring patterns, and changes of state (a rupture is created by a static shot of leaves that is subsequently connected to the image of foliage shaking with the wind and laden by raindrops), Dorsky's films reinforce both the ephemeral and mediated nature of image-making, where the observer's gaze is neither passive nor sublimated, but exists in a constant tension between equally artificially constructed representations of reality - a friction that is encapsulated in Sarabande in the reflected shot of a child in a stroller from a glass door that foreshadows a collision between dual representative images when the reflection is broken by the mother opening the door, consequently changing the reflected angle until the recorded image is ruptured and supplanted by the appearance of "real" child through the threshold of (the camera frame's) visibility.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 07, 2008 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2008, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 13, 2007

Volto sorpreso al buio (Face Caught in the Dark), 1995

volto_sorpreso.gifOne of the highlights from the 2006 Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar was the first public screening of a Paolo Gioli program in the country, and this year, the festival continues to reinforce Gioli's singular reputation by screening another of his sadly underseen works: the gorgeously ethereal, densely constructed, and mesmerizing Volto sorpreso al buio. Gioli assembles a self-described "impossible film" out of images recovered from found photographic plates from the 1950s (some of which were also used in the composition of his book Sconosciuti), creating imaginary apparitions of mutated, "new identities" out of interchanging fragments of unknown faces from the past. Part found film reconstitution of extracted composite images, and part somber impressionism in the splicing, stitching, overlaying, scratching, lighting, and modulated exposure of the black and white studio portraits into a continuous film reel, Volto sorpreso al buio transcends its seemingly facile constructive premise as the chronicled metamorphosis of a solitary portrait. Rather, in invoking the specter of the titular, suspended "face caught in the dark" as it organically transforms, each gentle sweep of the partial traces of facial features, contours, mannerisms, and expressions becomes a commemorative gesture within a haunted slipstream of passing time, where the ghosts of dissolving, anonymous identities re-assimilate into a collective memory and, for a brief moment, are brought to life again.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Paolo Gioli, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 11, 2007

Pitcher of Colored Light, 2007

pitcher.gifIn a sense, Robert Beavers's muted, sensual, and reverently observed short film diary, Pitcher of Colored Light may be seen as a companion piece to the climactic, long awaited homecoming sequence in Jonas Mekas's Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (albeit without the reflective commentary) - a personal chronicle that similarly evokes the silent intimacy and unarticulated melancholia of a child, now a grown man, absorbing, lingering, and reveling in the realization of a cherished, recreated memory, yet acutely aware of its impermanence and isolation. Composed of fragmented images that capture the essential minutiae of his aging mother's bucolic environment and the idiosyncrasies of her everyday routines - a treasured, black and white photograph, an eclectic assortment of country kitsch paraphernalia, a favorite chair from which she takes her afternoon naps, a pampered cat, an unused, but pre-decorated formal dining table, a meticulously tended garden - the film reveals an inherent restlessness in Beavers's gaze. Constantly scanning, cutting, and refocusing between objects and their shared spaces, light streams and cast shadows, Beavers creates a sense of perpetual motion within these quotidian images of apparent stasis. Framed against the changing of the seasons, these restless images become an inherent reflection, not of a wide-eyed curiosity, but a reluctant, desperate memorization to preserve a fading, transitory bliss.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, 2004

Gregory Markopoulos's self-contained excerpt, Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, a fragment from his legendary, 80 hour, twenty-two cycle magnum opus, Eniaios is something of an alchemic composition of disparate, often contrasting images that conflate towards a dense singularity that no longer resembles its elemental forms - a vibrant, enigmatic, and sublime meditation on architectural landscape as both matter and space, saturation and void, where ecstasy exists as both a state of tactile intensity and profound spirituality. A composition in black where slivers of inanimate images occupying no more than a third of the screen at any given time (but made more focal by the framing of the dark margins) intermittently appear in repeating and overlapping arrhythmic cycles, the film is, in a sense, as much about the anticipation of the images as it is about the relation - and transcendent progression - of the images themselves: the light-streamed doorway of a villa that frames a clear blue Mediterranean sky with its deep toned wooden arch, the evocation of the rich colors of the villa in the translucency of a stained glass window, the kaleidoscopic fragmentation of the stain glass that is repeated in the mosaic pattern of Byzantine art, the flatness of Byzantine art that is reflected in the religious iconography of a church's medieval architecture. By limiting the visibility of the images into fleeting, but intense bursts of "activity", Markopoulos redefines the relationship between still life and motion picture, transforming the very nature of the images themselves in such a way that a photograph is no longer an absolute, historical reproduction of geometric and aesthetic details, but an architectural impression in an interactive and vital living consciousness.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 10, 2007

Hide, 2007

hide.gifAt first glance, Christoph Girardet and Matthius Müller's terse and ingeniously conceived Hide unfolds with the tactile eroticism and wry humor of Peter Kubelka's irreverent life cycle meditation on "transcendence through product consumption" in Truth and Poetry. Composed of densely atmospheric and highly stylized recycled commercial footage of young, picture perfect models pleasurably applying personal hygiene and cosmetic products in a quick cut montage of disembodied, glistening skins, hairs, hands, and lips, juxtaposed against the sensual application of assorted foams, lotions, waxes, and creams, these carefully constructed, plastic images begin to fade, speckle, crack, distort, and burn with the material deterioration of the celluloid itself, before being reduced to the stark whiteness - and unadulterated purity - of an empty projection. At once idealized and grotesque, the disintegrating images become an integral reflection of the title's double entendre of hide as both an organic surface that inherently decays with time, and the deliberate act of concealing its irreversible plasticity. Using the materiality of film as a surrogate for the materiality of the human body, Girardet and Müller create a droll metaphor for the vain pursuit of consumer-driven eternal youth.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Stranger Comes to Town, 2007

stranger_comes_to_town.gifIn Stranger Comes to Town, Jacqueline Goss returns to the themes of alterity and cultural disconnection of How to Fix the World to create an equally charming, humorous, and incisive rumination on the absurdity and moral ramifications of ethnic profiling in a post 9/11, terrorist-conscious society. In one episode, a characteristically neutered Department of Homeland Security footage demonstrating the ease and convenience of non-invasive biometric fingerprint identity verification at a border checkpoint plays out against the testimony of a young woman who recounts her far more intrusive experience of being subjected to an anatomical examination by an official under the security mandate of verifying her gender. Cutting to the image of her identified avatar - a pink-haired, warthog-like creature - the idiosyncratic juxtaposition is both comical and poignant in reflecting the speaker's implicit sense of alienness and arbitrary exclusion as a result of the "procedural" encounter. In another episode, a secular immigrant from a Moslem country is compelled to re-evaluate and reframe his identity - and consequently, alter his behavior - through an imposed, non-existent, but stereotyped cultural profile after 9/11. Composed of anonymous, interwoven, first-person testimonies of travelers - immigrants, naturalized citizens visiting their ancestral homelands, and ordinary tourists - recounting their personal experiences of being targeted for enhanced identity screening at a U.S. border checkpoint that have been juxtaposed against tongue in cheek animated sequences from canned Department of Homeland Security how-to videos and re-purposed, self-assigned avatars and otherworldly landscapes from the World of Warcraft videogame, Stranger Comes to Town is a subtle, but potent indictment of broad stroke, xenophobic policies that have rendered an essential myth the idea of the United States as a country built on tolerance and a paradigm for a cultural melting pot assimilation.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 4, 2007

Memories, 2007 (Jeonju Digital Project)

Respite (Harun Farocki)

Harun Farocki's contribution to the 2007 Jeonju International Film Festival Digital Project, Respite, channels the spirit of his magnum opus, Images of the World and the Inscription of War to create a potent and provocative film essay on production, warfare, historical reconstruction, and the role of image-making. A prefacing text on the source of the found film provides the sobering context to the seemingly mundane scene of weary, confused passengers deboarding a train at a desolate station in wartime Europe. Filmed from the German transit camp in occupied Westerbork in the Netherlands, the assorted 16mm footage of "everyday life" at the camp was photographed in 1944 by an inmate, Rudolf Breslauer (who was subsequently deported and killed), under orders from the SS commander, Albert Gemmeker, who, in turn, commissioned the film in order to showcase the productivity of the transit camp (Gemmeker would subsequently testify that he had envisioned the project as a film for tourists) and, implicitly, its integral role in the German war machine as both a raw materials recycling facility and a deportation hub for trains leaving, every Tuesday morning, for the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Sobibor. Composed as a silent essay film, Farocki's use of repeating images that are further emphasized by the spareness of intertitles reflects his expositions on the role of filmmaking as the creation of afterimages. In essence, by working with the artifacts of Breslauer's found film, Farocki's role becomes one, not of image production, but rather, a kind of image archaeology, where reality is sought in the critical observation, juxtaposition, correlation, and interpretation of (absolute) images. In one repeated sequence from Breslauer's sole shot footage of a departing train, a brief close-up of a gaunt and visibly frightened girl is framed, initially within the context of the Germans' penchant for precision and accuracy (in meticulously posting a correction to the accounting of people who had been loaded into a boxcar), then subsequently, in her identification as a ten-year-old Sinti girl named Settela Steinbach that leads to Farocki's theory on Breslauer's apparent rejection of close-ups in subsequent footage. Similarly, the footage of inmates extracting copper wires and fibers from electrical conduit is also repeated in the film, as both a demonstration of worker efficiency, and an allusion to the figurative recycling of human bodies (particularly, in the extraction of "Auschwitz gold" from the teeth of the dead). Alternately exposing inherent half truths (shots of smiling inmates at work and at their leisure omit the underlying reality that their expression is one of relief for their temporary reprieve from the weekly deportation train), unintentional humor (in the Germans' repackaging of the camp as a corporate venture with its own company logo and productivity charts), and overt propaganda (in the repeated, often slow-motion demonstrations of efficient manual labor and the deliberate low profile of Nazis around the camp that provide a false impression of the inmates' relative freedom), the idiosyncratic repetition of images serves, not only to reinforce the afterimage, but also to reframe the image through its differing contexts - through its permutations of assigned meaning.

The Rabbit Hunters (Pedro Costa)

memories.gifPedro Costa's entry, The Rabbit Hunters is a graceful modulation of his short film Tarrafal from the The State of the World omnibus, a series of elliptical encounters shot from the perspective of displaced Fonthainas elder villagers, Ventura, the paternal, old soul drifting through the vestiges of his dying neighborhood in Colossal Youth, and his unemployed and homeless friend, Alfredo (rather than José Alberto's perspective in Tarrafal). At one point in the film, a cook, having offered free meals of leftover soup to Ventura and Alfredo in the back kitchen, proceeds to brush off the dirt and grime from Ventura's clothing to make him look more presentable, and gives him a filial admonition for his careworn, disheveled appearance. "I'm haunted by lots of ghosts", explains Ventura. Similar to Costa's seminal film Casa de Lava, the characters' existential limbo is also a spiritual desolation borne of a haunted, implacable landscape. In The Rabbit Hunters, the repressed environmental memory has been formed by Tarrafal's unspoken history as a concentration camp site once dubbed the "camp of slow death" during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, where political dissidents and anti-colonialists were imprisoned and tortured. In a sense, the prison camp has become the embodiment of a corrosive, suppressed memory that has metastasized and leeched into the landscape, contaminating everyone who has lived on - and off - the land (in one episode, Alfredo recounts having trapped nothing but diseased animals to take home and cook for his meals). Like the long-forgotten prisoners before them, the villagers, too, exist in a state of slow death, discarded by the living and haunted by unreconciled ghosts - an ambiguity that is reflected in Ventura and Alfredo's odd conversations over each other's death experiences. Concluding with a shot of José Alberto's deportation letter that has been affixed to a wall by a pocket knife, the film comes to a metaphoric full circle - illustrating the connection between the trauma of dislocation and institutionalized marginalization.

Correspondences (Eugène Green)

On the surface, the stark brightness inherent in digital film would seem an unusual medium for the tonally incandescent, classical palette of Eugène Green's baroque films. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the union of old and new media (and technology) proves conducive to Green's creative ideology of redefining baroque as a (still) relevant, versatile, timeless, and contemporary art form. In Correspondences, Green returns to his familiar themes of interconnectedness, communion, and transcendent love (most recently illustrated in Green's sublime feature Le Pont des arts) to create a tale of young love in the digital age. Presented as a series of emails read offscreen that are juxtaposed against isolated frontal shots of the anonymous lovers and the (interior) spaces they inhabit, the film also subtly evokes Alain Resnais's baroque, nouveau roman puzzle film Last Year at Marienbad in its interplay of memory and seduction (or more appropriately, memory as seduction). At the heart of the film is the young hero, Virgile's (François Rivière) quest to win the love of Blanche (Delphine Hecquet), a young woman whom he has only seen (and danced with) once at a nightclub. For Virgile, their fates are intertwined, and he must convince her of their shared destiny; for Blanche, there is only the blankness of an unregistered memory, and the guilt of a young man's suicide (in an apparent homage to Jean Eustache). Similar to the Virgil of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Virgile is the enlightened guide who will lead Blanche through the realm of lost souls and, with the realization of true love, break the bounds of impossibility. From this perspective, Virgile's quest also articulates Green's aesthetic vision in an age of new media - a desire to create texture from the intangible, a contour from the binary.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 04, 2007 | | Comments (10) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

September 25, 2006

Views from the Avant-Garde: Saul Levine

Note to Pati, 1969

Something of an aesthetic convergence between the diaristic autobiographies and quotidian images of Jonas Mekas (as illustrated in his Diaries, Notes and Sketches chronicles) and the hand crafted dissonance and material violence of Stan Brakhage, Note to Pati presents a seemingly typical winter scene - the day after a snow storm as a suburban neighborhood digs out from under the accumulation and children make the most of an unexpected day off from school by playing in their winter wonderland. Saul Levine's images are diffused, faded, and ephemeral, made all the more dissociating by Levine's disorienting rapid cut editing, restless and twitching camerawork, and destabilized, quick pan sequences - an evocation of a transitory and wide-eyed innocence.

Note to Coleen, 1974

An encounter with a sidewalk portrait artist serves as the inspiration for Levine's Note to Coleen, a whimsical, playful, and frenetic composition on duality and mirror images. Levine creates a curious sense of musicality through the intrinsic rhythm of the silent images. Presenting a rhythmic juxtaposition of quickly intercut, near subliminal replicating images capturing the posed subject (often of a seated woman) and the corresponding likeness captured by work-in-process sketch portrait, and edited through the visible vestigial materiality of the physical mechanical film splices (a recurring aesthetic in Levine's cinema), the alternating images become an animated stasis, a stimulus of peripheral curiosity, a reflection of the iterative observation intrinsic in the process of creation.

New Left Note, 1968-1982

saul_levine.gifSaul Levine incisively distills the whirlwind of domestic protest, social revolution, and increasing public disillusionment over a protracted, bloody, and inextricable Vietnam War that defined the atmosphere of late 60s American culture in his magnum opus, New Left Note, a film inspired in part by his tenure as editor for - and complemented the ideals of - the progressive Students for a Democratic Society publication, New Left Notes. Levine juxtaposes seemingly irresolvable images of inertia and action, isolation and solidarity that reinforce his penchant for aesthetic hyperactivity - rapid intercutting, disorienting quick pans, and looping, reinforcing imagery - with sequences composed of visually longer takes and more stable, implicitly voyeuristic gaze that subvert the stasis of the images (and made all the more jarring in their discontinuity through the visibility of cement splices): initially, of an impromptu, distanciated metafilm (a soundless, low-resolution recording of Richard Nixon televised broadcast speech), then subsequently, an intimate, occasionally unfocused, and borderline transgressive image of the off-screen filmmaker and a resting young woman in varying stages of physical intimacy while traveling on a bus (perhaps returning from a protest march on Washington DC). In contrast to the adrenalized saturation of his autobiographical sketch, Note to ... films, Levine's images in New Left Notes reflect a more deliberate (and deliberative) approach to filmmaking as a tool for social change - a visceral chronicle of creative expression and cultural consciousness.

The Big Stick/An Old Reel, 1967-1973

On the surface, the introductory images of The Big Stick/An Old Reel seems uncharacteristic of a Saul Levine film, a whimsical, manipulated found film featuring a beat cop in seeming pursuit of Charlie Chaplin's iconic tramp character, edited in matching continuity cuts such that the excerpted sequence unfolds in a seemingly infinite comic choreography of encounter and evasion, luckless fugitive and outwitted officer. Juxtaposed against (and at times, superimposed over) transitory images of real-life footage of a mass arrest and loading of prisoners into transport wagons for booking at police headquarters (the predictable repercussion for an act of protest or civil disobedience), serves as a subtle, but equally potent and critical complement to the overt politicization of New Left Note, a wry exposition on the duality of contemporary American society, not only with respect to the country's polarization between passivity and activism - as well as an ingrained social stratification between privilege and exclusion - but also on the interminable vicious circle represented by the protracted and interminable conflict of the Vietnam War, a sobering commentary of the intrinsic farce reflected in the caricature of the faceless authority's self-righteous and heavy-handed approach to dissent, opposition, and alterity.

Note to Poli, 1982-83

Continuing in the vein of the transgressive intimacy captured in New Left Note, Note to Poli in some ways anticipates Stephen Dwoskin's expositions on fragility, ephemerality, and voyeurism (and in particular, in the transitory, almost dreamlike images Outside in). A daylight coupling seques to the seemingly disconnected image of a smoke-infused empty kitchen, perhaps invisibly connected by an unseen post-coitum ritual and time-occupying self-abstraction of a slowly inhaled cigarette, a visual study of emptiness and substance, stillness and turbulence, concentration and dissipation.

The Saul Levine: Notes from the Underground program screens at the NYFF: Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar on October 7, 2006 at 3:30 p.m.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Views from the Avant-Garde

September 20, 2006

Views from the Avant-Garde: Paolo Gioli

Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite (Immagini disturbate da un intenso parassita), 1970

Paolo Gioli's frenetic, delirious, and curiously transfixing magnum opus Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite is an invigorating, confounding, and ultimately mind-blowing visual study in redefining the bounds of human cognitive saturation - a complex, multilayered juxtaposition of bifurcating and intersecting aural and visual stimuli presented through groundbreaking multi-channel compositions, highly textured collages, interlocking frames, and studies in relative motion. Tracing the evolution of images (and music) through increasingly complex compositions and set against the manipulated, found film backdrop of objects in seeming perpetual motion (footage of athletic and racing events predominate the immersive landscape), the idiosyncratic reference to a titular parasite perhaps refers to the insidious and viral nature of the interpenetration of images that occur within the sub-frames and compartmentalized channels of the film, as seemingly bounded images begin to transect and dissolve their frames and invade adjacent spaces, consequently transforming - and eventually supplanting - the integral structure of the overarching composition. Prefiguring the themes of permeability and mutability that Gioli would subsequently explore in The Perforated Operator, the malleable images absorb, assimilate, converge, and replicate in an increasingly accelerated, ritualized process of seeming parthenogenesis to the point of unsustainable hypersaturation - a figurative point of cognitive critical mass when the density of the mind's registered images transforms from information to abstraction.

Traumatograph (Traumatografo), 1973

gioli.gifThe jarringly incongruent promenade from Mussorgsky's sprightly Pictures at an Art Exhibition provides an ingenious, tongue-in-cheek foil to Traumatograph's somber and grotesque introductory images: the decontextualized, worn photographs of beheaded men placed alongside a barbed wire-lined trench (perhaps victims of war), classical woodcut illustrations depicting disembodied corpses and surreal, postmortem encounters, excerpts culled from the official investigations of violent accidents (or perhaps cold-blooded execution). The radical juxtaposition of the opening sequence ever teetering between playful inquisitiveness and morbid obsession proves especially inspired within the context of Gioli's recurring penchant for visually experimenting with mirrored and replicated imagery. A looped, manipulated footage of a man falling out of his car and onto the ground - often shown in diffusion, slow motion, negative inversion, and superimposition - suggests not only an ethereality (perhaps, of a spirit rising from the body at the moment of death), but more broadly, captures the indefinable intersections and metaphoric passages that shape and define our own mortality. Gioli's fluidity of manipulated motion (most notably, in the figurative image of a shrinking - or perhaps, regressing - child, and reversed superimpositions that appear as self-engaged activity) and aesthetic for mirroring imagery suggest a creative symbiosis with - and perhaps a spiritual godfathering of - Materialist filmmaking, prefiguring the balletic choreography and film rhythm of Martin Arnold (in such films as Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy) and the metaphysical convergences of Peter Tscherkassky (particularly, The Cinemascope Trilogy).

The Perforated Operator (L'operatore perforato), 1979

An errant sprocket perforation located within the frame of a found film transfer serves as a creative springboard for Gioli's hypnotic, free-associative exposition into the relativity of images that is intrinsic in the cognitive act of seeing. A thematic corollary of sorts to the malleability and interpenetrability of forms and geometries of Robert Breer's cinema (in particular, the Form Phases series), The Perforated Operator is also an abstract study of the contextual duality of images: existing as art object or peripheral noise, object or void, inclusion or omission, creation or destruction. Visually exploring the meaning of the arbitrary bounds that define what is visible in the film frame (an aesthetic theme that also pervades Gioli's earlier film, Images Disturbed by an Intense Parasite) - and therefore, by extension, what is film art? - the ubiquitous rectangular pattern transforms from a director's visual blocking cue, to a projection screen, to a playing card prop for a sleight of hand parlor trick, to a microscope glass specimen with which to observer organic phenomena, to a layered, multi-channel film-within-a film. Culminating with the manipulated images of a transformed human eye (a theme that prefigures his subsequent film, Quando l'occhio trema), Gioli's vision transcends the self-reflexive landscape of a metafilm (and with it, the repercussion of the filmmaker's gaze), and converges towards the broader, indefinable contours on the transformative power of images.

Quando l'occhio trema, 1989

An homage to Luis Buñuel - an in particular, his early Surrealist films - in the evocation of the eye slitting scene in Un Chien Andalou (albeit in a far more palatable, less cringe-inducing manner), Gioli eschews Buñuel's metaphoric incitement to revolution to open one's eyes to visionary possibilities, and instead, presents a whimsical illustration of the apparatus of the human eye. Juxtaposing manipulated found film (most notably, from L'Age d'or) with the frenetic (and occasionally, manually animated) rapid eye movement in the act of constant scanning, surveillance, and observation, Quando l'occhio trema presents the human eye as the instrumental origin for the cognition of images - the eye as universe, as infinitely celestial, as the center of the ecliptic - the fundamental receptor by which images are registered, subsumed, processed, interpreted, and transformed by human consciousness. In contrast to Buñuel's transgressive act towards the liberation of images, Gioli's film fades to black with the closing of the frenetic eye, perhaps a reminder that even in the midst of violent revolution, there remains a sacredness towards reverie and imagination in the creation of art.

Filmarilyn, 1992

My entry into Paolo Gioli's sublime cinema was through the infectiously exuberant, ingeniously constructed, and irresistibly seductive Filmarilyn, an elegant and mesmerizing film that remains one of my favorite experimental works. Composed of still images from several photographs of the actress and pop icon Marilyn Monroe that have been manually transferred to film frame by frame, and animated through intermediate gradations within a series of successive, rapid fire montage visual "chapters", Gioli resurrects the vitality, captivating charm, and exuded sensuality of the voluptuous, iconic Hollywood superstar through the sequencing of the manipulated images - modulated object framing, subtle displacement, photographic blow-ups or visual recessions that simulate dimensionality and varying depths of focus - into a bold, risqué, and tantalizing "new" film starring the late actress. A brilliantly inspired riff on classic flipbook animation, Filmarilyn similarly harnesses the underlying idiosyncrasy of the visual process intrinsic in human memory: the mind's ability to momentarily retain the image even after the object has been removed, filling the space between with the afterimage that, in Gioli's eccentric and masterful figurative reincarnation, whimsically - and delightfully - demystifies the indefinable substance of the afterlife, illustrating an immortality rendered in the interstices.

The Paolo Gioli program screens at the NYFF: Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar on October 8, 2006 at 3:30 p.m.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 20, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Paolo Gioli, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 4, 2005

Secret History of the Dividing Line: A True Account in Nine Parts, 1999-2005

dividing.gifDavid Gatten's largely text-based impressionist work-in-progress omnibus, Secret History of the Dividing Line: A True Account in Nine Parts is, at once, a mind-numbing, transfixing, frustrating, poignant, and narcoleptic grand unified theory into the figurative separation between word and image, film and narrative, presence and absence, empire and colony, mortality and legacy. Weaving inexorably throughout Gatten's ambitiously conceived magnum opus are the themes of information tranference beyond a physical medium, the art of penmanship and mechanical printing, and the materiality of written language.

In the first installment, Secret History of the Dividing Line, the visibility of the physical line (as image) initially appears ordered: demarcating the on-screen textual chronology between year and cited history, as biographical text is presented on the life of William Byrd II of Westover, an eighteenth century colonist, author of the survey literature The History of the Dividing Line, A Journey to the Land of Eden that defined the border between North Carolina and Virginia (as well as a second publication that detailed the "secret history" of this demarcation), and one of the founding fathers of the state of Virginia who amassed one of the largest libraries - and perhaps the largest collection in the South - in the new land. The text is then abruptly truncated: the line between narrative and (film) image made palpably visible as magnified images of cement film splices create an equally alien, secondary landscape - like the constantly transforming text in the first half of the film - of pure abstraction.

In the second installment, The Great Art of Knowing, taken from the title of Athanasius Kircher's seventeenth century encyclopedia, the line becomes increasingly disrupted and fragmented, as biographical excerpts appear on Byrd's daughter, Evelyn, a pensive and beautiful socialite who was once presented before the king of England, reflecting the emotional violence of her separation from her one true love, a Catholic English gentleman named Charles Mordaunt at the hands of her overprotective, devoutly Protestant father, who forcibly sent her back to Virginia. This sense of turbulent rupture is also reflected in the "separation" of the collected books of the vast Byrd library through an auction that is undertaken by heirs of the Byrd estate in order to settle a family debt. As in the first installment, Gatten explores the interrelationship of text as conveyer of ideas and image object through connotative, visual manipulations of text, presenting the ill-fated affair between Evelyn and Mordaunt as a series of increasingly disordered, decontextualized, and fractured textual images that begin to lose coherence and approach the point of information saturation.

The third installment, Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing, represents a conceptual shift from the visibly defined demarcation between text and film image (through the anatomy of cement splices) to a more integrated abstraction between words and images, emptiness and physical spaces. Linked together by the texturality of forgotten objects and frayed (or physically manipulated) imprinted text images, the film represents a thematic collapsing of distinct objects that further erases the bounds between image (and text) from meaning, where recursive shifting of once seemingly separate entities become alternate presentations of a visible (and invisible) continuum - a decontextualized mood piece where absence and emptiness become increasingly tactile - an impression.

The fourth installment The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost and Found, is an even more dissociated film from the previous installment that further shifts the thematic focus of the abstract narrative from William Byrd II to his daughter, Evelyn, as entries from her personal diary and passages from her favorite books are projected onto the screen, reflecting her thoughtfulness, romanticism, fragility, profound longing, and ultimately despair for her lost love: the tragic resolution of her star-crossed affair often romanticized in the annals of history as a death from a broken heart. Innate in the fragmented passages is a sense of solitude and a poetic heart - exhausted and adrift - a wandering soul trapped within the walls of a stately, but oppressive man-made sanctuary. It is within this image of torment that color appears for the first time in the series - perhaps a metaphoric respite from the monochromatic ache of despair that suffuses the film - a visual (and spiritual) transcendence through the act of reading.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 04, 2005 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2005, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 3, 2005

A Trip to the Louvre x 2, 2004

louvre.gifResonating in a similar vein as the organically meditative - though less ethereal - cultural elegies of Aleksandr Sokurov (specifically, Elegy of a Voyage and Russian Ark or a stylistically flattened early Alain Resnais art documentary (most notably, Van Gogh and Guernica), A Trip to the Louvre seems on the surface to be devoid of elements that bear the signature of a Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet film: the emotive (if not histrionic) voice-over of an off-screen narrator replaces the tempered, atonal, alienated speech of a Straub/Huillet protagonist; the baroque images of European classical art replace the spare mise-en-scène; the absence of implicit social radicalization in the context of the film. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection (and aided by visual repetition since the film is presented in two near identical parts, with modulations on the opening and concluding sequences - the latter, repurposed from their earlier film Ouvriers, paysan), the film inevitably resolves into more familiar Straub/Huillet terrain of converging sensual, emotional, and cerebral engagement and challenging the aesthetic notions (and interrelations) of beauty, truth, and realism.

Adapted from the biography of Paul Cézanne by Aix-en-Provence poet and admirer Joachim Gasquet, the film presents a series of paintings from the Louvre shot in long takes from a stationary camera as an off-screen female narrator (Julia Kolta) assumes an impassioned first-person observation and criticism of the artworks in a distancing (gender inconguent) voice performance as Cézanne. A painting is shown in its tableaux-like physical tactileness, but appears before the viewer as an image reproduction: the mutation from object (and inorganic performer) to image occurring between the apparatus of the camera and the human eye. A highlighted detail, often a seemingly trivial subscene from a richly detailed and complex work such as Veronese's The Marriage at Cana, is shot through the proportionality of the overarching image such that the contextual aspect is preserved within the totality of the visible camera - and canvas - frame, but appears microcosmically autonomous from it. Eschewing works that seek the idealization - and therefore, negation of the human essence - of the physical body through formalized gestures, embellishment, and impossible symmetry, Cézanne delights in the realism of voluptuous forms, textures, and incidental serendipity that elevate the quotidian to the sublime, the transfiguration of image reproduction to humanist work of art, the perfection of the imperfect.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 03, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, Views from the Avant-Garde