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

The 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.

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