Friday, October 14, 2011

Views from the Avant-Garde

Another autumn and another "Views from the Avant-Garde" at the New York Film Festival. This year as the screening spaces at Lincoln Center have expand so has Views: now at two theaters, larger and smaller (plus other works showing in the amphitheater just off the lobby of the newly opened cinema), and with a few of the programs repeated instead of the previously established framework of a two-and-a-half day marathon all in the Walter Reade.


Views is not just a screening – some will read the program as a score-card of who is and isn't included – but a gathering-place for the larger avant-garde filmmaking community.  From around the country (and around the world) filmmakers congregate here and see each other, and will perhaps go a whole year without seeing each other again (until next year's Views).  And so it is a valuable point of convergence for the wider community of filmmakers who are out in some part of the country without the same opportunities to see work as here in New York (or even the opportunity to see avant-garde cinema just to be had in Brooklyn by itself).  It's a place where everyone can catch up, compare notes, ask the inevitable "Are you showing something in the festival?" question (that is always a little awkward if the answer is no), and dawdle together in the leftover time between programs.


Paul Clipson

One of the highlights this year was a super-8 performance by Paul Clipson.  He presented his work at Views last year, together with a performance by Bruce McClure, and it was gratifying to see him back again this time.

An intense energy permeated the films through the layering of briefly viewed images.  The super-impositions created in-camera.  This is remarkable considering it was all done with a super-8 camera.  Super-8 film comes on a cartridge that is not designed to be backwound.  But a few cameras exist can backwind the film just a few seconds (until the film can't go back any further in the cartridge), and so the many layers of images on screen were the result of a constant going back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth over the same short bit of film, slowly working through the three minute roll.  Most shots were just a couple of seconds long; some quite sort, less than a second.  The brevity of each of these images was offset by layering the same subject over itself, extending the subject matter over many shots, so that a brief glimpse of tree branches was part of larger sequence of superimpositions: branches upon branches upon branches.  These were not conventional stand-alone "shots" as we think of them in talking about a film, but overlapping facets of an extended sequence of related and merging images.  Several pieces used nature as the subject, with multiple exposures of grass and leaves in extreme closeup, the camera itself close in among the blades of grass, the focus racking to reveal the many planes of depth in this nearly-microscopic environment.  Even closer and smaller were the faces of insects filling the screen (if there was a Q&A I would have been tempted to ask how he managed to get the insects to be so well-behaved in front of the camera and not just jump out of the shot).  The intensity of sunlight directly on the lens, obscured through the branches of trees, the image layered over itself again and again.

Some of the works were performed with live music by ARP (Alexis Georgopoulos), which included "Chorus," a film of lights at night, with many layers of superimposed images and intense colors; red, magenta, yellow, aquamarine, the camera arcing and zooming and moving, lights obscured through metal mesh, neon signs, the many sources of illumination at times becoming seemingly abstract ripples of light reflected in puddles on the street.

As the lights came up after the screening there was a little residual vertigo from the momentum of these unreeling images of such beauty and intensity.  In reaction to "Chorus" someone made a passing comment about being back in San Francisco at a 1960s light-show.  But I was wondering if there was some affinity between these films and the symphonic poems of Romantic era composers, such as Liszt, who were also creating single-movement works intended to evoke an experience of beauty and intensity.  In terms of sensibility, size, and handling of themes there seemed much in common; here were visual symphonic poems.  Let's hope to see more of them again in the near future!



  1. So sorry to have missed this! I've been trying for years to figure out Super 8 backwinding with no luck.

  2. Many thanks for the recap, I've been hungrily waiting for them! Hope one day soon I'll make it there...