Sunday, February 27, 2011

Exquisite corpse curating

Some post-screening reflections on exquisite corpse curating. On Saturday Kevin Duggan and I presented our screening at Union Docs made up of films selected from The Film-Makers' Cooperative, and curated as an exquisite corpse. Each of us selecting a film in response to the previous film selected by the other. The premise was not to curate in the manner of having a theme, but to let the exquisite corpse travel on its own path, ending up where neither of us could anticipate it would take us.


In keeping with the exquisite corpse aspect we kept the actual program secret up until the show.  But now we can let the cat out of the bag:

Rudy Burckhardt
Eastside Summer (1959) 16mm, color, sound, 11 min
selected by Kevin

Seth Mitter
Beard St (2007) 16mm, color, silent, 3 min
selected by Joel

James Benning
Chicago Loop (1976) 16mm, color, sound, 8.5 min
selected by Kevin (originally was to have been Brahkage & Cornell's Gnir Rednow, but it wasn't available)

Michael Snow
Standard Time (1967) 16mm, color, sound, 8 min
selected by Joel

Marie Menken
Lights (1966) 16mm, color, silent, 6 min
selected by Kevin

Florens Fanciulli
Giro Giro Tondo (2007), 16mm, color, sound 3 min.
selected by Joel

Robert Breer
Fuji (1973) 16mm, color, sound, 8.5 min
selected by Kevin (originally was to have been Harry Smith's Mirror Animations, but it was already rented out)

Martha Colburn
Cats Amoré (2001) 16mm, color, sound, 2.5 min
selected by Joel

The exquisite corpse going from: lyrical city portrait; to structuralist city portrait; to structuralist camera use of movement; to lyrical use of camera movement; to experimental animation.


In retrospect the most interesting part of the experience was the degree to which it was necessary to proactively fight against having the exquisite corpse slip into a thematic program.  The rudder had to be pushed to keep from just sailing along in a straight line.  The uncharted direction characteristic of the exquisite corpse wasn't just something that wanted to happen on its own.  In fact, a large part of selecting works turned out to be the negative process of what not to select:  After starting with a few city portraits and films about urban landscape it would have been very easy to keep moving in that direction (Marie Menken's Go Go Go, Dominic Angerame's city symphony films).  This would have been a very acceptable thematically contained program of films about The City, but certainly not a true exquisite corpse.  None of the unexpected lurching moves from one thing to another.  In a curious way it was more challenging to program a "theme-less" exquisite corpse program than opting for a curatorial theme; for instance if Kevin and I had just said, "Let's do a program all about camera movement," or something like that.


But now wondering about the many possible approaches to experimental curating.  The exquisite corpse; the use of parameters (all films with the word "red" in the title, or all films one minute long) to connect disparate works; processes of audience selection; multiple people bringing films in a "salon" style program; or even the total multiple projection mash-up as an act of experimental curating.  Here's to the possibilities!


Friday, February 25, 2011


Some lovely places on the web to visit; which celebrate and delve into the subject of pre-cinema.  .  .

There are the pictures of the fantastic assortment of magic lantern and other pre-cinematic devices in the George Eastman House's pre-cinema collection.


For a more comprehensive education on pre-cinema, there is a well-designed website giving The History of the Discovery of Cinematography, as researched, compiled & written by Paul Burns.


Pre-cinema did not end with the coming of cinema.  Restored in 2008, here is Bill Brand's wonderful Masstransitscope, from 1980.  A zoetrope that uses the motion of a subway train from which the viewer sees the sequence of passing frames.  It's such a pleasure to ride the train from DeKalb in Brooklyn and see the reactions of people caught by surprise by this magical experience of public art.

Sooner or later there will have to be the Cine Soiree event that takes the form of a soiree on board the subway, where we all meet up and ride the train back and forth to view Masstransitscope together over and over again!  An update, perhaps, of Edna St.Vincent Millay's Recuerdo ("We were very tired, we were very merry—/We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry").


And Tjebbe van Tijen's Imaginary Museum is worth an extended visit; not just on our pre-cinema tour of the web, but also for everything else housed in van Tijen's museum.  Our visit starts with the 2003 panoramic collage scroll, entitled A Panorama of Pre-Cinematic Principles

Long live pre-cinema! Cheers!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rose Lowder at Anthology

Fields of wildflowers in single frame, now revealing the patterns of flux in the wind hidden from our perception in real time, with movements appearing like the iron filings under the influence of a magnet.  One of the many experiences seeing the films of Rose Lower at Anthology.

The organizer of Rose Lowder's US screenings, Tara Nelson, has also created the Rose Lowder blog supplementing the events, with film stills and photographs of the filmmaker at the various screenings.  The frame enlargements are especially interesting after having seen the films in that clusters of frames are reproduced, rather than a single still image.  It's a little difficult to get a sense of what the effect of these alternating images is like without seeing the film; the real revelation comes in having seen the film and going back and seeing the underlying still frames.  What seemed to be superimposition on the screen is not superimposition at all, but a succession frames that blend together with each other through the rapid alternations of image.  Superimposition created in eye and mind.

Rose mentioned, in answer to a question about technique, that she had been fascinated by Robert Breer's film Eyewash.  How was it that images that were each only a single frame were either seen or obscured?  She spent three years reading everything she could on the nature of perception before ever making a film of her own.

How many filmmakers consider the question:  "How it is that we see what we are looking at?" rather than just think about their films as "images" and take the perception of the images for granted?


The film tour blog is a very useful supplement to the screenings, and even to the Q&A with the filmmaker.  This usefulness is borne out by the example of a discussion during the Q&A of the method behind some of the films.  Rose described her graph-paper notetaking system for charting out what she was shooting.  It seemed a pity not to be able to see what this looked like, but then it turns out that we can, thanks to the blog.  An effective addition to the screening itself.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Film and video

What is it about the video image that gives it such a different quality from film?

In discussing differences of film and video the quality of the image itself as a recording medium is usually talked about--often it's a topic discussed practically to death--but not enough is said about the quality of projection.  Somehow projection is taken for granted. And projection isn't just question of image quality, but a great deal of difference exists in the quality the light itself from a film projector versus that of the light from a video projector.

It is not unlike the difference between the quality of the light produced by an incandescent bulb versus the quality of the light from a florescent bulb.  One gives off a warm intensity.  The other, a diffused, sickly pallor.

While brightness seems to be the obsessive goal with video projection--ever and ever brighter as measured in vaster and vaster quantities of lumen--it seems a pity that the somewhat unpleasant quality of the light itself should be overlooked.


I recall a few years back seeing a screening at Anthology of High Definition video. I was very bothered by the light from the projector.  The works themselves that screened that night seemed undermined by the hardness--the oppressive harshness--of the light.

A while after that there was a dance film showing at Anthology made by Physical TV.  It had been shot in digital video and then transferred to 35mm film.  It looked terrific.  Of course, the fact that it looked so good had much to do with the production itself.  But it also didn't have the appearance of having been produced in digital video, even if it didn't necessarily look like it had been shot on film either: much of this difference in the appearance of the work that was the result of projection; not the qualities of the recording medium.  Perhaps everyone who shoots on film and transfers to video has it backwards?  It would be better to shoot on video and transfer to film for projection purposes.


The candle, sunlight in wintertime, the incandescent bulb, the florescent light, all distinctive in the quality, the evocation, the feel, and the "texture" of light.  And for the preeminent essay on the qualities of light, there is Jun'ichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day 2011 at Flaherty NYC

A romantic Valentine's day at Anthology Film Archives with Flaherty NYC and A Show for Valentine’s Day - A Collection of Nine Love Inspired Shorts programmed by Penny Lane and featuring films and videos by Matt McCormick, Alison Kobayashi, Bradley Eros & Tim Geraghty, Peggy Ahwesh, Ben Coonley, Jacqueline Goss, Jodie Mack, and Lenka Clayton & James Price.


Quite interesting how the works flirted with the subject of romance and successfully avoided the pitfalls that can derail the filmic love poem: the saccharine and the schmaltzy. Humor (sometimes straight-faced at other times not) often seemed a key ingredient, but not always. And yet even with a many different approaches--from the lyrical, to the purposefully ambiguous, to the visually metaphoric, to the bombastic--there never seemed to be a cold cynicism towards romance in any the works selected. A show of film and video that takes a cynical view to the subject of romance would not be hard to put together, but would not be as appealing as this selection of work. It would likely seem "too easy" as a program, and the works themselves might also come across as "too easy" in such a context. But to make a non-cynical film about romance without creating something gooey? There's a challenge!


Drinks after the screening at the Scratcher. Cheers!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Cine Soirees past...

The Red Hook Cine Soiree held in the summer of 2010, featuring films and videos by Nathaniel Lambert Cummings, Bradley Eros & Tim Geraghty, Jim Jennings, Marie Losier, Jennifer Reeves, Jeremy D. Slater, and Sheri Wills.  The filmmaker after-party included 16mm films projected in the backyard from the collections of Bradley Eros and Mike Olshan.

So what is a "cine soiree"? How is it different than a screening?  It's not that different, but with wine and cheese it becomes more like a gallery opening, more overtly celebratory of the films.  You couldn't have a cine soiree without wine, cheese, and a good baguette.  Add pre- and after- music to the show played on the Victrola.  Perhaps artistic "salon" could also apply in the sense of creating an atmosphere of sharing the work.

Finally, curate with a tinge of eclecticism; a nuance of film programming the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema did with great success.  Punctuating the serious works with an oddball "soundie," as if insurgent saboteurs had suddenly taken over the projection booth.  Curiously, this tactic of juxtaposing the sacred (avant-garde and experimental cinema) and the profane (cultural detritus produced by Castle Films) does not undermine the avant-garde selections.  It serves to set at ease an audience who, although they might already appreciate works of avant-garde cinema, are now implicitly advised by this curatorial folly that it's okay to enjoy these films as well.  Such is the cine soiree.