There’s been a lot of talk lately about a possible remake of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver (1976). Lars von Trier was attached for a while, then Scorsese even floated the idea of doing a 3-D remake, perhaps just as a whim; but in the meantime, director Michel Gondry has stripped the whole project down to a two minute bare-bones recap, which is at once brilliant and also very funny.
Archive for the ‘Experimental Cinema’ Category
This all-but-forgotten film by Arthur Lipsett, produced by The National Film Board of Canada, is an authentic talisman of where the world was in 1961, and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Subject; it was Lipsett’s first film. People as diverse as Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas have claimed it as an influence on their work. But the world was not so kind to Lipsett himself, as the 2007 documentary The Arthur Lipsett Project: A Dot on the Histomap by Eric Gaucher makes painfully clear.
Maya Deren, one of the first and most innovative of American experimental filmmakers, made this, her last complete film, in 1958 — one of her best. Still hopeful of making new films, Deren left unfinished Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, which was shot between 1947 and 1954, and only completed by Teiji and Cherel Ito in 1985, many years after her death in 1961, at the age of 44.
The Very Eye of Night has gotten a bad rap over the years, when compared to her landmark Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), but it doesn’t deserve it. In The Very Eye of Night, Deren finally figures out how to effortlessly make bodies float through space, to mesh the camera with the bodies of the dancers she records, and to create an ethereal, otherworldly series of images that lead the receptive viewer into her own personal dream world.
As Wendy Haslem notes of the film, “The Very Eye of Night was a collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School. The film was beset by problems in its production and carried with it a heavy weight of expectation. A shimmering constellation of stars established the background for negative images of figures resembling Greek Gods superimposed on and magically transported along the milky way. Deren called it her ‘ballet of night’, an ethereal dance within a nocturnal space that focused on the spectacle rather than the narrative. Ito collaborated on the soundtrack using tone blocks and bells, recalling the trance rhythm of Meshes of the Afternoon. Prioritizing enchantment over interpretation, The Very Eye of Night proved to be Deren’s most controversial and misunderstood film.”
And as Deren herself noted, shortly before her death, “A creative artist must have, to begin with, substantial reserves in his bank. He must have endured the experiences of life; he must have first earned and deposited his money. Those who have spared themselves the pain and effort of living do not have much in the vault…..
At this point my useful bank metaphor has to be modified….Let us instead imagine that this money is really like books or diaries or records of all we have ever seen, felt, thought, heard, thought, and experienced. The problem of the artist, then, is to rob the vaults only of those riches that are relevant to his need.
The trouble is that these vaults — these archives of the spirit — are not catalogued and cross-indexed. So one begins with the idea; and the intensity of one’s concentration makes, of that idea or concept, a sort of selective magnet which, passed over the mind again and again, draws out the images, sounds. movements, people, reflections, ideas, etc. related to it in kind.
If the magnet is too selective, it will bring up only synonyms and no new, illuminating relationships will be revealed. It is better that it be a little loose, eclectic and liberal so that one starts out with a big choice of possibilities. It is wonderful, of course, to watch a Master at work — and this is what a Zen Master is — when the magnet is of such extraordinary precision that it brings forth the most precisely best and no more and no less. One might even say that Zen is the art of tooling the magnet to its most refined precision and of charging it with the greatest pulling power.”
East of Borneo is a rather amazing multimedia web journal on the arts, covering not only film, but music, painting, theater — the whole panorama of contemporary artistic endeavor. Apparently named after George Melford’s 1931 film East of Borneo, which famously served as the raw material for Joseph Cornell’s deeply influential found footage film Rose Hobart, East of Borneo is eclectic, sprawling, and alive with ambition. As the journal’s website says,
“Launched in October 2010, East of Borneo is a collaborative online magazine of contemporary art, and its history, as considered from Los Angeles. East of Borneo offers a new way to research and present the various histories of contemporary art. Its hybrid form—which publishes newly commissioned art writing within a larger context of user generated material—uses the power of networked collectivity to create depth and complexity.
Articles incorporate multimedia footnotes that offer readers immediate access to the primary materials—video, images, links and texts—that the writers have used in their research. Readers can upload additional items of their own, creating a growing archive of relevant content that activates and enriches the editorial material, highlighting unexpected connections and encouraging new lines of thought.
As you navigate the site today, you’ll find a range of content that reflects the sprawling, rhizomatic nature of Los Angeles as well as the broader international art world. Visit us often to watch the site grow in both content and interactivity as we roll out further features. Visit us often to upload that telling image, indispensible text, incredible link.”
You can visit this truly groundbreak journal by clicking here, or on the image above.
One of the most beautiful and enigmatic of all films is Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s The Bridegroom, The Comedienne and The Pimp (1968), a 23 minute short film comprised of only eleven shots. As I wrote of this film on IMDb, “three sequences are linked together in this short film by Straub [and Huillet]; the first sequence is a long tracking shot from a car of prostitutes plying their trade on the night-time streets of Germany; the second is a staged play [Ferdinand Bruckner's Krankheit der Jugend], cut down to 10 minutes by Straub [and Huillet], photographed in a single take; the final sequence covers the marriage of James [James Powell] and Lilith, and Lilith’s subsequent execution of her pimp, played by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.”
This brief description does little justice to the mysterious resonance of the film, composed as it is of such disparate elements; the still above is taken from the final sequence of the film, directly after Lilith (Lilith Ungerer) has shot Fassbinder’s pimp, and dispassionately recites some poems of John of the Cross, as the camera tracks past her to come to rest on a shot of a tree in full summer. The best discussion of The Bridegroom, The Comedienne and The Pimp remains Richard Roud’s careful consideration of the film in his 1972 book Straub, illustrated with numerous frame blow-ups; sadly, the book is out of print. The film, too, seems to be unavailable in 35mm, 16mm, or digital video, and thus, for the moment, both are phantom texts.
Salvador Dali and Man Ray, photographed in Paris by Carl van Vechten, June 16, 1934
One of the earliest cinematographic poets, Man Ray was a still photographer, painter, sculptor, who created a series of dazzling Dada films which still delight and amuse the viewer. Here’s a link to one of my favorites: Le Retour à la Raison (Return to Reason, 1923), 2 minutes in length, silent, which consists of random live images intercut with “Rayographs,” made by sprinkling salt, pepper, thumbtacks, pins and other materials directly on the film in the darkroom, then exposing it to controlled amounts of light.
As Man Ray said of the making of the film, “Acquiring a roll of a hundred feet of film, I went into my darkroom and cut up the material into short lengths, pinning them down on the worktable. On some strips I sprinkled salt and pepper, like a cook preparing a roast, on other strips I threw pins and thumbtacks at random; then I turned on the white light for a second or two, as I had done for my still Rayographs. Then I carefully lifted the film off the table, shaking off the debris, and developed it in my tanks. The next morning, when dry, I examined the work; the salt, pins and tacks were perfectly reproduced.”
“I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence.” (Undated interview, circa 1970s; published in Man Ray: Photographer, 1981.)
A frame from Jerome Hiler’s Words of Mercury (2011)
Jerome Hiler is running his new film, the 25 minute, color, silent Words of Mercury (2011), at the 49th New York Film Festival on October 8th and 9th, 2011; here’s what he has to say about his newest work:
“At the very end of Love’s Labour Lost, as the cast is frolicking around, a messenger comes in to announce a death which brings a sudden shift to the very end of the play. One of the most comical characters, now newly sober, ends the play with a quick dismissal of the audience: ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way – we this way.’
Words of Mercury is, if nothing else, economical. It was shot on reversal film and is being screened as original. Its layers of superimpositions were all shot in the camera. Half of the many fades in the film were made by submerging the original film in a black liquid. The film is silent. The shooting ratio is low and there are areas which are unedited since taken from the camera.
I generally shoot first and ask questions later, but I’m struck at the influences that I see in Words of Mercury because they reach back to the very first times that I saw great 16mm films in the early Sixties: Marie Menken, Gregory Markopolous, Stan Brakhage and my lifetime companion Nathaniel Dorsky.”
If you’re in New York, don’t miss it.
One day in 1965, Barbara Rubin arranged a meeting between Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan at Warhol’s Factory on East 47th Street for one of Warhol’s 100ft. 16mm screen tests; when Dylan left that day, his only visit to the Factory, he took/was given/bargained for a Warhol painting as “payment.” As this intriguing site describes the historic meeting,
“After Dylan’s “screen test” that day he was either given or appropriated (dependent on the teller) a Warhol silk screen , known as either a “Silver Elvis” or “Double Elvis.” According to Warhol, he “gave” an Elvis to Dylan. Other accounts have Dylan and Warhol kind of doing a “you’re cool, man,” “no you’re cooler, man” potlatch dance around each other that ended with Warhol reluctantly giving the Elvis away. Still other accounts have Dylan saying “I’ll take that (the double Elvis) as payment [for the screen test],” and Dylan’s crew, which included Bobby Neuwirth and Victor Maymudes (sometimes spelled as Maimudes), hustling the painting down the freight elevator before anyone in Warhol’s camp could object.”
Film is such an ephemeral art form; it must be constantly preserved in order to survive for each succeeding generation. One of the most important and influential archives in the world for the study of experimental and avant-garde film is Anthology Film Archives. As its website notes:
“Anthology Film Archives is an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video, with a particular focus on independent, experimental, and avant-garde cinema.
Founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage [. . .] Anthology has grown [. . .] to encompass film preservation; the formation of a reference library containing the world’s largest collection of books, periodicals, stills, and other paper materials related to avant-garde cinema; and a remarkably innovative and eclectic film exhibition program. Anthology screens more than 900 programs annually, preserves an average of 25 films per year (with 800 works preserved to date), publishes books and DVDs, and hosts numerous scholars and researchers.
Fueled by the conviction that the index of a culture’s health and vibrancy lies largely in its margins, in those works of art that are created outside the commercial mainstream, Anthology strives to advance the cause and protect the heritage of a kind of cinema that is in particular danger of being lost, overlooked, or ignored.”
If you’re in the New York area, a visit to Anthology should not be missed; here is a link to its website, or you can click on the image at the top of this post.
About the Author
Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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