Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age 9780773558106

Exploring new and experimental practices with celluloid film in the digital age. Exploring new and experimental practi

455 35 26MB

English Pages [569] Year 2019

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age
 9780773558106

Table of contents :
Cover
Process Cinema
Title
Copyright
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age
Part One Histories of Handmade Film
1 Twenty-Four Signatures per Second: Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition
2 At the Limits of Cinema: Marie Menken’s Notebook
3 Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia
Part Two Process as Practice
4 Self-Skilling and Home-Brewing: Some Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture
5 After: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy
6 How and Why: A Few Notes Concerning Production Techniques Employed in the Making of My Darkroom Films
7 Peter Tscherkassky Manufractures Two Minutes of (Im)Pure Cinema
8 Echoes of the Earth: Handmade Film Ecologies
9 Signs of the Three: Process and Composition in Works by Bruce Elder, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, and Blake Williams
10 Notes on the Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film
Part Three Labs and Collectives
11 The Artist-Run Film Labs
12 Toward Artisanal Cinema: A Filmmakers’ Movement
13 Impalpable Boundary, Invisible Common: From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea
14 A Collective Charge: Collectif double négativ/Double Negative Collective
15 A Short Overview of the Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking in France
16 Letter to Frédérique Devaux concerning Isou’s
17 Experimental? It’s Not My “Type”!
18 A Dangerous Encounter: Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order’s Archive of Authoritarianism
Part Four Pedagogies
19 The Materiality of Abstract Animation: The Discovery and Analysis of an Unreleased Film by Gordon Webber
20 “Sight Unseen”: The Ethos of Handmade Films
21 Your Film Farm Manifesto of Process Cinema
22 Chemistry Class: Jeffrey Paull, the Escarpment School, and the Legacy of Process Cinema at Sheridan College
23 The Sound We See: Growing a Global Slow Film Movement
24 A Travelogue in Two Parts: Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here
Part Five Counter Cinemas
25 Some Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Deirdre Logue and Helen Hill
26 The Immediate Sensuous: The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves
27 Tearing Up the Screen: Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes
28 Projection as Performance: Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema
Part Six Digital Interfaces
29 Practice, Interface, and Outcome: Two Interviews in Helsinki
30 Dismantling the Cinema: Restraining Presentness with Locative Media and Experimental Architecture
31 Writing the World: Medium Specificity and Avant-Garde Film in the Digital Age
32 Hardware Hacking, Software Modding, and File Manipulation: Process Cinema in the Digital Age
Illustrations
Contributors
Index

Citation preview

Process Cinema

Process Cinema Handmade Film in the Digital Age

Edited by Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

McGill-Queen’s University Press Montreal & Kingston • London • Chicago

© McGill-Queen’s University Press 2019 isbn 978-0-7735-5686-7 (cloth) isbn 978-0-7735-5687-4 (paper) isbn 978-0-7735-5810-6 (epdf) Legal deposit second quarter 2019 Bibliothèque nationale du Québec Printed in Canada on acid-free paper This book has been published with the help of a grant from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, through the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Title: Process cinema : handmade film in the digital age / edited by Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault. Names: MacKenzie, Scott, 1967– editor. | Marchessault, Janine, editor. Description: Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20190077050 | Canadiana (ebook) 20190077077 | isbn 9780773556874 (softcover) | isbn 9780773556867 (hardcover) | isbn 9780773558106 (pdf) Subjects: lcsh: Motion picture film. | lcsh: Cinematography—Processing. | lcsh: Motion picture film—Splicing. | lcsh: Filmstrips. Classification: lcc tr886 .p76 2019 | ddc 777—dc23

Contents Acknowledgments

ix

Introduction: Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

3

Part One Histories of Handmade Film 1 Twenty-Four Signatures per Second: Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition Alla Gadassik

21

2 At the Limits of Cinema: Marie Menken’s Notebook Angela Joosse

40

3 Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia Arthur Cantrill

57

Part Two Process as Practice 4 Self-Skilling and Home-Brewing: Some Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture Kim Knowles

75

5 After: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy Carl Brown

85

6 How and Why: A Few Notes Concerning Production Techniques Employed in the Making of My Darkroom Films Peter Tscherkassky

90

7 Peter Tscherkassky Manufractures Two Minutes of (Im)Pure Cinema Tom Gunning

96

8 Echoes of the Earth: Handmade Film Ecologies Gregory Zinman

108

Contents

vi

9 Signs of the Three: Process and Composition in Works by Bruce Elder, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, and Blake Williams Bart Testa

125

10 Notes on the Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film Kelly Egan

151

Part Three Labs and Collectives 11 The Artist-Run Film Labs Pip Chodorov

165

12 Toward Artisanal Cinema: A Filmmakers’ Movement Chris Gehman

172

13 Impalpable Boundary, Invisible Common: From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea Junho Oh

194

14 A Collective Charge: Collectif double négativ/ Double Negative Collective Mike Rollo

214

15 A Short Overview of the Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking in France Frédérique Devaux

231

16 Letter to Frédérique Devaux concerning Isou’s Traité de bave et d’éternité Stan Brakhage

244

17 Experimental? It’s Not My “Type”! Frédérique Devaux

247

18 A Dangerous Encounter: Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order’s Archive of Authoritarianism Veronika Kusumaryati

250

Contents

Part Four Pedagogies 19 The Materiality of Abstract Animation: The Discovery and Analysis of an Unreleased Film by Gordon Webber Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur

271

20 “Sight Unseen”: The Ethos of Handmade Films Hart Cohen

279

21 Your Film Farm Manifesto of Process Cinema Philip Hoffman

292

22 Chemistry Class: Jeffrey Paull, the Escarpment School, and the Legacy of Process Cinema at Sheridan College Brett Kashmere

294

23 The Sound We See: Growing a Global Slow Film Movement Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

319

24 A Travelogue in Two Parts: Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here Terra Long

336

Part Five Counter Cinemas 25 Some Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Deirdre Logue and Helen Hill Janine Marchessault

353

26 The Immediate Sensuous: The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves Brenda Longfellow

369

27 Tearing Up the Screen: Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes Scott MacKenzie and Anna Westerstahl Stenport

390

28 Projection as Performance: Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema Dan Browne

407

vii

Contents

viii

Part Six Digital Interfaces 29 Practice, Interface, and Outcome: Two Interviews in Helsinki Sami van Ingen

429

30 Dismantling the Cinema: Restraining Presentness with Locative Media and Experimental Architecture Solomon Nagler

440

31 Writing the World: Medium Specificity and Avant-Garde Film in the Digital Age Tess Takahashi

459

32 Hardware Hacking, Software Modding, and File Manipulation: Process Cinema in the Digital Age Clint Enns

483

Illustrations Contributors Index

499 505 513

Acknowledgments

This book has developed over several years through a series of conversations about the re-emergent role of process filmmaking. The book would not have come to fruition without many discussions with artists, practitioners, scholars, and curators about the changing field of hand-processed filmmaking in the digital age. We are especially grateful to our contributors who have stuck with the project as it developed and expanded, taking on a global view of these artistic practices. In the first instance, the project was formulated while the editors were contributing to Philip Hoffman’s Independent Imaging Retreat/Film Farm in Mount Forest, Ontario. We are grateful to Phil for his feedback and participation in the project, and for offering us the opportunity to witness artists engaging in process-based filmmaking. We are also grateful to the team of production facilitators at the Film Farm for their enthusiasm, feedback, and ideas, all of which nurtured the project: Marcel Beltrán, Scott Miller Berry, Josh Bonnetta, Rob Butterworth, Christine Harrison, Deirdre Logue, Terra Jean Long, and Karyn Sandlos. Our external readers provided detailed and critically engaged feedback on the manuscript, making the book stronger. We are also grateful to Shawn Newman and Pehr Englén, who brought energy, engagement, and a much-needed second set of eyes to Process Cinema. Jonathan Crago and the team at McGill-Queen’s University Press shepherded the book through publication with dedication and commitment. We are grateful to Jonathan for his intelligence, editorial skill, and patience – working to bring such a large project to fruition was a huge undertaking and his support was invaluable. Our home institutions, Queen’s University and York University, provided support for this project, as did the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and Fund for Scholarly Research and Creative Work and Professional Development, Queen’s University.

Process Cinema

Introduction Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault “Handmade” and “process” cinema stretch back to film’s very beginnings: Cecil Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over (UK, 1901), for instance, includes handscratched closing titles after the main character is, indeed, run over. As well, experimental pioneers such as László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Len Lye, Mary Ellen Bute, Isidore Isou, and Norman McLaren all developed various handmade practices from the 1920s onwards. Over the last twenty years, the significant resurgence of handmade film, and the development of the concept of process cinema, can be understood as a response in part to the rise of the digital and the subsequent transformation of the analog into an artist’s medium. Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age traces out the neglected histories of handmade and handprocessed film, in both historical and contemporary contexts, and from a global, transnational perspective. “Process cinema” is a term we use to refer to a creative tradition in alternative filmmaking that is unscripted, improvisational, participatory, and based on the manipulation of the very materiality of film. Alfred North Whitehead’s 1929 book Process and Reality distinguished a process approach to art that did not see the world as a fixed entity but instead as one in constant change and movement – in a process of becoming. Whitehead’s valuation of process was best expressed in the critical role played by “aesthetic apprehension,” which emphasized the “aesthetic character of experience” and enabled us to appreciate the multiplicity underlying all experience. As Whitehead tells us in Science and the Modern World, “when you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you still miss the radiance of the sunset” (1948, 199). Whitehead was interested in art as a training ground for sensory perception: “Art is a special example, what we want is to draw out habits of aesthetic apprehension.” Although Whitehead had little to say about film, his work influenced Siegfried Kracauer, who underscored a new phenomenological approach to cinema in Theory of Film, where he addresses “the aesthetic character of experience”

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

4

(1960, 296–7). For Kracauer, this involved creating works that foregrounded film as a common experience and collective occasion. The phenomenology of cinema, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty suggests, is tied to new ways of understanding psychology. His definition of the interface between technological developments and artistic practice speaks very much to the process of process cinema and to the visualization of consciousness: After the technical instrument has been invented, it must be taken up by an artistic will and, as it were, re-invented before one can succeed in making real films. Therefore, if philosophy is in harmony with the cinema, if thought and technical effort are heading in the same direction, it is because the philosopher and the moviemaker share a certain way of being, a certain view of the world which belongs to a generation. It offers us yet another chance to confirm that modes of thought correspond to technical methods and that, to use Goethe’s phrase, “What is inside is also outside.” (1964, 59)

Process Cinema situates films that are made within this process-driven methodology and phenomenology and that are not tied to the simple replication of the real. This means that such films rarely rely on a script or screenplay as an overarching document that “guides” the work. Instead, the filmmaking process is replaced by a fluid integration of writing, shooting, and editing, and not necessarily in that order. This way of working “through” process has a comparative body of work in music, through improvisation, in art, through “action painting,” in the performative aspects of the sketchbook, or through “spontaneous prose” in beat poetry. Traces can also be found in punk and post-punk diy aesthetics, John Cage’s aleatoric music, Jean Dubuffet’s concept of art brut (1986), “outsider art,” digital sampling, and what Clarke Mackey has called “vernacular culture” (2010, 11–14). Many process films also incorporate a multiplicity of media, such as performance, music, painting, text, and sculpture. With this in mind, Process Cinema is concerned with a return to cinematic materiality and to the concept of the handmade film in the digital age. With 16mm and 35mm film processing losing its viability as a market-driven product, artist-run labs and collectives have sprung up throughout North America and Europe, and increasingly in other parts of the world, from Seoul to Jakarta. Such groups offer ways for artists to take control of the means of production and to be creatively engaged in the material process of film development, from the creation of diy tints and tones, to the physical manipulation and invention of new stocks (see Chodorov, Gehman, and Knowles in this volume), and to novel approaches to obsolescent media.

Introduction

5

i.1 Elisabeth Thuillier’s letterhead.

Women and Early Process Cinema Gender also plays a key role in the history of handmade films. Indeed, it was a Fordist assembly-line chain of women workers who hand-painted early films in France, including those of Georges Méliès and Pathé Frères. In his study of French film colourists, Joshua Yumibe notes that: Female colorists were also common in the nineteenth century in the lantern-slide and postcard industries, for at least initially, they could be exploited at a lower wage than men to perform the repetitive and detailed tasks. By the mid-1890s, the film industry had adopted similar labor strategies for coloring prints. Aesthetic assumptions also grounded this practice: an enduring trope of western color theory pertains to the gendering of color – females have long been assumed to be more attuned to color. Women were not only cheaper in general to employ but also were thought to be, with their supposed sensitivity and nimble fingers, innately suited to the detailed work of coloring films. (2013)

This was a wide-ranging practice. Perhaps the best-known hand-colourist was Elisabeth Thuillier, who began her career colouring lantern slides, formed her own company, and supervised the team of women painters who hand-coloured Méliès’s work. Thuillier notes: “I coloured all of M. Méliès’ films. The colouring was done entirely by hand. I had 200 people employed in my workshop. I passed my nights selecting and sampling colours. In the daytime, the workers applied the colours according to my instructions. Each specialized worker took responsibility for one particular colour” (Wemaere and Duval 2011, 168).

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

6

i.2 Women on the Pathé assembly line hand-colouring films.

Pathé employed a team of women, for both hand-colouring and handstencilling, as documented in F.A. Talbot’s Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked (1912). Talbot delineates how demanding and exacting the process of stenciling was: “a long and exacting task … Since each picture measures only 1 inch wide by 3/4ths of an inch in depth, we may gather some idea of the labour involved for the treatment of, say, 8,000 pictures contained in a film 500 feet long” (289). As each image had to be processed separately, women’s labour was both extensive and refined, though undervalued and most often left out of film histories. The history of handmade films includes a far greater percentage of women artists than one finds in either the mainstream or the avant garde writ large, including Mary Ellen Bute, Marie Menken, Evelyn Lambart, Storm de Hirsch, Carolee Schneemann, and Joyce Wieland. Contemporary filmmakers and collectives also include many women. This can be tied to several factors. The patriarchal structures of both mainstream and experimental filmmaking, based as they are on the masculinist fetishization of the technological mastery of the commercial cinema industry, is completely male dominated. As well, there is a continuation of

Introduction

tactile-based practices in filmmaking that are often undertaken by women, from the aforementioned hand-tinting, to the editing of early cinema, much of which was done anonymously by women (see Hatch 2013). Thus, community and collective practices that predominate in handmade film profoundly challenge the dual paradigms of experimental and mainstream film – that of the sole visionary on the one hand and of the auteur on the other.

The Handmade and Process Cinema Our initial interest in this topic arose from a dawning awareness of the great deal of process and handmade film collectives and practices, which have a long history. Documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty set up a remote hand-processing and printing site for Nanook of the North (usa, 1922) in the Canadian Arctic, and in a cave in Samoa for Moana (usa, 1926). In Canada, the dominance of Hollywood narrative films on Canadian screens, and a concomitant need to develop an alternative film industry that produced other kinds of films, led to alternative forms of filmmaking. This saw its fruition in Canada, for instance, at the National Film Board of Canada/Office national du film du Canada (nfb/onf), where Film Commissioner John Grierson hired Scots animator Norman McLaren in 1941. McLaren went on to produce a number of hand-painted films at the nfb/onf, including Boogie-Doodle (Canada, 1941), Hen Hop (Canada, 1942), Begone Dull Care (co-directed with Evelyn Lambart, Canada, 1949), and Blinkity Blank (Canada, 1955) (see McLaren 1949). He also created graphical sound in works such as Pen Point Percussion (Canada, 1951), Neighbours (Canada, 1952), and Synchromy (Canada, 1971) (see McLaren 1953). Other Canadian filmmakers working at the nfb/onf, such as Caroline Leaf, continue this tradition with works such as her hand-scratched Two Sisters (Entre deux soeurs, Canada, 1991). This international movement contains a wide array of practices. The global history of this movement includes filmmakers as diverse as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Jürgen Reble, Stan Brakhage, Phil Solomon, Bill Morrison, Peggy Ahwesh, Jennifer Reeves, Donna Cameron, and Helen Hill. A distinct, political form of the handmade ethos emerged around the same time in the 1950s, with the release of Isidore Isou’s feature film Traité de bave et d’éternité (Treatise on Slime and Eternity, France, 1951). Isou argued that cinema now had to enter what he called “the chiseling phase” (le ciselure d’image) where the task of the artist was to turn form on itself: to deconstruct the parameters of a given artistic or cultural mode of production. In this phase, artistic expression is no longer about communicating thoughts and ideas about the outside world through artistic production. Instead, it is the self-reflexive analysis of the form itself that becomes key. In this phase, the

7

8

i.3 Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, Begone Dull Care (1949). Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.

filmmaker works with the very materiality of the film to change it through scratching, painting, and putting dirt on the image. While these practices were developed by other experimental filmmakers at roughly the same time, or even slightly earlier, in the cases of McLaren and Lye, Isou saw chiseling the image as a political – rather than aesthetic – practice. Isou used scratching and painting on film not as a means to draw the spectator into the possibilities of the cinema as much as to force a break with the assumed passivity that the role of the spectator typically took on without question. If McLaren and Lye wished to please the spectator through formal innovation, in Treatise on Slime and Eternity Isou wanted to agitate, distantiate, and anger them (see Cabañas 2015). Indeed, Guy Debord spuriously argued that McLaren stole his techniques from the French avant-garde film group the Lettrists, of whom Isou was the leader and aesthetic philosopher: Nobody remembers the projection of a few Lettriste films in 1952; censorship took care of that. We now cease to regret this, since everyone can see the latest film [Blinkity Blank] by M. Norman Mac Laren [sic] which, according to statements, seems to have taken over most of their formal structure … And ourselves, we warmly welcome proof to us that, despite the various bans, the most outrageous innovations make their way to the official bodies of the propaganda of our enemies. (1996, 168, our translation)

Other experimental European filmmakers had very different responses to the nfb animator’s work. Inspired by seeing McLaren’s work in France (it is unknown if it was the same Parisian screening that Debord attended), Basque artist José Antonio Sistiaga made the first feature-length hand-painted film … ere erera baleibu

Introduction

izik subua aruaren … (Spain, 1968–70), a stunning work in which Sistiaga handpainted each single frame – some 108,000 of them – without the use of any optical printing. More recently, experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison has made featurelength process films, including Spark of Being (usa, 2011), his retelling of the Frankenstein story using hand-processed found footage and decayed found film, and Dawson City: Frozen Time (usa, 2016), which remediates decayed footage uncovered in the Canadian Arctic in 1979, telling stories of resource extraction and Indigenous rights in the Canadian Yukon that parallel the history of these long-lost films and their rediscovery. Alongside McLaren, the work of Stan Brakhage, who was in part inspired by Isou (see Brakhage and Devaux in this volume), looms over process cinema. While his notion of hypnagogic vision put forth in his manifesto Metaphors on Vision (1963) is a key text in exploring alternative processes of visualization, it is his short book A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book (1971) that offers one of the first experimental accounts of process cinema and the material manipulation of the image, from scratching and painting on film (2–8) to the use of light (“if you happen to have a light meter – give it away” [42]). Throughout his career he made process films, from Mothlight (usa, 1963) (where he pasted the wings of moths and dead plants directly on celluloid, then ran it through a printing machine), to his later hand-painted films, such as Garden of Earthly Delights (usa, 1981) and The Dante Quartet (usa, 1987), to his final film, Chinese Series (Canada, 2003), scratched with his fingernail after the film was softened with his saliva. Brakhage, of course, was not the only New American filmmaker to engage in these processes. In an interview with Jonas Mekas, Storm de Hirsh discusses her imperative to make her scratched and painted film Divinations (usa, 1964), even though she did not have access to a camera: “I wanted badly to make an animated short and had no camera available. I did have some old, unused film stock and several rolls of 16mm sound tape. So I used that – plus a variety of discarded surgical instruments and the sharp edge of a screwdriver – by cutting, etching, and painting directly on both film and tape” (Mekas 150). Thus, unlike mainstream filmmaking, process cinema engages in creativity through constraint.

Collectives Process cinema, then, is not simply about the kind of works made, but the process of making them – often through collectives, alternative pedagogy, and diy labs. One of the longest ongoing handmade film workshops in the world is Canadian experimental filmmaker Philip Hoffman’s process-based film workshop “The Independent Imaging Retreat,” or “Film Farm,” which has taken place most

9

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

10

summers on his fifty-acre farm in rural Mount Forest, Ontario, since 1994. The workshop itself is built around a very specific notion of process: not simply the “process” of making films, but also the material process of processing them. The Retreat downplays the goal of achieving a preconceived outcome in order to produce a pre-scripted, pre-ordained finished film, and instead concentrates on chemicals and celluloid, chance, and creativity. In other words, the workshop focuses on the creation of the film, in terms of its material and conceptual characteristics as process over product. It is labour-intensive, artisanal filmmaking, and a conscious rejection of the model of industrial-based filmmaking that now dominates film production. As Hoffman notes: As a new art form comes in governed by the digital realm and of course fueled by the commercial film industries, the old forms like 16mm and super-8 are used entirely as an artistic practice, not driven by commerce. People are even making their own emulsions, I suppose readying themselves for when celluloid is gone altogether. I think this is all happening because people realise film is different from the digital. So, it’s not going to disappear. (McSorley 2008, 57)

In its over twenty-year history, a wide array of internationally recognized filmmakers have produced works of renown at the Retreat, including David Gatten’s Hardwood Process (usa, 1997), Deirdre Logue’s Fall (1997) and Scratch (1998), Jennifer Reeves’s We Are Going Home (usa, 1998) and Strawberries in the Summertime (usa, 2014), Helen Hill’s 5 Spells (usa, 1999), John Greyson’s Chants des mouches (Canada, 2010), Caroline Monnet’s Demi Monde (Canada, 2013), and Louise Bourque’s Self Portrait Post Partum (Canada, 2014). Logue’s early works at the Retreat have been incorporated into her Enlightened Nonsense (Canada, 1997–2000) series of hand-processed films. Out of her experiences at the Retreat, Hill compiled her Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet (2001), which in turn inspired other diy ’zines and books such as The worm Collective’s To Boldly Go: A Starter’s Guide to Hand Made and D - I - Y Films (2008), Steven Woloshen’s Recipes for Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker (2010), and Kathryn Ramey’s Experimental Filmmaking: Break the Machine (2016). In Chants des mouches, Greyson restaged scenes from Jean Genet’s Un chant d’amour (France, 1950) with men in penguin masks juxtaposed in dual screen projection with excerpts from Genet’s original film. Chants des mouches, shot in black and white 16mm and hand-processed, recreates many of the original shots and set-ups of Genet’s film. Chants des mouches demonstrates how earlier images that exist on the margins of culture nevertheless become part of an alternative lexicon through process filmmaking, paradoxically opening up communication through the very representations of barriers that dominate both films.

Introduction

Hoffman’s collective, and others such as Double Negative in Montreal, no.w.here in London, worm in Rotterdam, L’Abominable in the Parisian suburbs, and Métamkine in Grenoble, spurred our interest in examining the rise of process cinema and handmade films as a global phenomenon that extends from North America and Europe to around the globe, serving as a catalyst for bringing together an international array of scholars, curators, and artists to consider the ways in which different and alternative economies of scale have inspired a global movement of hand-processing and artisanal film practices. While this movement can be traced to the 1960s avant-garde, and indeed to the earliest days of alternative film production, over the past two decades there have been renewed efforts to generate these process-based practices. The new materiality of the handmade film movement emphasizes the auratic, as Walter Benjamin (1968) described it so many years ago. For Benjamin, the aura of the original was fading as a direct result of the technological reproducibility of the artwork. In the digital age – the age of the post-representation, adaptation, versions, and remediation – the original and its materiality – the tactile, the temporal, and performative – return with a vengeance to produce powerful works of art. Hand-painted, tinted, and processed film, handmade emulsion, performances with multiple screens and projectors, do not simply return cinema to its origins in music as a temporal and immersive experience, but rather creates entirely new forms, practices, and audiences. A unique aspect of this book is its inclusion of an international selection of artists, curators, and scholars addressing the historical and current modes of production, distribution, and dissemination of handmade films. Indeed, most of our authors work in more than one of these fields, bringing both critical insight and practical experience to bear on developing a critical discourse around the handmade-film phenomenon. To this end, some of our contributors trace the antecedents of contemporary process cinema, examining the works of pioneers such as Lye, Menken, Moholy-Nagy, and McLaren. Other contributors examine international collectives of artists devoted to processing films in artist-run labs from South Korea to France, Australia to Austria, and Greenland to Morocco, along with substantial work on contemporary practices and practitioners in Canada, the UK, and the US. Therefore, Process Cinema examines contemporary artisanal films, diy labs, and long-neglected filmmakers typically left out of the avant-garde canon for the first time. We seek to both examine the resurgence of handmade and hand-processed film as a response to digitality and to examine the convergence between the analog and the digital in contemporary process cinema practices. While consisting of six sections, the chapters collected in Process Cinema speak to practices, histories, politics, and movements raised throughout the book and across the categories that we have put forward. In so doing, Process Cinema

11

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

12

critically examines the key issues raised by process cinema in the digital age. Each section of the book delineates both critical and historical approaches to handmade film and process cinema. Part I of the book, “Histories of Handmade Film,” examines the works and practices of early handmade film artists and innovators, such as Len Lye and Mary Menken, including chapters on lesser-known works that aid in painting a picture of the various ways in which handmade and process films emerged in various parts of the globe. The chapters by Alla Gadassik and Angela Joosse address Lye’s Free Radicals (usa, 1958/1979) and Particles in Space (usa, 1966/1979), and Menken’s Notebook (usa, 1940–63), respectively, tracing the ways in which the handmade practice developed as an artisanal form. Both Lye and Menken created aesthetic and material practices outside the canonical experimental filmmaking of the time. In chapter 3, experimental filmmaker Arthur Cantrill traces the history of handmade film in Australia by outlining a genealogy that moves beyond the centrality of Lye as a process filmmaker and the key early figure in the New Zealand and Australian avant-garde. Part II, “Process as Practice,” considers the various ways in which process cinema has engaged with the manipulation of the photochemical process; the alternative communities and modes of exhibition that have arisen around these practices; and the statements of various artists on their own practices of process cinema. Kim Knowles argues that hand-processed film is not simply a response to digitality and analog obsolescence, but instead is part of a long tradition of artisanal practice. Tracing this history through labs such as the London Filmmakers’ Co-op, and practitioners such as Jürgen Reble, Makino Takashi, Steven Woloshen, Esther Urlsus, and Robert Schaller (the latter three artists make their own emulsions), Knowles argues that these practices open up filmmaking to a variety of ecological practices that commercial stock and practices do not allow. Filmmaker Carl Brown outlines the function of what he calls “alchemy” in his work. Both metaphoric and material, Brown’s use of alchemy as practice focuses on the chemical transformations that are achieved through material manipulation of the image. Peter Tscherkassky offers an account of his process practice in the creation of both image and sound and the role that found footage has played in his works. Tom Gunning writes on Tscherkassky’s L’arrivée (Austria, 1999), his two-minute process film that references Auguste Lumière’s first film, L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (France, 1895). In his analysis of Tscherkassky’s work, Gunning neatly encapsulates the aesthetic and ideological function of process cinema: “The handling this material receives – puncturing and piercing, burning and splicing, processing and contact printing – renders avant-garde filmmaking in many ways a handicraft that reprocesses an industrial product, replete with all the traces of rough treatment such a resilient yet sensitive material can bear (scratches, splice

Introduction

marks, surface abrasions, chemical stains).” Gregory Zinman’s chapter postulates an ecology of the inorganic in recent handmade films. In examining David Gatten’s film series What the Water Said, Nos. 1–3 (usa, 1998) and Nos. 4–6 (usa, 2006–07), Jennifer Reeves’s Landfill 16 (usa, 2011), and Tomonari Nishikawa’s Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (Japan, 2014), Zinman delineates the relationship between the role of the inorganic in a new ecology of process-based cinema production, and the intersection between these developments and questions surrounding the Anthropocene, climate change, and toxic and industrial waste. Bart Testa examines three generations of Canadian process filmmakers – Bruce Elder, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, and Blake Williams – and the intersections between their practices. Kelly Egan traces the neglected history of synthetic sound from the early experiments of Hungarian artist László MoholyNagy through the works of Rudolf Pfenninger, Oskar Fischinger, James and John Whitney, and Barry Spinello, to consider the influences of these experimental artists on her own films, including transparent “c” (Canada, 2005), A Firefly (Canada, 2007), and ransom notes (Canada, 2011). In Part III, “Labs and Collectives,” contributors examine the development and practices of various process-based artisanal film labs around the world, including London, Grenoble, Toronto, Seoul, Montreal, Paris, Arnhem, and Jakarta, to name but a few. Pip Chodorov traces the history of artist-run labs from the publication of the New American Cinema manifesto in 1960 through the founding of the London Film-makers’ Co-op in 1966. Chodorov delineates the influence of the Co-op on the emergence of other collectives in Paris, Arnhem, and Grenoble, leading to the global movement of today with labs in places as diverse as Athens, Reykjavik, Bogotá, and Seoul. Chris Gehman traces the history of artisanal filmmaking and handmade film from 1910 to the present, demonstrating the global nature of process cinema throughout film history. Gehman then concentrates on some key figures in artisanal film who use a variety of material approaches, including Jürgen Reble, Phil Solomon, J.J. Murphy, Michael Snow, and Carl Brown. Junho Oh uncovers the virtually unknown history of artist labs and collectives in South Korea, including Cine-Poem (1964), Korean Small Gauge Film Club (1970), Moving Image Research Group (1972), Kaidu Club (1974), Korean Experimental Film Institute (1994), and Handmade Film Lab Spacecell (2004). Mike Rollo documents the founding and history of the Montreal-based collective Collectif Double Négatif/Double Negative Collective. Since its inception in 2004, the Double Negative collective and lab has fostered experimental, hand-processed works that cross the city’s various linguistic and cultural divides, with members including Karl Lemieux, Daïchi Saïto, Lindsey McIntyre, Eduardo Menz, Philippe Leonard, and Rollo himself. Frédérique Devaux traces the history of French movements

13

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

14

and collectives, such as the Paris Film Co-op, Light Cone, and L’Abominable, paying particular attention to Lettrism and the influences of Isou and, for her work in particular, Maurice Lemaître. Devaux outlines both this history and her place within it as an emerging filmmaker beginning in the 1980s. Another aspect of this Lettrist history is uncovered in a letter from Stan Brakhage to Devaux explaining the importance of Isou’s Treatise on Slime and Eternity on his practice after seeing the film at Frank Stauffacher’s “Art in Cinema” series at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the early 1950s. Devaux’s manifesto “Experimental? It’s Not My ‘Type’!” is also included in this section as a call to arms for alternative, process-based forms of filmmaking. Veronika Kusumaryati documents Lab LabaLaba, an artist-run lab in Jakarta, Indonesia, that uses crates of celluloid obtained from the state’s vaults and repurposes them, as Kusumaryati notes, “to reveal material history of the country’s inglorious past.” Part IV, “Pedagogies,” details the various forms of alternative pedagogies used in the teaching of process-based filmmaking. Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur uncover a long-thought-lost film by architect Gordon Webber, who used handmade film as a means to teach questions of space and form to his students. Hart Cohen’s chapter unveils the means by which handmade film is of use in ethnographic films, reflecting on the influence of process cinema workshops on his own critical ethnographic film practice. Chapter 21 is a manifesto by filmmaker Philip Hoffman – a call to action for process over practice. Hoffman initiated the Independent Imaging Retreat in Canada to advocate for an artist-centred curriculum and a new way to teach filmmaking by paying attention to what passes before the lens and cultivate a mentality free of scripts and preconceptions in order to delve deeply into phenomenal experiences mediated through celluloid. In chapter 22, Brett Kashmere considers the history behind the experimental media arts curriculum devised from the 1970s to the 1980s by educator and photographer Jeff Paull at Sheridan College in Toronto (where he taught Hoffman, Carl Brown, Richard Kerr, Janis Cole, Tracy German, Holly Dale, Mike Hoolboom, and many others from the “Escarpment School”). Paull’s McLuhan-inspired approach to the photographic medium no doubt spawned a probing awareness of the expanded field of cinema and a deep appreciation of its materialities. The travelling workshops of the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles staged dozens of pedagogical encounters working with film and organic sustainable approaches to hand-processing in diverse communities from Rotterdam to Hanoi, from Guwahati to the Yukon. Lisa Marr and Paola Davanzo’s The Film Center has for the past fifteen years been committed to spreading the practice of making low-cost films to cross-cultural and intergenerational communities. It is precisely interests in sustainable and low-cost cinema practices that Youssef Bouchedor and Karen Hadfield, who run Café Tissardmine

Introduction

in Morocco, support by hosting a diversity of artists at their retreat. Artist and educator Terra Jean Long recounts her experiences at the retreat, which embraces and facilitates artistic processes using film, encouraging visitors to be respectful of the environment and its limitations in terms of water and energy use. Long discusses the ways in which ecologies and cultural practices tied to specific geographies provided unique opportunities for learning. The fifth section of the book, “Counter Cinemas,” delineates moments of praxis and confluence between analog film and digital media practices, and documents the long-standing role that handmade and process-oriented films have played in challenging dominant modes of representation by repositioning desire, gender, feminism, colonialism, and queer politics. Janine Marchessault locates the aesthetic innovations of handmade films by Deirdre Logue and Helen Hill in terms of the ’zine Recipes for Disaster: an anarchist cookbook (2004). She reflects upon the aesthetic practices and cultural activities (workshops, galleries, festivals, and festivities) that are integral extensions of what she calls “disaster films,” which are both utopian and counter-archival. Brenda Longfellow focuses on the sensuous films of artist Jennifer Reeves and has titled her chapter after Reeves’s homage to Stan Brakhage in 2001, “Argument for the Immediate Sensuous.” Longfellow traces the development of Reeves’s hand-painted films and their ecstatic effects on the viewer, which she locates in terms of an impure cinema made of detritus and debris from the outside world. Scott MacKenzie and Anna Westerstahl Stenport analyze the activist ethnographies of Danish-Greenlandic Indigenous artist Pia Arke. In tracing the history and use of her custom-built pinhole camera (which was large enough to sleep inside), MacKenzie and Stenport analyze the way in which Arke used her own body to control exposure by blocking light in the camera, producing handmade, processed-based, and body-made images that were remediated in several video works and interventionist installations. Dan Browne’s chapter considers recent Canadian expanded cinema works by Alex MacKenzie, Lindsay McIntyre, and Aaron Zeghers as instantiations of process cinema that include performative elements that go beyond single-channel practices. The final section of the book addresses “Digital Interfaces.” Sami van Ingen explores various cameraless experiments in the works of two Finnish artists, Jani Purhonen and Mika Taanila, both of whom have experimented with cameraless forms and thus given a new sense of process cinema in the small Nordic countries. Sol Nagler looks at the works of artists who take the theatre and the screening room as their medium. He provides a survey of both installation and new media works that engage with what he calls “situated cinema,” which is also a travelling mobile cinema that he has created. Tess Takahashi’s chapter examines early debates around the death of cinema and suggests that both temporality and a renewed

15

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault

16

emphasis on medium specificity in a post-medium age, along with physical presence, have emerged from celluloid film’s so-called obsolescence as new forms of writing. The “site where the cinematic avant-garde rubs up against documentary. Namely, where film confronts the digital” is understood through diverse collaborations with nature. Finally, Clint Enns gives us a definition of “process cinema,” which he defines as “a methodology that involves improvisation, experimentation, and direct physical interaction with the filmic apparatus.” In asking if an analogous process of scratching on video could exist, his essay examines new forms of process cinema in digital video, games, and glitch art. With this wide array of chapters, Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age is the first book of its kind to address handmade film and process cinema. Previous scholarship has placed handmade films as a subset of experimental cinema (Sitney 2002), expanded cinema (Youngblood 1970), or animation (Russett and Starr 1998), without addressing the specificity of the material manipulation of film itself. As such, Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age not only uncovers a heretofore unknown history, but also traces the genealogy of handmade film to uncover confluences, influences, and interstices between various international movements, sites, and practices. Moreover, Process Cinema: Handmade Film in the Digital Age positions the resurgence of handmade and process cinema as a counter-practice to the rise of digital filmmaking. To this end, Process Cinema situates the experiential and artisanal turn in twenty-first-century cinema culture as a central characteristic of the digital age. While many commentators discuss digital cinema in terms of cgi and special effects, this book is concerned with the new materialism that we see coming into a new generation of film cultures: micro-cinemas, film co-ops, collectively run film labs, new approaches to colouring film using natural dyes, hand-processing, painting, and tinting – which all mark a return to origins. We read this return in terms of new, sustainable ecologies that define the reinvigorated film cultures of this century.

References Benjamin, Walter. 1968. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, 217–51. New York: Schocken. Brakhage, Stan. 1963. Metaphors on Vision, Film Culture 30. – 1971. A Moving Picture Giving and Taking Book. West Newbury, ma: Frontier Press. Cabañas, Kaira M. 2015. Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Lettrist AvantGarde. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Introduction Chodorov, Pip. 2014. “The Artist-Run Film Labs.” Millennium Film Journal 60: 28–36. Reprinted in this collection. Debord, Guy. 1996. “La Bible est le seul scénariste qui ne déçoive pas Cecil B. De Mille.” In Guy Debord présente Potlatch (1954–1957), 168–9. Paris: Gallimard. Dubuffet, Jean. 1986. Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows. Ex-Workers’ Collective. 2004. Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook. Olympia, wa: CrimethInc. Hatch, Kristen. 2013. “Cutting Women: Margaret Booth and Hollywood’s Pioneering Female Film Editors.” In Women Film Pioneers Project, ed. Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York: Columbia University Libraries. 27 September. https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/essay/ cutting-women/. Hill, Helen. 2001. Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet. Halifax/New Orleans: n.p. Kracauer, Siegfried. 1960. Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford University Press. Mackey, Clarke. 2010. Random Acts of Culture: Reclaiming Art and Community in the 21st Century. Toronto: Between the Lines. McLaren, Norman. 1949. “How to Make Animated Movies without a Camera.” Fundamental Education 1, no. 4: 32–40. McLaren, Norman. 1953. “Notes on Animated Sound.” Quarterly Review of Film, Radio and Television 7, no. 3: 223–9. McSorley, Tom. 2008. “Interview: Phil Hoffman.” In Rivers in Time: The Films of Philip Hoffman, ed. Tom McSorley, 51–65. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute. Mekas, Jonas. 1972. Movie Journal: The Rise of New American Cinema, 1959–1971. New York: Collier Books. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. “The Film and the New Psychology.” In Sense and Non-Sense, translated by Hubert Dreyfus and Patricia Dreyfus, 48–9. Evanston, il: Northwestern University Press. Ramey, Kathryn. 2016. Experimental Filmmaking: Break the Machine. Burlington, ma: Focal Press. Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr. 1988. Experimental Animation: Origins of a New Art. New York: DeCapo. Sitney, P. Adams. 2002. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Talbot, F.A. 1912. Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked. London: Heinemann. Wemaere, Severine, and Gilles Duval, eds. 2011. La couleur retrouvée du voyage dans

17

Scott MacKenzie and Janine Marchessault la lune de Georges Méliès: A Trip to the Moon, Back in Colour. Paris: Fondation Groupama Gan pour le Cinema/Fondation Technicolor pour le Patrimoine du Cinema. Whitehead, Alfred North. 1948. Science and the Modern World. New York: Mentor.

18

Whitehead, Alfred North. 1979. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press. Woloshen, Steven. 2010. Recipes for Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker. Montreal: Scratchatopia Books. worm Collective. 2008. To Boldly Go: A Starter’s Guide to Hand Made and D - I - Y Films. Rotterdam: worm Collective. Youngblood, Gene. 1970. Expanded Cinema. New York: E.P. Dutton. Yumibe, Joshua. 2013. “French Film Colorists.” In Women Film Pioneers Project, ed. Jane Gaines, Radha Vatsal, and Monica Dall’Asta. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York: Columbia University Libraries. 27 September. https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/essay/french-film-colorists/.

Part One

Histories of Handmade Film

Chapter 1 Twenty-Four Signatures per Second: Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition Alla Gadassik Len Lye’s films Free Radicals (1958/1979) and Particles in Space (1966/1979) – made by etching jagged figures directly onto unexposed 16mm celluloid – preserve and magnify the animator’s gestures, turning his small scratch marks into large, sinuous forms that explode and rotate against the black frame. During their projection the actual body, whose work formed the vibrant dancing forms, disappears between the frames, effacing its own presence in favour of its kinetic traces on screen. Towering above a spectator who encounters these films in a theatre, Lye’s animated figures materialize like autonomous natural phenomena: lightning bolts, tornado columns, constellation patterns, fiery sparks, or ocean spray. It is easy to forget that their electric spontaneous combustion is the result of years of repetitive micro-gestures, gradually and incrementally registered onto film.

1.1 Frames from Len Lye’s Free Radicals (1958/1979) and Particles in Space (1966/1979).

Alla Gadassik

22

Only a handful of archival photographs, a few personal accounts, and a short television profile offer a piecemeal portrait of the animator at work on these kinetic figures. A 1967 cbs documentary titled Art of the Sixties, which includes a brief segment on Len Lye, provides a rare glimpse of the animation process that Lye himself described as a “spastic,” “wriggling” approach to filmmaking.1 The television camera captures Lye sitting in his studio, unfolding and scrutinizing a short length of celluloid, squinting through a magnifying loupe, and studying the hieroglyphs that have already been marked on the film’s surface. Then, as if reaching some kind of conclusion, he picks up his tools – a nail, a razor, or a dental needle – and hunches over the secured strip. In a single pattern of jittery movement, Lye twists and turns his body around his hands, scratching a tiny figure onto the celluloid. Shifting almost imperceptibly down the length of the strip, the filmmaker repeats the same process, applying slight, barely detectable changes to his bodily weight and wrist motion. To the outside observer, the animator’s hands appear to move with uncanny precision, like a machine scratching away on a factory conveyor belt. Over the course of a series of frames, the minor changes between all the iterations coalesce to produce a developing moving figure – an animated difference inserting itself into the flow of minute repetition. Prompted by the show’s producers to explain this method of filmmaking by hand, Lye narrates the process as a series of easy steps: “You grip the needle, and you put it into the celluloid, and you scratch a design. Now that design has to be repeated twenty-four times to give you a second of animation, a second of picture. So you do twenty-four in succession, and once you get into the knack of it, it’s as simple as writing your signature twenty-four times.”2 Lye’s introduction to his stripped-down practice of “direct animation” stands in stark contrast to studio animation methods of the period. Contemporary how-to guides for aspiring animators emphasized the intensive training and artistic expertise one needed to produce an animated sequence, not to mention the expensive tools required to photograph and print the results. Walt Disney Studios’ Artist’s Tryout Book (originally published in 1938) described animation as a complicated multi-stage process involving hundreds of people and numerous production departments. The pamphlet’s detailed list of the necessary qualifications of a “valuable animator” included the ability to stage action “in an unusual and interesting way,” to “know how to entertain an audience, to present a gag, to picture dramatically an ordinary incident,” and above all to “be a sure and skillful draftsman.”3 By comparison, Lye’s instructions frame animation as a solitary and simple (perhaps the simplest) filmmaking technique: if you can sign your name, or make your mark, you can animate.

23

1.2 Frames of Len Lye at work on his scratch films from The Art of the Sixties (1967) television documentary.

However, to anyone ever tasked with the challenge of signing something twenty-four times in a row, Lye’s analogy also betrays the contradictions of independent handmade animation: at once technically straightforward and yet painstakingly time-consuming; open to spontaneity and yet tediously repetitive. In what follows I want to consider this contradiction in Lye’s working methods and theoretical writings of the postwar period, asking why the filmmaker continued to work with hand-scratched animation when so many of his contemporaries began to embrace electronic animation instruments, and when even he himself largely turned to working with programmed kinetic sculpture. Slowing down the lightning-speed images of Lye’s Free Radicals and Particles in Space to uncover the extended duration of their making, I highlight the importance of durational gestural repetition and automated muscular technique to direct animation, which invites us to consider this mode of filmmaking as a balance between artisanal and industrial labour patterns.

Alla Gadassik

A Filmmaker’s Signature

24

In the Western painting tradition, an artist’s signature is the consummate index of creative ownership: a stamp of authenticity and a promise, made either on the surface of the work itself or in accompanying documentation, that the work is intimately connected to the spirit or body of the artist who ushered it into being.4 Whether it is interpreted as a symbolic mark of authorship (the name of the artist on the back of a print) or as a direct impression of physical contact, the signature remains a cornerstone of the political economy of art collection and exhibition. Among those artists and art critics who question the underlying premise that any individual can lay claim to an artwork, the signature is a fraught authorial sign. Yet if considered in a more expanded definition – as a trace of a gestural process rather than conscious authorial intentionality – the hand-drawn line and the painted brushstroke remain privileged as graphic forms, through which dynamic forces are transferred from the artist to the canvas. Beyond the context of painting, our handwritten signatures remain a valued indexical testament to our singular, irreducible identities. The semiotics of the signature belong to writing (the inscription of the name) and drawing (the making of an iconic sign predicated on graphic resemblance). Ostensibly, a signature is as difficult to counterfeit as the brushstroke of a painter – by no means impossible, but technically challenging and legally punishable. Beginning with the development of handwriting analysis (graphology) in the seventeenth century and well into the twentieth century, signatures and handwritten lines were mined for supposed information about the temperament and intellect of the author. Erratic lines, flourishing loops, confident punctuations – all the nuanced movements produced by the wrist – not only were viewed as symptoms of underlying personality but also turned into pedagogical tools for improving character through penmanship and drawing exercises.5 Like many indexical signs dependent on tactile connection, the meaning of the signature has been altered by digital technology. We can now legally bind documents with proxy e-signatures, endorse cheques using a mobile phone camera, and leave behind digital identity footprints of passwords and ip addresses. Still, the drawn signature persists as a culturally cherished sign of individual presence and expression. Fans still line up for autographs, historians still decipher the nuances of handwritten manuscripts, and experts still make judgments about the validity of signed artworks and contracts. What are the forces that shape the twists and turns of the signing wrist? Do gestural traces of writing and drawing, like the loops of our signatures, point to deliberate personal expression, or do they channel automatic, unconscious, and intra-subjective forces beyond our awareness? This question is frequently posed

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

by twentieth-century painters, nowhere more emphatically than among the abstract expressionists, who dripped, slashed, scrawled, splattered, and etched marks onto their canvases during the same period that Len Lye scratched his celluloid strips. Jackson Pollock’s paintings are exemplary of the uncertain status that abstract expressionists ascribed to the artist’s signature. Pollock’s best-known paintings appear to be what Claude Gandelman described as “global signatures,” operating as entire surfaces that record the artist’s expressive gestural performance.6 However, in the corner of most of the canvases one nevertheless finds the artist’s scrawled name – sometimes boldly, sometimes with hesitation.7 We might interpret Pollock’s corner signatures with a degree of cynicism, pointing to the artist’s inability to give up personal and financial ownership over the canvas. However, perhaps it is that very uncertain interval between the painter’s intentionality, the painting body, the painting instrument, and the painted canvas, temporarily bridged in the dynamic gesture of producing a line or a brushstroke, that retroactively defines both the artist and the artwork as two separate yet intertwined entities, bound in an ambiguous relationship.8 Such ambiguity is intensified in the case of Len Lye’s direct (“cameraless”) scratch animation films, which continue to attract the most attention from cinema scholars. Both Free Radicals and Particles in Space are frequently cited to highlight the importance of hand-processing in his work. But is it significant that both films were made by scratching celluloid by hand? Or, if we take into account Lye’s parallel work with photographed footage and with mechanized kinetic sculpture, were the filmmaker’s scratched films simply a more economical way to experiment with dynamic images that may as well have been produced by other means? Art historian Henri Focillon concluded his influential 1934 book The Life of Forms in Art with a chapter titled “In Defense of the Hand,” in which he insisted that manual work and tactile knowledge (handiwork) would remain the primary means for generating novel artistic forms and defining the relationship between an artist’s body and emerging new materials: The hand wrenches the sense of touch away from its merely receptive passivity and organizes it for experiment and action. It teaches man to conquer space, weight, density and quantity. Because it fashions a new world, it leaves its imprint everywhere upon it. It struggles with the very substance it metamorphoses and with the very form it transfigures. Trainer of man, the hand multiplies him in space and in time.9

Pointing to the role of manual gesture in areas as diverse as miniature painting and large-scale woodcarving, Focillon insists that a practised hand is an artist’s most versatile and adaptable medium, which elevates gestural movement from

25

Alla Gadassik

26

mere survival, or necessary labour, to artistic freedom. Focillon’s argument was picked up half a century later by Malcolm McCullough in his analysis of the tactile dimensions of computer-aided design and his insistence on the enduring importance of handiwork in the context of digital craft.10 More recently, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has argued that the act of hand-drawing persists in the twentyfirst century as an indispensable method for creating open-ended, generative forms.11 Considered in this theoretical context, Len Lye’s direct-animation films might suggest a similar role that the artist’s hand plays in fostering a more spontaneous and exploratory approach to filmmaking. Characterizations of the animator as an expressive painter or doodler are common in writing on Lye’s work (and also in writing on hand-drawn animation more broadly). For Marina Estela Graça, Lye’s scratches are important indexical traces of bodily presence that disrupt the illusion of cinema’s photographic automatism and turn the film screen into a tactile, expressive canvas.12 Wystan Curnow similarly affirms the importance of the manual gesture in the animator’s work. He places Lye in the tradition of abstract expressionism and action painting, noting that the “pressures and tensions” of scratching celluloid allowed the animator to activate his own corporeal memories of different movements and thereby to transfer bodily energy into autonomous kinetic figures that could, when re-projected, animate the spectator’s body.13 Andrew Johnston expands on this characterization by describing Lye’s hand-animated figures as direct “life manifestations” that “play with indeterminacy and structure through the at times controlled and other times chaotic assemblage of marks.”14 Pointing to the additional factor of medium specificity, Johnston notes that “scratching rather than painting lines was a key distinction between the types of direct animations [Lye] produced. The force applied to the celluloid through a technique of negation where parts of the emulsion are removed produces a work with a kinetic energy whose specificity intrigued Lye immensely.”15 Like Curnow, Johnston argues that the scratched figures ultimately exceed the artist’s original movements and become wholly independent forms of “vitality and transmission of movement in viewers.”16 Yet the implication remains that by employing the hand-generated line, the animator could surmount the gap between the filmmaker’s sensory immediacy and the celluloid material of film, endowing graphic marks with an idiosyncratic pattern of movement that would in turn be translated to the viewer. Tess Takashi claims that the method of direct animation allows filmmakers to circumvent the preoccupation with the artist’s cognitive intentionality and instead emphasize the dynamism of the body. Direct filmmakers “claim the capacity for direct, primal communication via the filmstrip, the communication of bodily ‘rates’ and ‘rhythms

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

externalized’ as opposed to the communication of emotion, vision, or artistic genius.”17 For this reason, Takahashi argues, Lye’s methods remain relevant and influential on contemporary artists interested in preserving the traces of gestural presence in the context of digital cinema.18 To various degrees, all these descriptions of direct animation depend on affirming manual inscription as a method of transmuting bodily energy onto film. They imply that in the cameraless animated film, the filmmaker’s eye recedes in favour of the hand, which produces vibrant marks that inscribe the body within or alongside the technical constraints of the cinematographic apparatus. This emphasis on the hand as a medium of gestural presence is frequently embraced by Lye himself, particularly in his remarks about occasionally animating entirely in the dark, not just when scratching film, but also when manipulating objects on top of unexposed celluloid to make direct photogram impressions: “Working in the dark you get into a very inventive mood. Your fingers arrange shapes across this strip of film which will unreel whatever energy you can put into it.”19 For Lye, the energy produced by manipulating objects by hand registers and makes visible the body’s genetic and instinctual knowledge. The resulting artwork bears “the impress of the individuality of its creator” and transmutes the “temperament” of the artist into the kinetic work of art.20 This temperament is “derived as much from the body as from the brain,” and activates bodily impulses that exist beyond the limits of cognition.21 As part of this aesthetic philosophy, Lye maintained a lifelong commitment to doodling as a technique of absent-minded (in the sense of not being cognitively controlled) discovery. Without disputing this compelling case for the expressive potential of handscratching and doodling, there are key differences between how manual inscription operates on a static canvas, and how it operates on film celluloid – differences that elide easy equivalences between drawn animation and drawing. For one, the drawn line is segmented and transformed in the unfolding temporality of film projection, as signs and marks appear and disappear in rapid succession. Considering that the filmstrip is a moving canvas projected with its own rhythm, how can an artist’s so-called signature operate not just as a spatial mark, but also as a temporal mark (in the way that we might talk about the time-signature of a musical piece or the motion-signature of a dancer)? This larger question cannot be fully addressed here, but it bears noting that Len Lye’s contemporary, Sergei Eisenstein, also a lifelong doodler and passionate admirer of drawn animation, maintained that the rhythms and graphic juxtapositions of film montage could similarly translate the beats and pulses of a filmmaker’s sensory experience into moving-image compositions.22 Focusing on the handmade line as a privileged mode of corporeal

27

Alla Gadassik

28

1.3 Frames of the rotating title from Len Lye’s Free Radicals (1958/1979).

inscription can be more misleading than revealing about the role that the body can play in arranging movement over time. The more specific question I want to take up below is: how does the animator’s “signature” operate in the context of the serial production and gestural repetition demanded by drawn animation? Unlike the making of a single painting or even a series of paintings, the production of distinct animated figures on screen requires the constant dissection of movement into multiple discrete instances that match the rhythm and tempo of the regimented film frames. Whereas some of Lye’s direct-animation films occasionally ignore the boundaries between different frames and apply graphic patterns to an entire length of a strip, the scratch films are attentive to the boundaries of the frames and build movement sequentially. This is particularly apparent in the opening seconds of Free Radicals that feature the film’s title and Len Lye’s name. The lines of each letter on each subsequent frame may vary according to the contingent and spontaneous whims of the hand,

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

but the specific shapes of the words are repeated with sufficient accuracy from frame to frame to remain legible as words when they are accelerated in projection. The letters dance on the screen, skip in the frame, expand and contract, and even slightly rotate, but they maintain their recognizable word patterns; they suggest elastic bodies rather than scattered jumbles of indecipherable marks. The opening motif of lines cohering into distinct rotating figures and then disintegrating back into lines is repeated several times throughout the film, forming shapes that suggest asterisks, spinning wire sculptures, snakes, and double helixes, all of which are rapidly brought together and torn apart by invisible forces. To produce such kinetic signatures of motion requires immense control of the body’s joints and neuromuscular memory. Patterns of motion need to be stored in the muscles of the wrist and elbow, practised, and deliberately repeated. If we still want to compare Len Lye’s direct animation to action painting, this is a type of action painting that requires the making of two dozen nearly identical tiny canvases in a row. To focus solely on the irreducible vitality and open dynamism of the drawn line in Lye’s films is to ignore this lengthy and sequential process of production – a process that owes as much to techniques of bodily segmentation and automation as to the romanticism of expressive painting. In Free Radicals and Particles in Space, animation is not just an open-ended, mindless form of doodling and improvisation, but also a technically mediated performance of trained, repetitive work.

A Worker’s Signature When do we ever sign something twenty-four times in a row? Perhaps we need to sign a series of rent cheques or a stack of invitations. A busy shopping trip might leave behind a trail of hastily scrawled signatures, and a legal contract can include a series of Xs demanding our attention. People in positions of administrative or political power frequently find themselves with a mound of paperwork to sign. Workers in lower-wage jobs with turnover shifts often have to sign their initials to indicate the completion of a task. In all these cases outside the realm of artistic and artisanal production, the signature’s primary role is to authenticate a transaction, the value of which lies outside the actual surface that has been signed. As more of our transactions occur remotely and with the aid of media devices, the role of the hand-drawn signature recedes in favour of pin codes and passwords. However, even in the heyday of daily hand-signed invoices and timetables, the signature has always belonged as much to the domain of commerce and industry as it did to personal correspondence and individual expression. In its quotidian context, the task of serial signing can easily become an automatic, repetitive chore.

29

Alla Gadassik

30

There is also something repetitive and automatic in the work of handmade animation, in the process of having to draw (or etch) dozens of images for mere seconds of a running film. Even with the increased spontaneity of using celluloid and needle without the burden of papers and inks, Lye’s process of manually constructing a film sequence appears to lie somewhere between the methodical work of an artisan and the fragmentary gestures of an assembly-line worker. Hunched over the celluloid and moving down each subsequent film frame, Lye’s pattern of “grip, lower, scratch, repeat” both looks and sounds like the work of a machinist’s needle pressing down on a plate. The effect of industrial labour on the body’s sense of motion was a topic of great interest for Lye, not only as a subject for filmmaking, but also as a biographical influence on his interest in animation. Len Lye financed his early studies in art by working in low-skilled manual labour, and he later wrote that this experience fostered his interest in physically feeling and storing repetitive patterns of motion in his muscles. He supported his move from Australia to the United Kingdom by working as a coal trimmer in the bowels of a large passenger ship.23 This hellish, backbreaking work would later be commemorated in the beginning of his film Trade Tattoo (1937), which combines stock footage of industrial trade labourers with the animator’s hand-processed and stencilled images.24 The gestures of industry would also take centre stage in Lye’s film Rhythm, a commissioned (and then rejected) advertisement he made for Chrysler, which Lye constructed entirely from recut stock footage of factory autoworkers. Rhythm uses jump cutting and overlapping editing to juxtapose shots of sliding and locking machinery, glistening human arms and hands, and fleeting glances of anonymous workers, into a single pulsating composition of recurring gestures that coalesce into a portrait of kinetic automation. The film poses the question of how the animator’s own gestures fit into this rhythm of machinery, and how the movements of the animator cutting and splicing the footage intersect or diverge from the movements of the workers plugged into the assembly line on screen. Such images of industrial manufacture in Lye’s lesser-studied films remind us that many tangible commodities benefit from unskilled manual labour (sewing, painting, sealing, wiring), but in most cases that labour is kept deliberately hidden rather than valorized. It is doubtful that the same consumer who eagerly buys the hand-painted dinner plate at a local craft sale also cherishes the bodily inscription embedded in the hand-soldered circuitry inside her electronic device. There is an unspoken presumption that some manually produced marks testify to meaningful gestural work, whereas others belong to the tyranny of industrial mechanization. For many critics of modern industrialization, the difference between the two types of gestures lies in the potential openness and fluidity of the former and the

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

31

1.4 Frames from: top, Len Lye’s Trade Tattoo (1937); bottom, Len Lye’s Rhythm (1957).

standardized segmentation of the latter. Techniques of manual mass production, from the factory assembly line to the food service counter, purportedly dehumanize the worker by treating the labour as a divisible and quantifiable commodity that can be measured and – if possible – fully automated. Industrial labour, which is typically imagined as manual labour plugged into machinery, trains the body to generate efficient and repetitive movement patterns that alienate workers from their bodies and their contributions to the products they make. The sense of loss of control over one’s own movement is a key component of this alienation. In his disparaging criticism of modern technology, philosopher Jacques Ellul defines bodily movement as a key “nonmaterial element” that constitutes living beings: Motion is the spontaneous expression of life, its visible form. Everything alive chooses of itself its attitudes, orientations, gestures, and rhythms. There is, perhaps, nothing more personal to a living being – as far as the observer is concerned – than its movements. In reality there is no such thing as movement in general; there are only the movements of individual things.25

Alla Gadassik

32

According to Ellul, this spontaneous element is modified and disciplined by the demands of industrial technology. In particular, industrial techniques of dissecting bodily movement into measurable instances and intervals (techniques for which the early motion-picture camera was indispensable) divorce motion from individual idiosyncrasies and internal rhythms. Industrial technique privileges external and repeatable actions that can be generally studied and applied to different individual cases; as such, it “eliminates as secondary everything that expresses human personality.”26 As an instrument of motion dissection and segmentation, the film camera may faithfully record the unique external surfaces of moving beings, but it also subjects their patterns of movement to a common abstract rhythm of frameby-frame capture.27 This charge can be levelled against not only the camera’s treatment of the working bodies that it records, but also its treatment of those bodies, whose movements are employed in the production of film. Muscular isolation, segmentation, and standardized repetition are absolutely integral to many filmmaking techniques, but especially to frame-by-frame animation methods, whether scratched directly into celluloid or digitally painted on a computer. This should be apparent not only to animators, but to anyone who spends time with animators at work. When teaching media history and theory, I frequently recognize the animation students in the room by their involuntary eye twitches, cramped wrists, and habitual pained stretches developed over the course of months hunched at the computer or the animation stand.28 Eye drops, wrist slings, heating pads, and painkillers are indispensable items in the animator’s toolkit. Recognizing animation as micro-repetitive, grinding work opens up an inherent contradiction in the way that hand-drawn animation is typically described. For spectators and scholars, the animated drawn line presents a figure of expressive spontaneity that asserts individual, corporeal vitality against the impersonal mechanical structure of the cinematograph. For filmmakers, however, drawn animation can be among the most demanding and regimented forms of filmmaking; it is certainly the most attentive to minute segmentation and automation of movement, which actually limits gestural openness. This contradiction returns us to the earlier question: what is the difference between the numbing mechanization of the body that occurs in the isolated gestural repetition of factory production and in the gestural repetition of artistic production, particularly the mass-production of frames that characterizes handmade animation? This contradiction is frequently resolved in animation by invoking the role of corporeal repetition in spiritual rituals and mystical trance practices. Both independent and mainstream animators frequently note how the recurring microgestures of animating, whether they involve repetitive drawing or sculpting clay

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

figures, induce states of hypnotic trance that collapse the artist’s sense of time and produce open-ended, unexpected sequences.29 Lye himself implied that, in the process of animating, the artist could access deeper recesses of bodily memory, including genetic memory that put the filmmaker in touch with collective and environmental forces beyond his conscious control. More recently, artist Susan Young proposed that the effects of direct animation methods could become a form of hypnotic repetition therapy that allow a filmmaker to access and confront repressed experiences.30 The appeal to kinesthetic, ritualistic trance is pervasive in writings by animators, and it offers a compelling case for the recuperative potential of gestural repetition in animated filmmaking. However, it would feel more satisfying if proponents of industrial organization of labour did not eagerly embrace the exact same line of reasoning. For example, sociologist Lewis Mumford praised the benefits of hypnotic trance in industrial models of human labour that treat the gestures of individual workers as components of larger technological production processes, or what he called Megamachines.31 For Mumford, Megamachines have two important effects on the human body. The first effect is moulding and training the body to perform “rigorously repetitive motions,” which increases the efficiency of productivity but treats the flesh as a mechanical tool rather than as a living being.32 The second, however, is an unexpected benefit of the first: the emphasis on accelerated, repetitive movements in industrial production introduces the psychological release of ecstatic religious ritual into the modern workplace. Whereas repetitive movement in its pathological form is associated with psychic collapse and neurotic compulsion, a more optimal and supposedly healthy arrangement of “monotonous repetitive tasks imposed by the Megamachine” can replicate the benefits of the spiritual ritual by defending the worker from the “demonic promptings of the unconscious” and by offering a “means of coping with anxiety and promoting psychal stability in mass populations.”33 In Mumford’s account, repetitive movement becomes a way of taming the wild energy buried in the body and psyche, presumably so that it is not unleashed during leisure to destabilize the population in acts of violence or self-harm.34 This supposed benefit of entrancing corporeal labour becomes particularly troubling when considered alongside philosopher Simone Weil’s despairing realization (during her time of working in a factory) that monotonous and repetitive production kept workers more docile and less likely to engage in political disobedience – that it numbed the body and tempered the very affects that fuelled political mobilization.35 A very different perspective on the generative potential of gestural repetition in industrial labour is provided by Antonio Gramsci in his “Taylorism and the Mechanization of the Worker.” Gramsci rejects the claim that repetitive, low-

33

Alla Gadassik

34

skilled labour inevitably turns the body into a mindless, docile machine. To make his case, Gramsci traces the history of repetitive manual inscription back to the work of the medieval scribe. The process of faithfully copying manuscripts presumably instructs the scribe to empty his mind and “fix his attention exclusively on the calligraphic form of the single letters; or to be able to break down phrases into ‘abstract’ words and then words into characters.” 36 However, the scribe’s gradual acquisition of expertise in copying is ultimately inseparable from the ability to understand the material, whether that means understanding the words as a language to be read or as a graphic form to be adorned with ornamentation. The scribe’s “human content” begins to manifest itself in the number of “mistakes” that gradually appear, as small variations pop up across subsequent copies or iterations of the same words. Changes, omissions, or small nuances in calligraphic form attest to a difference inserted into even the most earnest attempts at manual repetition, either because of absent-mindedness (the scribe is thinking about something else) or great attentiveness (the scribe is thinking about the material and possibly rewriting it). In error or deliberate variation, the scribe is always in the process of “remaking the text.”37 Gramsci suggests that the durational qualities of the inscription method have always been important to this effect. The slow speed of writing and copying by hand created a temporal and physical interval for the body and the mind, for “there was too much time in which to reflect, and consequently ‘mechanization’ was more difficult.”38 The extended duration of manual inscription, combined with its potential failure in the “mistakes” in copying, suggests a different take on the importance of the direct animation process. The vitality of the hand-drawn and hand-scratched sequence stems precisely from its barely perceptible resistance to flawless reproduction over time. Unlike the classic factory assembly line, animation does not rely on the mass manufacture of exactly identical objects (in this case, identical images). The ideal factory labourer is required to repeat a precise set of movements in order to produce copies of the same object over a period of time. For example, a package wrapper needs to rhythmically repeat the exact same pattern of activities, package after package. Each completed unit then embarks on an individuated journey as a single commodity; variations between subsequent units go entirely unnoticed if they are small or are discarded if they are significant. In animation, while the expectation of repetition among subsequent images remains integral to the production process, the overall sequence also demands variation over time. Creating twenty-four identical signatures – if it were physically possible – would generate a completely static image on screen. To produce a kinetic effect, variation must be embedded within the interval between every instance, since the

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition

sequence has to move forward, and, consequently, the drawings have to be altered from one instance to the next. As such, animation embeds the open-endedness of drawing not into the lines inscribed onto the surface of every frame, but into micro-changes in bodily motion that generate deliberate or unintentional “mistakes” from one frame to the next, turning those mistakes into vibrating and pulsing animated figures in the process of projection. This type of back-and-forth balance of repetition and variation is quite different from the mindless trance of automatic repetition, because it demands an oscillation between sustained visual attention and automated muscular memory.

Conclusion Tracing the impact of technology on human evolution, anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan posited that early human language and thought developed in tandem with the body’s increased bipedal mobility, which freed up the hand to expand its range of gestures and object manipulation. For Leroi-Gourhan, the human being evolved first and foremost as Homo faber, or maker and adopter of tools – a task for which the hand rather than the eye was the primary organ of evolution. The hand made the body capable of shaping and being shaped by technology; the hand itself also became a form of technology, or an appendage that developed and acquired techniques of manipulation.39 Len Lye’s scratch films, made through a filmmaking process predicated simultaneously on the repetition of practised technique and on the constant failure of that repetition, are animated by the very tension between automation and evolution, using a set of tools that condense the history of manual inscription. In order to scratch directly onto his tiny canvas – 16mm film celluloid – Lye adapted tools that ranged from ancient artifacts (an old tribal arrowhead) to contemporary trade objects (miniature saws and dental chisels). These different instruments functioned like a set of historical bookends, connecting the artist to the past and present of manual craftsmanship. Gripping the arrowhead to etch animated sequences frame by frame, Lye re-enacted the ancient practice of marking the passage of time on cave walls and bark layers. Wielding the dental chisel to scratch away film emulsion, Lye also linked the repetitive labour of animation to modern hygiene. I imagine that Lye got satisfaction from taking objects that typically elicit fear and bodily pain (the lethal arrow and the dreaded dental instrument) and subverting their intended destinies. In picking up the arrow or the chisel, Lye’s process of animation did not offer the artist an escape from the repetitive gestural labour of industrial production,

35

Alla Gadassik

36

1.5 Len Lye’s scratch film tools.

but rather an opportunity to once again slow down and extend its temporality, to nudge it away, with great and gradual effort, from the production of identical images, so that the hand could reveal its signature capacity for change.

Notes 1 Quoted in Roger Horrocks, Len Lye: A Biography (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001), 264. I am also grateful to Roger Horrocks for drawing my attention to the documentary segment. 2 The Art of the Sixties (1967), produced by Bailey Films for cbs News. 3 Disney Studio Artist’s Tryout Book (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 1938), 13. 4 Books, catalogues, and reference guides to identifying artists’ signatures (as well as particular workshops or school styles) are commonplace. For an overview of the multifaceted and enduring role of the signature in Western art, see Karin Gludovatz, Fährten Legen – Spuren Lesen: Die Kunstlersignatur als Poietische Referenz (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2011).

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition 5 The development of graphology and its connection to emerging “kinaesthetic” theories of character, personality, and artistic expression is traced by Hillel Schwartz in his essay “Torque: The New Kinaesthetic of the Twentieth Century,” in Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (New York: Zone, 1992), 70–127. More recently, literary critic Philip Henscher argues for the importance of handwriting and penmanship as a literary and poetic form in his book The Missing Ink (London: Pan Macmillan, 2013). 6 Claude Gandelman, “The Semiotics of Signatures in Painting: A Piercean Analysis,” American Journal of Semiotics 3, no. 3 (January 1985): 87. 7 Ibid., 88. 8 John Golding argues that in Pollock’s large drop canvas paintings “we sense most strongly Pollock measuring himself up to a pictorial surface, his visceral identification with it,” which both confronts the artist with his own presence and also transcends that presence through gesture. John Golding, Paths to the Absolute (Princeton, nj: Princeton University Press, 2000), 134. 9 Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, trans. George Kubler (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 184; originally published in French as as La vie de formes (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1934). 10 Malcolm McCullough, Abstracted Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand (Cambridge, ma: mit Press, 1998). 11 Jean-Luc Nancy, The Pleasure in Drawing (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013). 12 Marina Estela Graça, “Cinematic Motion by Hand,” Animation Studies 1 (2006): 1–7. 13 Wystan Curnow, “Len Lye and Abstract Expressionism,” in Len Lye (Centre Pompidou Exhibition Catalogue), ed. Jean-Michel Bouhours and Roger Horrocks (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2000), 208–9. 14 Andrew Johnston, “Signatures of Motion: Len Lye’s Scratch Films and the Energy of the Line,” in Animating Film Theory, ed. Karen Beckman (Durham, nc: Duke University Press, 2014), 176. 15 Ibid., 171. 16 Ibid. However, no further elaboration on what characterizes the specificity of the scratched (versus the painted) line is provided. 17 Tess Takahashi, “Meticulously, Recklessly Worked Upon: Direct Animation, the Auratic and the Index,” in The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema, ed. Chris Gehman and Steve Reinke (Toronto: yyz Books, 2005), 172. 18 Takahashi’s list of contemporary filmmakers influenced by Lye’s scratched films includes animator Stephanie Maxwell, Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist Pierre Hébert, and experimental filmmaker Steven Woloshen, among others.

37

Alla Gadassik 19 From an unpublished note quoted in Roger Horrocks, Art That Moves: The Work of Len Lye (Auckland: University of Auckland Press, 2009), 163. 20 Len Lye, “The Art That Moves (1964)” in Figures of Motion: Len Lye, Selected Writings, ed. Wystan Curnow and Roger Horrocks (Auckland: Auckland Universi-

38

ty Press, 1984), p.87. 21 From “The Creative Imagination (1966),” unpublished manuscript in the Len Lye Archive, box 2172, p.3. 22 See in particular Eisenstein’s account of montage in “The Fourth Dimension in Film,” in Sergei Eisenstein: Selected Works, vol. 1: 1922–1934, ed. and trans. Richard Taylor (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 170–90. 23 Documented in detail in Horrocks, Len Lye: A Biography, 79–83. 24 I discuss the role of stencilled animation in relationship to this film in Alla Gadassik, “Trade Tattoos: Animation Stencils and Readymade Movement,” in The Long Dream of Waking: New Perspectives on Len Lye, ed. Paul Brobbel, Wystan Curnow, and Roger Horrocks (Christchurch, nz: Canterbury University Press, 2017), 184–203. 25 Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 330. Originally published in French as La technique ou l’enjeu du siècle (Paris: Librairie Armand Coli, 1954). In defining movement as a “nonmaterial element” that marks the character of the individual, Ellul is likely influenced by the writings of French philosopher Henri Bergson, who famously identified movement as the irreducible and continuous unfolding that characterizes life, or vitality. 26 Ibid., 330. 27 This critique of cinematographic motion is famously posed by Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Modern Library, 1944), 331. 28 There are significant differences between the two types of workstations, but it’s important to note that neither method eliminates muscular isolation and strain. 29 The most comprehensive discussion of the role of bodily trance in frame-by-frame animation can be found in Maureen Furniss’s dissertation “Things of the Spirit: A Study of Abstract Film” (University of Southern California, 1994). In the final section of the dissertation, Furniss promotes the importance of trance as a spiritual practice by drawing upon interviews and published artist’s statements of experimental animators. 30 See Susan Young’s discussion of her creative and theoretical research into animation and hypnosis published on her website at http://susanyounganimation.com/ research.html. 31 For Mumford, the history of Megamachines far precedes industrial labour and can be used to characterize the hierarchical structures of mass organized labour used to

Direct Animation and Gestural Repetition build the pyramids, first cities, and other major architectural projects. See Lewis Mumford, excerpts from “The Concept of the Megamachine,” republished in Philosophy of Technology: The Technological Condition, An Anthology, ed. Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 348–51. 32 Ibid., 349. 33 Ibid., 349–50. 34 One can just imagine here Mumford defending the automatic drawing practices of surrealist artists as a form of exorcizing the demons, so that they could go back to work as productive members of society. 35 For more on this period in Weil’s life and how it shaped her disillusionment with classical Marxist theory, see John Hellman, Simone Weil: An Introduction to Her Thought, reprinted edition (Eugene, or: wipf & Stock, 2014), 33–6. 36 Antonio Gramsci, “Taylorism and the Mechanization of the Worker,” in The Gramsci Reader: Selected Readings, 1916–1925, ed. David Forgacs (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 294. Originally translated into English by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. 37 Ibid., 295. 38 Gramsci goes on to make the case that even if the gestures of labour were totally repetitive and embedded themselves into the body of the worker, this would simply free the mind for other pursuits, just as how “[o]ne walks automatically, and at the same time thinks about whatever one chooses” (295). 39 This proposition would profoundly shape decades of disputes about the effects of modern technology on the body’s relationship to the world, such as the debate about whether mechanical and electronic tools like the typewriter and the computer petrified the hand and stifled the body’s capacity for communication, or whether they fostered the emergence of new forms of inscription and knowledge. See Christopher Johnson’s discussion of the influence of Leroi-Gouhan’s Homo faber theories on twentieth-century debates about technically mediated inscription in “Derrida and Technology,” in Derrida’s Legacies: Literature and Philosophy, ed. Simon Glendinning and Robert Eaglestone (London: Routledge, 2008), 54–65.

39

Chapter 2 At the Limits of Cinema: Marie Menken’s Notebook Angela Joosse A blank screen at first appears to introduce “Raindrops,” the first segment in Marie Menken’s 16mm film Notebook. White light fills the viewing space as our eyes are drawn upward to detail the top edge of the frame. Once oriented to the image, we are able to make out two ducks swimming along the edge of a pond across the very top of the screen. Soft reflections of a clouded sky become decipherable in the open body of water that fills the majority of the screen, and in this way Menken beguiles us to see ducks swimming across a watery sky. At the outset, Menken’s Notebook invites us to see differently, to enter into a cinematically unique mode of vision. In her own words, New York filmmaker, painter, and collage artist Marie Menken (1909–1970) described Notebook (1940–63)1 as “small film poems, experimentations, random film thoughts, filmic sketches for future films” (Menken 1960 and 1963b).2 The piece consists of nine segments: “Raindrops,” “Greek Epiphany,” “Moonplay,” “Copycat,” “Paper Cuts,” “Lights,” “Night Writing,” “The Egg,” and “Etcetcetc.” The first three are in black and white, the last four in colour, and throughout these sketches we can see Menken working with different cinematic techniques including hand-held movements, pixelation, stop-motion animation, and painting directly on the film. Correspondences are evident between a number of Notebook’s segments and Menken’s completed films, which span the 1940s through to the late 1960s.3 Although we can see Menken sketching out ideas for her other films, Notebook stands on its own as an exemplary work of film. As P. Adams Sitney has written, “the lucid fragments of the Notebook benefit from the abrupt shifts of materials and rhythms dictated by the original and daring form of the film. Their very brevity, their autonomy, and the elusive complexity of the authorial presence (or series of such) that they project are indices of this originality” (2008, 32). Indeed, Menken’s films show a unique cinematic vision, and though she was one of the first women in North America to make experimental films,4 her own body of work has not yet received proper critical attention. The important impact

Marie Menken’s Notebook

yet lack of recognition given to Menken’s work are summarized by Robin Blaetz in the following way: “It is only in the past several years that Menken has been credited with influencing Stan Brakhage and others, many of whom have been lionized for half a century for displaying Menken-like qualities, while she was forgotten and her films allowed to disappear” (2006, 154).5 Indeed, as Blaetz argues, film scholars generally have failed to discern that the distinctive approaches found in films by women “were not signs of incompetence but marks of a different vision” (2006, 154). In recent years, book chapters and articles by P. Adams Sitney (2008), Melissa Ragona (2007), Juan Suárez (2009), and Scott MacDonald (2001), as well as Martina Kudlácek’s documentary film on Menken (2006), have contributed important contextualization and theorization of Menken’s work. In this chapter, I aim to contribute to the task of articulating the original vision found in Menken’s cinema through a close study of Notebook. In many ways, Menken could be described as a filmmaker’s filmmaker, which is to say that her work is exceptionally innovative and raw, and able to ignite highly creative work in others. What I would like to show is that Menken’s camera is not primarily trained on objects, but rather on movements and rhythms. Throughout Notebook’s collection of filmic sketches, Menken is drawn to clusters – raindrops, foliage, beads, painted lines, human crowds, frames of the film strip, colour, lights, and vehicular traffic – and she cinematically draws out the rhythms, rituals, textures, and patterns of these clusters. In doing so, Menken works with the limits of the cinema, which is to say that these limits become creative, compositional material in her films. Furthermore, though Menken embraced the richness of incompleteness, instability, and corrigibility in her overall cinematic style, Notebook is particularly fruitful in this regard.6 Before getting into our main study of Notebook, let me briefly describe its distinct segments. “Raindrops” meditates on the intimate, potent, and rhythmic presences of raindrops. Falling rain ripples reflections of trees in puddles, leaves gather the drops like jewels of light, poppies bow their heavy-laden heads in rain, water gushes onto the ground from a drain pipe, and drips of water gather weight as they cling precariously to their surfaces. Flickering candles light the scene of “Greek Epiphany,” which depicts a night-time gathering in celebration of the Greek Orthodox Epiphany, the “Feast of Lights.” A full moon in the night sky takes centre screen in “Moonplay,” where time-lapse and pixelation camera techniques make the moon multiply and dance in the night sky. In “Copycat,” Menken sets her camera aside and paints directly on the surface of the film: vertical and diagonal lines race up the screen, wiping and weaving back and forth, and are intermixed with swaths of colour. “Paper Cuts” explores moving shape and colour through animated paper cut-outs, where shifting colour and shape

41

Angela Joosse

42

2.1 “Raindrops,” segment one of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

relationships are worked out on the flatness of the animation table, celluloid, and screen. “Lights” transforms decorative Christmas lights into raw material for a playful composition in visual rhythm and colour, and in “Night Writing,” Menken uses her camera to “write” with trails of light on the surface of the film. The stopmotion animation, “The Egg,” unravels a macabre scene of skeletons, smoke, and glinting beads of gold, red, and blue. The final segment, “Etcetcetc,” offers cinematic study and disruption of a disparate collection of actions: Menken’s sister Adele jumping, a blurred landscape shot from a moving train, and vehicular traffic. Throughout her filmmaking, Menken often appears to be working on the question of what is cinematic movement, and in Notebook’s final segment this comes to the fore. As described above, Menken’s work with one of the limits of cinema is evident right from the opening shot of Notebook, where, in giving us a sense of the watery exchange between pond and sky, Menken places the ducks swimming at the very upper edge of the frame. Such framing breaks one of the basic conventions of cinematography (i.e., keep the action in the centre so as not to call attention to the

Marie Menken’s Notebook

43

2.2 “Copycat,” segment four of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

edge of frame and thus break the magical illusion of the image). However, not only does this lay bare one of the tricks of the cinema, thereby challenging our convention of looking into the centre of the screen, but the edge of the screen becomes another line for Menken to draw into her composition. The shot makes use of tension between the straight edge of the frame and the fluctuations of the ducks moving along the edge of the pond. To make this point a little clearer, let me turn to “Copycat,” where Menken uses the technique of painting directly on the surface of the celluloid. Here the rapid movement of the film through the projector becomes tangible as hand-painted lines traverse the screen, a movement that evidences the verticality of the film strip. Within this movement, the frames’ edges become additional compositional lines in relation to the hand-painted vertical and diagonal lines. This piece takes on a certain musicality where the frenetic pace of the lines produces a kind of visual glissando while their back and forth movements give rhythmic beats. The edges of frame cut or close these rhythmic phrases, their straight lines offering counterpoint to the rough and frenzied painted lines.

Angela Joosse

44

As both P. Adams Sitney and Melissa Ragona state, the title playfully refers to Menken’s act of copying the hand-painting technique from her friend and fellow filmmaker, Norman McLaren, who in turn learned it from Len Lye (Sitney 2008, 33; Ragona 2007, 28). As Ragona points out, we can see some similarity between Menken’s sketch and McLaren’s Lines Vertical (1960) and Lines Horizontal (1962) (Ragona 2007, 28). However, when we compare these films, it is interesting to note how Menken’s lines are significantly more wild than McLaren’s smooth, sliding lines, and while McLaren’s lines move fluently within the frame, Menken’s continually raze the edges. The sliding and swiping movements of diagonal lines in McLaren’s film Boogie-Doodle (1941), share a stronger kinship with Menken’s sketch. Yet, even here, McLaren’s lines offer a kind of intermittent background to figural hand-drawn animations whereas Menken’s “Copycat” lines take over the screen as she explores the ecstatic potency of these diagonally charged movements. The technique of painting on film was shared, but McLaren’s compositional harmony contrasts with Menken’s embrace of instability and rupture.7 In doing so, the edges of the frame for Menken do not merely contain the image but become creative material – additional lines within the filmic composition. Evident throughout Notebook, as well as Menken’s larger body of work, is her continual exploration of what it is to see through the camera both within the frame and off the screen by showing us what is unique and wonderful about seeing cinematically. Once we begin to grasp this important aspect of Menken’s style – she is showing what is amazingly uncommon about looking through a camera – the potency of her filmic sketching shines through. The processes of filming and of seeing through the camera thus become part of her films rather than only final shots. Contained within “Raindrops” we witness Menken manipulating the scene in the process of “catching” a falling raindrop on film. A leafy branch laden with potent raindrops fills the frame, but with a sudden twang it shakes its droplets free. As Sitney describes it, this shaking clearly is the result of Menken’s off-screen manipulation through which we can sense her “impatience and anxiety lest the hand-wound camera run down before the drop falls” (Sitney 2008, 31). Menken repeats her off-screen tampering until finally we see one single raindrop fall through frame in close-up.8 Thus, Menken makes us privy to the process of filming rather than only presenting us with final results. In this way, she draws us into the particular tensions and experiences that are unique to cinematic seeing. Menken does not attempt to hide the fact that she is looking through a camera, nor does she hide her intervening presence in the situation. The process of filming is also drawn into the composition of “Lights,” where particularly near the end of the sketch, Menken’s footsteps and embodied gestures are clearly

Marie Menken’s Notebook

perceptible as she takes us on a tour of festive city lights.9 Within Menken’s unique cinematic style, the exploratory experience of seeing and the time it takes are incorporated into the contents of her films as she shows us the enticements and joy of cinematic seeing. Darkness – the limit of visibility – also transforms into expressive material in Menken’s cinematic style. Unfolding through an interplay of lights in darkness, “Greek Epiphany,” in particular, works with the potency of darkness. The gathering takes place outside a cathedral, and we are able to decipher glimpses of the ceremonies in the glow of the cathedral windows, glints of light reflected from the precious metal of the processional cross, and sparkles from the bejeweled headdress of the priest. By candlelight we are able to make out silhouettes or faces for brief moments, but the presence of gatherers is felt primarily through the volume and movement of multiple candle flames. This footage would be considered too dark or too underexposed to pass as a more standard documentation of an event, but I would like to propose that this darkness offers a way to show a kind of generality or communality on film. Filming in the dark where there is barely enough light to make impressions on film, Menken is not afraid to work at the edge of the perceptible, allowing us to feel the depth of what is occluded. Darkness in “Greek Epiphany” draws out a sense of mystery and depth in relation to human ritual. Individuality recedes, or is covered over by the dark, and instead a kind of commonality or communion is depicted as a moving body of many lights.10 Throughout Notebook, Menken shows a propensity for shooting at night using available light, and indeed four of the nine sketches were shot at night, including “Greek Epiphany,” “Moonplay,” “Lights,” and “Night Writing.” In a sense, we could say that Menken is not afraid of the dark, not inhibited by the process of filming under less than ideal lighting conditions, but simultaneously it must be said that darkness in these film sketches serves as a field that shows up clusters and patterns of lights. The emanating light of the moon and candle flames are caught in black and white in “Moonplay” and “Greek Epiphany,” and in both “Lights” and “Night Writing” coloured electric lights make bright markings against the dark of night. Menken’s attraction to night shooting may have something to do with the fact that she worked the night shift at Time-Life for many years, and her return commute to Brooklyn Heights in the deep hours of the night may have helped provide subject matter for her night films. However, in her painting as well as her filmmaking, she was continually working out ways to capture and work with light at its source. In the following statement she draws connections between her painting and filmmaking: “I have been a dedicated artist all my life and film-making was a natural evolution while I was engaged in painting, particularly since I was primarily concerned in capturing light, its effect on textured

45

Angela Joosse

46

surfaces, its glowing luminescence in the dark, the enhancement of juxtaposed color, persistence of vision and eye fatigue” (Menken, 1963a). The opening shot of “Lights” is quite dark indeed, as we are able to sense out the city setting through faint stationary, pulsing, and moving vehicular lights. Menken then begins to “dance” with these and other collections of urban night lights, making them jump and cascade through the screen. An outdoor Christmas tree spins a couple of times in centre frame, turning completely upside down and around again. The camera then dives into the thick of the tree’s lights, giving a sense of depth as the camera swings amid red and white globes. The image of the decorative tree transforms into raw material from which Menken composes in light, colour, and rhythm, and when she returns to the Christmas tree again, she turns her camera on its side to make it slide horizontally through the frame. Throughout this segment we can feel a tension between representation and abstraction where the lights as represented objects are then transformed into something more elemental. That is, we see an image of a Christmas tree, but then the cinematic uprooting of the tree and the deluge of lights in close-up plunge us into a dynamic, moving “painting.” As Menken walks around the decorative scene, we can feel a similar pull between seeing the structures and diving into their bright arrays. More so than making representations of objects, Menken’s filmic sensibility seems trained on the way light itself paints or draws on the surface of the film. We have already considered “Raindrops” for its use of the frame lines and the process of filming, but it too is a study in light – the way raindrops catch and hold light. After its disorienting opening shot, “Raindrops” unfolds through a series of hand-held close-ups, showing the lush and refreshing movements of rain. For the most part, Menken frames texture and pattern rather than objects – full frames of foliage display their burgeoning collections of raindrops. However, not only are these drops tumescent beads of water, they also are bulging with light. A sense of reciprocity comes forward as we witness the gathering movement of the leaves in flux with the clinging movement of the beads of water. Curvilinear foliage draws water in as droplets cling precariously to their surfaces, temporarily shining forth the captured light of the sky. Following this theme, we can understand more fully the unusual framing presented at the start of the segment: in the cloud-laden sky reflecting from the surface of open water, we witness the reciprocal exchange of light and water between earth and sky. Seeking out and manipulating sources of light is one of the themes of Notebook. In “Night Writing” the combination of a slowed shutter speed met with Menken’s frenetic movements scrawls out trails of coloured electric light against black. Red often dominates along with yellow in these swirls of colour, while blue, purple, and green offer a kind of counterpoint to the warmer colours. Ragona

Marie Menken’s Notebook

47

2.3 “Night Writing,” segment seven of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

aptly describes this as Menken’s “efforts to reveal the hypnotic effect of light divorced from any object” (2007, 27).11 We do not see images of lights, but rather the blur that happens when one drags a camera across points of light too quickly for the shutter to register clear representations. This is a distinctly cinematic form of writing that requires movement in order to sustain its presence. Menken’s bodily gestures are palpable in the formation of these abstract ecstatic phrases since she must keep up a certain pace in order to inscribe these streaks of colour on the surface of the film. In this sketch, we become situated with the process of writing or drawing rather than its final markings. Menken’s film work offers a keen sensitivity to colour, and this is certainly evident in the six segments of Notebook shot on colour film. Both “Lights” and “Night Writing” captivate the eyes with streaks and cascades of moving colour, and “Copycat’s” swaths of colour interplay rhythmically with hand-painted lines. As we will see, “The Egg,” which is animated with rich coloured beads, and “Paper Cuts,” a “tale” of colour relations, are stop-motion animations where colours take on important roles in the formation of intimate worlds.

Angela Joosse

48

Menken’s material approach to painting can perhaps be most clearly seen as resonating with “The Egg,” where beads, sparkles, and smoke animate twodimensional images.12 A brown egg occupies the screen with a covering of tiny beads that glint white light with a kind of viscous quality. As the beads clear away, they reveal an image of two human skeletons. Black spots appear over the bones of the skeletons followed by gold beads that fall to cover over the image once again. Presently, seeming to have taken the place of the egg, a crystal ball wanders in and around the frame and comes to rest over the pelvis of a skeleton while smoke blows in from the side of the frame. Sparkling red beads trace out the form of the snake wound down the torso and legs of the skeleton, followed by blue sparkles covering a bird-like skeleton. The blue and gold sparkles transfer their volumes to the legs of the human skeleton while the red sparkles make their way to the head. More smoke blows in and the crystal ball travels down the legs of the skeleton and then back up all the way to the head. The crystal wanders a bit more as most of the sparkles blow away and the scene ends. “The Egg” explores some of the stylistic themes that, as shown in the quote above, Menken understood as overlapping her work as a painter and filmmaker, such as the effects of light on textured surfaces and the effects of colour juxtapositions.13 Though she attended art school, Menken developed her own self-taught approach to painting by incorporating textured materials such as stone chips, marble dust, glass particles, luminous paints, thread, and fibre into her paintings (Menken 1949). In “The Egg,” we can see Menken working with similar textured materials for the way they capture and reflect light and colour in darkness. However, whereas much of Menken’s other work with light, texture, and colour is exuberant and joyful, this piece is cloaked in a foreboding mood. A meditation on the intertwining of life and death pervades the piece through the commingling of its morbid imagery, dispersions of smoke, bloodred tracings, and the movements of the egg and crystal ball. In a sense, Menken gives us an animated memento mori: the potentiality held in the egg and crystal ball are gripped by the counter-movement towards death, while the rich colour and viscous texture of red in the piece draws together connotations of blood as life-giving and bleeding as life-draining.14 In “Paper Cuts,” we see colour and shape – which often are perceived as mere qualities of things – taking on roles as primary “characters.” Like “The Egg,” this is a stop-motion animation, but here Menken constructs an intimate and delightful world out of “Matisse-like cut-outs” (Rees 1983, 227). The piece appears to unfold somewhat spontaneously, each next move suggesting itself from presentmoment configurations, tensions, and relationships. For example, near the beginning of the segment, a row of red-orange hand-like shapes make their way

Marie Menken’s Notebook

49

2.4 “The Egg,” segment five of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

diagonally across the screen, creep in again from the top of frame, form a fan shape, and disappear. Later in the piece, a “team” of blue ovals chase a yellow form off screen. A cloud of stardust appears and scatters to fill the centre of the screen as a dark blue wing-like cut-out enters and becomes ensconced in the stardust. Two smaller red shapes enter from the bottom right of the screen and proceed to gather up the stardust, poking at it and pushing it off screen. Against a purple background, a “school” of red-orange ovals flow across the screen from right to left with the odd one making its way against the patterned flow. Throughout this segment, a certain “logic” seems to be at work – a kind of culture of a delightful and intimate world, the significance of which remains somewhat elusive from our viewing position. What is interesting is the way that colours change in quality and mood in relation to other colours, showing us the instability of colour categories – an instability that becomes creative material for Menken. The tensions between colours that we find in “Paper cuts” resonates with Menken’s short story, “A Rainbow Myth,” which imaginatively discloses the origins of the rainbow. As the story goes, one day the colours of the world began to

50

2.5 “Paper cuts,” segment five of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

quarrel as to which of them was the most important. It all began with a provocation from the colour red: One day when all was peaceful and quiet, a long streak of red whirled by and said, “I am most important! The world could not go on without me.” The other colours laughed good-naturedly at this vanity and shouted back, “It is not so. You are merely the brightest colour.” “Yes, the brightest! Everyone sees me first.” The red colour proudly whirled around again. “The world could not go on without me.” The others grew furious at this. “Red, you fool, the world would be burnt to a cinder if it were not for us. You tire the eyes quickly and no one wants your warmth forever.” After extensive arguing and contestation between the colours, the wind and clouds intervened, stirring up a storm that darkened the sky to the point of annihilating all colours. In response the colours huddled together, forming a brilliant rainbow, which is how the rainbow came to be.

Marie Menken’s Notebook

The colour red takes on an important presence in Menken’s work, particularly for its capacity to fatigue or tire the eyes. Red dominates the visual fields of “Lights” and “Night Writing,” which is also the case in Menken’s related films, Eye Music in Red Major (1958–61) and Lights (1964–66). Menken’s interest in red is tied to her exploration of another cinematic limit – eye fatigue. In an interview with P. Adams Sitney, Menken states: “I have something in the works which is exciting, based on eye fatigue and persistence of vision, which will be called night-writing (part of it is already in my notebook), and maybe one other in which I will show you how persistence of vision can enhance color with eye fatigue. I’m working on that, as yet untitled” (Menken 1967, 11; capitalization and parentheses in original). Eye fatigue has become a more common term today as we deal with increasing amounts of time spent with screens in our daily lives. It indicates the point where our eyes become desensitized or tired out, and we no longer see clearly. Eye fatigue also can cause afterimages where, for example, if one stares at a red circle and then looks away to a white piece of paper, an afterimage of the circle will appear in its opposite colour, green. Menken makes productive use of the limits of what the seeing eye can handle by exploring the potency of the instability and corrigibility caught up in this state. As is particularly potent in “Night Writing,” Menken pushes us to see colour, feel the delight of dancing light, and take pleasure in the tensions of movement itself. She works with the limits of visual perception, manipulating these limits to draw out a uniquely cinematic mode of seeing. Eye fatigue is a phenomenon that occurs in the interval between images and viewers, and the between nature of the cinematic image, or the way it is formed within the relationship between the screen and its viewers, is another important aspect of Menken’s work. This is particularly clear in her explorations of apparent motion and flicker fusion, which in the cinema is the perception of movement even though what we are “actually” seeing is a succession of still frames flashing between moments of darkness. These phenomena are playfully explored in “Moonplay” where, after a time-lapse sequence of the moon through quivering tree branches and traversing clouds, Menken shoots single frames in rapid succession to make the moon “dance” in the open sky. The freedom and playfulness of this movement is held in tension with the confining boundaries of the frame, as the moon also appears to bounce around the screen and play with its entrapment as an image. The moon also palpates and appears to multiply. It flickers on both sides of the screen, traverses a circle, makes diagonal leaps across the frame, and marks out a serpentine pattern. By making the moon appear to move and multiply in this way, Menken makes filmic moments that resemble clinical experiments with the

51

Angela Joosse

52

“phi phenomenon.” This phenomenon most commonly remains a hidden part of cinematic illusion, but here Menken makes it overt and uses it as creative material. With remarkable skill and agility, she manages to animate the moon in rhythmic patterns, creating a kind of visual music performance with this celestial body. We know that there is only one moon in the sky and that it does not jump and glide around in the sky, but as a rapid succession of still images it is able to perform a cinematic dance. Experience of this dance occurs in the perceptual contract between the screen and its viewers. What is it to see and manipulate movement cinematically? Fundamental to Menken’s experiments with “persistence of vision” is intermittent motion, or the way film is held still for a fraction of a second before it moves on through the camera/projector gate. One of the things Menken explores in “Etcetcetc,” and develops extensively in her film Go!Go!Go! (1962–64), is the way the shutter’s intermittent motion samples its subject matter and cuts into the scene of filming. “Etcetcetc” begins with Menken’s sister, Adele, dressed entirely in white and jumping up and down on the rooftop terrace of Menken’s penthouse apartment. Oddly, though, to say she is jumping up and down would be to correct what we are seeing on screen in favour of what we know she was doing at the time of filming. What we see are jumps that hover, flutter, and slide as her movements are cinematically transposed by Menken’s sampling camera. Viewed in profile, Adele’s jumps quiver as she is momentarily suspended with her feet dangling in the air before her landing is then sustained and stutters on the ground. Her dress flaps unnaturally as she then “hops” toward the camera, her advance transformed into a jerky sliding motion. Menken’s two large dogs move around Adele during the experiment, and though their movements are slightly pixelated, their meanderings remain much more natural in their appearance than those of Adele. From the contrast between Adele and the dogs, we can see that Menken’s camera is trained on her sister and that her shutter is clicking precisely to manipulate Adele’s jumps. Menken is shooting a single frame at a time in rapid succession, which, of course, is what motion picture cameras do. Yet, here Menken is controlling the timing rather than letting the camera run at its own, highly regularized intervals. The result is that viewers can actually see the sampling action of the camera – the way the shutter can cut into the action. The remaining shots of “Etcetcetc” continue to explore cinematic movement. From a moving train, rails and hydro wires cut moving lines across a blurred landscape. Suddenly the camera holds steady at the side of a freeway, but again Menken is sampling the vehicular traffic. Cars and trucks dapple the screen as time is cinematically condensed. The speed, velocity, and rush of vehicular movement comes to the fore through Menken’s cinematic manipulation of time, leading

Marie Menken’s Notebook

viewers to perceive this as an urban rhythm rather than merely watching a recording of cars going by. Briefly back on the roof, one of the dogs traverses the terrace and then puts paws up on the parapet to glance over at the surrounding city – all in a flutter of condensed time. In this segment, Menken is working creatively with a distinct cinematic limit: the sampling action of the camera and shutter. The blur from the train forms because the shutter is not sampling fast enough to capture clear images – the movement of Adele and the traffic are cinematically re-rendered as the shutter samples the action and condenses the temporal flow of the scene. Menken crafts her compositions out of the very limits of cinema such as frame line, the temporal process of filming, and the sampling motion of the shutter. In my study of Notebook, I have found that it stands as an exceptionally strong work of film that demonstrates the potency of Menken’s unique cinematic vision. Making use of tensions between frame and content, representation and abstraction, process and closure, Menken shows us what is remarkable and peculiar about looking through a camera. She works at the edge of visibility as found in darkness and lightness, and in situations where seeing eyes become fatigued or desensitized, developing an original cinematic style. For her, the camera’s intervening presence in the scene, the way the shutter samples its subject matter, and the perceptual contract between the screen and its viewers become creative material with which to construct her films. Not only does Menken develop and expose novel cinematic techniques, but she uses these unique cinematic elements as compositional material with which to reflect on the rhythms and rituals that form and disrupt the patterns of our everyday lives.

Notes 1 Dating Notebook is difficult, and it is dated differently in various places. I am giving a date range that spans the years in which Menken would have made the different segments that make up the piece. 2 This description appears in the program notes for the retrospectives of Menken’s films held at the Charles Theatre in December 1961 and at the Bleecker Street Theatre in May 1963. 3 Sitney argues that Notebook’s sections may be in chronological order since they appear to correspond to the order in which Menken made a number of her other films (Sitney 2008, 30). 4 Mary Ellen Bute (1906–1983) and Maya Deren (1917–1961) were contemporary with Menken. 5 It is important to note that particularly following Menken’s death in 1970,

53

Angela Joosse Brakhage himself was one of Menken’s primary apologists. As Ara Osterweil describes, Brakhage was completely devastated by the anonymity of Menken’s death (2014, 119). Brakhage understood Menken to be one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, and he worked to bring attention to her films through lectures and publi-

54

cations. See his chapter, “Marie Menken,” in Film at Wit’s End (1989), and his transcribed lecture in Film Culture. In spite of his efforts, as well as those of Jonas Mekas at Anthology Film Archives, a number of Menken’s films disappeared, and her work received scant scholarly attention for many years. Furthermore, as Melissa Ragona argues, though Brakhage and Mekas lauded Menken’s work, they tended to do so “within the purview of their own achievements,” and thus “reduce the specificity and complexity” of her work (2007, 23). 6 Though beyond the scope of this chapter, I would like to suggest that through the productive use of instability and grasp of the limits of cinema, Menken’s films can help shed light on the difficult work of articulating feminist aesthetics. As Hilde Hein argues, feminist theory and aesthetics do not seek to define a “central dogma” but rather “treat instability as a fact of life” and even as something to be cultivated in the process of forming new ways of thinking and perceiving (1990, 286). 7 It was Menken who connected McLaren to the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (which later became the Guggenheim Museum) that opened in New York in 1939 under Hilla von Rebay’s artistic direction. Menken worked for Rebay from 1938 to 1941, assisting with non-objective painting exhibitions, the sponsorship of artists, as well as the establishment of a collection of non-objective films. Rebay purchased a number of films by McLaren for the non-objective film collection. Paintings by Menken were included in group shows at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1942 and 1943, but none of her films were brought into the film collection. This may have to do with the fact that the majority of Menken’s independent work in film began after she left her position with Rebay. However, though some interesting resonances are evident between Menken’s films and non-objectivity, they may not have fit with Rebay’s ultimate aesthetic principles of order, refinement, harmony, and peace for the soul (Rebay 1939). McLaren’s abstract filmic compositions seem more amenable to Rebay’s doctrine, while Menken’s seem to contradict such aesthetic goals, particularly in their productive use of instability and frenetic pacing. As Menken claimed of her own filmmaking, “I want to impart hilarity, joyousness, expansion of life with an uncontrollable mirth” (Menken 1967, 11) . 8 It may be that Willard Maas assisted with this sequence: “Marie has always worked alone, though I have helped her with chores, such as waving flashlights, shaking boughs and flushing toilets” (Maas 1963, 52). 9 What Sitney names Menken’s “somatic camera” is particularly helpful in understanding the importance of Menken’s embodied presence to her cinematic aesthetic (Sitney 2008).

Marie Menken’s Notebook 10 Meditations on commonality can be seen in other Menken films. For example, in Go!Go!Go! flows of vehicular and pedestrian traffic are condensed so that we are able to gain a unique cinematic view of urban behaviour, the patterns and rhythms that form modern city life. 11 In this quote, Ragona compares Menken’s interest in light with that of the artist Robert Irwin. 12 Documentary footage of Menken painting can be seen in the film Four American Artists (1950), made by Willard Maas and Ben Moore. In the process of painting, Menken stretches knotted thread, sprinkles crushed glass, and sprays paint onto the surface of the painting. The sprinkling of the glass and spray of the paint resonate with the beads and smoke in “The Egg.” 13 For critical writing on the intersection of Menken’s painting and filmmaking, particularly the way Menken critiques painting and the other plastic arts with film, see Ragona 2007. 14 Menken’s film Hurry! Hurry! (1957), which combines microscopic footage of spermatozoa overlaid with flames and a soundtrack of aerial bombardments, also reflects on the intertwining of life and death. “The Egg” appears also to contain an autobiographical element relating to the death of Menken’s and Maas’s newborn son shortly after birth.

References Blaetz, Robin. 2006. “Rescuing the Fragmentary Evidence of Women’s Experimental Film.” Camera Obscura 21, no. 3: 153. Brakhage, Stan. 1989. “Marie Menken.” In Film at Wit’s End: Essays on American Independent Filmmakers, 32–47. Edinburgh: Polygon. – 1994. “Stan Brakhage on Marie Menken.” Film Culture 78: 1–10. Hein, Hilde. 1990. “The Role of Feminist Aesthetics in Feminist Theory.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48, no. 4: 281–91. Kudlácek, Martina. 2006. Notes on Marie Menken. Digital video/35mm. Brooklyn, ny: Icarus Films, 2007. dvd. Maas, Willard. 1963. “The Gryphon Yaks.” Film Culture 29: 46–53. MacDonald, Scott. 2001. “Avant-Gardens.” In The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place, 45–87. Berkeley: University of California Press. Menken, Marie. 1967. “Interview with Marie Menken by P. Adams Sitney.” Filmwise 5–6: 9–12. Osterweil, Ara. 2014. Flesh Cinema: The Corporeal Turn in American Avant-Garde Film. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. Ragona, Melissa. 2007. “Swing and Sway: Marie Menken’s Filmic Events.” In Women’s

55

Angela Joosse Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks, edited by Robin Blaetz, 20–44. Durham, nc: Duke University Press. Rebay, Hilla. 1939. “The Art of Tomorrow: Fifth Catalogue of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection of Non-Objective Paintings.” New York: Solomon R.

56

Guggenheim Foundation. https://archive.org/details/artoftomorrowfif1939gugg. Rees, A.L. 1983. “Notebook.” Review of Notebook by Marie Menken. Monthly Film Bulletin 50 no. 595: 227. Sitney, P. Adams. 2008. “Marie Menken’s Somatic Camera.” In Eyes Upside Down, 21–47. New York: Oxford University Press. Suarez, Juan A. 2009. “Myth, Matter, Queerness: The Cinema of Willard Maas, Marie Menken, and the Gryphon Group, 1943–1969.” Grey Room 36: 58–87.

Archival Sources Menken, Marie. No date. “A Rainbow Myth.” Short story. Willard Maas, Marie Menken papers. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. – 1949. “Marie Menken: First One-Man Show.” Artist profile. Exhibition of paintings by Marie Menken, 31 October – 19 November 1949, Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. Box 11, folder 26. Betty Parsons Gallery records and personal papers. Archives of American Art. Digitized collection available online: http://www.aaa.si.edu/ collections/container/viewer/Menkin-Marie--307029. – 1960. “The Films of Marie Menken. Midnight Film Society: Charles Theatre, Dec. 29–30, 1960.” Marie Menken paper file. Anthology Film Archives, New York. – 1963a. Ford Foundation Grant Application. Marie Menken paper file. Anthology Film Archives, New York. – 1963b. “The Films of Marie Menken. Midnight Showcase: Bleecker Street Cinema, May 27, 1963.” Marie Menken paper file. Anthology Film Archives, New York.

Chapter 3 Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia Arthur Cantrill A surprisingly strong tradition of handmade (cameraless) and other artisanal filmmaking developed in Australia in the 1960s. This was in part due to the lower costs of production – film materials and processing have always been more expensive here than in the US or Europe. Filmmakers often found hand-working with film a cheaper alternative given the lack of financial support from arts funding. Consciously or unconsciously, they were following the example of New Zealander Len Lye. Lye first experimented with working directly on 35mm film in Sydney in the early 1920s while working at Filmads Ltd, a film company that made animated advertising films (Horrocks 2001, 55). In the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, and informed by his research into the Indigenous art of Australia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa, Lye independently made a nine-minute animation, Tusalava. He then developed an impressive direct-on-film and optical printing practice in his advertising films for the gpo (General Post Office). His use of paint and stencil on 35mm film, and hand-printing coloured and textured material onto the film surface – after the fashion of Man Ray’s 1923 film experiments in his Retour de la raison. Lye’s gpo films, as well as the hand-painted films by Norman McLaren, were widely seen in Australia and borrowed for film society screenings and schools from film lending collections (Harry Smith’s work was not seen in Australia until much later). In 1963 in Melbourne, Vernon Sundfors made the first of a series of short animated films drawn directly onto clear 35mm film in black ink and printed as negative images onto 16mm. He began with the two-and-a-half-minute The Space Race (1963), a light-hearted satire on American space research, using the musical theme of a well-known current radio serial about a British air ace, Biggles. The Ubu1 film co-operative showed this film in Sydney in 1968 as part of a supporting program for American Underground Movies (Mudie 1997, 116). Sundfors’s second film, The Fly Swatter (1963), is a three-minute comedy about a man using a growing arsenal of weapons to kill an annoying fly. Three years later, he made the

Arthur Cantrill

58

totally abstract direct-on-film animation Nova (1966), which evoked a star’s creation. Two Quickies (1968) was shown as drawn – black lines on white, with colour added directly to the film strip, showing an animated roller-coaster ride with a control of line not unlike that in Robert Breer’s films. Working between Melbourne and London, UK, in the following thirteen years, Sundfors made some twenty-one films using the same technique as well as 2d cut-out animation and live action. The anarchic, absurdist qualities of these films are typical of the underground film tradition of the sixties (Sundfors 1997). In Sydney, the Ubu group (primarily Albie Thoms, David Perry, and Aggy [Andrew G], and Read), made a number of “synthetic” films, as they called them, which were sometimes integrated into theatre performances. Scenes of Thoms’s 1963 live-action film It Droppeth as the Gentle Rain – inspired by Jacques Prévert’s surrealist ballet Les fausses sceptiques (1963) – had scratched-on elements. As well, in 1965 after some initial experiments, David Perry made a hand-drawn film, Poem 25 (based on the Kurt Schwitters’s poem), with inked-on numbers printed as negative with white figures on black and synchronized to a reading of the poem. Poem 25’s first screening also had a live actor reading the poem on stage. In 1967, Albie Thoms issued an influential manifesto that celebrated the handmade film. Thoms’s writing was first issued as a roneoed sheet and later printed in Cantrills Filmnotes #2 (1971). He also made abstract hand-worked films in 1967, such as the two-minute Moon Virility, by using coloured inks painted along a piece of discarded clear 16mm film with an existing optical track (“found sound” as he had not previously heard the track). Thoms’s five-minute Bluto (1967) visualized abraded, coloured textures in rhythmic movement that evoked shimmering metal surfaces. The film’s optical soundtrack was also hand-worked on the margin of the 16mm film strip, which resulted in a form of early “noise music,” or the audio equivalent of the image. In Thoms’s film David Perry (1968) – “a tribute to David Perry” – footage that included shots of David Perry was also transformed with hand-worked colour and texture. In the finale of his featurelength film Marinetti (1969), Thoms also hand-worked found newsreel footage (Thoms 1968). Aggy Read’s Super Block High (1968) had textures made with a grinding wheel, and his Random Walk to Classical Ruin (1971) (later incorporated in his feature-length film, Far Be It Me from It [1971]) was meticulously drawn and painted with coloured inks onto clear 16mm film using mapping pens and brushes. In an interview at the time he said: “after visiting Barry Spinello (San Francisco) I started drawing directly onto clear film with acetate inks (Besslar and VuGraph)” (Cantrill and Cantrill 1971a, 5). He explained how he bent the nib of

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia

59

3.1 Film strip from Aggy Read, Far Be It Me from It (1971).

the pen upwards, to make it more brush-like, and dragged it along the film. He also developed a printing technique in which he pressed a blank piece of clear film onto the wet, painted strip to get a reversed impression. Read used both processes in the final film with results similar to the surrealist use of “decalomania.” To accompany Random Walk, he composed an experimental “concrete” sound piece using an eggbeater, a ceramic jar, and some water, which produced sound similar to the hand-drawn sound on Bluto (Cantrill and Cantrill 1972a). In August 1971, Read mounted an impressive experimental film festival, The First Filmmakers’ Festival, which screened both local and overseas 16mm films at the University of Sydney. It was partly funded by the Australian Council for the Arts and admission was free. The festival included two-screen films and film events, including a film of the Australian landscape by Phillip Noyce during which Noyce burnt eucalyptus leaves in the auditorium to create a compelling bush ambience.

Arthur Cantrill

60

Another abraded film was made in 1971 by myself, Arthur Cantrill, titled Filed Film. Its repeated patterns of texture were made by placing black 16mm strips onto rasps, files, and graters of various textures, and scraping the dampened emulsion with a blade to transfer the rasp patterns into the film. This technique is similar to Max Ernst’s “frottage,” in which he made rubbings of textures such as worn floor boards onto paper. The repeated patterns in Filed Film synched sufficiently with the frame rate to give rising or falling patterns of movement. It was coloured with aniline dyes and used in expanded cinema shows where the patterns were projected onto various three-dimensional surfaces including a large white cone protruding from the screen. Here, the effect anamorphically stretched the image (Thoms 1978). As well, dry transfer graphic materials such as Letraset, Letratone, and Letracolour were used on 16mm clear film by Fred Harden in Melbourne to make Untitled – $50 ($50 being the cost of production). He wrote: “the pure saturation of the colours, the contrasty black and white and the complex strobing images – all can be controlled. The tone screens on the sound track give a range from pure musical notes to harsh electronic sounds” (Harden 1971, 8). In their 1970 film FE , Andrew Pike and chemistry student Terry Turney experimented at the Australian National University in Canberra with various chemical actions on 16mm black and white film emulsion to form intricate crystal-like patterns of movement by making use of oxidizing agents. Terry Turney notes that “by mixing the oxidizing agents with certain clay or sand-like materials, a paste may be produced with varying consistency and granularity. This graininess may be imparted to the film by application of these pastes” (Cantrill and Cantrill 1971b). They also experimented with chemicals used in making blueprints and cyanotypes, resulting in a second film, Cyanosis, in which a white screen gradually develops irregular blue abstractions before becoming black. On the philosophy of the Sydney anarcho-technocrat Harry Hooton, Arthur and Corinne Cantrill’s feature-length film, Harry Hooton (1970), concluded with a hand-printed sequence. Strips of 16mm black and white film, images seen earlier in the film, were contact-printed by hand in three-foot lengths onto colour film by using a light source coloured with various filters and also a colour-filtered pencil torch, which was moved along the strip to give wavering lines of smoky, contrasting colour. Superimpositions in different colours were used to illustrate the Hooton maxim: “art is the communication of emotion to matter.” The handprinted sequence, being unmediated by camera lenses, had unusually saturated colour. The Cantrills used a similar technique again in 1981 with Floterian – Hand-Printings from a Film History, in which strips of 16mm, regular 8mm, and

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia

Super-8 from past Cantrill films were contact-printed onto 35mm colour negative in the darkroom. The mis-synchronization of the frames of the three gauges resulted in a fluttering effect, hence the title: an old English word meaning “fluttering.” In 1987, the silent 35mm print was shown with other experimental films in Automania: The Car as a Cultural Artifact at the Coburg Drive-in Cinema in Melbourne with poet Chris Mann improvising a vocal soundtrack to the film. As well, Floterian had another screening in Melbourne at the State Film Theatre before the Film Department of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris acquired the only 35mm print. The film has since been screened in Australia using a 16mm reduction print. Several hand-worked films were made at a 1972 filmmaking workshop arranged by the Cantrills in Melbourne. Lynsey Martin’s Approximately Water (1972) used a hand-worked shot of rushing water in negative with the photographic image transformed by bleaching and replaced with colour and texture. Other cameraless films made at the 1972 film workshop made use of other inventive and handmade techniques. One film was composed of images partly melted by a soldering iron (a gasometer appearing to swell and explode), which was used to illustrate the “Handmade Films Manifesto” (Cantrill and Cantrill August 1972). Another film had layers of clear adhesive tape applied to clear film, causing light to refract and reflect as it passed through, which gave a crystalline effect. However, it was too bulky to be projected except slowly, frame by frame, on an analysis projector. As a result, it was carefully re-filmed frame by frame onto another strip of film for exhibition purposes. The soundtrack was a recording of the original material passing through an editing machine, creaking and spluttering (Cantrill and Cantrill 1972c). The workshop followed a similar one held by the Cantrills in Canberra at the Australian National University in 1970. There, a twenty-minute group film, Calligraphy Contest for the New Year,2 was made with the participants each producing short lengths of hand-worked tv newsreel footage, and painting and incising on clear and black 16mm film. A print of the film, projected through an anamorphic lens, was later used in expanded cinema shows where the screen, initially black paper, was painted with white paint and then cut away in patterns as the film had been. Other hand-worked films produced by Lynsey Martin in Melbourne were Interview (1973) and Whitewash (1973). In Inter-view, 16mm black and white shots of tv news interviewers and interviewees were meticulously scraped away leaving only tiny details – eyes, mouths, and noses – surrounded by an animated texture of scraped celluloid.The film became a study of the facial expressions and body

61

Arthur Cantrill

62

3.2 Frame enlargement from Lynsey Martin, Inter-View (1973).

language of participants in tv news programs. Whitewash, however, is even more minimal: the constantly white image shows delicate residues of abrasion and chemically induced bubbles (Martin 1973). Dirk de Bruyn began a large body of work in the seventies in Melbourne. At first, he used repeated movements in his films – which often alternated negative and positive – and variations of image texture, as in Running (1976) and Zoomfilm (1976). Later, he developed re-printing and rotoscoping strategies that tightly weave together images from home movie footage that are painted on film and use Letraset dry transfer graphics. These techniques can be seen in such films as Experiments (1981). For the Innersense website on Melbourne independent filmmakers, de Bruyn wrote: My early work Running (1976, 30 mins), Zoomfilm (1976, 28 mins) and Feyers (1979, 27 mins) began a concern with the ideas of closed-eye vision, trance and catatonia and were confronting/assaulting to the viewer. These films were about structure as content. They were concerned with the nature and impact of film itself: with image flicker, the after image, the physiology of viewing. This enquiry led to shorter compacted works like Vision (1985,

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia 4 mins) and 223 (1985, 6 mins). With these films the complexity of the layered image, the “hand drawn/direct on film/image texture” nature of production and the notion of no budget film making became more of a focus. (de Bruyn, “Dirk”)

In recent years de Bruyn has used his films in multi-screen expanded cinema presentations. The Sydney and Melbourne Film Co-ops were active in screening local films in the 1970s, and filmmakers often gave one-off performances. For example, Melbourne filmmaker Tom Psomotragos’s burning film piece – in which a modified projector was induced to burn film frames from the heat of the lamp – charred, bubbled, and distorted the images in real time. Arthur Cantrill gave a similar performance in which a roll of clear film was projected while being coloured with spirit markers, held just above the projector gate, marking the film. As the film exited the projector, it was cut into pieces that were handed to the audience. This event was in response to the restrictive censorship situation of the time that required films to be registered with the Censor before a public screening. This film could not be registered as it existed only at the point of projection and was destroyed immediately afterwards. Since the 1970s, intervention in the processing of film has been explored by several Australian filmmakers. The Melbourne painter, James Clayden, has several examples of what is commonly called solarization (Clayden 1976) – perhaps most notably his 16mm film from this period, Itching Comparables, from Antarctica to Ayer’s Rock (1976). This technique was discovered by nineteenth-century photographers who found that when a plate was exposed and developed – but not fixed – and then given a second exposure to light, it resulted in a partly negative and partly positive image. Man Ray used it in many of his photographs in the 1920s and 1930s. Using the process in motion adds the effect of an image changing photographically in time, but it depends on the varying degree of light in the second exposure. The use of colour film further adds vivid colour transformations to the process. Musician and composer Chris Knowles made use of this technique in some of his home-processed Super-8 films in Melbourne in the 1980s, such as Excerpt (1986). In such films, he often used found footage and shots of everyday reality that he invested with a strangely ominous mood, which was in part due to the colour changes. With the increase in costs of film materials and processing in the 1980s, many filmmakers turned to Super-8 and mainly used Kodachrome stock, a beautiful, fine-grained, colour-saturated material that screened well in quite large cinemas. As a result of this shift, Super-8 film groups formed in Sydney and Melbourne to support the local work. Several Super-8 festivals were arranged and well attended.

63

Arthur Cantrill

64

The filmmakers were dedicated to the use of photochemical film production and exhibition and mainly screened the original camera footage rather than prints, for maximum quality. Filmmaker Richard de Souza, originally from Trinidad, later moved to Brisbane, where he made several Super-8 films often in collaboration with his partner Rhondda Kelly, who has also made films independently. He discovered the possibilities of Super-8 at a Sydney Super-8 Festival in 1982, and in 1984 made Landscape 1, a film of landscapes in which footage of the Brisbane River, with bright sunlight reflections on the water, has fine-coloured spattering added. De Souza used an airbrush fitted to overhead projection pens and directly applied the ink with some precision to the individual Super-8 film frames. Spattered colours were then superimposed to get a colour mix, as in pointillism, and allowed to run on the film. Some frames are thus virtually miniature action paintings. In a semi-abstract film made with Rhondda Kelly in 1987, Twisted Spirals, de Souza and Kelly used cut-up collages of found images often with torn, ragged edges, which included what they called “scratch photos.” These colour photos, after being animated, were moistened in hot water and had fine arrays of parallel scratched lines added and were then re-animated. Negative versions of the images were intercut with the scratched and unscratched versions. For soundtracks, both films had music specially composed by Eugene Carchesio (Cantrill and Cantrill 1988a). In Melbourne, artist Maeve Woods regularly screened her films at the Melbourne Super-8 Film Group’s monthly meetings. Her Super-8 film, Tawdry Sass (1996), has colour and incised texture worked directly onto the Super-8 film strip over the photographic images. Woods’s technique gives a quite painterly effect, and includes an accompanying spoken poetic meditation on the process of the film’s making (Woods 1996). Woods spoke of being influenced by seeing handworked film by the sculptor Clement Meadmore screened at a Melbourne nightclub in the 1950s. At that time Meadmore was exploring a variety of media. Poet Pete Spence, another member of the Melbourne Super-8 Film Group, made hand-worked films such as Diction (1991). Details from frames were refilmed to get enlarged grain, and sections were bleached white using adhesive tape strips as a resist to keep the bleach from parts of the image (Spence 1992). Spence’s partner, Norma Pearse, has made several films using a variety of materials and techniques, including Ficheing (1992), in which she worked over ortho film reshot in a microfiche reader. Rainbow Diary (1984), by the autistic artist Ivor Cantrill, is an intricate handdrawn animation of continually changing patterns of coloured lines and textures. The film is executed on clear 16mm film with fine overhead projection pens, and Melbourne composer Chris Knowles supplies a vibrant electronic music accom-

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia

65

3.3 Frame enlargement from Richard de Souza, Landscape 1 (1984).

paniment. This followed Ivor Cantrill’s earlier 1981 hand-drawn Film of Circles, Squares, Triangles, Lines and Dots (Cantrill and Cantrill 1987). Rock Heart Fire (1986), by Michael Lee, shows the result of extreme heat and damp in the environment on the Ektachrome emulsion. He shot it at the monolith Uluru during a Central Australian summer of extreme heat, and the film material, which was unprotected from the heat, endured further damage from water after being driven through a flooded river. When the wet film was unrolled, horizontal strips of the magenta and yellow emulsion were randomly torn off, leaving the cyan layer more or less intact except for discoloration, bubbling, cracking, and smears that affected all three layers. Lee also added hand-etched patterns to the emulsion. The result suggests a geologic upheaval as well as conveying direct evidence of the climate extremes at the location (Cantrill and Cantrill 1987). The Melbourne sculptor Neil Taylor made Roll Film in 1990. As the title suggests, the film was drawn on a cash register paper roll, with no regard for frame lines – a “one-drawing film,” as the filmmaker described it (1990), of black-inked forms, figures, and textures that swell, shrink, and morph into one another. The strip was then fed through the animation bench and the camera took single-frame exposures along its length. Taylor muses: “it’s just a long scroll that pans and

Arthur Cantrill

66

occasionally, [and] when conditions are right, animates” (1990). Marcus Bergner wrote in the program notes for a Melbourne screening of this film in 2009: “Neil Taylor develops a method of collusion and metamorphosis that kinaesthetically and graphically draws from the essential non-singularity, mutuality and performative energy of images.” In the late 1990s, the continuing reduction in the availability of ciné film stocks and lab processing prompted a resurgence of hand-worked film. Marcus Bergner’s 35mm film Taptap Ruin (1996) used hand-drawn text on a clear 35mm strip with an optical soundtrack of a male voice announcing the stations on a train travelling through Italy. The projected text is not meant to be readable but to suggest “the presence of a written language.” In any case, the frame lines are ignored and letters vary in size, sometimes taking up several frames. The film is in the Lettrist tradition and is related to the work of the abstract sound poetry performance group Arf Arf, which Bergner initiated. Bergner later made films collaged from footage cut from a collection of old 16mm training films that he rescued when they were culled from a college library. For one film, The Surface (2000), he developed a batik-like technique using liquid paper and bleach to remove parts of the image: “a wave of pure oblivion and new potential washed over antiquated film images … all on the threshold of visibility” (Bergner 1996, 36–7). Lee Smith produced a large body of hand-worked film in Melbourne over ten years beginning in 1989. Smith’s first project, Meadow (1989), was based on the pointillist principle, with scintillating dots of various colours forming geometric forms and other patterns, and was informed by the theories of M.E. Chevreul and his laws of simultaneous colour contrast. As well, the film had an experimental soundtrack of reversed and otherwise altered guitar. Smith’s Tin Jan Istra (1995) is painstakingly made of bleached, incised, and re-coloured found footage with a soundtrack of traditional Turkish music and took several years to complete. However, after seeing Maeve Woods’s Tawdry Sass, mentioned above, Smith moved from 16mm to Super-8 with Luna Soma (1997). He incised, scraped, and coloured the dampened black film – the use of colour again inspired by colour theory – and projected the film at the half-speed of 9 frames per second. He connected the film with his practice in painting (Smith 1997). Similarly, Smith’s Pan Am (1997) is made from found 35 mm footage, which was bleached and coloured to the point where the Pan Am logo on an aircraft is barely legible. His 16mm film Cuna Soma (2001) was shown at a screening in Melbourne arranged by Marcus Bergner in 2009, soon after Lee Smith’s death. In the program notes, Bergner writes: “Lee Smith’s remarkable handmade and plaited films combine raw plasticity with a state of visual dynamism rarely encountered in cinema. Parallels and associations with the art and spirit of his namesakes, Jack Smith and Harry Smith, appear subliminally recognizable within this film. Music by the filmmaker and Piers Morgan.”

3.4 Frame enlargement from Neil Taylor, Roll Film (1990).

3.5 Film strips from Lee Smith, Luna Soma (1997).

Arthur Cantrill

68

A five-minute film by Redmond Bridgeman, from Perth, Western Australia, titled U.L. (Universal Leader, 1997) was constructed of several layers of material. Standard 8mm film frames, mechanical images Photoshopped and printed onto clear film, adhesive tape, and countdown leaders etc., were glued to a 16mm strip of clear film, with the glue bubbles sometimes showing. The bulky material was just able to pass through a projector, challenging the projectionist to vary the projector focus from one layer to another. However, printing the film was problematic. Assuming that the lab would agree to print such unusual material, as the sense of depth in the image would be lost, the filmmaker chose to show the original. As Dirk de Bruyn wrote in an article about this film: “U.L. fits into a long tradition of a ‘making do’ method in life and art, in this country … it’s about working with small and seemingly inconsequential materials” (1997). Craig Lindley, who began filmmaking in 1978, made three black and white Super-8 films in 1997: Black Sun, Mysterium, and Nature Morte. These films were shot on Tri-X reversal – a relatively grainy, fast stock – and hand-processed to a negative image to create “a ghostly, surreal and expressionistic world” (Lindley 1998) drawn from nature, sculpture, and engravings. They are “poetries of light, trance films organized by association and the movement of awareness,” he wrote. Then, after making a series of black and white films using conventional chemistry to achieve “etched compositions of swirling grain,” Lindley began to work with brilliant colour in his hand-processed films Agoraphobia and Emanance 1 and 2 in 1999. He wrote: “Agoraphobia was an exercise in creating a complex structure of images within images and textures over textures … The Emanance films were shot on Ektachrome Super-8 reversal and colour negative film, and processed with both reversal and negative chemistry.” He used a combination of irregular processing strategies, bleaching, toning (with toners he acquired on a trip to Paris), tinting, and solarization. The subject matter was often from nature – trees, leaves, and birds – but were sometimes altered to the point of abstraction. The residue of the wet chemical procedures, such as bubble clusters, were retained as part of the image. The aim was to evoke “unfamiliar (archaic) states of consciousness” (Lindley 2000). Another filmmaker who hand-worked the tiny 6 × 4 mm Super-8 film frames to good effect was John Harrison from Perth. In his 1995 film Vena Cava, which was a collaboration with an Indian dance company, he used dyes and corrosive materials to transform the images of Indian dance (Harrison 1995). In 1999 he made Terra Incognita. Here, images of strongly coloured flower and leaf details had minute bubbly splashes of bleach added, thus corroding the layers of emulsion dyes to appear as animated molecular forms intermingling with the natural images. Harrison writes: “the compressed optics of the macro lens allowed me to get

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia

69

3.6 Frame enlargement from John Harrison, Terra Incognita (1999).

somewhere near the unearthly beauty of all the images … the wonderful selforganising abstraction that comes from corrosive materials has an organic musicality that I could never achieve through decisive means. I hope it’s experienced as some form of transcendental magic” (2000). In the 2000s, the continuing reduction in film materials and ciné film lab services in Australia further encouraged home processing. A three-colour separation film by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill shot on high-contrast black and white negative, The Room of Chromatic Mystery (2006), was home-processed in short lengths and printed onto Eastmancolor print stock by one of the last film laboratories in Australia. The use of high-contrast, fine grain, slow speed, black and white negative for the red, green, and blue colour records – in this and two earlier films – resulted in unusually strong and saturated colour with unpredictable colour outcomes. The earlier Cantrill three-colour films were shot on regular panchromatic black and white negative with the aim then being to accurately record colour. The tradition of artisanal filmmaking continues with the recent work of Richard Tuohy, another ex-Melbourne Super-8 Group filmmaker, who now runs

Arthur Cantrill

70

nano lab, an artists’ film laboratory in Melbourne. As well as providing some hard-to-access Super-8 and 16mm film stocks, some lab services, and assistance in accessing other overseas artists’ film labs, Tuohy promotes the experimental use of photochemical filmmaking in his “Artist Film Workshops” in which participants explore various processing techniques. Filmmakers can exhibit in open screenings and view curated programs of experimental films, which include screenings by visiting filmmakers. Films by workshop participants, and Richard Tuohy himself, have added much to the genre. His 16mm film Iron-Wood (2009) was a prizewinner at the Abstracta 2009 experimental film festival in Rome. One of the appeals of hand-made films is a certain visceral quality in the moving image. This quality is derived largely from the direct bodily contact of the film artist’s hand to the material and the frame-by-frame development of the image. These processes produce a film that vibrates with an energy caused by the uniqueness of each frame, which can suggest body energies at a molecular level. Len Lye was very conscious of his films being based on bodily rhythms and processes, and he believed the viewer responded in a physical way (Horrocks 2009). Describing his film Color Cry (1953) in particular, made by contact-printing various coloured and textured materials on the film, Lye spoke of the organic nature of the result that suggested to him “blood cells, nerves, bone and marrow, rib-cage, sinews.”

Notes 1 The name of the group was inspired by Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays produced by Thoms in 1962 and 1963. See “Whence Ubu?,” Ubu News 12 (2 February 1969). 2 The film’s title was from a found newsreel film shot in Japan.

References Bergner, Marcus. 1996. “Taptap Ruin.” Cantrills Filmnotes 83/84 (December). Cantrill, Arthur, and Corinne Cantrill. 1971a. “The Alternative Cinema.” Cantrills Filmnotes 5 (August). – 1971b. “The Hand Made Film.” Cantrills Filmnotes 2 (April). Reprinted in Scott MacKenzie, ed., Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures (Berkeley: University of California Press 2014), 76. – 1972a. “Aggy Read, Far Be It Me from It.” Cantrills Filmnotes 8 (June). – 1972b. “Violence in the Cinema!” Cantrills Filmnotes 9 (August). – 1972c. “Arranging a 14 Day Filmmaking Workshop.” Cantrills Filmnotes 9 (August): 4–9.

Artisanal Filmmaking in Australia – 1987. “Rock Heart Fire, by Michael Lee.” Cantrills Filmnotes 53/54 (September). – 1988a. “Intuitive Strategies: The Tork of Richard de Souza and Rhondda Kelly.” Cantrills Filmnotes 57/58 (December). – 1988b. “Speaking through Colour, Form and Movement.” Cantrills Filmnotes 55/56 (May). Clayden, James. 1976. “Propositions and Thoughts in Pictures.” Cantrills Filmnotes 23/24 (July). de Bruyn, Dirk. N.d. “Dirk de Bruyn.” Melbourne Independent Filmmakers: Innsersense. http://www.innersense.com.au/mif/debruyn.html. – 1997. “Inserting the Extra String in the Machine Code.” Cantrills Filmnotes 87/88 (December). Harden, Fred. 1971. “Letraset Instant Film.” Cantrills Filmnotes 2 (April). Harrison, John. 1995. “This Is Not a Video Clip.” Cantrills Filnotes 79/80 (November). – 2000. “Terra Incognita: Future Archaeologies for a Digital World.” Cantrills Filmnotes 93-100 (January). Horrocks, Roger. 2001. Len Lye, a Biography. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. – 2009. Art That Moves: The Tork of Len Lye. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. Lindley, Craig. 1998. “Transformation, Transcendence and Decay.” Cantrills Filmnotes 89/90 (June). – 2000. “Emanance (1 and 2): Synthetic Colour and Mystical Illusion.” Cantrills Filmnotes 93-100 (January 2000). Martin, Lynsey. 1973. “Notes and Notations.” Cantrills Filmnotes 16 (December). Mudie, Peter. 1997. Ubu Films: Sydney Underground Movies, 1965–1970. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. Smith, Lee. 1997. “Lee Smith Writes about His Filmmaking.” Cantrills Filmnotes 87/88 (December). Spence, Pete. 1992. “Pete Spence.” Cantrills Filmnotes 67/68 (July). Sundfors, Vernon. 1997. “Jim Films, the Films of Vernon Sundfors.” Cantrills Filmnotes 85/86 (June). Taylor, Neil. 1990. “Short Lives and Roll Film.” Cantrills Filmnotes 63/64 (December). Thoms, Albie. 1968. “Synthetic Films.” Ubu News 7 (September). – 1978. Polemics for a New Cinema. Sydney: Wild and Woolley. Ubu Collective, eds, Ubu News 12 (1968–69). Woods, Maeve. 1996. “Tawdry Sass: Voice-Over for a Film by Maeve Woods.” Cantrills Filmnotes 83/84 (December).

71

Part Two

Process as Practice

Chapter 4 Self-Skilling and Home-Brewing: Some Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture Kim Knowles From October 2011 to March 2012, the Tate Modern exhibited Tacita Dean’s installation FILM . I published a review of Dean’s project in Millennium Film Journal, where I discussed the ambivalent nature of the “death of film” discourse and the difficulty of employing terms such as “crisis” and “loss” in ways that do not inadvertently close down discussions about the future of celluloid film (Knowles 2012). The past decade has seen a series of shifts, reconceptualizations, conflicts, and negotiations in the language we use to speak about seemingly oppositional themes like obsolescence and progress, film and the digital, the old and the new. The analog-digital debate has evolved into a diverse amalgam of positions as it becomes increasingly necessary to acknowledge the complexities and nuances of a technological environment that is still very much in flux. Although film is now largely considered insignificant and ill-suited to a modern society of efficiency, instantaneity, and convenience, its cumbersome machinery, awkward manual interventions, and time-consuming processes nonetheless remain a desirable form of image making among large numbers of contemporary artists. Film’s physical nature is precisely its draw – its organic materials are a reassuring reflection of our own bodies. In a world of complicated algorithms, mysteriously impenetrable black boxes, and intangible data, film is something we can understand – it can be touched, smelled, tasted, and felt. Moreover, film is felt not just in the process of making but also in the experience of viewing – the restless silver grain, the chemical compound that makes up the image, shifts before our eyes as the rays of projector light shine through and animate it. These irreplaceable qualities of celluloid are what drive the alternative infrastructures and practices that I am interested in exploring here. In the wake of film materials’ commercial demise, their increased availability allows artists to control and reinvent every stage of the once-industrialized process of production. The new sense of freedom and liberation to which this shift has given rise reframes film as a field of discovery, a photochemical playground that offers itself to the artist – raw, physical, malleable, and open to a seemingly limitless range of interventions.

Kim Knowles

76

It is this fascination with materials that increasingly characterizes celluloid film culture, particularly through engagements with the past as a means of (re)invention and projection towards a potential future – in other words, the process of looking backwards in order to move forward. In reflecting on some of these practices, I would like to problematize a number of discursive frameworks that have been used to discuss analog film in order to suggest ways of thinking constructively, not defensively, about its position and ongoing potential in an evolving digital world. As the cultural status of film becomes ever more precarious, caught between an increasing drive towards autonomy and a constraining reliance on commercial companies for the supply of materials, new ways of negotiating these challenges emerge through creative alternatives. At the same time, these alternatives demand new critical and theoretical approaches and, most importantly, require us to think carefully and sensitively about the complex relationship between film and digital. The British artist Vicky Smith has recently described the climate of contemporary celluloid practice in terms of a “model of self-skilling” through which “analogue film, while disappearing commercially, is able to prevail amongst artist filmmakers” (Smith 2012, 42). Steven Woloshen similarly points out that a “frugal, do-it-yourself attitude” is now necessary for the continuation of photochemical filmmaking among future generations of artists (Woloshen 2010, 6). His Recipes for Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker is part of a growing trend for the exchange and circulation of formulas and processes that can be reproduced with minimal resources and little specialist knowledge. Professional chemicals and equipment are replaced or supplemented with everyday, and seemingly unlikely, household items – bleach, coffee, vitamin C, icing sugar, yeast, shoeboxes, hole punches, garden hoses, and bathtubs – which subverts the function and use value of those products while turning the contemporary filmmaker into a resourceful inventor-bricoleur-alchemist. Woloshen’s claim that making films is like making food highlights the organic nature of the film material, privileges the spirit of spontaneity and discovery, and further collapses the boundary between domestic and professional spheres. The contemporary emphasis on materials and materiality, then, is not a reactionary return to modernist arguments of medium-specificity in an attempt to valorize the position of film in a digital era, as some would suggest. It is, rather, a survival strategy – a way of adapting to celluloid’s unstable cultural position by establishing new practices and approaches that turn disillusionment into empowerment. This process of rebuilding and refashioning film very often involves looking back to earlier developments for answers to current material challenges. In the wake of discontinued film stocks and the potential future threat to colour 16mm

Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture

4.2 Still from Esther Urlus, Konrad & Kurfurst (2013).

4.1 Cover of Recipes for Reconstruction, Steven Woloshen.

film, Esther Urlus, for example, recently embarked on a project to produce homemade colour film. Undeterred by the professional evidence suggesting that this was nearly impossible on a domestic scale, she consulted a range of technical manuals by the early pioneers of both photography and film from the early nineteenth century onwards. The research and subsequent tests culminated in the short film Konrad and Kurfurst (2013), made with home-brewed emulsion based on a simple recipe of gelatin, potassium bromide, and silver nitrate, and then hand-tinted in the spirit of Georges Méliès. Urlus also published her own version of the technical manual in which she detailed each stage of the process – home-brewing the emulsion, spreading it onto a clear base, exposing and developing, printing, and, finally, colour tinting – accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations in the spirit of the earlier publications. The resulting booklet is at once playful and instructive, purposefully drawing attention to its own retro aesthetic while at the same time proposing a field of invention for future analog filmmakers. In fact, Urlus’s processes may turn out to be the only viable way to work with the medium. These diy approaches, however, do not aim to recreate the level of perfection found in commercial film stock. As Robert Schaller states: “we’re not going to repeat Kodak’s years of hard work in

Kim Knowles

78

our basement, so why try? Let’s do something else, something that they didn’t do because it didn’t match their objectives” (Schaller 2012). Schaller, Urlus, and Woloshen (2010) point to artistic alternatives to the production of film materials that, out of necessity, free the medium from its previous commercial constraints and realign it with a craft-based, artisanal mode of production – which seems better suited to its current use – predominantly within the field of experimental film. In reinventing the pioneers, Urlus subverts traditional narratives of technological progress and returns to the crucial moment of cinematic invention in order to map out an alternative, less manufactured future: “The tests and experiments made in this booklet are in the tradition of the pioneers. But though they were compelled to make steps forward on this then new and unexplored matter, my interest and experiments are more akin to an opportunistic backtracking upon their findings” (Urlus 2013). The aim here is to “resurrect the art, science, and craft of silver gelatin emulsions” in order to take the knowledge in a new direction, such as to reconceptualize and redefine past innovation from a contemporary perspective. However, this should not be confused with a backwards-looking, reactionary kind of nostalgia – of which celluloid enthusiasts are so often accused – since looking back is here accompanied by a desire to build something new and to project into the future. Moreover, there is also a sense that the current state of analog film practice demands a reassessment of the very notion of nostalgia in this context. As Svetlana Boym argues, nostalgia is not always retrospective; it can also be prospective (2001, xvi), which opens up reflection about “how the past may actively engage with the present and future” (Pickering and Keightley 2006, 920). Similarly, Urlus’s celebration of photochemical film does not automatically equate to an oppositional stance in relation to other forms of image making simply because it runs counter to the traditional linear narrative of (technological) progress. Although it may be inferred by the reader, there is no outward criticism or stated rejection of digital technology in Urlus’s writing and in her embracing of earlier techniques. In fact, any discussion that pits “new” against “old” technology is conspicuously (and refreshingly) absent – it is film itself that is re(new)ed. The beginnings of these investigations into early colour techniques can be found in Urlus’s vertical film, Chrome (2013), which uses the autochrome process – a technique invented by the Lumière brothers in 1903 for colouring black and white film. Here, “microscopic grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet act as colour filters. At normal viewing distances, the light coming through the individual grains blends together in the eye, reconstructing the colour of the light photographed through the filter grains” (Belina 2012, 42). Chrome was one of the ten films commissioned for the Vertical Cinema project that pre-

Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture

miered at the Kontraste Dark as Light Festival in October 2013. Clearly inspired by Dean’s vertical format for the FILM installation, this epic 35mm extravaganza demonstrates, however, a vital deviation from its Turbine Hall–residing precedent. As a form of expanded cinema that draws on the history of “large scale cinematic architectures of the last century,” the project was developed around a desire to rethink the film experience and the traditional cinema space. The past is mined and reimagined, “propos[ing] a future for filmmaking rather than a pessimistic debate over the alleged death of film.” From this perspective, the awe-inspiring monumental proportions are not designed to provoke reverence for something sacred, as is the case with Dean’s FILM , but to literally “expand the image onto a new axis” (42) and thus open up new aesthetic possibilities. Such an expansion takes into account the body of the viewer and her or his relationship to the surrounding space, conceived as an extension of the immersive cinema setting. Considering Urlus’s chemical investigations in the context of the Vertical Cinema project allows us to move from the micro to the macro in understanding how the past can be mined to open up possibilities for the future. The contemporary moment of media transition, and the so-called crisis of film, has thus brought about a sharpened awareness of the history of technological innovation among artist-filmmakers. This is not necessarily a new development as the growing academic field of media archaeology demonstrates. However, where these current activities are distinct, and where they differ from related attempts at historical mapping, is in their practical application in the continuation and renewal of existing forms, practices, and social structures that propose an alternative trajectory to that of media replacement whose logic is determined largely by market forces. As stated above, this inevitably carries with it negative associations of nostalgia, which frames engagements with the film material as harking back to a (recent) past when things were better, when film was plentiful, and when digital technology did not threaten the future of film. One only need to consider Ed Halter’s damning review of Views from the Avant-Garde,1 the fin-de-siècle turning point (or the point of no return) in the analog–digital transition,2 to find evidence of this. He argues that while “the videomakers [represented in the Lincoln Film Society’s Video Festival earlier in that year] look both forward and back in time for inspiration … almost every experimental film here wallows in death-of-film nostalgia,” exhausting, in the process, “the intrinsic limits of a dying medium” (2000). Referring to photochemical practice as a “retro genre of experimental film,” he concludes his review by suggesting that “for film, the experiment is over.” Halter’s categorical stance has recently been challenged by Federico Windhausen, who points out that film and video now “co-exist more or less equally” in film festivals such as Views, and that the stark division between the two media

79

Kim Knowles

80

is no longer as relevant now as it was then (Windhausen 2011, 70–1). I mention Halter’s review in order to draw attention to the fact that, contrary to his predictions, the film experiment is far from over. In fact, one might argue that it is only just beginning. As Pip Chodorov’s article in this collection illustrates, the years following Halter’s discussion of film as a dying medium have seen a worldwide explosion of artist-run film labs – a period of intense film activity that Chodorov describes as a “turning point in history.” While professional film production facilities close their doors, artist-run labs open theirs, recuperating and rebuilding discarded machinery such as cameras, projectors, editing tables, optical and contact printers, developing tanks, and rostrum cameras, often with the help of other labs. Suddenly, artists have direct access to the means of production – those stages of the filmmaking process that have traditionally been controlled by professionals who work to strict industry standards and conventions. Chodorov even goes as far as to overturn the myth that shooting on film is more expensive than digital, drawing attention to the very different economies at work in using outmoded and industrially devalued equipment. These contemporary labs follow a model that was first established in the 1960s by the London Filmmakers Co-op, where production, distribution, and exhibition all took place under the same roof. The works created there by artists such as Malcolm Le Grice, Annabel Nicholson, and Lis Rhodes, among others, gave rise to Peter Gidal’s notion of structural-materialism, which refers to the foregrounding of materials and processes. “Each film,” he argues, “is a record (not a representation and not a reproduction) of its own making” (Gidal 1976). Gidal saw this refusal of representation as a political practice that threw the illusionism of commercial cinema and the ideological workings of narrative into relief. The current context clearly is not the same, and simply drawing attention to film’s material conditions is no longer perceived as such a radical act of transgression. But the resurgence of the artist-run film lab scene is a reframing, not a repetition, of the modes of materialist engagement, which take on a renewed countercultural impulse in a very changed technological landscape. As film shifts from a “dominant” to a “residual” cultural form, the materials themselves become politically charged in a way that they were not during the 1960s and 1970s. Although there may be arguments against using the word “obsolete” to describe a medium still very much in use,3 discourses on the processes and production of obsolescence, as well as theories of the outmoded, rubbish and waste, open up useful critical positions from which to assess current activities in the field of photochemical film.4 As Raymond Williams writes: “the residual, by definition, has been effectively formed in the past, but is still active in the cultural process, not only and often not at all as an

Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture

element of the past, but as an effective element of the present” (1977, 122). In many ways, these temporal modalities provide a framework for thinking about the dynamics of artist-run film labs, with their politics of recycling and revaluing “old” objects and materials in a culture of disposability. In the context of modernity and progress, past and present, it is important to stress again that defending the possibilities of photochemical film should not necessarily equate to a rejection of digital technology. In fact, I would argue that the divisive analog versus digital position is a highly charged and often counter-productive one. This is tricky terrain to negotiate since, as I have argued above, the continuation of film and the engagement with its material properties is increasingly framed, whether consciously or not on the part of the artist, as a “politics of resistance,” to quote Bradley Eros. Resistance is indeed what keeps film alive, but Eros also claims that analog culture is “often a fuck-you to contemporary fads by discriminating artists who have experienced the difference” (2012, 47; emphasis in original). This is an extremely dangerous stance, particularly when it is accompanied by the view that “some things were just made better.” Thus, such rhetoric can only place film practice in an inward-looking, defensive, and elitist position, which invites the very criticism that plagues it into a vicious, mud-slinging circle that will not help its future development in a digitally dominated world. Film is not necessarily “better,” digital is more than a “contemporary fad,” and artists who embrace it cannot be written off as undiscriminating! The fight for the cultural relevance of photochemical film should not be reduced to such knee-jerk counter-attacks. Understanding the differences (as well as the similarities) between digital and analog media is certainly necessary, and, as some critics have pointed out, medium-specificity remains a fruitful field of inquiry.5 However, praising film for its “spontaneity and blindness” while denouncing digital for being “too deliberate, too intended” (Dean 2014) leads only to a romanticized form of essentialism and, more importantly, demonstrates a lack of understanding of the digital medium. As well, digital media is itself a powerful site of resistance, and acts of subversion are not exclusively tied to residual forms. In addition, many artists who are invested in photochemical film have shown that creative dialogues can take place between both media and that hybrid practice may open up other exciting avenues of experimentation. The interest here is in widening the cinematographic palette in a way that avoids framing one medium as “better” than another. As Jihoon Kim notes in his article on Bruce Elder’s filmdigital hybrids, such works “bring into relief the materiality of both mediums” (Kim 2012, 30). I would argue that they also overturn assumptions about their fundamental incompatibility, or what Nicky Hamlyn describes as their “unbridgeable gulfs” (Hamlyn 2011, 30).6 In films by Jürgen Reble, Makino Takashi,

81

82

4.3 Still from Makino Takashi, Still in Cosmos (2009).

Thorsten Fleisch, and Siegfried Fruhauf, to name just a few, there is often a nonhierarchical fusion of elements that involves both chemical manipulations and digital transformations. Here, the film grain “speaks” to the digital pixel, creating, as in the films of Reble and Takashi, a new kind of image that hovers somewhere between the two. But, again, we need to be careful about how we frame this emerging field. Whereas French filmmaker Johanna Vaude considers hybrid practice as an ephemeral form that transfers the old towards the new (Vaude 2011, 218), I see these film-digital fusions as being as much about looking back as they are about projecting forwards, exploring and opening up new possibilities for both media. Although in a perpetual state of instability, photochemical film practice shows little sign of giving up any time soon. The future is still uncertain but there is enough desire, invention, collaboration, recuperation, and imagination to believe that it will continue to thrive through grass-roots communities, self-skilling, and the exchange of ideas. As the film collective Process Reversal claims on their website, “the time that we are facing with film today is in fact the most exciting opportunity in the history of the medium – as the film industry collapses all around us, we are being left with a chance to re-invent the medium in an image that was neither intended nor desired by the commercialism of the medium, one that explores new ways of seeing, new ways of hearing, and new ways of speaking about film.”7 The tone is one of excitement – not of lament, nor of mourning for something already dead, but rather of a deep investment in something still very much alive. This is the true spirit of analog film culture. “Let’s make home brew emulsion films!” says Urlus. “Let’s make a lot!” Call it naive, but the energy is infectious. What is there to lose in thinking that all is not lost?

Reflections on Photochemical Film Culture

Notes A version of this paper was published in the Fall 2014 issue of Millennium Film Journal. 1 The New York Film Festival’s experimental strand, previously curated by Mark McElhatten, and now renamed “Projections.” 2 Frédérique Devaux evokes the relationship between the end of the century and the “end” of film when she describes the materialist interventions in her film Ellipses (1999) as “a joyous end-of-century apocalypse” (une joyeuse apocalypse de fin de siècle). http://lightcone.org/fr/film-2215-ellipses. 3 In a recent conversation with me, British filmmaker and head of the no.w.here lab in London James Holcombe said that he was skeptical about referring to film as obsolete since the term seems antithetical to the very lively culture surrounding the medium. 4 See, for example, Knowles 2013. 5 See, for example, Michael Turvey’s recent talk at Concordia University in which he explains “why a defensible version of medium-specificity still remains viable today.” “Medium Specificity Defended.” Arthemis, 9 April 2014. http://arthemiscinema.ca/en/content/malcom-turveys-talk. 6 Hamlyn’s discussion is based on an examination of specific works that “could not have existed other than in the medium in which they were made,” and thus the gulfs of which he speaks form a productive part of his analysis. Nonetheless, while acknowledging these gulfs or gaps, we might (productively) ask, to what extent are they unbridgeable? 7 http://processreversal.org/about-process-reversal. Accessed 14 June 2014.

References Belina, Mirna, ed. 2013. Vertical Cinema. Amsterdam: Sonic Acts Press. Boym, Svetlana. 2001. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic. Dean, Tacita. 2014. “Tacita Dean: Save This Language.” BBC Radio 4. http://www. bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040llzm. Eros, Bradley. 2012. “more captivating than phosphorous.” Millennium Film Journal 56: 42–9. Gidal, Peter. 1976. “Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film.” Structural Film Anthology. London: bfi. http://www.luxonline.org.uk/articles/theory_and_ definition(1).html. Halter, Ed. 2000 “Views from the Avant-Garde.” New York Press, 11 October. http://nypress.com/views-from-the-avant-garde.

83

Kim Knowles Hamlyn, Nicky. 2011. “Medium Practices.” PUBLIC 44: 21–30. Kim, Jihoon. 2012. “Bruce Elder’s Film-Digital Hybrids and Materialist Historiography.” Millennium Film Journal 56: 30–40. Knowles, Kim. 2012. “Better Viewed on the Wall of an Art Gallery? Institution,

84

Aesthetics and Experimental Film.” Millennium Film Journal 55: 40–4. – 2013. “Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Inscriptions in Contemporary Experimental Film.” NECSUS _European Journal of Media Studies 4: 447–63. http://www.necsusejms.org/blood-sweat-and-tears-bodily-inscriptions-in-contemporary-experimentalfilm. Schaller, Robert. 2012. “Thoughts on Handmade Emulsion versus Commercial Filmstock.” http://www.handmadefilm.org/writings/emulsionThoughts.html. Smith, Vicky. 2012. “Full Body Film.” Sequence 2: 44–7. Urlus, Esther. 2013. Re:Inventing the Pioneers: Film Experiments on Handmade Silver Gelatin Emulsion and Color Methods. Rotterdam: Esther Urlus. Williams, Raymond. 1977. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Windhausen, Federico. 2011. “Assimilating Video.” October 137: 69–83. Woloshen, Steven. 2010. Recipes for Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker. Montreal: Scratchatopia Books.

Chapter 5 After: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy Carl Brown I work extensively with an optical printer, using it as a vehicle for compression and expansion of images. By taking a “real” image and looping it, I compress the image through the use of the spring-wound motor of a Bolex camera. Then, I disengage the automatic motor and re-photograph the image with both the camera and the projector running simultaneously. I make films this way because it involves an interesting paradox. Beginning with a “realistic” image, either originally made by me or pulled from compilation footage, I take the form of the original image, the movement, or the emotional quality as the impetus for selection. I take apart – that is, deconstruct – the realism inherent in the image, which leaves me with an abstraction of form and movement. As a result, I leave the emotional quality of the image intact. I then create a pulsing loop, which seems appropriate for the image in question, as it fits into the scheme of the whole film. A shot may undergo as many as seven or eight transformations before it is ready to be used. I find beauty in this elongated process – essentially, every stage becomes a new shot within itself and can therefore be incorporated into a film structure. One can cut from reversal to negative, and through this create the continuity needed for the film to be coherent. Consider this: because the film is so abstract in this form, one must insert something so the audience can follow the film. This approach can work on the level of the (sub)conscious – the audience perceives the subtleties of film based upon your structure. This takes film into audience members’ minds. Logically, I can make the length of the shot as long as required so that the rhythm of the shot is embedded in the audiences’ memory. This technique has limitless potential – and I have only begun to tap into it. As I experimented with this looping process (cycle imaging) more fully, it led me to other fields of motion picture film, namely the Sabattier effect – a form of solarization – and reticulation. Jeffrey Paull, my instructor at Sheridan College, introduced me to these processes through Jim Stone’s Darkroom Dynamics (1979), a book designed to take you beyond shooting images into a world of many

Carl Brown

86

possibilities. I applied the book to 16mm motion picture film even though it was designed for 35mm photographers. Looking back on my filmic infancy, I realize that I gained a closer understanding of film as art, physical and mental, from many hours in the darkroom developing thousands of feet in my clear jug. I saw it happen right there, bathed in red light, as the film spoke to me clearly. I think this is why I continued my hand-developing studies. I began to enter a world that to date has merely been touched upon. Why did I choose these processes? How do they fit into my filmmaking? It became apparent that the pulsing halo of the Sabattier effect – a result of exposing the film for short periods of time while it was in the developer – could be worked into the looping process. I could create a depth of field beyond the original footage. This depth of field was visible after the original motion had been slowed down. The halo, or glow, became something that would gradually work its way across the image’s highlights. In creating my own depth of field, more and more my vision became the abstract shot. I converted what I saw into what I felt. This was a very important event. I had found a foundation from which to work and express myself. From this point, I began to chip away at the iceberg with a more experienced and knowledgeable eye and approach. I began to reticulate the surface of the film, in hopes that I could create an added dimension to the image. At first, I followed the instructions in the book but found no success. I was given all kinds of methods from other articles that were involved in this endeavour. One person suggested putting the film in the freezer to crack the emulsion. As it so happened, I stumbled on the right combination after reading various documents on the subject, one being The Dignan Papers on Alkalinity. The first thing was to use a fixer for black and white film, which came with a separate hardener. There is a 32-ounce solution A, which is fixer concentrate to be mixed, and solution B, which is usually four ounces of hardener concentrate. During the mixing of the chemicals, you simply exclude solution B – this is stage one. Without the hardener, the surface of the film becomes more pliable to work with. The second thing necessary is taken directly from the Stone book: the use of a high developing temperature. For the contrast I wanted, I found that D-19 developer gave me the best results. The developing time of D-19 is approximately five minutes in 64 ounces of developer at 24°C. Stone’s book recommends 60– 65°C, but I found that all the black and white stocks I was using would usually peel at that temperature, which left many emulsion flecks and pieces. So, I lowered the temperature until I reached what I found to be a workable temperature – I also learned that the temperature needs to be even lower for colour film. Finally, I added sodium carbonate to boiling water and submerged the film into the solution

A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy

for 20 minutes to a week, depending on how radically reticulated I wanted the image. In order for the reticulation to be evenly distributed across the film’s surface, the film must be attached to whatever surface the solution is intended to be poured onto. This is, however, a drawback. I used a bathtub – the lengths of my film are no longer than about four feet. With this length, I could loop my original image on the printer, shoot off about 50 feet, and then finally process it. Somewhere along the way, I got an original, new strand together for the next stage – the extension of the length of the shot. Sometimes I lost footage, but I viewed this as a blessing. Through the year, I have lost at least two thousand feet of film, both original and reprinted shots. Losing the footage forced me to reshape my philosophical approach to film. Now, I do not get as attached to the material knowing that I could lose my footage at any moment. My relationship with my film is fleeting. Through this uncertainty, I have gained a new flexibility: chance and change. I primarily worked with printer stocks during this time: 7302, 7362, and 7361. I used printer stock in the camera to achieve the high-contrast effect that I wanted for the look of my film. However, these stocks are not panchromatic – I could develop them under a red safelight in a clear plastic jug and watch the progression of the image. The ability to watch the development was also advantageous while I was Sabattiering my film. I could match up one-hundred-foot rolls of Sabattiered materials that I had done weeks apart. The end result was matching shots! With this visibility, I was able to be more spontaneous, more proactive in the moment. I have found that as an artist, I am able to carve out what I really want on the film. Through the cracking of the image, I could work with minimal motion, which allowed for long-take shots and additional celluloid motion. This is then added onto the 24-frames-per-second camera motion. The added motion I would call “mind motion.” The reticulation becomes the surface interpretation of the channels that the mind goes through in order for someone to stare at any inanimate object for any long period of time. The mind adds the motion in order to capture one’s inner attention. This could be a subconscious link-up between the viewer and the image, or it could have no relationship whatsoever with the image. Perhaps, it is just past memories. In either case, the reticulation on film translates this into something visible for the audience and we actually see it, the subject, and it, the action. As a person who is lyrical and poetic in my work, I believe that sound in film is as important as image. As I show my films to more and more audiences, I realize that sound is something that audiences can fall back on. The images pass through the viewer in an eye-bang or psychedelic effect. Through music, images work on the mind more effectively. Music is a vehicle through which the audience is able

87

5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 Untitled artworks by Carl Brown.

A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy

to see and feel more. I have found this to be very successful. Of course, as I more fully mature as an artist, I may find that this is not the case. However, my hope is that this marriage of sound and image will have an even fuller range of possibilities. Right now, I believe that sound, used in this way, makes the film more accessible to the audience. The end result of my work is a 14-minute, 56-second sound film titled URBAN FIRE (1982). This incorporates what I believe is the first sustained reticulated footage in motion picture film, along with the Sabattier effect, and all the elements I have previously mentioned. This was my beginning.

Note This article was first written in 1982 and sent to Michael Snow, Stan Brakhage, David Rimmer, Al Razutis, and Norman McLaren. It has since been published in several catalogues including Image Forum (Tokyo, 1991); La part du visual: Films expérimentaux canadiens récents (Avignon, France: Archives du Film Experimental d’Avignon, 1991); Poétique de la couleur: Une histoire du cinéma expérimental: Anthologie (Paris: Louvre Institut de l’Image, 1995); European Media Art Festival (Osnabrück, 2000); Filmprint (Toronto: Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto, 2006); and the inaugural issue of INCITE Journal of Experimental Media 1 (2008–09): 33–7.

Reference Stone, Jim, ed. 1979 Darkroom Dynamics: A Guide to Creative Darkroom Techniques. London and New York: Routledge.

89

Chapter 6 How and Why: A Few Notes Concerning Production Techniques Employed in the Making of My Darkroom Films Peter Tscherkassky How My very first darkroom film saw the light of the projector in the year 1984 – and in a sense, Motion Picture (La sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière à Lyon) might be my most radical work to date. To a certain degree, this concept film was the fruit of my primary reading material at the time: Umberto Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics. Eco isolates particles of darkness and light as fundamental to the photographic (and thus also filmic) code. The tiny, isolated components of this code are equivalent to the phonemes of spoken language, and like these they carry no meaning in themselves. It is only in combination with other such meaningless particles that various photographic grey values can add up to something meaningful. With Motion Picture I wanted to get down to these elemental building blocks of the cinematographic illusion apparatus, to isolate and connect them in a self-sufficient film, revealing the fundamental illusion code. So I marched into the darkroom and mounted fifty 16mm strips of unexposed film stock onto the wall, vertically covering a surface of 50 × 80 cm in total. Onto this blank cinematic canvas I projected a single frame from the first film ever shot for the purpose of cinematic projection, namely Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895) by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière. I processed the exposed filmstrips and subsequently arranged them on a light table to form a 50 × 80 cm duplicate of the original Lumière frame. I then edited the filmstrips together, starting with the first strip on the left, and proceeding to the right. The result is a three-minute 16mm film exhibiting the particles of darkness and light that constitute the original Lumière image, emptied of all figurative content. As Michael Palm put it, “If it were possible to see a code, one might say: here it shows.”1 With Motion Picture I had reached a kind of filmic ground zero. It was not easy to find a way back into the cinematographic space of illusion. It took the pressure of having to write my PhD dissertation in philosophy to motivate making another film – as a means of escape. After completing Motion Picture I had given up my

The Making of My Darkroom Films

Berlin residence, where I had lived for five years, and started making films. I moved back to Vienna, where I was supposed to write my thesis, entitled “Film and Art – Towards a Critical Aesthetic of Cinematography.” But then I descended into what could be called a state of “philosophical performance anxiety.” It was in this condition that I stole into a darkroom I had originally set up at the age of fourteen in my parents’ house. I was armed with two 35mm advertising films, one for Ergee nylon stockings and the other for car tires (Semperit HiLife m 401), plus a few negative filmstrips of moving hands I had photographed with a regular still camera. I proceeded to make the film Manufracture (1985) in a kind of trance. It took six days working fourteen-hour shifts to complete the film … Despite its kinetic qualities, I regard Manufracture as a minor work, but it awakened my pleasure in found-footage filmmaking once and for all; it suggested the possibilities of working with the 35 mm still camera as a cine-camera (which would later lead to Parallel Space: Inter-View [1988–92]); and, above all, it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing film art work in the darkroom. Twelve years passed before I found my way back into the darkroom, but ever since, all my films have been created in that tiny little red light district: L’arrivée (1997/1998), Outer Space (1999), Dream Work (2001), Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), Nachtstück (Nocturne) (2006), Coming Attractions (2010), The Exquisite Corpus (2015), and Train Again (work in progress). Each of these works is based on found footage. Film originally shot by other filmmakers is elementally reconstituted by interventions I undertake in the darkroom, the material thereby coalescing into a new, autonomous creation. Each of my darkroom films was made by means of an archaic contact copying process. The concrete method I employ can be explained as follows: I place a strip of unexposed 35mm film on a piece of cardboard that measures 15 × 100 cm. The filmstrip itself equals 48 frames in length, which comes to two seconds of projection time. The raw stock I use is orthochromatic – since it is desensitized to red light, I can work in a darkroom dimly lit by a red bulb. The unexposed film is held in place by small nails with which the cardboard is outfitted. I place one metre of found footage on top of my unexposed film stock. The nails of the cardboard protrude through every fourth perforation hole, so I can keep track of the frame lines: 35mm film has four perforation holes per film frame; each pair of nails holds one frame in place. Subsequently I copy the found footage onto the raw material by exposing it to light. I have a number of possible light sources at my disposal. I largely use customized flashlights or else a conventional photographic enlarger. But, this said, I mainly created the so-called CinemaScope trilogy (L’arrivée, Outer Space, and Dream Work) using a laser pointer to excise select portions of

91

Peter Tscherkassky

92

individual frames – details I copied, one frame at a time. This method of exposing film stock is reminiscent of painting: I manually guide the laser pointer across the surface of each individual frame, carefully searching for and exposing pre-selected bits and pieces – the tiny beam of light illuminating and rendering these shapes functions as my brush. After copying details from 48 frames of found footage, I repeat the process several times over again, exposing the same single strip of raw stock to several different strips of found footage. In this way, I can mix details from entirely disparate sequences, and each individual frame becomes an intricate optical collage. Parts of Outer Space include up to five multiple exposures. Dream Work consists of sequences involving up to seven layers. L’arrivée, on the other hand, was produced using a photographic enlarger as my sole light source. I created the collage effect by sandwiching several strips of found footage on top of the metre of raw film stock I then exposed in one single pass to the cone of light emitted by my enlarger. Normally it takes between 50 to 70 minutes to create one metre of multiple exposures frame by frame. I subsequently develop the film by hand in standard black and white darkroom chemistry and then examine the results on a light table. I employed a similar process to create the soundtrack for Outer Space. The sound of analog film is encoded in the form of an optical soundtrack, a graphically jagged, visual track running along the edge of the film frame. And so it is that a film’s soundtrack can be copied and collaged in the same way as its images. I used this technique to full advantage in the case of Outer Space: I often selected and copied portions of audio from one part of the original film to accompany a completely different sequence of my newly emerging film. In the case of L’arrivée, I copied the image portion of my source material so that it edged beyond the visible film frame, over to where the soundtrack is supposed to be. The projector’s audio system thereby reads these image fragments as sound, making them audible (The result is vaguely reminiscent of the Italian futurists’ intonarumori or “noise instruments”). My darkroom work is always preceded by a planning phase that is no less intricate and laborious than the darkroom work. I closely study my found material on dvd and virtually get to know it by heart. The elements of individual frames, each shot and every sequence triggers a kind of vocabulary for the new film. Based on this vocabulary, I develop a new story with a dramaturgical structure I set to paper in my notebook. In a second notebook I map out a precise microstructure for the exposure of each metre of film. This notation work is an absolute necessity, guiding my later steps in the near dark. It resembles a musical score, carefully listing all future dark-

The Making of My Darkroom Films

room interventions. The result is a graphic notation for each filmstrip. If a mistake has occurred in the process of copying my material, I can start the exposure process all over again based on these notations.

Why Whether we like it or not, today we are witnessing the rapid replacement of classic analog film by digital imaging technologies. There seems to be little doubt that it is only a matter of time before the entire production and projection process will be purely digital in nature. Should you find yourself in one of the few analog projection booths left, surrounded by clumsy projectors, you already might feel you’ve stumbled into a kind of Jurassic Park. Giant reels of heavy film requiring transportation to and from the distributor, and from one theatre to the next, nowadays resemble something off a list of endangered species. It may be true that in many fields of audio-visual communication it does not make a big difference whether images stem from a strip of film or are rendered from a digital medium. However, in all cases where it’s about film as an art form, the difference between the two media is absolutely crucial. This has to do with the etiology of modern art in general. Historically speaking, the different forms of what we term “modern art” have been determined by a process of rationalization that affected society as a whole. The philosophical roots of this process can be found in the Enlightenment, its social origin in the French Revolution, when reason constituted the final determinant of the legitimacy of political power. From an economic perspective, the Modern Age can be considered the result of a rationalization process that laid claim to the world in its technical form, namely industrialization. In the art world, the spread of rationalization was expressed by work that began to reflect its own inner structure, its creative means and possibilities, and what is integral to these: its material. In the history of cinema, classic and contemporary avant-garde films reflect qualities characteristic of film as a material medium and exploit the specific artistic possibilities film offers.2 Regarded from this perspective, one thing becomes clear: Analog film and digital media are in no way interchangeable when it comes to advanced artistic articulation as expressed through moving images. The materials differ too greatly. It is solely the effect they create, the illusion of movement they share in common. You could even modestly exaggerate and claim analog and digital media have nothing in common, except that both are used to produce moving images. Of course this diagnosis should by no means be misconstrued as a criticism of the digital medium in itself or doubt as to its artistic potential. I just want to stress the fact that what the individual artist can do with these two media is radically

93

Peter Tscherkassky

94

different: In one case you have binary data stored on an electronic medium that can be manipulated in all kinds of ways, but it cannot be touched and manipulated directly with human hands; in the other case there is a base with a complexly structured coating of emulsion on which an analog image is created through the interplay of light and chemical processes. In the long run, should the production of analog film be discontinued, as subject to the law of supply and demand, it would be unprecedented in the annals of history. Up till now, not a single artistic medium has been replaced by the development of a new one. Today it is conceivable that for the first time industry might abandon a fully developed and highly advanced medium. I see the specific meta-significance of the manual skill and handiwork employed in the production of my films in this context. They were created as artworks that unequivocally demand the use of conventional film stock: producing them in digital form would be literally impossible. The specific charm of these films appears to result from the combination of extremely precise composition (with regard to the footage chosen and its rearrangement) and the obviously aleatory aspect of the manual production method. Working with a laser pointer or flashlights permits neither precise exposure times nor exact sizing of the image’s shape. The result is a constant fluctuation of the image during projection, an ever-present reminder of the manual nature of the production process. These visual fluctuations are joined by the unavoidable presence of dirt, hair, scratches, etc., which become part of the film’s overall texture. To make a long story short: The production process is inscribed in the very images of my darkroom films; this process presents itself in a form that is indebted to a manual labour employing analog material that could never be exchanged with any other medium. It is entirely possible that a niche will be established to perpetuate classic analog cinema, and an industry greatly reduced in size will continue the production of analog film stock – even if primarily for purposes of conservation. It seems to me to be of utmost importance in the dynamic of this turning point in history to point out the specific artistic potential offered by a strip of film. And the fact that handmade analog films are able to entertain such a wide audience – as is the case with my darkroom films – could be considered an expression of a widespread and intact sensitivity to the unique beauty of classic analog cinematography. Over thirty-five years ago I began making films using Super-8 – at the exact same time video became popular as an amateur format. The imminent fate of Super-8 was thereby sealed. This perspective upon the future of Super-8 triggered a personal response in the form of a greater sensitivity to the specific characteristics and beauty of my means of artistic expression. My speaking to the special

The Making of My Darkroom Films

qualities of the analog filmstrip (in writing, during interviews, and on stage) has sometimes provoked the reproach, or at least raised a question, about “material fetishism.” My response has always been that I aim to create artworks that can only be made with film. In other words, if there were nothing other than computers, hard disks, and magnetic tape, my artworks would simply not come to be. Those who regard this as a fetishizing of material should re-examine their concept of the fetish. And finally, messing with analog film is a hell of a lot of fun!

Notes This essay is partly based on a much shorter text published under the title “Comment et pourquoi? Quelques remarques sur la réalisation technique de la trilogie CinemaScope,” Trafic 44 – Revue de Cinéma (Paris) 44 (2002). 1 Michael Palm, “Liebesfilme. Zu einigen Arbeiten von Peter Tscherkassky,” in Avantgardefilm: Oesterreich 1950 bis heute, ed. Alexander Horwath, Lisl Ponger, and Gottfried Schlemmer (Vienna: Verlag Wespennest, 1995). See also: http://www. tscherkassky.at/inhalt/txt_ue/01_palm.html. 2 For a closer description of this process see Peter Tscherkassky, “The Framework of Modernity: Some Concluding Remarks on Cinema and Modernism,” in Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema, ed. Peter Tscherkassky (Vienna: FilmmuseumSynemaPublikationen, 2012), 311–16.

95

Chapter 7 Peter Tscherkassky Manufractures Two Minutes of (Im)Pure Cinema Tom Gunning The worst films I’ve ever seen, the ones that send me to sleep, contain ten or fifteen marvelous minutes. The best films I’ve ever seen contain only ten or fifteen valid minutes.1

Although I am not sure I entirely agree with Man Ray’s claim here, it does reveal something about cinema that I think Peter Tscherkassky’s darkroom films demonstrate (to date, L’arrivée [1997/98], Outer Space [1999], Dream Work [2001], Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine [2005], and Coming Attractions [2010]). Within every film, within the very processes of cinema, there operates a temporal and spatial alchemy that in most cases slumbers unrealized to simply serve the telling of a conventional story and the representation of a coherent fictional world. Tscherkassky’s darkroom films lift moments from other people’s films and transform them. His works squeeze from others the juiciest possibilities and render them a collision of times rather than a mere narrative progression. Films come in all temporal forms and lengths – the first film of Tscherkassky’s series, L’arrivée, lasts a few seconds over two minutes, while most commercial feature films last from ninety minutes to over two hours. Clearly, different regimes of time are operating here, and I hope in this essay to trace the compressed and complex temporality of Tscherkassky’s film, which is so opposed to the extended narrative time of the commercial feature. However, exploring the role time plays in L’arrivée provides more than a study in contrast. Unlike certain lyrical or structural avant-garde films that define a purely anti-narrative temporality, L’arrivée also engages, criticizes, and radically transforms the temporal forms of narrative. This is a film in which contrasting forms of time collide and contend. This engagement with cinematic time begins with the act of beginning itself – the opening of films that Tscherkassky’s title itself seems to invoke. If I agree with Man Ray, that amazing moments lurk in every film, I sense this most strongly in

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

the opening of films. I once said that I liked the first five minutes of every film I had ever seen. This is not completely true, since some films are terrible from the get-go. Nonetheless such a sentiment is expressive of the promise I feel whenever a film begins – a bit like welcoming each newborn as a potential messiah. At the opening of every film the possibilities remain vast and the excitement that something is about to happen becomes palpable. I feel these moments suffused with the promise of cinema – time will be fulfilled, sustained, and given to me. No film expresses this better than Tscherkassky’s L’arrivée. While the film may be shorter than the credit sequence of most commercial films – shorter even than the previews that try to seduce us into buying a ticket to a commercial film – in the brief duration of L’arrivée, cinematic time opens itself for our exploration and digesting. Tscherkassky seems to split the units of film time wide open, which causes a temporal fission that explodes our normal sense of duration. In this essay, I want to detail what happens in these transformed two minutes. Of necessity, I will not cover everything. I realize that my prose, the very process of translating images into words, will lag pathetically behind the speed and intensity of Tscherkassky’s film, and for this I apologize. In fact, ideally the essay should be read in close proximity to viewing the film.2 However, the disproportion between my verbal explication and the immediacy and brevity of the film accents the very unique time the film creates. The first thing we see on the screen is the title: L’arrivée. More than just a clever name, this word already invokes the complex temporality I hope to trace. Ultimately, it directs the viewer in two contradictory temporal orientations. On the one hand, it announces something imminent, an expectation. Something is about to arrive. Something will happen. Future tense. The other reference becomes clear only once one has seen the film, in retrospect, after the events announced by the title have taken place. We see two arrivals: the arrival of a train in a station and the arrival of a young woman who gets off the train and meets her lover. These images dominate the frame at the end of the film and apparently provide the action – the key event we awaited. The film ends with a culmination found in so many films – an embrace between lovers. Past tense, action completed, expectation – and desire – fulfilled. As we now realize that the title refers to a train arriving, this sense of the past also takes on a historical reference. The title not only cues us to something about to happen but also refers to something that happened long ago: the Lumière brothers’ film L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat from 1895, one of the first films ever projected commercially and arguably the most influential film of the ninetheenth century. Thus, Tscherkassky’s seemingly simple film – barely more than two minutes, only slightly longer than the Lumière film –

97

Tom Gunning

98

acts as a simultaneous exposition of cinematic time and film history, of abstraction and reference, of the representational spaces of a film, and, as we will see, the material spaces of cinema. The founder of the Lumière Company, Antoine Lumière, famously claimed that the cinématographe, the device invented by his sons, Louis and Auguste, was “an invention without a future.” Whether he meant this sincerely (indeed the Lumière Company pulled out of the motion picture business early in the twentieth century, assuming it was commercially no longer viable after little more than a decade) or was dissembling in order to put off potential rivals (such as Georges Méliès, to whom the remark reportedly was made), its meaning now outstrips any intention Lumière père may have had in 1895. In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard inscribed the phrase as a motto on the screening room wall in Le mépris, undoubtedly ironically. But its most insightful interpretation comes from Hollis Frampton, the filmmaker and theorist, who pointed out that since the cinema did not yet possess a history in 1895, it could not truly be said to yet have a future. Now, more than a century later, that history – albeit always in peril from institutional neglect and critical amnesia – nonetheless remains undeniable. Tscherkassky’s film, made in an era in which many would claim cinema no longer has a future, not only evokes that history but, I feel, projects a future based on it. Traditionally, avant-garde practice has sought to redefine the basic apparatus and procedures of whatever medium in which it has worked. This often takes the form of jamming and subverting the dominant receptions of a medium. Thus, avant-garde painting ceased to represent scenes or portraits, novels ceased to portray coherent characters or plots, and poems dissolved language into sonorous words in often asyntactical juxtaposition rather than signifiers of lyrical emotions. The medium no longer serves as a vehicle of expression but rather asserts its own materiality. Of course, those who dwell deeply in these challenging works of art – both makers and receivers – know this schema tells only half the story. If avantgarde art simply consisted of erasing meaning from material, then everything would become so simple (and as boring as a bad art school). In place of revolt we would find formula and conformity. Rather than simply generating expositions of the materiality of a medium, avant-garde works struggle over the nature of meaning and material – the process of transformation and transfiguration – as heatedly as medieval alchemists stoking their crucibles, athanors, and alembics. The secret of all art – that material is what you make (of) it – demands a fundamental questioning of its meaning and its material – and it is not that easy. Such demands are especially true, I would claim, of avant-garde or experimental film. While the materials of the other arts remain protean and dynamic (colour,

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

language, and form), they tend to be tangible and recognizable. In contrast, there is little agreement about what the material of cinema might be. Once upon a time the filmmaker had something in her hands, and that material – celluloid or a variety of acetate plastics – certainly still plays a role in much avant-garde work, and that of Peter Tscherkassky especially. The handling that this material receives – puncturing and piercing, burning and splicing, and processing and contact printing – renders avant-garde filmmaking in many ways a handicraft that reprocesses an industrial product replete with all the traces of rough treatment as such a resilient yet sensitive material can bear (scratches, splice marks, surface abrasions, and chemical stains). However, if many of Tscherkassky’s films seek to portray the passion of celluloid’s martyrdom under the artist’s hand, this remains only one level of the material process that film involves. Certainly, L’arrivée reveals the material of cinema in a dynamic and visual manner. Yet, my point is, this revelation involves more than displaying either form or matter – the film sets in motion a dynamic process that both filmmaker and viewer share. Something takes place in this film and, more precisely, it takes time. The complexity of L’arrivée’s game with cinematic space and time can be specified by comparing it to a companion film Tscherkassky made more than a decade earlier, Motion Picture (La sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière à Lyon) in 1984. The two films share a reference to the Lumières in their titles and in the actions that they capture. The earlier film, however, is a more strictly structural film – it works over found footage according to a precise logic. Tscherkassky mounted fifty unexposed 16mm filmstrips vertically, in the form of a rectangle, on a wall in his darkroom. He then projected a single frame onto this rectangle from one of the films Louis Lumière shot of workers leaving the family photo supply factory. Tscherkassky developed these fifty filmstrips and then edited them together according to the left-to-right sequence in which they were hung, which resulted in a three-minute film. In other words, Tscherkassky’s film scans the original Lumière still, frame by frame, showing highly enlarged fragments of the original image. All representation is lost. The screen shows only a series of blobs of light and dark – the abstract components that made up the image. Tscherkassky systematically undoes what the Lumières laboured to accomplish. Their cinématographe animated still images and captured the time and movement of the natural world. Tscherkassky freezes that motion picture, abstracts one frame as frozen image, and then breaks down even that image into blobs of light and shadow. I do not want to use this contrast to denigrate the earlier film, which has an admirable formal purity. Nevertheless, in contrast, L’arrivée allows itself to be contaminated by the film it reworks and the tradition it criticizes. It interrogates both abstraction

99

Tom Gunning

100

and representation by pitting one against the other. Most importantly, rather than freezing the time and motion the Lumières’ invention introduced, L’arrivée transforms it. The very title under which Tscherkassky released his films on dvd, Films from a Dark Room, tips us off that the material the filmmaker has in his hands is not all there is to see. As much as L’arrivée renders visible the physical aspects of film, dynamic process rather than fixed matter plays the central role here. In the contemporary era of technological transformation of the moving image, the traditional material support for moving images has become an endangered species within a newly digital world (as if the digits threaten to replace the hand and its material grasp). Most people still refer to the material base of film, somewhat archaically, as “celluloid” (its chemical make-up has actually changed enormously over the years and has been acrylic rather than celluloid for some decades now, but the name persists). Film’s most salient material qualities, its transparency and flexibility, were designed not for their intrinsic sensual properties, but rather to serve a larger apparatus of projection. While modernist painting could take inspiration from certain formal données – the flatness of the support and its bounded nature – film, as a process, cannot simply be reduced to celluloid material or even the frames imprinted upon this base. Film is designed to both conceal and enable its projection as a moving picture with matching sound. In contrast to easel painting, cinema’s pigments are shadows and light, while its surface, the screen, is reflective rather than supportive. On one level, Tscherkassky revels in the material nature of the celluloid. What we see on the screen makes us aware of what underlies the picture, the scene, the action, and the story of the original film that he manhandles – or as he puts it “manufractures.” L’arrivée renders its non-signifying (or, better, non-representational) aspects salient in a way that the conventional film would hide. However, this revelation is not the film’s whole story. In contrast to the earlier Motion Picture, time, suspense, and representation also play a role in this film. L’arrivée enacts a dramatic struggle between the coherent space and time of story and the energy – even violence – of cinema’s ability to interrupt and rearrange space and time. This film arrives at a dark and impure space. Initially, this attack on representation enters the film through a play with the physical edges of the film image. Instead of a tangible material substrate, the frame here takes on a frangible and flexible nature that in conventional cinema would mark a breakdown, a malfunction of the apparatus. This is a temporal process, an unfolding of something. Indeed, something does arrive in this film, and the film portrays that progressive action as a contest or a conflict. I will try to trace the development of this conflict, moment by moment, as Tscherkassky brings it to the screen.

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

First, the lettering of the title announces the opening of the film. The screen that follows is white, blank at first, and displays one aspect of what can only be paradoxically called the material aspect of the cinema – the play between projected, and then reflected, light. Light, the most immaterial of materials, constitutes an essential component of this film, as it does of every film, but in disguise. As Hollis Frampton describes a similar blank screen in his peerless analysis of the film medium, “A Lecture”: It is only a rectangle of white light. But it is all films. We can never see more within our rectangle, only less. […] Our white rectangle is not “nothing at all.” In fact it is, in the end, all we have. That is one of the limits of the art of film. (2009, 125–6)

As Frampton was well aware, such plenitude makes us uncomfortable. We see the light-filled screen as empty rather than full of potential, and we search it for something other than the material/medium of light. Cued by Tscherkassky’s title that something is coming, our eye first perceives a medium through which the light shines. The celluloid becomes visible through its little imperfections of dirt particles and small abrasions. Then, from the right margin of the screen, a form appears that anyone who knows film soon recognizes as the imprint of the film strip’s outer edge, including the sprocket holes, which slide briefly into visibility. The sprocket holes have a strong formal regularity, and Tscherkassky, like many experimental filmmakers before him (beginning, I believe, with Man Ray), will soon use them as a basic element of composition. However, they represent more than either a material artifact or an abstract pattern. Sprocket holes play an essential role in the filmic apparatus by allowing both the steadiness of the image on the screen and the motion it produces. They regulate the temporal running of the film as it progresses through the projector. They are perhaps the most essential contribution that Thomas Edison made to the invention of cinema and were a key element of his initial patents. Yet, equally important, they are part of the mechanism of cinema and not ordinarily part of its representational process. They both make the picture steady and move it. In themselves, though, they ordinarily remain off-screen and invisible. The projector mechanism masks out the sprocket holes except for when something goes wrong. Tscherkassky understands, as all materialist filmmakers have at least since Vertov, that to expose the material basis of cinema means not simply displaying the “stuff” of cinema but also to reveal its procedures, its mechanism, indeed its apparatus – the processes of filming, printing, and projection that create it. This sliding of the sprocket

101

Tom Gunning

102

holes into visibility refers to all these processes but most obviously gestures to the process of projection. The representational system of the cinema makes use of what is termed “offscreen space” but in a very different sense from these normally off-screen film edges. Filmmakers create off-screen space through editing and framing to evoke a space without literally showing it. Off-screen space is often described as an imaginary space or an unseen part of the fictional world. What lies behind that door, or beyond the edges of the shot’s frame, is the object that is often the focus of an off-screen glance from characters and either revealed in a subsequent shot or withheld. Perhaps the most popular referent would be the off-screen monster from which the heroine backs away as she screams. Tscherkassky’s drama, though, stages a different invasion from off-screen. Materially speaking, the film image is also bordered by an unseen and hidden space of margins. In a study of the marginalia of medieval manuscripts (as well as of marginal medieval spaces, such as the corners of cathedrals), The Image on the Edge (2004), my former colleague in art history, the late Michael Camille, shows how the edge of the manuscript page becomes a space for fantasy, commentary, and contention. Here, scholars commented on the authorities they transcribed, while scribes often decorated the edges with fantastic and even subversive images like a schoolboy’s doodling, composite beasts, and scatological jokes. The border around the written page was clearly exiled from the main site of meaning but as a liminal space it also allowed a certain freedom. Cinema, however, displays (or conceals) a different regime than the manuscript page. The ordinary viewer does not have access to these margins as only certain film professionals actually make use of them. Rather than spaces of commentary or fantasy, film’s marginal spaces rationalize the moving image and keep it running. The edge of the filmstrip, however, rarely appears on the screen. Masked off from the projector’s light, normally only those who handle films professionally – editors, projectionists, and archivists – get to see it. Yet, it is here on the edge that the apparatus does much of its physical labour in projection by gripping and propelling the frames into the production of a moving image. Likewise, the editor traditionally (before editing became a product of the digital software) used edge numbers and sync marks imprinted on the edge of the film to arrange the order of shots. Similarly, archivists know that the edges of the film can carry information indicating the manufacture of the film stock itself such as the company and its year (and in the first seconds of L’arrivée, edge letters that are imprinted on the edge of the film do flit by, almost subliminally, on the right edge of the screen). Thus, a concealed area – the edge of the film – normally plays a crucial but unseen role in the construction and ordering of the film image that underlie the spectacle.

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

Pulling them out of this invisible realm, Tscherkassky invades the space of the image with these elements from cinema’s outer space. Just as bits of dirt and minor abrasion make us aware of the film medium itself staining its white expanse (even before the sprocket holes and film edge appears), a subtle clicking and vibration announces the soundtrack, similarly caused by the wear on the film, which the (non-digital) film sound system reads as noise. As if shy about actually arriving on the scene, the film edges initially seem rather hesitant to appear – they pull back, then dart in again. However, in addition to the non-representational edge of the film, we also see a sliver of an image, the edge of a long shot in which we recognize a cavernous space with small figures standing in a row. The film’s edge with sprocket holes returns, this time appearing on both sides of the screen and framing the “empty” white expanse. Along with an insectlike buzz, we hear the rhythmic brrrrr, which in English we call “motorboarding,” and which anyone who has had to project a film knows means that the film has been threaded wrongly (or a silent film is being played on a sound projector). Since the projector’s sound head is reading the sprocket holes themselves, the friction produces a staccato pulse. Next, the image with the row of figures enters the frame more strongly to reveal an expansive space and a highly legible cultural emblem – the British flag. This image moves in and out on the right and then on the left as well to form a sort of mirror image doubling with a cleft of bright white light shining between. The mirrored images slide back and forth across the screen as the light between them gapes wider and then narrower. The film seems to be opening in multiple registers. For a moment, it achieves a sort of familiarity as the appearance of a recognizable location and action seems to claim the film for the regime of representation in order to actually colonize it with this flag that is emblematic of the great imperial power of the nineteenth century. Initially, the diptych of twin images seems to be trying to pull apart, to spread its cleft open to the bright light that looms behind it. But as the image fills the screen (split now horizontally, instead of vertically, a rather familiar image of a mis-framed film in which the image duplicates itself top and bottom), we also begin to orient ourselves within the space. The vast cavernous space defines itself as a train station and a motion within the frame becomes evident. We recognize the engine of a locomotive entering the frame dramatically from the right with steam pouring from its smoke stack and a train platform clearly visible on the right. Although not literally taken from the Lumière film, the image repeats not only its action and location but also its dramatic composition. A train entering the station from the right, filmed on a diagonal, enlarging as it comes toward the camera/viewer. For at least a hundred years cinema has repeated this primal composition and is likely to continue to do so in the future. The image expresses so

103

Tom Gunning

104

much – the entrance of technology, the drama of arrival, and the transformation of a large empty space into the space of action and liveliness. One thinks of the title of a film by another master of found footage films, Ken Jacobs, The Opening of the Nineteenth Century (1896), which recycles another Lumière train film, in this case a tracking shot with a 3d effect. Like Tscherkassky, Jacobs uses the film to evoke the distance of a century of history to acknowledge the manner in which the film has become an emblem of the previous century of steam power and geo-industrial expansion. The Lumières may not have known that their Train Arriving in Ciotat would eventually become an emblem of the century that was then closing because the symbiosis that would last for at least the next century between cinematic storytelling and the technological march of the railway was perhaps only dimly perceived in 1895. That is, the future had not arrived. Whereas Jacobs recycles a film from the nineteenth century, Tscherkassky presents a fragment of a fictional film that recreates the nineteenth century (as the modern CinemaScope framing and the elaborate mise-en-scène make clear). Thus, cinema not only becomes the emblem of history – it restages it. The fiction Tscherkassky undermines with non-fictional invasions of film’s materiality seeks to reconstruct history as a setting for a dramatic story. In response, Tscherkassky reveals not only the materiality of the film image but also the history that coils within it. Tscherkassky’s manipulation of the film material in this first moment does more than merely reveal the material substrate of the cinema illusion. His choreography of film elements does not simply make the image abstract – it also dramatizes it by telling a different story than the embrace of lovers after a long absence. We watch the struggle on the screen between the fiction of representation and the ambiguity of form and matter. This image itself seems alternately to tear and cohere, like a breathing organism, or to open and close like a theatrical curtain. Something is happening here, something is arriving – but can we truly say what it is? I am contending that in these two minutes of cinematic action Tscherkassky not only orchestrates a formal dance of filmic elements, both abstract and representational, both mechanical and visual, but also stages a conflict between different filmic times that are simultaneously narrative and non-narrative. If the film never surrenders to the forward thrust of narrative action, it certainly invokes it with all the key elements in place: location, a train station; action, a train arriving; characters, lovers; and even closure, an embrace. Narratology teaches us that story consists of the interplay of two temporalities. First, its motor relies on the simple forward movement of action. The other aspect shapes or configures this forward motion and thus transforms action into a story.

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

This is usually done by delaying the fulfillment of the action to create suspense whether by incidents (obstacles) or through structure (interruptions). Even within the minimal time of this brief film, Tscherkassky displays both registers. He unfolds expectation of the central action as it moves – the arrival of the train, the arrival of the woman – and he also delays it. However, rather than delaying the seemingly inevitable arrival with narrative events (such as the train is late, the station is attacked by terrorists, or gangsters try to stop the lovers on the platform), Tscherkassky’s delay comes through purely formal interruption. If the first half of the film portrays the arrival of the image, then the central and most frenetic part of the film threatens the image with total eclipse and violent sparagmos. Once the image arrives, it places us within a scene. Our attention, albeit briefly, becomes centred on the location and its action with a sense of deep perspectival space opened by both the diagonal composition and the movement towards us of the locomotive. Yet, our idyll with the image lasts only an instant – the invading edges of the film return with a vengeance. The image becomes obscure and superimposes itself while the edges, sprocket holes, and soundtrack move in to attack, thus dominating the composition and forcing the image out of kilter to reveal the pure white light again. The other major inhabitant of the edge of the filmstrip heard previously but not seen – the soundtrack – arrives with its spiny black pattern looking like a thorny tentacle. Multiplied, the soundtrack crosses itself, seeming to X out the image as parallel tracks duel with each other like sabres. With a fluttering noise, the linear geometry of the film’s edge, both soundtrack and sprocket holes, cancel out any sense of deep space or representational action. However, they hardly return us to pure abstraction. Thus, a drama becomes enacted here, a strange, primal violence takes over the film like a frenetic energy leaking into the film image from its very substance and structure. It is the return of the repressed. A matrix of sprocket holes in negative and positive spread across the screen; whether imprisoning the image or poking holes in it we cannot really tell, but they are certainly animate and powerful. We glimpse a reign of chaos whose uniquely cinematic rhythm enthralls and even threatens us. If the realm of deep space, action, and representation seems here overthrown, once again Tscherkassky does not let us rest in the realm of pure form or rhythm. As the hard-edged form of the optical soundtrack and sprocket holes dominate the screen, we suddenly see them as more than references to the film medium. While abstract form may have overturned the realm of the image, a growing recognition of a convergence takes place. These forms become an echo of the action we just saw – the optical soundtrack recalls train tracks through lines of sprocket holes that invoke the successive windows of passing train cars while their

105

Tom Gunning

106

crisscross intersections evoke switches and sidetracks. Rather than pure cinema, something else arises from this conflict – the energy and force of modern technology and the violence inherent in its structure. The imperial drive to conquest is embodied as well in the crisscross patterns of the Union Jack. The cinema, too, forms part of that modern technology, of that forward thrust and titanic energy. Few sequences of film are as violent as this one. The violence of the very processes of the cinema (embodied in our basic terminology, “shooting,” “cutting,” “tracking,” and “exposing”) takes over the screen. What emerges from this conflict? As I have indicated already, L’arrivée closes with the most familiar of resolutions – the heterosexual embrace, which statistical analysis tells us the majority of classical films use to reach narrative equilibrium. From the jumbled space in which the margins take over the centre, a door opens and a face looks out, peering not only out of the train, but also out of the layers of filmstrips and sprocket holes. Suddenly, representation triumphs once again as this lovely and responsive face descends from the train and walks toward the camera, beaming with the image of fulfillment of desire – the image of the movies. Out of nowhere, our surrogate – or rival – receives her embrace and the film ends, as Godard once said, “at the superb moment where nothing wears away, nothing fades.” Happy Ending?

Conclusion It is as if this invisible light that is the darkness of the present cast its shadow on the past, so that the past, touched by this shadow, acquired the ability to respond to the darkness of the now.3

I have tried in this essay to follow the crest and movement of the images, forms, and sounds of an extraordinary film. I have tried to show that although by no means a conventional narrative, and certainly a film inspired by the avant-garde’s simultaneous engagement with formal abstraction and material energy, L’arrivée also engages with the history and form of narrative cinema. Certainly its role in that relation is a critical one, revealing both the mechanism and the material that commercial cinema strives to conceal. But while engaged in a process of deconstruction, L’arrivée also recognizes the power of cinema, utilizing its control over space, and, in this film especially, time, in order to uncover the energies of motion and story, of the violence inherent in both revolt and containment. As the materials of the moving image now undergo transformation, as the very term film perhaps become anachronistic, a film like L’arrivée makes clear that a radical cinema

Tscherkassky Manufractures (Im)Pure Cinema

does not simply fetishize the material that filmmakers work with, but rather interrogates those materials and forms for the energies they contain and the meanings they can liberate, through the labour and processes that the maker and the viewer participate in. The future is still arriving, even as the past is constantly being restaged and reinvented within the dark rooms of motion pictures.

Notes 1 Ray, “Cinemage,” 133. 2 Several of Tscherkassky’s films, including the so-called “CinemaScope trilogy” (L’arrivée, Outer Space, and Dream Work), are available on dvd: Films from a Dark Room, Index dvd Edition no. 8: Peter Tscherkassky. http://www.index-Dvd. at/en/program/008/index.html. 3 Agamben, “What Is the Contemporary?,” 53.

Bibliography Agamben, Giorgio. “What Is the Contemporary?” In What Is an Apparatus and Other Essays, ed. Werner Hamacher. Redwood City, ca: Stanford University Press, 2009. Camille, Michael. Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art. London: Reaktion Books, 2004. Frampton, Hollis. “A Lecture.” In On the Camera and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton, ed. Bruce Jenkins. Cambridge, ma, and London: mit Press, 2009. Ray, Man. “Cinemage.” In The Shadow and Its Shadow, ed. Paul Hammond. San Francisco: City Lights, 2000.

107

Chapter 8 Echoes of the Earth: Handmade Film Ecologies Gregory Zinman On 29 August 1952, musician and composer David Tudor sat down on a piano bench at the Maverick Concert Hall outside of Woodstock, New York, to perform the premiere of his friend John Cage’s new composition, 4!33". Tudor “played” the 4-minute and 33-second piece, which consisted of closing and then opening the lid of a grand piano three times to indicate the passage of the piece’s three movements. No notes were struck on the instrument, and Tudor kept time on a watch in his lap. The Maverick’s doors were open to the summer evening air, and accounts of the performance typically recall the sound of the wind rustling the leaves on the trees during the first movement and the sound of rain falling on the roof of the hall during the second. Other accounts mention the sound of crickets chirping outside, and Cage himself has said that “the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out,” as many did during the third movement.1 Later performances yielded similar reflections on the organic and inorganic sounds that shaped the experience of hearing the work: When video-art pioneer Nam June Paik filmed Cage playing 4!33" in Harvard Square, surrounded by onlookers and passersby, for his single-channel videotape, Tribute to John Cage (1973), Paik superimposed the words, “Do you hear a cricket?,” followed by “… or a mouse” on an unbroken extreme close-up of Cage’s serene, bearded face. In 2009, when pianist Pedja Muzijevic restaged 4!33" at the Maverick, music critic Alex Ross observed that “a solitary bird in the trees struggled to compete” with the rumble of a nearby car stereo (2010). A radical foray into the nature of sound and audition, as well as the relationship between noise and music, 4!33" spurred an interrogation across media into the condition of authorship with respect to artists, audiences, and other, non-human, agents. Indeed, Cage’s composition is most commonly discussed with respect to his lifelong explorations of the ideas of silence, chance operations, and indeterminacy, as well as how both individual and collective experiences of listening are upended by an emphasis on participation and what he called “accidental” sounds. Yet, the

Handmade Film Ecologies

109

8.1 John Cage with David Tudor, 1956.

repeated appearance – real or imagined – of crickets, car horns, and other organic and inorganic thingss indicates that one aspect of 4!33" remains under-scrutinized: the role of the non-human in the realization of the piece. As instruments or performers, these insects, objects, and phenomena have never received their due, nor has their instrumental agency been recognized as contributing significantly to the piece. Their sonic and physical presence are only “accidental” if we consider the work to be fundamentally anthropocentric in nature and intent. In other words, 4!33" may be chiefly concerned with how humans listen, but what if we shifted our focus to think about how non-human and inorganic entities work with humanity to produce and perform art? Examining the ways in which organic and inorganic processes relate to one another creatively results in a changed perspective on the systems that bind them, one that pushes back against hierarchical privileging of human agency and human attempts to control nature in favour of, as art historian T.J. Demos argues, “comprehending ecology as a field of interlinking systems of biodiversity and technology, social practices and political structures”2 (2009, 24). This perspective requires

Gregory Zinman

110

that we turn to rubrics of instinct, behaviour, and assemblage – rubrics that recognize unknowable volitions and new affective iterations resulting from the mutual remediation of organic and inorganic things. One unlikely source for understanding these complex relationships between humans, media, animals, environment, and matter is the increasing number of handmade films that rely on biological and environmental elements to produce their moving-image abstractions. Handmade films, by definition, would seem to require the corporeal touch of the artist.3 And yet, this essay will address artisanal films wrought from nature – the result of organic and inorganic systems interacting with the material properties of the film. Such works draw our attention to the role of non-human actants in the creation of moving images and, in doing so, enable a political re-examination of the process and function of art. These works negotiate two converging – and, I would argue, quite related – intellectual trajectories. The first is a series of strategies rooted in postwar art – more specifically, as an outgrowth of Cage’s interest in chance operations and its concomitant challenge to authorship as embraced and exploited by related artists working within and inspired by Fluxus and Happenings such as Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, James Tenney, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low, and Allan Kaprow. These investigations into the nature of authorship and collaboration both anticipated and informed the interrogation of the same within the structuralist literary theory of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault by two decades. Cage attributed his shift in understanding authorship to, in particular, his friend and fellow composer Morton Feldman, saying that Feldman “changed the responsibility of the composer from making to accepting … to be unafraid or to be full of that love which comes from a sense of at-oneness with whatever.” While Cage’s reference to “whatever” described his own method, it also points to the second methodological vector informing my analysis here: the recent “nonhuman turn” as elaborated through the scholarly fields of new materialism, affect theory, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology. Through the turn to the non-human, scholars seek to rethink systems and relations by, as Richard Grusin puts it, “decentering the human in favor of a turn toward and concern for the nonhuman, understood variously in terms of animals, affectivity, bodies, organic and geophysical systems, materiality, or technologies” (2015, vii). While this critical stance engages a range of academic disciplines and methodologies from philosophy to political science to literary criticism to feminist theory, I specifically have in mind the concept of “vital materialism,” as formulated by Jane Bennett, as one capable of dissolving the “onto-theological binaries of life/matter, human/animal, will/determination, and organic/organic” in order to enrich our awareness of the life within and around all matter (2010, x). Filmmaking, and artistic practice in

Handmade Film Ecologies

general, can expand the reach of the theorization and understanding of each of the binaries that Bennett describes: the works discussed in this chapter mechanically animate the inorganic through the cinematic projection of images even as that inorganic matter helps to create the very imagery that is to be projected. These works interweave the expressions of humans and animals, and they posit agency as a continuous negotiation of shifting relations between objects. Artisanal film practice involves literally getting one’s hands dirty, and so the artists discussed here dig in the dirt, wrestle with crab traps, and comb through trash to make their films. Handmade filmmaking can thus provide an object lesson in the experiential knowledge of the non-human – one that, in its making, transcends rational, analytic processes. In exploring films that are more “hands-off” than handmade, but which nevertheless limn a heightened consciousness regarding the relationship of filmmaking to ecological issues including the Anthropocene, climate change, and industrial waste, I demonstrate how the politics of specific filmmaking processes reinforce and even supersede their subject matter. For example, in David Gatten’s six-film series, What the Water Said (nos. 1–3, 1997–98; nos. 4–6, 2006), the artist put unexposed film into a crab trap in the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast, letting the film rest in the murky depths as saltwater, sand, rocks, crabs, and fish defaced the celluloid. The final films appear abstract but are in fact documentary: visual and aural inscriptions of the ocean. Likewise, Jennifer Reeves’s Landfill 16 (2011) takes up the idea of recycling, waste management, and the death of film. Reeves buried her own 16mm outtakes before digging them up and hand-painting their frames, lending their decayed form a renewed vibrancy. Environmental disaster haunts Tomonari Nishikawa’s Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2014). Nishikawa secreted 100 feet of 35mm negative film “under fallen leaves alongside a country road” – a bucolic description belying the spot’s proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the site of a 2011 nuclear disaster. Sediment, waste, soil, metal, radioactivity, water, animal, mineral, air, and celluloid – the stuff that has a hand in creating these films – prompts us to simultaneously question the nature of authorship while directing our attention to how inorganic and organic matter collaborate in forms of expression. Within these examples, we find varying degrees of engagement with the nonhuman, the persistence of the artist’s hand, and the idea of collaboration. After all, these films are still understood by their makers as being authored by humans. One of the paradoxes of the non-human turn is the crowning futility of attempting to escape a human perspective. In the end, we are always going to be human and cannot be nor fully understand the non-human – we are, finally, stuck with ourselves. Nevertheless, a consideration of how the mutually imbricated

111

Gregory Zinman

112

relations between the non-human, the inorganic, and the human work to produce and perform art can ultimately help broaden the horizon of understanding of, and sensitivity toward, our interactions with the animals, environments, objects, and other vital matter that, taken together, constitute the experience of twentyfirst-century life. The title of David Gatten’s What the Water Said series suggests a Cageian relationship between enunciator and audience, one that promises an unfamiliar accounting. These labile films, bursting with colour and static, understand themselves as having entered into a series of relations and, in turn, can be understood as a form of communication between the ocean, its organic and inorganic components, and humanity. When Gatten retrieved the unspooled films from their traps, he rinsed but did not develop the filmstrips (Gunning 2011, 21). He let the work of the sea and its creatures on the film’s emulsion stand on its own – a series of reticulations like the veins of a leaf, entire pieces of celluloid torn from the filmstrip, and altered passages in tan, rose, and violet hues. When projected, the short films (the longest has a run time of just over three minutes) are dizzying in their speed, and their throbbing displays of colour and light seem to register as simultaneously playful and mysterious. The films have their forebears in William Henry Fox Talbot’s nineteenthcentury “photogenic drawings” of nature, which captured the outlines of leaves and branches without a camera. As early as 1834, Talbot had developed a method for coating paper with salt and silver-nitrate solution and exposing objects to direct sunlight – a process that produced “distinct and very pleasing images of such things as leaves, lace and other flat objects of complicated forms and outlines” (quoted in Alfred Brothers 1892, 10). Anna Atkins published the first collection of photographic images in 1843, called British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, featuring blue-tinted photograms of grasses and algae. These early examples of photograms were attempts at recording and representing the natural world, and they were viewed as both alternatives to and – as Talbot’s description suggests – alternative forms of drawing. Jean Dubuffet’s lithographic series, Taker of Imprints, featured leaves, grass, and plants coated with dust, ink, and sugar, and played upon the relationship between representation and abstraction and how that liminal condition was productive for thinking through nature. As Dubuffet said, “I even believe that the more vague and summary they are the more they lend themselves to my reverie” (1957).4 In Gatten’s films, the ocean’s own reverie is interrupted with nautically themed texts from Poe, Melville, Eliot, and other authors. The texts indicate a long literary fascination with the sea even as their descriptions are dialectically juxtaposed with the non-human inscriptions

113

8.2 Left 16mm filmstrips from David Gatten, What the Water Said nos. 1–3 (1997–98). 8.3 Right Frames from David Gatten, What the Water Said nos. 4–6 (2006).

making up the films’ imagery, in turn positioning the film as an interstitial work that seeks to portray a system of relations between the human and non-human, as well as between text and image. What the Water Said thus brings to mind Donna Haraway’s portmanteau naturecultures, a concept that bridges Bruno Latour’s “Great Divide” between nature and culture and thereby describes relations between objects in which “none of the partners pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once and for all” (2003, 12). The films could not exist in a state separate from their relations with its creators, and viewers of the films continue to enter into a series of relations, at least abstractly, with their makers every time they are screened. Gatten helps illuminate these relations through a series of material and conceptual reversals. Gatten’s use of traps to harvest film rather than crustaceans is an interesting inversion of the themes of captivity and consumption. By substituting metal and seawater for a camera and light, Gatten also extends the idea of “motion capture” – the digital photo process of recording the movement of people or objects so that the captured data can be manipulated via computer animation – back into an analog process in which the movement of the water and sea life washes through the trap, “capturing” evidence of marine life on the celluloid through direct contact with the film. Artist and theorist Matthew Fuller

Gregory Zinman

114

writes that “in engaging animal cultures and sensoria, these projects also make art step outside of itself, and make us imagine a nature in which nature itself must be imagined, sensed and thought through” (2010, 20). Gatten did not simply toss his film into the ocean – he served as a bodily anchor for it, tying a 50foot rope from his ankle to the crab trap that housed the film. His body was thus literally connected to the elements creating the images and sounds of the film, lending credence to his assertion that the films stand as a record of his “‘collaborating’” with the environment.”5 Gatten also succeeds in recasting deep-sea fishing as an exploration of oceanic expression rather than the rapacious plunder of ocean life that has characterized global industrial fishing. Only 10 percent of the world’s large fish remain, and the bbc has reported that “around 85% of global fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted, fully exploited or in recovery from exploitation” (Vince 2012) – a condition that, taken alongside other effects of climate change such as drought, flooding, and diminished agricultural production, will eventually result in food shortages, mass population migration, and a horrific struggle for natural resources. Gatten’s frames arrived fully formed as “a documentary of what happened underwater” (Zimmerman 2014), bringing to mind Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s experimental documentary-slash-horror film of industrial fishing, Leviathan (2012), wherein the directors sought to fashion a “multiplicity of perspectives that would relativize the human, perspectives that would make the spectator rethink humanity’s relationship to nature, in relationship to a plethora of other beings, of other animals, of other kind of inanimate objects – the elements, the earth, the sky, the sea, the boat, mechanization, fish, crustaceans, starfish – everything that is involved in the ecology of what’s going on in industrial fishing today” (Paravel and Castaing-Taylor 2012). Yet, by abstracting the role of the human hand so completely, Gatten does not merely place cameras close to the fish, as Paravel and Castaing-Taylor do – he expands the Leviathan directors’ notion of a “shared anthropology” by turning over the composition of the image completely to the inorganic and organic elements in the water. In doing so, What the Water Said seems to instantiate the ways the non-human world, as feminist theorists Myra Hird and Celia Robers explain, “exists for itself, rather than for ‘us’” (quoted in Sheldon 2015, 195). It is worth remembering that the non-human elements of What the Water Said are not limited to those located in the sea. The peculiar irony of the films’ title becomes clear once attention is paid to the soundtrack, which registers aurally as a static-like mélange of crackles and noise. The actual matter of the sea appears within the optical sound area – and so can be said to generate the sound that is heard – and yet it is of a different sonic quality than our perception of it in real

Handmade Film Ecologies

life. The soundtrack is therefore not mimetic, in the sense that the sounds heard in no way bring to mind the crash of surf or the murky, babbling slur of underwater sonics. Conventional soundtracks attempt to represent (through recording) and re-present (through playback) sounds as they occur in an acoustic environment. These are not sounds of the ocean, then, but sounds made by the ocean on the material body of the filmstrip’s optical soundtrack. The result is therefore at once a “natural” and synthetic soundtrack, a series of graphic marks on the surface of the soundtrack that, when played back through a projector, create a form of electronic music. Following Cage, this soundtrack is less of a transcription of what the water said than the music the water made – a remarkable collaboration of human volition (Gatten’s tossing the film into the ocean), non-human actants (the saltwater, plants, shells, and more), and analog technology (celluloid) to create pieces of music that extend the instrumental possibilities of the non-human participants of 4!33" to the film projector as the sole means of producing these sounds in acoustic space. What we hear, then, is what the representation of physical phenomena – this lingering trace left by the sea on the space of the optical soundtrack – sounds like when the projector “reads” the film’s “written inscription” and translates it into a series of electrical signals, which are then converted into analog sound waves. From an anthropocentric perspective, the construction of the soundtrack is a series of chance operations. From a new materialist perspective, the soundtrack results from a complex system of human and non-human interactions that include natural ecosystems and animal instinct. The soundtrack’s performance is automatic and completely non-human, engendered by the cinematic apparatus: What the Projector Thinks the Water Said. Speaking of 4!33", Cage said: “I have felt and hoped to have led other people to feel that the sounds of their environment constitute a music which is more interesting than the music which they would hear if they went into a concert hall.”6 Cage’s attention to, and valorization of, situated aesthetic experience has been expanded by philosophy and more recent media theory. In What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the carving out of territory and house-building indicates the ways that “perhaps art begins with the animal” (1994, 183). Derrida and Prenowitz wrote about the idea of the archive in relation to “a house, a domicile” (1995, 9). Synthesizing these disparate ideas about shelter and repositories, and art and information, we can begin to describe a system of relations in which non-human expression interacts with media forms in ways that can be stored, retrieved, and transmitted – a media archive, whose contents are written and activated by environments. John Durham Peters argues that rather than think of environments as sites of aesthetic reception, we can consider how “environments are media,” systems of mediation shaping human and non-human experience

115

Gregory Zinman

116

(2015, 3). Similarly, Jussi Parikka’s recent thinking on the subject of media’s relationship to the geological prods us to consider not only technologies and networks in relation to the human but also that “the ways in which we have thought and acted in the world have had a definite impact on the future fossils that are material supports for something else” (2015, 134), thereby reminding us that “it is the earth that provides for media and enables it” (13). Parikka is particularly concerned with the relation of our thoughts and actions in the world to the topics of waste and pollution. This cycle of decay and recovery is both materially enacted and mirrored in the making of Jennifer Reeves’s Landfill 16 (2011). Reeves buried 16mm outtakes from her double-projection celebration of the natural world, When It Was Blue (2008), in her in-laws’ backyard in Elkhart, Indiana. She then gave the exhumed film, buried for two months, “new life,” hand-painting the corroded and soil-stained frames, adding iron powder, and manipulating light and shadow via optical printing over an intense five-month period of editing.7 Reeves therefore enacts a much greater intervention into the image than is the case in Gatten’s films discussed above – she takes the “collaboration” between the components of the homemade landfill and the buried celluloid as a jumping-off point for her further material manipulation of the film. The resultant imagery scans as densely textured terraforms, like pebbled plastic covered in mould. Very little photography was required to reanimate this celluloid originally consigned to the literal scrap heap. A few images of animals briefly appear – a deer, an eagle, and an ominous black widow – all barely recognizable through the garbage-battered frames and seemingly interred under the decaying and dirty film. Reeves also added a foreboding score, which mixes the dull roar of bulldozers, nature sounds, factory noise, and a trapped bird tweeting in pain. Through the careful combination of image and soundtrack, Reeves addresses not only the ways in which the media of analog moving images are being literally and metaphorically disposed as they approach their industrial obsolescence, but also the disastrous environmental consequences of modern life. Brimming with alternatively mottled and lapidary images, Landfill 16 pulses like a living thing. To use Parikka’s phrase, it is a horror film about “zombie media” – discarded moving images coming back to life, deformed. Almost 54 per cent of the trash in the United States ends up in landfills, including 9.4 million tons of electronic waste each year, which includes lightbulbs, batteries, phones, monitors, televisions, and computers (Bidwell 2013). Landfills also act as hubs of activity and feeding for living organic organisms, attracting birds, land animals, insects, and human scavengers, not to mention the microscopic bacteria, yeasts, and other organisms that assist in garbage’s breakdown. Reeves’s film offers an inadvertent critique of handmade and materialist filmmaking’s

Handmade Film Ecologies

117

8.4 and 8.5 Still images from Jennifer Reeves, Landfill 16 (2011).

unexamined commodity fetishism that focuses on the physical properties of the analog medium while ignoring the contextual industrial and ideological aspects of its use and manufacture. After all, film stock is made of plastics and its emulsion is made with gelatin, which is derived from animal by-products. The “grain” of the film is silver salts, which are converted to metallic silver following exposure to a light source. The emulsion consists of silver halide grains suspended in a gelatin colloid – a synthesis of mineral and animal by-products. Therefore, when the film is buried in a landfill, it is not being destroyed or degraded so much as it is communing with the same elements that led to its manufacture. Its placement in, and removal from, the garbage is thus both a journey and return. Contemporary polyester film stock is a relatively stable form, capable of lasting hundreds of years. This makes it both an ideal preservation medium for moving images and a guarantor of its continuing material presence in other landfills in those cases where trims, scraps, and entire prints deemed unworthy of care and preservation are discarded. At the same time, when watching Landfill 16, we are reminded that its images could only be produced via analog photochemical means, therefore making a case for a certain kind of analog film exceptionalism. While there may be ways to virtually paint on digital film, you cannot create images by burying digital

Gregory Zinman

118

cameras or drives in garbage or soil. More than likely, it would result in their destruction or, at the very least, inhibit their function. Reeves’s film, (de)composed in a cauldron of matter teeming with microbiotic and insect life, seems to instantiate Bennett’s description of how the unique properties of individual things congregate with, and are affected by, their interactions with other things, forming “noisy systems or temporary working assemblages that are, as much as any individuated thing, loci of affectivity and allure” (2015, 223; emphasis in original). Key to Bennett’s idea, I think, is this notion of the temporary, as it is a distinction that allows for a reconciliation of the notions of chance operations and materialist assemblage. If “working assemblages” have particular and finite conditions, such as the sort that produced Landfill 16, then we can reorient the notion of chance away from the anthropocentric and towards the variability and indeterminacy of specific groupings of organic and inorganic matter that emerge as an opening up of possibilities in a specific time and place – and to specific ends. If Gatten’s film addresses the state of the oceans, and Reeves’s takes on the question of waste, the spectre of nuclear cataclysm suffuses Tomonari Nishikawa’s Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2014), in which fusion functions as both theme and practice. Nishikawa buried his film in Tamura City near the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. In 2011, three of the plant’s six reactors melted down after the site was hit by a tsunami that had been precipitated by an enormous earthquake. Dozens were injured, radiation leaked, and widespread water contamination followed. Thousands died from the earthquake and tsunami, hundreds died in the resulting evacuations, and hundreds more may contract cancers related to radiation exposure (Hoeve and Jacobson 2012). A government investigation found that the plant owners and operators had been negligent in structurally preparing the plant for natural disasters. In February 2015, it was revealed that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (tepco), the plant’s operator, had been covering up the fact that radioactive waste had been continuously flowing from the site into the ocean (Schlanger 2015). In August, it was announced that the radiation levels in the towns near the power plant were nineteen times the amount considered safe for human habitation. These abandoned towns now display led screens indicating up-to-the minute radioactivity levels. The residents of Tamura City have been told that it is safe to return to their homes but many have stayed away, and the Japanese government recently admitted that the site cleanup make take two hundred years (Parry 2015). Philosopher Timothy Morton has categorized global warming and nuclear waste as “hyperobjects,” or phenomena so “mind-blowing” in scale that their “primordial reality is withdrawn from the world” (2013, 15). Like radiation,

Handmade Film Ecologies

119

8.6 35mm frames from Tomonari Nishikawa, Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2014).

hyperobjects are not merely buried in the ground – they exist around us, not as abstractions “such as Nature or environment or world” (129), but as identifiable particulate matter. Nishikawa drove around Fukushima Prefecture with a Geiger counter to help him choose a spot to stash the film, even as its presence remains immediately unseen or unfelt.8 However, over time, such matter affects changes in the geology of the earth and, in so doing, affects material changes in the ecosystem of both inorganic and organic life. With the Fukushima disaster, we see evidence of a complex system of both natural and man-made disasters – an earthquake that triggered a tsunami that in turn prompted the catastrophic failure of the Daiichi power plant. Consequently, the disaster has affected Japan’s climate policy and economy – it prompted a nation-wide shutdown of Japan’s nuclear power plants, causing the country to turn to the use of fossil fuels and importing energy sources. This has drastically increased the cost of energy prices and curtailed any plans to reduce emissions. Nishikawa’s film, exposed for six hours in possibly irradiated earth, burns blue. The celluloid was beautifully transformed by its interaction – its fusion – with a “natural” world corrupted by humanity. When asked, Nishikawa denies categorizing the film as being expressly political: “I did not make this film to warn the audience or criticize either the Japanese government or people who decided to come back,” he says, before continuing, “the project was at first just out of my

Gregory Zinman

120

curiosity – what kind of visual I would get from this process.”9 The film is undoubtedly beautiful, dominated by a thrumming ultramarine with scattered flecks of green darting throughout the film, the latter being the result of Nishikawa scratching the film when he unearthed it because it was too difficult to do so while wearing gloves. While there are no cuts or splices in the film, the filmmaker decided which end of the filmstrip would be the beginning of the film and worked with a colourist at a film lab to adjust the colour balance and contrast. While Nishikawa would not call his film a collaboration, he says, “I knew I would get something because of the organic nature of the film medium and the materials at the site where I buried the film”10 – an admixture of the organic and inorganic that would produce imagery otherwise unobtainable. While Nishikawa’s initial impulse in making the film may have been primarily an aesthetic one, he does agree with the notion that the film instantiates a kind of “poetic réportage,” a desire to make a record of a place and its history.11 Regardless of the artist’s stated intention, it is also possible to more broadly conceive of his project as being political in nature. Placing himself at the scene of nuclear and ecological disaster, in a region subject to rigid state oversight, Nishikawa was very possibly risking his health and well-being. The material, biological, and governmental conditions surrounding, and directly involved in, the film’s making afford a thematic reading of the film that extends its meaning beyond its surface beauty and into the issues of severe weather related to global warming, the fallibility of the built environment, and how the interests of industry trump those of public health. Of nearly equal importance, Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars also indirectly engages Japan’s tortured history with nuclear power, from the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the ecocatastrophe at Fukushima. With regard to this last point, the film’s subject matter seems to obliquely reference other Japanese films about the horrors of the bomb, from the Godzilla franchise to Barefoot Gen (1983). Morton heralds the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan as the Great Acceleration that vastly increased the human impact on the earth’s environment and ecology (Morton 2013, 5). Even though the film’s imagery may be abstract, it nevertheless acts as a uniquely indexical rendering of the space in which it was made. However, unlike a photographic document of the space, his film is not a pictorial representation – it is a physical impression that produces an image, something closer in relation to a sculptural casting than a photograph. Its visibility is the result of its having been hidden, its burial leading to its literal and metaphoric exposure. Sound of a Million Insects also functions as a kind of synecdoche for the effects of radiation on the human body and the environment, as well as with regard to epistemology and visuality. Atomic blasts

Handmade Film Ecologies

blind their victims – figuration as a function of visuality ceases to be a possibility, leaving behind only ghastly shadow impressions on surfaces. As Akira Mizuta Lippit writes of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “the unimaginable nature of the destruction has produced a proliferation of concrete and abstract, literal and figurative tropes of invisibility that move toward the atomic referent. The visual materiality of the tropology is marked by erasure and effacement, by a mode of avisuality that destroys the lines between interiority and exteriority, surface and depth, visibility and invisibility” (2005, 102). Nishikawa’s film offers us a displaced and abstracted vision of irradiated space and of a double vision – the invisible one indicated by the title, and the occluded one produced by the soil. And yet, in its two-minute run time, Sound of a Million Insects can offer only a glimpse of the deeper times hinted at in the film’s blue glow – the tens of thousands of years it takes for spilled plutonium to degrade along with the light from those already-dead stars in the sky, some of which are over a million years old. In his artist’s statement about the film, Nishikawa says that “the night was beautiful with a starry sky, and numerous summer insects were singing loud”12 when he buried the film. However, since we cannot see those stars or hear those insects in the film, they exist both within and outside of the film – Cage’s crickets persist in their song, whether we hear them or not. The films discussed in this essay illuminate a politics of process. They do not merely exhibit political engagement through content – they describe a mode of deeper philosophical inquiry regarding the role and positioning of humanity visà-vis the world through methods of production. These films demonstrate that how things are made matters, and that making carries ramifications for how we think about and conduct ourselves in relation to other people, objects, and things. Art therefore provides a useful model for broadening our approach to thinking about the non-human, about the limits of authorship, and about attributions of agency. These works show that when we decentre the human, when the ego gives way to an “at-oneness with whatever,” we ironically gain a better sense of humanity’s place in the world. Although this essay has focused on the relations between objects, animals, and humans within a subset of analog film, non-human generative processes persist in the digital. It is therefore worth considering whether there is something about the nature of the digital that drives artists like the ones described in this chapter to seek out non-human contact in the “natural” world. There appears to be a double withdrawal here. The first is prompted by the idea that the digital’s diminishment, or even effacement, of the trace of the artist’s hand is dehumanizing, which causes the handmade artist to turn away from the digital in an attempt to have some sort of more “authentic” lived experience. The second is a concomitant turn away

121

Gregory Zinman

122

from the human in an attempt to reorient oneself towards a more profound engagement with the “natural” world. I am putting “natural” in quotes here because I believe that the artists and thinkers animating this essay demonstrate that such binary divisions – between natural and artificial, and between virtual and real – are not rigid constructions but rather systems of relations to be recognized, entered into, challenged, and played with. Stephen Wolfram has controversially argued for a conception of the universe as being fundamentally computational, one whose defining laws and behaviours can best be understood as simple programs. Various investigations into computer vision and emerging artificial intelligence indicate the quickly expanding vistas of non-human expression. Furthermore, I believe the digital to be a realm of expression as open to possibilities of style, craft, and invention as any other artistic set of materials, including analog film. It is therefore important to remember that the digital is human, too – Wolfram’s ideas notwithstanding, humans made the digital. What are the processes by which filmmakers could enrich the relational positioning of the human and non-human? Google’s Deep Dream, in which algorithmically derived relational images are produced from ones uploaded by human users, could be understood as a kind of analogous “burial” of images in the manner of Landfill 16. The non-human is in our cpus and outside our windows, in the air and on the ground – all ready to relate and already relating, all ready to create and already creating.

Notes 1 John Kobler, “Everything We Do Is Music,” Saturday Evening Post (19 October 1968), quoted in Kostelanetz 1987, 70. 2 See also Kohn 2013. 3 See Gregory Zinman, Handmade Cinema, www.handmadecinema.com. 4 My thanks to Jacob Waltman’s “Making Light of It” blog for bringing this comparison to my attention. http://making-light-of-it.blogspot.com/2012/02/imprint.html. 5 David Gatten, email to the author, 8 September 2015. 6 Jeff Goldberg, “John Cage Interview,” Soho Weekly News (12 September 1974), quoted in Kostelanetz 1987, 65. 7 Jennifer Reeves, “Landfill 16” (2011). http://www.jenniferreevesfilm.com/pages/ artpage_1.php?page=1. 8 Tomonari Nishikawa, email to the author, 11 September 2015. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid.

Handmade Film Ecologies 11 Ibid. 12 See http://www.tomonarinishikawa.com/film.html.

References 123 Alfred Brothers. 1892. Photography: Its History, Processes, Apparatus, and Materials. London: Charles Griffin. Bennett, Jane. 2010. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, nc, and London: Duke University Press. – 2015. “Systems and Things.” In The Non-Human Turn, ed. Richard Grusin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Bidwell, Allie. 2013. “U.N. Seeks to Solve Growing Global E-Waste Problem.” U.S. News & World Report, 16 December. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/ 16/un-seeks-to-solve-growing-global-e-waste-problem. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1994. What Is Philosophy?, trans. Graham Burchell and Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Verso. Demos, T.J. 2009. “The Politics of Sustainability: Contemporary Art and Ecology.” In Radical Nature: Art and Architecture for a Changing Planet 1969–2009, ed. Francesco Manacorda and Ariella Yedgar. London: Koenig/Barbican. Derrida, Jacques, and Eric Prenowitz. 1995. “Archive Fever,” diacritics 25, no. 2 (Summer): 9–63. Dubuffet, Jean. 1957. “Empreintes.” Les Lettres Nouvelles 48 (April): 507–27. Translated by Lucy R. Lippard and reprinted in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, ed. Herschel B. Chipp, 616. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984. Fuller, Matthew. 2010. “Art for Animals.” Journal of Visual Art Practice 9, no. 1: 17–33. Grusin, Richard. 2015. Introduction to The Non-Human Turn, ed. Richard Grusin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Gunning, Tom. 2011. “The Secret Language of the Traces of Light: David Gatten’s Dividing Line.” In Texts of Light: A Mid-Career Retrospective of Fourteen Films by David Gatten, ed. Ann Bremner. Columbus, oh: Wexler Center for the Arts. Haraway, Donna. 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press. Hird, Myra, and Celia Robers. 2011. “Feminism Theorises the Non-Human.” Feminist Theory 12, no. 2 (August): 109–117. Hoeve, John E. Ten, and Mark Z. Jacobson. 2012. “Worldwide Health Effects of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident.” Energy & Environmental Science 5, no. 9: 8743–57.

Gregory Zinman Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Kostelanetz, Richard. 1987. Conversing with Cage. New York: Routledge. Lippit, Akira Mizuta. 2005. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics). Minneapolis: University

124

of Minnesota Press. Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Paravel, Véréna, and Lucien Castaing-Taylor. 2012. “Director’s Statement.” Dogwoof. http://dogwoof.com/leviathan/filmmaker. Parry, Tom. 2015. “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Evacuees Promised 2017 Return but ‘Ineffective’ Clear-Up May Take 200 Years.” Mirror, 24 August. http://www.mirror. co.uk/news/world-news/fukushima-nuclear-disaster-evacuees-promised-6307229. Parikka, Jussi. 2015. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Peters, John Durham. 2015. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Ross, Alex. 2010. “Searching for Silence: John Cage’s Art of Noise.” New Yorker, 4 October, 52–61. Schlanger, Zoë. 2015. “Fukushima Has Been Leaking Radioactive Water since May, but Tepco Didn’t Tell Anyone.” Newsweek.com, 25 February. http://www.newsweek.com/ fukushima-has-been-leaking-radioactive-water-may-tepco-didnt-tell-anyone-309442. Sheldon, Rebekah. 2015. “Form/Matter/Chora: Object-Oriented Ontology and Feminist New Materialsim.” In The Non-Human Turn, ed. Richard Grusin, 193–222. Vince, Gaia. 2012. “How The World’s Oceans Could Be Running Out of Fish.” BBC , 21 September. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120920-are-we-running-outof-fish. Zimmerman, Robert. 2014. “Better Living through Cinema: An Interview with David Gatten.” Duke University Arts Journal, 15 January. https://arts.duke.edu/artsjournal/ better-living-through-cinema-interview-david-gatten.

Chapter 9 Signs of the Three: Process and Composition in Works by Bruce Elder, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, and Blake Williams Bart Testa This chapter discusses works by three filmmakers. What they have in common, aside from living in Toronto, is that the works selected for discussion are heavily “processed” in some technical sense. A good deal of the analysis and description that follow derives from interviews in which they were asked about their process of making these particular pieces. However, these are not question-and-answer discussions nor are they intended as profiles of the artists. Instead, I have combined critical descriptions of the films and sought to place them in the context of the three filmmakers’ careers.

Bruce Elder After Michael Snow, Bruce Elder is the most proficient and productive experimental filmmaker in Canada. He has completed one massive film cycle, organized as “The Book of All the Dead.” It assembles his output from 1975 to 1994 into a thirty-six-hour panoply. Elder is now at work on a second cycle, “The Book of Praise,” begun in 1997 and ongoing, now at four lengthy individual films. In addition, Elder has written a series of five large scholarly books devoted to experimental cinema.1 In his long career as professor at Ryerson University mentoring student filmmakers, he has seen a number of them become colleagues, including Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, now a professor at Ryerson. Made six years after he began making films, 1857 (Fool’s Gold) was completed in 1981. This is a long time ago in terms of technical resources available to an experimental filmmaker. Most of the computer assistance and technical apparatus used for this film was “homebrewed” as Elder once put it. The principal resource was an optical printer, and the film’s composition is bound to it closely. 1857 came at an important juncture for Elder. He had made a variety of short experimental films since 1975. While these were admired and he sometimes reworked his footage extensively (as on the dance film Look! We Have Come Through! [1978], which reanimates the photographed performance), other of his

Bart Testa

126

films were cut from his shoots simply and directly, as with his buttery erotic meditation, Sweet Love Remembered (1980). It seemed Elder was cycling through avant-garde styles (including the Brakhage-like Permutations and Combinations [1976]), but he was yet to seize on a style of his own. This was unusual in a decade of experimental film that saw artists tied to structural cinema or neo-narrative or some other format that itself had a theoretical rationale. These had in effect become form-genres that had protocols, not binding but widely followed, that indicated the extent to which the form an artist took up revealed his or her commitment and identity – in short a textual project consistently linked to a form and a format. Instead of this kind of connection to formal type, and nudging his diverse films into shape one by one, Elder was making work that suggested he would be an experimental-film academic, not unlike his contemporary Rick Hancox, who similarly joined stylistic variety to meticulous process in making impressive short films. Both of them were employed as filmmaking teachers.2 Their works showed the pedagogical virtues of being both flexible and exemplary, aligning with their jobs of imparting variable film processes to students. With The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1979), however, things changed. First, Elder extended the film’s length from what had been his customary quarter-hour to fiftyfive minutes; second, he pursued a multi-frame format, achieved through optical printing; third, he composed the work from 16mm diary footage. The energy of the film is manifested in the editing of the fragments on four inner-screens semisynced to the correspondingly complex sound mix, making both tell a story by associations woven in and out of depicted moments of autobiography. The pulse of the film’s assembly comes from Elder’s own voice (the texts he reads mix his words and quotations) set continuously in a mix of snippets of wild sound and pop music. The sound–image montage directs the viewer’s attention to one portion of the quadra-screen, then pushes it over to a different frame. The process is sound– image montage, and behind it, the demands of Worldly Wisdom are apparent to viewers right on the screen: they are forced to divide attention and catch the film’s drift from frame to frame cued by sound. Worldly Wisdom tells its story in two roughly equal parts: first a sketch of Elder’s biography, then his two brushes with death, the first a near-murder on the street in the Near East scarcely glimpsed by the camera he was carrying (though he shows what he got) and then from a wasting disease, the physical effects of which Elder records in long takes off a mirror in which he stands naked beside his camera tripod. Worldly Wisdom seemed, and still does today, a personal and searing work – a document of a young life that seemed to come to an early end. Elder was thirty-two. The film was his first significant success and earned him reviews from as far away as Los Angeles, and a public in Toronto.

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

9.1 Still from Bruce Elder, 1857 (Fool’s Gold) (1981).

It was the kind of film that could be made only once, however. 1857 seems the opposite of Worldly Wisdom, a kind of structural film. The soundtrack replaced Elder’s autobiography with a sizable portion (about 5 per cent) of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), the author’s lengthy documentary novel of the 1665 Great Plague in Britain, read by Elder, who explains: “the film began with the Defoe.”3 Visually accompanying the read text are supertitles taken from passages from Ezra Pound’s Cantos, math formulas, and some quotes in Latin. The soundtrack is again centred on Elder’s voice, this time slightly altered and accompanied by semi-abstract sound effects and music that sometimes almost buries his reading. The film is divided into numbered sections, twenty-one of them, in a film that runs for thirty-three minutes. This type of audio/visual/lexical mixture – quoted supertitles and lengthy recitations of texts – was then a novelty for Elder. However, it would soon contribute to the architecture of enormous stretches of his long-film phase. This would begin in 1982 with the three-hour-long Illuminated Texts and reach through Lamentations (1985) and Consolations (1988). Each of them roughly doubles the length of its predecessor. This audio-lexical supplementing all but ceases in the elevenhour sub-cycle Exaltations, which Elder broke down into feature-length instalments released from 1992 to 1994. It marked the first significant change in his style since 1982. In this broad sense, 1857 provided a formal template and complexly signals the process that Elder would undertake for the extended works he was about to begin. Nonetheless, it should be said that Elder’s stylistic variety, evident in his first films, never deserts him in the later long films. In every film there are acted passages, insertions of found footage, and occasional abstract or cartoon-like

127

Bart Testa

128

9.2 Still from Bruce Elder, 1857 (Fool’s Gold) (1981).

computer graphics. In Illuminated Texts and the two films after it, long montages of Elder’s diary and travel footage (as in Worldly Wisdom) are extensive, and only taper off with Consolations.4 On the other hand, 1857 differs in that it contains only a handful of foundfootage images, looped, and heavily processed by optical printing. This compressed treatment of a limited range of images aligns the film, loosely, with structural cinema, as does Elder’s catalogue text at cfmdc, in which he describes the film’s components: Four types of visual forms appear in this film: photographed scenes, written texts, mathematical symbols and numerals. The course of the film is charted by the transformations, which these images undergo. The film has a narrative form, but … one that is developed purely in terms of the manipulation of the colour characteristics of the images. The texts included in the film are drawn from Ezra Pound’s “Cantos.” They serve, in the first place, to involve the spectator in the process of reading. Furthermore, Pound’s text is ideal for exploring fairly completely the range of relations that can exist between image and text. The soundtrack of the film is constituted by both musical and non-musical sounds. The nonmusical sounds that occur in the early portion of the film are “natural sounds” that might occur in nature along with the depicted events.5

The transformations of the image advance in increments and then their progression rises to crescendo and then decrescendo, loosely matched to the rising drama of the flatly reported gruesomeness in Defoe’s text as it descriptively follows the course of the plague. The climax is then followed by its relaxation into a coda. In his text, Defoe offers the relieved survivors’ religious interpretations of the plague.

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

The graphic architecture Elder generated is compressed and powerful. It would be worked and reworked through the long films to come. However, only one more time in “The Book of All the Dead” would Elder reach for the optically printed picture density and propulsion he does in 1857, and that would be the final reel of Illuminated Texts.6 I am suggesting that much of the form of Elder’s film work flows from 1857 right through the early 1990s, and offers a key to Elder’s filmmaking process over the long haul. However, 1857 also belongs to a period when image processing with the optical printer (or re-photography techniques approximating it) often coupled with a dense, insistent sound mix, was a prominent procedure in Canadian experimental film. The trend began in 1970 with Jack Chambers’s The Hart of London7 and, more often noticed, David Rimmer’s Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper (also 1970).8 The reliance on optical printing probably climaxed with the completion of Al Razutis’s two series, Amerika (1972–83) and Origins of Film (1973–80). Razutis’s masterpiece of processed images is one of the earlier pieces that was later made part of Amerika, 98.3KHz Bridge at Electric Storm (1973). The process of these films relied on techniques of image degradation/reconstitution to generate a flashing diagrammatic reduction of a given image to linear elements, usually filled in by moving panels of electric colour. The image degeneration is usually pursued to its logical end. In Rimmer’s films, the process occurs gradually. In Razutis’s films, the reduction happens fast and with percussive effect. The optical printer can yield a baroque image of super-saturated colour and can offer a quick slide into and out of abstraction. Iconic elements dissolve to lines and areas of intensely coloured light. The use of optical printing promoted splashy virtuosity, which Razutis indulged in with incandescent effect. Rimmer would never be surpassed for the patience, simplicity, and elegance of his forms or imagery. Only Cellophane Wrapper approaches Razutis’s preferred velocity. Closer to the stripped-down, highly modulated style of certain structural filmmakers like Ernie Gehr, Rimmer characteristically exfoliated single images, as in the silent Surfacing on the Thames (1970) and Narrows Inlet (1980). He did this by following the logic of a single procedure – a slow frame-by-frame advance in the case of Surfacing and a single, looped, jittery pan (taken from a small boat) of a lakeside as the veil of image-treatment lifts to reveal a lightly fog-shrouded shore. Razutis preferred hard-charging image effects, explosive soundtracks, and furious editing. He was a dramatist of the optical printer, welding it to his whole process, which was to take a single or a few strips of footage and subject them to transformations at a sledgehammer beat. While obvious in significance, his best films were detonations of the cinematic images and promoted a corrosive apocalypticism and a rocking excitement in equal measure.9 A lyrical artist at heart,

129

Bart Testa

130

Rimmer stilled images for consideration, and his work possesses a tempered skepticism. He approached his best films in a process of observant decorum that asks only for one epiphany per film, which duly appears with lucid, mild surprise. Coming about a decade later to the format, Elder’s 1857 lies between these two artists’ work. The formidable presence of such films as Razutis’s best work set a challenge to make a film with comparable technical force. A fair number of optically printed films were attempted by various hands, making it, for a time, a leading process in Canadian experimental cinema. Its reign concluded when digital processing replaced optical printing as a means to exploit the plasticity of the film image. Optical printing sets an interesting threshold. It is basically analog re-photography that can alter an image to the point where its photographic testimony to a profilmic reality mutates into something more uncertain, light-based, and chemically charged in its contours. In effect, films like these peel back to the photo-original filmstrip by stages (which was Rimmer’s inclination, as in Narrows Inlet), or forward into a mechanism of dissolution usually headed in the direction of abstraction and steely cold, intense colour design. In 1857 Elder uses optical printing in this second way but moves gradually, first by using longer loops of footage (than did Rimmer or Razutis), and second by a comparatively slow graduation (like Rimmer) in the treatment of loops until the film accelerates, which 1857 does forcefully in its later sections. The film’s early images (a rowboat, for example) seem to be just tinted versions of the original shots. The development of the images is roughly cyclical, subject to similar changes at each appearance, at least until Elder approaches the long climax and the montage becomes percussive and the images approach the state of abstract colour fields. The film also inserts flicker effects (recalling Paul Sharits) alternating with the fully coloured images. The film’s overall structure is more than just a declension of visual effects, however, and leads to an aesthetic-moral emotion, informed by Defoe’s measured report of the plague’s physical ruin of its victims. The tumult on the screen suggests a synecdoche of the violence tearing the plagueridden body. 1857 is also complicated by the viewer’s effort to comprehend it. That comprehension might require seeing the next film, Illuminated Texts, but the viewer’s association of a disaster like a plague, voiced with measured exactness, is fused with the pathetic anecdotal detail of Defoe’s text and Elder’s unaccentuated reading, and the stormy seascape eventually whipped into visual fury. The imagery takes us to sea – first in the rowboat and then a seascape – and tortured tree-scapes whipped by wind on shore, the tumultuous sea scanned from landfall. All the while, Defoe chains us to a city as the pathogen follows its monstrous path to an end. Elder builds the image to colour-filled flat pictures and the montage, replete with flickers and pulses of colour.

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

Elder recalls that this was his first film to use such a combination of language, voice-over, music, and image. Most decisions involved processing the footage, first deciding on the source material and the technical means. The material was always to be film stock with no computer interface. Elder did not, however, wholly “discover” the film in its making without prior concepts. He recalls that the thinking behind the process of composition begins with the mathematical idea of a field, by which he means a set of objects on which certain operations can be performed (like addition or multiplication) and that remain members of the field. Elder says that the critic Hugh Kenner, in “Field/Art,”10 established this new model of artistic composition. Kenner was an early student of Marshall McLuhan, who supervised his dissertation. McLuhan’s influence on Kenner was to suggest that an artwork can be an assemblage of standard parts, which the artist then begins to process as a montage. This is the model of art Kenner sees in James Joyce and Ezra Pound (the poets in which he specialized), and, a generation later, the idea reappears in Carl Andre’s sculptures and Hollis Frampton’s films. These ideas lead to ideas of the “module,” as in Andre’s sculpture; in his case the elements are made of rolled steel, which he heats. Some unit is selected, then treated to develop variations, and the pieces are then arranged into a composition. In the case of 1857, Elder regarded the set of shots, which were a limited set, as a matrix, which he subjected to a set of variants, like colour, softness, compositing. The looped set of shots were treated as modules and these were processed in a set of treatments on the basis of a mathematical formula. Most of the images used in 1857 come from a film treatment of Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon made for high school instruction. Elder made copies on an optical printer and then transformed them by making analogues of field structures. There was no digital interface. The mathematical supertitles overlaying the image allude to a theory of “representations” formulating the question of how to represent complicated structures. The film is numerically sectioned into twenty-one parts and the imagery is mathematically arranged. Paul Mellor’s soundtrack and the texts have a looser development. The soundtrack consists of the following elements: Elder’s reading, sound effects, music, and Karen Skipmore’s improvised vocals, which were recorded last. The notion of 1857 was to have an array of elements appear simultaneously to be apprehended together, but they cannot be. Like Worldly Wisdom, the film creates a divided attention. The pieces in the film are associated. For instance, the Pound verses are obscure (as usual) but Elder’s selections allude regularly to The Odyssey, our culture’s primal sea voyage, and so the sea imagery rhymes with the Pound texts; and the plague, Defoe explains, arrived in London by ship. The unity of 1857 is “mechanical,” says Elder, and this was deliberate. He adds that in con-

131

Bart Testa

132

trast “an organic work is made by someone who transforms every image into the work’s personality – in Brakhage’s case, his own personality.” In a work like 1857, “the maker does not have the same dominance, but loosens his grip on the whole. This elicits a different response.” Elder compares this to the difference between scanning vision and focus vision. The former involves a scattering of attention, and the entering into what McLuhan referred to as “acoustic space” (meaning a space in the round that cannot be controlled perceptually by a directed gaze). The focal intensity of a work like Wavelength is, in contrast, controlled by devices that force the viewer to attend to the advance of a dominant element (in Snow’s case, the zoom) while the scanning vision of 1857 directs the viewer’s attention to different elements. The passages he chose took the shape they did while he was processing the film in the optical printer and deciding on where to place them. He then took the texts to a printing shop, where they were typeset, and Elder then filmed them on highcontrast Kodalith film stock. After choosing the passages to be used, he decided where to make a composite of titles and processed images. The durational component – how long each loop lasted (and they vary a lot) – is not an aspect of the matrix but was controlled by chance, but a chance constrained by being mapped to a set of values. The Defoe text was the beginning point for the film – “the social disease category, Defoe took the plague to the social level” is what struck Elder. While only a fraction of A Journal of the Plague Year was read into the film, the excerpts seem replete. What impressed Elder about the Defoe was his “spirituality and utter sincerity, though 1857 was anything but a sincere text.” There is, Elder adds, running through “The Book of All the Dead,” a tension that arises “when artists make work of conflicting positions.” In one sense, film is “not an art of creating, or transforming everything, but a gathering of what is given and stringing it into wholes.” On the other hand, “there is Neo-platonic sense of transcending the material by creating a perfectly formed whole.” In practice, “artworks do not resolve the tension, but only state and restate it.” When he made this film, Elder was teaching and thinking specifically of Rimmer’s films Blue Movie (1970) and Watching for the Queen (1973), “which make allusions to photographic practice as a way of transcending the real and so on, of making such a composite as Charles Baudelaire declared for modernism, both transitory and eternal.” Optical printing suggests the latter. “The effect of optical printing has ties to surrealism, or reading against the registry of the real,” he adds. The choice of the selections from the Cantos suggests a “light-mystique alluding to Neoplatonism.” But the recurring line about “artificial paradise,” he says intentionally, “carries ambiguity; will this work carry us beyond the everyday, or is

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

it ‘fool’s gold’?” Elder describes the finalized film as “a bit rickety, not wholly integrated and certainly not transcendent.”

Izabella Pruska-Oldendorf 133 Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof has moved steadily to the forefront of Canadian experimental filmmakers. As a co-founder of the loop Collective (1996–present) she exerts significant leadership and can count on a supportive circle of creative peers. loop organizes screenings and gallery shows, and successfully reflects the ad hoc approach to much art and film exhibition today in Toronto. In fugitive l(i)ght (2005), Pruska-Oldenhof stages an investigation into image rhythm and succession of colour-and-light frame studies. The material she uses derives from passages, which she variously magnified, of Edison Company movies of the “Serpentine Dance.” This was a dance-and-light stage performance act originated by Loie Fuller. Fuller was a US vaudeville performer (born near Chicago) who became famous in Paris during the 1890s. She mastered, earlier than most, a range of techniques that demonstrated how electrical light was flexible enough to compose light on stage and capable of controlled mobility to allow the musical and rhythmic movement of swirling fabrics. Fuller’s achievement was without precedent and took Paris by surprise, and at just the right moment. European cities were at the time in the process of being electrified. The filmed dances, shot in the Black Maria in New Jersey by the Edison Company in 1895, the second year of the company’s commercial production, featured Annabelle Moore and Crissie Sheridan, who were two of Fuller’s many imitators. At this stage, Edison’s filmmaking was “experimental” cinema in the raw, original sense and is a subject that might draw the attention of a filmmaker who knows Hollis Frampton’s writings and has seen his remade early-cinema pieces like Gloria! (1979)11 that run through the unfinished “Magellan” cycle. While dance figures elsewhere in Pruska-Oldenhof’s work (e.g., Vibrant Marvels [2000] and Pulsions [2007]), dance films from early cinema do not otherwise appear as her subject matter. This has been the first of her films in which such a specific historical figure as Fuller is featured, at least indirectly. fugitive l(i)ght may be Pruska-Oldenhof’s best film. Her approach – really her whole effort across her filmmaking – could be described as a two-step business: setting up a constraint followed by free improvisation in image processing. In this case, the technical retrieval, after shooting or reshooting her previous films, marks her constraint at the start of the film’s preparation. All the material in fugitive l(i)ght comes from the Edison films. The images were magnified on a 5× progressive formula, from mere closing on the original dancing figure (taken in the

Bart Testa

134

characteristic Edison full shot), to micro-close-ups at 500× on light and fabric that become, in visual effect, abstractions. This set of programmatically controlled choices then left the filmmaker free in her process of composing the film. In this case, the range of material was small but the scale of magnifications enormous. Re-tasking the found footage that was derived from ideas about Fuller herself and what her dances suggested in advanced French art at the turn of the century informed the process of compositing the film.12 The shape of the film into sections is somewhat linear, moving from abstract blobs to screen-full colour fields in motion to glimpses of dancers. The experimental filmmakers that have impressed Pruska-Oldenhof are mostly well-known mid-century figures. They include Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland. Her close study of Stan Brakhage stands out in her films and in her interviews. In a sense, a more technologically inclined filmmaker than Brakhage, though a great admirer of him, Elder stands behind these films – though well behind.13 PruskaOldenhof does not see herself as the type of heroic form seeker that Brakhage was, although she finds the forms and methods he devised worth experimenting with. Pruska-Oldenhof knows intimately what his films look like and how they behave, what their visual scale is, and this is reflected in the way she usually composes with close visual rhythms. She also knows that imitating Brakhage is not in the cards. Believing that Brakhage was right about some key things involved in the process of filmmaking is different from imitation, and the distinction serves her well, but she has rendered such ideas much more prepared, intimate, and settled in their form than the influence of Brakhage might suggest. Pruska-Oldenhof sheds off admiring the heroism, in other words, and digs into the job where it matters: her immersion in her materials. Once their parameters (or constraints) are set, these allow her to pursue the decisions in their proper time and ensure their fluidity. The solutions to be found get resolved by holding on to the film’s self-composing. This is her core process: seizing on intimations set to unfold from her material. Or Pruska-Oldenhof puts it, “I like the weave of having a rough idea of what I am doing, but then allowing the work itself to direct me.”14 Although she found a showcase for the earlier Light Magic (2001), her first photogram film,15 in the cfmdc’s Made by Hand (2005) compilation, PruskaOldenhof usually later used digital aids. While it was made manually (and she reports that was in reaction to her first digital films like Vibrant Marvels [2000]), in Song of the Firefly (2002), she transferred the material to computer for processing/ editing, but cut the film “off-line” and did not add any digital effects. She “then hand-cut the 35mm photogram original according to the digital off-line edit matching it frame-by-frame.”16

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

135

9.3 Still from Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, fugitive l(i)ght (2005).

Made by Hand did not have the impact it deserved perhaps because it came and went without sufficient discussion. It also lacked a convincingly argued programming rationale.17 The more interesting outcome came from the later ReGeneration program at cfmdc. For this series seven filmmakers selected films that shaped them and were commissioned to make films of their own in response. By this time, loop was strategically coupling its efforts with events happening on the art gallery front, a convergence and mutual recognition that loop would continue to promote with its programs. Pruska-Oldenhof, for example, recently created a major photographic-cinematic installation piece, Relics of Lumen (2016), at the Ryerson Image Centre. Song of the Firefly was made in 35mm, and the pure quality of light and the liquefaction of the images that Pruska-Oldenhof achieves make it a breakthrough for her process: her film passes through a flashed plasticity into haptic flesh-like light effects. Following the same method as she did in Light Magic, the filmmaker composed bits of plants and dead insects on the film surface. The film is an obvious allusion to Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963), though one wonders if Brakhage intended his to be a unique film or the beginning of a procedure others might work

Bart Testa

136

with. This was followed – but after six years and commissioned for ReGeneration – by Pruska-Oldenhof’s further confrontation with Brakhage, The Garden of Earthly Delights (2008), named after Brakhage’s own 1981 film. In his film, he once again applied insects and plants directly onto the film surface just as he did with Mothlight, though this time Brakhage worked in 35mm and used a light table. Coming after Light Magic and Song of the Firefly (2002), Pruska-Oldenhof’s Garden is eight minutes of startling images, and the film dances well on screen. She almost makes the format her own. With these three films, and others between them, Pruska-Oldenhof completed a focused internship with a rhythm- and light-based filmmaking and developed a fluid mastery over the use of the digital interface; these features would become the core of her artistic process thereafter. The films Pruska-Oldenhof makes vary quite a bit, and do not so much progress in a line but arrange themselves in recursive fashion. Though she speaks of one film growing out of another, the proximity seems to run to twinned films; the third or fourth is usually a fresh approach, for better or worse, or a visitation to a theme developed earlier. Her films so far comprise a cinema of clustered stand-alone projects, not cycles or series. Nonetheless, there is a local trajectory, as Pruska-Oldenhof explains, that arrives at fugitive l(i)ght. It starts with a different fascination with insects, in this case not their corpses but living insects in flight that Étienne-Jules Marey carried out with his “chronotophography” of the 1890s (contemporary with Fuller’s fame, as it happens).18 In the spiral of their flight she saw the “double ellipsis,” and then noticed a corresponding pattern in the Edison Serpentine Dance films. That resemblance sparked the project that became fugitive l(i)ght. When she writes on Loie Fuller, Pruska-Oldenhof emphasizes the way her dance performances are enabled by choreographed, coloured electrical lights. She then goes on to interpret the association of the electrical modernity that her dances inspired in contemporaries in the arts—including the poet Mallarmé. Her essay channels her observations of the contemporary responses to Fuller through Marshall McLuhan’s interpretation of early abstraction (Picasso and Klee for example) as an intimation of the age of electronic media. In Fuller’s time, electricity itself was the wonder of the age. Fuller became a Parisian phenomenon while Europe was being widely electrified. Writers and artists produced speculations about what she suggested or even symbolized.19 Concurrent with this technical transformation and its cultural impact, Fuller became, for the French, an emblematic modernist figure, frequently depicted in paintings and lithographs, remarked by poets, and rendered as a sylph-like icon of art nouveau.20 Pruska-Oldenhof quotes Tom Gunning’s observation that Fuller developed her dance into an abstraction but with a sensual attraction that appealed across class and cultural boundaries.21 In a nut-

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

137

9.4 Still from Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, fugitive l(i)ght (2005).

shell, she astonished those who came to see her and became someone whose significance went well beyond a vaudeville attraction, though her reputation never reached into academic dance and the modern dance rebellion. For many years she was forgotten. It takes a leap of imagination to feel much of Fuller’s impact on the French avant-garde of the 1890s surviving in the Edison films. Even aside from the fact that they were performed by a copycat, these are short static-camera works taken in full to long shot against the Black Maria’s blank background. The lighting is flat and steady. Annabelle performs her imitation of Fuller’s Serpentine Dance in short bursts. But Pruska-Oldenhof finds much in these films and then develops what there is to work with. In making fugitive l(i)ght she derives the implied abstract, rhythmic energies hidden in the antique movies. It is an odd feature of very early films that they often possess a vital spark of action or gesture, a pulsing energy shed off by human presences, often tucked into wide and deep shots full of scrambling figures. It was Ken Jacobs who disclosed this feature of early cinema with his revelatory Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (1969). Of course, Jacobs had to tear the original Tom Tom apart (through re-photography) to get at the human energies jangling away in the wide-shot tableaus of Billy

Bart Testa

138

Bitzer’s 1905 original film. The Edison dance films differ. They put their energetic figure front and centre of the frame. It is the fabric the dancer wields and animates – in a cluster of micro-rhythms of light shimmering from yards of fabric – that generates the film’s energy. Edison’s dance films were hand-tinted, perhaps in an attempt to gather in the theatrical effect of coloured lights; the surviving efforts leave only a smudged intention of the colour left behind – though this augments their abstractedness.22 Looking at the films, Pruska-Oldenhof picked up these suggestions of what to retrieve and how to do so. Informed by her study of the terms of Fuller’s Paris reception, she saw these mobile shapes of cloth in extreme close-up – in effect transposing Fuller’s field-of-energy effect to lighted motion at high magnification, not visible in the full and long shots of the originals. She printed the image at various blow-ups, devised a “system of five” magnification procedure going to extremes until she hit 500×. She downloaded the material from the internet, having discovered the films for herself while assisting on Elder’s Crack, Brutal, Grief (2000).23 She then decided to process and work through the original rhythm and light in undertaking the composition of fugitive l(i)ght. For Pruska-Oldenhof, the film signified considerable intellectual investment, which comes out in her Fuller essay and in her discussions about the filmmaking process. She came to fugitive l(i)ght having worked on a dance piece with choreographer Crissie Sheridan, who composed for three dancers. Pruska-Oldenhof wanted to incorporate the Serpentine Dance footage then. But the project took on a life of its own. Each clip was processed differently by multiplying the magnification by 5×, and then she began working with superimpositions. She treated the black and white footage using a computer program to separate out colour. She controlled the clips by speeding them up and slowing them down after magnifying the image size. At other times, notably toward the end of the film, she used approximately normal size and speed. The preliminary decisions about the material gave her a rich range of imagery (from a uniform source) before she entered into the process of composing fugitive l(i)ght. At high magnification, the original Edison dance images were unreadable except as abstract light shapes and rhythm. But as the film develops that rhythm approaches the regularity of the dance. Later images of the dancer become pronounced, first following the derived metre of the dance, then as pictures. The play between representation and abstraction (what Pruska-Oldenhof discerns in Fuller’s dance itself) elaborates the film’s sections as the viewer is gradually placed in suspense between seeing pure light and shape, and seeing objects, and then – with some surprise – of seeing the swirl (or cascade) of fabric, the body and then face of the dancer. There is no marked sectioning – the film is graduated over a

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

span of almost ten minutes in a fluid fashion – though Pruska-Oldenhof does deploy two fade-outs and a number of contrasting passages that Colin Clark’s very attentive musical score accentuates.24 The film begins as a curved blue shape intrudes from screen right and, hesitantly with several retreats, fills the screen with the blue then white light as it moves to the centre then retreats, leaving the screen again a black void. This goes on for about two minutes, and leaves us wondering if this blobby blue thing should be sensed as arising from some deep place, as arriving from off-screen, or as an unveiling of the void (the Black Maria is a visual void). Finally, there is a more permanent modulation to its full screen presence and, through superimpositions, becomes a much busier image: at first an ambiguous shape entering the void, the bright light becomes a field with some depth in which new coloured shapes arise and mingle across the whole screen. The first glimpse of the dancer shape, almost wholly abstract – “angels’ wings” Pruska-Oldenhof calls them – form a figure, but all that we see is a white diagrammatic shape, not just literally but exceptionally figurative at this point. fugitive l(i)ght then veers to abstraction, and the regular arm gestures of the dance set off a swirl of colours, which go to pastels and thin washes. Pruska-Oldenhof holds back the representation hinted at here for over a minute and then goes to a break, a fade acting as black void. The dance figure now appears as a mobile abstracted silhouette fringed in a strong blue. Here is where the double ellipsis, the figure eight, becomes pronounced for the first time (it is also the moment when the diagrammatic look of optical printing takes hold). She then recedes for a recap and then fades out. Back from the dark, the viewer sees white close-ups of a portion of the dance costume, which look a bit like wobbly flying saucers or spinning bowls, followed by a radically abbreviated remake of one of the Edison films, with full shots of the dance, but covered with supers of white light; then, dramatically, a close-up of the dancer’s face appears. Veering away again into a long section of abstraction in red and white, the dance is remade in coloured light. This is followed by a dark screen and a fleshy form contoured by light, trembling softly in the lower-right frame. This passage is an interval to the return of the angel-wing silhouettes until a flurry of amazing shapes that all recall and mimic the dance play at the threshold of representing and abstracting. Now, Pruska-Oldenhof introduces shots of dancers behind her dancing shapes, cutting between mildly degraded pictures and near-abstract pulsations of light. The film slows now and there is a blank screen, as if the film had ended, but it hasn’t. The last section opens with a soaring white pillar (of water, the filmmaker explains) that becomes light, and the dancer reappears; from this point the previous tension of figurative and abstract becomes a collision of shots

139

Bart Testa

and aggressive applications of light. The shots come close to the dancers, not close up, but to full or medium shots, and we can see their faces. The film ends with an abstract night dance (the film earns this analogy) in black, purple, yellow, and red. 140

Blake Williams Blake Williams is the youngest filmmaker to be discussed here. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, he studied art at Tufts University’s Museum School in Boston. Williams made his way to Toronto in 2008, attending the Toronto School of Art for a year. He then successively enrolled in two graduate programs at the University of Toronto, Visual Studies at the Department of Art and the Cinema Studies Institute, where, following his second ma, he started work on his PhD. Since coming to Toronto, he has made over a dozen installations, videos, and digital films (he started making works in 2005). The programs he attended enabled much of this work. The studio the Toronto School of Art made available to him occasioned No Signal (2009). The advantages of the studio setting, Williams says, lay with “technical things.” Williams adds that his working environment influences what he does. He believes that all his work seeks to “manifest the hand of the artist in a digital context.” That remark, repeated more than once in interviews, is a bit too faint to constitute a principled stance but does begin to hint at his process and points to the fact that Williams did not come to making art through film per se, but through the teched-out gallery-centred domain that was once accurately called “video art.” His comfort with hybrid media is salient. Yet Williams has, in his Toronto pieces, aligned himself with filmmakers. He customarily exhibits beside them in a theatrical projection-screening format. These screenings and this format have considerably raised his profile. Williams contributes articles to the Torontobased film magazine Cinema Scope, has been dispatched as their correspondent to Sundance, and also involves himself in film programming with critic Kiva Reardon through director Kazik Radwanski’s Medium Density Fibreboard Films. Williams’s works have appeared in most of Toronto’s experimental film showcases, reviewed favourably, though so far only briefly, and usually by filmmakercritics like Stephen Broomer. His recent preference for technical format is a version of 3d. Williams came to be recognized chiefly with the pieces made in anaglyph 3d, starting in 2012 with Many a Swan. The screening of the film that will be the focus of this discussion, Red Capriccio, at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Wavelengths in 2014, announced his breakthrough. Writing in The Seventh Art, Stephen Broomer refers to Williams’s 3d pieces as his passage into maturity.25 They certainly raised his reputation since 2014 in the form of Williams’s most high-profile screenings,

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

notably in the New York Film Festival’s experimental sidebar programming. Williams reports that his interest in the 3d format came not from experimental predecessors like Ken Jacobs but from Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage (2014). At first, Williams says that he wanted to remake Michael Snow’s Wavelength in 3d, but his first 3d effort was Many a Swan, followed by C - LR : Coorow-Latham Road for Those Who Don’t Have the Time (2013),26 shot in a flat format. It is in that film that Williams finds a sturdy and simple structure, unusual for him. In contrast, Many a Swan feels like a technical experiment in bending space, using geometrical (triangular solids) computer constructs on which he seems to “project” portions of travel footage from the Grand Canyon, also featured separately in a found-footage montage. What better place to film the extreme depth of field that 3d exploits? The film has its named muse in the origami artist Akira Yoshizawa, who has a short cameo at the end of the piece. At fifteen minutes, Coorow-Latham Road consists of a continuous travelling shot (taken from a car) while driving down the titular road, a secondary highway. The set-up does not directly recall Wavelength as much as it does, however faintly, Snow’s later landscape–road trip film Seated Figures (1988). The landscape that the camera traversed is flat and unchanging with some low trees and bushes. The sky is blue. The apparently continuous take is rhythmically punctuated by frequent digitally made dissolves. The tiny ellipses appear as little more than mild destabilizations of the image and are cued loosely to a softly modulated acceleration and deceleration of travelling speed. At about three minutes, it becomes certain that the camera is also simultaneously panning gradually to the left from the eyes-forward perspective. The delayed discovery of a fundamental camera repositioning does recall Wavelength, which announces its fabled zoom only some minutes along. Gradually, Williams shifts the viewpoint to a side-seat view, and the effect of the dissolves differs: trees now pop in and out of existence. The effect – which ceases when the camera completes its 180-degree rotation and faces the rear as the road and landscape now recede – inverts the effect of the progression down the road and the dissolves with which the film started. Coorow-Latham Road indicates that Williams is familiar with structural landscape films (landscapes appear in most of his films) but went about making his own playfully (the tech-effect dissolves) and rigorously (the pan is a three-way parsing of perspective and screen time).27 Depart (2012) is the film that preceded his first 3d work and is a good place to begin to navigate the challenges Williams set for himself. The first part of Depart uses spectacular found footage of an outer-space rocket launch, followed by a series of passages that brings a variety of images and diagrams together – for

141

Bart Testa

142

example, a beautiful shot taken from an airplane at dusk (or dawn) with a subtle computer course-track overlay in the lower-left corner. This is followed by a display of sped-up air control computer screens. Depart is about tracing trajectories (the diagrams derive from “positioning software”) just implied by lavishly seductive images that do not, of themselves, indicate any visual direction. There is, for example, a charming passage that shows children playing at dusk. Tiny diagrams that trace their play gestures appear on the screen. The difference between calculating measurement and being absorbed in the images generates the film’s tensions. Then Depart pauses and pivots, landing for a long take of a large, empty room dramatically illuminated by slanting exterior light. Eventually a wispy column of tiny “sparkles” faintly dancing overlays the image. The effect is enigmatic and its connection to the rest of the film is perhaps doubtful, or just elusive. It suggests that Williams likes to “put things” in a film whose relationships are for him intuitive and often right, when they work. But the challenge lies in finding the relations for himself and the viewer. This is, for him, a question of process in both what he includes and how he makes it a composition; for Williams, resolutions can be elusive. Depart engages in subtle mapping in minute segments that are spectacles, large and small, until he calls a halt with that room. Overall, Williams is a nervous compiler of images but not an anxious one. He seems especially drawn to large, dramatic perspectives, just as he is attracted to unpromising sources of digital materials – tv bits, computer apps, etc. – that his “artist’s hand” tries to grasp and shape. The compositor of these materials perpetually faces being – and this is the pivot of his process – their challenged composer. Williams is also unusual in his inclination to select spectacular images, like the Grand Canyon or a glacier landscape, a dawn or dusk sky, and to position them beside others – small, slight, and intimate – in diagrammatic constructions. The dualities of his selection process offer the virtue of manifesting an artist’s hand in a digital environment. His caprices at selecting images reveal an excellent and catholic taste, and a desiring eye when behind the camera or in front of computer screen. He is, in turn, a remarkably tactful and considerate composer. The dualities are critical to his composing process and lend his video-films their energetic, at times grand, visual pitch, but the composing process, some of the time so far, remains unsteady enough to yield results that are occasionally puzzling. It is when Williams sticks closer to a structural-film parametrics of form, or is able to disclose a theme, that he is able to contain-contrast the imagery and raise them to dynamic and ordered form. This is the notable achievement of his 2010 piece, A Cold Compress, one of his best and most modest works that can be seen as an early companion to Red Capriccio, the film in which Williams becomes most assured with the 3d format.

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams

A Cold Compress opens with the sound of a projector and a matching flicker effect in the lower-left portion of the screen, the rest of which is black. The effect resolves, while still flickering, into a faintly illuminated small bush seen low on the screen. Williams holds the image to give us ample time to raise a question: is the black field in which the lit bush is set more screen space – say, a black, rural Texas night – or a technically determined void? The answer comes when the small illuminated bush is left behind and similarly lit landscape objects progress as the camera moves rightward across the screen. It is where the light goes that we can see in the night. In its simple form, but articulated with tricky rhythm, A Cold Compress recalls the camera tropes of structural filmmaking, which seem to have formed Williams early and can be seen not just in A Cold Compress but in a different way with his first achievement in the 3d format, the ten-minute Baby Blue (2013). Baby Blue opens, as does Depart, with space-age found footage. This time it is a clip of astronauts prancing on the moon as a tv commentator (whom we see briefly) remarks on the contrast between the desolation everyone anticipated they would encounter on the moon and the brightly white, frolicking astronauts, who, the commentator gravely observes, found “beauty there.” This is followed by a short excerpt of an astronomy lecture – as we look at what is almost surely a planetarium show – about how stellar luminosity allows scientists to scale distances of the stars from the earth. The rest of the film, which displays Williams’s intuitive knack for “putting things in a film,” is composed of a panoply of shots that, by implication, are drawn from that lecture fragment and concern kinds of luminosity and the distribution of light in 3d, both in motion and at static distances. The montage has the orderly randomness of a later Warren Sonbert film, yet its visual theme is bound more simply than Sonbert’s slippery montages around a single conceit, a short catalogue of luminosities and spatial distances. In some ways, Baby Blue is the best synthesis of the Williams’s duality, a real accomplishment of his intuitive process, and a reason to regard his 3d work as an advance. As it happens, Williams also thinks that 3d is his passage into maturity, which he sees chiefly as the issue of finding a compositional whole, provided for Many a Swan by the origami conceit and Williams’s own take on Baby Blue: “working out the imagination of a Cyclops in 3d,” so the motifs are drawn around “a film of imprisoned gazes of various subjects unable to see outside themselves.” The other compositional device Williams deploys in Baby Blue is that all the found footage consisted of horizontal motion, “panning an element to get a 2-3 delay which allows the 3d effect.” Anaglyph 3d uses red sienna filters, “basically convincing your eye of three dimensions.” Williams was drawn to it through the making of Coorow-Latham Road, made from Google Street View footage, “which

143

Bart Testa

144

9.5 and Opposite 9.6 Stills from Blake Williams, Red Capriccio (2014).

already does peculiar things to space because of wide-angle lenses.” Behind this development in his films, however, Williams worked a good deal in sculpture and installations, which had a conscious 3d effect and convinced him that one could be fresh while working with 3d. Williams prefers working with found footage for these pieces, in large measure because “they allow me to evoke places and objects I had no access to without travelling.” Red Capriccio is a 3d film in four parts: the first, and most dramatic, is a fourtimes-recurring, fragmented, hand-held “track” onto a lone police car with all its flashers going at night on a street in an anonymous suburban parking lot terrain. The passage, which takes a bit less than half this seven-minute film, merits close examination – it is Williams’s most intent use of 3d as an electric colour effect. The section begins as the camera approaches the car at some distance, allowing the viewer to see it in environmental context. The sound starts with a crude rendering of synchrony with environment with a bashing sound, until an instrumental crescendo emerges from the sonic murk, sounding very much like the resounding final chord of Strauss’s Zarathustra used in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Before the camera reaches the car – it takes about forty-five seconds – it slides to the left for two seconds, then shifts back to the full-frontal view and Williams then cuts to a rear view of the car, retreats to a higher angle, then cuts again, to a much closer side view as the camera shakes a bit in its route toward the front of the car. The crescendo ends just before the cut, but then resumes, after a brief interval of the murky sync sound. Williams now goes to a fade lasting five seconds. The second sequence slightly shortens the distance by clipping the start of the approaching camera, and the crescendo ends a bit sooner, then holds the rear view for a longer time, returns to the front view as the music resumes, then goes to the

145

side view – rapidly. The fade-out is shorter. The third sequence starts with a severely truncated approach to the police car, with the crescendo ending even sooner. With the leftward slur of the camera, and the cut to the rear view, the camera now rises and retreats noticeably, then a cut goes to the side view with a strong sense of camera wobble. The fourth sequence shortens the approach even more and goes to the rear view, and then, for the finale, flickering views of the car are cut together rapidly, chopping up the previous shots, for ten seconds, followed by ten seconds of very brief colour fields of red and blue with a few afterimages of the car. The rising intensity of montage is not the only or even dominant effect. Rather, it is the red and blue flashers of the police car. At first the blue-red seems to emanate from the car, which appears, at the initial distance, just like another object in the wider field of view. But on each round of the sequences, the flashing coloured light assumes increasing predominance over the screen space. Although we still see the car by the fourth round, it seems to exist as a whole but shrouded in a violently pulsating field of red or blue light, a dramatic transformation that logically cedes to the colour fields. The drama of the change is greatly augmented by the music. The section ends abruptly as Williams cuts from a red colour field to a lightning strike in the distance. The lightning seems to suck the final red panel into its vertical slash down through the night sky. Two more lightning bolts appear. This segues into a very partially lit shot of two children with their fingers intertwined,

Bart Testa

146

then a nighttime highway ride, seen from the front, and then the rear, as a truck’s lights appear and disappear, then a long take of a dark highway with the head beam projections bending and discolouring to the effect of the 3d. The next shot is static, showing an underpass in a muddy ambient night light. The next shot is a slow-motion approach to a brightly lit crash (it seems), then a cut to more highway (forward view), and then a slow movement under overpasses at dawn or dusk with the camera aimed at the sky. The sound here is another murky sync underlay over which classical music plays. The overall effect is desolate and solitary – in other words, oddly mimetic of a night drive, a kind of highway tone poem. The third part of the film is short: a headlight – or perhaps large flashlight – illuminates the front of a modest, otherwise darkened, house at night. Here Williams uses the same sort of narrow, single-source light he used for A Cold Compress. The final section, which might be the interior of the house (this is Williams’s account), shows theatre lights that might be in use at a dance club, accompanied by electronic dance music. There is no one there. The film has a coda – a small toy police car spinning around in close-up, the only thing lit in the shot. This description suggests that Red Capriccio is a sort of night song, which begins in the kind of false drama that flashing police cars bring with them to any scene – and in this case there is no scene at all in the camera’s view but the car – and runs through that odd banal-desolate feeling of highway night driving, here rendered in a bending, almost fluid visual manner, so that the final solid, lit interior is a relief, as well as a problematic resolution for the film. Williams sees Red Capriccio as a film approaching abstraction (something he has not done previously), which resulted from “playing the process” to “discover the experience of a pure blue and pure red.” But he only “discovered it in making the film.” It was not the iconography of the nocturnal scene of the flashing police car, plausible in a police film, that drew him and that likely compels viewers; rather, it “was this footage that had this particular redness and blue-ness.” The title of the film comes from a musical form, loose in structure, known for its informality and improvisational character. It is often whimsical. Paganini wrote the best known of these in the nineteenth century; Capriccio (1942) was the title of Richard Strauss’s last opera (this composer also figures in the police car section).28 In addition, the term refers to a minor genre of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century painting, and this is why Williams used the term for his title. The capriccio is a fantastical landscape with architectural ruins and a “crazy mix of periods and conditions.” Williams remarks that the overtly dramatic first part “could have been the whole film” at two-and-a-half minutes, but it seemed too simple and unfinished. So, I went looking for police car footage but wound up with the Montreal Turcot Interchange and came upon the “Red Capriccio” idea – the

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams car and word “capriccio” joined and through that the architectural ruin and decay related to auto travel and the highway exchange. Then I went through a long process of warping, shifting, and bending, finally settling on a pretty straight treatment that heightened the 3d process, but without depth illusions. The last part of the highway image is a triangle like a pyramid and it has its own music (the classical piece) and while the opening section works like COPS (the tv reality show), the two lights that I coloured red and blue and the music that gets louder as we enter the house and pass through it. So, there is a little sketch of a plot. There was no preconceived narrative but what felt right after moving the pieces around.

Notes 1 Elder began writing about experimental films at about the same time he began making his own films, the mid-1970s, with a lengthy essay on Jack Chambers. For most of the 1980s he concentrated his writing on Canadian cinema, culminating in Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture (1989). In the 1990s, in part inspired by his growing friendship with Stan Brakhage, Elder wrote a short catalogue book, The Body in Film, for the Art Gallery of Ontario, to accompany a film series there, and followed it with A Body of Vision: Representations of Image of the Body in Recent Film and Poetry (1997), mainly treating US experimental filmmakers. The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Olson (1998) served as the culmination of this series of writings. In the new century, he turned to 1920s avant-garde cinema with Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-Garde Art Movements of the Early Twentieth Century (2008), the first half of which concentrates on the German abstractionists of the early 1920s (Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, and Hans Richter), and the second half on Sergei Eisenstein. Its companion volume, Dada, Surrealism and the Cinematic Effect (2013), deals with the films that grew out of these two movements. Wilfrid Laurier University Press in Waterloo, Ontario, has published all his books. 2 At Sheridan College in suburban Toronto, Hancox helped inform a significant number of experimental filmmakers – including Phil Hoffman and Michael Hoolboom, and Richard Kerr – while making his best films. For the last two decades, Hancox has been teaching in Montreal. 3 All quotes are from the author’s interview with Elder. 4 Consolations changes styles a bit, with the frequent use of single takes separated by fades. In that film, the titles appear separately over dark backgrounds. 5 Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre catalogue (cfmdg.org). 6 Although Elder climaxes the final segments of Lamentations and Consolations

147

Bart Testa forcefully, he relies on editing and sound mixing. There is a later reprise of the highly processed visual crescendo of 1857 in the digitally made Eros and Wonder (2003). 7 Although this is a rarely noted feature of Chambers’s film, the long opening move-

148

ments rely on exacting re-photography of found footage and photographic archival material. 8 Rimmer explains that he also re-photographed the short looped piece he used for Cellophane Wrapper. 9 Razutis stopped making films after the early 1980s and now works in digital media, a drift already anticipated by the electric charge running through those films. 10 Hugh Kenner, Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians (Boston: Beacon Press 1962). 11 Frampton delivered two elegant and worked-out explanations of why he thought early cinema was important for experimental filmmakers: “For a Metahistory of Film: Commonplace Notes and Hypotheses” and “An Invention without a Future” in On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton, ed. Bruce Jenkins (Cambridge: mit Press 2009), 131–9; 171–82. 12 Pruska-Oldenhof has written an interpretive essay on Fuller, “Loïe Fuller’s Serpentines and Poetics of Self-Abnegation in the Era of Electrotechnics,” chapter 2 in Oxford Handbook of Screendance Studies, ed. Douglas Rosenberg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). 13 Pruska-Oldenhof assisted as researcher for Elder on The Films of Stan Brakhage in the American Tradition of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Olson (Waterloo, on: Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1998) and on his 2001 film Crack, Brutal, Grief, composed entirely of internet download materials. 14 From interview with Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof. 15 The photogram films of the loop Collective as a whole suggest a devotion to analog images by going straight to unlensed light and the photochemical effects. The 1920s practice is associated with both constructivism (Moholy-Nagy) and surrealism (Man Ray), and it is from the latter that the imagery and rhythms seem to come. As a set, the photogram films are probably the strongest cluster of works from loop. None of these surpasses Pruska-Oldenhof’s. But, unlike the optical printing showdowns of the 1970s, these photogram films are not in competition but drive toward accumulation and consolidation for an analog process that the group champions. These are films that at least equal the jewel-like over-illuminated quality of very good digital image projection. 16 Interview with Pruska-Oldenhof. 17 Made by Hand: Experimental Works for Educational Environments (2005); now a compilation dvd from the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.

Process and Composition by Elder, Pruska-Oldenhof, and Williams 18 One of Pruska-Oldenhof’s Ryerson colleagues is Marta Braun, the leading North American Marey scholar and author of Picturing Time: The Work of Étienne-Jules Marey (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1992). 19 Pruska-Oldenhof, “Fuller’s Serpentines,” 47. 20 Ibid., 45. 21 Tom Gunning, “Loie Fuller and the Art of Motion: Body, Light, Electricity, and the Origins of Cinema,” in Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson, ed. Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2003), 80–1. 22 Annabelle Serpentine Dance was directed in 1885 by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson and William Heise, who also ran the camera. The film’s popularity led to at least four more dance films of the same type (some danced by Crissie Sheridan), and the series continued until 1897. Given the date, the original, Annabelle Butterfly Dance [1894]), and the earliest sequels were probably exhibited first on the Kinetoscope, an electrically driven Edison peep-show apparatus set up in “parlours” dedicated to them. The company shifted to a US version of the cinematographe the following year after the Lumières demonstrated their device in 1896. Originally called the Phantoscope, Edison purchased it outright from its inventors and renamed it Vitascope and continued to film Annabelle and Sheridan dancing in imitation of Fuller until 1897. Gunning observes that Edison’s films were by no means the only imitations of Fuller made in this period. See Gunning, “Loie Fuller and the Art of Motion,” 78. 23 Crack, Brutal, Grief consists wholly of downloaded and processed internet material, much of it dance and dance-related. 24 Pruska-Oldenhof remarks: “I provided Colin [Clark] with several lp records of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, which Fuller used as musical accompaniment to her ‘Fire Dance’ and another, later, variation of her ‘Serpentine Dance.’ Colin detests Romantic music, it is too excessive and overwrought for his musical tastes, which tend toward minimalism. But he stuck to it and worked with the materiality of the lps to create crackles and various other sounds reminiscent of electric currents and other noises. He stripped the details of Wagner’s composition while I work in the opposite direction, adding colour and more detail through superimpositions and magnifications” (correspondence with Pruska-Oldenhof). Clark’s music for the film consists of two tracks at a time. The first element sounds like the electric crackle of a very badly tuned radio heard at a distance (or perhaps a gramophone from long ago). The second track behaves melodically like an oboe, flute, or clarinet but its timbre always sounds like a mollified electric shriek or a low drone (especially at the start). The soundtrack’s effect is oddly comforting, and then dramatic. It is rhythmically an excellent support. For example, Clark makes the dramatic later

149

Bart Testa sections subtly emphatic without obtruding. 25 See “Sightings in Stereo: Blake Williams Interview” with Stephen Broomer, http:// www.theseventhart.org/main/speaking-lightly-blake-williams-stephen-broomer. Since the screening of Williams’s recent feature-length 3d film Prototype (2017) at

150

the Toronto International Film Festival, discussion of Williams has begun to widen. See Phil Coldiron, “Prototype (Blake Williams),” Cinema Scope, cinema-scope.com; Nick Pinkerton “Small Wonder,” Artforum International (21 September 2017), artforum.com. 26 Williams is playing on the title of Snow’s 2003 dvd “remake” of Wavelength for Those Who Don’t Have the Time achieved by dividing the forty-five-minute original Wavelength into equal parts and superimposing them (and the soundtrack segments). 27 The film was made wholly of found footage, taken from Google Street View. 28 Paganini wrote twenty-four capriccios. No. 24 (1817) was the last, and most often still played. Strauss’s final opera Capriccio op. 24 was subtitled “a conversation” and was first performed in 1942.

Chapter 10 Notes on the Materiality of Language in Synthetic Sound Film Kelly Egan What do words sound like? This is the question that first inspired my work in film – specifically in synthetic sound film. It seems obvious: words are spoken. We hear them everyday. They are the manifestation of the speech act. They are the articulation of phonemes. The sounds of words are all around us. Of course, we know what phonetic speech sounds like, but what about the graphic form of language – the actual shapes of letters and their particular arrangement in a word? What do they sound like? Implicit in this question are issues of materiality, space, and representation: can the graphic form of the written word be thought of spatially and materially? Can this materiality be understood through an acoustic representation? Moreover, can the significance of language be probed through a technological exploration? László Moholy-Nagy was asking similar questions in the 1920s when the newish technologies of reproduction – specifically the phonograph and the film projector – allowed for new relationships with the materiality of language. First, with the phonograph, Moholy-Nagy began to consider the potential of a groovescript – a method for writing directly into the wax of the record entirely synthetic, entirely original, sounds. Then, with the invention of the optical soundtrack and sound-on-film technology, Moholy-Nagy extended his idea of “groove scripts” to the more inclusive term “sound scripts.” However, his interest in producing a new language remained the same. Sound scripts, he predicted, would replace typography and the written word because they were a mechanical language based on the material potential of new media and had the potential to express the new experiences of space that these media produce. In the early 1920s, Moholy-Nagy began to manipulate the grooves in a wax phonograph record by hand in order to produce not only “a new means of expression” but also a “sound phenomenon … which carried no prior acoustic message, by the incision of groove script-lines as required” (Moholy-Nagy 1985, 291). In his writing, Moholy-Nagy describes his “groove scripts” as a language. This new language, he suggests, needed to be fleshed out through the development

Kelly Egan

152

of a material “alphabet” through which new syntax and meanings could be imagined and pursued. For Moholy-Nagy, the question was not about representing the object, but materializing our perception of space. It was the new spatial relationships produced by technologies of reproduction that he wanted to explore, not the mimetic representation. After the advent of sound-on-film technology, Moholy-Nagy began to explore the same principles using film. Although his first (and perhaps only) synthetic sound film has been lost, Moholy-Nagy describes the film in his essay “Sound Film”: “In an experiment, the Sound ABC , I used all types of signs, symbols, even the letters of the alphabet, and my own finger prints. Each visual pattern on the soundtrack produced a sound that had the character of whistling or other noises. I had especially good results with profiles of persons” (Moholy-Nagy 1947, 277). While Moholy-Nagy was interested in how graphic representations sound, his research also leads to a shift in my original question from “what do words sound like” to “what does synthetic sound film let us hear?” It is not “really” the words that we are hearing through the groove script or synthetic sound film, but rather the process of mediation. This process of mediation, I believe, reveals a type of materiality – it makes material what Moholy-Nagy called “the noise and articulated sound, which are fundamental to all languages” (277). More than anything, my own films seek to make material the process of mediation between light and sound, between signifier and signified, between representation and object, and between concept and precept. It is this making material of the process of mediation that I seek to explore through synthetic sound film. When I first learned about synthetic sound film, I had no clue about MoholyNagy’s research or the commonalities in our process-based interests that transcended almost a century. My first exposure to this method for producing sound by directly drawing into the soundtrack section of the filmstrip was in a workshop on direct animation taught by Richard Reeves (which took place at the Toronto Animated Image Society in the early months of 2002). What became instantaneously apparent was that the practical knowledge of this oft-neglected method of filmmaking has a rich heritage of being passed down from filmmaker to filmmaker. Reeves studied the notes of Norman McLaren, arguably the most successful synthetic sound filmmaker.1 In his prolific career at the National Film Board of Canada, McLaren made and/or collaborated on more than fifty films, many of which include synthetic sound (Starr 1976, 116–23). I then learned of, and studied, the synthetic sound films of Rudolf Pfenninger, Oskar Fischinger, MoholyNagy, the Whitney brothers, and Barry Spinello.2 The rich history of synthetic sound film is too often marginalized in the history of the avant-garde – centring it here would certainly be an important contribution to the canon, but for the sake

Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film

of brevity this chapter will concentrate on my work and the ideas that continue to inspire my explorations of the process. Like Moholy-Nagy, my first experiments explored the translation of visual and/or graphic symbols into sounds. I drew shapes, letters, numbers, and patterns on the soundtrack. I painted, pasted, and scratched to determine if these different methods of inscribing sound affect the tonality – they do. Using the minimal amount of knowledge I had accumulated, I tried to create sound compositions. The results were acceptable, but not extraordinary. I was very good at producing loud noises, clearly defined rhythms, and what sounded like percussive instrumentation. However, I was a new filmmaker. I had first made the acquaintance of film production only in the fall of 2001.3 As such, it was hard to maintain my interest in one technique. Fortunately, as I was about to leave synthetic sound film, I got the idea to inscribe an entire written narrative on the soundtrack and to use that narrative to guide the image content and structure of the film.4 For my first film using this technique, I transcribed e.e. cummings’s poem, “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond” onto the soundtrack of a clear 16mm filmstrip. cummings’s innovative tension between the formal adherence to poetic structure and play with syntax, grammar, and punctuation has captivated my interests since adolescence. “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond” followed the rules of sonnet form but played within these confines, which was analogous to the way I wished to approach my film – following the structural tradition of experimental cinema, but pushing the boundaries of the acceptable “language” of film. I created a system based on cummings’s poetic structure and my own knowledge of synthetic sound production. I knew that the articulation of the words (the way they appeared together and the spaces between each element) was as important to cummings and to the production of synthetic sounds as the words themselves. I still remember nervously awaiting the results – I had no clue what the words would sound like or how the projector would interpret the written word. I still remember nervously crouching behind a chair, waiting with anticipation for the first sound. It hit my ears as the first image hit the screen. It sounded like a soft “tap” on a drum. It was the sound of the projector reading the word “somewhere” (in Baskerville bold – the font I still use to this day). That tap was quickly followed by another. And another. And another, until the projector had “read” the entire poem, through its own mechanical voice. These sounds, this acoustic composition, “existed” only in the space-time of the projector’s live performance of the film. That is, in the process of being projected – there are no external referents for the noises. My interest in synthetic sound was, simply put, to see how the projector would read the written word and what this

153

Kelly Egan

154

10.1 Selection of filmstrips from Kelly Egan, Breath (2003). Some of the words from a haiku (written by Fukuda Chiyo-ni, one of the few female haiku poets of pre-modern Japan) can be seen in the soundtrack of the 16mm filmstrip.

translation would mean to the audience,5 a quest that was fundamentally flawed insofar as the projector’s “reading” was dependent on the arbitrary decision of font more than inherent characteristics of the word and/or the letters themselves. However, I did understand this shortcoming and so maintained the same font throughout the film in order to, at the very least, provide a constant parameter from which the differences between the words themselves could be determined. In the end, font choice and the physical length of the word made more of an impact on the sound the projector produced than material or imagined differences between individual words. But, to some extent, that was part of my point about the arbitrariness of language and of the meanings we attach to words – what is the alphabet but an abstract set of graphic symbols to which we assign arbitrary significance? So, why consider the arbitrariness of the projector’s reading problematic? After completing cockroach (2002), Bodies of Knowledge (2003), breath (2003), and mary/me (2004) using the same system as finger petals (2002), in 2005 I made transparent “c” in reaction to a few (very vocal) critiques about the secretive nature of the narrative on my soundtracks. My reluctance to reveal my process was twofold. On one hand I felt that by providing the audience with the words and thus the story, I would allow them to fall too far into the screen space, which would not allow for the critical distance necessary to look back at the cinematic apparatus and their position within it. On the other hand, I felt that producing the words as intelligible objects would turn the synthetic noises into a

Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film

gimmick – a quick fix, like candy, that leaves the system without nurturing growth. Moreover, my goal was to focus on the process of translation that was possible through cinema, not on one-to-one correlation between the sound and the image. Yet, despite this reluctance, I made transparent “c” with this direct correlation between the image and the sound in mind – the audience could read along with the projector. I made the film by placing each letter of the alphabet within the image frame and soundtracks of the film so that the audience could simultaneously “see” what they were hearing. While my previous films had produced a fairly monotone percussive noise, to my surprise transparent “c” produced musical notes. With the ability to translate written letters into musical notes, I was confronted with a decision: should I continue exploring the translation of the projector’s reading of written words/narratives as graphic symbols, or should I embrace the production of representational musical notes and/or understandable sounds by still using letters, not words, and not adhering to the grammatical properties of a written narrative? While making transparent “c” I was also working on my first 35mm film, c: won eyed jail. Unlike my previous work, c: won eyed jail dealt specifically with the idea of experimental and/or alternative narrative structure, particularly the possibility of feminine narrative and syntax through quilting. c: won eyed jail was at once a film and a quilt that could be exhibited as a three-dimensional sculptural object (i.e., a quilt), or run through a projector and screened as a traditional film. For this project, I decided to expand my synthetic repertoire: I included both written narratives and repeated graphic symbols (traditional patterns used in quilting) on the soundtrack. I composed the soundtrack without knowing how the written words and the graphic symbols would sonically interact. I created the composition visually by producing a system based on the overall structure of the quilt itself (for example, if there were hand-stitched filmstrips, I placed words to accompany the visuals. If there were still photographs, I placed graphic symbols). I knew I did not want to leave the “translated narrative” produced through the projector’s noisy reading aspect of my film practice, but I also did not want to abandon the tonality and complexity I could now achieve by having the project “read” specific letters and/or shapes. My next two films combined tonality and the written word further. Instead of using shapes to create new soundings, I simply stretched out words to create my desired tonality, which I achieved through the repetition of specific letters. In 2007, I was commissioned to make A Firefly with Toronto-based poet Souvankham Thammovongsa for the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (lift)– sponsored program, “Poetry Projections.” While Thammovongsa was influenced by concrete poetry, and we shared a common interest in the materiality and visual

155

Kelly Egan

156

form of the written word, for the first time I felt an obligation to the words when making the film – to present them in a clear and meaningful way to the audience. The words, as material objects, needed to be given a liveness that I knew I could achieve through the performance of the projector. For the visual field of the film I set the words in motion, thereby creating what could be described as a live concrete poem. For the soundtrack, while I did write out the poem for the projector to read, I also focused on a few letters (the principal cast, if you will) within the poem: f, g, and i. Using these letters, I composed an acoustic score for the film by arranging repeated strings of each letter directly onto the film’s soundtrack. While the projector’s acoustic noises (still) confused the audience, they also seemed to appreciate the ability to “read along” with the projector – to be an active participant in the production of meaning by reading and interpreting the projected content as they were being (acoustically and visually) presented by the projector. Ransom Notes (2011) took this a step further. In this film, I drew on the seemingly arbitrary relationship between letter values and musical notes (especially in relation to numbered or ciphered notation). The inspiration to explore the lettered notation system through synthetic sound film came from the Toronto g20 Summit in June 2010 and its subsequent riots and arrests. As I explain in my artist statement: “We have your …” The ransom note, in our collective imagination, is an interesting entry point to the politics of ownership, freedom and exchange value, made by transforming mass media (newspapers) content into a personal message – the re-appropriation of language and meaning through the act of collage. Ransom Notes explores this strange tension as a means of sorting out the filmmaker’s experience of the hijacking of her city during the Toronto g20 Summit and subsequent riots of June 2010. The film combines new and old media (film, newsprint, print-outs of Twitter feeds), exploring social mobilization through mass media, culminating through the structure of a “waltz.” The soundtrack of the film is composed by placing letters, words and sentences directly on the optical soundtrack – in a sense the projector is “reading” the words, and the sound that you hear is the language produced by the cinematic apparatus. (parentheses in original)

10.2 Opposite top Selection of 35mm filmstrips from Kelly Egan, Ransom Notes (2011). The soundtrack for the film was created using a combination of isolated letters, shapes, and Steve Paikin’s live tweets from the 2010 G20 Toronto riots.

10.3 Opposite bottom Still from Kelly Egan, Ransom Notes (2011).

Kelly Egan

158

The feeling of siege I experienced at the time of the g20 Summit echoed my experience of language and, more specifically, the written word. I wanted to explore the tension between chaos and structure and achieved this through the visual and acoustic compositions of this film by using the projector’s noises to anchor the tension. At the time, I was fixated on the arbitrary assignment of letter values to musical notes, which I interpreted as analogous to the colour values assigned to musical notes in early colour organs and theories on synesthesia. What if I created notes by writing the assigned letter on the soundtrack? Using the structure and notation of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Waltz No. 2” from Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra No. 1, I created a perfectly synchronized representation of the score within the image and soundtrack of my film. When performed through the projector, the score actually sounds nothing like Shostakovich’s original piece. In between these transcribed interpretations of Shostakovich’s waltz were noisy, chaotic sections of newsprint and paint for which the soundtrack was produced by the projector’s “reading” of Twitter feeds of Toronto people caught up in the g20 riots. All of my films focus on language as well as the relationship between the written word as a technology and the production of meaning as a socio-technological process. At the same time, all of my work is concerned with the process rather than the product – I play with the potential of the translation brought forth by cinema towards the projector and its noises to inform my/our understanding of signification and language in general. When I began working with synthetic sound film, I was not intending to explore the potential of a mechanical language or to suggest a meta-phonetical sounding to the shape of the written word. This came only after further research on the history of synthetic sound and on how the film projector’s noises can be valued in a time when digital projection has become more commonplace. What has become obvious to me through my exploration is how synthetic sound film reveals the materiality of the process (of translation, of mediation, of remediation). Further, the materiality of the process lets us think about language – and written words specifically – as spatial and visual phenomena rather than abstractly as loaded signifiers. Like Moholy-Nagy, my semiotic interest in synthetic sound production came from, and offered the option for, a rupture in the process of signification through the use of graphic signifiers to produce arbitrary acoustic signifiers that are unrelated to our current language system. Even more than this, however, through my material use of language in film, I have tried to produce an acoustic space where figure and ground collapse into each other while at the same time are mutually constituted. This idea is grounded in McLuhan’s explanation of visual space as having “no basis in experience because it is formed of abstract

Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film

figures minus any ground, and because it is entirely the side effect of a technology … In acoustic space, which involves the dynamic interaction of a figure as a part of its ground, each thing creates its own space; that is, it reshapes the ground even as it is shaped by the ground” (McLuhan 1988, 40–1). What synthetic sound film does let us hear is not “really” the words but rather the process. Synthetic sound film presents to us a material phenomenon that represents this act of translation between the image and the sound – we hear the space between the image and the sound, point A and point B. This space is materialized through the synthetic sound – this is what is so compelling about the synthetic sound film and why, I think, people are still so astonished by them even after understanding the technology. So, what do words sound like? Or rather, what does synthetic sound film let us hear? On the surface, as Moholy-Nagy suggested, synthetic sound film reveals the noise and articulated sounds that are fundamental to all languages. However, I would argue that those noises lead to a critique of visual culture, to the rupture of figure and ground, and to manifestations of that which we have been trained not to hear. Synthetic sound film asks us to think critically about process – how we process, what we process, and the space of processing. In this sense, synthetic sound film not only helps us probe the significance of language through a technological exploration but also lets us reconsider the material relationship between technology and language and how technological mediations of space and time affect meaning. In the process, we may approach the realm of the otherwise unimaginable.

Notes 1 For more information on Norman McLaren’s work in synthetic sound (which he called animated sound) please refer to his essay “Handmade Soundtrack for Beginners” (1969), available on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. 2 For more information on early synthetic sound film, see Levin (2006, 59–71). William Moritz (2004) also writes extensively on Oskar Fischiner, and Cindy Keefer and Jaap Guldemond (2012) provide examples of Fischinger’s research. Essays written by Fischinger, McLaren, and Barry Spinello can be found online. I found Fischinger (1932), McLaren (2006), and Spinello (2007) particularly helpful. 3 I was first introduced to experimental film – to film production in general – when I enrolled in R. Bruce Elder’s Experimental Film Processes course in 2001 during my Master of Art in the Joint Programme in Communication and Culture between York and Ryerson Universities. R. Bruce Elder opened my eyes not only to the

159

Kelly Egan materiality of the medium and the historical grounding of avant-garde film, but also to the potential of film as art. For this I will always be grateful. 4 I developed this process for the final project in a course titled Language and Narrative in Film Video and Multimedia taught by Monique Tschofen at Ryerson

160

University in the summer of 2002. 5 Here, I was very much inspired by Stan Brakhage’s theory of the material experience of the spoken word. As Brakhage (2001, 174–5) explains in “Poetry and Film” the rhythms and sounds of a language can carry more significance and more feeling than the meaning of the words. He explains this theory with the example of a spoken poem, which can carry more meaning/feeling when heard in its native language than when translated into another language. I wondered if the shape of written words and letters as graphic symbols carried any innate acoustic meaning/ feeling. I set out to find out if they did.

References Brakhage, Stan. 2001. “Poetry and Film.” In Essential Brakhage, ed. Bruce R. McPherson, 174–5. Kingston, ny: Documentext. Fischinger, Oskar. 1932. “Klingende Ornamente/Sounding Ornaments.” Kraft Und Stoff, Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, no. 30, 28 July 1932. http://www.centerfor visualmusic.org/Fischinger/SoundOrnaments.htm. Keefer, Cindy, and Jaap Guldemond, eds. 2012. “Oskar Fischinger’s Synthetic Sound Machine.” Oskar Fischinger 1900–1967. Amsterdam and Los Angeles: eye Filmmuseum and Center for Visual Music. Levin, Thomas Y. 2006. “Tones from out of Nowhere.” In New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, ed. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan, 45–81. New York: Routledge. McLaren, Norman. 1976. “Animated Sound on Film [1950].” In Experimental Animation, ed. Robert Russett and Cecile Starr, 166–9. New York: Da Capo Press. – 2006. “Technical Notes (1933–1984).” National Film Board of Canada. McLuhan, Marshall, and Eric McLuhan. 1988. Laws of Media. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Moholy-Nagy, László. 1947. Reprint 1965. Vision in Motion. Chicago: Paul Theobald. – 1985. Moholy-Nagy. Edited by Krisztina Passuth. Translated by Éva Grusz. London: Thames and Hudson. Moritz, William. 1976. “Visual Music and Film-as-an-Art before 1950.” In On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art 1900–1950, ed. Paul J. Karlstrom, 228–9. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Materiality of Language in the Synthetic Sound Film – 2004. Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr, eds. 1976. Experimental Animation. New York: Litton Educational Publishing. Spinello, Barry. 1976. “Notes on Soundtrack.” In Experimental Animation, ed. Robert Russett and Cecile Starr, 175–6. New York: Litton Educational Publishing

161

Part Three

Labs and Collectives

Chapter 11 The Artist-Run Film Labs Pip Chodorov In 1978 in France, the discussion to start an artist-run film lab threatened to tear apart the filmmaking community. Today, nine such labs are up and running in France, with two dozen more across Europe, Canada, South America, Australia, and Korea. What happened? In a day and age when one would expect film labs to be disappearing, the opposite appears to be true: the creation of new labs is accelerating across the globe. The difference between those that are closing and the new ones opening is simple: the new ones are not for profit; they are run by artists. They are not out to make money with their labs; they are out to make films. Not only their own films; their goal is to open the doors to anyone who wants to work on film material, whether they are beginners or expert filmmakers, whether they make experimental films, contemporary art, or performance pieces. No services are offered at these labs: the filmmakers must come get their hands wet and do the work themselves, the more experienced members helping the neophytes. Here is a short history of the involvement. September 30, 1961, the New American Cinema Group manifesto proclaimed: “We are not joining together to make money. We are joining together to make films … We don’t want rosy films, we want them the color of blood” (Mekas et al. 1970). This proclamation led to the founding of the New York Filmmakers’ Co-op in January 1962, to become a member of which one had only to deposit a film; the films were rented out and the greater share went to the filmmaker, the rest to help the co-op survive. This eliminated the Hollywood distributors and empowered the filmmakers. In October 1966, the London Filmmakers’ Co-op started, inspired by the New York group (New York filmmaker Steve Dwoskin was a founding member). Malcolm Le Grice and others in London had been developing and printing their own films in Malcolm’s garage on equipment he built himself out of drainpipe and lumber. From the beginning, the London Co-op was also a community lab and darkroom. In 1969, the London Filmmakers’ Co-op got its first physical space where distribution, screenings, and production all took place. Many filmmakers made work

Pip Chodorov

166

on this primitive equipment, which allowed them certain kinds of free, hands-on experimentation. Though they evolved several times during the first decade, from 1978 to 1995 they had a permanent home in Camden Town. A huge body of experimental film work was made there, from structural films to expanded cinema. Many people came through London to learn about diy filmmaking. One of these people was the Dutch filmmaker Karel Doing. In the mid-1980s, Karel and two other students were able to acquire a lot of Super-8 equipment from their school that wanted to throw the equipment out and buy video. At that time, the only lab in Holland that made Super-8 prints was closing, and they managed to buy that printing equipment as well. They set up their workshop, Studio Een, in a squatted monastery in Arnhem and opened it up to anyone who wanted to make films or strike prints. In the beginning, Karel didn’t know much about developing or printing. He invited the German alchemist-filmmaker Jürgen Reble to do a workshop. Soon Studio Een became the most active lab for Super-8 printing in Europe. At one point in the 1990s, he was developing more films from France than from Holland. One of the first visitors to a Studio Een workshop was the French group Métamkine. Originally a loose performance group making their own slides, Super-8, and live music, Métamkine became in late 1989 a core group of three people: Christophe Auger, Xavier Querel, and Jérome Noetinger. Getting more involved in hand-developing Super-8 and later 16mm for their performances, they were able to set up their own darkroom in the artists’ squat, le 102, which is still active in Grenoble. In order to learn more about the techniques they wanted to do, they travelled to Arnhem to see Karel and his machines. Knowing about Studio Een and the London Filmmakers’ Co-op helped them imagine their own lab in the south of France. In 1992, their lab, mtk, opened its doors to any filmmakers who wanted to hand-develop or print Super-8 or 16mm. By that time they had acquired an optical printer and a contact printer and could hand-develop in black-and-white or colour. Filmmakers came from Geneva, Paris, and Brussels to learn how to process or print their films. I was one of those filmmakers, and at the time I didn’t even know one could develop Super-8 film at home. In fact, it was easy! Suddenly the possibilities of personal filmmaking were endless. Shooting a film was no longer simply pressing a button and letting machines and technicians do the work. Now it was a hands-on process from start to end, in which a multitude of personal choices led to a new look: a non-standard colour scheme, a chosen level of abstraction or surrealism, graininess, or roughness. One could modify the chemical recipes, the times, or the temperatures, or skip processes. On the optical printer, shots could be slowed down or accelerated, zoomed in, flipped around. On the contact printer

The Artist-Run Film Labs

one could play with exposure, superimposition, loops, negative imagery, reprinting many generations, colour separation, or any new technique we could invent. And it cost pennies, as mtk only charged us for materials. We invested time instead of money, and we got our hands dirty. At the time I visited Grenoble in 1994, Métamkine was well organized: there were special Russian reels and tanks to hand-develop 8mm and 16mm, a darkroom with large sinks, a double-boiler to keep the chemicals at a constant temperature, printers to blow 8mm up to 16mm or to make positive 16mm prints from negatives, an editing table, a light table, etc. The filmmakers who worked there had learned how to make their own photochemicals from basic elements, and all the material they had accumulated was available for fellow filmmakers’ use. If you were unfamiliar with lab techniques, one of the members of the group was always around to give informal training; know-how was handed down in an oral tradition. Xavier helped me process my first roll of Ektachrome. The whole process was magical. I was amazed to see not only how beautiful the film was when it emerged wet and shiny from the fixer (colour film is even more beautiful before it is fixed with solid, milky colours), but to see how one could also tailor the processing, by over- or underdeveloping, by changing the chemistry, or by leaving the film in negative. Most Super-8 film is reversal stock like slide film; I had never thought a Super-8 negative could exist. But it is the chemicals that determine the result of the processing and not the film stock. These simple facts and techniques, which allowed me to rediscover the film medium, lent even more enthusiasm to my experimentations. At the time I was seeking to make my films different and more personal, and I was uninspired about what subjects to film. Chemical manipulation seemed to open up an infinite number of possibilities, no matter what I had captured. It was also an economic discovery: this process was 90 per cent less expensive than professional lab costs, with better technical control and immediate results. In light of all this, it was easy to be motivated to film a lot more. In France before mtk, there had never been an independent lab open to the public. There had been, though, a lab project in 1978, discussed during a symposium in Lyon. At that time, it seemed possible that the National Cinema Center (cnc) would help filmmakers who called themselves “independent,” “different,” or “experimental.” Two filmmakers were asked to get together, to reach an agreement, and to make a coherent proposal to the cnc, who wanted to negotiate with only one representative of the group. Despite the rivalries and tensions that already existed in the filmmaking community, about seventy filmmakers, representing a half-dozen groups, temporarily put aside their dissensions. Most of these filmmakers preferred setting up an open, publicly financed

167

Pip Chodorov

168

production workshop with cameras, printers, animation stands, and editing tables available to all. Others disagreed, wanting to create a selection committee to mete out direct, selective, and individual support to specific projects. Many felt such a workshop would be redundant considering the existence of professional labs, whose quality it could not equal. No experimental filmmaker would know as much as a professional technician and the films would all look alike because they would all be produced with the same equipment. In addition, they were against an organization which would serve the whole country but which would necessarily be centred in Paris. Those who defended the workshop project argued that all filmmakers need equipment to shoot and develop, that all filmmakers must make prints, that all professional labs were located in Paris in any case, and that this was the just and democratic way to share out public funding. Moreover, it was not a simple question of opening just another laboratory because these filmmakers wanted their own London Filmmakers’ Co-op, an epicentre that would bring together all French filmmakers equally, with not only a lab, but also a screening room and a distribution co-operative. Others fought for a less democratic mode of operation; the rift was political and ethical. In September 1978, in Lyon, faced with the impossibility of reaching an agreement, rivalries between the different camps rose to the surface and in a chaotic storm of cries and insults, the project fell through. Fifteen years later it happened naturally and without state funding. Between 1992 and 1995, filmmakers flocked to Grenoble from all over France, Belgium, and Switzerland to work at mtk. Due to the lab’s success, we had to book our visits four months in advance. Soon the lab was overrun with visitors, and Xavier and Christophe complained that they had no more time to work on their own projects. In July 1995 they called a meeting of all the filmmakers who had come to the 102 to announce that their lab would become private again. But they were ready to help other groups form similar labs in other cities. “All you need is a dark room with running water and you can start your own lab,” they told us. That was all we needed to hear in Paris. A group of ten filmmakers, myself included, started L’Abominable, which opened to the public in June 1996. At that time, similar labs started in Geneva, Le Havre, Nantes, Brussels, Marseilles, Strasbourg, and elsewhere, often within non-profit groups that had already been screening experimental films for several years. There was still a big demand in Grenoble, so in November 1996, mtk raised some funds and opened an even bigger lab, with three darkrooms. In Paris, after a long search, we found a basement in the suburbs and the equipment we needed to start processing and printing. We bought cheap equipment from auctions and even found some in junkyards. Thanks to the technical skills

The Artist-Run Film Labs

and wizardry of Nicolas Rey and Christophe Goulard and all the others who helped out, almost all of this material was set up and working in a matter of months. We also got a lathe in order to make our own machine parts, screws, and lens adapters. Soon we had over 150 members and were training new people to use the machines on a regular basis. Many films were produced at the lab in those years. It was in 2003 when the call came from London. The London Filmmakers’ Co-op had lost its space in 1995. A national Lottery Capital Development fund helped open a new space in Hoxton Square called the lux Centre for Film, Video and New Media in September 1997, bringing together the Filmmakers’ Co-op and London Electronic Arts, an organization for the promotion and distribution of artists’ videos. The co-op got its own floor in a new building, with separate rooms for the printers, processors, and editing equipment. Looking back, the late 1990s seemed like a utopia for independent filmmakers in Europe, with so many possibilities to use machines that only a decade before would have seemed inconceivable to get one’s hands on. Thanks to the digital revolution, many of the state-of-the-art machines were rendered “obsolete” overnight, and the artists were able to acquire, adopt, or rescue the most amazing technology. And here was the London Filmmakers’ Co-op, evolved from a cold, desolate building with a leaky roof and broken windows to a new purpose-built building in central London. Within two years, however, the new lfmc/lea organization was deep in debt when funding cuts came. They did not own the new building, and eventually the lux Centre closed its doors in 2002. The printing equipment went to a lock-up in the Arts Council of England where it sat for two years. Two young filmmakers, who had no connection with the history of the previous generations, got the idea to set up a new lab, and they were eventually able to rescue the equipment and create no.where lab, currently in Bethnal Green. Karen Mirza and Brad Butler came to L’Abominable in Paris to learn about printing and processing and setting up their space. The knowledge therefore came full circle thirty-five years later, from England to Holland to France and back to England, handed down from filmmaker to filmmaker and improved along the way. Starting in the late 1990s, the French labs stayed in touch through a photocopied newsletter called L’Ebouillanté, sharing news about each group, equipment wanted or on offer, chemical recipes, new films in production, and so on. Soon we realized there were quite a few labs in other countries, and we needed a new initiative to create an international network. In December 2005, the first international meeting of artist-run film labs took place in Brussels, organized by Nova Cinema. Many people attended from around the world, including Canada, Eastern Europe, and even South Korea. At that meeting we started a new international collaboration: some people

169

Pip Chodorov

170

proposed to manage a mailing list, others a website, still others offered to host future meetings. Through this network (filmlabs.org) we have been able to find homes for machines or film material with groups who needed it, share knowledge and experience, rescue equipment from commercial labs closing in different countries, even convince companies to produce film stock and group together to buy it when there is a high minimum order. We had meetings in January 2008 at the Rotterdam Film Festival hosted by Worm Filmwerkplaats and in September 2011 in Zagreb during the 25fps festival hosted by a younger lab, Klubvizija. After fifteen years, L’Abominable was painfully evicted from its basement in Asnières in late 2011, but in early 2012 we were offered a much bigger new space in La Courneuve in what used to be the kitchen for the public school system. We tore out the ovens and put in our processors: the extractors in the ceiling and the drains in the floor were magically right in place. We now have walk-in refrigerators for darkrooms, and the optical printer sits in the bureau du chef! Nicolas and Christophe are busy installing a giant Oxberry printer that we could only dream about in the last century. Over thirty labs are now active throughout the world from Athens to Reykjavik and from Bogotá to Seoul. This evolution indicates a turning point in history: the closing of commercial labs has thrust the machines and knowledge into the hands of the artists themselves. State-of-the-art equipment that cost a fortune just a decade ago is now free for the taking, if one is lucky enough to have a truck and room to set it up in. The cost of making work on film has come down, quality control has gone up, and the filmmaker can now master every step of the process, if we so desire, even from mixing emulsion and spreading it onto clear film for shooting, right through to the final print with optical sound. Our equipment is older than we are but we can always fix it if it breaks, virtually for free. Our films too will outlive us. Our film prints can be screened anywhere: on cheap 16mm projectors that work all over the world. There are no format wars, no compressing or codecs, no backing up or transcoding, no upgrades or obsolescence problems, no corporations to force us to buy new equipment. We are not in an economy but an ecology, a grassroots network, filmmakers helping each other, outside of the capitalist system. Furthermore, we don’t work with “images,” but with organic, physical material that comes from the earth: salts, silvers, minerals. We are not so much concerned with what it looks like, rather with what it is. We are inspired by the process, speaking through magic substance that captures light and re-emits it, the density and sensitivity curves surpassing any of the new technologies, and being ultimately more preservable.

The Artist-Run Film Labs

The flickering of the projector with a shutter, an increasingly rare experience these days, provokes a psychophysical phenomenon in the retina and visual cortex called the phi phenomenon, especially conducive to creating the illusion of motion like lucid dreaming, which video’s beta effect does not share. Any medium can be used for expression, poetry, and storytelling. In our tiny yet global community, we are maintaining the freedom to use our medium of choice, however archaic it may seem to the commercial “entertainment” industry: film. This is filmmaking in the digital age: working slowly and by hand, inventing new techniques and styles, and exploring uncharted territories in cinema.

References Manach, Jean-Marc. 2001. Les rapports vert, gris et vert-de-gris, Les annéees 70 en France le cinéma experimental ou l’institutionnalisation impossible. Paris Experimental. Mekas, Jonas, et al. 1970. “The First Statement of the New American Cinema Group.” In Film Culture Reader, ed. P Adams Sitney. London: Secker and Warburg. Originally published in Film Culture 22–3 (1961). Webber, Mark. 2006. Shoot Shoot Shoot. dvd brochure. lux and Re:Voir.

Websites www.filmlabs.org. www.l-abominable.org. www.doingfllm.nl/studio www.metamkine.free.fr www.filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me/about www.no-w-here.org.uk. www.lux.org.uk.

171

Chapter 12 Toward Artisanal Cinema: A Filmmakers’ Movement Chris Gehman With normal processes, if you give the film to the lab you always get the same result. If you work on the material you have a lot of possibilities to bring it to a new form … If you make a film in your head first, you could never imagine these films. – Jürgen Reble1

From the perspective of the mid-2010s, it would be easy to misinterpret the rise of material-based, artisanal filmmaking practices such as hand-processing, cameraless animation, alternative chemical treatments, and so on, simply as a response by filmmakers to the declining availability of the range of film stocks, laboratory, and related post-production services that was formerly provided by the commercial film industry – the technological infrastructure that has generally been used by experimental filmmakers as well. On a cultural level, these practices may tend to be interpreted by theorists and commentators in terms of anxiety about the obsolescence of film and the dominance of new technologies, or fairly naive ideas expressed by filmmakers about the “natural” and about “hand work.”2 While these and related concerns undeniably inform filmmakers’ works and the discourse around them to a greater or lesser degree, I am convinced that their importance may tend to be overemphasized by non-practitioners.3 Tracing the emergence of this material-oriented “artisanal” tendency makes it clear, in fact, that it was already well established, long before the industrial shift to digital technology had a significant impact on the general availability of products and services. Rather, this latter-day artisanal cinema movement – and I believe that it qualifies as a significant film movement – can be better characterized as one that emerged from the interests of filmmakers, one which could be characterized as anticipatory, and motivated by aesthetic and philosophical concerns, rather than reactionary, and motivated primarily by practical and technical concerns or naive cultural allegiances. The rise of artists’ organizations

Toward Artisanal Cinema

and information-sharing platforms as a means to potentially replace declining industrial products and services, rather than offering an alternative to them, is in fact a recent development. Asked to contribute a note on the experimental films of the 1990s to the second issue of Cinema Scope magazine in 2000, I had already identified this material orientation as a well-established tendency, and a prominent development that characterized the experimental films of the ’90s: “The past several years have seen an explosion of interest in hand-processing, chemical treatment of the film surface, and the use of organic decay processes … These practices, far from uncommon among experimental film artists, point to one possible future for film as a thoroughly artisanal medium with the artist involved at every stage of the process.”4 Whitney Museum curator Chrissie Iles commented on the same tendencies in a roundtable discussion published in the journal October in 2002: “The work by filmmakers both young and established that I’ve seen recently could not have been made without a deep understanding of what the film medium is capable of. Many filmmakers are deliberately engaging with the material qualities of film … So I think what we’re talking about is not obsolescence, but transformation.”5

Context and Chronology Throughout the 1990s, although the incursion of digital processes into film production was under way, the industry was still making most films in the traditional way, shooting usually on 35mm film, with films released to theatres mainly on 35mm release prints. Even films that incorporated extensive digital animation into live-action material (e.g., Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, a groundbreaking work of digital compositing released in 1993) did so through a “digital intermediate” stage that began with camera material shot on film, and ended with the production of hundreds or thousands of release prints for a large-scale commercial theatrical release. During the course of the 1990s and well into the 2000s the impetus toward a digital production-to-release chain from start to finish was clear, but the established products and services used by filmmakers – including most experimental filmmakers most of the time – remained in place. Eastman Kodak’s profits peaked in 1999, the same year that Phil Solomon’s combination of special chemical processing and unusual optical printing techniques reached a high point with his extraordinary Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance.6 The really crucial changes affecting the availability of the most basic products and services did not take place on a wholesale basis until the period between about 2005 and 2015, during which the shift from film-based to digital-based production, post-production, and exhibition finally permeated the industry from camera

173

Chris Gehman

174

to theatre. During this period, and especially between 2010 and today, many film laboratories shut down, production of many film stocks was discontinued, and movie theatres that could afford to invest in digital projection mostly did so (while those who couldn’t afford the switch closed down operations). To give a sense of how the rise of this artisanal approach to filmmaking relates to contextual developments in the industry, I offer the following timeline, which puts key works – particularly “firsts” and acknowledged major works – in context with a few key changes and “firsts and lasts” in industry practice. 1887 ca 1910–12 ca 1916

1923

1932 1935 1935

1938

1940 ca 1946–49

1948–52

Hannibal Goodwin (usa) patents process for manufacture of transparent nitrocellulose film. Bruno Corra and Arnaldo Ginna (Italy) produce hand-painted colour films (now lost) on clear film stock. Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt (Asia Minor [Syria]/usa) produces hand-painted films (using stencils) designed to be employed as part of her Sarabet colour organ. Eastman Kodak (usa) introduces 16mm film, cameras, and projectors. Retour à la raison (Man Ray, usa/France): black-and-white film made using photogram technique by exposing unexposed film to light after laying objects on it; these sections lack framelines and frame-to-frame continuity, as the film has not run through a camera. Eastman Kodak introduces 8mm film format. Eastman Kodak introduces Kodachrome reversal film. A Colour Box (Len Lye, New Zealand/uk): cameraless animation (uk General Post Office advertising film) painted directly on film. Love on the Wing (Norman McLaren, uk): cameraless animation (uk General Post Office advertising film) drawn directly on film. Dots and Loops (Norman McLaren, uk/usa): hand-drawn animations, with soundtrack and images alike drawn on film. Films Number 1–3 (Harry Smith, usa): cameraless films handpainted directly on film; collected as part of Early Abstractions grouping ca. 1964. Eastman Kodak completes change of base of all film stocks from flammable cellulose nitrate to tri-acetate “safety” base.

Toward Artisanal Cinema

1958 1961–64

1962 1963 1965

1966 1970 1974

1975 1981 1984

1987 1991

1992

Free Radicals (Len Lye): cameraless animation, images made exclusively using lines incised into 16mm black leader. Dog Star Man Prelude and Parts 1–4 (Stan Brakhage, usa): massively ambitious feature-length 16mm film densely combining photographed imagery (often in multiple layers of exposure) with painting, scratching, collaged elements, etc. New York Filmmakers Co-op founded by the New American Cinema Group. Mothlight (Stan Brakhage): cameraless film made by taping bits of moths, other insects, and plant matter onto clear 16mm film. Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, usa): 16mm film made by cutting, collaging, painting on, and scratching photographed footage, often with disregard for standard position of sprocket-holes, framelines, etc. London Filmmakers’ Co-op founded (uk); includes lab facilities for much of its existence. … era erera baleibu izik subua aruaren … (José Antonio Sistiaga, Spain): feature-length hand-painted film. Print Generation (J.J. Murphy, usa): 50-minute 16mm film composed of fifty consecutive generations of a minute of film (60 one-second shots) contact printed so that the images would become increasingly abstracted. First self-contained digital camera developed by Steven Sasson for Eastman Kodak. Sony Mavica introduced: first hand-held analog video still camera, recording images on a “video floppy disk.” Stadt in Flammen (Schmelzdahin group, Germany): Super-8 print of sequences from commercial disaster movie exposed to bacterial decay in garden setting, then optically printed to 16mm. Casio vs-101: analog electronic still camera marketed to consumers. Two Sisters (Caroline Leaf, Canada): animated film etched into tinted 70mm film stock. To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (Michael Snow, Canada): 16mm film made using a range of film stocks, processed using special techniques by Carl Brown. Metamkine (mtk) artist-run film laboratory/workshop established in Grenoble, France.

175

Chris Gehman

1994 176

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

Das Goldene Tor (The Golden Gate) (Jürgen Reble, Germany): film using a range of special chemical treatments during and after processing. Independent Imaging Retreat (a.k.a. The Film Farm) founded by filmmaker Philip Hoffman in Mount Forest, Ontario: the curriculum includes basic training in hand-processing, tinting and toning techniques; participants have included Deirdre Logue, David Gatten, Jennifer Reeves, Helen Hill, Dana Inkster, Chris Chong, Sol Nagler, Amanda Dawn Christie. The Colour of Love (Peggy Ahwesh, usa): found fragment of a Super-8 pornographic film in a state of chemical decay, stepprinted to 16mm with an added soundtrack. Instabile Materie (Unstable Materials) (Jürgen Reble): 70minute 16mm film organized around transformations of the film emulsion. The Snowman (Phil Solomon, usa): optically printed film from heavily reticulated source material. Filmmaker Robert Schaller (usa) begins experimenting with use of historic photographic techniques (e.g., cyanotype, Van Dyke brown, gum printing) on motion picture film as an intermediate print stage. L’Abominable artist-run film laboratory established (Paris, France). Terminus for You (Nicolas Rey, France): 16mm black-and-white film in which the grain structure is radically emphasized using alternative processing methods. Filmmaker Lee Krist (usa) begins experiments with small-scale manufacture of film emulsion. Linear Dreams (Richard Reeves, Canada): 35mm film, cameraless animation using scratching techniques to produce both image and sound. Feuerhaus (Firehouse) (Bärbel Nauebauer, Austria/Germany): 35mm film using photogram technique. What the Water Said Nos. 1–3 (David Gatten, usa): cameraless 16mm film made by immersing lengths of unexposed film in the ocean inside a crab trap. Removed (Naomi Uman): altered found-footage film in which female figure from a 1970s pornographic movie is removed with bleach and acetone.

Toward Artisanal Cinema

2000

2003

2003–15

2005

2006

2009 2010 2011

2012 2013

Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance (Phil Solomon): foundfootage film radically reprocessed and printed to emphasize texture of film surface. The Last Lost Shot (Cécile Fontaine, France): film using found footage altered by soaking and altering the emulsion, creating collage of emulsion from different source films. First edition of filmmaker Helen Hill’s self-published ’zine-style publication, Recipes for Disaster, a collection of ideas, formulas, and techniques for hand-made cinema from numerous filmmakers (usa/Canada). The Handmade Film Institute (Colorado, usa) founded by Robert Schaller. Chinese Series (Stan Brakhage): Brakhage’s final film, scratched with his fingernails on “spit-softened” 35mm emulsion. Eastman Kodak discontinues production of 38 film stocks, according to the company’s website; some of these are replaced by new variations, but many discontinuations represent a real decline in the range of available options for production and post-production.7 Digital Cinema Initiatives, a combined initiative undertaken by the six major American studios, releases the first version of its Digital Cinema System Specification, designed to set global standards for digital projection. YouTube, a website allowing users to share videos with the public, founded. View of the Falls from the Canadian Side (John Price, Canada): 35mm widescreen hand-processed colour film: homage to an 1896 film shot by William Heise. Eastman Kodak announces that it will discontinue manufacture of all Kodachrome film. Final run of Kodachrome film processing by Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas. Number of movie theatre screens dedicated to digital projection reaches 51.5 per cent worldwide; use of film for release prints has declined from a peak of about 13 billion feet per year to an estimated 4–5 billion feet in 2011.8 Eastman Kodak files for bankruptcy protection. Fujifilm ceases production of all motion picture film stocks.

177

Chris Gehman

178

2014

2015

2016

Screen Digest predicts that 90 per cent of commercial cinemas worldwide will be projecting from digital sources by the end of the year.9 Online publication of Re:Inventing the Pioneers: Film Experiments on Hand-Made Silver Gelatin Emulsion and Color Methods, by Esther Urlus (Netherlands): “a starters’ guide to home brewing light sensitive emulsion.” fcp Inc. (usa), a service for the destruction of release prints and recycling of some components, goes out of business. Inaugural Maddox Seminar hosted by l’Abominable in Paris, France: gathering of artists working on hand-made photographic emulsions. Experimental Filmmaking: Break the Machine (2015), by Kathryn Ramey (usa), published by Focal Press; the book includes directions for optical printing, hand-processing of both black-and-white and colour film, ecologically minded film processing, pinhole cinematography, etc. Restructured Eastman Kodak company announces release of new generation of Super-8 cameras, with prepaid film processing and digital transfer system.

This selection is of course partial and subjective at best, and it overemphasizes North American filmmakers, companies, and organizations because I know them best. Nevertheless, it provides concrete support for the contention that by the mid1990s, long before digital cinema systems created significant practical issues for filmmakers, a definite movement toward a highly material-oriented artisanal approach to filmmaking was underway. This movement was international in scope and embraced by many artists, working both in isolation and in the context of collective organizations and educational initiatives such as the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (lift), mtk (Grenoble), L’Abominable (Paris), and the Independent Imaging Retreat (Mount Forest, Ontario). As this timeline also shows, however, the history of film artists exploring the materiality of film is a much longer one, stretching back to the early decades of the twentieth century; furthermore, the majority of experimental filmmakers’ methods throughout the history of the medium could reasonably be described as “artisanal” in the general sense that the filmmaker has often been individually responsible for almost every aspect of the film’s creation, even when working in collaboration with others.10 In this respect, experimental filmmaking has always been

Toward Artisanal Cinema

a field in which the organization of resources has been almost diametrically opposed to that of the hierarchical, but also highly collaborative, model of industrial cinema. In experimental cinema generally, the individual artist really does take very direct responsibility for every aspect of a film’s conception, production, postproduction, and often distribution and exhibition as well. What, then, distinguishes the material-oriented artisanal movement of the past few decades from a broader artisanal tradition that is now a century old? The crucial change is the following: until the emergence of this recent artisanal model in the 1980s and ’90s, the experimental filmmaker’s direct creative control over the filmmaking process generally became much more limited at the point where the film was delivered to a laboratory for processing and printing. This is not to suggest that specific creative options were not previously available: for example, even highly standardized film labs usually offered possibilities such as cross-processing, in which one kind of film is processed using chemistry normally used for a different type of film, and push or pull processing, in which film is processed for a longer or slower period than normal. With perseverance, in a decent-sized city, it was also usually possible to find a lab that would produce an internegative or interpositive from an anomalous original that involved painting, scratching, the collaging of materials onto the film surface. One thinks, for example, of Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses, Stan Brakhage’s Dante Quartet (1987, usa), or Garine Torossian’s Girl from Moush (1993, Canada), the handmade original for each film posing particular problems for the laboratory tasked with the production of an intermediate copy, due mainly to the thickness and uneven surface of the original. Nevertheless, each of these was in fact reproduced using the services of a standard film lab. For many decades, the norm for experimental filmmakers, as for more conventional filmmakers, was to shoot their film and deliver it to a lab for processing and printing. Even in the case of a cameraless film like Len Lye’s Free Radicals, or a thickly worked original like the three named above, the production of optical or contact intermediate elements from which release prints would be struck was accomplished using the resources of an industry-standard lab. The filmmaker was able to oversee stages such as a final sound mix and colour correction, but those jobs were typically executed by highly skilled specialists rather than the filmmakers themselves. To an even greater degree, artists depended on a handful of large corporations to provide them with the photographic materials they used: negative, reversal, internegative/interpositive, and print stock, as well as splicing tape or cement, clear, black, and coloured leader, and other necessary components of the production chain. In short, however radically the artist departed from convention

179

Chris Gehman

180

at many stages of the filmmaking process, the experimentation typically ended at the point where the film was handed over to a laboratory for processing and printing. This division of labour was almost universal. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, film artists’ practices have shifted: numerous artists now process their own film, frequently employing nonstandard chemistry. They may go on to apply additional chemical and colour treatments to the processed film, which alter the character of the image. They may also make their own intermediate prints (internegatives/interpositives), which they may also process themselves. A few even make their own release prints. And to take this tendency to its logical conclusion, some film artists have begun to develop methods for the small-scale manufacture of photosensitive film emulsions, among them Robert Schaller, Lee Krist, and Kevin Rice (usa), Alex Mackenzie and Lindsay McIntyre (Canada), and Esther Urlus (Netherlands), all of whom participated in a 2014 seminar on hand-made emulsions hosted by l’Abominable in Paris.11 Events such as this seminar – along with established, artist-run centres such as lift (Canada), Millennium Film Workshop (usa), and L’Abominable (France), artists’ collectives or educational initiatives such as the the Double Negative Collective and Independent Imaging Retreat (Canada), mtk (France), and Handmade Film Institute (usa), and publications such as Helen Hill’s Recipes for Disaster (2000) and Esther Urlus’s Re:Inventing the Pioneers (2013) have ensured the rapid dissemination of the information necessary to adopt these kinds of processes. While individual artists may keep certain “secret recipes” to themselves, the general ethic in this community is one of skills-sharing and the widespread dissemination of available knowledge. As Esther Urlus writes on her website, where she shares information about making photosensitive emulsions, “To be able to resurrect the art, science, and craft of silver gelatin emulsions we need to experiment freely and share openly … Let’s not keep any secrets! These (chemical) recipes, celluloid experiments and emulsion extras should be absolutely public.”12 To summarize, then: film artists since the late 1980s and early 1990s have taken control over processes and materials that were formerly (most of the time) left in the hands of a highly standardized industrial system, bringing them “inhouse.” It is this intense engagement in the materiality of film for experimental purposes that I am describing here with the term “artisanal”; this represents a subset of a larger, more general set of experimental practices with its own more general artisanal characteristics. The problematic word I have used in the above description, however, is the word “control,” and in the following section I will discuss why.

Toward Artisanal Cinema

Controlling for the Unpredictable By taking over processes formerly performed by industrial laboratories, artists can be said to be “taking control” of part of the production/post-production system. Yet the very definition of an industrial laboratory is one that produces predictable results to definite, known standards. At the moment that the artist “takes control” of these stages in the system of production, therefore, the artist also gives up precisely the level of standardization and predictability that normally characterize the idea of control. This results in a paradox: for many of these artists it is precisely that unpredictable, uncontrolled element that has drawn them to making these processes a central aspect of their filmmaking practice.13 Although it is possible for an artist to achieve a high level of predictability and control over film processing at a small scale (particularly using black-and-white film), that is not the appeal for most of the artists represented here. Rather, one takes control in order to encourage the unpredictable. Jürgen Reble, who initially began to experiment with alternative chemical treatments, biological decay, and other non-traditional film processes as part of the German filmmaking collective Schmelzdahin in the early 1980s, articulated the group’s philosophical position very clearly: “In the search to find something new in the material it was difficult for us to have an idea or treatment and only to work on that idea. It was also important to make new experiences, possibilities, change … It’s not so important to arrange the world around me. For me it’s more interesting to take it as it is and make the rest through development.”14 The Canadian filmmaker Carl Brown, who has been experimenting with alternative chemical processes since the early 1980s, has created a large, challenging body of work that is seldom screened. In an interview from the 1990s, he articulates his demand for immediacy in circumventing the lab system: “If I had to send my footage to a lab and look at it a week later it would be cold for me. I want to process my footage immediately after shooting; it’s all part of the same gesture, the same present.”15 Phil Solomon, an American filmmaker who works extensively with found footage, but who reworks it so extensively as to make it virtually unrecognizable, likewise emphasizes the role of experimentation as one stage, at least, in his work: “You know, I’m one of those filmmakers who doesn’t have a problem with the term ‘experimental filmmaking,’ because that really does describe part of my process, part of it, which is to say that I experiment, and oftentimes films will arise from a specific technique I’m experimenting with.”16 These artists, then, point to artistic demands evolved from particular aesthetic and procedural commitments as the reason for developing their particular processes.

181

Chris Gehman

182

Similar commitments may also motivate laboratory operators who are oriented toward experimental cinema. Sebastjan Henrickson is the owner of Toronto’s Niagara Custom Lab (and an occasional filmmaker). His lab does both “standard” and unusual processes, and he expressed his interest in alternative uses of the film laboratory in a recent interview: I can’t really survive on experimental work, I do that more for enjoyment, it keeps the work exciting … These machines were made to be run by a lab technician to achieve some kind of a Kodak standard of excellence with colors and all. But of course, if you do go the other direction, there is a lot of opportunity to do all sorts of other things. If you take all these strands: internegatives, negatives and positives – all supposed to go in a certain direction, and if you weave these strands the other way you come away with a million more options.17

The reason I have devoted so much space and attention to chronology in this short essay is that I think it is important to establish clearly that a definite movement toward material-oriented artisanal practices was already well underway among filmmakers long before the development of digital cinema technologies had any real practical implications for independent filmmakers. (This is also why I have quoted mainly from those artists who had already created a significant body of work by the mid-1990s.) It is of course possible that these artists were anticipating the direction in which media would develop and responding intuitively or consciously to that speculative “future history.” But the artists themselves provide articulate reasons for their material explorations that point in other directions. There are examples of thoroughly aleatoric works emerging from this movement, such as David Gatten’s What the Water Said, Nos 1–3 (1998) and Nos. 4–6 (2006–07),18 but most of the works discussed here represent the result of an ongoing process through which the results of experimentation are subjected to selection and shaping according to the demands of the artist’s specific aesthetic goals. If there is a unifying orientation that connects these artists, I believe, it is here: in the encounter between intentionality and processes that elude intentional control. The appeal of the sensual qualities, mechanical devices, and quality of light that all characterize the filmmaking system may have their own intrinsic appeal, and may even be fetishized by some artists (usually to the detriment of their work), but in this tradition the most important aspect of the medium is its accessibility to experimentation in the narrow sense.

Toward Artisanal Cinema

Case Studies: Three Points on a Trajectory In order to clarify how this works in specific cases, I would like to briefly discuss three excellent and well-known films. First is a classic of “structural” film that predates the early works of the latter-day material-oriented artisanal film movement, but that shares and anticipates some of its underlying concerns: J.J. Murphy’s 1974 film Print Generation. For this film, Murphy began with a sequence of sixty one-second shots with sound, deliberately selecting images he described as “casual and banal imagery,” unremarkable shots of landscapes and of friends in everyday settings.19 He handed this sequence over to a commercial film lab, with instructions to print it, then take the print and make another print from it, repeating this process through sixty generations. Thus, the original imagery and sound would become increasingly degraded and abstracted through the process of analog photochemical reproduction over many generations of copies. (In the end, Murphy included only fifty generations of copies in the final film, reasoning that there was little interest in the changes that took place past that point.)20 This generational deterioration was, of course, what a lab would normally strive to prevent. Murphy recounts: “I must have talked to the guy in the lab for two hours to get him to understand what I was doing. It wasn’t that he was stupid; he was trained to maintain image quality, and I was asking him to do something he had spent twenty years trying to avoid.”21 An important point is that in initiating this process, neither Murphy nor the lab could predict or control the visual and aural results of the process with any specificity; rather, what appears in the film is the inevitable result of the copying process, according to the characteristics of the source material, the printer mechanism, and the way the film emulsion is structured, which entails an inevitable increase in contrast and loss of colour range from one generation to the next. In this respect Print Generation employs processes similar to those of a number of contemporary artworks, such as conceptual artist Ian Burn’s Xerox Book (1968), which involved the use of a photocopier to copy a blank sheet of paper, then to make a copy of the copy, and so on through a hundred generations. The composer Steve Reich used a parallel process of multiplication of spoken source material in his early tape-based works It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966). In these compositions, multiple copies of the source tape are played back on players that gradually drift out of synchronization; in Come Out, the number of tape players is increased from one to two to four to eight, and as they shift out of sync the original material becomes increasingly abstracted, taking on the quality of a rhythmic mass of sound through which the auditor strives to discern the voice and the words of the source material.22

183

12.1 Five frame enlargements from J.J. Murphy’s 16mm film Print Generation (USA, 1974), showing the differences between a filmed image reprinted through many generations (first image), three intermediate stages (second to fourth images), and the image printed from the camera negative (last image).

Toward Artisanal Cinema

Each of these works shares the characteristic of the exploration of a reproductive process that is initiated by the artist, but which is thereafter allowed to proceed without any particular interpretive intervention by the artist. However, whereas Reich and Burn present the results of their process in a linear sequence from most realistic or recognizable – i.e., closest to the original source material – to the most degraded or abstracted through multiplication (Reich) or sequential reproduction (Burn), Murphy organizes his material very differently. In Print Generation the sequence starts with the most abstracted imagery at the beginning of the film, cycles toward the most representational material, in the middle, and then moves back toward abstraction at the end. Through editing, and by skipping one generation in each direction, the film effectively moves from the end of the printing sequence to the beginning, and then again toward the end. This intervention in the sequencing of the material results in something much more complex than a simple record of a progression of copies: watching the film becomes an experience of attempting to recognize patterns and images during the earlier sections, and later, after the clear representational shots have been seen and begin to move back toward abstraction, to remember those images and their sequence. James Kreul has described this as “a cognitive game”: The first game, obviously, is image recognition. You begin to guess what the images are, and you’ll be surprised how often you’re right or wrong as the images become more clear. The second game is pattern recognition. You memorize where the images appear in the sequence to help identify them. Some images, like the close up of filmmaker Norman Bloom, become “anchors” in the sequence, and other images shot in the same locale become clusters that help you memorize the entire sequence. The final game is image retention. When you have the sequence memorized, you’ll be amazed how deep into the deterioration of the image you’ll still be able to recognize it. This last process is not just an intellectual exercise. There’s a sense of melancholy as you lose your grip on these images that didn’t mean anything to you only minutes ago.23

According to Murphy, the final structure was one that he settled on only after a period of experimentation with multi-screen projection, or leaving the order of the film’s two reels up to the projectionist. He arrived at its structure intuitively: “the way it’s arranged now seemed right to me. I always showed it to myself like that, even though I had an idea that other people might see it differently.”24 Murphy’s film thus shares a characteristic that P. Adams Sitney associated with the “structural film,” a tendency closely related to developments taking place in other media around the same period, as the Reich and Burns examples above make clear: it “insists on its shape, and what content it has is minimal and sub-

185

Chris Gehman

186

sidiary to the outline.”25 However, it departs from what might be described as “pure” structural filmmaking in Murphy’s fundamentally intuitive and subjective sequencing (though here it engages other aspects of structural cinema: e.g., the activation of viewer anticipation, memory, boredom, and interpretation through long duration and repetition).26 For my purposes, Print Generation may be seen as an important example of structural cinema, but one that opened up the photochemical processes of the film lab as a field for exploration and experimentation. Although Murphy gave up control over any specific aspect of image and sound by subjecting his original images to the system of printing, he also intervened consciously and deliberately in the organization of the resulting material to create a complex and compelling structure. Michael Snow was among the first generation of what Sitney labelled “structural” filmmakers, but his work has always pointed in many directions, eschewing the pure or reductive gesture in favour of complicated, multivalent works that involve many levels of experience and interpretation. One aspect of his film practice, at least as early as Wavelength (1967), involved arbitrary changes in the image that are apparently unrelated to the film’s overall shape or structure, just as the narrative incidents that take place in Wavelength seem essentially arbitrary and “unmotivated.” In Wavelength Snow made use of various colour filters and numerous different film stocks to shoot the same space at different times of day, and these different film stocks (including negative images and multiple exposures at certain points) and filters represent the loft space seen in the film in very different ways. In a much later film, To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (1991), Snow developed and transformed this tendency (as he did in different ways in most of his films). Again, he shot the film using a multiplicity of different film stocks: “It started with an accumulation of obscure rolls of film that date back to the sixties … I realized that they had to be hand processed because no lab could do any of it now.”27 Snow was familiar with the work of another Canadian filmmaker, Carl Brown, who had been working with unconventional chemical processes and treatments of film for almost a decade; as a member of the musical group ccmc, Snow had contributed music for Brown’s film Condensation of Sensation (1987). Snow gave the filmed material for To Lavoisier to Brown to process. About the relationship between filming and processing, Snow has said: “We’d shoot maybe three or four versions of each scene on different stocks and talk about what approach he [Brown] might take or he would just do whatever he felt like.”28 At one level Snow, in handing his material over to Brown for processing, was making a gesture like that made by Murphy when he handed his material over to

187

12.2 Enlargement from film strip showing four full frames from Michael Snow’s 16mm film To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (Canada, 1991). This strip shows how the chemical surface treatments can change at a completely different rate from the “pro-filmic” changes or movements recorded by the camera.

the film lab for repeated printing: releasing the control over the image to the vagaries of photochemical processing undertaken by someone else. But at another level Snow was doing something very different: Brown, who did not run a commercial lab using industrial processors, but did hand-processing at home in glass containers, had by this time developed many different and specific techniques using a wide range of chemicals, including photochemical tints and toners, and ordinary household chemicals like bleaches and sodium bicarbonate. The precise details of any given process could not be predicted, but from experience Brown had a sense of what any particular treatment was likely to do with the image. Having seen what the images in Brown’s films looked like, Snow was in a position to imagine at least a range of possibilities with regards to the relationship between the photographed image and the photochemical surface. Putting his footage in Brown’s hands to process was in no way a matter of committing it to a linear, progressive procedure,

Chris Gehman

188

but to a broad set of potential results; this was an apposite process for a film dedicated to a figure known as “the father of modern chemistry.” In the film, the relationship between image and surface seems indissoluble, built into its conception, even when it is fundamentally arbitrary at the granular level. In Snow’s words: “In planning the shots … I chose to stage events which would be ‘ready,’ so to speak, for a relationship between what was depicted and what the actual image looked like. The ping pong scene is a good example; it was reticulated, so that the ping pong ball often gets lost in the swarm of grain that is the image.”29 Where Murphy, in making Print Generation, organized his film around the inexorable, gradual loss of visual fidelity as his source film went through generations of reproduction, Snow organized To Lavoisier around the characteristic of a continuous shifting photochemical surface in which representational forms are more or less apparent, allowing for the range and multiplicity of results emerging from Brown’s processes as applied to the various film stocks. As R. Bruce Elder observes: It would be tempting, but incorrect, to say that the film has two levels of visual form, a descriptive and an abstract level. That statement would be incorrect because it puts beyond explanation the intricate interactions between the two types of visual form – interactions so intricate that they produce one complete, well-integrated form … In sum, the work modulates between states in which the image structure is the dominant formmaking force and the hand-processing effects are incorporated (more or less loosely) into its structure and those states in which the all-over form defined by the hand-processing effects dominate and the image fragments are incorporated into that form.30

It would be hard to find a more definite, concrete form instantiating the relationship between a consciously formed, motivated action coming into contact with the effects of processes that elude control than Snow’s film. To an extent, the history I am examining here emerges from ideas developed by experimental filmmakers as a byproduct of the normal division of labour in the field of filmmaking as a whole, whereby the different stages in the filmmaking process are given over to different specialists to execute, particularly when it comes to laboratory and post-production processes. (Likewise, one can see how the development of John Cage’s ideas about composition was greatly influenced by the peculiar division of labour in the field of Western composed music, in which composition and performance have developed as separate professional spheres, usually undertaken by separate individuals, and mediated by the musical score – a formation which does not exist in most global musical traditions.)

12.3 Frame enlargement from Phil Solomon’s 16mm film Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance (USA, 1999).

189

The American filmmaker Phil Solomon has developed a practice in which he sometimes subjects refilmed found and original film and television material to non-traditional chemical treatments, the results of which he then alters or interprets in various ways using an optical printer. By the time he released the first two of his series of Twilight Psalms in 1999, Solomon had been experimenting with unconventional approaches to the optical printer, and with decayed or reprocessed film material, since the 1970s.31 In Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance, Solomon refilmed found material from a video monitor, and then subjected the film to unconventional chemical treatments that seem to have caused the emulsion to melt together into churning fields of colour and texture. This material was then step-printed, so that all the movements are greatly slowed, and each frame of source material is almost graspable as a separate image. The linear grid of the video screen from which the source material was taken is sometimes apparent, like the canvas beneath a painting, and at other times it disappears beneath the writhing emulsion surface; I can think of no other film that produces so pronounced a sense of painterly texture. Yet we must also recognize how different is the process by which these painterly qualities are generated: in painting, in almost every case, regardless of looseness of gesture or wildness of style, each mark is made deliberately and with full control by the artist. With the film emulsion, the artists’ capacity to direct experimental processes acts at a general level – at the level of the expectation of a general effect given a particular kind of image – but does not determine the position of a particular reticulation crack, or the way the chemistry clumps up around a represented figure. In Solomon’s work, the source material, chemical treatments, and optical printing are stages in a continuous process, all of which is carried out by the artist. Likewise, he does not think of the source image as existing separately from the

Chris Gehman

190

emulsion that constitutes it: “For me, each film was trying to do something different with the air, the atmosphere, the imaging itself – these images don’t exist for me ‘behind the textures’ or ‘other than the textures’ – my entire project was to try and make the emulsion integral with the ‘image.’ Not a Bicycle Rider, but an image of a Bicycle Rider, that somehow gets the essence of it.”32 In Walking Distance, a powerful tension is held for most of the duration of the film; this tension is implicit in many of the recognizable images, which include those of a man hanging upside-down from a rope, a man bound to a chair toppling over, and a man walking on a tightrope with a balance pole. They are images of life lived on the edge of disaster. But this tension is also generated by the film surface itself and the viewer’s constant attempts to resolve the surface into recognizable pictures. Because the flow of material seems continuous, the normal cinematic relationship between shot and cut is absent; this is one of the film’s central characteristics and is wholly dependent on the qualities of Solomon’s chemical treatments and optical printing: “I was, again, trying to get away from the tyranny of the cut. I imagined the emulsion creating the film as you were watching it, as if it were loosened up and molten and flowing down the filmstrip in the projector, and sometimes coagulating into images that then dissolve back into the soup. Like the ocean of reposited memories in Solaris.”33 Here we can see how the results of experimentation become inseparable from the expression and form of the work. For Solomon the image exists at once as representation and as object, and the way the image sequences connect to one another, which is dependent on both the special treatments he applies to the emulsion and his particular approach to optical printing, produces the film’s fundamental form and meaning. For Solomon there is no meaningful separation between image and surface, and the entirety of the filmmaking process engages these elements. With the work of these filmmakers and their contemporaries, and the rise of artist-run organizations and educational initiatives to support this kind of work, experimentation with photochemistry and other lab processes has become subject to direct intervention by the filmmaker. But it’s important to recognize that for many, if not most, of these artists the lure of this kind of intervention emerges partly from its potential to result in surprising, unpredictable forms, textures, and visual effects that can be marshalled in the service of specific aesthetic goals. These artists are taking up a key modernist issue, that of the artwork as both a representation (of that which is absent) and an object (which is present), but in a manner very specifically inflected by the experimental potentialities of photochemical image making.

Toward Artisanal Cinema

Notes 1 Mike Hoolboom, “You Destroy Everything: An Interview with Jürgen Reble and Christiane Heuwinkel,” Independent Eye 11, nos. 2/3 (Spring 1990): 75. 2 See, for example: Tess Takahashi, “Meticulously, Recklessly Worked Upon: Direct Animation, the Auratic and the Index,” in The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema, ed. Chris Gehman and Steve Reinke (Toronto: yyz Books, 2005), 166–78, and parts of the discussion in Malcolm Turvey et al., “Round Table: Obsolescence and American Avant-Garde Film,” October 100 (Spring 2002): 115–32. 3 While individual artists and works have been the subject of serious critical and theoretical engagement, the range and significance of filmmakers’ material-oriented artisanal practices have been largely ignored by film scholars, art and film critics, and theoreticians until quite recently, which I believe has sometimes resulted in unbalanced critical and theoretical approaches. 4 Chris Gehman, “Experimental Film in the Nineties: A Survey,” Cinema Scope 2 (Winter 2000): 104. 5 Malcolm Turvey et al., “Round Table: Obsolescence and American Avant-Garde Film,” October 100 (Spring 2002): 121. 6 “The Last Kodak Moment?,” Economist, 14 January 2012, http://www.economist. com/node/21542796. 7 “Chronology of Motion Picture Films,” Kodak.com, http://motion.kodak.com/US/ en/motion/About/Chronology_Of_Film/default.htm. 8 Nick Dager, “Report Shows How Technology Is Changing Exhibition Business,” Digital Cinema Report, 14 June 2002, http://www.digitalcinemareport.com/news/ report-shows-how-technology-changing-exhibition-business#.VmXrzHtM7jB. 9 Leo Barraclough, “Digital Cinema Conversion Nears End Game,” Variety, 23 June 2013, http://variety.com/2013/film/news/digital-cinema-conversion-nears-end-game1200500975/. 10 Paul Arthur, for example, employs this broader concept of “artisanal filmmaking” in “Round Table: Obsolescence and American Avant-Garde Film,” October 100 (Spring 2002), 116. 11 One might add to this list more general practices, such as Karl Kels’s processing of his own films to achieve higher standards than those of commercial film labs; the self-production of release prints by filmmakers such as Canadians Steve Sanguedolce and John Price; and a widespread use of found footage in films by artists such as Craig Baldwin, Cécile Fontaine, and Peter Tscherkassky, where the materiality of the often worn and damaged source films is embraced rather than

191

Chris Gehman suppressed; and the presentation of performative projections by artists such as Malcolm Le Grice, Guy Sherwin, Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson (known together as The Presstapes), and Bruce McClure. 12 Esther Urlus, “Re:Inventing the Pioneers: Film Experiments on Hand Made Silver

192

Gelatin Emulsion and Color Methods,” http://estherurlus.hotglue.me/news. 13 There are exceptions, of course. Karl Kels is one; here he describes his motivation for processing his own black-and-white film: “When I shot the film about the Prince Albert Hotel for instance, I used ‘fine grain’ material which I found very grainy, I couldn’t believe it when it came back from the lab. After this experience I built a processing machine because I was unconvinced about the quality of lab work and decided to develop the negative myself.” Mike Hoolboom, “Karl Kels,” interview, 1 March 2006, http://www.mikehoolboom.com/?p=148. 14 Hoolboom, “You Destroy Everything,” 75. 15 Mike Hoolboom, “Carl Brown: Painting the Light Fantastic,” interview, Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (Toronto: Gutter Press, 1997), 25. 16 Scott MacDonald, “Phil Solomon,” interview, A Critical Cinema 5 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 204–5. 17 Sami van Ingen, Moving Shadows: Experimental Film Practice in a Landscape of Change (Helsinki: Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, 2012), 40, 45. 18 In What the Water Said, in David Gatten’s own words from the Canyon Cinema catalogue, “both the sounds and images are the result of the oceanic inscriptions written directly into the emulsion of the film as it was buffeted by the salt water, sand and rocks; as it was chewed by the crabs, fish and underwater creatures,” http://canyoncinema.com/catalog/film/?i=3493. 19 Scott MacDonald, “J.J. Murphy,” interview, A Critical Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 187. 20 Ibid., 184–5. 21 Ibid., 185. 22 Another important work along these lines, one roughly contemporary with Print Generation, is English artist David Hall’s video This Is a Television Receiver (1976), which involves the rapid degeneration of video image and sound through several generations of copies produced by re-recording image and sound with a camera from a television set. Remarkably, from today’s perspective, this work was commissioned and broadcast by bbc Television, and involved the participation of a major broadcast newsreader! 23 James Kreul, “Review: Print Generation and Wavelength,” 10 February 2015, http://madfilm.org/review-print-generation-wavelength-ctek-thu-feb-12-700pm/. 24 MacDonald, “J.J. Murphy,” 188.

Toward Artisanal Cinema 25 P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943–1978, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1979), 169–70. 26 Perhaps the structural film that exemplifies the tendency in its purist form is Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity (1970), which follows a fixed plan in which an empty university corridor is filmed in four-frame units, with changes of focal length on the camera’s zoom lens; these changes increase in size as the film progresses. The important point here is that once the plan for the film was made, it could have been executed with almost no need for interpretation (only at the printing stage), even if the filmmaker had died before having a chance to execute it. 27 Mike Hoolboom, “Michael Snow: Machines of Cinema,” interview, Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada (Toronto: Gutter Press, 1997), 20. 28 Ibid., 20. 29 Ibid., 21. 30 R. Bruce Elder, “Michael Snow’s Presence,” Presence and Absence: The Films of Michael Snow 1956–1991, ed. Jim Shedden (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1995). 31 In Solomon’s work, certain films make it difficult for the viewer to distinguish between chemical and optical processes. His 1988 film The Secret Garden, which visually suggests the possibility of some kind of special chemical processing, is in fact the result of an unusual optical printer setup, as he makes clear in his interview with Scott MacDonald: “There’s no chemical manipulation of the footage at all … All of that prismatic imagery early in the film comes from my manipulating the light with a variety of optical techniques” (211). 32 Phil Solomon, email message to author, 19 March 2016. 33 MacDonald, “Phil Solomon,” 223. Another filmmaker, working in a different idiom but arriving at a formally similar (albeit technically distinct) approach to the avoidance of the edit, is Canadian animator Caroline Leaf, in films such as The Street (1976) and The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977).

193

Chapter 13 Impalpable Boundary, Invisible Common: From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea Junho Oh To understand the current state of the experimental film scene in Korea, it is necessary to investigate how the ciné-clubs that advocated for experimental film perceived the avant-garde and how they were organized. In order of their founding, the ciné-clubs are: Cine-Poem (1964), Korean Small Gauge Film Club (1970), Moving Image Research Group (1972), Kaidu Club (1974), Korean Experimental Film Institute (1994), and Handmade Film Lab Spacecell (2004). Cine-Poem was founded through an inaugural meeting at the Korean Information Center1 on 18 January 1964. The club aimed to produce more than one avant-garde short film each year, host academic seminars, publish magazines, interact with avant-garde filmmakers abroad, and submit films to international film festivals. Interestingly, among the thirty-two members who joined Cine-Poem, eight were from the National Film Production Center (nfpc). Until nfpc legally became an independent institution in 1961, it was known as Daehan Film Company (dfc), or generally referred to as the “Film Company.” dfc was modelled on the National Film Board of Canada (nfb),2 and the personnel training program was prepared by Syracuse Contact.3 Film experts dispatched from the United States educated filmmakers for three to five years after facilities were equipped (Kong 2014, 370–1). Most of the filmmakers in the Korean film industry until the early 1960s were accustomed to the film grammar and technology mastered during the Japanese occupation. The filmmakers trained at dfc could get an American film education and were exposed to various types of film such as newsreels, educational films, documentary, and animation. nfpc made an agreement concerning the exchange of films with the nfb in 1963.4 Sung-chul Lee and In-tae Kim5 stated that they could watch the nfb’s animation in addition to Norman McLaren’s works at nfpc (Kong 2014, 378).6 Influenced by films from the nfb, filmmakers of nfpc paid attention to the experimental possibilities of the medium and joined Cine-Poem.

13.1 Top Film lecture by an instructor dispatched through Syracuse Contact at NFPC on 18 January 1960.

13.2 Bottom Completion ceremony of the NFPC personnel training program on 18 January 1960. In the front row, Sung-chun Jeon, chief of the Bureau of Public Information, sits with the instructors.

Junho Oh

196

In order to examine the definition of experimental film that Cine-Poem recognized, one must understand the concept of the cultural film (Munhwa Yeounghwa). Kulturfilm refers to short films made by Universum Film ag (ufa) in Germany. When Wilhelm Prager’s Ways to Strength and Beauty (1925) was imported to Japan, the film was labelled as a Kulturfilm. Cultural film, or Munhwa Yeounghwa, is a literal translation of Kulturfilm. Cultural film is difficult to define because of its historical differences in concept, but generally it refers to non-narrative films about current affairs, landscapes, education, and industry. The cultural film was in most cases a short film, and so these films were categorized not only by their length but also by their screenings in places other than theatres (Chung 2014, 276– 80). nfpc was an institution for the production of cultural film, and filmmakers of nfpc seemed to also consider nfb’s films as cultural films although very different from the German tradition. Cultural films were shorts as they were screened before commercial feature films. For that reason, cultural film and short film were sometimes synonymous terms. Cine-Poem perceived experimental and avant-garde films as non-narrative short films. Cine-Poem’s goal to create avant-garde films can be interpreted as the intention to surpass the traditional cultural film. Cine-Poem accepted the nfb’s non-narrative films through the concept of cultural film formed during the Japanese occupation. As a result, Cine-Poem films were hybridized and blended distinctive dimensions such as the Japanese and North American genre films and their conventions of production, attention to medium specificity, the effect of propaganda films, and the local commercial film industry and its relationship to government institutions. Thus, Cine-Poem was not a group that shared a specific aesthetic attitude. Instead, it functioned as a meeting for acquaintances in the field of film production – Cine-Poem could not help but expose the limits of a sustainable collective. Furthermore, the filmmakers of nfpc could not be active in Cine-Poem because the responsibility of nfpc for public relations and propaganda was intensified by president Chung-hee Park’s decision to dispatch troops to Vietnam. In the end, Cine-Poem eventually ended up making only two films – both by Hyun-mok Yu.7 Hyun-mok Yu, sponsored by the government of the United States, United Kingdom, and Western Germany, returned to Korea after observing the contemporary film scenes of twenty-one countries in 1968 and 1969. In a Kyunghyang Shinmun interview on 5 February 1998, Yu recollected that he witnessed the boom of 8mm film production while abroad. Yu launched Korean Small Gauge Film Club (ksgfc), along with four other film experts, at the United States Information Service (usis) on 23 July 1970.8 The main purpose of ksgfc was to invigorate amateur filmmaking culture and the Korean underground film movement. The strategies

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

13.3 Cover of the first issue (Summer 1972) of So-hyeong Yeonghwa. The woman is Hee Moon, who was a movie star during the 1960s and 1970s.

ksgfc deployed were regularly scheduled open public lectures about filmmaking, filmmaking contests and public screenings, magazine publishing, and building an international network with small-gauge film interest groups. The public was very interested in the filmmaking contest because it was held in places with beautiful natural scenery and movie stars were invited. Although ksgfc started by setting up the underground film movement as its role model, it primarily functioned as a hobby for the middle class who aspired to be a “director” or spend time around movie stars. Except for personnel from the commercial film industry, the people active in ksgfc were mostly businessmen, doctors, lawyers, or professors. It meant that the goal of pursuing self-realization began to take its form in the 1970s when Korea achieved rapid economic growth after forcing all social sectors into national reconstruction during the 1960s after the Korean War. The original plan of ksgfc was to divide itself into two subgroups: amateurs who produced small-gauge film and professionals who produced avant-garde film. Nevertheless, the actual activities focused only on amateur film production. Despite the discrepancy between the ideal and the reality, ksgfc contributed to the establishment of the 1970s film movement by expanding the base of 8mm and 16mm film in Korea.

197

Junho Oh

198

Around 1972, signs of change began to emerge in the small-gauge filmmaking scene. Newspapers started to introduce people to make 8mm films beyond the filmmaking contests held by ksgfc. Moving Image Research Group (mirg) was initiated by Hyun-ju Kim, Hwang-lim Lee (a.k.a. Kyung-yup Lee), and Sangchun Park in July 1972.9 mirg claimed that the quality of Korean cinema was degraded by commercial films and declared its objective to create art films following the nouvelle vague and New American Cinema. The name, mirg, reflected its intention to engage in the academic study of mass media forms of moving images in addition to cinema. The twenty-one members of mirg were college students and recent graduates, and mirg had its own office that was run through monthly membership fees. The backgrounds of mirg members were a mixture of the little theatre10 and underground film movement. The first mirg event did not project a film, but instead performed a play. Thereafter, mirg held presentations four times more through 1975. Most of the presentations were held in Café Paris located in front of Ewha Woman’s University and were supported by the little theatre movement. In 1973, mirg produced six plays and five films over the year. mirg, which regarded its activities as part of a counterculture movement, struggled against dominant forms of popular culture between 1972 and 1975. The Kaidu Club emerged from mirg. Ok-hee Han and Jum-sun Kim, who curated a screening of experimental film in the fourth presentation of mirg, were core members of Kaidu. Han recalls that she went to Café Paris, watched the entire third presentation of mirg, and got fascinated by Ik-tae Lee’s 1973 film Whereabouts of the Light (1998, 23). In 1974, Ok-hee Han and five other members who graduated from Ewha Woman’s University established Kaidu. The name Kaidu referred to a legendary heroine of Mongolia. According to a Chosun Ilbo interview on 30 July 1974, Han outlined Kaidu’s objective: “There are two prejudices in pre-existing cinema: filmmaking is a male job and the movie should be fun. We, as outsiders, will break these biases” (5). Kaidu opened the first experimental film festival on the rooftop of Shinsegae Department Store between 27 and 31 July 1974 and organized a symposium titled “Woman and the Movie World” on 19 April 1975. At the symposium, Kaidu insisted that women’s film should address the issue of the female figure as portrayed in Korean cinema. The second experimental film festival was held at the Goethe Institute in Seoul between 23 and 27 May 1975. mirg and Kaidu regarded experimental film as underground film and were influenced by both American and European experimental films of the time. Judging from what Han stated about the impression made on her by the repetition of short sequences of image and music in Lee’s Whereabouts of the Light (1988, 23), the

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

film seems to be influenced by minimalism. Han adopted free association in Hole and Rope (1974) and used animation techniques and double exposure in Saekdong (1976) and Untitled (1977). Handmade techniques such as scratching were used in the films of Jum-sun Kim, who studied paintings (Mun 2011, 159). The contemporary films from the United States and Europe were screened at cultural events organized monthly by usis, the French Institute, and the Geothe Institute. At the time, cinemagoers could watch films that were excluded from commercial theatres. This young generation organized screening events and cinema forums at small places like Café Paris by renting films from the foreign cultural institutes. The government of Chung-hee Park politically supported the proliferation of mass media to propagate the national ideology of modernization and industrialization of Korea. The supply of newspapers, magazines, radios, and televisions also contributed to the diversification of popular culture. The radio stations launched music programs for youth, and American folk and rock songs became popular. A cultural form composed of music radio, vinyl recordings, American popular music, music appreciation rooms, American-style pubs, long hair for men, and jeans emerged and attained rapid popularity beginning in the late 1960s. This cultural form was labelled “youth culture.” The formation and dissemination of youth culture resulted from the economic growth of the 1970s. Korean society called for the young generation to attain higher education as a means to pioneer industrialization, which caused a rapid increase in the total number of college students. Nevertheless, the overall proportion of college students was very low, which marked them as a socially privileged, elite class. The college students who were exempt from the responsibility of labour and received higher education were able to understand foreign languages and distinguish themselves from older generations and the working class by consuming Western culture. The mirg and Kaidu were both formed as a part of youth culture. What differentiated Kaidu from mirg is that Kaidu addressed the issue of gender. Kaidu critiqued the fact that the female subject was excluded from film production and that women in Korean cinema were objectified. However, Kaidu addressed gender issues by claiming that women should make films by themselves, romanticizing the identity of the collective as the avant-garde’s radical outsider without engaging in auto-critique. mirg and Kaidu were composed of college students, a privileged class that appropriated the beat generation and the hippie counterculture into a Western cutting-edge style opposed to “underdeveloped” Korean culture. Through this appropriation, mirg and Kaidu declared themselves as a new centre of cultural production without much critical reflection on the reality of Korea.

199

Junho Oh

200

There was no ciné-club to advocate experimental film in the 1980s. The heightened interests of college students in experimental and underground film disappeared rapidly in the 1980s because a critical reflection on the liberal cultural elitism of youth culture began. While during the 1970s youth culture declared its difference in the subject of cultural production through signifiers such as youth, freedom, and elitism, the critical cultural movement of the 1980s interpolated Minjok and Minjung as a means of placing workers and students as the subject of social change. This move created a higher consciousness in regards to social class. Minjok and Minjung are Korean terms that are difficult to accurately translate into English. Minjok, which was coined during the Japanese occupation, is generally translated into nation, race-nation, or ethnic group. It connotes that Koreans, an ethnic group that shares a distinct culture, has resisted the violence of imperialism to preserve its national identity. Minjung, a Marxist term, is usually translated into “the people” or “the mass.” It refers to ordinary people who are oppressed politically, exploited economically, and marginalized sociologically. In the late 1970s, theories of national literature (Minjok Munhak), people’s literature (Minjung Munhak), and Third World literature – primarily debated in Quarterly Changbi – became the dominant discourse within the critical cultural movement (Kim 2004, 178). Subsequently, the ciné-clubs of the 1980s recognized that a signifier such as experimental film or avant-garde film represented a politically conservative and socially exclusionary attitude. Instead, they adopted signifiers like “little cinema” (Jakeun Yeonghwa) and “open cinema” (Yulin Yeonghwa). These two terms implied that film must deal with the Korean reality, production and distribution ought to avoid the capitalist system, and collective practices based on solidarity – rather than self-expression – ought to be foregrounded. Independent film emerged as a term to unify the little cinema and open cinema in the late 1980s. Since then, “independent film” has referred to all forms of alternative cinema outside of commercial film. In this historical context, then, experimental film and independent film have constituted both inclusive and exclusive relations. The New Image Group (nig), the forerunner of the Korean Experimental Film Institute (kefi), was initiated by Byung-sun Kwon (a.k.a. Jung-woon Kwon) along with Bo-geun Choi, In-gi Choi, Hyo-ryong Bae, In-tae Hwang, Chang-jae Lim, and Mi-ja Kang. nig held the first experimental film festival, Ecstatic Vision: Aesthetics of Moving Image in New Media, from 26 April to 5 May 1994. Changjae Lim recalls that the official name of nig was changed to kefi after the first festival and the serious study of experimental film had begun (2001, 175–6). The change occurred because nig realized the limits of its internal competence and the general recognition of experimental film arising from the first festival. Considering that experimental film loosely referred to art cinema of unconventional

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

13.4 Cover of the catalogue of the first experimental film festival of KEFI, Ecstatic Vision: Aesthetics of Moving Image in New Media.

forms in the 1990s, kefi was mandated to facilitate not only production but also other practices, including education, screening, criticism, and publication. For such practices to be developed, the intensification of the group’s internal competence was required, and so Kwon delivered regular lectures for kefi’s members. The official activities of kefi constituted film festivals (held three times until 1997), public lectures on the theory and practice of experimental film (delivered in 1996 and 1997), and the publication of Aesthetics of Moving Image in New Media (1994) and The World of Avant-Garde Film (1996) translated from Amos Vogel’s Film as a Subversive Art (1974). It is difficult to find the official records of kefi after 1998, and the activities of kefi stopped after Kwon passed away on 1 May 2001. Kwon, who earned a master of arts in Cinema Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, was requested to lecture on the aesthetics of experimental film in the context of the Korean reality. The 1980s generation of students and those in the critical cultural movement who participated in kefi aspired to create a new film language to represent their politically radical position.

201

Junho Oh

202

Both needs were met in experimental film, and kefi investigated the possibility to merge the aesthetic and political avant-garde. The analysis created critical distance from the independent film scene and suggested a new meaning for experimental film with the emergence of the post-industrial society and the new-media age in Korea. Kwon insisted on two points in explaining why experimental film should be received in the 1990s (1997). First, Korean independent film, which lacked an aesthetic examination of the film medium itself, should cover engagements with experimental film. Kwon divided independent film into modes of production and aesthetics, and insisted that independent film made on low budgets for aesthetic reasons should constitute the true independent film. Kwon acknowledged that the formation of Korean independent film in the context of the democratic movement struggling against military dictatorship in the 1980s contributed to the critique of the commodification of film. National identity, for Kwon, could be recovered and the film medium could be democratized through the promotion of Minjok and Minjung culture (462). However, he criticized the fact that the politically oriented nature of Korean independent film ignored film aesthetics. Second, the coming of post-industrial society and the new-media age demanded that Korean filmmakers reflect the true sense of independent film. Kwon argued that the post-industrial society would diversify audiences, which would enable the films made by the creative individual to be spotlighted. Consequently, the emergence of new media would lead to flourishing modes of alternative distribution. Kwon also argued that the major American film companies established a strategy of vertically integrated distribution networks through new media such as home video, cable, and satellite television. The strategy was also being adopted by the Korean film industry. Therefore, there was a need for major film companies to expand alliances with independent filmmakers for the acquisition of “moving image software” (465). Kwon used the term “moving image software” to indicate a variety of types of moving image as new media genres and positioned experimental film as the foundation to enhance the future competence of the Korean film industry. kefi members’ approach to experimental film was similar to Kwon’s. Bo-geun Choi, who curated the first experimental film screening, defined experimental film as “the root of aesthetical creation of moving image software” (1994, 8).11 Although Bo-geun Choi worried that new media would deepen the cultural dependency on major US film companies, he thought that the self-reliance of the Korean film industry would be possible by the emergence of a group of experimental filmmakers who believed that an economic and social foundation should be prepared for experimental filmmaking. This foundation was imagined as governmental and corporate support for production, the establishment of distribution network

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

among theatres, galleries, museums, and universities, the formation of the specific strata of audiences, and the technological advancement of the moving image. Choi criticized the fact that government policies concentrated on “moving image hardware” and that personnel in the moving image industry responded to the new media age only by importing the newest technologies. However, Choi insisted that “the lack of foundation is merely a secondary problem, and the urgent request to the personnel of the moving image industry is conversion of self-recognition through receiving the aesthetics of experimental film” (1994, 9). kefi’s significance lay in its critique of an absence of aesthetic examination of the cinematic medium in Korean independent film and the technocentrism of the moving image industry. Thus, kefi suggested experimental film as an alternative. Nonetheless, the alternative imagination of kefi remained within aesthetic and industrial boundaries and failed to actualize itself as an institutional critique. The practices of kefi signaled the absence of the foundation of production and distribution of experimental film, even in the 1990s. Indieforum is another example of the ways in which experimental film has existed in both inclusive and exclusive relationships to independent film since the 1990s. Indieforum, which launched as an independent film festival in 1996, featured an auteur forum composed of filmmakers who submitted their works. This feature made the forum a bit perfunctory because the filmmakers at the forum fluctuated each year. In response, a standing auteur forum with returning directors was organized in 2002. The first chair was Yun-tae Kim, who had been invited to kefi’s experimental film festival. In 2005, Chang-jae Lim took over the position. This forum led filmmakers who produced experimental film in the 1990s to identify their work as “independent film,” and they were generally regarded as independent filmmakers. The serious debates about Indieforum’s identity took place between 2002 and 2006. At the time, the moving image industry had been spotlighted as a “future industry.” Film degrees at universities had increased exponentially since the 1990s and college students enrolled in these programs produced numerous short films and submitted them to Indieforum. Most of the films were portfolio films to mark the students’ debuts as feature-film directors, but the participants of Indieforum raised the question as to whether these films could be defined as “independent” in the true sense of the word. Indieforum endeavoured to focus its identity by presenting films of “aesthetic value” as a key component of independent film from 2002 to 2006, but these efforts resulted in a decrease in audiences. The audiences regarded the films presented during the period to be experimental, by which they meant films with unconventional forms. Indieforum confronted the criticism that the aesthetic orientation of the programs reduced the public’s

203

Junho Oh

204

interest in independent film. This means that Korean independent film even in the 2000s could be appreciated only from the perspective of its popularity with the general audience. The reason why Spacecell was initially opened as a complex cultural space directly relates to the problems of Indieforum. In an interview with the author on 28 May 2015, Jang-wook Lee, who launched Spacecell in 2004, stated that he doubted the value of screening his works at a theatre without being able to offer any context. This doubt was based on the experience of receiving aggressive questions from the audience when he presented his work Surface of Memory, Memory on Surface (1999) at the 1999 Seoul Independent Film Festival. Thereafter, his interest moved to alternative spaces that were popular around 2000, yet he found that film was banished even from there. Based on these double experiences of isolation, Lee arrived at the idea of opening a complex cultural space to exhibit works in various media – film, photography, installation, and performance. In the same year as the foundation of Spacecell, Dong-hyun Park commenced the Experimental Film and Video Festival in Seoul (exis). Park had an opportunity to host Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, which was a touring program introducing works made by the London Film-Maker’s Co-op. While organizing the event, Park decided to expand it into a film festival focusing on experimental film and video. The first festival was divided into three programs: competition, domestic invitation, and international invitation program. The competition program, which was curated as four sections – “Lyrical Form,” “Optical Form,” “Documentary Form,” and “Free Form” – was open only to the Korean filmmakers and artists who were working in the field of independent film, experimental film, and video art. The curatorial intention reflected the necessity to define which works could be called experimental in Korea across the institutional boundaries of cinema and fine arts. The highlighting of “Form” in the title of each section originated from the recognition that the works exploring the mediumistic properties of film and video were circulated without any context at film festivals and exhibitions. Although the section title did not represent individual work properly, it was expected to be a useful guide to help audiences understand how experimental works could be appreciated. The domestic invitation program included the films of Kaidu and kefi for historical reflections on the Korean experimental film.12 The international invitation program was Shoot, Shoot, Shoot. The parallel of both domestic and international programs was devised to find the relative location of the Korean experimental film compared with historical canons and contemporary geographies of experimental film, to assist filmmakers who were eager to find the context of their own works, and to develop specific audiences who were willing to approve alternative modes of production and projection of film as cinema.

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

In addition to organizing venues to exhibit experimental film and video, Lee and Park agreed to provide a workshop for those who wanted to make films. They moved their personal film equipment to Spacecell and held the first workshops in July and August 2004. The workshops were offered up to ten times weekly and featured photograms, shooting, lighting, film processing, editing, printing, and alternative projection.13 Spacecell ran the workshop in the summer and fall through August 2006 and in the process presented eleven exhibitions. Besides the exhibitions, Spacecell functioned as a screening venue for exis from 2004 to 2006. Spacecell ran these exhibitions and workshops in a confined space. During the exhibition, Spacecell moved film equipment into storage and installed it again for the workshop after the exhibition. A few filmmakers who wanted to continue with handmade filmmaking emerged from the 2004–06 workshops. However, the management of both exhibitions and workshops generally had limited continuous supports for filmmakers, so Spacecell transformed itself into the Handmade Film Lab Spacecell in 2006. Since then, Spacecell has presented workshops up to four times each year and opened an advanced workshop to produce works. The films made during the fall 2006 advanced workshop were screened in the Handmade Film Lab section of EXiS 2007. Since 2008, the name of this section has changed to Lab Program because it introduced the films not only of Spacecell but also from the other film labs.14 This program helped Spacecell to enter the artist-run film lab network, which allowed it to exchange films with L’Abominable and collaborate with Labor Berlin to run a fiveday workshop for direct animation with the support of the Goethe Institute. In addition, Richard Tuohy of Nanolab came to help Spacecell install and repair film equipment. Thus, the Lab Program of EXiS continuously allowed Spacecell to expand its network. The fall 2006 advanced workshop offered the opportunity to expand the Spacecell participants beyond Lee, with about six filmmakers regularly working at Spacecell. They made their own films, educated newcomers, and participated in the general operation of Spacecell. Their activities gained intensity between 2007 and 2010 by concentrating on education, production, and film programming. During the workshops, previous members brought and screened new films while newcomers made their first work through the advanced workshop. The six films presented in the Handmade Film Lab section in exis 2007 were also invited to the 2007 Seoul Independent Film Festival. The films were selected for the Independent Film DVD Releases 2007, planned by mediact, a community media centre in Seoul, and the Association of Korean Independent Film and Video (akifv). Spacecell produced eleven films in 2008, eight films in 2009, and nine films in 2010. As to the film programming, Spacecell opened the “Regular Screening of Independent

205

13.5 Top Handmade filmmaking workshop at Spacecell.

13.6 Bottom Spacecell facilities.

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

Film,” twice sponsored by the Korean Film Council and akifv. The first screening presented five programs curated by each of Spacecell’s filmmakers between 16 November 2007 and 18 January 2008. The second screening presented seven programs between 11 July and 26 December 2008. The screenings came from the realization that Spacecell filmmakers should enhance their profile by exhibiting and distributing films as well as producing their own. In addition, the screenings were meant to expand Spacecell’s network with the other filmmakers. Spacecell was based on the material foundations of filmmaking, and the network was restricted to the filmmakers who worked there. The two screenings were a way to collaborate with the filmmakers outside of Spacecell by including works that share the aesthetics of handmade filmmaking. The formation of a group of filmmakers, along with financial support from cultural organizations, made it possible for Spacecell to concretize the activities of education, production, and film programming, and partly cover operational expenses. The films made by Spacecell were introduced as independent films aside from exis, and institutional supports were provided within its framework. Like kefi, Spacecell faced the problem of its relationship to independent film. While individually made films with low budgets were institutionally categorized and supported as independent film, the audiences at the festival were mostly interested in genre films. The discrepancy between production and reception was an essential problem for Spacecell to overcome. Although the two screenings offered by Spacecell were significant as a means to expand its scope, the inner operational method of selection remained the same – it selected the filmmakers and works that could be appreciated because they shared similar aesthetics. Although the practices of experimental and independent films share some commonalities, their boundaries have been arbitrarily determined as a means of declaring their own aesthetic territories. Spacecell underwent drastic changes in 2010. Filmmakers who held important roles started to leave. Their withdrawal originated not only from internal problems, but also from an awareness that the identification of their practices as independent film would help to expand their careers. In the Lab Program of EXiS 2011, only the works of Richard Tuohy from Nanolab were screened. The decrease of institutional support for Spacecell imposed a heavy burden. In response, Jang-wook Lee attempted to expand the group from a physical space to a collaborative project. The collaboration was based not on a strong sense of solidarity but on a loosely connected fellowship among the artists interested in moving images. Artists practising fine art, music, or dance participated in a short-term collaborative project with Lee and disbanded after the project was completed. The handmade filmmaking workshop is now run in co-operation

207

Junho Oh

13.7 Jang-wook Lee, Conversation (2013), 16mm double projection performance with dance performance of Yeon-wu Na at EXiS 2013.

with Moonji Cultural Institute Saii. The workshop’s educational process is composed of two steps. Saii handles “Course A,” which teaches the theory of experimental film, and Spacecell runs “Course B,” which corresponds to both the basic and advanced workshops. Spacecell has also offered a residency program to artists who want to work with the film medium. Lee has worked intensively in the pursuit of an artist collective from the early period when Spacecell was a complex cultural space. Initially, he explored collaboration with all experimental artists associated with visual arts while holding exhibitions and workshops in parallel. After the group of filmmakers was formed, he promoted an artist-run film lab as a filmmakers’ collective. From an organiza-

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

tional point of view, Spacecell was built on a contradiction in its structure. On the one hand, it wished to form a collective by bringing together a group of filmmakers through the workshop. Yet, if an artists’ collective could be organized with autonomous and spontaneous participation of artists who agreed on a specific aesthetic direction, then Spacecell could not avoid dealing with the problem of how to educate the group of filmmakers. Students’ motivations for registering in the workshop were mostly derived from the desire to enlarge one’s artistic and technological capabilities, the need to prepare portfolios for applying to graduate school abroad, and the nostalgic sense of loss for the obsolescence of film rather than an overall concern for the practical potential in the film medium. For this reason, Spacecell was sometimes regarded as a private institution that was set up to educate artists in film techniques and special effects. On the other hand, the more Spacecell tried to focus on its identity as a filmmakers’ collective, the more introverted its organizational characteristic became – this functioned to limit Spacecell’s boundaries. Currently, Spacecell has a dual structure: one is the educational institute that supports handmade filmmaking, and the other is a loosely connected project group. The dual structure was formed as a response to the simultaneous hope and doubt about the question of whether it is possible to pursue an artists’ collective through the workshop. Spacecell is unique among the ciné-clubs to have advocated experimental film in Korea in that it is based on a physical foundation and lab. Similar to the artistrun film labs of the same period, Spacecell could easily possess film equipment on the condition that the film medium was not a part of the capitalist system – this condition allowed filmmakers of Spacecell to intervene in all the processes of filmmaking. Meanwhile, the intentional focus of Spacecell as an artists’ collective still remains the ideal. It implies that the formation of a physical foundation is not a sufficient condition for becoming an artists’ collective. Nevertheless, Spacecell’s formation allowed it to actualize experimental film in a way that had existed only as a conceptual idea since the 1960s in Korea while also illustrating an alternative model of film education. After film equipment vanished from universities in the late 1990s, Spacecell remains the only organization to offer students a chance to freshly explore the film medium as a pluripotential medium. Experimental film, existing as a floating signifier since the 1960s in Korea, had finally found its footing in the 2000s. If EXiS sets the canons and contemporary scenes of experimental film, it has also assisted Korean audiences in recognizing them. The artists and scholars who studied experimental film abroad also contributed to the demystification of the stereotypes of experimental film in Korea. If the handmade film allows one to refer to the material investigation of film,

209

Junho Oh

210

Spacecell has helped anyone to touch the materiality of film with their own hands. While the previous ciné-clubs promoting experimental film lasted only three or four years, Spacecell and EXiS have existed over ten. Their coexistence, based on a symbiotic relationship, makes this possible. If it is feasible to define EXiS as a spectator community, and Spacecell as a filmmaker community, then it cannot be said that their community impact is outstanding enough to develop a social consciousness and collective action. Nevertheless, EXiS and Spacecell are the first ciné-clubs to build a cooperative interaction between film viewing and filmmaking in the history of Korean experimental film. Through continued self-reflection on the feedback about their experiences given by filmmakers invited to EXiS, and the sharing of experiences of other artist-run film labs, EXiS and Spacecell have attained significance. Their loosely connected network built through the film medium, rather than through a specific festival or physical space, has contributed to sustaining mediumistic approaches to film, provoking critical reflections on the historical divisions between independent and experimental film as well as video art, and promoting curatorial practices to rethink the institutional frameworks of exhibiting moving images in theatres and museums.

Notes This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (nrf-2015s1a5a2a01009751). 1 The Korean Information Centre was a cultural institution affiliated with the Office of Public Information. The centre was established in 1957 to promote liberal democracy, government policy, and Korean traditional culture through organizing publications, musical concerts, art exhibitions, broadcasting, and film screenings. It was a major venue for cultural activities during the 1960s. Here is a link for a newsreel clip to introduce the Korean Information Center: http://www.ehistory. go.kr/page/view/movie.jsp?srcgbn=KV&mediaid=10587&mediadtl=22722&gbn= MH&quality=W. 2 Sung-chul Lee, who was a section head of the film department in the Bureau of Public Information, completed the ica Audio-Visual Leadership Program from September 1957 to August 1958 with the support of the International Cooperation Administration (ica). After Lee finished the program, and following the advice of the program’s educators, he visited the nfb. He stated that he used the nfb as a role model for the dfc (Kong 2014, 376). 3 The dispatch to the dfc was generally called “Syracuse Contact” because it was

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea done through contact between ica and Syracuse University. The United States Operation Mission to the Republic of Korea (usom) was to be in charge of economic aid to Korea, which was important to the establishment of the Daehan Film Company. usom regarded film as a method to promote US aid to Korea and propagate American democracy. usom dispatched experts in planning and production, editing, animation, camera department, projection, sound recording, music, maintenance, and processing to Korea for training the dfc personnel. 4 A Kyunghyang Shinmun article on 11 February 1963 reported that Jong-hae Yang’s New Hometown (1963) would be translated into English and sent to 700 film libraries and screened at 5,600 locations by 600 portable projection teams in Canada. 5 With the support of the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (unkra), In-tae Kim stayed in Canada for film production training at the nfb from April 1967 to March 1968. During his stay, Kim made an animation film, Korean Alphabet (1967). 6 In 1963, Young-il Park made two animation films, I Am Water, which emphasizes the importance of water and cultivating forests for the prevention of floods, and The Way to Live Well, which stresses that working hard and renouncing bad habits are keys to living well. In the opening credit sequence of these animations, Park adopted techniques similar to Norman McLaren’s animations. The opening credit sequence of I Am Water, where droplets of water become staff names, seems to be influenced by McLaren’s Blinkity Blank (1955) (Kong 2014, 378–9). 7 Cine-Poem produced Line (1964) and Hand (1966), both directed by Hyun-mok Yu. Line is about ten minutes long, black and white, on 35mm, and Hand is only fifty seconds and also black and white and on 35mm. Both films were considered to be permanently lost, but while conducting research I found that Hand is preserved at the Cinémathèque québécoise. The Korean Film Archive proceeded to collect the film, and duplication and preservation were completed in 2015. A Kyunghyang Shinmun article on 8 June 1964 reported that Line would be submitted to either the San Francisco International Film Festival or the Cannes Film Festival, but Line was not included in the official list. Hand was submitted to the Man and His World competition, which was a side attraction of the Montreal International Film Festival in 1967. Hand did not win the prize but was selected for the final screening. 8 usis, which was an overseas branch of the United States Information Agency (usia), which handled foreign public relations, was established internationally by president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The main task of usis was the promotion of US foreign policy and culture through exhibitions, concerts, movie screenings, and seminars. usis installed film facilities in Jinhae with the outbreak of the Korean

211

Junho Oh War and built a studio in Sangnam in 1952 for producing Liberty News. usis trained Korean staff to make propaganda films and many of them continued the practice at the dfc and the nfpc. 9 Some writings establish 1971 as the year that mirg was founded. However,

212

I follow the Donga Ilbo article that identifies the date as July 1972. 10 The little-theatre movement in Korea developed during the 1920s. The movement, which survived even after the Korean War, aimed to create dramatic arts in contrast to the commercial theatres. It was revitalized after the completion of Wongaksa, which was originally built in 1958 to introduce the Korean traditional performing arts to foreigners. Wongaksa provided the little theatre movement groups with opportunities to stage an experimental theatre without fees. Although Wongaksa was destroyed by fire in 1960, the movement has been sustained until now. 11 Choi introduced Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963) as the origin of the music video and Robert Breer’s T.Z. (1979) as the primitive form of computer graphics. He explained that Jane Campion was able to make her world-renowned Piano (1993) only because she started her career as an experimental filmmaker. 12 There were two more sections in the domestic invitation program. One was “Experimental Social Film,” designed to screen the video works of Flyingcity, an artists’ collective usually shown in galleries. In the catalogue, Gye-jung Kim, who was a programmer of EXiS, revealed the reason why he brought Flyingcity’s works into cinema space as he wished not to be confined within the divisions between video art and documentary, and gallery and theatre. The other was “Film and Video as Medium,” which screened seven artists’ film and video works in order to differentiate the mediumistic approaches to each medium. 13 The details of the workshop are: (1) overview of handmade filmmaking: the recent trend of experimental film and the variety of film practices; (2) moving image without camera: clear and black leader, scratch, and photogram; (3) camera, film, and exposure: Bolex, light meter, lighting and film characteristics; (4) darkroom: black and white reversal and negative development, colour negative development, cross processing and push and pull processing; (5) in-camera editing and effects: fade, dissolve, and superimposition; (6) image making 1: toning, reprinting, and optical printing; (7) image making 2: image modification through darkroom processes; (8) making titles: hi-con film; (9) editing: cases of experimental editing; (10) sound: recording, sound editing, and alternative use of sound; (11) alternative and experimental methods of printing: Steenbeck, synchronizer, and Bolex printing; (12) experiments on alternative projection: looping, multi-projection, and performance. 14 Filmmakers and artist-run film labs introduced in the Lab Program of EXiS are: Niagara Custom Lab, loop Collective, and Double Negative Collective in 2008; Nanolab in 2011; Danièle Wilmouth in 2012; L’Abominable in 2013; and Mire in 2014.

From Ciné-Clubs to Artist-Run Film Labs in Korea

References Choi, Bo-geun. 1994. “Investigation for Creating Moving Image Culture.” In Ecstatic Vision: Aesthetics of Moving Image in New Media, ed. New Image Group, 8–10. Seoul: New Image Group. Chung, Chonghwa. 2014. “A Study on Formation of the Concept of Cultural Film in Colonial Korea.” Film Studies 61: 271–96. Han, Ok-hee. 1998. People Who Are Crazy about Film Are Beautiful: Han, Ok-hee’s Report from Berlin. Seoul: Eutsaram. Kim, Chang-nam. 2004. “The History and Problem of Youth Culture.” Cultural Science 37: 173–85. Kong, Young-Min. 2014. “The National Film Production Center’s Animation and Public Propaganda of the 1950s and 60s.” Association of Image & Film Studies 25: 353–88. Korean Small Gauge Film Club. 1988. An Eighteen Year History of the Korean Small Gauge Film Club. Seoul: Eulji-Munhwa. Kwon, Byung-sun. 1997. “The Problem of Reception of Independent Film as Alternative Cinema.” Film Studies 13: 456–68. Lim, Changjae. 2001. “Remembering Byung-sun Kwon.” Independent Film 9: 175–6. Mun, Gwan-Gyu. 2011. “A Study on Khai Du Club as an Experimental Filmmaking Club in the 1970s and Director Han, Ok-hee.” Contemporary Film Studies 11: 141–72.

213

Chapter 14 A Collective Charge: Collectif double négatif/ Double Negative Collective Mike Rollo The Untutored, Discovering Camera: Origin Stories The Double Negative Collective formed in 2004 when Daïchi Saïto and Karl Lemieux played with the idea of starting up a film collective. Both lived in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal, a hotbed of artistic activity, and both were students in an experimental film class with Richard Kerr at Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. By the end of the academic year, Lemieux and Saïto had sought out like-minded filmmakers to share their vision. Most of the founding collective members emerged from Kerr’s class, including Amber Goodwyn, Julian Idrac, Eduardo Menz, and Christopher Payne. Other founding members included undergraduate film students Matthew Law, Ithamar Silver, Lucia Fezzuoglio, and graduate students Troy Rhoades and me. Additional members were from the Montreal film community, such as Sophie Thouin. The chosen name for this collection of makers was Double Negative, inspired by the analog workflow of post-production printing and the suggestion of an anachronistic spirit.1 The principal motivation of the collective was to remain an ensemble, a pack of filmmakers who could trust and help one another create work after completing studies at the university. Saïto recalls in a 2009 interview with Brett Kashmere for Incite magazine: The only option we have in Montreal, to gain access to equipment, is to join Main Film [a filmmaking co-operative]. But the core of what we do is very personal. It’s a group of artists getting together with a certain connection between them, working together. Main Film doesn’t work that way. You pay a fee, you become a member, you get access to equipment; but on a more personal, artistic level, there’s not much communication going on. It’s an organization. That’s something we wanted to avoid. To make what we’re doing, in a way, different from that model. (82)

Double Negative Collective

The passion to create work independently, to be truly personal without the aid of an institution, was an inspiration for each of us. For my part, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of joining the collective, having worked in collectives previously and finding much in common aesthetically with the other members. In defining who we were as a collective, we crafted a manifesto. Everyone offered input, but the final rendering, written by collective member and poet Matthew Law, uniquely reflects the spirit of the group: The palliative tendencies of conventional cinema configure audience as patient, filmmaker as pharmacist. The viewer arrives, wearily, with his prescription, ready for the cure. The pharmacist officiates, moralizes on proper usage and dosage, translates the cryptic scribbles. He reminds the patient to get plenty of sleep. The pharmacist keeps regular hours, closed on Sundays. The alchemist has no such customers, or concerns. The alchemist looks for the illumination of base object; she communicates telepathically with other practitioners; she wakes late in the day, wondering “did I really?” remembering the brief, dark glow cast against the laboratory wall. With the common goal of exploration in moving images, we have conspired to become the Double Negative Collective. We find ourselves in the role of the alchemist: we promote accidents, discoveries, failures; processes that lead into unknown landscapes; the fleeting tangibility of mystical and transformative forces; and the begetting of delicate, precious objects in the dark. We locate cinema in human experience, in the eye, hand and heartbeat, not in the wellworn tropes that pass for meaning and feeling in conventional moviemaking. We find mystery in processes: in materials, in ideas and in the world. The untutored, discovering camera is the prism we have found to draw these forces together. We are choosing, through experiments in form, voice and vision, to initiate a dialogue long-neglected in the independent artist-based filmmaking community: a benevolent conspiracy of ideas. For this, we have gone back to the roots of the media of film and video to ask questions and seek answers. We provide no prescription for what film ought to be, but elucidate what it is: impossible pasts and futures in a trajectory of unravelling present, images pausing and passing from up there, in back of the head. (Double Negative Collective 2007)

215

Mike Rollo

With All Good Things Coming Together: Some History

216

Montreal’s experimental film scene has scattered roots. Early figures in the landscape included Charles Gagnon, along with filmmakers Norman McLaren and Arthur Lipsett from the National Film Board of Canada. In the early to mideighties, there were few contemporary filmmakers who specialized in experimental cinema from which to draw inspiration, aside from François Miron, Jean-Claude Bustros, and Richard Kerr. While there were festivals that programmed experimental work, like the Festival du nouveau cinema muff (Montreal Underground Film Festival) and curated programs presented by the film journal Hors Champ, there was no permanent hub that anchored Montreal in the making and dissemination of experimental films. Practically, the collective’s aim was to build a scene in which to view and make experimental film. Philosophically, we shared the grassroots spirit of other Montreal-based do-it-yourself movements such as the burgeoning underground music scene, including the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and their music label, Constellation Records. Collective members pooled equipment together and contributed cash in order to develop and maintain a film studio and laboratory. The studio was critical to our sustainability and became a lock of our activities. Located in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal, and housed in a backspace connected to Saïto’s loft apartment, the studio became the site where collective members could create their work by using a diversity of analog imaging and editing machines. It was essentially a large, windowless room with white-painted brick walls, a high ceiling, and a cement floor (not that you could see much of it) with racks of film reels lining one wall. The studio housed multiple 16mm and 35mm Steenbeck editing machines, various projectors, light tables, a jk optical printer, an animation stand, a contact printer, and miscellaneous equipment for hand-processing. The inspiration for this collectively owned but wholly independent space took shape from others around the world such as worm in Rotterdam, no.w.here in London, and Etna and L’Abominable outside of Paris. Despite all good things coming together, there were, of course, difficult moments. Using Saïto’s bathroom to hand-process the motion picture stock occupied only one end of the spectrum of challenges. Moving a 35mm printer from New York was on the other, much heavier, end of things. Saïto recalls: The Oxberry 35mm printer comes from New York City, from a film lab that went bankrupt. There’s a long story about this. It was supposed to be a giveaway deal, but when we got there we had to pay for it. And, the person didn’t want to give us any parts: lenses, gates, sprockets – all the most important parts. He just wanted to give us the optical bench.

Double Negative Collective It was crazy. Everything was done over the phone, so there was no contract. He told me he was going to trash it the next morning, that he had already hired movers to do the job. So I had to decide on the spot. I told him not to [trash] it, that we’d be there tomorrow morning. We had to rent a truck, find a driver, and get six people down to New York City. Everything had to be done so quickly that it was kind of a gamble. But we managed to get everything – almost everything. Unless we did stuff like that, we wouldn’t have equipment like this. (Kashmere 2009, 87)

In the last few years, the studio has undergone renovations to include a room, separated from the main studio, for an artist residency and shared administrative space with Groupe Épopée. The first screening of the collective’s work was held in July 2004 at the National Film Board Theatre on St Denis Street. The stylistic range reflected the diversity of the membership: the camera-less techniques of Karl Lemieux’s Mouvement de lumière (2004) and Christopher Payne’s Selections from Noesis (2004); video feedback and glitches in Julian Idrac’s Neon (2004); and the lyrical, personal storytelling of Amber Goodwyn’s Distance Is Relative (2004). Born of this first public screening were a true sense of collectivity and a statement of our group intention to make avant-garde cinema a vibrant part of the city’s cultural underground. The work of collective members was programmed annually at local cinemas such as the nfb/onf Theatre and Cinéma Parallèle.2 Alternative methods of presentation were explored. The group exhibition of loop projections in “because we didn’t find / what we were / looking for / what we found / didn’t exist / without us, and if it is so / to be so in / go in to it / as it is so / it is in us / is it as if / it is of me” removed the films of the collective from the dark space of the movie theatre and unified them as celluloid art objects and installations in a gallery space. The loop projections varied in style and structure, ranging from multiple-screen projections to layered projected images and object-driven, expanded cinema constructions. Work included Malena Szlam’s untitled interactive installation involving five Moviola projectors. Using a reel-to-reel wind, participants would advance the film strip through the five projectors, controlling the speed of the image and allowing for multiple screen juxtapositions of colour and content to appear on each tiny screen. Amber Goodwyn’s installation loop Cryptozoologist projected animated images of sea monsters through a round-shaped matte and onto a low-lying section of the gallery wall that was itself surrounded by gold foil scales that were applied to encircle the projection on the wall. A clipboard with a list of cryptozoology findings hung alongside. Additional screenings of the collective’s work took place abroad with the first long-distance program in Mexico in 2006 and later in Paris (France) and Seoul

217

Mike Rollo

218

(Korea). From these ventures, Double Negative touring programs became available and allowed the collective’s work to be included in festivals and venues internationally. Another aspect of the collective’s objectives included programming the work of national and international artists for Montreal audiences. Screenings of note include the work of Guy Sherwin at La Sala Rossa in 2006, Bruce McClure’s projector performances in 2005 and 2009, Nicky Hamlyn in 2007, Chick Strand in 2010, and the One Take Super 8 Event with founder Alex Rogalski. The goal was to develop local audiences’ appreciation and appetite for experimental cinema.

Delicate, Precious Objects in the Dark: Profiles of Processes The films of each member are unique as they do not conform to a similar style or technique, which is often seen in works from other collectives. In Double Negative Collective, each filmmaker’s aim is to find a process that is their own, to find their creative voice and all the attendant rewards. It is about a sense of discovery. The filmmakers I focus on in this article are those whom I have worked closely with, collaborated with, and simply admired during my years as a collective member. Born in Japan, Daïchi Saïto has conducted studies of philosophy, English literature, and Sanskrit; these are motivators for his creative process. His films are rooted in explorations of the photographic frame, temporality, rhythm, and scale. In his book Moving the Sleeping Images of Things towards the Light, Saïto notes that his films “are often characterized by rapid bursts of fleeting images. They are ephemeral, transient. As soon as an image is born, it is dead already, supplanted by another cycle of life and death, and it goes on and on like a frieze. The eye can’t hold, but it’s [sic] lingering echoes” (2013, 59). His first film, Chiasmus (2003), presents Saïto’s interest with the mechanical inclusions of cinematic imaging and projection as a dancer intersects a screen of a projected white light. The black and white film explores the flatness of the visual plane using high-contrast film, which limits the tonal range to pure black and bright white. Following his black and white film Chiasmic Dance in 2004, Saïto began exploring urban spaces and working with positive colour film stock, beginning with Blind Alley Augury in 2006. This film surveyed the form and textures that comprise the alleyways of Montreal. The film, shot on Super-8 and captured frame by frame, was the working template for his film All That Rises (2007). Saïto notes about his process of shooting the film that “I made some loose guidelines to follow: start filming from one end of the block and finish upon reaching the other end of the block; proceed by moving forward one step at a time but never stepping back; film only what I [can] see from where I [am] at each step. At each

Double Negative Collective

219

14.1 Daïchi Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009).

step, the camera’s trajectory was to trace a more-or-less circular path: passing one side of the alleyway, moving up and reaching the sky, moving down to the other side of the alleyway, coming back to the ground” (Kashmere 2009, 74). All That Rises marked the beginning of Saïto’s working relationship with violinist Malcolm Goldstein, who created the music for three of Saïto’s films. Their collaboration evolves in stages, as Saïto explains: “I explain to [Goldstein] what the film is about and how I want the image/sound relationship to be like, and he tries different things based on my explanation. There is discussion beforehand about his sound in general and also during the picture edit, and it’s an evolving process with many changes along the way” (Saïto 2015). The presentation of Goldstein-created soundtracks varies as well. The first iteration, presented at Images Festival’s Notes on Composing in 2009, included Goldstein performing live to a silent projection of Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009). Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis follows Saïto’s Super-8 film Green Fuse (2008). The treatment of Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis developed in various stages: taking the original Super-8 footage of Green Fuse and additional footage shot on 16mm; optically printing sections to 16mm with various multi-colour filters and mattes; and hand-processing the positive stock with a reel from a Lomo developing tank in buckets.3 According to Saïto, this process of imaging and manipulation “has the aspect of negotiation between predictability and unpredictability … some

Mike Rollo

220

14.2 Daïchi Saïto’s Never a Foot Too Far, Even (2012).

margin of error is inevitable, often yielding unexpected results – especially for someone like myself who’s not scientifically minded. Sometimes such accidents trigger new thoughts and make you see new work in a different light. You strive to control the medium, and the medium betrays your intention” (Saïto 2015, 58– 9). The final stage of the film was a blow-up to 35mm. Saïto continued these methods of hand-processing and optical printing with Never a Foot Too Far, Even (2011). The film takes source material from a sequence of a Kung Fu film and is re-photographed twice, which creates two copies of the action. Each sequence was step-printed to slow down the movement and different filters were used to produce various changes in the chromatic hues. The sequences were hand-processed, which adds add a further chromatic change to the image. Saïto used two separate projectors to screen the film. The images are overlapped on the screen, which creates a spatial division within which multiple layers syncopate in a polyrhythmic change of moving colours. Pulsations of light and coloured after-images flash across the screen. However, where the movement of the visual content decreases in speed, the velocity of the manipulated image and layering increases. Malena Szlam, originally from Chile, moved to Montreal to pursue her graduate studies at Concordia University. A visual artist whose practice creates intersections between cinema and installation, her work focuses on the exploration of

Double Negative Collective

221

14.3 Malena Szlam’s Cronograma de un tiempo inexistente (2008).

reductivism – methods reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s early motion studies. Szlam’s 2008 film/installation piece Cronograma de un tiempo inexistente, which began production in Chile and was completed in Canada, consists of multiple projections layered onto asymmetrical surfaces. Analog (35mm and 16mm) film and analog and digital video images are the source material, which were photographed, hand-processed, and digitally manipulated. Most recognizable among the chimera are moments from Antonioni’s Blow Up (1968), which was specially chosen as a film with a protagonist who uncovers a mystery by blowing up, sequencing, and abstracting photographs. The results of Szlam’s process create repeating, non-linear, and non-synchronized visual compositions that become frameless sequences of filmstrips akin to Duchampian studies of motion and stillness. The installation of Cronograma involves handcrafted screens mounted and suspended at oblique angles, heights, and perspectives, which constantly displace the viewer’s perception of the work. The audience is thus immersed in fragmentary design and held rapt by the experience of the repeating, layered, and painterly images. After the completion of Cronograma, Szlam began exploring smaller-format film media beginning with her 2011 Super-8 film Beneath Your Skin of Deep Hollow (Bajo tu lamina de agujero profundo), a visual study of light and colour patterns reflected off of water surfaces at night. This practice bridged her collaboration with renowned producer and musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh and developed a multi-projector performance piece in support of his album Mo7it

Mike Rollo

222

14.4 Malena Szlam’s Lunar Almanac (2013).

Al-Mozit (2012). The stark images of flickering frames and black and white shots of the moon from these performances became the groundwork for her 2013 film Lunar Almanac. Using a similar in-camera editing technique as those present in Beneath Your Skin of Deep Hollow, this film tracks sequences of the moon that are captured frame by frame in erratic and rhythmic movements. The film was hand-processed and shot on positive colour film stock, which yields vibrant, phantasmagorical images. Multiple superimpositions create a staccato rhythm in the film’s movements and layers as the moon appears and disappears, moving precariously around the frame. Variable and extended exposures provide surface tension with the emergence of a tree branch. The handcrafted approach to shooting and handprocessing the footage creates a raw photographic quality, mottled by image fogging and multiple flashes of colour that, at times, make night for day with amber and yellow colours swathing the night sky. The film projector performances of Karl Lemieux are most recognizable for his collaboration with various high-profile musicians and bands such as Jerusalem in My Heart and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Lemieux projects images at concerts to enhance the immersive nature of these bands’ live musical performances. The multiple projected images are not simply backdrops but rather are synergistic visual content that responds to the music. The projectors are his version of musical instruments. As Lemieux notes, “I’ve never been a musician or seriously learned to play an instrument, but, to some extent, I prefer music to film” (Kashmere 2009, 70). Lemieux’s visuals are commonly hand-processed and use paint applied directly to the celluloid, which develops a surface layer that dances, vibrates, and rhythmically moves in counterpoint to the photographed images on the film stock.

Double Negative Collective

Thematically, Lemieux explores the fragile materiality of celluloid. In his performances, images are born spirited in the light but break and tear apart as Lemieux manually slows the film strips to burn and bubble in the heat of the projector lamp. The results are tactile – the projected images on surface spaces shift and change in real time to create diverse and complex combinations of colour, tonal changes, and geometric alterations. Strong musical accompaniment characterizes Lemieux’s single-channel work. Western Sunburn (2007) was born of a performance in 2004 in which the filmmaker used 16mm film loops sourced from an old Western film. Lemieux rephotographed the images in addition to painting, scratching, cutting, and burning the film stock. Moreover, the intensive manipulation to the film stock allows him to discover and transcend new approaches to visual imaging. Lemieux reflects: “I started to play more with the technique I used in the performance: Painting even more on the film, bleaching some of these loops even more, and then burning them. That’s the important part, which cannot be captured by an optical printer. At first it was more for archival purposes, and then it became this other project” (Kashmere 2009, 78–9). The film, edited by Saïto, mediates time in the speeding and slowing down of the film strip in the projector, at times letting the strip rest in front of the light to burn the plastic material. The film acts as both an archive but also a destruction of the filmmaking process. With Mamori (2010), Lemieux travelled with sound artist Francisco Lopez to the Amazon rainforest. The resulting film consists of fleeting black and white images of the jungle that are re-photographed from the 16mm footage Lemieux shot on location. In re-filming the footage, Lemieux abstracted the imagery to slow the camera movements and extend exposure experiments to create gestural brush strokes of light and shadow similar to the technique of the applied paint in Mouvement de lumière. With Lopez’s score, the film creates a sensorial experience that bridges representation and abstraction. The musical phrases move in concert with the gestural swaths of black texture on white, moving in and out of frame. By hand-processing the footage, Lemieux added additional texture and depth to the film through vertical counter-movement – celluloid scratches move against the diagonal and horizontal images of the photographed footage. In the diy spirit of handmade cinema, Lindsay McIntyre revels in the limitations of the film medium. Her first film, How to Make a Phantastik Film (2003), is a satire of an infomercial or educational film, instructing would-be filmmakers on how to use Fantastik cleaning spray to abstract images. From these playful beginnings, McIntyre began to explore alternative approaches to image making and screen representation. This process is evident in McIntyre’s Bloodline series (2008–12),4 biographical portraits of the filmmaker’s family and a geographical

223

Mike Rollo

224

14.5 Karl Lemieux’s Mamori (2010).

study of Baker Lake, Nunavut. The majority of the work is filmed with highcontrast positive black and white film stock, often mediated by light passing through filters and glass to distort the image, which creates subjective aberrations. All the exposed film stock was hand-processed, producing an additional surface tension to the visuals. The result provides a dichotomy of subjective and objective realities. Lacking a personal connection to the landscape before the shooting, McIntyre’s applied technique of filters allows her lived experience of estrangement to be reflected in the shooting process. McIntyre notes: “I didn’t set out with a preconceived idea of how each of the pieces would come together, but each work, whether dealing with a person, the place itself or merely an object, was captured under unique circumstances and so beyond the hand-processing or whatever I did to each film, I responded to the material I was shooting. They are all very different, in some ways” (McIntyre 2015).

Double Negative Collective

McIntyre’s work later expanded to include multiple projector performances, including presentations at Mono Aware and wndx: Festival of Moving Image. A Northern Portrait (2013) is a nine-projector piece originally conceived as an installation but later examined through projector performance. Based on her greatgrandmother’s life in northern Canada, the material started to connect with the activity of a live event. McIntyre reflects: I hadn’t ever thought to mix it live until I was just playing around one day with projectors. I had felt through the editing of all the northern works that they didn’t really convey the beauty and the life that there was up there – they were too stagnant for me – too stale and still as single channel works. I found I could better interact with the images and the concepts when I mixed them and layered them live. The ridiculous addition of live projector audio was an extension of this. Mixing the images live to a static soundtrack wasn’t appropriate so I mix the sound live as well on five 16mm projectors running optical audio loops. (McIntyre 2015)

McIntyre’s recent work focuses on making handmade emulsion and photographing content that betrays the fragility of the film stock. Where We Stand (2013) is a treatise of abandoned movie theatres in various states of disrepair and decay. The image is delicate, the emulsion on the verge of tearing off the plastic base as the camera records the ruins of an abandoned theatre. In thinking about her work, McIntyre acknowledges: My approach to working with film is to be playful and not be afraid of it. I try to look at its physical limitations and see how I might play with those. I consider myself more of a craftsperson than a filmmaker or artist. The film and all the various ways film can be affected or captured are tools. I am mostly just playing to see what I can build. Often projects are not preconceived or planned in any way in advance. I also work alone most of the time. That allows me more freedom to respond as required to the situation. I try to shoot a lot and become so comfortable with the camera and the film in it that it becomes an extension of my eyesight. I try to make the practice of shooting film akin to the immediacy of drawing. (McIntyre 2015)

The films and videos of Eduardo Menz explore the complexity of people and their relationships to geographical spaces, with thematized focuses on identity, communication, and cultural history. Starting with his first piece as a member of the collective, Las mujeres de Pinochet (2005), Menz sourced two clips from Patricio Henríquez’s documentary Images d’une dictature (1999). The video presents

225

226

14.6 Lindsay McIntyre’s Where We Stand (2014).

two perspectives of women who lived under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship: Cecilia Bolocco, the first Chilean to win the Miss Universe beauty pageant in 1987; and burn victim Carmen Gloria Quintana, who was set on fire by the military in 1986 while she was protesting Pinochet’s regime. The structure of Las mujeres de Pinochet is split into two parts to represent each woman’s perspective. The first part reveals a small window of a video feed with an almost inaudible Spanish soundtrack and an oversized subtitle, which crops the words of the English translation. As the video plays, the window increases in scale, the text size shrinks, and the volume of the soundtrack grows louder to reveal an interview with Quintana. Gradually, the window of the video loop reveals the full image of Cecilia, dynamically altering the viewer’s expectations when pieced together with the informational elements of the video image, sound, and text. In the second part, the scale of the window image and text are reversed and the sound begins loudly. The commentary about the beauty queen is heard alongside the video footage of Carmen’s severely burned face. The resulting effect of shock and dismay is even stronger for those who do not understand the Spanish language.

Double Negative Collective

In 2011, Eduardo Menz began exploring techniques in alternative narrative structure and portraiture using plotless story devices where he ambiguously linked sequences of tableaux vivants. In A Film Portrait on Reconstructing 12 Possibilities That Preceded the Disappearance of Zoe Dean Drum (2011), Menz staged twelve scenes using a locked-down camera (save for the last scene that uses a panning movement) to provide an objective lens and reveal possible clues about the disappearance of a child. The shots disclose the interior and exterior spaces of a home in different states of possible post-abduction disarray. The film places emphasis on photographic evidence and blurs the idea of documented “truths” in an image. The rigid framing pushes the viewer into an unsettling objective position, leading one to imagine possible outcomes and multiple scenarios of the constructed crime scenes. With Acrobat in 2012, Menz expands the loose narrative structure by presenting six stand-alone but thematically linked vignettes of human relationships through modern communication technologies. Similar to his camera approach in A Film Portrait on Reconstructing 12 Possibilities That Preceded the Disappearance of Zoe Dean Drum, the locked-down single take pushes a real-time observation of individuals in private spaces (a locker room and a shower). In reviewing Menz’s work, we see a clear fascination with the viewer’s gaze fixating on the actions of the filmmaker’s characters. It is a voyeuristic intrusion, but Eduardo’s camera-eye never allows his characters to be objectified. Philippe Leonard’s first film, Perceptual Subjectivity (2009), forms ideas that are bound by camera and hand-processing techniques to explore relationships in movement, action, and compositional studies of line, shape, and form. The film is a materialist construction of strips, shards, and pieces of film strips, attentively placed upon unexposed, high-contrast film stock and then exposed to light. The result yields collaged and jagged fragments of the film shards passing fleetingly through the frame. The materials produce interesting effects of reversed black and white tones and alchemic stress giving the image more grain, softness in clarity, and higher contrast. Yet, there are moments where the pieces become recognizable. The viewer sees an optical track, perforations, an image of a woman, and text, among others things. However, these images dissolve into abstract formal juxtapositions of visuals and sound. The soundtrack itself thus becomes a reference to the visual construction – the hiss and pop noises sonically relay the visual content passing through the optical reader. Leonard’s follow-up film, I Was Here (2009), is a study of place. Specifically, it is a study of tourist activity in front of the Pantheon in Rome and very much a film about photography. The camera is static, which frames a wide field of view. Using long exposures, Leonard captures the ghostly imprints of people as they

227

Mike Rollo

228

move in and out of the frame in front of the ancient building. Leonard explains that “these images were captured during a long afternoon spent sitting in front of the Pantheon in Rome, paced by the sound of a shutter regularly opening and closing for long exposures whose duration was counted off in a whisper. At precise intervals, the photosensitive surface recorded the constant flow of tourists, people-watchers, cars and animals as they moved, stopped, gathered, and took photos” (Leonard 2015). The image becomes a time capsule, a fleeting reminder of film’s ontological relationship to light and the world. Leonard’s film gestures reference early photography, especially that of the first photograph of human presence captured by Louis Daguerre with his Daguerreotype. The soundtrack is an accumulation of sounds, including tourists chatting and taking photographs while in the act of recording themselves in front of the Pantheon. Leonard notes that “these audio snippets, all recorded in front of the same landmark, tell a collective story through each ‘I’ that has recorded a visit to that same piazza. The clips of murmuring crowds were then edited and manipulated to give them a particular synchronization with the images” (Leonard 2015). The films of Christopher Becks offer personalized experiences and introspective moments. His films Pan of the Landscape (2005) and Parallax (2008) are geographical studies heavily influenced by Stan Brakhage, who used similar techniques including lyrical camera movements, rhythmic cutting, multiple exposures, and painting on celluloid. Becks’s more recent black and white films, Ouverture (2010) and Ritournelle (2012), provide a different approach in style and technique. They investigate the elemental concepts of imaging – tonal value, light and shadow, movement and framing. The content is simple: a barn (Ouverture) and a floor and wall in an apartment (Ritournelle). In Ouverture, Becks used handheld improvisational shooting methods (in Cinemascope) to explore the geometric shapes of an old barn in Normandy. Cutting between moments of movement and stillness, the rhythmic patterns are entrancing and the light and dark shadows wistfully dance on the screen. In Ritournelle, a collaboration with US filmmaker Peter Miller as part of an exquisite corps exercise, Becks uses a Bolex camera to film the light patterns on the floor and walls of his Berlin apartment. The spatial geography at the beginning is abstract but becomes fully contextualized and realized towards the denouement of the piece. My films explore the connections and associations between the mediums of photography and moving image. My first film as a collective member, still | move (2004), is an exploration of a prairie railroad station in Manitoba where my grandfather worked as a dispatcher. The film presents themes of abandonment, family history, vanishing cultures, and autobiography, which have remained con-

Double Negative Collective

sistent in my follow-up work. Formally, the film explores the media of moving pictures and still photography as memory devices to juxtapose the past documents onto the present-day landscape. The framing remains locked on a landscape with photographs exiting and entering the window of the shot. The transition of temporality between past and present is executed by employing changes of colours. With Ghosts and Gravel Roads (2008), filmed on 16mm colour film, I continued to explore my familial roots by shooting in remote locations in the province of Saskatchewan and recording the pinning of family photographs onto abandoned and dilapidated buildings. The process and challenges of documenting the abandoned relics became the focus of the film with the shadow of myself, camera in hand, in the act of documenting the fleeting structures that are awaiting collapse. The act of filmmaking is prominent throughout – I place emphasis on the material of celluloid with fluctuating exposures, fogging and flashing, and changes of focus and registration. The results of these techniques provide a surface tension to the image that references its delicate materiality and the challenges of archive. These formal techniques are pushed further with my follow-up documentary, The Broken Altar (2013), a cinematic study of abandoned and vacant drive-in cinemas. Focused on the structures of the blank screens, the film explores ideas of framing to bridge two-dimensional materiality and three-dimensional space. The choice to use increasingly outmoded 16mm film as a medium reflects the vanishing culture of the open-air theatres. Influenced by the photographic work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and his extended exposures of screens in movie theatres and drive-in cinemas, I pursued the idea to film strictly in the daylight to provide an unfamiliar experience of these architectural structures.

Impossible Pasts and Futures in a Trajectory of Unravelling Present In recent years, Double Negative Collective has improved the studio to accommodate living space for artists-in-residence and an administrative hub that is shared with other groups who engage in similar aesthetic principles. The next phase of Double Negative’s existence is to co-operate more actively with these other arts groups by securing space for a variety of collectives and organizations in an old Mile End factory building, tentatively named Kabane 77. As of the time of publication, Double Negative and other organizations are visioning for, and actively trying to secure, this space. We hope that more creative collaboration and sharing of resources will naturally occur, as well as bring about increased stability from managing or owning a building. While Double Negative has a physical space, the collective is more of a scattered creative commune with individual filmmakers who give it an identity.

229

Mike Rollo

Despite ever-changing circumstances and the naturally occurring challenges of group dynamics, the collective members magically continue to find a sense of creative solidarity and intellectual stimulation together, which we hope similarly excites – and incites – the greater community of cinematic art making. 230 Notes 1 Saïto explains the origin of the collective’s name in an interview with Brett Kashmere for Incite Magazine. Double Negative is open to interpretation; however, Saïto succinctly explains the reason for the name: “What we’re doing is against the current, in a way, in the context of film becoming almost obsolete. In a way it can be seen as going backwards, into the negative. But we’re doing something positive, too” (2009, 88). 2 Double Negative does not have a permanent screening venue and often relies on the partnership and collaboration with venues in Montreal. 3 The Lomo Universal Spiral Processing Tanks are designed for processing many different film sizes and are commonly used by hobby filmmakers and professionals alike. One reel loads approximately 50 feet of 16mm film. 4 McIntyre’s Bloodline series includes the films though she never spoke, this is where her voice would have been (2008), Barge Dirge (2010), where she stood in the first place (2010), her silent life (2011), and ada (2012).

References Double Negative Collective. 2007. Our Manifesto. 3 September. http://doublenegative collective.blogspot.ca/2007/09/our-manifesto.html. Kashmere, Brett. 2009. “Against the Current: A Two-Part Interview with Karl Lemieux (and Daïchi Saïto).” Incite! Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics 1 no. 1 (2009): 69–88. Leonard, Philippe. 2015. “I Was Here.” http://www.philippe-leonard.com/i-was-here/. McIntyre, Lindsay. 2015. Interview with the author. 14 July. Saito, Daïchi. 2013. Moving the Sleeping Images of Things towards the Light. Montreal: Le Laps. – 2015. Interview with the author. 20 April.

Chapter 15 A Short Overview of the Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking in France Frédérique Devaux For Marcel Mazé

From decade to decade, each country displays a particular political, economic, social, and historic logic. Each individual trajectory contains a consistency regardless of the ups and downs of the route this unique history takes. Quite naturally, these logics sometimes overlap and even weave together as a framework and a smoothing of possible historiographic material. In this chapter, this trajectory concerns an “other cinema,” one that is too often assimilated as pure, formal experimentation. I will therefore allow the “I” to weave throughout the two following trajectories – one is that of my “commitment” to experimental cinema in France since the end of the 1970s, and the other is that of this country in which one does not have to be a great cleric to recognize that one is, in many ways, privileged. I shall try to preserve the distance afforded by both the journeys I have taken and the double culture that I have encountered. I am of Kabyle origin through my father. Kabylia is a fairly underprivileged region of Algeria, one where I also lived for several years. Having travelled a lot, it seems to me that, at this distance, the choice is to defend the creative, aesthetic, and marginal regarded as unprofitable – a cinema that has partly emerged, bubbling with interest, but subjected to dominant powers and the immediacy of possible gain. In 1929, Paris housed the first film co-operative for a little more than a year, which was launched after Le Congrès de la Sarraz in Switzerland. In 1928, Pierre Braunberger created “studio film” to support avant-garde production, and in the same year the association Les Amis de Spartacus, dedicated to the diffusion of militant cinema, was launched. No doubt this is one of the reasons the Romanian artist Isidore Isou arrived in Paris in 1945 after having crossed the Iron Curtain to found the Lettrist movement.

Frédérique Devaux

My Discovery of a Different Economy through Lettrism

232

While still a student, I was trying to know everything, see everything, to understand everything, and to better find my own route. My path crossed with the Lettrist movement during a retrospective of the films of Maurice Lemaître at the Centre Georges Pompidou in March 1980. These films were rich with originality and I was seduced by the economic propositions of these auteurs. I appreciated the scratching on the film, which was enough to invent new films, and the use of non-synchronous sound – what Isou has referred to as discrépance. These two practices, among others, worked according to a minimum economy – and with great freedom. One could work from found footage, which was then widely available and inexpensive in Paris, and write on the film as a first skin as if it were a palimpsest. Through the practice of what Isou called “chiseling,” the body becomes fully invested in the artistic approach as evidenced by, though to other ends, the works of Len Lye or Pollock. The film or the canvas returns to the jolts, the bungling, or the serenity of the artist at the time of creation. However, through layers, overlays, and repetitions, it was also possible to propose a sound work, independent of the image, without concern for synchrony. All these aesthetic techniques were handled according to the artist’s wish to have these practices evolve as a function of creativity. With such interventions reconciled, this is what enchanted me – a practice of plasticity and invention with cinematographic tools.

A Few Moments of Distribution in France At the beginning of the 1980s, I became acquainted with broadcast networks, their history, and their present role. Many of the initiatives for the dissemination of this “other cinema” saw the light of day in the middle of the 1970s in Paris and in various other French cities, including Bordeaux and Avignon. These more or less ephemeral attempts (Omnium des cinéastes, Ciné-Golem, and Coopératives des cinéastes, to cite only three) were susceptible to schisms or even disagreements between people. The journals Melba and Cinéma différent, among others associated with some of these distributors, had variable lengths of existence. In 1971, a constituent assembly of about fifteen people inaugurated the cjc (Collectif Jeune Cinéma), with programming proposed in the framework of the Festival d’Hyères. Marcel Mazé, who curated these programs, was a fervent facilitator of the cjc until his death in 2012. This collective was defunct by the end of the 1980s but started again in the 2000s. In 1974, Claudine Eizykman and Guy Fihman created the Paris Film Co-op while teaching this “other cinema” at university.

Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking

The arrival of leftist power on 10 May 1981 in a country led by the right for several decades created a quantum leap in production and distribution, which had little effect on experimental cinema, which was relatively dormant in the 1980s. In 1982, Michel Amarger – my fellow traveller since 1976 and also a filmmaker – and I initiated a festival of films, videos, and photos (the fiag) with four events in various places in Paris. The first edition was held in October 1982. At the same time, Miles McKane and Yann Beauvais inaugurated Light Cone, Paris’s third co-operative. The statutes of these three co-operatives are all modeled on those of the New York Film-Makers’ Cooperative launched in 1962. Over the years, it proved necessary to modify certain statutes, including the non-selection of films and the percentage of rental fees given to filmmakers (70–30 per cent, which was increased to 50–50 per cent). I was a member of each of these three co-operatives, and from 1984 and until now I remain a member of two of them: the cyc and Light Cone. I am part of the office team in these co-operatives, where I participate in selections and undertake various other long- and short-term duties.

My 1980s The 1980s was an important period in my body of film work. I produced many projects and each day dove more and more into the world of experimental film, which was bursting with inventiveness. I made the choice, from this period on, for an independent way of life. I no longer wanted to make concessions for a society increasingly mercantile and focused on immediate profitability. I simply do not agree with such a way of life. Moreover, I understood that experimental cinema does not serve as a springboard for making “large films.” I have thus come to realize this choice throughout all parts of my life. As well, although I have taught at the post-secondary level since 1986 while also teaching at the École nationale supérieure Louis Lumière, I refuse to enter the large door of tenure track and take a post as a professor. This leaves me my freedom to write on still-marginalized work and to support artists without having to worry about the battle for promotion. I engage in the transmission of knowledge, teaching lessons more or less important for experimental cinema, knowing that the first courses in France in the area were offered at the University of Vincennes at the end of the 1960s by Claudine Eizykman and Guy Fihman. During this period, I organized numerous exhibitions around Lettrism. In particular, I was interested in photographic works and travelling programs. To continue this work of circulation and distribution – initiated in the mid-1980s by our production house, Eda – Michel Amarger and I gained recognition for Isou’s film

233

Frédérique Devaux

234

Traité de bave et d’éternité (1951), by projecting it in a mythical cinema from the history of Lettrism – the Cinéma le Cluny, which held the first screening of syncinéma lemaîtrien in 1951. We regularly accompany the works and include conceptual outcomes (le cinéma infinitésimal) and what Isou called “le cinéma supertemporel.” In this way, we were trying to broaden the knowledge of this still little-recognized movement. On Film Side with Film (one of my first films of the 1980s), I worked with found footage. I sculpted, carved, glued, and unglued the film rather than working on each image after each image, which requires a lot of time and attention to detail. I also made Super-8 films and worked with writing and public signs found in the street that were melted with invented spellings. I also used extracts from my works in the plastic arts, which included photographic images. I have always been fascinated by the contingent nature of writing and the relativity of its decryption since it is a function of each person’s personal knowledge and culture. For me, Chinese or Korean characters have an aspect of aesthetic purity devoid of any connotation whereas for a Russian, accustomed to Cyrillic characters, the Latin characters do not convey any meaning. Since the end of the 1970s, Michel Amarger and I have been making documentaries in parallel with our “films de recherche.” At the end of the 1980s, we published several documents and a documentary on a few Lettrist artists. In the 1990s, after having produced many books, articles, documents, and documentaries and coordinating several dozens of exhibitions and events around these works, I became distant from this movement to the point of separating from it. It seemed to me that I had done my work on the artists and their art practices. I retain, however, a great esteem for some of the advances made by this body of work. I particularly appreciate the merits of Isou’s political analysis, the correctness and the creativity of the body of cinematographic works made in the first years, and certain aspects of this founder’s visionary thought. One now realizes that without taking the time to save this history, these artists’ founding premises, and the manner in which their artistic intuitions developed – which sometimes benefited a large number of people – would be lost.

A Network of Laboratories As time has passed, it has become more and more difficult in France to produce copies of my prints through professional laboratories, as laboratory technicians refuse to work on film that is scratched and abused. According to them, such films do not conform to industry standards. They see my request as an act of aggression,

Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking

a threat to their technology. The notched celluloid could, they say, break the workings of their printer. In the face of such arguments I often think that, in reality, the competition is helping them – the number of laboratories is reducing each year and so they have no time to devote to copies of short films, whose progress must be monitored and which are not, according to them, profitable, because they are circulating on the margins of the traditional economic circuit for a restricted public without concern for profit. In effect, I pass whole days leaning on my light table cutting pieces of film, matching them with each other within the framework of a photogram as if I were making mosaics. I also colour the frames by hand or with chemicals. I glue Super8 or I embed 8mm into 16mm, I cut, glue, take the glue off … By chance, I learned in 1996 that people nearby me found a common work space for production. It is an alternative laboratory, L’Abominable. Each artist can make his or her film from beginning to end after having undertaken a day of initiation. However, L’Abominable is not the first alternative space in France. It took a portion of its key organizers from the Workshop mtk, founded in 1992 in Grenoble in the east of France. I then went to Asnières, a commune in the suburbs of Paris, to an immense basement for lovers of film that we often compared to Ali Baba’s cave. Here I learned the basics of shooting. I had already done a lot of photographs, which helps a lot, and practised the development of Super-8 by shooting negatives, processing film, and, a little later, layering sounds on magnetic tape. The philosophy of this place is “do it yourself.” The costs of the film or development correspond closely to their market price. In other words, these rates no longer have any relation with those charged by the industry. Very diverse “generations” gained success at L’Abominable. At its moment of creation, mostly experimental filmmakers came together, whereas in the 2010s there is a greater mix of directors working in forms close to documentaries. Other labs quickly spread in France and then throughout Europe. Today, there are thirty alternative production labs in Europe and approximately eight in the Americas. We often go to meetings of the travelling labs. What we call home on these days of informal travel depends on the goodwill of our filmmaker-hosts. The first meeting between the various labs, which took place in 1995 in Grenoble, launched the journal L’Ébouillanté. This publication has become the source of technical information and practical processes in regards to the materiality of the cinema. I attended the meetings in Brussels in 2005 and in Zagreb in 2011.

235

Frédérique Devaux

Lab Films

236

The filming or the recovery of found footage (I prefer the term “chosen footage,” because of the long series of choices I often have to make working with kilometres of film) is a moment of fun and discovery. As soon as I began at L’Abominable, I spent hours in the wet lab developing film. I especially liked to look through a loop at the optical printer to monitor the tiny frame of the Super-8 image at the moment it is blown up to 16mm. I would leave with terrible neck pain, as hours of bending is not ideal for the neck or the back. That is important! However, enlarging film this way serves to facilitate other techniques such as cutting, additions, and superimpositions. I work as a craftsman – each image is unique and each shot is singular. At the time of the exposure of successive images, I often improvise with their order and their length. I decide at the last moment the number of photograms and the manner in which I will advance or reverse the image; at times I will pull the camera lens back so the borders of the image can be seen as they are usually left out of view. I almost always undertake the final editing as a print. The shutter is coupled to a computer. It’s fine to print this image four times, this image two times, skip it, go back, drag the film by pressing “Record” at the time, passing the two photograms and reversing the image. Sometimes, I compose scores. I then program the computer to follow these metrics. Everything is possible and feasible. For the last opus of my K, [K (Pourquoi, pourquoi) 2008)] I no longer worked from a base of traditional celluloid. I worked in front of the lens, with photograms held at the end of a long medical forceps. As well, L’Abominable has broadened my aesthetic, my way of working, and my degree of experimentation. My inventiveness, and the questioning that accompanies it, are focused not only on the filming but also on the pace, the colours, and the framing/de-framing/cropping between two planes. I work with the grain of some frames, highlight various parts of the image, drag fragments into the lens, and seize the movement forever. The scenes are thus live and vibrating, transformed into living cells. I like to manipulate the diaphragm of the camera from one shot to another, or even within the same shot. I can put up to four layers of film – positive and negative alike – onto each other. I cut the 35mm as if it were 16mm and test the possibilities of a variety of formats. I always ensure congruence between content and form. In 2004, for K (Les Femmes), I printed multiple copies of the same image, which became darker and darker (including women preparing couscous for a dinner) to highlight the status of women in the mountains. For Kabyle men, women must remain in the

237

15.1 Frédérique Devaux’s K (Exil) (2008).

background of social space – they must feed, gestate, and educate, but always act in the shadow of society, never to be seen in public spaces. This status applies to the whole of Algeria. In order to examine society’s desire to marginalize this population further, in 2006 and 2007 I proceeded to carefully collage a variety of spaces in Europe onto the images captured in Kabylia in K (Rêves berbères) and K (Exil), respectively. This process helped to ensure that these foreign cities were not recognizable. Those who wish exile dream of departure – so, the blurring in these films makes sure that the places cannot be identified. It is a sort of dream of the dream. In other words, it is a fantasy without a precise outline and detached from real objects. The question “why?” (why this injustice? why this abandonment of central power? why this misery?) in K (Acugher Acimi) (2008) – which means K (Pourquoi? pourquoi?) – led me to animate photograms held at the end of a long surgeon’s forceps. I preferred to re-film this way because it allows the film to continuously advance as if in front of the lens. For these disgraced and broken lives, it seemed to me that these photograms had been torn from a living totality. As such, I used them as the filmic ribbon because these people are, in fact, most often powerless to improve their present difficulties due to lack of education, especially among women and certain peasants.

238

15.2 Left Frédérique Devaux, Holes.

15.3 Opposite Frédérique Devaux, Luttes Amazigh.

L’Abominable regularly develops new equipment. Whether or not it is used to make magnetic – and later optical – sound on 35 mm, these are instruments that expand the range of possibilities. These tools are acquired from flea markets or are donated by traditional laboratories, and require great precision in their handling. As a result, I am now able to control the level of colour rendering, among other benefits. Before shooting the copy, I have to first test the material. However, this rigour is accompanied by an immense satisfaction when I finally get what I want – for example, the reds and yellows that can be seen in Kabylia. Each year, I produce one or even two films from beginning to end. Thus far, I have made twenty short films at L’Abominable. Each one represents for me a new experience, and one that is never disappointing. Sometimes I am even pleased by my own mistakes, as they have allowed me to discover an effect that I had not

239

imagined. Once, I forgot to close the vats of chemicals, and then the next day, when I developed the film, all the film from the tank was green, and a very particular green, one that I had not intended or desired. Surprised but delighted, I used the footage in Logomagie (1997). This freedom of hand-processing as part of the production enhances creativity and expands the filmmaker’s imagination while at the same time relieving the financial worries of realizing a film. It is just the film stock – frequently Super-8 then blown up to 16mm at L’Abominable – that I have to buy through traditional circuits. I understand now what happened in the 1960s when the London FilmMakers’ Co-op put a laboratory in place, leading to the “structuralist” films of this period. I consciously share the enthusiasm of that co-operative’s filmmakers,

Frédérique Devaux

240

which is still perceptible in their works today. L’Abominable is also a place of sharing and exchange, of mutual assistance and discussions in project development, and of acquiring new equipment or programming screenings. Bridges are built naturally between this production place and such co-operatives as Light Cone and Le Collectif Jeune Cinéma, which list L’Abominable films in their catalogues. Over L’Abominable’s ten years of existence, there has emerged a wide variety of works from this small paradise for safeguarding celluloid. A panorama of this decade of creation allowed the public to get acquainted, in 2006 and 2007, with about sixty films, installations, and cinematographic performances that were screened in a cinema and in galleries once a month in Pantin, a suburb of Paris.

Committing to, and Discounting Questions of, Institutional Standards At L’Abominable, we often discuss the ways in which we could improve the production and visibility of cinéma de recherche. We wrote the manifesto “Expérimental, c’est pas mon genre” (see chapter 17 in this volume). Even if I am not in agreement as to the last part of the title – the real problem, in my opinion, is the partitioning of genres that prevents one from considering cinema in its entirety – the text as drafted contains proposals to improve the recognition of experimental cinema in France, at all levels of the operational chain. We face the old dilemma – a French one it seems to me – which is to ask if experimental cinema is part of the plastic arts or of cinema. This question has repeatedly served powerful institutions. Both the Centre national du cinéma and the Centre national des arts plastiques have refused to support us, each organization sending us to the other, not knowing exactly how to define experimental cinema and especially how to situate these relatively rigid conceptions. As a result of this manifesto, publicly presented in November 2002 in a cinema in Pantin, the cnc (National Film Centre) agreed to change the conditions for the filing of applications for grants by not requiring, for instance, the submission of a scenario (“direct production of the film – without going through any stage of writing,” as the manifesto states). The cnc also set up a commission to assist creative short films and essay films with a group of evaluators who are familiar with this type of cinema and who screen, as necessary, previous achievements. Still, the cnc refuses to recognize the related production experience as “central to the development of the third-sector audiovisual, associated television, independent documentary and experimental cinema,” as we wrote. This national body subsequently supports, more regularly and sometimes more effectively, collective production and distribution workshops. In short, both our appeal and our proposals have been partially heard and so partially lead to new outcomes.

Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking

Other Experiences of Distribution and (re-) Knowledge of Cinéma de Recherche in France As early as 1983, Miles McKane and Yann Beauvais put in place a series of weekly screenings that I attended regularly to improve my knowledge of experimental cinema. These screenings, called “Scratch,” still exist today; although they take place on a less regular basis, they have greatly contributed to increasing the public for this cinema, often deemed difficult to access. In 2001, Light Cone established a documentation centre that allows archival access to researchers who wish to write the critical history of this cinema. Will experimental cinema soon be considered not simply an adjunct to cinema but fully and definitively part of the history of the seventh art? I contend that experimental cinema is complementary to “mainstream” cinema and so must quickly become its ally as well. These two forms of the same major art form could, in concert, lead to the creation of a rapport between the two forms, which could finally improve, through these new modes, the flow of culture and the questions that accompany this evolution. The 2000s in France have also been rich in terms of circulation. Le Festival des cinémas différents takes place annually, and the activities of the cjc – in hibernation for a little over a decade – have resumed. The young generation is, thus, not idle. Since 1997, L’association Braquage/le cinéma visuel has promoted the works of artists, both young and already canonized, while producing ten issues of the journal Exploding. As well, the cjc has edited twelve issues of Étoilements between 2007 and 2011.

Digital or Not? However, all these activities do not save us from the nagging question of how to locate ourselves in an audiovisual landscape that is more and more dominated by the digital. Analog projection (16mm, 35mm, and Super-8) has become scarce, celluloid disappears little by little, and here and there we collect printers and other apparatus to stock L’Abominable. Etna, another group of filmmakers in Paris, does the same in order to offer film training and workshops. Sometimes we see exciting hybrid works that merge video images, Super-8, internet footage, and hand-painted film. These artists use both Final Cut Pro and the optical printer in the same way as visual artists wield watercolour, gouache, chisels, oils, or acrylics without distinction. While the media have changed and the procedures in the cinéma de recherche are evolving, they may yet disappear if we do not expand to embrace new aesthetic purposes – it will be the end of the “scratch film” if we are not careful!

241

Frédérique Devaux

242

I have also more and more frequently shot on video even if Super-8 can be brought discreetly into countries such as Algeria, where I go regularly. For several years, I hosted video workshops there because there is no audiovisual training school and even fewer places to buy film. Training in cinéma de recherche cannot be done in homeopathic doses. Filmmakers on the margins, called amateurs in Algeria, can be counted on one hand. So, when works such as those by Ahmed Zir circulate beyond Algeria’s borders, I celebrate them loudly. Light Cone, like the cjc, has long been averse to video. However, they now welcome projects on Mini dv and help to make dcp (Digital Cinema Package) works. As well, Light Cone has recently inaugurated a residency in aid of postproduction video called Atelier 105.

This Yesterday/Yes-today We meet regularly at Light Cone, the cjc, and L’Abominable to talk about cinema, new horizons of exploration, and what the future holds. Finally, the micro-economy of the cinéma de recherche, set up in particular by Isidore Isou and his fellow travellers in the 1950s, has flourished and seems to us to have a good future ahead – not as an end in itself, but as a means of being heard and seen and thus going beyond its previously hidden status. During these past years, I have continued to invest in these alternative structures while pursuing my film work. Alongside Michel Amarger, in 2000, I decided to produce a series of filmed monographs on artists (including Marcel Hanoun, Stephen Dwoskin, Stéphane Marti, and Rose Lowder) and to offer accounts of the wealth of materials in a variety of places (for example, Light Cone, the cinéma de recherche in Beirut). This series is entitled Cinexpérimentaux. Since 2009 we have undertaken a small tour of the world to bring to light this independent and creative filmmaking through a feature-length film, Cinémas de traverse, in three parts filmed on four continents. In the absence of substantial financial resources, all of these documentaries have been made on video, to my great regret I must confess. We made a choice to be independent filmmakers from the beginning and we want to preserve the freedom that has been the engine of all our actions since we started in the 1980s. This feature film, as with this series, pays tribute to the artisans of film – to their know-how and their creativity. However, the digital does not hinder me in the pursuit of a parallel approach to film, nor does it prevent me from communicating, as much as I can, the love of this medium to my students. They have never seen or touched film. Yet, some of them suffer nostalgia for a period they have not known, captivated by what I tell them. These are moments when they are fully captured by optics, acoustics, and

Production and Distribution of Alternative Filmmaking

the haptic. This frees them to support the approach we have undertaken, which is experiencing an increased visibility – one that, in my opinion, is still too marginal. However, through this new means of communication, different voices emerge that will help us evolve towards a world where we can coexist, where we will cohere, and where we will support everyone according to their desires and needs.

243

Chapter 16 Letter to Frédérique Devaux concerning Isou’s Traité de bave et d’éternité Stan Brakhage 21 June 1993 Dear Mme Devaux, (Can’t write well, or at length, inasmuch as I have a dead nerve in writing hand; but I will attempt to make this as legible as possible): I was at the U.S. premiere of tde [Traité de bave et d’éternité] (named “Venom and Eternity” in English, and considerable [sic] shortened from its original release, so I was told – then, and still now, available in the U.S. as approximately 1 hour and a ½) in the sf “Art in Cinema” series run by Frank Stauffacher in the mid 1950s: this film created a riot in the audience, much banging of folding chairs, boos, hisses, walk-outs and the like – although I paid very little attention to the social upheaval around me because I was so concentrated upon this film. Despite the narrative insistence upon the avantgarde-ness of the film, tde as a masterpiece of cinema, and Isou (to answer your question #3) as a film-maker of considerably more importance than “Griffith, Chaplin, Von Stroheim” – for they, as so many others of great worth, are deflected from any possible art of Film because of their subservience to narrative-dramatics, their harnessing of Film aesthetics to be in-the-serviceof theatre, the novel, the short story or even Painting, Poetry, Music. Isou is the first film-maker to tackle the filmic servitude problem head-on … perhaps because of his deep commitment to writing: it is, otherwise, ironic that such a great story-teller as Isou should be the 1st to make “story” completely distinct (on sound track) from both photography and editing of tde; and, in addition, he eschews the “pictorial” – placing, thus, all aesthetic emphasis on movement; subtlety of movement, whether the moving pictures of tde are scratched over or not. The scratches, and other abrasions of film surface, are emphatically not “pictorially beautiful” either: they make new beauty only … and in a way only possible with Film – intrinsic to Film.

Letter to Frédérique Devaux

I’ve seen tde over 50 times, I’m sure, teaching it often in class, revelling in it each new encounter, the initial experience of its visceral alive-ness always present as tangible shocks of light in the room, rhythms at one with animalFilm; yet each new view gives me always new insights along with confirmed sensibility of the integral focus of each section of it … (I cannot comment upon the whole formal integrity because I’ve only seen those sections which Raymond Robauer decided to distribute in the U.S. when he bought those rights). As I said, in me tribute to tde and Isou (at my Beaubourg lectures, autumn 1992) I consider that the Lumiere [sic] Brothers, and Georges [sic] Melies, constitute the “2 wings” of cinema from Films’ birth – the Lumieres [sic] responsible for that aspect of Film which records movements organized within the aesthetics of picture-making, or re-presentation … Melies [sic] the magician, creator of the 1st transformations of “the pictured” into light, into an articulation of light-likenesses into lightning – sometimes in literal puffs of lightwhite “smoke,” but always in accordance with rhythmed movement, thus the whole synaptic electrical rhythm of the animal nervous system. D.W. Griffith (for all his worthiness as a film-maker) is only a grammarian story-yeller in comparison – grammar of great importance until one begins to consider Film as an Art … i.e. as a moving environment creating a “world” of integrity – each aspect of it integral with every other – which has a “life,” like we say, of its own! Then grammar may have no more importance than the clothes of the actors of a drama – shifting to suit the season or the gestures of the times. As to story-telling – that’s something better left linguistic: pictures, moving or not, can never be more than subservient illustrations when tacked to story. In the above context of the Lumieres [sic] and Melies [sic] as “the 2 wings” of Film, I take Isou to be the visceral backbone, complete with electrically “scratched” nervous system synaptics – all rhythms tending to that consciousness we know as cathexis or investment. His tde has certainly been prime inspiration for all of my film-making, since I first saw it, and for many of the independent U.S. film-makers … and I do not simple mean for (how did you put it?) the “scratch or blinking films.” tde is at one with the aesthetic of the moving picture imagery and in its subtle weave of be-seemingly dull photography (which effectively obliterates traditional and slavishly composed photography – whether scratched-over, turned upside-down or not). tde opens each sensibility (that will be open to it) for new feeling about film, thus for the new feelings each might have uniquely rising in each self appropo [sic] that which is intrinsically Film. I know no other work of cinema which, without intruding its own aesthetic, more frees human sensibility to dance, in the mind’s eye, with cinematic possibilities.

245

Stan Brakhage

246

You ask why critics have avoided this film: it drowns their verbal harnesshold on the medium. Most critics are, anyway, determined to have their childhood escapist movie going experiences sanctified as Art, themselves the high priests thereof. We don’t have one book of Film history which treats the subject as one would expect ordinarily of any book dealing with 20th century painting or sculpture, music or poetry or even architecture and theatre … not one! So how can you expect critics, or academicians to be even enables to see, let alone hear, tde? Is the film “mythical”?, you ask. “Myth” means “mouth” and I’d say tde is all “backbone,” rather. It is I, here, whom am mythical – invoking Pegassus [sic] or some-such bird, with my “2 wings” soforth. And if you understand what I mean, then you’ll begin to question whether Film, any or all films, can possibly be something so linguistic as “myth,” so literary as “bird,” with or without “horse head.” Then you would be in a good frame of mind to view (and hear) tde by Jean-Isodore Isou. – Stan Brakhage

i.3 Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, Begone Dull Care (1949). Courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.

1.4 Frames from: top, Len Lye’s Trade Tattoo (1937); bottom, Len Lye’s Rhythm (1957).

2.2 Top “Copycat,” segment four of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

2.3 Bottom “Night Writing,” segment seven of Notebook (1966) by Marie Menken.

3.1 Film strip from Aggy Read, Far Be It Me from It (1971).

3.3 Frame enlargement from Richard de Souza, Landscape 1 (1984).

3.5 Film strips from Lee Smith, Luna Soma (1997).

3.6 Frame enlargement from John Harrison, Terra Incognita (1999).

4.2 Opposite top Still from Esther Urlus, Konrad & Kurfurst (2013).

4.3 Opposite bottom Still from Makino Takashi, Still in Cosmos (2009).

5.2 and 5.4 Untitled artworks by Carl Brown.

8.2 16mm filmstrips from David Gatten, What the Water Said nos. 1–3 (1997–98).

8.3 Frames from David Gatten, What the Water Said nos. 4–6 (2006).

8.4 and 8.5 Still image from Jennifer Reeves, Landfill 16 (2011).

8.6 35mm frames from Tomonari Nishikawa, Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2014).

9.1 and 9.2 Opposite Still from Bruce Elder, 1857 (Fool’s Gold) (1981).

9.3 and 9.4 Still from Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, fugitive l(i)ght (2005).

9.5 Still from Blake Williams, Red Capriccio (2014).

10.1 Selection of filmstrips from Kelly Egan, Breath (2003). Some of the words from a haiku (written by Fukuda Chiyo-ni, one of the few female haiku poets of pre-modern Japan) can be seen in the soundtrack of the 16mm filmstrip.

12.1 Five frame enlargements from J.J. Murphy’s 16mm film Print Generation (USA, 1974), showing the differences between a filmed image reprinted through many generations (first image), three intermediate stages (second to fourth images), and the image printed from the camera negative (last image).

12.2 Enlargement from film strip showing four full frames from Michael Snow’s 16mm film To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (Canada, 1991). This strip shows how the chemical surface treatments can change at a completely different rate from the “pro-filmic” changes or movements recorded by the camera.

12.3 Frame enlargement from Phil Solomon’s 16mm film Twilight Psalm II: Walking Distance (USA, 1999).

14.1 Daïchi Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009).

14.2 Daïchi Saïto’s Never a Foot Too Far, Even (2012).

14.3 Malena Szlam’s Cronograma de un tiempo inexistente (2008).

14.4 Malena Szlam’s Lunar Almanac (2013).

19.1 Above and following page Frames from Webber’s film untitled film, ca. 1940s.

25.4 Frame enlargement from Deirdre Logue’s Moohead (1999).

26.1, 26.2, 26.3 Frames from Jennifer Reeves’s Strawberries in the Summertime (2013).

28.3 Still from Lindsay McIntyre’s A Northern Portrait (2011–16).

28.4 Still from Aaron Zeghers’s Holland, Man. (2015).

30.4 Film still from Daïchi Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009). 35mm, 10 minutes, colour, sound.

30.5 Video still from Jacques Perconte’s Impressions (2012). 48 minutes, digital.

32.1 Cartridge for Super Mario Clouds (2002).

Chapter 17 Experimental? It’s Not My “Type”! Frédérique Devaux Over the past few years we have witnessed an increase of visibility of so-called experimental or different cinema within institutions. The rare festivals, cinematheques, and museums that supported it are now joined by screening venues and programmers who previously ignored it. Films with no budget, created entirely on the fringes of established production circuits, are shown at international festivals such as Berlin, Locarno, and Venice … Experimental cinema is being taught more and more in universities and students are discovering films that were previously unknown, forbidden, or ridiculed. The work of those who have been trying for thirty years to make it known is finally bearing its fruits. When someone now asks a filmmaker: “What kind of films do you make?,” experimental comes third, after fiction and documentary. Even festival submission forms now include a box marked “experimental” under the section Genre. And today, the Centre national du cinéma has added the term to the triad “fiction, documentary, animation” in its grant proposal form for short films. In light of this evolution, we refuse that experimental cinema be considered simply an additional “type” or “genre” within industrial cinema. The formal parameters should not obscure the fact that experimental film consists of a global conception of cinema, with its own systems of production, distribution, and exhibition. It would be a mistake to reduce experimental cinema to merely a particular aesthetic or a series of more surprising or less spectacular images. From one end of the chain to the other, experimental cinema is a practice, an economy, and a commitment in itself. Since the 1960s, an alternative network of screening venues (authentically alternative) has developed around distribution co-operatives, screening films for the most part in squats, abandoned factories, self-managed art spaces, and ad hoc screening rooms, out in the open air or hidden deep in basements. At times, these exhibitors work with more established spaces during thematic or regular programming: arthouse movie theatres, museums, galaries, festivals, etc. … Such incursions have shown for a long time now that this cinema was not condemned to remain an eternal secret.

Frédérique Devaux

248

True, the recent infatuation for experimental cinema corresponds to a production that increased dramatically during the 1990s with more and more frequent screenings that followed, suddenly widening the audience in question. Still, no true recognition ever took place on behalf of institutions. Constantly tossed back and forth between plastic arts and cinema, it is on the fringe where filmmakers have continued to produce films and form an incredibly dynamic yet incredibly fragile network. Today, at a time when a narrow tip of the government agencies contributing to showing such films defends them, it would be paradoxical that those agencies which in fact have the task of helping with production continue to ignore their existence. A certain recognition is both inevitable and necessary. The old strategy of the Underground – to mine away galleries down below until the surface above collapses – can no longer hold: we are already discovered. But as inevitable and necessary as it is, such recognition must be handled with care. It must rely upon existing groups and respect their existing channels of screening and distribution. This network must not be brutally institutionalized, but rather be supported within its natural ecology. The worst would be to freeze experimental cinema as a heritage; its simple stereotyping as a “genre” would be like mummifying it on credit. As soon as experimental cinema comes out of its splendid isolation, we must lay a foundation capable of resisting annexation by something more powerful than itself, so that it can make its voice heard and invent new forms and new ways of reaching an audience and so that its critical position may remain in stride with the world around it. Times have changed; experimental cinema should come out of its shell and engage in productive dialogues with other more recent audiovisual practices: video arts, public access television, fringe documentary, and other forms of experimental audiovisual production in general. In this frame of mind and given the fact that there is no institutional representive capable of taking into account – neither as a whole, nor with sufficient acuteness – the specific field of creation in which we are the actors, we publicly propose the following good ideas:

Production 1 2 3 4 5

Recognize that film producers can also be non-profit organizations. Support collective production cooperatives. Allow access to grants for individual projects. Form competent committees for this domain. Return the g.r.e.c. to film experimentation, or let the Athenians reach their goals.

Experimental? It’s Not My “Type”!

Post-Production 6 Develop support for post-production at the work-print stage.

Distribution 7 Reinforce support to the heart of the network: the distribution co-operatives.

Promotion 8 Insure the promotion of experimental cinema made in France.

Exhibition 9 Heighten awareness within regional contemporary art centres to the existence as well as to the specificities of experimental cinema. 10 Increase ten-fold the authorizations for non-commercial screenings in theatres classified in France as “art house” or “non-commercial.”

Post-Scriptum 11 In case we need some cash … Provinces – Paris – Pantin, 16 November 2002

249

Chapter 18 A Dangerous Encounter: Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order’s Archive of Authoritarianism Veronika Kusumaryati

18.1 Introductory lecture at Lab Laba-Laba workshop.

While searching through racks of rigid, sticky celluloid, Edwin found crates of films with titles that are familiar to those, like himself, who grew up during the New Order Indonesia. At the heart of these found films was Pengkhianatan G 30 S / PKI (Arifin C. Noer, 1984), a New Order propaganda film about the so-called treason of the Indonesian Communist Party, then the third-largest Communist party in the world. In March 2014, Edwin and his fellow filmmakers founded Lab Laba-Laba1 in the studio that produced the film, the Indonesian State Production Film Center (in Indonesian Produksi Film Negara or pfn hereafter). Located in a working-class neighbourhood of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, pfn is a complex

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order

of studios and dark, gloomy, and humid film laboratories that used to be the largest in Southeast Asia. This essay will focus on the works of Lab Laba-Laba, a film collective founded by a group of young filmmakers who inhabit, salvage, develop, recreate, re-print, curate, and present crates of celluloid from the state’s vaults to reveal the material history of the country’s inglorious past. During the New Order’s rule (1966–98), the authoritarian regime depended on the celluloid and its distribution control to erase the traces of the brutal massacre of left-wing intellectuals, filmmakers, peasants, workers, and students on which the regime was founded, and to represent itself as a legitimate ruler of the people.2 The occupation of pfn, one of the most important nodes in the New Order’s medial system and the battles that followed will be considered in the context of Lab Laba-Laba’s interaction and fascination with the archive of authoritarianism and its rapid obsolescence.

Lab Laba-Laba We are very interested in PFN because they have a lot of ‘orphan’ footage. When we found the footage, we [were] like wow. This is so extraordinary! They have so many things and they just leave it in the storage. When we saw it, there were so many possibilities that we could do, that we could learn. We never encountered as many [sic] equipment and the materials as in PFN. This is a new medium for digital natives. Most of us only know [celluloid] from books, or in the museum, whereas in the PFN, it’s just there … being abandoned. We can touch. It is something that feels real. – Edwin (pers. comm.)

Members of Lab Laba-Laba are drawn by expressive and creative possibilities of celluloid first and the history of pfn second but, in reality, these two aspects are inseparable.3 Most members are artists or students of art, film, and media who have limited or no prior knowledge of celluloid processing. Hence, for most of them celluloid is a new medium. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, after the arrival of video then digital technology in Indonesia in the 1990s, analog technology was no longer considered as a feasible technology for the film industry. The structure of the Indonesian film industry can explain why the transformation to digital technology, particularly in the production domain, occurred very quickly. One of the most important aspects of the Indonesian analog film industry was the control of celluloid import and other film supplies. The New Order specifically imposed a relatively high tax for celluloid imports, which made wide-gauge film

251

Veronika Kusumaryati

252

affordable only for the industry.4 Beside pfn, there were only a handful of labs working with 16mm and 35mm film, most of which were owned by Chinese Indonesians and heavily controlled by the state. When the Jakarta Arts Institute (Institut Kesenian Jakarta) was established in 1972 – the only film school for the 240 million population until 2009 – there was still little opportunity for non-corporate filmmakers or artists to work with the celluloid. In the 1970s, experimental filmmakers like D.A. Peransi and Gotot Prakosa (both were affiliated with the art school) championed 8mm and16mm to produce some of their most important works, but by the 1990s experimental and independent filmmakers turned to video then digital technology.5 In 1998, Uninvited (Rizal Mantovani and Jose Poernomo), a horror film made with a digital camera, was screened at commercial theatres, which marked the industry’s transition to digital cinema. With this, knowledge of celluloid, and of handmade and hand-processed film faded alongside the disappearance of film studios, labs, and analog filmmakers. Initially, Lab Laba-Laba merely borrowed pfn’s processing facilities, but once they discovered pfn’s footage, Lab Laba-Laba’s trajectory changed radically. “Personally, I am not that interested in working with industrial celluloid formats such as 16 and 35mm but when we found the film vaults and it has something to do with the history of information in Indonesia, I began to go on board,” says Rizki Lazuardi, a member of Lab Laba-Laba. Edwin, who was trained at the Jakarta Arts Institute and the Netherland Film Academy with access to celluloid, began organizing a small workshop for those who were interested in celluloid. The workshop consisted of shooting that used analog technology and processing, as well as learning how to make a chemical solvent for the processing. The workshop attracted many students and brought people to the pfn. After the “discovery” of the pfn storage room, Lab Laba-Laba began to focus their works on the footage itself. With pfn’s approval, Lab Laba-Laba began identification works, cleaning, revitalization of analog film machines, celluloid restoration when possible, and artistic interpretation. Lab Laba-Laba also held public presentations and workshops to introduce footage and analog film equipment to Indonesians. In other words, Lab Laba-Laba makes available some films that are otherwise inaccessible to the Indonesian public. Lab Laba-Laba made use of terms like “orphan” and “discovery” as artistic and political terms not unlike the history of these terms in the United States. In 1992, the US Film Preservation Act was passed in response to the request of the moving image archival community to secure federal funding for many types of moving image collections and materials that did not receive sufficient public attention. These included documentaries, newsreels, the avant-garde, independent

253

18.2 Film processing at Lab Laba-Laba.

film, and home movies (Lukow 1999). Moving images that fell under this category were called orphans and thus determined to be placed under the guardianship of the state. In the Indonesian case, the term “orphans” proved to be much more complicated as pfn, as the representative of the state, still holds the rights – commercial or otherwise – to this footage. This is even more puzzling when the material in question is important historical footage of the previous government, such as footage of Pengkhianatan G 30 S / PKI . In addition to Pengkhianatan G 30 S / PKI , members of Lab Laba-Laba found a 300-metre length of 16mm film entitled Membasmi Jin (Eradicating the Genie) and a highly popular animated series Si Unyil. During the course of their engagement, they found 853 titles in pfn’s storage room. Lab Laba-Laba estimates that at least 1,000 more titles need to be catalogued in pfn storage rooms.6 pfn itself has donated its collection to the National Archive since 1981. From 1981 to 1985, they gave 21,809,200 feet (24,523 reels) of 16mm and 35mm films. The materials include footages from the program The Spirit of Indonesia (1962), The Spirit of Development (1970), Special Programs (1962), documentaries, semidocumentaries, feature films, and stock shots.7 After the dissolution of the Ministry of Information in 1999, most documents about pfn have disappeared from an official record or stay behind closed doors at the National Archive without any

Veronika Kusumaryati

254

18.3 Film documents on display at Lab Laba-Laba.

professional archivist paying attention to the celluloid. pfn itself was left abandoned for more than twelve years. Today, there are 55,000 films in the Indonesian National Archive but only 11,000 can be publicly accessed (Edwin 2016).8 Despite these disparaging realities, Lab Laba-Laba conducts a number of film processing workshops in which participants learn the process of colouring film by using natural dyes, hand-processing, painting, and tinting. In their practices with pfn’s footage, the participants present most of the propaganda materials in a native format without any alteration whatsoever on the material.9 Few films that are heavily processed maintain their “fidelity” but do so through what Hito Steyerl calls “the act of labeling” (2003). As suggested by Indonesian film archivist Lisabona Rahman, Lab Laba-Laba treats the materials as an artifact that has an evidentiary status of some sort (personal correspondence, March 2016).10 However, what evidence does Lab Laba-Laba want to bring forward, and for what purposes?

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order

The History of PFN To understand Lab Laba-Laba’s works, we need to understand the institutional context of pfn. pfn is a state film corporation founded in 1945, the year of Indonesian independence. Thus, although it had an antecedent in the colonial period, the story of pfn is the story of Indonesia. pfn films have become, as Atmarno puts it, a “media dokumentasi,” a medium for documentation and an archive of the growth of the Indonesian nation-state (1969, 1). pfn began with the film company Java Pacific Film founded by Indo-European Albert Balink in 1934. In 1936, Java Pacific Film was converted into Algemeen Nederlands Indische Filmsyndicaat (anif), which made newsreel and feature films for the emerging cinema market in the Dutch colony. anif produced the first talkie in the Netherlands East Indies in 1938. In 1940, anif went bankrupt and was sold to nv MultiFilm Harlem Holland, which focused solely on the production of newsreels and documentaries. During the Japanese occupation, the company assumed a new name Nippon Eiga Sha under the department of propaganda (Sandenbu) of the Japanese army. An Indonesian, R.M. Soetarto, headed Nippon Eiga Sha under the supervision of Colonel Matshushida and S. Ohya. During the Japanese years, the studio became the propaganda machine for the war efforts with the production of newsreels, documentaries, and feature films and the distribution of Japanese films in Indonesia. After the Indonesian proclamation of independence on 17 August 1945, former Nippon Eiga Sha’s crews were active recording historical events surrounding the proclamation, such as the mass gathering in Ikada Square in September 1945, the first meeting deemed important for the new country. R.M. Soetarto and his colleagues founded Berita Film Indonesia (Indonesian Film News), which took over Nippon Eiga Sha on 6 October 1945 and aligned itself to the new administration under the Ministry of Information.11 During the Dutch military aggression, Indonesian Film News was at the forefront of war documentation. Until after the roundtable conference of 1949, production still focused on newsreel, feature films, and documentaries. From 1946 to 1949 the Indonesian Film News made at least thirteen documentations of important historical events. During the Sukarno years in the 1950s and early 1960s, most of pfn’s productions were about Sukarno’s political programs such as The Three People Commands (broadcast on 17 February 1962), which deals with Sukarno’s campaign to take over the Netherlands New Guinea (current day West Papua) from The Netherlands and Ganefo (The Games of New Emerging Forces) in Jakarta in 1962. A newsreel program was created under the banner of The Spirit of Indonesia, which until 1962 had reached almost 500 episodes. The Spirit of

255

Veronika Kusumaryati

256

Indonesia was a collection of newsreel from all over the archipelago that was regularly screened in Indonesian cinema theaters until about 1962. When tvri, the state television station, was founded in 1962, The Spirit of Indonesia moved to the television screen. The programs ran for ten minutes and each title was screened for one week. During this period, pfn received a US$650,000 grant from the Technical Cooperation Administration (tca) of the United States. The US government also paid five experts to help the Indonesian film industry implement the tca scheme.12 US involvement in pfn was much more intensive than some experts have thought (see Sen 1994 and van Heeren [2012, 3]). According to a document of the Indonesian Ministry of Information dated 18 August 1954, No. ai/152, upon the request of the Indonesian government, the US government helped pfn in the construction of their new studios, purchasing new and more modern film equipment and training pfn staff.

PFN during the New Order Although its role during the Sukarno’s years is no less crucial, pfn’s reputation predominantly comes from their works during the New Order. In fact, the pfn could be considered the representation of the New Order’s history itself. The New Order came to power in 1966 and ruled until 1998 after Suharto’s demise due to popular protests. Many have argued that during the New Order, cinema was used to create a national culture (Heider 1991, Said 1991, and Sen 1994), but I would go further by suggesting that cinema was the foundation of the New Order regime in ways that are unprecedented in Indonesian history. More than other expressive forms, cinema became the dominant basis in which the historical significance of the New Order should be understood, to the extent that the survival of the New Order can be perceived as an effect of cinematic representation. During the New Order, cinema and cinematic institutions became what Tagg calls a technology of history, an instrumental machine that was embedded in the larger bureaucratic ensemble (2012, 31). It was a political apparatus inseparable from the control of information and political expression, and the relegation of the cinematographic operator to the status of a worker. Along with the Censorship Board, whose members came from an intelligence agency, the military, police, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Religion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, religious leaders, and a few representatives from the film community, pfn occupied an extremely important node as it was an institution and part of medial networks constitutive of the New Order. Khrisna Sen even claims that “the most overt use of films for

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order

government propaganda has been through the Perusahaan Film Negara (pfn), the state film corporation” (1994, 65). The New Order’s media system was controlled by the Ministry of Information, which was always headed by a military official or a close ally of Suharto.13 The New Order state attempted to impose total political and ideological control over the entire film industry, from pre-production censorship, control of celluloid distribution and trade unions, and final censorship for public screenings. After the 1965 coup, pfn was left as a film-processing studio and poorly funded newsreel factory until 1978, when Suharto himself took over control of the pfn. Suharto installed his personal staff Brigadier General Dwipayana as the pfn director. Dubbed the “chief presidential image builder” (van Heeren 2012, 3), Dwipayana embarked on a new mission to produce big-budget/blockbuster feature films about New Order history and the heroic role of the president himself. During the New Order, pfn possessed four bureaus: the Central Film Laboratory, Office of Enlightening Films (films that have a character of public service announcements but are also propagandistic), the Office of Feature Films, and the Office of Distribution. In this period, pfn began to process and edit celluloid for commercial purposes on top of its state-sanctioned film productions. Starting in 1978, pfn produced short films whose aim was for mass education. The scripts came from local folklore and stories. By the beginning of the 1980s, pfn shot several “struggle” films aiming specifically for the youth market.14 Today the films are among many important New Order’s propaganda films, including Pengkhianatan G 30 S / PKI , Serangan Fajar, Jakarta 66. pfn also produced films and television programs for tvri, the state television network, such as children’s animated films Si Titik and Si Unyil. Continuing their tradition, pfn also produced a series of newsreel programs entitled Gelora Pembangunan (zeal for development), which were intended to propagate the idea of development and modernization among the Indonesian rural masses. This production was screened at mobile cinema screenings, public television, and cinema theatres across the country. As enumerated by van Heeren (2012, 89) and Prakosa, the films are about the success of a particular development project, or the exoticism of a remote area, or a combination of both. All films were accompanied by a voice-over emphasizing the aural presence of the New Order’s father figure. On top of the production of propaganda films, the New Order also embarked on a national propaganda program using mainly 16mm films. Together with the National Population and Family Planning Board, pfn conducted thousands of screenings of New Order propaganda films across the country. Most of the films were shot in 35mm like all commercial films at that time, but 16mm was also used

257

Veronika Kusumaryati

258

for the projections as it gave flexibility to the mobility and mass-oriented screenings. “Film for the mass” were evident in the thousands of screenings of public health films, family planning ads, political ads, and commercial films shown to Indonesians.15 The National Population and Family Planning Board reported that during 1979 each province in Java had at least sixteen family-planning films at their disposal (Yayasan Indonesia Sejahtera 1979). One hundred and forty-eight copies mainly in 16mm, plus two series of slides consisting of thirty-six family planning/ reproductive rights materials were screened on at least 5,089 occasions during 1978–79. In East Java, for instance, on average the National Population and Family Planning Board conducted 267 screenings per month. Mona Lohanda of the Indonesian National Archive has estimated that in 1985, pfn produced at least 4,860,000 feet of celluloid of completed films per year, not including stock shots and other materials (Lohanda 1996).

New Order as Cinematic History In the aftermath of the New Order and the arrival of the 1998 reforms,16 Indonesia witnessed a surge of discourses that challenged officially codified national history, including Joshua Oppenheimer’s well-known The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014). Indonesian cinema participated in and became an important part of this effort.17 The arrival of the internet in the late New Order period marked a curious correlation between digital media and the explosion of historical narratives regarding Indonesia’s past. However, despite the explosion of new and revised historical narratives, the official history is still going strong. In Indonesian schools, history still functions as an instrument of terror (Uwemedimo and Oppenheimer 2008, 184).18 This contradictory situation is especially felt by the young generation – those who grow up knowing the 1965 killings not only from the collapsing New Order media networks and narratives but also from the opening and liberalization of media and information in 1998. Against this backdrop, what does pfn’s celluloid collection mean for Lab LabaLaba? Does pfn function, as Lisabona Rahman puts it, as “evidence” of the ghosts of the New Order (personal communication, March 2016)? In what ways does Lab Laba-Laba attempt to locate the materiality of the New Order – the authoritarian past – in the figure of celluloid? Most of Lab Laba-Laba’s works make use of cinematic products of the New Order. Indeed, by the virtue of their encounter with pfn, Lab Laba-Laba deals exclusively with the New Order’s archive of authoritarianism. A list of Lab LabaLaba’s productions includes Anggun Priambodo’s Gelora Vigor (2015) that makes

259

18.4 Screening at Lab Laba-Laba.

use of the footage of a developmentalist saga, The Spirit of Development; Fransiskus Adi Pramono’s Pseudo Celebration of Democracy (2015) which uses public service announcements for Indonesian general elections; and Hard Boiled (2015) by Rizki Lazuardi and Edwin which makes use of unwanted erotic and politicized images from the Censorship Board.19 Some other works excavate the cinematic machinery of the pfn, such as a set of pfn’s office furniture (Vis a Vis II by The Youngrrr) or depict the process of excavation itself (Luthfan Nur Rochman and Ari Dina Krestiawan). Many of these works use pfn’s footage without any alteration except in their presentation format. Lab Laba-Laba’s artists discover the celluloid, identify it, and mobilize knowledge surrounding it – whatever that they can get from the pfn, archival institutions (such as the Indonesian Cinematheque or the National Archive), and personal memories. For Lab Laba-Laba, celluloid itself seems to exemplify something that Godard succinctly observes: “even terminally scratched, a small rectangle of 35 mm is capable of redeeming the honor of the whole of reality” (1998, 86). Lab Laba-Laba’s exhibition Si Titik: the Return at the ok Video – Indonesia Media Arts Festival in 2015, in which I participated, is illustrative of many artistic

Veronika Kusumaryati

260

and political tendencies within the Lab Laba-Laba’s production. The festival focused on the New Order Indonesia and specifically addressed “the politics of analog media during the New Order and the transformation to the digital technology at the end of the regime”(ok 2015). The choice of Si Titik and the architecture of the installation speaks to the process of the historical unpacking of New Order’s history. Si Titik is an animated series that was broadcasted on the Television of Republic of Indonesia in 1982. It was made after the success of the animated film, Si Unyil, which was broadcasted on the same network from 1981 until 1992. Unlike Si Unyil, which was highly popular,20 Si Titik’s popularity rapidly declined. Made with a much higher production and artistic standard, Si Titik also presents far more complex and interesting characters. When Si Titik’s reels were discovered in March 2015, most of them were in acetate decay. Preservation efforts were made to save seven reels of footage, most probably shooting rushes, five reels of muted footage from the final cut, and two reels of the audio track. However, only two reels of the muted footage and two reels of the audio track could be salvaged. The Lab then transferred these reels into digital files. From there, Lab Laba-Laba constructed a mixed media installation that consisted of a 14-foot television broadcasting a muted digital version of Si Titik, a poster, a glass box containing the actual reels of the series, incomplete scripts, a separated soundtrack, press coverage, promotional materials, and a lengthy caption explaining the history of the series. Guided tours and workshops of celluloid processing were also provided during the exhibition. As well, Lab Laba-Laba had planned to bring in the actual set of the series, but the pfn did not grant permission to do so. Si Titik’s video footage consists of two videos. The first reel is about nine minutes thirty seconds from the episode “the return.” Like other New Order television series, Si Titik is loaded with messages about the government’s development programs, among others, to protect and preserve the environment and to eradicate illiteracy. The footage begins with Si Titik, the protagonist of the series, teaching a literacy class to a number of animal characters in a jungle setting. Without a segue, the scene moves to two members of the Indonesian security forces discussing an impending crisis in their office where the map of West Papua, the easternmost and “problematic” province of Indonesia, is mounted on the wall.21 The second reel is seven minutes and 43 seconds. It opens up with a killing scene. Two characters who look like rabbits hold knives, bash a victim – who also looks like a rabbit – and begin to chop him up. There is also a scene where a lady bird, the queen of the community, is imprisoned and being harrassed. This seems way too violent for audiences of Indonesian children, but this is not extraordinary. Annually from 1984 to 1997, Indonesian children were required to watch Pengkhi-

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order

anatan G 30 S / PKI as part of the indoctrination process. This film contains a number of grisly images, such as a fabricated scene depicting members of the left-wing Indonesian Women Movement dancing and singing while mutilating the bodies of military generals. This makes Si Titik pale in comparison. The degree of technical and artistic accomplishments in Si Titik is impressive. Not only did it explore the possibilities of the celluloid medium in the form of colourful mise en scène, but the narrative also resists any simplification of its propaganda messages. This raises an important question: to what extent did the New Order government invest and make use of a cinematic apparatus and aesthetic to instill their propaganda messages, and what was the limit of state hegemony? The Lab projected the video onto the television, thereby appropriating New Order’s practice of using television as a public and collective (instead of domestic) medium. Yet, this television was presented with a script, promotional materials, and captions that helped contemporary audiences understand its frame. Bliss (2016) convincingly argues: They [Lab Laba-Laba] do not embed a “moral message” in the propaganda films as they rescreen them, or offer a prior interpretation through which the film is to be understood in those that they rework and artistically manipulate – rather, it is the simple “act of projection” through which the viewer is invited to engage and participate in order to come to terms with the materiality of perception.

By virtue of the installation format, I argue that audiences watch and perceive this New Order footage differently. Moving-image installations, Nash suggests, produce self-conscious audiences (2008). Disengaged from the habitual position adopted in the dominant cinematic apparatus, audiences become witnesses of the process of critical unraveling of the apparatus. In the context of the New Order’s cinematic history, the experience of watching Si Titik in a gallery setting is a radical departure from the stiff and controlled space of experience under the New Order. In addition, the uncertainty of the image’s significance for the New Order produces a displacement and haunting effect that is amplified by the de-synchronization of audio and image. For the Lab Laba-Laba’s members, however, the process of working with cinema or cinematic representations of the New Order is like pointing to the material infrastructure of ghosts.22 At the heart of Lab Laba-Laba’s works is an interrogation of the cinematic apparatus and the spectre of the New Order’s cinematic legacy, a sort of archaeology of the New Order’s media system. Dyantini Adeline, one of Lab Laba-Laba’s members, notes that “entering pfn is like boarding a time machine. It’s strange to meet people who have worked and

261

18.5 Right Screening facility at Lab Laba-Laba.

18.6 Below Facilities at Lab Laba-Laba.

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order

still work for pfn” (Dyantini Adeline, pers. comm.). I think what Adeline refers to here is not merely the analog technology within pfn but also the network of relations and human-nonhuman actors that sustain pfn. If we consider pfn as a machine, then it is an intelligence machine that consists of a specific bureaucratic system and tradition, a studio, lab space, and people who once worked for one of the most corrupt and authoritarian political regimes in world history. While people, space, tradition, and technology seem to occupy different lanes, together they constitute one of the most complicated arrangements of political and historical life that works like The Act of Killing attempt to depict and understand. Here, Lab Laba-Laba constitutes itself in and through an experience of encountering with the New Order’s technology and bureaucracy (Shaviro 2009, xi). During their partnership with pfn, Lab Laba-Laba members learn not merely how to reuse pfn equipment for their purposes but also to negotiate a space of freedom, a space of experimentation, and a space of excavation. Oppenheimer uses digital technology to do an archaeological performance of the New Order, of the genocide that brought the regime to power, and to make explicit the infrastructure of the past. However, it is not entirely correct that only digital technology enables this process. Lab Laba-Laba presents a case in which analog technology also facilitates a series of encounters with a machine of authoritarianism.

Conclusion Lab Laba-Laba’s works have gained critical reception among the Indonesian press and public. This is unfortunately not echoed by the government. In 2015, pfn arbitrarily denied access to their facility and the moving images in their storage. The company withdrew the footage from the care of Lab Laba-Laba, which has brought these films back to public attention. It is not clear whether this is because Lab Laba-Laba’s work is considered too dangerous for the status quo or because its enterprise does not financially benefit pfn. Members of Lab Laba-Laba relocated their lab to a new building and started receiving footage from production houses that made commercials in the 1990s. Advertising seems to be an alien topology for Lab Laba-Laba, but they assert, “Advertising and propaganda is the same in the New Order Indonesia.”23 Advertising began to appear on Indonesian television after Suharto’s son established the first private television network in the country. But how can one distinguish Suharto or Suharto’s son from the state?

263

Veronika Kusumaryati

Notes The author wishes to express her gratitude to Janine Marchessault and Scott MacKenzie, Lab Laba-Laba (Edwin, Lisabona Rahman, Rizki Lazuardi, Anggun

264

Priambodo, Fransiskus Ari Pramono, Ari Dina, Dyantini Adeline, Ruddy Hatumena), Benny Shaffer, the Film and Visual Studies Workshop at Harvard University, and Nia Sulaeman and Faziah Zakaria, who helped with the library resources. 1 Laba-laba means “spiders.” 2 Indonesia declared its independence in 1945 after more than 300 years of Dutch colonial rule and three years of Japanese occupation. Sukarno, one of the founding fathers of the nation, became Indonesia’s president until 1967 – this period is called the “Old Order.” Suharto, a military general, then took power by killing many of Sukarno’s supporters – particularly members or alleged members of the Indonesian Communist Party, which was then the fourth-largest political party in the country. Suharto was in power from 1968 to 1998, during what is called the “New Order,” with strong support from the United States. In 1998, Suharto was ousted by popular protests. References on the Indonesian New Order are numerous. See Anderson and McVey 1991, Hill 1994, Simpson 2008, Vickers 2012. 3 Survey with some members of Lab Laba-Laba: Anggun Priambodo, Ruddy Hatumena, Rizki Lazuardi, Edwin, and Dyanti Adeline in March 2016. 4 According to the Indonesian Law No. 8/1983, certain film equipment was considered a luxury and subjected to a higher tax. 5 Indonesian experimental films have been discussed at various lengths by Michalik and Coppens 2009 and Prakosa 1997 and 2006. 6 For the complete list, you may consult Lab Laba-Laba’s website, last modified 24 January 2018. http://lablabalaba.weebly.com/film-vault.html. 7 The Indonesian titles are Gelora Indonesia, Gelora Pembangunan and Siaran Khusus respectively. 8 A young archivist at the Indonesian National Archive told me that they don’t have human resources (i.e., staff) who have sufficient knowledge of celluloid and celluloid processing. Most of the celluloid produced during the New Order (1966–98) has not been digitized. The ones that they have digitized – from 1945 to 1965 – are in a very poor condition. 9 Most screenings outside pfn, though, are in a digital format. 10 Rahman even uses the term “barang bukti,” which in Indonesian is a legal term for evidence. 11 In the Indonesian language, the Ministry of Information is called Kementerian Penerangan, which can literally be translated as the Ministry of Enlightening. The

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order word “enlightening” characterizes the pedagogical mandate of the ministry. This also reflects the Indonesian state’s assumption about the backwardness of Indonesian citizens, particularly those who live in rural areas. 12 US involvement in pfn was much more intensive than Heeren thought. According to a document from the Indonesian Ministry of Information dated 18 August 1954, no. ai/152, upon the request of the Indonesian government, the US government helped pfn in the construction of their new studios, purchasing new and more modern film equipment and training pfn staff. 13 Since 1966 – the year Suharto came to power – only two out of nine ministers of information were civilians; the rest were former high-ranking military officials. 14 “Struggle films” is a popular genre in Indonesian cinema. The narratives usually focus on the role of the military in the struggle for Indonesian independence. For a thorough discussion about the role of the Indonesian military in Indonesian history, see McGregor 2007. 15 Despite his hostility towards the Communists, Suharto made use of the Communists’ technique of mass pedagogy and propaganda, particularly in his use of cell organizations based in rural areas. In Jakarta (Indonesia’s capital city), Suharto replaced all the staff of government-owned media (from television and radio to newspapers) with his supporters and instilled new messages of development and order. 16 After thirty-two years in power, the Indonesian authoritarian president Suharto was ousted by popular protests in 1998. “Reformasi” (reforms), as the shift was called, brought about social and political transformations, demonstrated by the return of democratic processes such as direct elections, media liberalization, and more. See Crouch 2010. 17 For a useful review of post-reform projects see Zurbuchen 2005. 18 The film Pengkhianatan G 30 S / PKI is no longer mandatory viewing for schoolchildren. Yet history textbooks still maintain the existing historiography of the New Order. Marxism and Leninism are still banned from college curricula. Increasingly, vigilant and fundamentalist groups have pressured civil groups and campuses not to organize any event related to Marxism and left-wing politics. 19 Until today, Indonesia has maintained the Censorship Board to censor and classify any film, foreign or domestic, that aims for a public screening. While the board’s scope is primarily to censor so-called sexual content, during the New Order the board’s attention was on political contents, particularly those that were critical of the regime. 20 It is the longest television series in the country. Before its termination in 1992, pfn produced 603 episodes.

265

Veronika Kusumaryati 21 West Papua is a self-identifying term that refers to the provinces of Papua and West Papua, the remote and highly marginalized provinces of Indonesia. Indigenous Papuans, who consider themselves Melanesians (not Malays like most Indonesians), have been struggling for the right to self-determination from Indonesia.

266

22 On Indonesian screens, the search for the materiality of the past manifests in the figure of ghosts. Indonesian society is largely oral – the circulation of ghost stories, including those related to the 1965 killings, occurs mainly through oral media. By the virtue of its channel, these historical narratives are more contingent than a text-based historical writing. See Kusumaryati 2016. In the documentary scene, the search occurs through the quest for so-called “truth” and evidence of genocide. For example, in Lexy Rambadetta’s film Mass Grave (2001), family members of those who were killed during the 1965 anti-Communist purge look for the mass grave of their family. They bring a forensic expert to establish evidence of the killing. 23 Interview with Edwin, January 2016.

References Anderson, Benedict R. O’G., and Ruth McVey. 1971. A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965, Coup in Indonesia. Interim Reports Series. Ithaca, ny: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project. Atmarno, Sri. 1969. Katalog Film-film Produksi PFN , 1962–1968. Jakarta: Perusahaan Film Negara. Benjamin, Walter. 2007 [1940]. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Iluminations: Essays and Reflections. New York: Schocken Books. Bliss, Lauren. 2016. “On Lab Laba Laba (Spider Lab) and the Playful Reincarnation of the Propaganda Films of New Order Era Indonesia.” Desistfilm, 24 April, http:// desistfilm.com/on-lab-laba-laba-spider-lab-and-the-playful-reincarnation-of-thepropaganda-films-of-new-order-era-indonesia/. Crouch, Harold. 2010. Political Reform After Soeharto. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Dyantini, Adeline. 2016. Personal communication, 7 March. Edwin, Edwin. 2016. Personal communication, 12 January. Godard, Jean-Luc, dir. 2011. Histoire(s) du cinéma. Paris: Gaumont. dvd. Hall, Hil, ed. 1994. Indonesia’s New Order: The Dynamics of Socio-Economic Transformation. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Heider, Karl. 1991. Indonesian Cinema: National Culture on Screen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Kusumaryati, Veronika. 2016. “The Feminine Grotesque in Indonesian Horror Films.”

Lab Laba-Laba and the New Order Cinema Poetica, 15 March, http://cinemapoetica.com/the-feminine-grotesque-inindonesian-horror-films/. Lohanda, Mona. 1996. Katalog Produksi Perusahana Film Negara. Jakarta: Perusahaan Film Negara. McGregor, Katharine E. 2007. History in Uniform: Military Ideology and the Construction of Indonesia’s Past. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Michalik, Yvonne, and Laura Coppens, ed. 2009. Asian Hot Shots: Indonesian Cinema. Marburg: Schuren Verlag GmbH. Nash, Mark. 2008. “Art and Cinema: Some Critical Reflections.” In Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader, edited by Tanya Leighton, 444–59. London: Tate Publishing. ok Video. 2015. Orde Baru. Jakarta: Ruangrupa. Oppenheimer, Joshua, and Michael Uwemedimo. 2009.”Show of Force: A CinemaSéance of Power and Violence in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt.” Critical Quarterly 51, no. 1: 84–110. Perusahaan Film Negara. 1970. Katalog Film Produksi PFN 1962–1969. Jakarta: pfn. – 1971. Katalog Film Produksi PFN 1966–1970. Jakarta: pfn. – 1986. 40 Tahun Pusat Produksi Film Negara 1945–1985. Jakarta: Departemen Penerangan ri and Pusat Produksi Film Negara. Prakosa, Gotot. 1997. Film Pinggiran. Jakarta: fftv-ikj and ylp. – 2006. Kamera Subyektif, Rekaman Perjalanan: Dari Sinema Ngamen ke Art Cinema. Jakarta: Yayasan Cipta, Dewan Kesenian Jakarta. Rahman, Lisabona. Personal communication, 24 March. Ricklefs, Merle C. 1982. A History of Modern Indonesia. Singapore: Macmillan Southeast Asian. Said, Salim. 1991. Shadows on the Silver Screen: A Social History of Indonesian Film. Jakarta: Lontar Foundation. Sen, Krishna. 1994. Indonesian Cinema: Framing the New Order. London: Zed Books. Shaviro, Steven. 2010. Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics. Cambridge, ma: mit Press. Siegel, James T. 1998. A New Criminal Type in Jakarta: Counter-Revolution Today. Durham, nc: Duke University Press. Simpson, Bradley R. 2008. Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960–1968. Stanford, ca: Stanford University Press. Steyerl, Hito. 2003. “Documentarism as Politics of Truth.” Translated by Aileen Derieg. Transversal, 10 May. http://eipcp.net/transversal/1003/steyerl2/en. Tagg, John. 2012. “The Archiving Machine; or, The Camera and the Filing Cabinet.” Grey Room 47: 24–37.

267

Veronika Kusumaryati Uwemedimo, Michael, and Joshua Oppenheimer. 2008. “History and Histrionics: Vision Machine’s Digital Poetics.” In Fluid Screens, Expanded Cinema, ed. Janine Marchessault and Susan Lord. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Van Heeren, Katinka. 2012. Contemporary Indonesian Film: Spirits of Reform and

268

Ghosts from the Past. Leiden: kitlv Press. Vickers, Adrian. 2013. A History of of Modern Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Zurbuchen, Mary. 2005. Beginning to Remember. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Part Four

Pedagogies

Chapter 19 The Materiality of Abstract Animation: The Discovery and Analysis of an Unreleased Film by Gordon Webber Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur In Canada, animation is an art whose birth is relatively recent. If the first animated films in France, the United States, and the United Kingdom date from the beginning of the twentieth century, one must wait for the foundation of the animation studio of the National Film Board of Canada in Ottawa in 1942 before animation makes its official appearance in Canada. Before this date, a few pioneers who could be counted on one hand ventured into animation but their work has left no trace. When the nfb moved its offices from Ottawa to Montreal in 1956, their animation practice moved with it and gained vitality in the 1960s. Before this, animation was non-existent in Montreal. Only the pioneer Raoul Barré had attempted to initiate various productions on his return from New York City in 1927, including a short animated film, Microbus 1, which was not completed. Barré died in 1932. Any trace that may indicate an animation practice in Montreal prior to the move of the nfb, however marginal, is of great interest. Therefore, it was very exciting to discover a hand-painted abstract film made at the end of the 1940s by Gordon Webber, a professor of architecture at McGill University. Webber was born in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, on 12 March 1909. As a result of a congenital malformation of the spine – spina bifida – he spent a great deal of time in the hospital during his childhood and had an artificial leg from the age of twenty. After finishing college, he received a scholarship in 1924, which enabled him to study at the Ontario College of Art. His teachers included the modernist painter Arthur Lismer, a member of the Group of Seven, who greatly influenced his first paintings and drawings. Webber won many prizes and awards during his time at the college. He continued his studies in 1937 at the New Bauhaus at the Art School of Chicago under the direction of László Moholy-Nagy. There he obtained a ba in 1942 and was granted a $25,000 scholarship from the Museum of Modern Art in New York that same year. The teachings of New Bauhaus radically influenced

Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur

272

his painting, and he was one of the first Canadian artist-teachers of non-figurative art. His research focused on the use of colour, space, textures, and both abstract and geometrical forms. Beginning in 1942, Webber began to teach architecture at McGill University. He was one of the signatories of Jacques de Tonnancour’s manifesto Prisme d’yeux, slightly preceding Paul-Émile Borduas’s Refus global manifesto of the same year. He had a great influence on his students, who especially admired his intuition, sensitivity, and artistic research. He taught future painters Claude Tousignant and David Farley. Aware of his deformity resulting from his disability and spina bifida, Webber fashioned his own clothing to fit his body. Until his death in 1965, he motivated his students to explore the basics of composition, shape, colour, and sound. Webber was also interested in the cinema. In 1941 or 1942, he completed an application for a scholarship to the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in which he indicated his interest in the visual opportunities of the film medium. A few years later, he met Norman McLaren, who taught him the rudiments of filmmaking, after which he produced an animated film using the techniques McLaren had taught him. This is the film that we at the Cinémathèque québécoise found. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the film are interesting in that they relied on the collaboration of specialists from two distinct disciplines: visual arts and the cinema. One of Webber’s former students, architect Bruce Anderson, published a short monograph on Webber in which he made a brief reference to a film located in the Gordon Webber fonds at the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection at McGill University (Anderson 1996). This book aided the research of Sébastien Hudon, a young art historian who specializes in the avant-garde movements that preceded la Révolution tranquille during la Grande Noirceur.1 Hudon contacted the Cinémathèque québécoise to tell us about the existence of this film, which was first reported in Anderson’s book. Hudon’s information sparked our interest in the film, spurred by the fact of the virtual non-existence of animation in Quebec at this time. However, neither Hudon nor Anderson had been able to see this film, as the McGill University staff did not have access to analog viewing technology. However, this may have been an asset in the preservation of the film – the elements we found were fragile but had not suffered much wear from time and poor handling. The splices could nevertheless break at any time, which made it perilous to pass the film through a projector. For example, the last eight metres were particularly damaged. In addition, the original film is on nitrate stock onto which Webber had painted in oil. We borrowed the film in order to examine its state and to familiarize our-

The Materiality of Abstract Animation

selves with this unknown work. Our technicians reinforced the splices, and we were able to view the film on a Steenbeck. We were enthused to discover a colourful, lively work with a real graphic personality that borrowed techniques from McLaren and was stylistically similar to the German avant-garde animation of the 1920s. Nevertheless, various technical and ethical issues had to be discussed and resolved. We formed a committee, which included Sébastien Hudon and Bruce Anderson, in order to help us undertake key decisions: 1) According to Bruce Anderson (remember: he was a student of Gordon Webber and his biographer), the film, which is entirely abstract, contained no title card, text, or figurative elements, and had definitely been rewound tail out. Anderson relied on his own memories to come to this conclusion. Webber gave his students drawing exercises during which they had to draw geometric forms. Anderson has noticed that the film, when projected properly, reproduced the chronological order of these exercises. This helped to identify the beginning and the end of the film. 2) The film included a soundtrack composed of fragments of recorded music ordered in a way that appeared disjointed. In fact, Webber had painted on translucent film on which there was already an optical soundtrack. In our judgment, it was clear that the music and the image were not synchronous and that the music itself did not affect the meaning of the film. We concluded that the printed optical track was not part of Webber’s film – he had painted on the film given to him, which already contained sound. Therefore, the final copy that we restored is entirely silent. 3) The other question, a more delicate, ethical one, concerned the problem of framing that affected certain passages of the film. It is obvious that Webber made this film as an amateur and, despite the guidance of McLaren, had not mastered his technique. As well, in some places the image appears to slip the frame and tends to scroll down. This appeared to be the result of a mistake made by Webber. Question: should we, during the restoration, reproduce the image as it appeared on the nitrate film, or were we to correct the framing problem digitally? We were haunted by this question for a while. However, in order to value Webber’s spirit and intentions, the technicians of the laboratory Vision globale reframed the images under our direction, cropping them to the centre. This allowed the restoration to better reflect Webber’s particular graphic style. In contrast, it was clear to us that the skipping frame resulted from the technique of direct animation and so should be respected. The film work is an “exercise,” and we wanted the restoration to reflect

273

Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur

274

this. The final result thus allows for the appreciation of the frame skipping, which gives Webber’s film its special energy and charm. The restoration work was done with the enthusiastic co-operation of our partners at McGill University and the Vision globale technicians. The technicians’ curiosity about this short, atypical film was obvious. Accustomed to restoring liveaction fiction feature films, here they were working on an abstract film – a strange object on which they worked frame by frame because the automated modes most often used in digital software restoration were not of use here. The nitrate film could not be placed on a flatbed scanner because the opacity of the pigments caused a backlight effect. The film was therefore transferred to hd on a Spirit telecine for storage and permanent conservation. The rest of the work was entirely carried out on the digital transfer. After restoring the framing, the film was cleaned of dust (paint splatter was retained) and calibrated to make the colour saturation similar to that of the film. Three 35mm positive copies were then printed, as well as an internegative and various electronic formats (hdcam and hdcam sr). All the successive steps of the digitization, from the initial run on the telecine to the integration of the text panels at the beginning and the end of the film, have been conserved on the hdcam sr tape.

The Aesthetics of Webber’s Film We would now like to place the aesthetic and kinetic aspects of Webber’s film in perspective and define them with precision. One cannot do this without mentioning again that Webber’s mentor was László Moholy-Nagy, an influential member of the Bauhaus. One of Moholy-Nagy’s masterworks was the Licht-Raum-modulator (“Light-Space-Modulator,” 1930), a mobile sculpture capable of creating light and producing reflections of movements, which is well known. This superb, glowing object, truly a lark’s mirror whose mechanical ingenuity recalls the paintings of Picabia with its representations of senseless objects and a virulent critique of frantic materialism and massive industrialization, is surprising at first sight. Through this unusual work, the artist-photographer fundamentally seeks to probe the mysterious relations between objects and light in a given space and to question, at the same time, the idea of a logic of meaning applicable to the movement of light as well as objects. Through abstract, theoretical representations of spatial planning, a maze serving the suddenly amplified brightness of the space foregrounds the precedence of light over everything else. What we are dealing with here is a kind of mystical materialism, paradoxical as it may seem. A film on this machine, produced in Berlin in 1930, captures striking effects: shimmers are mul-

The Materiality of Abstract Animation

tiplied by the montage creating a dynamic where the light and the movement defy (and do not seek) abstraction. An unforgettable work! Moholy-Nagy is usually associated with design and urban planning, but one often forgets how his approach lies at the heart of the art of film. Well before teaching at the School of Design – which he founded in Chicago after leaving Central Europe – became his main occupation, he was already active in making several independent films. The few, absolutely heartwrenching, silent films that he shot focused on the life of “little people” in the streets of the port of Marseille at the beginning of the 1930s or on the Romani laid the foundations for what would one day be called cinéma direct. Once established in the United States in 1938, Moholy-Nagy put this humanist vision on the back burner in favour of a greater formalism, although his concern for the collective is again apparent when he applies to make a feature film in collaboration with his students in the final months of the Second World War. This exiled professor’s marked interest in these collective frescoes would have a decisive influence on Gordon Webber. While teaching at McGill University in the late 1940s, Webber gained notoriety for his photographs and collages (which are reminiscent, both in their style and their subject, to some of the photomontages made by Moholy-Nagy during the 1920s when he was a professor at the Bauhaus in Berlin), which openly testify to the need to deal with the meaning and scope of images by decontextualizing them and detaching them from their original framework in order to enlarge the field and to interrogate the space of representation. In Music (1942), one of his most famous photomontages, Webber produced portraits mounted on a kind of wire mesh, the arrangement of which resembled a range of music. Even today, this work can be seen as a product of pure formalism similar to the delusional kinetic machine of Moholy-Nagy. However, when we read the booklet that Webber had prepared for dance students at McGill University shortly before his sudden death in the mid-1960s, it became clear that he was motivated by a more complex approach. The artist’s graphic games – in which an absurd comedy based on the trompe-l’oeil unfolds and the realism of photogeny is questioned – refer more fundamentally to the discordant issues underlying all of the art of photography. This artwork is nevertheless connected to the processing of emulsion in photochemistry, which, in Music, fades immediately, short-circuited by its features and by the drawing imbricated in the photographs. The tradition of graphic arts undeniably permeates these compositions. The formalism, apparent in Moholy-Nagy as well as in Webber, nevertheless remains an essential feature for understanding both of their relationships to cinematographic art, which implies a double background, if one may say, because

275

Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur

276

the seventh art appears more conceivable here than through a dialogue with the previous graphic formulations which it was updating. The whole question of time in the work – not only that of its duration, as such, but also that of its inscription at that time in history – then becomes essential. In this particular light, perhaps it appears a little less inconceivable that a film Webber made in Montreal in the late 1940s could only find its definitive form in 2012. As to the content of this three-minute film, in the first few seconds we can see a series of relatively thick black lines in varied widths, which, at times, are similar to the ends of a piano keyboard. If there is no soundtrack, one can nevertheless imagine that the scrolling of the lines corresponds to the musical framework of the ensemble. This sensitivity to musical symmetry was already present in the photo-collage described above. We also note that the background is entirely white – Webber uses the transparency of the film to highlight the space of the projection: the screen is the starting point of cinematic projection and, in this case, the starting point of the pattern from which the entire film is built. The screen should not be confused here with the frame of the screen, which the filmmaker crosses diagonally through the frame in red on the left half of the image. On the right is the yellow representation of a spectator, reduced to an abstract entity. This frame is at the same time a picture, which is not the case with the screen – the screen’s whitish luminosity becomes a material by which Webber materializes the plasticity of the projection in a rather unprecedented way. It should be noted that kinetics is a concern for several pictorial artists of the time, including Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant – both students of Webber at the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Some of the advances of the plastic arts in Québécois cinema were influenced by pictorial representation, which is not surprising given that kinetic elements were found in the perspectival work in many of Tousignant’s paintings (especially those of the 1960s) and Webber had already covered that ground. Whether it is to represent the screen, to offer a dynamic perspective, or to purge the lines and shapes, Webber – always attentive to the plasticity of the projected image – draws attention to the fact that film animation, abstract or not, is always in dialogue with pictorial art. Thus, in the last seconds of this film made towards the end of the 1940s, the lines resurface to form a pile of black on the screen as one sees in the latest paintings of Paul-Émile Borduas. The gouache is spread in thick layers (which complicated the restoration of the film). By all means, Webber strives to emphasize the pictorial gesture associated with projection. The nitrate film is progressively saturated with black until the film ends when the transparency of the screen is forgotten in favour of plasticity. It is this dark matter that, until now, had made it almost impossible to project the film – it could not be seen on

19.1 Frames from Webber’s film.

Marco de Blois and Guillaume Lafleur

278

the technician’s table, and one could not see the original colours because the state of the film did not let light shine through the layers of paint. This audacious work had, at the outset, been strictly experimental and made to serve the teaching of Professor Webber. It was discovered that during the period the Cinémathèque québécoise was undertaking the restoration – up to the projection of the restored film in April 2012, at the annual convention of the International Federation of Film Archives (fiaf) in Beijing – Bruce Anderson, Webber’s pupil, deposited the complete body of films made by design students at McGill University, a collective contribution that could be as important as that of the students of Moholy-Nagy in the middle of the 1940s. If they deal mainly with architecture, their existence allows us to measure the ascendancy of many of its students. Let us recognize the undeniable contribution of Webber through the discrete relationship he maintained with the avant-garde in Quebec, anticipating the most decisive advances in the visual arts.

Notes 1 La Grande Noirceur (The Great Darkness) is the period in Quebec when Union nationale leader Maurice Duplessis was the premier between 1936–39 and 1944– 59. This period is typified by repressive policies, the domination of the Catholic Church, and strike breaking. La Révolution tranquille (The Quiet Revolution) is typically dated to start in 1960 under the leadership of Liberal premier Jean Lesage and led to the secularization of Quebec and the beginning of the modern welfare state.

Reference Anderson, Bruce. 1996. Gordon McKinley Webber: Memories of an Artist, Designer and Teacher. Montreal: McGill University, School of Architecture.

Chapter 20 “Sight Unseen”: The Ethos of Handmade Films Hart Cohen Introduction As a participant in Philip Hoffman’s Independent Imaging Retreat, or Film Farm, in 1999, I was challenged by the approach Hoffman introduced to the filmmaking process, which could be described as not only a series of techniques and processes but also an “ethos of making” with special reference to the handmade film. I use “ethos” to characterize a way of thinking, an overall sense and specific character to conceptualizing the making of objects and, more specifically, the practices that were undertaken at the Film Farm. There, the approach “unravelled” the filmmaking process and offered insight into the idea that this most abstract and complex object and practice could be revealed through instances and variations of its materiality. The filmmaking I undertook at the Film Farm emphasized process over outcome and therefore contributed to my understanding of film as part of our more general relationship to objects. Therefore, in a profound sense, its advocacy was to understand filmmaking as part of what it means to be human. This thinking resonates with a growing skepticism about technologies that have come to recapitulate image-making processes – specifically digital technology, which, as is often claimed, is said to have revolutionized our relationships to objects and people. This chapter uses my Film Farm experience to rethink the nature of the visible across genres of filmmaking – from the experimentally driven handmade film to other film forms. These genres of film are not normally spoken of as consonant or related practices, as their presumed larger aesthetic and social purposes are widely divergent. Whereas experimental film is premised on provoking a kind of interrogation of the visible, other films register visibility as the basis for truth claims about the real. Social-scientific motifs often drive the meaning of these films, their realism, and the ideology of the visible that supports it. They frame its truth claims, the presentation and consolidation of evidence, and the buttressing of argumentative logic in the service of advances in knowledge about human societies and cultures.

280

20.1 Film Farm participants, 1999.

Experimental film, which the handmade film can be said to emulate,1 frequently challenges the viewer’s presumptions about what is normative in the pro-filmic experience. Handmade films achieve this by working on the material of the images themselves – on their materiality. The range of material alteration to the celluloid appears to be limited only by one’s imagination and access to the means of alteration. Developing and fixing the celluloid, dyeing the celluloid material, tinting it, cooking it for varying periods, subjecting the surface of the celluloid to marking, scratching, painting, and other forms of inscription alter the very substrate of the film material and, in this way, not only change what a film will look like but foreground film processing – make it visible – and in this way, bring the process to the consciousness of the viewer. The question of visibility is placed in a zone of ambiguity because, in some respects, figurative aspects of an image are generally not available and the rendered and altered surface material of celluloid takes its place. The normative “seeing” of film is “unseen” in the moment that this kind of film work is presented (or performed). It is curious, then, that points of contact between handmade films and other film genres can be found in certain films. These works draw together the genres through aesthetic devices that both subvert and moderate the realist and contentdriven goals of film. When we look at these works closely, some of the salient as-

The Ethos of Handmade Films

pects of handmade film emerge more explicitly than when contained within films that are circumscribed entirely by the experimental form.

The Ethos of Handmade Culture 281 Once upon a time, everything was hand made … – Media Bespoke (2015)

The handmade films of the Film Farm experience are part of a larger cultural change emerging in many contemporary cultural contexts. Handmade culture is innovated in local venues in large cities and towns, but spread via social media across the globe. Changes in technology – and digital technology in particular – enable the small scale to become a global movement. In a micro-environment, the “making culture” may open a derelict warehouse to a number of artisanal, craft, or other similar small-scale businesses, communities, or collectives, and their spread across many nations is actually a remaking of the world on a grand scale. Handmade culture does not automatically separate out the inventing, making, buying, and collecting of things. Shops can also be small-scale factories, and so consumption also can include experiencing how the objects to be consumed are created. This can be an invitation into a process-based experience of making. For example, a shop in Sydney dubbed itself the “Forty-niner” because, in Australian Copyright Law, forty-nine is the maximum number of repetitions of one object permissible before the process is considered as mass production.2 The intention is clear: the ethos of handmade culture is diametrically opposed to mass production. Satisfaction in the object is based on its having been made by someone (so handmade actually refers to “made by a person”). Moreover, the ethos of handmade refers to the whole object – so, again, the antagonism is against the Fordist universe of autonomic production lines churning out identical things from an original template. Workers who use their hands to make things along with the tools of the particular trade reap satisfaction from the experience and process of making, while consumers, in being exposed to the handmade process, reap the benefit of having a sense of the origin and authenticity of things and can appreciate the uniqueness of the object – what Walter Benjamin has referred to as the “aura” in his famous critical essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1969). While the Film Farm took its constituent filmmakers out of the city, it followed part of the ethos of a “handmade place” by redefining a space generally known

Hart Cohen

282

for agricultural production to one of cultural practice. The context transformed the material conditions of making and also meant emotional changes for its constituency of film practitioners. Making something is like travelling, like going somewhere – making environments are high energy. Travelling to the Film Farm meant you were already on a kind of journey just to be able to get to the place. Once there, in a kind of isolation the filmmakers become (locally) very self-reliant. With the guidance of Hoffman and assistants, there is a combination of wellresearched craft skills with an embracing of the basic technical knowledge to see where the making might lead. In this regard, the filmmakers can transform material to anything they want, and the ethos is not if someone might like it or if it will “sell” but rather more if the process was interesting, and, through trial and error, a form of self-teaching and learning prevailed. In an era where 3d printing and hacker technologies emerge, the Film Farm’s handmade filmmaking reverses the changing technology trend to a period when this “old technology” of handmade filmmaking was “new.” In this way, handmade film contributes to the general ethos of a new kind of making and a new community of makers. At the same time, contemporary design may align with the handmade as witnessed by Hoffman’s handmade Opening Series films, where the reels of the films are in a series of boxes that the audience chooses and then Hoffman splices together to create the order. In many ways, this process serves as a precursor to Korsakow films, which Hoffman projected during the Database | Narrative | Archive conference in Montreal in 2011. The ethos of handmade culture is one in which the sharing of knowledge is basic to the practice, tinkering is the modus operandi, and access to the tools of making is open and available to all makers. The ethos of making culture creates things that express a source for the self, invested with emotion, communication, and relationship. It responds to the innate human desire to create, values the process of making, and prioritizes making over consuming.

Towards a Theoretical Context for the Handmade Film There are a number of antecedent thinkers to whom the handmade film may be attributed. In my own framing of this question, I am drawn to the Russian cinema of the revolutionary period in the early part of the twentieth century and the thinkers who drove the impulses surrounding the upheavals of cinema in this early critical period. In the introduction to his book on Kuleshov, Ron Levaco writes: “Kuleshov’s film theory, his montage experiments and his polemic advancing the ‘primacy of the celluloid’ itself as the true ‘material’ of cinema bore more than a

The Ethos of Handmade Films

rudimentary resemblance to the Formalist approach” (1974, 26). This quote telescopes a complexity that surrounds the revolutionary Russian cinema and the art practices and theories that formed the ideological conflicts of the period. In every respect, Kuleshov shared the challenges that the well-known cineastes such as Vertov and Eisenstein championed, even if they did not agree with each other about very much else. They all suffered similar fates under Stalin’s purging of “reactionary” art forms that were seen to be in the service of formalist intellectual inclinations – an accusation brought against Vertov, Kuleshov, and Eisenstein at different points during their careers. In Kuleshov, the explicit interest in the materiality of film places him closest to the ethos of handmade films. Through his commentary, the challenge he wished to bring to the then-dominant tropes of cinema, and his alignment to futurists and surrealists, places him in a direct line with experimental filmmaking that succeeds the Russians, albeit much later in the twentieth century. Materialist and critical accounts of the cinema were the staple of Kuleshov’s writings, but this is not the Marxist materialism mobilized by Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. These contrary ideas of the “material” eventually lead to the idea of a newly articulated materialism once the somewhat reductive and restrictive ideas based on Marxist and Leninist materialism fail the tests of both time (being superseded) and space (adapted in far-flung lands). The gap between the materialists and the idealists had to be breached in order for a new and more pervasive politics of the image and its materialist concepts to emerge. Another controversial film theorist writing as a contemporary of Kuleshov, Béla Balázs, is keen to promote a film theory that would characterize film specificity. In The Visible Human (1924), Balázs argues for a fundamental cinematographic principle – the rendering of a particular visibility of both humans and objects in which neither is given ascendency over the other. In a section he titles “The Significance of Visible Things,” he writes: “It is a strong atmosphere that arises in films through the vital role and significance of visible things” (88, emphasis in original). Non-speaking things in the cinema are not “degraded” because “in shared silence they become nearly homogeneous with man” (88). Distinct from the theatre, this specifically cinematic quality that levels the significance of humans and objects plays into the ethos of handmade films. The subject matter of handmade films also “flattens” the differences between humans and their surrounds. If Balázs is correct, an aesthetic of objects gives cinema an early specificity among the arts. The recovery of this quality through handmade films and process cinema is therefore anchored in a very early but nonetheless key insight in what makes film specifically film.

283

Hart Cohen

284

According to Balázs, this in no way undermines the capacity of film to reproduce the real. The normative understanding is that film is able, as a visual language, to create the effect of rendering all things in its wake of recorded reality as “equal.” Moreover, Balázs insists that the revolution wrought by the cinema’s visual capacities be placed beside the Gutenberg revolution brought on by the invention of the movable press or print.

Carpenter’s Aivilik Film To underscore this point, but within a much later articulation, Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter extend the Gutenberg revolution example through their consideration of media. Cinema, for McLuhan, is a “hot” medium, as opposed to television, which is “cool” (1964). Beyond the Gutenberg moment (McLuhan 1962), in a collaboratively written piece, but whose actual authorship is under a cloud,3 McLuhan and Carpenter promote a concept they call “acoustic space” (1960). Here, they argue for a replacement of “typographic man” with an “aural” one – but in “surround sound.” Acoustic space is, in one sense, an anticipation of cyberspace and the ecology of sense that pervades the digital worlds we currently inhabit and that inhabit us. This does suggest that the twin worlds of the handmade and the digital may be more closely aligned on a continuum rather than at opposite ends of a spectrum as is sometimes argued. To return to handmade filmmaking, Carpenter intended to make a film on the art of the Inuit, and created a series of fragmented film sequences that was to be called “Eskimo Art” from 1958 to 1959 in collaboration with Fritz Spiess, a wellregarded Canadian cinematographer. These film fragments are a curious blend of the ethnographic impulse with a catalogue approach to the representation of Inuit sculpture. Using moving close-ups to magnify these miniature masterpieces, Carpenter and Spiess showed how Inuit-carved ivories were meant to be appreciated by touch and motion rather than being stood up and viewed from a fixed point. Working from his fieldwork notes, however, Carpenter and Spiess made their films in a manner that resembles a handmade aesthetic. For example, in an attempt to reflect the way masks were presented in the Inuit context, they used flickering lights to bounce off the mask to mimic the firelight of an Inuit camp. There are a number of comments made by Carpenter about the Inuit approach to the art, and there seems to be a level of identification with the ethos and process of Inuit art making embedded in the process of making this film, which is perhaps a good explanation for why it was never completed. Carpenter offers extensive descriptions of the ethos of Inuit art:

The Ethos of Handmade Films We see the role of man, indispensable to the actualization of the universal design, as we see the carver releasing what is hidden in the ivory needing man’s help for its emergence … The carver never tries to force the ivory into uncharacteristic forms, but responds to the material as it tries to be itself … The Eskimos uses these “x-ray” pictures to penetrate and make visible objects hidden from the eye and thus to show the spatial unity of things … Nor is he restricted to sense of sight; for Aivilik art portrays not only what is perceived, but what is apprehended and apprehension here involves all the senses plus memory and imagination: it embraces all cognition. (1955, 143) As the carver holds the unworked ivory lightly in his hand, turning it this way and that, he whispers, “Who are you: Who hides there?” And then: “Ah, Seal” … Then he brings it out: Seal, hidden, emerges. It was always there: he didn’t create it; he released it. (141)

After early apprenticeships and introductions to archaeology and anthropology, Carpenter undertook a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. There he studied under Frank Speck, himself a student of Franz Boas. As Carpenter determined his interests, he moved squarely towards a cultural interest most strongly focused on art, theatre, and performance: the hallmarks of Boasian cultural anthropology. Boas made films of the Kwakiutl in British Columbia that focused on crafts, games, dances, and masks. There is a strong link to Carpenter’s main focus on art and craft of the Aivilik as well as on language in the service of poetry. Boas, however, is particularly known for introducing a school of anthropology that rivaled that of Anglo-French structural functionalism. Rivers, Radcliffe-Brown, and Malinowski are the names most associated with this school. Boasian anthropology found its strength in America and became known for its focus on culture and personality, or the ethos of a culture, through his most famous students and proponents, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. With Benedict’s Patterns of Culture, there is a direct line to Carpenter and to Shuster’s Patterns That Connect: Social Symbolism in Ancient and Tribal Art – and in this regard, Carpenter’s film work links directly to an ethos of art and culture that, in this context, shares in what I am calling the “ethos of handmade films.” In a film about Inuit art as part of the bbc series The Tribal Eye (1975), Carpenter comments about the sense of alienation of “authentic” Eskimo art from the time of its major expansion in the early 1950s, where they were delivering a kind of “standard manufacturing” approach that was underpinned by a “catalogue of instructions.” It seems that art historian and collector James Houston played an influential role in 1948. At one point, it seems he single-handedly pushed the Inuit away from making miniature “carvings” to producing large “sculptures,” although the evidence for this is sometimes based on anecdotes.4

285

Hart Cohen

286

Carpenter was highly critical of Houston’s role but makes this more explicit in a 1960 review of the book Eskimo-Plastik aus Kanada (Schaefer-Simmern 1958). Carpenter writes that despite its claim to being “authentic,” the art depicted in the book is instead “widely publicized art [that] came into being after 1949. The carvings are the direct result of the teachings and promotions of Mr. James Houston, an artist representing first the Canadian Handicraft Guild and later the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources” (Carpenter 1960, 345). He goes on to identify the works depicted in the book as not in any sense the work of Inuit (Carpenter uses the term “Eskimo” as he is writing prior to the adoption of “Inuit” to replace “Eskimo”), which would be based on deep mythological and spiritual beliefs. Instead, the works are entirely based upon commercially oriented art practices specifically designed for that purpose. Between 1930–1950, tiny steatite carvings were made for sale, but infrequently. These new carvings, however, share little with earlier Eskimo art, or even with Alaskan or Greenlandic souvenirs, though they do show marked resemblances to Mr. Houston’s own art work. Full credit goes to him, not for liberating a repressed talent, but for creating a new, delightful, non-Eskimo art that has brought financial assistance to needy Eskimo and joy to many Western art connoisseurs. (Carpenter 1960, 345)

It is easy to detect Carpenter’s disdain for this turn in Inuit art practice under the influence of Houston and government intervention. Whether in agreement with Carpenter or not, this example makes explicit the difference in an ethos of making when commercial production values render a pre-commercial art such that it may no longer be considered the activity of the very persons assigned to it. Carpenter claims he is not seeking a “pure” Eskimo art but asks: Do we accept the Eskimo on their terms, or on our terms? Their own art is as bold and breath-taking as anything ever hazarded by man, with origins deep in Eskimo culture. In form it does not resemble these souvenirs, and if we think in terms of the artistic act, not solely in terms of the object produced, the difference becomes greater. “It is the power of belief,” writes Rainey, “which makes all the difference between original native art and contemporary native craft.” (Carpenter 1960, 346)

These are the values or ethos of handmade culture and the art that comes with it. Counter to the production lines that produce the commercially successful objects, the art that is anchored “deep in Eskimo culture” and grounded in the “power of belief” makes the difference to originally produced artwork – that is, made “on their terms.”

The Ethos of Handmade Films

The Invisible in Culture The films of T.G.H. Strehlow are housed in a purpose-built archive in Alice Springs, central Australia, that stores secret, sacred, cultural materials for its Aboriginal community of interest. These films are mostly ceremonial ethnographic material shot by Strehlow within a “salvage” paradigm, where the then-midtwentieth-century view was that these ceremonies would cease to be carried out once Aboriginal people were assimilated to Western contexts and were no longer culturally significant. In fact, ceremonies continue to this day. The secret and sacred element to them remains an important feature of both Aboriginal social and cultural heritage in central Australia. For this reason, they cannot be screened publicly, and only those people affiliated to the films culturally (through a totemic and kinship connection) can view them. In a documentary film I made in 2001, titled Mr Strehlow’s Films, the constraint of not being able to screen the films themselves weighed heavily on the viability of a documentary about them. In a sense, this would have to be a documentary about the “invisible” – or, at least about a corpus of films that cannot be shown even as an illustration of the kind of ceremonies that Strehlow had recorded over a period of fifty years. A small portion of the films shot by Strehlow that were able to be screened were films about his family, his family life, himself, and depictions of the central Australian landscape. In the context of handmade film culture, these fragments were part of the story world of T.G.H. Strehlow but not connected either chronologically or spatially. To mobilize them within a narrative framework depended on linking these images to what others could remember about Strehlow, the world he inhabited, his relationships to the Aboriginal people he filmed and recorded, and the significance of his legacy for posterity. Tying documentary archival material to cultural memory connects this material to the ethos of handmade films. The concern with cultural memory emulates the engagement with the subjective and a person’s connection to their identity. In the context of Aboriginal culture in Australia, the sources of identity are multiple and complex. They are to do with connections to conception sites, to totemic and “skin” categories (categorical relationships based on kinship), and – most importantly – to the cosmological concept of country where the land, language, self, and larger community are tied together in a complex web of dynamic relationships. My use – and one could even say, dependency – on the non-restricted part of the film archive connects to the handmade ethos. It opens the idea of using vast archival resources as mnemonics for cultural history, personal memory, and multiple stories that themselves are the sources for cultural continuity and the maintenance of cultural identity.

287

Hart Cohen

288

As a sardonic comment on the restrictions of the Strehlow Film Collection, colleague Shane Hersey constructed a film made entirely of the beginnings and ends to film reels that appear on every reel of Strehlow’s film footage. Lasting only a few seconds, these bits would be the “lead-in” or lead-out frames of any film, usually with a scrawl indicating a reel number or other identifying mark. Ironically, these were the only parts of the restricted footage that could be screened. Nothing of the secret, sacred material contained in all the frames between these lead-in and lead-out frames could be used. Sometimes, the camera, having been left lying on its side in advance of a filming session, creates an abstract and non-figurative image. This is also non-restricted and forms a part of this “handmade” Strehlow film. Titled Interstitial, the presence of the Strehlow footage in this film is an ironic statement on the “invisible” footage that forms the bulk of the twenty-five hours of ceremonial footage. It suggests that documentary material, in “absentia,” can become interesting in that what is concealed is more compelling than what is ultimately revealed or permitted to be screened. It reminds us that the handmade film is not dependent on the visible or invisible, but rather negotiates the relationship between them as part of its process of making.

The Act of Seeing Stan Brakhage was a notable filmmaker within the genre of so-called experimental film. His work can perhaps be said to epitomize handmade film in both the manner (process) and consequence of its making. His abstractions, use of light, and camera movement all firmly situate his works within aesthetic categories that test the limits of narrative and offer film experiences that are embodied and visceral in their effect and engagement. Although his films were mostly non-figurative, the two Brakhage films I wish to exemplify as connected to the ethos of the handmade films are both figurative: Window Water Baby Moving (1959) and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971). These films also offer the bookends of birth and death, and in this way make Brakhage’s works a complete life cycle of seeing and feeling. When I first viewed Window Water Baby Moving, the film of the birth of Stan and Jane Brakhage’s child, the remark most frequently made by viewers was how much dedication to filmmaking this showed. The choice to be behind the camera (there is a short part at the end with Stan Brakhage in the frame) during this eventful moment would, even now with mobile phone photography, be difficult. There is a strong sense of the presence of the camera, and this directly reflects the embodied responses of the camera operator/ cinematographer. The film, made with a hand-held camera, brings the ethos of handmade films through this presence where the rhythms of breath and pulse are communicated through the fabric of

The Ethos of Handmade Films

the film. Placed in such a direct relationship to birth communicates the sense of Inuit art made by Carpenter’s comments where there is a “spatial unity” – in this case, made in part by the confining quarters of the birth room – and the other features of Inuit art when he states that “what is apprehended and apprehension here involves all the senses plus memory and imagination: it embraces all cognition” (Carpenter 1960, 143). Brakhage’s film of the birth remains a strong statement about investing film with emotion and giving to film the affective relationships for which handmade films are especially noted. Though it comes somewhat early in his career, the film broke with much of experimental film’s conceptual paradigms. It demonstrates the degree to which the handmade film ethos and experimental film as a genre may not share as much as implied by their formal designations as mainly in opposition to other film forms and genres. Rather, the handmade film ethos offers a different status to the handmade experience where Brakhage brings us as close as one can get to the process of a birth – and in this way, opens the connection between our eyes and our heart. The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes is an unflinching look at death in the morgue. If remaining behind the camera during the birth of his child was difficult, persisting with the visual deconstruction of postmortem bodies is equally challenging. The engagement here is highly committed to looking where observation is the privileged trope for the unfolding “story” of this film. In effect, we have a kind of ethnography of the death state in which bodies and the removal of their surfaces remind us of the fragility of this corporeal state and in which, even in this unconventional environment, film itself could be defined as a “poetry of surfaces.”5 Watching a face being removed from the head of a deceased person may be the last word on defamiliarization where our most personalized markings – what gives to us our most unique features – are rendered inert and flattened into anonymity. Brakhage commits to this “act of looking” on our behalf, and for this period of watching we are held by the act of filming – by its process of seeing what we would, in its most intimate moments, never want to see. The ethos of the handmade in this film is strongly articulated by the personification of the subject. The finality of death and its defamiliarization here achieves the intimacy of the handmade and in this way joins with the handmade tradition in a powerful statement about who we are as humans and what we become in death. There is a moment of disambiguation in the film. A fly lands on the toe of one of the deceased being filmed. This is literally the fly-on-the-wall moment – or rather, fly-on-the-toe moment. It signals to us that the film, in all its depiction of bodies and disembodiment, is still film – and the fly would be there whether the camera was there or not. That is one definition of the documentary cinema.

289

Hart Cohen

Conclusion

290

The ethos of handmade films is a way of understanding the underpinnings of the handmade as both a culturally made thing and a process of making. Through this chapter I have argued that the handmade has a value system – it is a way of thinking and brings with it a disposition towards the personal, subjective, and the intimate. These attributes connect the handmade to the humanity we share, and within these connections the objects we make can profoundly change us and our understanding of the world. The Film Farm was a highly social experience – so much so that I recall the people with whom I shared that week of filmmaking but not their films. Perhaps that is the take-away here – the films are the way into those connections: the making is the making of our humanity above all else.

Notes 1 As the editors note in the introduction to this book, “Previous scholarship has placed handmade films as a subset of experimental cinema, expanded cinema or animation, without addressing the specificity of material manipulation of film itself.” 2 Media Bespoke (2015). 3 The article is first published under the attribution of D.C. Williams in Explorations 4, but then is republished in a revised version in the 1960 Explorations anthology under the names of Carpenter and McLuhan. 4 “Who would have thought in 1948 that a small stone carving of a bear, given as a gift by Naiomialook to James Houston would be the precursor for the one of the most remarkable and successful art forms in contemporary society?” (Crandall 2000, 9). 6 Thanks to Ron Burnett, who first introduced this phrase to me.

References Bálazs, Béla. 2004. “The Visible Human.” In German Essays on Film, ed. Richard McCormick and Alison Guenther-Pal. NewYork: Contiuum. Benjamin, Walter. 1969. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. London: Penguin. Brakhage, Stan. 1962. Window Water Baby Moving. – 1971. The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes. Carpenter, Edmund. 1955. “Space Concepts of the Aivilik Eskimos.” Explorations 5: 131–45.

The Ethos of Handmade Films – 1960. Review of Eskimo-Plastik aus Kanada. American Anthropologist 62, no. 2: 346–8. Cohen, Hart. 2001. Mr Strehlow’s Films. Special Broadcasting System. Crandall, Richard C. 2000. Inuit Art: A History. Jefferson, nc: McFarland. Database | Narrative | Archive: An International Symposium on Nonlinear Digital Storytelling. 2011. Montreal: Concordia University, 13–15 May. Hersey, Shane. 2002. Interstitial. Film screened at the Strehlow Conference, Alice Springs, Australia. Levaco, Ronald, ed. and trans. 1974. Kuleshov on Film: Writings of Lev Kuleshov. Berkeley: University of California Press. McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. – 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 1st ed. New York: McGrawHill. Reissued by mit Press, 1994, with introduction by Lewis H. Lapham. Reissued by Gingko Press, 2003. McLuhan, Marshall, and Edmund Carpenter. 1960. “Acoustic Space.” In Explorations in Communication, ed. Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter, 65–70. Boston: Beacon. Media Bespoke. 2015. Rise of the Makers, episode 1. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Schaefer-Simmern, Henry. 1958. Eskimo-Plastik aus Kanada. Kassel: Friedrich Lomesch. The Tribal Eye. 1975. Across the Frontiers, episode 7. bbc.

291

Chapter 21 Your Film Farm Manifesto of Process Cinema Philip Hoffman

21.1 Tinting and toning workshop. Counterclockwise: Karyn Sandlos (instructor), Helen Hill, Alexis Rubenstein, Larissa Fan, Sean Karimi, Maureen Bradley, Dana Inkster, John Porter, Eve Heller (partial) July 2002.

Enter through the big barn doors without scripts, without props and actors. Your films will surface through the relationship between your camera and what passes in front. It may take the whole of the workshop to shake away the habit of planning, what has become the guiding light of the profit-driven film world. Without the blanket of preconception, the processes of collect, reflect, revise mirror the underpinnings of your formation. Dive deeply to encounter those strange fish who stare without seeing. Mental processes effect the physical when the mind is open to what appears in front of

Your Film Farm Manifesto of Process Cinema

you. These images you make will be charged with your inner architecture. Do not be surprised if a person, animal, place or thing shows you a way to go. These pathways can be provocative, treacherous, and joyful. They are places you have to go, one way or another, so you might as well start your trip. The camera holds the film and waits for light to pass through the lens. When you release the trigger, a mechanical shutter lets the image in. The image is focused through the lens, which controls the quantity of the light. What you film will be effected by uncontrollable sun bursts and the various tones and textures that the camera passes over. With the open field before you, these little gifts can have a say in the making of your film. In the darkroom, you watch the image surface. The big world you filmed is not bigger than the small world that slowly appears. Hand-processing movie film is a complex soup of various forces. Heat, time, light, and movement, all work together and an image somehow forms through the silvery magic of the photo-chemical process. Errors of time and application can render your film opaque or clear, but you still have a latent image burned into your mind, which can be brought forward on another filming trip. Slighter inconsistencies can upset your expectations and pose a question you would never ask – if all went perfectly. Leaving the workshop can be as difficult as entering. If you have found intensity it might seem that the world you return to has gone somewhat askew … when perception shifts the familiar becomes strange. Holding onto the experience allows it to resonate for months to come and hopefully fuels the finishing of your film and the initiation of new ones.

293

Chapter 22 Chemistry Class: Jeffrey Paull, the Escarpment School, and the Legacy of Process Cinema at Sheridan College Brett Kashmere

22.1 Phil Hoffman with Jeffrey Paull and Mike Hoolboom in Mount Forest, Ontario, 2001.

Without poetry, teaching ain’t nuthin’ but a set of instructions. – Jeffrey Paull

Since its foundation in 1967, Sheridan College has been a laboratory for Canadian film talent. Located in Oakville, Ontario, just west of Toronto, the Media Arts (now Film and Television) Department at Sheridan has produced a remarkable number of acclaimed cinema artists. This confluence of filmmakers is sometimes referred to as the Niagara “Escarpment School,” a loosely knit group that

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

came of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its supposed members include the celebrated experimental filmmakers Philip Hoffman, Richard Kerr, Mike Hoolboom, Carl Brown, Gary Popovich, and Steve Sanguedolce, among others,1 who studied at Sheridan under the tutelage of Jeffrey Paull and Rick Hancox; and a younger generation of film artists such as Tracy German, who likewise attended Sheridan. Since that time, the Escarpment School progeny have helped to inaugurate Canada’s first-person cinema, reinvent documentary as a mode for selfexpression and formal-materialist exploration, extend and deepen the rich landscape tradition in Canadian art, and inspire new generations of filmmakers through their work and teaching. An overlooked but significant aspect of this legacy is the important role that Paull played in bringing process-oriented methods, concepts, and techniques – including single roll Super-8 filmmaking, cine hand-processing, re-photography, and intermedia performance – to Sheridan. This essay examines the foundations, outlines, and influences of Paull’s teaching within the context of the Escarpment School, and its contribution to the evolution of process cinema in Canada as a forebear to Hoffman’s Independent Imaging Retreat (Film Farm) and the expressive, handcrafted celluloid experiments that have taken greater prominence in recent decades.

The Universe Expands: A Biographical Sketch Jeffrey Paull was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1940, at the midstream of an era marked by economic growth, scientific progress, and the development of new technologies fuelled by the imperative of the Second World War. The grandchild of Russian immigrants, Paull grew up in an upper-middle-class, Midwestern Jewish household that encouraged both intellectual curiosity and steadfast opinion. His interest in film as a creative art was forged at an early age. As a ten-year-old, he witnessed Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart’s energetic, hand-painted Begone Dull Care (1949) by way of the Cleveland Public Library’s print collection. “Oh, the universe contains this also,” Paull recalls feeling, long before he was able to articulate such an impression. “I discovered the aesthetic equivalent of life in an alternative universe” (Paull 2001, 25). At thirteen, he experienced the immersive, panoramic Cinerama format for the first time, after reading about it in Popular Mechanics, and was immediately enchanted: Cinerama’s three-projector array blended left, centre and right film frames onto a huge semi-circular screen with seven-track stereophonic sound. The works, sensuously speaking. We are dropping off my freshman sister at her Chicago college when I declare that the family will go to Chicago’s Cinerama theatre … The show begins with a small-screen rendition

295

Brett Kashmere of Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (which, in 1953, was trip enough for me) and Lowell Thomas’ voice-o’-God short history of film. Then the drapes open up the rest of the screen with, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this Cinerama!” and the spectacle and sensation go on forever. We were on a roller coaster, of course. (26)

296 As a high school student, Paull played around with 8mm home moviemaking and sampled from the boilerplate arthouse menu (Fellini, Bergman, and others). Yet, despite his early, intuitive attraction to the moving image, Paull’s path towards a career in film was far from linear or predestined. His twelfth-grade physics teacher imparted upon him an interest in the poetics of science and of life, which opened up a larger universe. The launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957 gave articulation and dimension to that recognition: “That for me was the beginning of busting me out of a terrarium I didn’t know I had grown up in,” Paull explains. “Because there was lots of interesting flexibility, but within certain boundaries.”2 After flunking out of Miami University of Ohio as an English major, and following an interim toiling in a Cleveland photo store, he applied to film school at Boston University – one of the few programs of its kind at the time. It was a Hail Mary attempt: his 500-words-or-less letter of intent consisted of a single, distilled plea: “Because if I don’t get in, I will die.” He was accepted. The year was 1964. The burgeoning proclivities and countercultural ethos of the mid-1960s would have a considerable effect on Paull. The civil rights struggle and Vietnam War resistance had gained national recognition, galvanizing a social movement. College campuses became a tributary and a venue for dissent, and organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (sds) were at the forefront of the revolution. Radicalized, mass political protest was fomenting across the country and around the world, creating an atmosphere of global activism driven by direct action. Paull’s failed first attempt at university provided a maturity buffer and a unique vantage point that allowed him to bypass some of the banalities, clichés, and solipsism of both film school and undergraduate culture more broadly: “That combination – that two or three year gap, where I was a little bit older than everybody else was a transformative period.”3 This was also a time of spiritual optimism and naiveté, “explosive sensuality” (in Paull’s words), and consciousness raising – astrology, free love, psychedelic drugs, communal living, gender equity, primal therapy, and more had entered into the mainstream imagination and daily conversation if not practice. The result was a heightened sense of experimentation, improvisation, and participation, both socially and aesthetically. Although the questioning of authority would become a point of emphasis later on, for Paull the impact of the 1960s had less to do with its horizon of revolutionary potential than with its shared sense of freedom and focus on innovation, personal expression, and radical creativity.

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

After receiving both his ba and ma in Film from Boston University, Paull moved to DeKalb, Illinois, in 1970 for a teaching appointment in the Art Department at Northern Illinois University. It was there that he joined the intermedia performance group Electric Stereopticon, a collaborative project that paired musicians and artists from the respective faculties. J.B. Floyd, a piano professor and keyboardist, started the group with percussion professor and percussionist Al O’Connor and art history professor Norman Magden.4 They were later joined by the drummer Dave Merrifield and occasional guests, such as the pioneering electronic music composers Morton Subotnick and David Rosenboom. “Magden and I were Electric Stereopticon’s visual artists,” Paull explains. “We used the forces of eight [and up to twelve] Carousel slide projectors and four 16mm projectors which we projected onto a 30! screen, usually in triptych form [a callback to his early interest in Cinerama]. We controlled our own set of lights to illuminate the musicians without washing out the projections.”5 The concurrent projection of film and slides allowed for unpredictable juxtapositions and serendipitous meanings to emerge through a process of real-time editing. Although the preloaded slide trays limited the potential for visual ad-libbing, the group strove for a symbiotic balance between its programmatic image design and more loosely determined sonic field. Electric Stereopticon was active from 1968 to 1974, a period when the emergent forms of expanded cinema, cybernetic art, kinetic theatre, and media-rich performance were flourishing. Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, helped popularize media theory, which was reflected in the technologically driven, interdisciplinary avant-garde art of the period. Numerous projects made intermedia exhibition available to underground and mainstream audiences alike.6 Such projects include: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome, a multiprojection environment and self-described “culture intercom” (completed in 1965); Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966–67); 1966’s groundbreaking performance series 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, which spawned Experiments in Art and Technology (e.a.t.); Carolee Schneemann’s anti-war ensemble performance Snows (1967); the elaborate multiscreen pavilions of Expo 67; and the music-accompanied liquid light shows of Joshua Light Show at New York’s East Fillmore, and the coterminous West Coast light shows of Ben Van Meter, Scott Bartlett and Tom DeWitt, Bruce Conner, and others. Electric Stereopticon played monthly “mixers” at their university, received grant support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and twice a year toured throughout the US and beyond. They performed, for instance, on a bill with Charlotte Moorman (playing a cello made of ice) at the International Carnival of Experimental Sound at London’s Roundhouse in 1972. Conceived by the infamous cultural entrepreneur, Harvey Matusow, ices ’72 was a thirteen-day extravaganza

297

Brett Kashmere

298

of the international audio-visual avant-garde, featuring the UK premiere of John Cage’s epic multimedia composition, HPSCHD , as well as amm, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Takehisa Kosugi, Lol Coxhill, and so on. Electric Stereopticon’s analog interplay of improvisational electro-jazz-rock and sequenced photographic, chemically elaborated footage and slides – combining abstract and recognizable, expressionistic imagery – placed the group squarely within the socio-aesthetic vanguard of their day. During a tour of Mexico, their raucous sold-out show at the Instituto Mexicano Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales in Mexico City was described as “an event for the long hairs 1973 style” and nearly incited a riot (Lopez 1973, 19). Other exhibition venues included prestigious art centres like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Walker in Minneapolis, and Buffalo’s Albright-Knox, as well as universities such as Yale, Notre Dame, and nyu. In contrast, Electric Stereopticon also played concerts, billed as live sound and light shows, at army bases. Paull credits his four-year experience with the group as key to his learning process and his outlook as a media artist and educator, which provides insight into the shared vocabulary and the spiritual and emotional relationship between music and images. It also deepened his awareness of the musical aspect of narrative (and the non-narrative quality of visual music) and of the affinities between different artistic disciplines, which informed his teaching in a profound and lasting way. An enthusiasm for experimenting, taking risks, translating what can be seen to what can be imagined (and back again), and exploring alternatives to convention would become hallmarks of Paull’s teaching philosophy.

Anything Goes: Media Arts at Sheridan College Paull continued performing with Electric Stereopticon until 1974. However, in 1972 he moved from his Chicago outpost to Toronto, and until 2005 taught Media Arts at Sheridan College. Sheridan was one of the many Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology built during the Canadian cultural funding boom of the mid-1960s that also spawned Expo 67 7 and Ontario Place. Although the purpose was ostensibly straightforward skills-based job training, as Paull notes, “nobody gave a shit what was happening at the then-new Ontario community colleges (unlike established protocols at universities).”8 Harvey Honsberger, the Media Arts coordinator and guiding spirit, encouraged Paull and his colleagues to stretch their imaginations and experiment in their teaching, which was backed up by budgets, resources, and administrative support. For example, students at Sheridan shared a cafeteria with faculty. The dining hall had four different washrooms: student male; student female; staff male; and staff female. Paull pitched

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

the idea of transforming the men’s staff washroom, which was close to the Media Arts area, into a darkroom for regular and alternative developing of 35mm slides and 16mm footage. Honsberger agreed to the idea, and persuaded his dean to rip out the faculty washroom and refit it as a darkroom. Paull’s darkroom workshops would eventually be adapted into Gary Popovich’s widely distributed how-to instructional “Bathtub Film Processing and Toning” (first written in 1986),9 upon which the bucket-style processing set-up at Phil Hoffman’s Film Farm (est. 1994) is also based. During its early years, the Media Arts program had lots of money, which funded the purchase of high-end Super-8 gear (including six Super-8 Steenbeck editing machines and modified crystal-sync Nizo cameras), Nagra sound recorders, darkroom equipment, and film rentals for studies’ courses. The faculty also had access to “an open charge account at [Toronto’s] Cine Books, whose inventory was exclusively books about film.”10 A Sony Portapak enabled community video projects and non-studio, on-the-street television production, which were encouraged by the administration. Peter Mallett, the dean of the English and Media Department, noted in a 1976 interview that Sheridan students “are presently gaining first-hand experience” as community activators “by cooperating with the nfb in their Challenge for Change project” (quoted in Hookey 1976, 30),11 a participatory film and video initiative that sought to illuminate social issues in communities across Canada. Sheridan’s mixing of video and film, its emphasis on lightweight and userfriendly tools, as well as do-it-yourself hand-processing and re-photography (the first piece of equipment that Paull requisitioned upon joining the faculty was a jk optical printer), were unique for its era. Lorraine Segato, who attended from 1975 to 1978, points out that “diy culture was just at its beginning and we had teachers who not only taught us technical operations but semiotics and the language of film.”12 Like many of the film programs that emerged during the 1970s, Sheridan’s Media Arts began as an extension of the English Department. It also had underpinnings in the tradition of “screen education,” which was imported to North American elementary and secondary schools from Britain (Hodgkinson 1970, 481–4).13 Its emphasis was on visual literacy and analysis – on “reading” the image as text – rather than production. The goal was to provide an understanding of how movies work, how advertising functions psychologically on the viewer, how images create meaning, and so on. Paull, with his background as a multimedia, film, and photo artist, and his education in film production, history, and theory, uniquely braided these strands together: “I taught Film as a branch of Liberal Arts,” Paull explains. “Since students’ futures are so very unknown, I taught it so students could use it as a metaphor – [a] way they could learn about

299

Brett Kashmere

300

themselves and their possible place in the world they’d inhabit.”14 This approach, which treated screen arts as a domain of the humanities and placed a premium on personal growth and broad-based learning, was unusual given the community college’s mission of career-oriented education. Built from the ground up, Sheridan Media Arts was, according to Paull and others, light on rules and rigour. Steve Sanguedolce, who attended from 1978 to 1981, affirms that students were encouraged to devise their own language, to find their voice, and to reinvent.15 Sheridan provided “an environment that allowed me to feel free and open to finding new ideas and ways of expressing my creativity,” says Segato.16 There was no privileged pov, style, or genre – each was considered equivalent. This “generalist viewpoint” was intentional – the department aspired “to provide students with a good working knowledge of film, television, and sound” rather than specialized skills or industry training (Costin 1974, 36). “A variety of rewarding alternatives are offered to the media arts traveller,” Mallett stated. “We are interested, as a media school, in providing the environment for the student to develop versatile and creative awareness of the media” (Hookey 1976, 29). “Storytelling and non-narrative films established a dialectic and provided a larger context for students’ work in other classes,” Paull writes.17 The accent was on process, and the prevailing attitude was “anything goes.”18 Indeed, as Mike Hoolboom remembers, Paull eventually “put a kibosh on finished work in his classes. It was all process, or as the meditation people name it: practice. As a teacher he had a lot of unlearning to pass along, a lot of prejudices that had to be challenged and broken apart, and emphasizing process was a key factor in being able to do that.”19 Borrowing from the Studio Arts model, and tapping into the 1960s zeitgeist, the Sheridan Media Arts atmosphere was exploratory, non-judgmental, open, and relaxed, which extended to the design of the teaching spaces. There were no desks – rather, students convened on orange beanbag chairs atop dark carpeted floors. That sense of looseness was a reflection of the cultural moment and extended from the top down. As Hoffman notes, The Dean, Peter Mallett, was kind of an ex-beatnik if Canada ever had one and he had hand-picked a stable of young progressive media teachers, like Rick Hancox and Jeffrey Paull who were passionate about personal and experimental film. The Media Arts Department in the 70s was sort of an experiment in film and media education. It was dealing with the intersection of film, video, sound, multi-image, practice and theory. I think it was the first film department in Canada that used Media Arts rather than Film Studies as its masthead. It was probably influenced by McLuhan and the 60s. (quoted in Simmons 2010)

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

Segato also noted the outsized impact of McLuhan, whose brother Maurice taught there, on the college ambience: “The school was new, it was the 70s, and the vibe was still kind of hippie, very open, and collaborations were encouraged,” she writes. “We were affected by the politics of the time in regards to the end of the Vietnam War, and women’s studies classes all of a sudden were introduced to the school in the first year I was there.”20 For many of the above reasons, during its first decade the program attracted individuals who were not necessarily interested in, or cut out for, a more traditional university experience: “That these students emerged not from an art school, and not from a university m.f.a. program, but from a job-oriented three-year certificate granting community college” was significant, writes Paull, as it demonstrates how latent creative talents often go undeveloped if not attended to and encouraged.21 By and large, Sheridan students were down to earth, working class, and often more experienced than the average undergrad. Many were mature students looking for a change of direction or a chance to forge an identity away from Toronto. Janis Cole identifies Sheridan’s suburban location and modern, brightly lit, open spaces, as important factors: “There was a common area where students hung out and exchanged ideas. We could have a coffee and hang out there. You could smoke at the time. It was spacious in those days and there was a lot of room to dream while at school. Living in Toronto I tended to need that hang out space to stay at the school between classes.”22 As a result, there was a strong sense of camaraderie among Media Arts students and faculty. Everyone socialized and even partied together. There was also not much feature film production happening in Toronto at the time, so training students for “the trade” was not yet a priority.23 Rick Hancox, who taught at Sheridan from 1973 to 1985, applied to work there (after, like Paull, finishing his mfa in the US) because he “liked the way the media art department … sounded,” “could teach what I wanted,” and was granted the freedom to pursue his own interests (quoted in Hoolboom 2001, 186). Hancox developed the 16mm curriculum at Sheridan and involved his students in his personal documentary filmmaking through an apprentice-style course. Kerr, who dropped out of high school to play junior hockey before attending college, describes showing up at Sheridan “with a borrowed portfolio and the next thing I know Roger Anderson is scraping emulsion off film and Jeff Paull is projecting images on garbage bags and the world changed” (158).24 After failing to get into York or Queen’s University following his departure from a business program at Wilfrid Laurier, Hoffman “called up the chairperson at Sheridan College, and … [I] was so welcomed that it seemed like the place to go” (139). “What happened at Sheridan did

301

Brett Kashmere

302

not happen at Humber, Ryerson, or York,”25 Kerr writes, noting “it was the only time I experienced a hierarchy where the people who made experimental films were at the top” (quoted in Hoolbloom 2001, 158). “This was the one school that didn’t cater to the mainstream, the Hollywood dream,” Hoffman confirms. Hancox and Paull “set the tone, and got us to look deeper, mostly deeper inside.”26 Sheridan’s incoming media art students (Paull taught year-one and year-two production classes exclusively) viewed a mix of American avant-garde cinema, narrative/non-fiction hybrids like David Holzman’s Diary (Jim McBride, 1967) and Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967), and National Film Board documentaries and animation. Many of the program’s early crop of teachers, including the experimental animator and McLaren biographer Don McWilliams, came out of the nfb’s workshop tradition. Of the numerous classes that Paull initiated and developed during his tenure, one was devoted to “Films of the National Film Board,” which he characterized as “a corrective for all the American films students saw in other classes” and elsewhere. Paull was renowned for his three-hour lecture on Lonely Boy (Wolf Koenig and Roman Kroitor, 1962) that deconstructed the documentary’s seamless verité camerawork and editing. In addition to the close analysis of non-fiction, narrative, animated, advertising, and underground films, which were compared and contrasted with visual and performing art forms, Paull was a proficient technical instructor who placed great emphasis on craftsmanship. His “Frame-X-Frame” class introduced students to “the graphic possibilities in moving images … using an optical printer, film stocks giving a variety of tonal renderings, hand-developing, and toning of those film stocks, and an appreciation of links among painting, dance, music, and timing.”27 Rob Butterworth, who has managed the Independent Imaging Retreat’s chemistry since its beginnings, states that Paull “taught me printing techniques in the darkroom that seemed to separate the science from the materials and reinforced an instinctive way for me to deal with stocks and exposure. Bottom up or top down (D-max or D-min) let me see how beautiful analog film is because it is based upon simple rules that could be manipulated to amazing subtleties with control and care.”28 Carl Brown says Paull introduced him to the processes of solarization and reticulation and the principles of serendipity “through Jim Stone’s Darkroom Dynamics, a book designed to take you beyond shooting images into a world of many possibilities. I applied the book to 16mm motion picture film … Looking back on my filmic infancy, I realize I gained a closer understanding of film as art, physical and mental, from many hours in the darkroom, developing thousands of feet in my clear jug. I saw it happen right there bathed in red light, as the film spoke to me clearly. I think this is why I continued my hand-developing studies” (Brown 2008, 34).

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

Paull’s holistic and humanistic teaching methodology is wonderfully encapsulated in his class handouts, which he compiled each week. These optional handouts sometimes included annotated comic strips, highlighted news clippings, global genocide statistics, thematically grouped quotations (example: “The Poetry of Storytelling”), and so on, alongside his own admix of inspirational and cautionary guidance. As he mentions, “in the seclusion of our darkened ivory tower, I wanted to keep the students mindful of the world beyond.”29 In one such document, evoking Sister Corita Kent’s “Ten Rules for Students and Teachers,” Paull offers the following advice: See all kinds of work by other people to get a sense of where you might fit into a culture which is already running full-tilt as you begin your adult ride. What do other people think and feel? In what various ways do they express their ideas and point of view? What’s really making you tick? What might a movie look like or be about when its maker and the audience aren’t age 18–23, male, white, christian, from southern Ontario, and possibly having L.A. fantasies? Learn more about fantasy and dreams and sex and love and art and truth and human relationships, the economy, storytelling and compelling use of language, the emotional flux of musics [sic], the structures of various media worlds, the Underdog, deceit, and foul manipulations of the human spirit, power and its misuses, and your own self.30

These weekly handouts, which were aimed at broadening his pupils’ frames of reference and deepening their inner worlds, are indicative of the selflessness and dedication with which Paull approached his vocation. “I got the feeling he was in a moment where he loved teaching us or at the very least was very dedicated to his practice of teaching us. He seemed interested in our journey. And I felt that all manner of ideas good and not so were nurtured and encouraged,” Segato says.31 Butterworth, who attended in the early 1990s – by which time the college was better known for computer animation and special effects – recalls that Paull would offer to “read and give us his thoughts on anything we were working on outside of class,” including their pie-in-the-sky scripts.”32 He laboured to provide tangible materials, resources, and experiences that extended beyond the physical limits of the classroom and encouraged independent “outside work.” This included the cultivation of learning opportunities outside the institution. He required his students to attend the Toronto International Film Festival, Cinematheque Ontario, and other extracurricular screenings, as well as music concerts, gallery exhibitions, contemporary dance, and incorporated field trips into his course planning. He took students to the George Eastman House in Rochester and the Cinémathèque québécoise and nfb in Montreal. For his class, “Films in Toronto Theatres,” participants

303

Brett Kashmere

304

attended a movie each week together as a group (from Disney to Dovshenko to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), then debriefed and discussed their impressions afterwards at a café. He was also a founder and board member of the city’s first Super-8 festival, the Toronto Super 8 Film Festival (1976–83). According to Sanguedolce, Paull was “a radical teacher and artist” who excelled in devising “funky assignments.”33 These activities ranged from production exercises involving black and clear film leader or re-editing a snippet of found snowmobiling footage, to visits to the zoo to observe animal locomotion, to “Paper Editing a Movie” using a cut-up newspaper story as source material, to photographing a “Piece-o’-Fruit” using an entire 36-exposure roll of colour still film. His multi-step “Lifeline” assignment, which unfolded over five weeks, required students to chart their own autobiographies and graphically orchestrate key moments as a “score.” This was typical. Paull “felt that our pictures needed roots, personal roots, and from these roots a certain diction might be developed, a rhetoric of motion picture grammars that should be singular, entirely our own,” says Hoolboom.34 Another multi-step assignment, “Beginnings,” required students to select a movie they had never seen, present the first section of it in class, then closely analyze its formal concepts and narrative cues to determine how they draw the viewer in, build emotional response, spark imagination, and portend future developments. Paull’s course outlines abound with creative, thoughtfully considered and sequenced exercises. A partial listing of the classes he devised for Sheridan attests to the visionary and versatile blend of his teaching: •

Basic Film Concepts/Image Production, the department’s foundational production class. Paull would teach as many as four sections of the course a semester.



Movies without Gravity, about the history and practice of animation.



Laffs: Getting: An Exploration of Comedy as a Way of Understanding How to Tell a Story Well.



Time and Space, which “dealt with the differences and expressive similarities of various art forms – dance, music, painting, installations, and alternative art” (sometimes cotaught with the video artist Jane Wright).

• •

100 Years of Movies: A History of the Persistence of Vision. Frame-X-Frame, the optical printer class that Hoffman later took over at Sheridan “combined theory and production to study alternatives to narrative filmmaking and ‘realistic’ images.”



Visual Storytelling, the narrative analysis class with his “Beginnings” assignment.



Expressive Photoshop.



Image Design.

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

Paull’s own film and photo work, which emphasizes open-ended process, ephemerality, quotidian idioms like the snapshot, and old-school remnants like the 35mm slide projector – a holdover from his Stereopticon days – naturally took a secondary (or complementary) position to his classroom practice. Perhaps most notably, from 1980 to 1985, Paull evolved a series of single-reel Super-8 “documents,” about fifteen in all, that reduce on-screen action down to an unbroken event or gesture.35 Emphasizing cinema’s real-time capacity, these sketches often utilized the artist’s friends, family, and surroundings for their subject matter. The motivating idea was to make films that were germane and interesting in a single shot. One such installment, Oxford Spa (1984), is a suggestive camera-play that mediates between interior and exterior spaces, the world indoors and the action on the street. Like much of Paull’s creative work, the public at large has rarely seen these films. A 1997 Pleasure Dome program titled “Local Heroes: The Films of Jeffrey Paull + John Kneller,” curated by Mike Hoolboom, remains the only documented presentation of Paull’s small-gauge oeuvre. However, during the 2000s he actively participated in group photo shows at Toronto’s Annex Art Center – a multimedia teaching studio and gallery – while his slide-show performance, The Photographer’s Lesson, was included in the 2000 Images Festival. Rather than demonstrate a lack of studio/research activity, these exhibitions and presentations serve to highlight the pedagogical priority that motivated all of his endeavours.

From Escarpment School to Film Farm Having generated a unique strain of intensely personal, formally daring nonfiction filmmaking, the Escarpment School represents one of Canadian cinema’s truly distinct movements or tendencies. Paradoxically, what is most noteworthy about the Escarpment School today – whether seen as a legitimate art-historical movement, a light-hearted inside joke that gained momentum, or a pr strategy concocted from within – is its absence from the annals of Canadian film history, despite the influence and accolades of the affiliated individuals. A brief overview of the Escarpment School’s principle traits, figures, and films will help bring its accomplishments into sharper focus. Further proof of its importance can be found in the ongoing yearly harvest of the Film Farm, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2014. The Escarpment School is named after the Niagara Escarpment, the most prominent of several land shelves formed in the bedrock of the Great Lakes, located several miles southwest of Sheridan College. All of its central figures either grew up around or lived/worked in some proximity to the escarpment. As Hancox

305

Brett Kashmere

306

explains, “Kerr and Hoffman were from St. Catherine’s and Kitchener respectively, also to the south and west, and very familiar with the escarpment. Myself, Hoolboom, Popovich and Sanguedolce had a Toronto connection,” as did Carl Brown.36 Hoffman recalls that “you used to be able to see [the escarpment] from the classroom window [at Sheridan], along with the curious deer that peered back at us.”37 The reference to a specific region, just an hour from the United States and a transitional zone/land formation, is significant. The escarpment provides a rich metaphor for Canada’s avant-garde cinema (vis-à-vis US cinema and culture), notably its preoccupation with landscape and its postmodern sensibility located along the faultlines of documentary convention, structural-material experimentation, and self-referential subjectivity. “Shoot first and ask questions later” was one of the Escarpment School’s guiding dictums, and emblematic of the documentary ethic of the 1970s. Another dictum, passed down from Hancox’s mentor, the US filmmaker and scholar George Semsel,38 was: You can’t make a good film until you are able to make a personal documentary. While much of the Escarpment School’s history and activity is like cinema itself, spectral, one manifest aspect is a desire for understanding through physical exploration and encounter with landscape. Taking their cameras on the road, across southern borders and to ocean shorelines, many of the Sheridantaught filmmakers infuse rituals of masculinity with critical self-reflection and patient, poetic lensing often conjoined in a diary or travelogue format. Although varied in tone and texture, Escarpment films share numerous qualities, including an attention to geography, a drive to record reality, the filtering of documentary material through individual experience, the looming presence of the United States, and a process-based, formalist approach to non-fiction. These characteristics in turn reflect the twin impact of the New American Cinema and its coterminous postwar movements, including Beat literature and avant-garde music, as well as the Canadian social documentary tradition, which were often viewed side by side in the Escarpment School classroom. Documentary (in its many forms) was a staple of Sheridan Media Arts during its formative years, as evidenced in films such as Alan Zweig’s Trip Sheet (1976), a point-of-view reflection on cab driving and the urban condition; Richard Kerr’s lively, continuous-take, late-night diner portrait Vesta Lunch (Cookin’ at the Vesta) (1978); and Phil Hoffman’s quiet personal narrative On the Pond (1978), which interlaces a family-narrated slide show with poetic re-enactments of backyard shinny, and in the collaborative work of Janis Cole and Holly Dale, such as the edgy, verité-styled Cream Soda (1976) and Minimum Charge No Cover (1976), which offered candid, behind-the-curtain looks at Toronto sex workers and other marginalized and underrepresented communities. Segato points out

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

that “our education came into focus against a backdrop of the larger questions in the mid-70s, questions of politics and the sexual revolution, cultural identity and practice.”39 The turn in documentary from social to personal issues became more deeply pronounced in the early 1980s. The infusion of documentary method with autobiographical concerns is illustrated in films such as Kerr’s Canal (1981), Hancox’s Waterworx (A Clear Day and No Memories) (1982), and Hoffman’s river (1989), all of which return to landscapes of the filmmakers’ youth with waterways figuring prominently in each. Exploring geographies of identity, these films take place at the fluid intersections of time, space, and memory, and feature an array of strategies from the use of on-screen text, to the repetition and variation of elements, to the integration of multiple media formats and technologies. Family history would continue to be a prominent theme in later works, like Sanguedolce’s Sweetblood (1993), which attempts to make sense of the filmmaker’s relationship with his father through a remediation of family photos. Uncertainty, allegory, re-enactment, and a performed struggle to adequately address the complexities of memory and past events were other defining traits of the movement. As Hoolboom explains, “the Escarpment School’s work has often laboured at the limits of representation, often taking as its subject the unrepresentable – turning Bolexes towards all that no longer resides in the domain of pictures” (Hoolboom 1995, n.p.). Films such as the embellished travel diary Mexico (Mike Hoolboom and Steve Sanguedolce, 1992), Hoffman’s anti-documentary ?O, Zoo! (The Making of a Fiction Film) (1986), and Hoolboom’s minimalist White Museum (1986) exemplify this aspect. The latter, a nearly image-less film, speaks directly to, and about, an irony of photographic media: that images always point towards people, places, and things that are not there. Paull’s influence on the Escarpment School can be also found in its bold forays into photochemical (mis)treatment, frame-by-frame manipulation of “clocktime,” layered assemblage, and abstraction. Looping optically printed, handprocessed, and reticulated shots of “real world” imagery, Carl Brown’s Urban Fire (1982) is a tour de force of pictorial alteration and variation. Travelling westward to the Pacific Ocean, Gary Popovich’s Faultlines (1998) is a dense contrapuntal composition that overlays travelogue footage with ancient symbols and floating Las Vegas lights: a self-portrait in flux. In Louise Lebeau’s Desert Veils (1992), documentation of an archaeological dig gives way to subjective speculation about the women she encounters away from the work site and its impassive male scientists. In Two Pictures (1999), Brown’s impressionistic alchemical collaboration with the French experimentalist Rose Lowder, Lowder’s signature photographed landscapes are transformed through an assortment of darkroom techniques, print

307

Brett Kashmere

308

generations, and superimpositions. The film is nonetheless documentary in the most pure sense – as a record of its own process – and signifies a passage from the utilitarian roots of Canada’s cinematic tradition (i.e., the nfb) to the current proliferation of artisanal, emulsion-based, individual and collective media practices. By the end of the 1980s, Sheridan Media Arts was no longer the haven for film experimenters and “media arts travellers” that it once was. There was administrative turnover. Money dried up. Resources were shifted to more popular, skillsbased training programs like commercial animation. The student population got younger, teaching loads increased, and priorities changed as Toronto’s burgeoning film industry continued to expand. As Paull notes, “a very good decision was made to shift our department from a born-in-the-60s non-industry mode, to a department focused on an industrial mode of production. Many of the original media arts teachers were either transferred to other departments, or they left, and were replaced by people from the industry.”40 The spirit and informal, experimental nature of Sheridan Media Arts’ first two decades live on, however, at the Independent Imaging Retreat – the craft-centred workshop led by Phil Hoffman on his farm near Mount Forest, Ontario, each summer. For Rob Butterworth, “the most important takeaway from Sheridan has to be [the Film] Farm and Phil.” Describing its genesis, Butterworth says: In many ways the farm was my senior year project at Sheridan [circa 1994]. In 3rd year I lived with Phil and Marian [McMahon, the Retreat’s co-founder] at their Toronto studio and this was just when they purchased the farm. In the back of the studio he had a film processor that was broken and removed from a school. Phil asked me if I thought I could get it going and I went at it like a mad man. Once it was running, Phil mentioned an idea he had to move it to the farm and run a class … we moved it up there and installed it in the basement … We built the theatres [in the main barn] and we ran the [first Film Farm] workshop with me processing every roll through the old machine in the basement of the house. Eventually the workload got too much for me to handle so we decided to build darkrooms and let the participants get their hands into the game.41

Attendees of the week-long intensive shoot Bolex footage, learn hand-processing and direct animation techniques, contact printing, tinting and toning, and create short 16mm projects, which are screened together and discussed at the end of the residency. The roster of past participants reads like an intergenerational Who’s Who of North American Experimental Cinema and Alternative Media.42 The dedicated line-up of volunteer staff and contributors, including Butterworth, Christine Harrison (another Sheridan grad and student of Paull’s), Deirdre Logue, Scott

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

Miller Berry, and more, is similarly impressive and epitomizes the nurturing, familylike essence of the endeavour. The Film Farm is distinguished by its combination of inviting warmth, rigorous attentive instruction, and passionate commitment to carrying forward a way of working with images that is specialized, time-intensive, and gradually disappearing. Aleatory processes like solarization, split toning, bleach recovery, and photogramming yield surprising results that are difficult to predict or repeat. Openness to chance and collaboration – interpersonal bonds form quickly at the Farm – often pays off. One finds this over and over again in the work that originates there. Casting her co-participants in starring roles, Jennifer Reeves’s dreamscape narrative, We Are Going Home (1998), marshalled the camp’s modest human resources and menu of chemical treatments into a master class of fluctuating surfaces and subconscious depths. However, most participants do not arrive with a plan. This is encouraged, if not a rule. Each person finds a niche during the week and mines it, or makes dazzling last-minute discoveries. Utilizing a laborious “resist” technique, Clint Enns’s Walking with Phil (2013) was made by applying dots of masking tape frame by frame to exposed footage under a red light then double-processing it, first as negative then, with the tape removed, as reversal. There is no textbook for that kind of making. Conversely, Chris Chong’s Minus (1999), an unedited, multi-exposure, and beautifully solarized dance film was born out of desperation to create a self-contained piece the night before the final screening. Through its annual commitment to hands-on, non-commercial, exploratory cinema and photochemical processes, the Film Farm continues to sustain and enliven many of the alternatives to narrative filmmaking and photorealism that Paull introduced at Sheridan College decades earlier.43 As well, recalling the nfb’s workshop model of the 1960s, which distributed screen education across Canada prior to the establishment of university programs and regional production co-ops, the Film Farm has engendered a peer-to-peer skill-sharing network. As people come to the farm, learn/make, and take that knowledge with them, the ideal of modestly scaled, craft-centric, artist-made cinema has spread throughout the country. That ecosystem has been enlarged and enriched through the founding of experimental filmmaking collectives like Loop (Toronto), Double Negative (Montreal), Iris (Vancouver), and Windows (Ottawa), artisanal film labs like Toronto’s Niagara Custom Lab, and handmade film workshops at the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (lift), and other production centres. Winnipeg’s Solomon Nagler, who now teaches film production at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, attended Film Farm in the early 2000s and recalls excitedly

309

Brett Kashmere

310

bringing his training back to his hometown: “After learning about handmade cinema there, I immediately wanted to pass on these home-made, no-budget cinema techniques to the army of talent at the Winnipeg Film Group. Together with photographer John Kapitany, we concocted a mini-film farm [an ongoing annual program titled The 16mm Bolex Experiment]. Out of this group sprung a plethora of Winnipeg diy film superstars: Mike Maryniuk, Cecilia Araneda, Carol O’Brien, Jenny Bish and Robert Pasternak” (quoted in Hoolbloom, n.d.). Nagler identifies this fresh enthusiasm for tactile, formal experimental methods as distinct from the narrative-driven, prairie postmodernism of auteurs like John Paizs and Guy Maddin, a filmmaking style steeped in irony, narcissism, and camp. Rather, “this new wave of experimental cinema embraced an ethics of fragility, the mysticism of mismatched alchemical formulae, and the quiet whispers of diary confessions” (quoted in Hoolbloom, n.d.). These preoccupations, which lie at the core of the Film Farm’s mission, hearken back to Paull’s darkroom workshops at Sheridan, his encouragement of risk taking, good craft, and exploration of personal histories and the inner world of the imagination.

I and Thou: Teaching U In addition to laying a foundation that the Film Farm would be built upon, an account of Paull’s contribution to the growth of process cinema in Canada would be incomplete without a consideration of his teaching influence. Paull was a teaching artist in the full sense of the term. He sublimated his ego as a media practitioner to be a creative and innovative educator. His lessons and methods were loved and appreciated by his students, and later adopted by those who went into teaching. Along with Rick Hancox, the other filmmakers most closely affiliated with Sheridan’s Escarpment School – Richard Kerr and Phil Hoffman – have sustained long and distinguished careers in the academy, sharing their insights across a number of institutions and provinces for multiple decades. Others, including Steve Sanguedolce, Mike Hoolboom, and the late Marian McMahon, have also made significant contributions to the cultivation of a Canadian first-person cinema as instructors and mentors and, in Hoolboom’s case, as a profuse and generous writer. Gary Popovich observes that “Jeffrey is one of those rare people, well steeped in ideas and technical matters, who thinks like an artist, an editor, a camera operator, and is dedicated to teaching students how to learn for themselves.”44 “He was at once a humanist and a formalist,” Kerr writes.45 Kerr also points out that Paull “brought American history, culture, and technique to Canada as a studio teacher” at a time when Canadian film education was still in its infancy. “In my

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

mind he was a pure teacher.”46 This author was a student of Kerr’s in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, and it is easy to discern Paull’s example. Kerr’s teaching centres on screening and discussion rooted in an interdisciplinary fine arts discourse and a commitment to weekly independent studio research by emphasizing questions over answers, direct, honest critique, and teacher accessibility, and is augmented by an abundance of supplementary handouts. Hoffman’s approach, according to his former students, is marked by the same generosity, critical attentiveness, and dedication to the profession. Encouraging a hunter-gatherer mentality, Hoffman, like Paull, designs assignments that challenge entrenched ways of working to enable new discoveries, such as making a film from a single image. “[Hoffman’s] teaching style was very fluid, guided by an analogy … about process cinema being like an arrow wavering in the sky, rather than a fixed target. This got us out of our comfort zones in order to create films that weren’t guided by a script or shooting plan, but to create by building an archive of footage and sounds to draw from,” writes Leslie Supnet, a York graduate and Hoffman advisee. Channelling Paull, “Phil gave us lots of quotes from Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer to help guide us in our quest for poetry.”47 Paull’s impact extends far beyond nurturing a small group of experimental and personal documentary filmmakers and educators, however. Former students under his tutelage have garnered fifty Geminis and Genies, over $3 million in arts funding, and have produced “published novels, poetry, comic books, filmed screenplays, a political rock band … documentaries [for the] cbc, bbc, National Geographic and History channels, nfb”48 and so forth. Animation executive Helen Lebeau (Nelvana Studios), photographers David Miller and Aaron Murphy, singer/songwriter Lorraine Segato, tv director Wendy Hopkins, and broadcast documentarist Chuck Scott demonstrate the broad and enduring range of work that was fostered in Sheridan’s Media Arts program during Paull’s thirtythree-year tenure. Segato cites Paull as “by the far the most influential teacher in my life. He made me love film and the language of film and spaces in between words … I have over the years taken all the elements that I learned and applied to my music career. Everything I’d come to understand about light, colour, rhythm, pacing, arc and collaboration I was able to apply in my music.”49 “I never work on a job that I don’t think of things that Jeff discussed in class or out of class,” says Scott.50 “Jeffrey was the first person who showed me what it meant to live in the world as an artist – to process experience as an artist,” Hoolboom writes. “Curiously, he was also the person at Sheridan who had the best technical chops.” “His teaching fused history, aesthetics, technique and pride in workmanship. I have modeled my entire teaching career based on Jeff Paull’s teaching,” says Kerr. In all, nine of Paull’s students have become professors of film or photography.

311

Brett Kashmere

312

Meanwhile, dozens of Canadian film artists have received training or guidance from Escarpment-associated professors. Since moving from Sheridan College to Concordia University’s Communication Studies Department in 1985, Rick Hancox has supervised the work of Cara Morton (whose poetic film Across [1997] was initiated at the Film Farm), John Price, and Joshua Bonnetta, among others. Continuing in the rich tradition of poetic landscape cinema, Price’s spare but skillful sea series #5 (2010) was filmed during a family trip to Georgian Bay, which borders the Niagara Escarpment. His economical approach, preference for hi-con print stocks, and in-camera experimentation are process cinema hallmarks. Echoing Price’s piece, Bonnetta’s Long Shadows (2009) revisits and reanimates home movies from a past era, conjuring seasons spent on a northern lake. Although he never attended Sheridan, Lorne Marin hung out with Hancox, Kerr, and Hoffman, and made a handful of stunning films beginning in the early 1970s. Like these other filmmakers, Marin’s work combines narrative and documentary strategies with a concern for landscape and assured optical printing. Hoffman returned to Sheridan as a full-time instructor in 1986. He taught there for over a decade alongside Paull, his former professor, before joining the Film and Video Department at Toronto’s York University in 1999. The evocation of family history that is central to Hoffman’s project is likewise reflected in the work of his students, such as Elida Schogt’s elegiac trilogy on Holocaust memory, Zyklon Portrait (1999), The Walnut Tree (2000), and Silent Song (2001). Currently a professor at Sheridan, Tracy German lived in the heart of the Escarpment and studied with Hoffman in the early 1990s. As Hoffman points out, German’s films, which “feature a tender mix of landscape, formalist and quietly feminist” qualities, were certainly inspired by the likes of Hancox, Kerr, McMahon, and Hoolboom.51 The ethics of representation, a central concern of Hoffman’s, is taken up in Ryan Feldman’s personal documentary Eulogy/Obverse (1999), which began as an assignment in one of Hoffman’s Sheridan classes. His advocacy for materialist, cinegraphic exploration has been carried through as well. Advancing lessons from her studies with Hoffman and time spent at the Film Farm, Eva Kolcze has crafted a growing body of 16mm films that court material transformation through strategies of decay. She also now co-teaches process cinema workshops with Hoffman. After a four-year stint as a sessional instructor at Sheridan, Kerr taught film production at the University of Regina from 1986 to 1999, and was instrumental in engendering a distinctive, landscape-based, process-rich prairie cinema. The films of Roy Cross, Jason Britski, Ian Toews, and Mike Rollo, among others, testify to Kerr’s effect. Since relocating to Concordia University’s School of Cinema, and drawing many of his former Saskatchewan students east, Kerr has continued

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

to influence incoming waves of celluloid experimenters. The Double Negative Collective, conceived by Karl Lemieux and Daïchi Saïto in 2004 while both were studying at Concordia, has its roots in one of Kerr’s renowned “Studio X” classes. Saïto’s Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009) also evokes the meticulous handcrafted work of Carl Brown, who was first introduced to darkroom technique/ chemical magic at Sheridan College. Lemieux’s performance collaborations with musicians such as Radwan Moumneh, Roger Tellier-Craig, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, often employ four or more 16mm projectors in an integrated live musical context, echoing Paull’s 1970s-era Electric Stereopticon shows. However, rather than signalling a causal relationship, these projects – separated by three decades – demonstrate how the cohort of teachers cultivated at Sheridan has contributed to an ongoing, cohesive tradition. Bart Testa, writing about the first generation of college-employed film artists in Canada, including Hancox and Paull, notes that these Canadian teachers chose to teach something else [besides the crew-based narrative model], practical filmmaking procedures that brought their students directly into contact with film materials … The consequence was a pedagogy emphasizing a high level of technical craft and finish despite modest means at the students’ disposal. This meant inculcating in young filmmakers a sense of crafting something completely, though the tools at their disposal were artisanal rather than industrial. This further implied proposing to students that they be artists, like composers or painters, that they must shape whole works with their own hands, using stubbornly uncooperative and often scarcely adequate tools. (Testa 1994, 13)

This consequence, as Testa expressed it, endures in the medium-specific handmade work coming out of the Film Farm, which is partially staffed by former Hoffman (and Paull) students, and in the experimental documentaries, personal diary work, and hybrid expanded cinema being produced in film and media departments across Canada. Marianna Milhorat is among the latest generation to be influenced by the Escarpment School. Having studied under some of Kerr’s former students at Concordia (including this author), Milhorat’s work, which explores landscape and duration through exquisite, equivocal cinematography, forms a link from George Semsel and 1960s American avant-garde cinema to Hancox and the Escarpment School filmmakers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, their students of the 1990s and 2000s, thereby connecting five generations of educators and pupils.52 Regardless of whether the “Escarpment School” started as an off-thecuff joke, or an earnest attempt at self-definition and promotion, the proof of its

313

Brett Kashmere

314

importance can be found in the thirty-plus years of intensely subjective, formally daring films – films that continue to be made and celebrated to this day. Mandatory retirement forced Paull out of Sheridan College in 2005, well before he was ready to give up teaching – and he hasn’t. Turning eighty in 2020, with the same indelible curiosity, irreverence, and wide array of interests that distinguished his Sheridan tenure, he continues to be an important adviser and influence. He mentored Janis Cole when she was pursuing her mfa in the late 2000s, and maintains correspondence with numerous former students, offering feedback whenever asked and occasionally contributing to their projects. He coedited two of Sanguedolce’s hand-coloured documentary features, Dead Time (2005) and Blinding (2011), and his footage, filmed in Ohio’s Broadview Developmental Center in 1967, forms the basis of Hoolboom’s 2015 Scrapbook. During the late 2000s Paull was a frequent participant on the Frameworks experimental film listserv, serving as a proxy professor, sounding board, and booster. It is fair to say that if not for Paull, certain aspects of Canadian experimental cinema would be far less elaborated or successfully realized, including the fervour for handcraft and the recognition that “all work is autobiographical.”53 “He was the straw that stirred the drink,” according to Kerr. “No Paull, no Sheridan”54 – and no Film Farm, which has advanced his hand-processing and optical printing tutorials as well as his emphasis on learning opportunities outside of institutional structures. Paull’s focus on the individual student experience, grounded in an embrace of the poetry of life and self-examination, has been consistent throughout a forty-year career. As he explained in a 1974 interview aligning teaching with midwifery, “I help give birth to [students’] own ideas although I have nothing to do with the conception or gestation of these ideas. I help these ideas come into being through technical pointers and by keeping the person company in the process” (quoted in Costin 1974, 37). Teacher emeritus of the provisional Escarpment School constellation, he is in many ways the soul of Sheridan Media Arts and an unsung hero of Canadian process cinema. Always aiming to push boundaries and ever encouraging his students to play and test out new directions in their work, he had a joy of teaching and enthusiasm for creative inquiry that are summed up in his annual first-day opening words: Welcome and bienvenue to you all! The best movies use their technical prowess to express the poetry of life, and I’ll expect you to do the same. Movie people take risks. You are here to take risks. Reach beyond what you think is possible right now. That will be our work in this room, this year.55

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema

Notes I thank Jeffrey Paull, Rob Butterworth, Janis Cole, Philip Hoffman, Mike Hoolboom, Richard Kerr, Steve Sanguedolce, and Lorraine Segato for their generous assistance in preparing this chapter. Portions of it have been adapted from my curatorial text for The Road Ended at the Beach and Other Legends: Parsing the “Escarpment School,” produced by the Winnipeg Cinematheque, November 2010–May 2011. 1 Janis Cole, Holly Dale, Marian McMahon, Louise Lebeau, and Mike Cartmell – who is credited with the Escarpment School coinage – are occasionally linked to the group. A number of other accomplished filmmakers and cultural producers, such as Alan Zweig, Lorne Marin, and Lorraine Segato (of the political rock band The Parachute Club) intersected with this circle as fellow students and/or through acts of collaboration, social interactions, inspiration, and friendship. The American filmmaker and scholar George Semsel – Hancox’s first teacher and mentor – also deserves mention, as many of the concerns expressed in the films of the Escarpment School can be located in Semsel’s own cinematic work. 2 Interview with the author, 7 July 2015. 3 Ibid. 4 Jeffrey Paull, correspondence with the author, circa 2015. 5 Ibid. 6 Many of these initiatives are covered in Youngblood (1970), who coined the term. 7 Paull cites his love of Canadian film, in particular the work of the creative team behind the nfb’s Labyrinth pavilion – Colin Low, Roman Kroitor, and Tom Daly – as a major factor in his move to Canada. Correspondence with the author, circa 2015. 8 Email to the author, 16 May 2010. 9 A revised version appears in the lift (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) newsletter 19, no. 1 (January/February 1999), http://lift.ca/sites/lift.ca/ files/LIFTNewsletter_1999JanuaryFebruaryweb.pdf. 10 Jeffrey Paull, correspondence with the author, circa 2015. 11 Challenge for Change was active from 1967 to 1980. 12 Email to the author, 21 September 2015. 13 For more on this history, see Hodgkinson 1970. Incidentally, Hodgkinson was one of Paull’s film professors at Boston University. 14 Email to the author, 7 July 2015. 15 Interview with the author, 26 October 2010. 16 Email to the author, 21 September 2015. 17 Jeffrey Paull, résumé, December 2007. 18 Steve Sanguedolce, interview with the author, 26 October 2010.

315

Brett Kashmere 19 Email to the author, 18 September 2015. 20 Email to the author, 21 September 2015. 21 Correspondence with the author, 25 November 2010. 22 Email to the author, 15 September 2015.

316

23 This would eventually change near the end of the ’70s, as the Canadian film industry grew and more Hollywood production moved north. The department later adapted by hiring people versed in industrial modes of filmmaking. 24 Approximately twenty-five years later, Kerr would create a large body of work (Industry), comprising analog slide projections, collage films, and digital videos, which applied emulsion-lift techniques to Hollywood movie trailers. 25 Email to the author, 19 September 2015. 26 Phil Hoffman: “Some notes on beginnings, first person cinema, and Rick’s contagious passion for living through film.” Curatorial essay written to accompany a screening of Rick Hancox’s films at Winnipeg Film Group’s Cinematheque, 6 November 2010. 27 Jeffrey Paull, syllabus for “Frame-X-Frame,” circa late 1970s. 28 Email to the author, 3 September 2015. 29 Correspondence with the author, circa 2015. 30 Excerpt from a classroom handout, “in and out of the classroom,” by Jeff Paull. 31 Email to the author, 21 September 2015. 32 Email to the author, 3 September 2015. 33 Interview with the author, 26 October 2010. 34 Email to the author, 18 September 2015. 35 Paull’s diagnosis of attention deficit disorder at age sixty may help account for his reluctance to edit and/or finish films and explain his desire for the single-reel/ single-take form. 36 Rick Hancox, email correspondence to Lianne McLarty, 7 March 1997. 37 Hoffman, “Some notes on beginnings.” 38 Semsel, who was associated with Marie Menken and Willard Maas in New York’s Gryphon Film Group of the 1960s, was possibly the first person to teach film production at the university level in Canada at Prince of Wales College on Prince Edward Island. See Semsel 1969. 39 Email to the author, 28 September 2015. 40 Jeffrey Paull, correspondence with the author, circa 2015. 41 Rob Butterworth, email to the author, 3 October 2015. 42 Past participants include: Sarah Abbott, Basma Alsharif, Stephen Andrews, Maïa Cybelle Carpenter, Chris Chong, Mary Helena Clark, Emily vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Clint Enns, David Gatten, Chris Gehman, John Greyson, Eve Heller, Helen Hill, Amy Lockhart, Brenda Longfellow, Deirdre Logue, Brigid McCaffrey,

Paull, the Escarpment School, and Process Cinema Julie Murray, Jenny Perlin, John Porter, Jennifer Reeves, Barbara Sternberg, Leslie Supnet, Naomi Uman, and many more. 43 Notably, the Film Farm received institutional support from Sheridan during its early years. 44 Quoted in Jeffrey Paull, résumé, December 2007. 45 Email to the author, 19 September 2015. 46 Email to the author, 28 August 2015. 47 Leslie Supnet, correspondence with the author, 28 September 2015. 48 Jeffrey Paull, résumé, December 2007. 49 Email to the author, 21 September 2015. 50 Email to the author, 22 September 2015. 51 Email to the author, 18 July 2010. 52 Milhorat is, of course, now a teacher. 53 Rob Butterworth, email to the author, 3 October 2015. 54 Email to the author, 19 September 2015. 55 Quoted in letter from Jeffrey Paull to Albert Abramovitz, circa 2010.

References Brown, Carl. 2008. “after: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy.” INCITE Journal of Experimental Media 1. http://www.incite-online.net/brown.html. Costin, Lucie. 1974. “Sheridan.” Cinema Canada 13 (April–May): 36. Lopez, Marina. “‘Long Hair’ Show Gets Big Crowd.” The News [Mexico City], 5 May 1973. Hodgkinson, Anthony W. 1970. “North Reading and Screen Media.” Educational Leadership 27, no. 5 (February). Hookey, Robert J. 1976. “Survey of Film Schools: Sheridan.” Motion Magazine 5, no. 4. Hoolboom, Mike. n.d. “Furious Pleasures: An Interview with Solomon Nagler.” Unpublished interview. – 1995. “Mike Hoolboom’s Carte Blanche: Three Short Films about Killing.” Program notes, Cinematheque Ontario. Toronto, 28 February. – 2001. Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film in Canada. 2nd ed. Toronto: Coach House. Press. Paull, Jeffrey. 2001. “This Is Cinerama.” In Landscape with Shipwreck: First Person Cinema and the Films of Philip Hoffman. Toronto: Images Festival and Insomniac Press. Semsel, George S. 1969. “Letter from George S. Semsel.” Filmmakers Newsletter (New York), Spring.

317

Brett Kashmere Simmons, Ryan. 2010. “Interview with Phil Hoffman Regarding the ‘Escarpment School.’” Cineflyer, 31 October. http://cineflyer.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/interviewwith-phil-hoffman-regarding-the-escarpment-school/. Testa, Bart. 1994. Richard Kerr: Overlapping Entries. Regina, sk: MacKenzie Art

318

Gallery. Youngblood, Gene. 1970 Expanded Cinema. New York: Dutton.

Chapter 23 The Sound We See: Growing a Global Slow Film Movement Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo An Introduction We are the Echo Park Film Center. We are an ever-growing family of filmmakers, educators, activists, archivists, curators, cinephiles, and students who believe in the potential of the moving image to empower individuals and activate communities. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone should have access to the tools and technology to share these stories with the world. We’re endlessly inspired by analog film and analog film practice, especially the collaborative kind. We are the Echo Park Film Center. Not the Echo Park Media Center, Video Center, or Digital Archive. We love film. We’ve been singing its praises and bringing it to the people since the day we started. The twenty-first century has been tough on the medium. College and university cinema schools changed to digital-only curricula and literally threw their 16mm and Super-8 gear in the trash. Public libraries deaccessioned entire film print collections. Film labs sold their machines for scrap. Kodak cut production of beloved film stocks. Movie studios announced an end to 35mm releases. Times have changed, and we are not blind to the world around us. We hear it all the time: Why shoot film? Digital is cheaper and more easily available. You can make a movie on your smartphone, upload it to YouTube in a matter of seconds, sit back and count the hits. Film is dead. So why bother? Because we love film. And we think it still matters – maybe more than ever.

A Cinematic Seed Is Planted For those unfamiliar with our organization, Echo Park Film Center is a co-operatively run non-profit media arts space located in the Echo Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles. We do five things:

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

320



Screen experimental and documentary films and videos in our sixty-seat microcinema.



Teach free and low-cost film and video classes.



Run an equipment rental and retail store.



Operate a travelling film school and cinema known as the epfc Filmmobile.



Host local and international artist residency programs.

We chose the name Echo Park Film Center because when we opened our doors in 2001, film was the format we worked with and the medium that excited us most when it came to visual storytelling. Handmade film fit with our punk rock roots and diy aesthetic – raw, inexpensive, and accessible. Around the turn of the last century, you could pick up a Super-8 camera for $15 at a rummage sale. An array of black and white and colour film stock – including our dear departed Kodachrome – was easily available for a few bucks. After a day in the sun and an hour in the darkroom with some friends, you had a movie! That let’s do it! spirit still propels us. For film to survive as a real option for all kinds of filmmakers, and not just as a gimmick or esoteric practice for an ever-shrinking few, there has to be information, access, and resources on the grassroots level. Small-gauge film isn’t a rarefied art form – it belongs in the everyday. And that’s why we introduce students of all ages to 8mm, Super-8, and 16mm, why we rent projectors and encourage our community to dust off those home movies, and why we organize exhibitions of film on film as much as possible. Film remains a vital force. We’ve always provided free filmmaking classes for young people in Los Angeles. For the first seven years, workshops mostly took place at our 900-square-foot storefront space located at 1200 N. Alvarado Street, but since the 2008 addition of the epfc Filmmobile – an old school bus transformed into an eco-friendly film school on wheels – we’re spreading the cinematic gospel far beyond the boundaries of Echo Park. We use film as a catalyst for community-building. We are not a Hollywood bootcamp, nor have we ever wanted to be. Our instructional model is inclusive, nurturing, and non-hierarchical. We all teach and we all learn. Our students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, economic strata, and experiences. Our instructors are a diverse, dedicated bunch of filmmakers and film educators, many of whom are former students who grew up in the epfc youth program and stuck around to give back and keep growing. We’ve never turned a kid away for lack of space, funding, or resources. At epfc, there’s always room for everybody.

Growing a Global Slow Film Movement

More “In the Moment” Moments With each passing year, the love of cinema, celluloid, and analog filmmaking continued to grow within our humble halls. More and more young people came through the doors, hungry for hands-on filmmaking. Our projects became more ambitious, experimental, and expansive. We began cultivating ideas that could incorporate larger audiences and get more individuals involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process. In the fall of 2010, we offered a free after-school 16mm analog film class called The Sound We See: A Los Angeles City Symphony. The idea was to invite local youth to create a contemporary version of the classic City Symphony film, a genre popular in the 1920s that celebrated the dynamic urban environment and new moving picture technologies. Thirty-seven young filmmakers between the ages of eleven and nineteen signed up for the workshop.

23.1 Echo Park Film Center poster for The Sound We See: A Los Angeles City Symphony Youth Project.

321

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

322

The first day kicked off with a conversation about how the world sees Los Angeles versus how we experience our own city: the tourist traps, the clichés, the secret spaces, and the lost places. In subsequent sessions, we looked at maps and archival footage. We explored representations of the urban environment in avantgarde and mainstream media. We went on a blindfolded “soundwalk” through downtown L.A. We kept journals and made notes and sketches of things noticed on daily rambles. We visited familiar territory and immersed ourselves in new environments. Students each selected an hour of the day or night that resonated with them and then paired up with another student who selected that time too. Working together over a three-month period with the support of eight instructors, the students planned, shot, and edited a twenty-four-hour film where each hour of the day became one minute on the screen. To formally link back to the manner in which these City Symphony films were originally created, we tried to remain true to the style and spirit of those early masterpieces. Each working pair was allotted two 100-foot rolls of black and white Double-X Negative or Hi-Con film stock. All footage had to be shot in the specified hour. Echo Park Film Center’s Bolex and Scoopic cameras were old and crotchety. Only in-camera effects were allowed. Maximum ten cuts per segment. The filming locations were spread across the entire town at all hours of the day and night. Time was tight. None of the kids had ever shot or edited 16mm film before. This is a generation that’s grown up immersed in all-pervasive digital technology. In discussions about the role the internet and social media play in their lives, twelve- and thirteen-year-old students tell us things like: “I can’t remember a time before Facebook.” “I’ve got several on-line identities.” “I spend six hours a day on my smartphone.” “Only old people use email.”

They come to us with lots of experience making, watching, posting, and even critiquing digital media. But after a lifetime of force-fed McVideo, film is a whole different story. For these young people, film was a new experience that took a complete leap of faith. No autofocus. No instant replays, no rewind and redo, no indiscriminate shooting of everything in sight for hours on end with a vague plan to “fix it in post.” The Film Center buzzed with infectious energy as the footage came back from the lab and everyone gathered to watch the projected work prints. The students couldn’t stop talking about the way the experience transformed the creative process for them, how film was more valuable, more vital, more precious, more

Growing a Global Slow Film Movement

tactile, more tangible than digital media and how working with film challenged them to be more present, more engaged with the process. Film makes you be responsible and independent fast. Digital Video babies you.

323

– Walter, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Los Angeles I like it better than digital … More “in the moment” moments. You get what you get, and you can collage it however you want. – Elena, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Los Angeles It’s a lot more personal because you only have two and a half minutes to film. It’s not like video where you can film everything and edit most of it away. – Chloe, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Los Angeles Working with film is like working with a human being in that it is extremely sensitive and one must be ready to use aggressive love techniques to make it speak. – Angelo, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Los Angeles

On 12 December 2010, The Sound We See: A Los Angeles City Symphony premiered to a packed cinema in downtown Los Angeles. Formerly known as the Arrow, the Aztec, and the Linda Lea, the venue had seen its share of movie history, presenting a cavalcade of silent films, newsreels, burlesque shows, and Japanese-language films since opening its doors in 1925. That night it was filled with a new generation of filmmakers, their friends, and their families, all gathered in grand anticipation. A small orchestra of six talented young multi-instrumentalists had created an original score to accompany the silent black and white images live at the premiere. The musicians met with each filmmaking team to get their input on what the images “sounded” like to them and how the soundtrack could help convey these thoughts, ideas, and emotions in performance. The result was breathtaking. It was a night that made you feel so lucky to be alive. Here was our city seen and heard in a whole new way. The experience resonated deeply with the audience, bringing many in the cinema to tears.

Enjoy Your Mistakes Plenty of radical visionaries, from Gandhi to the Black Panthers, have talked about the crucial importance of community control over the means of production and media technology. And this got us dreaming about a kind of slow-film movement that could engage populations around the world in making films on

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

324

film together in a creative, inclusive, joyful, and sustainable way. Seeing epfc students so viscerally transformed by their filmmaking experience, we started to wonder what would happen if we facilitated this project in different communities around the world. Could it work? Our participation in a community cinema panel at the 2011 International Film Festival Rotterdam sparked interest in bringing The Sound We See to the Netherlands. Plans were made, ideas exchanged, budgets and grants written, and when the smoke cleared we were invited by research professor, theorist, and filmmaker Florian Cramer to work in Rotterdam for four months in partnership with several local organizations including radical culture centre worm, the Willem de Kooning Academy, and social services agency sonar to make the The Sound We See: A Rotterdam City Symphony. And then the rains came! In January 2012, word hit the street that Eastman Kodak had filed for bankruptcy. It was not a secret that they had been hurting financially for years, but was this really the end? There were similar ground-shaking events rumbling in the Netherlands. Rightwing politician Geert Wilders had recently given a speech describing art as a “leftist hobby” and the government was talking about drastically reducing arts funding. In a country where almost 100 per cent of fiscal support for artists and arts organizations came from government sources, this was pretty scary stuff. In fact, during our time in Rotterdam in the spring of 2012, worm lost 50 per cent of its operations funding virtually overnight, and Amsterdam’s renowned lab Cineco announced it would be closing by year’s end. What better time to really think about sustainability and community control of the means of production in the arts? What better time to forge a new grassroots media model? The Sound We See: Rotterdam worked predominantly with youth of colour from the city’s vibrant immigrant populations. Fifty per cent of Rotterdam’s population is foreign-born, and in the neighbourhood of Spangen, where we were living, the percentage is much higher and includes individuals and families from Turkey, Morocco, Suriname, and Cape Verde to name a few. Their presence and role in Dutch society is huge – but where is their presence on the screen and in the cinema? After city-wide recruitment efforts, our group of emerging filmmakers grew to include high school kids, undergrad and graduate art school students, community activists, artists, and curiosity seekers between the ages of thirteen and forty-two. Most were the children of immigrants.

325

23.2 The Sound We See: A Rotterdam City Symphony workshop.

These individuals were now the storytellers. Over the course of three months, they became a super-supportive cinematic family. For this group of first-time filmmakers, there was a real need to not only create the film, but to be represented and acknowledged on the screen. They wanted the world to see their Rotterdam. They wanted the world to see them. Partnerships formed with individuals and organizations gave the filmmakers access to new skills, resources, and mentors. Filmmaker Esther Urlus taught Lomo-tank processing, contact printing, and negative cutting in the amazing Filmwerkplaats lab deep in the bowels of worm. The city archive loaned experimental films made in Rotterdam before the city was levelled by bombs in the Second World War. Karel Doing of Studio één came by to show the participants his own city symphony and ended up making a documentary on the Sound We See process. One of the participants led a silkscreening workshop on the Willem de Kooning campus to make posters for the premiere. Another showed everyone how to make musical instruments out of trash. When we met the pastor of a local church built four centuries ago to serve the needs of sailors landing in the port of Rotterdam, we knew we’d found the perfect place for the culminating event.

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

There was a community potluck beforehand, a tradition that precedes every Sound We See premiere. The most important thing for me was the lightness. If you wait until you can do something

326

perfect, you won’t do anything ever. So just do and enjoy your mistakes because they are entirely your own! And that is beautiful in its own special way. – Loek, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Rotterdam There was never a moment when people got scared or intimidated by technique or technical matters. And that is very special. – Hinko, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Rotterdam

Filming by Heart We met filmmaker/video artist Nguyen Trinh Thi in 2007 when she was in California studying for a master’s degree at the University of California San Diego. Thi screened her new documentary work in our cinema and helped teach a class at epfc later in the year. In 2009, Thi returned to Hanoi with her photographer/ cinematographer-husband Jamie Maxtone-Graham and their daughter An to start doclab, a media arts centre loosely modelled on the Echo Park Film Center that trains young filmmakers to make documentaries that both celebrate community stories and raise awareness of important local issues. We wanted to see what the cinematic revolution was looking like in Hanoi and made plans to bring The Sound We See experience to Vietnam in January 2013. There is absolutely no contemporary analog film culture or resources in northern Vietnam, so we brought all the necessary equipment with us. This time, we went with Super-8 for its portability and ease of use. The sixteen participants had been selected after a rigorous application process. Some were students, some had well-established careers in a variety of fields (architecture, journalism, education), but all approached filmmaking with a passion and focus we’ve never seen before or since. Preliminary classes that were supposed to last two hours would routinely run four or five. All parts of the process were documented and noted so they could be replicated later. Critiques were detailed and intense. For young people raised under Communism, fostering independent thought and a personal cinematic vision was of primary importance. The participants at Hanoi doclab not only shot and edited the film, but processed it themselves in a lab created out of a tiny bathroom inside their space at the Goethe Institute. Resourcefulness was a theme that ran through the entire workshop. Instead of two rolls of film per hour as we’d done in L.A., or one roll

Growing a Global Slow Film Movement

of film per hour as we’d done in Rotterdam, one cartridge of Tri-X reversal was used for two shoots. Each hour was now allotted just 100 seconds of footage to be cut down to 60 seconds for the final edit. Raw materials for reversal bleach were sourced at an old medical chemist’s shop. When the projector belt broke with no possible way of getting a replacement, participants found a workable substitute from a local plumber within an hour. “This is why we won the war,” Thi said with a smile. I learned a lot of invaluable things from the workshop in general like technique, patience, discipline and so on but one of the most interesting things that inspired me (through the workshop and Echo Park Rambling Road Show) is: “Inner freedom could unfold one’s imagination and full potentials at the highest level. As a result, magic happens.” – Thu, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Hanoi The most interesting thing I have learned is how to film by heart, not only by technique. – My Hang, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Hanoi

23.3 The Sound We See: A Hanoi City Symphony workshop.

327

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

328

A mere four weeks after our first meeting, the film premiered in the Goethe Institute’s beautiful outdoor courtyard. The filmmakers set up the projection equipment. We expected a couple dozen spectators to show up – when the show started, there were hundreds. Every seat in the house was filled. People were three-deep on balconies to catch a glimpse. Kids were on the shoulders of their parents. Images of Hanoi’s vibrant street life lit up the screen. The live score mixing traditional instruments with electronic samples drifted through the balmy night air. The film sparked a passionate discussion during the subsequent Q&A about the use of traditional film techniques to tell a story of contemporary Hanoi. Was the black and white imagery too nostalgic? Was the non-linear style too confusing? Was the music too intense? The dialogue between filmmakers and audience went late into the evening and continued at the group critique the next day. Analog film had really touched a nerve in this community. We left all the equipment with doclab – cameras, projectors, processing gear, splicers, and Super-8 film stock – so they could keep making films. The filmmakers now had ownership over the means of production and more creative and technical tools in their documentary arsenal.

Stay Curious In December that same year, we found ourselves in India. Guwahati is a city in the northeastern province of Assam that cradles the mighty Brahmaputra River. For this project, we lived and worked in a traditional house as guests of Desire Machine Collective, a project of artists Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, whose practice includes film, video, photography, and multimedia installation. The Sound We See would be Desire Machine Collective’s first youth film project – university students home for the winter holiday, friends visiting from Delhi, local high school students, and interns. Some had made digital films before, but many hadn’t. For two action-packed weeks, the space became a lab, a classroom, a playground for the local kids, an all-night editing studio, a cinema, a cafeteria, a living room, a community centre, a party palace, a dormitory, and a home. It was everything to everyone. As we’d done in Vietnam, a processing lab was set up onsite – this time, in a large closet with tin buckets of water brought in from the nearby bathroom. Here the participants took it a step further and used eco-friendly ingredients rather than commercial chemical mixes to process the film. Popularly known as Caffenol, the basic recipe entails a kitchen-cupboard mixture of instant coffee, vitamin C, and washing soda. After processing up to five rolls of film, each 2-litre batch could be

Growing a Global Slow Film Movement

easily and safely poured down the drain. The film was hung up outside on the veranda to dry. The filmmaking journey was intensely personal and familial. In India, you are never alone. Strangers in the streets were intrigued and delighted by the filmmaking process. Everyone wanted to get in on the action. Access was never denied. Every shoot ended with an epic two-hour meal with the filmmaker’s family. Every night was an impromptu film screening, singalong, or dance party. We became an extended tribe of filmmakers, family, friends, and neighbours. The musician scoring the film was also a psychic who had no interest in seeing the finished film until he and his partner performed with it at the premiere. In fact, he preferred to base his composition on intense conversations with the filmmakers about their dreams for the film before they even began shooting! The premiere was held at a high-rise discotheque. The audience was populated with Hindus, Muslims, Jains, and Christians. Everyone agreed that the music perfectly matched the images. Once again, the tools of production were left with the organization so the filmmakers could continue their cinematic experiments and teach analog techniques to others. There are plans in the works for an All India Film Tour to bring experimental handmade films to towns and villages throughout the country as a grassroots counterpoint to the behemoth of Bollywood. After completing The Sound We See: A Guwahati City Symphony, we were invited to teach a two-week “Open Electives” class at the National Institute of Design (nid) in Ahmedabad, where we mentored students in building their own 16mm pinhole cameras from recycled and repurposed scrap materials using Colorado-based filmmaker Robert Schaller’s elegant design as a starting point. nid is considered the top art and design school in India, and there is a highly competitive admissions system: over 100,000 people apply for 100 spots each year. The students work very, very hard. And while there were long hours in the shop and the darkroom, we also made time to play, experiment, share meals, sing songs, and sit outside on the grass surrounded by monkeys and peacocks and talk about class and caste and the pressure to conform and succeed as young people in contemporary India. The process provided a means of stepping outside the system for a little while. The short films created were haiku versions of the city symphony: abstract and lyrical, dreamily melding architecture, politics, religion, and culture with the light and shadow of daily life. The most important thing I took away from this project is that the world is full of stories to see, hear, feel, love. It is important for one to stay humble, calm, kind, giving; to expe-

329

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo rience it. To accept failure gracefully, to stay curious, to learn, to share and to love … It was a beautiful experience! – Madhuri, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Ahmedabad

330

Our Way of Life, Our Language, Our Culture, Our Heritage Some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle sits Old Crow, Yukon Territory, home of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. The village of approximately 250 people can be accessed only by air or river, part of a serious community commitment to preserve and protect the traditional way of life. Since 2008, Vancouver-based filmmaker Lisa g Nielsen has worked with the people of Old Crow to tell their stories through the Our World initiative started by the National Film Board of Canada and continued through her own organization, Bite Size Media. Now, she wanted to share analog film skills with the community for the first time. The two-week workshop for The Sound We See: An Old Crow Village Symphony in September 2014 coincided with preparations for the rapidly approaching winter – wild cranberry foraging and jam making, firewood gathering, and caribou meat preservation were all documented by filmmakers ranging in age from six to eighty-two. A Super-8 lab was set up at the John Tizya Cultural Centre. In light of ever-increasing environmental concerns and very limited access to resources, Super-8 eco-processing was the obvious choice. A primary goal of the Our World series is to integrate endangered First Nations language into media arts projects as part of community-led revitalization efforts. For the first time, a Sound We See soundtrack included the spoken word, with elders and youth sharing their thoughts and feelings in the Vuntut Gwich’in language about the things that make Old Crow so special. All the equipment and materials brought for the project stayed in Old Crow so the community could continue documenting daily life on film and eco-processing the results with local ingredients such as pine needles and cranberries. I really enjoyed it … I got to process the film myself using the instant coffee recipe and then after it was put in the water to rinse off and into the fixer and then back into the water then I got to actually hang up my film on a clothesline. This to me was like the really old way of making films and that was really exciting for me to see. And not only that, I was so impressed with the youth of Old Crow coming forward and participating; the school children and other people from the community came out too. We each got an hour block to do whatever we wanted to do to showcase Old Crow … our way of life, our language, our culture, our heritage. – Mary Jane, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Old Crow

23.4 Top The Sound We See: A Guwahati City Symphony workshop.

23.5 Bottom The Sound We See: An Old Crow Village Symphony workshop.

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

332

The un-urban approach continued in spring 2015 with The Sound We See: A Somerset County Symphony. Hosted by The Engine Room/Somerset Film, a British non-profit providing community media arts access and resources, the onemonth workshop engaged a group consisting mainly of women and families with the entire expanse of Somerset County as the canvas. Images explored historic sites, local traditions, lonely landscapes, quirky corners, and bucolic farm life. Somerset tea and cider were used to process the film. The process underscored the importance of nurturing lifelong connections to creativity and the value in connecting people in rural communities through art. The score, created and performed by a teen vocal group brought together by ActionTrack Performance Company, incorporated folk songs, place names, and the eerily cyclical sounds of nature. It felt like getting back to basics, it’s filming how it used to be … [Super-8’s] simplicity and rawness has a certain quality that video just hasn’t got. They are two separate mediums. Analog film uses a different thought process … Being encouraged to film whatever Somerset meant to you personally. There was no right or wrong, no boundaries. I learned that any idea, whose ever or whatever, is an integral part of the creative, collaborative process. – Emma, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Somerset I feel community projects serve the local population in ways that are impossible to measure and predict; the knock-on effect of community collaboration in a creative process is therapeutic and can, if allowed to, continue to benefit the collaborators and wider community for some time after. As a result of this project I have fallen in love with Somerset for the very first time [after] having lived here as a “comer-in” for the last thirty years. – Yolanda, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Somerset

We knew we had to do The Sound We See: A Berlin City Symphony for two reasons: the city is the setting for the most celebrated example of the genre, Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, as well as the home of Super8 goddess Dagie Brundert. Dagie’s wabi-sabi approach to handmade film has hit new heights in recent years through her ebullient experiments in eco-processing enthusiastically shared with the global small-gauge filmmaking community. Her films, processed with everything from beer to jacaranda blossoms, are a feast for the eyes. The Berlin group ranged in age from thirteen to fifty-five and included participants from Mongolia, Spain, France, Australia, Canada, the US, and even a couple of born and bred Berliners (East and West). The dynamic energy of a city in flux was palpable in the frenetic three-day shoot, which included a few wildcard

23.6 Top The Sound We See: A Somerset County Symphony workshop.

23.7 Bottom The Sound We See: A Berlin City Symphony workshop.

Lisa Marr and Paolo Davanzo

334

“parade” hours open to any and all filmmakers to work en masse. The processing took place over two short days at LaborBerlin, an artist-run lab located in a former swimming pool complex that was in the throes of yet another gentrificationmotivated eviction in a city where artists are losing many of the affordable resources that attracted them there to begin with. The soundtrack was a mishmash of field recordings, found sounds, samples, and songs. The premiere at Ausland, an underground garage in a former squat in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood, was packed with people with dozens more outside hoping to somehow squeeze in. That night we were all Berliners. I have experience with video, but I definitely prefer to work with Super-8. It has its own beauty. Video often seems so cold to me. I also love the fact that there’s no “delete” on Super-8. You have to pay more attention … It’s such a precious material! – Nadine, filmmaker, The Sound We See: Berlin

It’s Organic The Sound We See is an ongoing exploration and celebration of the ways we can come together to tell our stories on film. Each community takes what it needs from the process and transforms it into art. Each community pushes the process further into new directions and new discoveries. Each community firmly believes that their particular film is “the best.” And it is! They made it. Even though the framework for the project remains the same, each film is its own dynamic entity with its own look and energy. The process unites us and changes us. We experience time in new ways. We experience place in new ways. We look around. We walk around. We listen. We talk. We make mistakes. We let go. We trust. We learn. We share. The films communicate with each other. It’s a universal language, linked back to those early city symphonies and running right through to the present day. There’s a conversation going on globally about local stories and private moments, but also these powerful human truths are unfolding and echoing out in the streets, in the darkroom, and on the screen. It’s like cooking. It’s the crux of community cinema. And no matter what fancy gizmos and gadgets are out there, it’s not the latest equipment or cutting-edge technology that makes a great film. A great film combines a compelling human story with a magical chemical process. No two frames of analog film are alike – it’s organic. The act of projecting light through emulsion draws humans to film in a primal way like moths to a flame due

Growing a Global Slow Film Movement

to the simple fact that film – actual film – is a living thing that tells a living story, and our hearts can’t help but respond to it.

Share The Love! 335 Echo Park Film Center, http://www.echoparkfilmcenter.org The Sound We See, https://vimeo.com/album/2839480 Sell Your TV and Come to the Cinema, http://sellyourtvandcometothecinema.org Filmwerkplaats, http://filmwerkplaats.hotglue.me Esther Urlus, http://estherurlus.hotglue.me/d-i-y worm, http://www.worm.org doclab, http://www.hanoidoclab.org/en/ Desire Machine Collective, http://www.desiremachinecollective.in Handmade Film Institute, http://www.handmadefilm.org Our World, http://www.ourworldlanguage.com The Engine Room/Somerset Film, http://www.somersetfilm.com Dagie Brundert, http://www.dagiebrundert.de/ECaffenol.html YumYumSoups, https://yumyumsoups.wordpress.com LaborBerlin, http://www.laborberlin-film.org

Chapter 24 A Travelogue in Two Parts: Hand Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here Terra Long Part I: Hand-Processing in the Sahara A feeling of unrelenting velocity and of time rapidly escaping my grasp compelled me to fly across the Atlantic, and as I flew from Toronto to Morocco, a small personal screen offered unfolding spectacles to pass the minutes. Once in Marrakech, my destination was a bus ride away across the Atlas Mountains on narrow winding roads. Tall, immaculate glass windows reflected unfolding vistas for the next ten hours. As I absorbed the vast landscape my sense of time began to dilate. The bus was packed, not a single seat unfilled. Most of the passengers were making the journey home for the religious holiday Eid al-Adah, whose precise date is determined by an astronomical observation: the sighting of the crescent moon. Our route to Tissardmine was navigated by the night sky. Twenty minutes away from the bus station the driver of an all-terrain vehicle veered off the paved road, bouncing and expertly careening around rocks and dunes illuminated by headlights vanishing into a deep night until, after another twenty minutes or so, we were delivered to our destination. We had only a vague sense of how the surroundings might appear in the light of day, but we knew we would have eight weeks to grow accustomed to our new home without the distraction of cell phones, Internet, or our day-to-day routines. We arrived at Café Tissardmine from seven different countries; invited to write, make, and exchange ideas as part of The Weight of Mountains (twom), a roving residency program. Tissardmine is in the Tafilalt region with rich fossil beds dating to the devonian Period some 350 million years ago. Melody Woodnutt, curator of twom, selects artists whose work explores reciprocities between humanity and the environment at the threshold of vast geological and temporal expanses. As part of the residency, I proposed to develop a series of hand-processed 16mm films interrogating geological time scales with the subtext that a capitalist, industrialized world steamrolls over slow and contemplative experiences of temporality. I was influenced by the concept of kairological time – that is, temporalities con-

Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here

cerned with bodily rhythms and seasonal rhythms, embodied and alien to a hyperregimented task-oriented external world. I wanted to contemplate this idea in a desert region rich with evidence of the ocean that once covered it. At present, the town is home to approximately seventy-five people, a school, a small store, family homes, communal ovens for baking breads, and a restaurant that caters mostly to tourists and the occasional motorcade that tears through as part of a race from Dakar to Paris. Internet access can sometimes be found on a hill, a twenty-five minute hike away from the compound sitting within range of a military installation that monitors the border with Algeria. The landscape is varied, surreal, and other-worldly; smooth weather-worn rocks jut out from the sandcovered mountains. Soft pinks and rich oranges unfold across waves of sand, and steely blue gray light is reflected off of the stony surfaces. You cannot walk very far in any direction without tendering your step over trilobites, ammonites, and other fossilized shells. It took at least two weeks for my body to adapt to the rhythms of the place. It was extremely hot in the early days, and difficult to think or move in the midafternoon heat. The path of the sun and the beautifully prepared meals structured the day. Dinner took place an hour past sunset. After eating and especially on nights when solar energy was insufficient to take us through to the morning, we were engulfed in a jungle of stars, staring into the past at a cosmos that lives and dies on a scale equivalent to a human epoch. I arrived with supplies in hopes of making a locally sourced, plant-based nontoxic alternative to chemical film developers (like caffenol).1 Youssef Bouchedor and Karen Hadfield, who run Café Tissardmine, host a diversity of artists at their retreat, embracing and facilitating artists’ processes as long as visitors are respectful of the environment and its limitations in terms of water use, energy use, and waste generation. In Toronto, I work in education at the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (lift), an artist-run centre which has some of the best resources and support in the world for 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film, including a well serviced and stocked darkroom. In my case, the desire to experiment with low-toxicity developer came not from a lack of access, but from a desire to explore the developing process by considering site. This started for me at the Film Farm, a storied retreat for filmmakers founded by Philip Hoffman, where we tested Caffenol or “under the kitchen sink” developer – a low-toxicity alternative to the chemical developer Dektol. Other experiments for developers involved pond scum, algae, magnolia blossoms, vitamin C, and washing soda. The results were surprisingly clear and rich, with less contrast than the chemical process, but still quite beautiful and uniquely tinted from the materials. At the farm Rob Butterworth, an original

337

Terra Long

338

member of the Film Farm collective and chemistry wiz, suggested trying Argan fruit which is high in caffeic acid, the key ingredient for organic developer, and unique to Morocco. Two months later I was in Marrakech in search of Argan oil in the souq, the large network of markets in the centre of the old city. The market experience lies in stark contrast to the desert – the hamster wheel of capitalism churns as voices in English, Spanish, and French compete to draw me into an exchange. The overwhelmed expression on my face might betray my desire to blend in, but my white skin connects me to fellow travellers entering and exiting from endlessly circulating tour buses. I am part of the travelling class, the privileged itinerant artist class – a fact that has never been so apparent and troublesome for me. The small store selling Argan oil is tucked away among shops with colourful textiles, spices, and leather slippers lining a thatched roof corridor. The thick cosmetic substance is expensive, and for good reason – the labour required to extract it is physically demanding, performed by both women and the digestive work of goats. The women sort through the feces of tree goats that climb and graze ten feet above the ground. The digested nut is cleaned and from it the seeds are extracted and cold-pressed or roasted. I buy a small bottle but keep looking for an alternative developer. In Tissardmine, next to the village where we are staying, there is an oasis of date palms that run along the dry and salt-crusted riverbed. Tree fronds hang heavy with fruit through September and October, which many of the indigenous Amazigh residents rely on for their income. Youssef Bouchedor, one of the founders of Café Tissardmine, lived a nomadic life until fifteen, when his parents settled on a parcel of land near Erg Chebbi, a vast sea of sand dunes, and now a destination for tourists seeking camel treks. Only fifteen years ago they planted date palms and rows of vegetation to feed the animals. Now the football-fieldsized oasis is lush with greens, vivid oranges, and deep brown freshly turned earth. The whole family works the land, the youngest run free and play, while Bouchedor’s octogenarian parents perform herculean feats removing the fronds from the trees to pick and sort through pounds of dates. This oasis is new but the cultivation of the date in this region is ancient and for humans a known source of near miraculous sustenance for traversing the gargantuan hot and arid plains. Without the dexterity of the people who pollinate each female plant by hand these towering grasses would not yield much food. The date palm is thought to be one of the first fruit trees to be cultivated by humans and it is widely speculated that it is the sacred tree of life written of in the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah. The Linnean term, Phoenix dactylifera, conjures the mythic bird; part of its magic is its eternal return.

24.1 Date Palm Oasis.

I forage in the sand for what is left behind from the harvest and the grazing donkeys. I cover the dates in water and leave them in the sun to soften. Then I boil and mash them, finally pushing them through fine mesh cotton. The paste is thick and sweet smelling; the discarded skins and pits are thrown in a bucket and delivered to the goats that live on the property and happily devour most of the compost. With the addition of vitamin C and washing soda, the date concentrate has the power to transform silver halides into dark, fine metal particles, gently calling forth the image. To commit to process is to slow down and allow ideas, aesthetic strategies, and narratives to emerge while working through a film. It means that moments of chance, failed attempts, site, material, and those you encounter along the way become agents expressing themselves in physical and sometimes ineffable ways. The captivation, care, and intensity of the act of making become privileged over the outcome. Physical processes like hand-processing, or long exposure, are slow tools – tools that resist the eternal upgrade and the not-always-gratifying experience of producing and consuming an image in seconds. Far from a ludic impulse,

24.2 Date Palm Oasis.

such work examines whether it is possible that slow image making might reveal more about the present moment than meets the eye. Lutz Koepnick conceives of slowness as a strategy of the contemporary, to unpack the present moment – revealing a perspective simultaneously within and outside of the present: To perceive and expose oneself to the darkness of the moment, yet also to recognize the light that – like the brilliance of a distant star voyaging for some time toward the earth – may be directed to or illuminate the present from either the past or the future. Contemporaneousness may be a product of modern chronological time, but it always pushes against it, urges us to be aware of other possible orders of temporality, presses us to account for the unlived and the not-yet-and-perhaps-never-lived.2

I share the darkroom with London-based artist Anita A. Bryan. We seal the sand and mud-built studio room from light as best we can and resolve to work at night to eliminate the threat of light leaks.

341

24.3 Sandwaves.

For Anita everything starts from walking. She walks to look, and if she is going too fast she will fail to properly see. This is part of her strategy of slowness. On the first day, before most of us arrive, she walks as the light fades – to test the limits of her ability to navigate back to where she started before the sun completes its rotation below the horizon line. Her process is rich with challenges like these – she builds pinhole cameras to learn again the value of an image: images imbued with wonder, images that might show her how to look. Her small handcrafted black box camera is carefully constructed with golden rays of light painted along the sides. She uses copper nails to hold the pieces together as a kind of magic salve. The camera is a beautifully and attentively rendered object. Each sheet of photosensitive paper is cut by hand and no two pieces quite match. With every resulting cycle, the camera’s wide field of view invites her to step inwards and look more closely. This is the third country that she has photographed, each place unique and requiring its own series of tests. To the naked eye, the light in Italy appears stronger

Terra Long

342

than London but a chemical bath reveals otherwise. The light in Italy is softer. The results from the streets of London have no bearing on this new site. And the desert she knew would be no exception. Slow image making has the potential to let the place into the image and not just capture it. The site itself has a material imprint. Light carves into the surface, sand works its way into the solution, the minerals in the water and the residual heat from the day, and the viscosity of the dates, they all have a say in the image. Sometimes that imprint is unpredictable and the results uneven, never quite matching. The science is difficult to control with so many variables. Even with a solution mixed and remixed, the pH measured and seemingly stable – each test has different results. The failures and the mistakes, of which there are many, come to be a valuable lesson in letting go. I started to aim for smaller strips of film, a couple of seconds of image rather than a couple of minutes. Palms swaying in the wind, a branch of dates, a child kicking the sand under the dappled light of a palm’s extended fingers. These strips of exposed images among the metres of clear film became sacred, like a miracle of light, temperature, and timing. The image, the predictable result became the exception, and therefore exceptional. As the season changed and the temperature dropped, my body acclimated while my supply of washing soda, a crucial ingredient for the developer, dwindled. As the end approached and the constellations became familiar I discover the mixed blessing of a full moon: the intense luminescence of the celestial body eviscerates all but a handful of stars but leaves well-defined shadows on the sand. In the velvety blue light I wonder if the moon is strong enough to expose film. We test small strips leading up to the full moon and find a perfect measure. On one of the last nights we scale the highest sand dunes in Erg Chebbi, reaching the light of the moon. Dividing the labour, we start to slowly unravel a roll of film with emulsion facing the lone source of light. It takes one person to secure the end, another to slowly unroll, and a third and fourth to sprinkle the sand over top of it. Two keep count of the seconds, and two of the minutes, until the absurdity of counting eclipses our ability to keep track. At the end, the entire roll basks in blue moonlight under a fine shroud of sand across the highest point in our field of vision.3

Part II: Finding no.w.here, an Interview with James Holcombe The Weight of Mountains residency culminated in London, UK, with a symposium at no.w.here, an artist-run centre in the rapidly gentrifying Tower Hamlets neighbourhood. They hosted Another (Art) World Is Possible a collaborative symposium on finding “other” spaces which mobilized Foucault’s notion of heterotopia as fertile ground to imagine artist-run spaces as operating outside

Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here

343

24.4 Moon-o-gram.

of neoliberal structures of control, as sites of resistance and exception. At the time, their space was punctuated with beautifully silk-screened posters and slogans, resistance to real estate developers and the insidious increases to rent and cost of living. They were the only independent artist-run non-profit organization in London that provided expertise, workshops, and facilities for film practices. The three founders were meanwhile facing eviction and on the front lines of a struggle to hold on to their home. Arriving at no.w.here was a welcome respite from the intensity of the city. The stairs and hall leading to the space was saturated with the familiar and comforting smell of film chemistry. James Holcombe, no.w.here member and artist, set me up in the darkroom and generously provided chemistry and help in developing the moon photograms, film that I am unwilling to leave to the chance operation involved in using organic developer. I was grateful for the

Terra Long

kinship and the space, what it stood for, and what the founders and the community had built. I sat down with James over a box of dates to get a sense of how no.w.here came to be. 344

tl: Can you talk a bit about the genesis of no.w.here? jh: no.w.here came about as a practical, physical space in a moment of chaos and a moment of collapse in this country. For thirty-odd years there had been the London Filmmakers’ Co-op, a space for artists, for filmmakers to congregate, collaborate, and help each other produce and make their work. There were a set of resources that had been in artists’ hands since the mid-60s. It lived in various spaces until ultimately it ended up in a very bright, shiny complex space called Hoxton Square in East London. Typically, what happened was that it attracted creative people to the area and in turn interest from developers who saw these creative people equal to dollar and pound signs. The Co-op was forced to shut down, literally the doors were bolted and the equipment was impounded and was due to be sold off to recoup some of the losses. Noor Afshan Mirza and Brad Butler, who I now work with – the three of us are the core of no.w.here – made the argument that the equipment that had been held in public hands for so many years could not simply be sold to recoup losses from a greedy landlord and that argument held sway. So the equipment was released and came to no.w.here with no paperwork or contracts, we just took it on. It was either going to be scrapped or we were going to make something of it. no.w.here basically started out of Noor’s studio with one darkroom and an optical printer. We would do Super-8mm between her studio space and this very small darkroom – like three people at a time going down this corridor to process. Meanwhile a garage space, literally a garage, had come up down the road so we took that over, and slowly brought all of the equipment and set it up. So if you can imagine all the stuff that fits in this space here fitting in a garage that is about ten feet by five feet. That was the setting up of the material side of no.w.here. Prior to that there had been, for a number of years, a more nomadic project that also carried the name of no.w.here through screenings. So Noor and Brad were curating performances, screenings, and events out of different sites. tl: You mentioned no.w.here is significant also as a space of dialogue and community activism. The filmmaking work and community-building work seem to go hand in hand with filmmaking practices. Do you think there is a politic to making film on film in these kinds of alternative spaces? jh: I think there are two things: there’s a politics and there is an ethics – and I have quite a lot to say about this, for me I would characterize it as a politics of refusal which is double edged. On the one hand, we are engaging with twenty-firstcentury capitalist technology, the phones, the laptops, the iPads, the cloud, be-

Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here

cause you can’t get away from it. It’s part of life, it is in your head. On the other hand I feel like there’s a desired connection to something material, something you can hold onto, something that makes sense in relationship to aging and decay and a finite resource. I think it can be seen as a refusal to continue the upgrade, of continually upgrading and upgrading and upgrading. We came up with a phrase years ago because of the slow food movement, we are just slow film, it’s slow image making. It requires time, it requires engagement, it requires love, actually, to support and to secure a project and to hold a space like this. But I think there is an interesting question around the ethics, and again I can only talk about that from a personal standpoint which is as a vegan; film is animal gelatin and so this sort of ties in with the eco movement around working with film. We seem to be trying to reverse-engineer film and to deshackle it from its industrial heritage. The industrial film model was born in violence and it is dying in violence. We have an opportunity as artists and as makers and those who care about it to try and rescue it but on our terms. In account, can we re-purpose film along more ethical lines? Part of that comes from spaces like this where we can kind of understand and see the conditions of production and labour in relation to production and how we can try and de-industrialize our heads and unshackle ourselves from the viewpoint that there will be an industrial lab just down the road that will help us out and pick us up. That is not going to be the case, there’s only a handful of industrial labs left. Even Niagara Custom Lab, which I would characterize as an industrial lab, is a signpost to the future, in that their main clientele are artists. It has been really interesting to see over the last five years, how artist filmmakers are really returning to the roots, literally the roots of the plants, the soil, to either make new developers or to recreate film from scratch. It’s like, what can it now become outside of that industrial coating process and also, how does that impact on the environment, and how does it impact on us as bodies and as people? I get a real sense of a collective unconscious developing globally around film. We all seem to be feeling this moment of crisis and responding to it in a very organic, ecofriendly, and environmental way – I know I am and you are and I know plenty of other people who are as well. tl: And at the same time these terms are misnomers. Or, maybe it’s an ideal that we’re reaching for, but until we start making non-toxic emulsion, there is no real eco-friendly alternative, all we can do is try to diminish the kind of impact that we have through the chemicals that we do use. jh: Right, it’s sort of coming to terms with the fact that every industrial imagemaking process has dirty byproducts. With digital there’s this myth that it’s clean and it’s guilt-free and it’s ephemeral, that it doesn’t create waste, but of course it creates a huge amount of waste. Whereas with this, we can see what the waste is.

345

Terra Long

346

We can recycle the waste, probably into infinity. But, I like what you said about reaching out. I keep getting this image of film receding into the dark – you know, the tail end disappearing into the dark and outstretched hands just trying to catch it. And, we just might make it, or we might reach and grab something else. That’s kind of how I feel about it. What we pull back in might be something that … it might still have sprocket holes, but it might be something completely different. For me, it feels like an expression of a crisis of aging as well. I was just thinking that I’m the same age as most of the projectors in this room. We’re kind of growing older together, and we’re all starting to break down together. We’re starting to get joint pain. You don’t have to put this in, but, you start to get twitches here and there. So, I’m just like a projector. I did make this film that was a project with Instructions for Films, and it was going to be made in the event of my death, which is that I would be cremated and then painted onto film. So, I would end my life basically as a fifty-foot piece of film in a lomo tank. That’s how I wanted to be placed in the ground. But, I’ve since decided that that’s really eco-unfriendly because I have to be incinerated. So, now I want to be buried with a roll of colour black leader and then disinterred ten years hence and projected, that’s what I want. tl: Ten years only? jh: I think ten years hopefully is enough for the putrefaction of my body and the concomitant blooming of algae and bacteria to work on the film, to make something quite interesting. tl: Posthumous film. jh: Posthumous film, yeah. That has to be laced up by people wearing biohazard suits. I just know with colour black leader, you’d get much more interesting colour out of it than just black and white single emulsion. You’ve got to apply what you’ve learned over the decades. tl: On the topic of death, you mentioned that film was born in violence and will die in violence. Can you elaborate on this idea? jh: The way it’s been put to death, I would say, is incredibly violent. Deluxe, the company that bought most of the independent, or semi-independent labs, or bought out smaller film chains, which were still massive conglomerations, essentially sent out a communiqué to a particular London lab that said, “This medium is not dying quickly enough. We are drawing a line, and 2013 is the year.” That’s what I saw – although, it wasn’t written in that way, because legally, that would be a disaster zone for them. I can only talk about the way that the SoHo Film Lab, which was the lab that most artists would have used for the fine-finishing of their work, was killed simply by removing one machine. They removed the printing machine and the colour print-processing machine from the equation, and every-

Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here

thing just unravelled. It took a year, pretty much, for that entire organization to just be two people in a room with a Telecine machine. It had gone from probably 150 people, working in a building which had been there since the 1920s doing basically the same thing. In one year it was unravelled and destroyed. That was in line with the government signing a pledge that every cinema was going to be digital projection by 2013. That was certainly the case in this country. There’s definitely been a violence there; a physical violence in the way that machines that we were trying to rescue and re-circulate amongst the lab network were just cut up with angle grinders or literally smashed up with sledgehammers. This happened the day after we’d been told that we could come see if we could find a new home for it. tl: Wow, did you see any of this? jh: No, but there was a guy who was running the processor at the time – a very young guy. He’d come into that lab as a trainee, he’d been taught how to use the printing machine, how to use the processing machine, and then two years later, had all of that destroyed around him. He phoned up and was almost in tears and he said, “There are two guys with sledgehammers smashing it apart.” The colour printer they dragged outside and left in the rain. These are machines that have been written about. They are part of an archiving training history. They were just left outside to go rusty, and then smashed up. The idea was, “If we’re not going to use them, and we want this thing to die, then nobody else should be using them, because otherwise, it’s still out there in the world. So, we have to smash it, and we have to grind it up, and we have to destroy it.” The rise and increase in the number of spaces like this is important, because what we can rescue, we do. For every horror story like that, there are at least double or triple the amount of good news stories about equipment that we’ve managed to rescue and redistribute, all over the world, actually, and some we have taken ourselves. I think it goes back to what we were saying before. That until we, as artists, can actually own the means of production of the medium, and on our terms, we’re still going to be occupying that really doubtful, ostrich head in the sand kind of place. tl: Can you talk about the machine that no.w.here ran for many years? jh: So, one of the machines that we set up – I suppose it was kind of the jewel in the crown – was the black and white processing machine. When we got it, it was in about 40 different pieces … tl: Where was it rescued? jh: Well, it was in a garage. Another organization was given a massive grant to set up a lab with the equipment, and they took the money and created a building space for themselves. They built a space, but then they just junked the equipment –

347

Terra Long

348

they were going to throw it out on the street quite literally, and it was just going off to a landfill. That machine had been bought quite late in the film co-op’s life. It dates from 1991, so it had been in operation there for about five or six years before it closed. When we set it up, one person came by to put it together and we videoed him running it. So, that was all we had to go on – just this mini dv tape of someone running it. So, all of the troubleshooting stuff, like, what do you do when the buzzers start going off and all the lights light up and it’s like a proper emergency? We didn’t know what to do. We just figured it out through trial and error. We ran it as a service for about maybe ten years? We ran a bath a week and it was for negative, reversal, and for print. We tried our hardest to keep the prices as low as possible, and to kind of use the subsidy that we were getting through the Arts Council to do that. So, it was always running with a subsidy. It was never running as a profit-making entity. The year of the global financial crisis, 2008, our grant from the state froze. In fact, the grant was actually cut to pay for the Olympics, but that’s another thing. So we weren’t getting any increase in funding. It went the other way. We had to raise our prices because Kodak raised their prices, the print stock pretty much doubled in cost (well, maybe not quite doubled, but it certainly was getting close to doubling) and the chemistry starts to get much harder to find. The company in France where we were importing it from went out of business, so we started buying it from a company in the UK. At the same time cost of living was increasing and so the wages we were paying people had to increase as well. So, we’re faced with a choice. What do you do? Do you just keep increasing the prices until it becomes unaffordable for artists to use the machine, to use the service? How do you pay for the labour and the time that goes into running a machine like that? For every bath you run, there’s an entire day of cleaning and checking before you run it through. We just found ourselves unable to pay the person running it enough money through the work coming in to cover maintenance time, to cover chemical costs, to cover electricity. What we tried to do was collectivize the machine. We were trying to find a way where instead of being run as a service, it could be a co-operative business within no.w.here. It was such a headache for the three of us to keep finding solutions for the community, to a machine that very few people were using, but which seemed to stand for so much. The fact that we had a commercial, industrial processing machine seemed, psychologically, to stand emblematically in people’s heads that there was another way, that there was an alternative to what was happening outside with the industrial labs dying. We realized we need either twenty people putting in 100 foot guaranteed a week, or we need two people paying 100 pounds each. Do you see what I mean? It’s like a really direct relationship.

Hand-Processing in the Sahara and Finding no.w.here

There’s no side-stepping it. That’s the cost. That’s what’s involved. So, now we’re dealing with a machine that’s forcing us to behave or find capitalist solutions to these problems. What do you do? We struggled, we really struggled for ten years trying to think, alongside the machine, “Well, how do we unshackle you? Can you be unshackled? Can you be rewired? Can you be repurposed?” And we came to the conclusion, eventually, that it was impossible. We tried to collectivize it, and all that did was bring together a few people. Not everybody, but a couple of people who essentially thought that we should be running it no matter what – no matter what the human cost, no matter what the emotional, physical, psychological effects it brought. We should just be running it. Hold our ground. We’ve been holding our ground for ten years! Where have you been for ten years? I could count on one hand, you know, the amount of film that one person in particular had put through in ten years. You can’t now turn around to us and say that we failed, we’ve betrayed a community. In the end, the group couldn’t come up with the answers and they couldn’t see the machine beyond, “I’ve got 400 foot that needs processing in the next month, where can I get it done?” The world that you want is dead. The world of, “I’ve dropped my film off yesterday, when is it going to be done?” is dead. We can’t carry on in that way. It was interesting to step back and just look at the machine in a new way and realize, as Noor said, that it’s a Fordist machine. It’s built for high-volume, high-yield, high-production, constant running, constant turnover. It can’t just be turned off for two weeks and then turned on again. It just has to be running for twenty-four hours a day. tl: How do spaces like this, labs and artist-run centres support each other moving forward? jh: I think that the film lab meetings need to start becoming as much about the social aspect of spaces as the material aspects. I think that often gets set to the background whenever these spaces come together. It’s like, “Let’s show each other our ways. Let’s talk about hacking projectors.” Don’t get me wrong; I get really excited about that in a really geeky way about all of that stuff. We are all bound up in a very complex set of struggles around employment and around class and around property and around ownership – just everything, you know? And power, ultimately. I think it’s important where we have the potential to come together as like-minded beings globally, and to talk through these issues. It’s of vital importance, and I think there’s already that network. I’d even say alongside all the useful tips about how to clean splicers, it’s also like, how do you organize? Your space is under threat, what do you do next? It’s really obvious, isn’t it? Noor started to use an Audre Lorde quote on the end of her signature, “We don’t lead single-issue lives.” I think the whole network needs to have a completely other function, which is about global organizing and solidarity and how to achieve it.

349

Terra Long

Notes Thanks to Anita A. Bryan, Gil Delindro, Rob Lau, Jean-Jacques Martinod, Bjargey Ólafsdóttir, Morgan Rhys Tams, and Melody Woodnutt. To Karen Hadfield,

350

Youssef Bouchedor and the Bouchedor family for the amazing adventure. With thanks to no.w.here for opening their space to us and especially to James Holcombe for the conversation. Transcription by Kate Ewald. With thanks to Eli Horwatt for his assistance with the text and thanks to Zoë Heyn-Jones for additional editing. 1 Caffenol was among the first low toxic “green” developers experimented with in 1995 by Dr Scott Williams and his students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Caffenol is made from coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C. 2 Lutz Koepnik, On Slowness: Toward an Aesthetic of the Contemporary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 23. 3 This last gesture became the basis for Mount Analogue, a dual projector and live sound performance with Gil Delindro performed at no.w.here in London in 2015.

Part Five

Counter Cinemas

Chapter 25 Some Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Deirdre Logue and Helen Hill Janine Marchessault Anyone with the slightest experience in the field knows that nothing ever goes as planned, especially not the first time. – Recipes for Disaster: an anarchist cookbook (Ex-Workers’ Collective 2004)

25.1 At Film Farm 2001, clockwise: Helen Hill with microphone, Rob Butterworth, Leah Vineberg, Deirdre Logue.

Janine Marchessault

354

In what follows I look at a series of “disaster” films created by two artists: Deirdre Logue and Helen Hill. These films are shaped by their makers’ participation in the annual week-long Independent Imaging Retreat (Film Farm) located on a fiftyacre farm in southern Ontario. Every summer for over twenty years, fifteen artists have gathered to shoot and hand-process their films, experimenting with new approaches to developing, tinting, toning, and generally manipulating celluloid film. The films produced at the retreat have been remarkable in terms of the consistency of their themes and aesthetic approaches. A new generation of film artists is exploring the boundaries between identity, sexuality, film, chemistry, sustainability, and nature. Logue has become one of the conveners of the workshop, along with a team of four support staff, who work with filmmaker Philip Hoffman, who founded the workshop – together they are the Independent Imaging Collective.1 Animator and poet Helen Hill, who was among the early generation of artists to have passed through the Farm, was most certainly influenced by Film Farm’s diy aesthetics in her animations and in her book Recipes for Disaster (2001, 2004), a collection of film recipes she gathered in her cross-Canada “combustible film tour,” in which she discovered different tactics and recipes for handcrafted films. Along with her “film bees,” these film methods were part of Hill’s overall project to make art out of everyday life, or to find art in everyday objects. This approach was also found in the design of the workshops she was developing with the New Orleans Film Collective before her untimely death in 2007. The films I want to examine are counter-archival, playful, and no doubt utopian in their drive for both collective making and singular undertakings. I want to look at the aesthetic strategies of the handmade films, which I call “disaster films,” that both Logue and Hill have innovated in their own practices as artists and cultural instigators.

Affinity Group The Film Farm workshop acts as an “affinity group” – one of the essential ingredients in the Recipes for Disaster: an anarchist cookbook (not to be confused with Hill’s publication). The anarchist cookbook states: The affinity group is not only a vehicle for changing the world – like any good anarchist practice, it is also a model for alternative worlds, and a seed from which such worlds can grow. In an anarchist economy, decisions are not made by boards of directors, nor tasks carried out by masses of worker drones: affinity groups decide and act together. Indeed, the affinity group/cluster/spokescouncil model is simply another incarnation of the communes and workers’ councils that formed the backbone of earlier successful (however short-lived) anarchist revolutions. (Ex-Workers’ Collective 2004, 31)

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill

355

25.2 Helen Hill at the SpliceThis! Festival, launching Recipes for Disaster.

Thus, the recipe for creating alternative worlds grows out of affinity groups, which can include “a circle of friends” (no more than fifteen), “a closed meeting,” “plans for different scenarios,” and “structures for responding to unexpected scenarios” (31). The group must be flexible and mobile, and everything works on the basis of consensus rather than democratic vote – which is how Film Farm has always functioned. The workshop has a standard structure, yet is different each year depending on who is in the group. Officially part of its mandate, Film Farm is geared towards women (participants are admitted to the workshop through an application process based on a letter of intent and past work), and in general the workshop receives many more applications than can be accommodated – many more of which come from women than men (Logue 2016). The setting and structure are informal and loosely organized around workshops such as shooting with 16mm Bolex cameras, hand-processing, tinting and toning celluloid film, and working in a low-tech environment (the darkrooms are in the barn). The workshop includes an animation stand, a manual front surface optical printer, 16mm/35mm projectors, and Steenbecks. The process encourages filmmakers to embrace the unexpected, explore the environment through film, and delve into celluloid through different chemical and biological processes.2 As of 2016, 250 participants have completed the workshop (183 have been women), with over one hundred completed films – and eighty-six of those were by women. The result is many beautiful short films, three to five minutes in

Janine Marchessault

356

length, that are highly personal, deeply phenomenological, often surreal, and experimental.3 To some degree, the aesthetic approaches of these films grow directly out of the workshop structure: location shooting and hand-processing. Participants are invited to shoot surrounding locations and to collect images randomly rather than to preconceive them through scripting. The aim of the workshop is not to leave with a finished product but rather to experiment with shooting immediate surroundings using a Bolex and to experiment with hand-processing techniques. Many of the films produced at the workshop are never completed as final works but stand as film experiments – the equivalent of a sketchbook. This is the workshop’s most important contribution to keeping experimental film culture alive. Out of the lab and into the kitchen (or barn), film production moves into the realm of the artisan. This is the home of the experimental in its originary meaning, of finding what is not being sought, of being open to living processes and to chance encounters and accidents, and working with the uncertainties of what many artists see as a “collaboration with nature.” As Tess Takahashi has explained it: “Here, we see a curious tension between natural presence and historical time, and between artistic intention and the unpredictability of nature, in films whose “imperfections” physically tie them to a specific place and a quantifiable duration of time in which accidents were bound to occur. The natural world, very often the ground itself, serves as a site for the gestation and development of celluloid.”4 Many of the Film Farm productions are in some way an exploration of the artist’s relation to the land as a place by cartwheeling, walking or falling on it, swimming, and dreaming through it. As Deirdre Logue has put it, place is defined by actions and relationships (Hoolboom 2006, 5). In Jennifer Reeves’s We Are Going Home (usa, 1998), women’s bodies are placed not only in nature but also in time. Temporality exists on the two planes that Takahashi highlights, not only in terms of the images of nature as presence – a nature that is always changing – but also in terms of film stocks and chemicals that continue to work on the film through time. Where work prints serve to protect the original negative from the processes of post-production, the films produced at the workshop use reversal stocks and thus include the physical traces of processing and editing – the materiality and imprints of place in the shape of scratches and flecks of dust or dirt produce an intense tactility and presence that will comprise the final print of the film. This is what gives these films both their sensuality and temporal materiality. In We Are Going Home, this temporality is narrativized, and it is perhaps fitting that the film experiments extensively with techniques such as time-lapse cinematography, solarization, single-frame pixelation, split toning and tinting, and superim-

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill

positions. It is steeped in a narrativity that can be situated in relation to the psychodramas of one of the founding figures of the avant-garde, Maya Deren. In the films of Deren, nature and the search for self are always an erotic and deeply psychological enterprise. Dreams allow passage to a human nature and a mysterious self that is illusive and bifurcating and that cannot be accessed through conscious states. Her films have been characterized as “trance” films for the ways they foster this movement into the deepest recesses of the self – a movement that is less about social transgression, as it was for the surrealists, than about the journey through desire. We Are Going Home, the first film made by Jennifer Reeves at the Film Farm,5 is a gorgeous surrealistic film that has all of the characteristics of the trance film and more. Structured around a dream sequence, the film is an erotic encounter between two women (one of whom is sleeping) that has no real beginning or end. A third woman looks out over a cliff at the scene. The first image we see is of a vending machine dispensing “Live Bait” in the form of a film canister. A woman (Deirdre Logue) opens the canister to find fish roe (eggs) and we will later see her sleeping. The equation of fish roe and film, no doubt a nod to the surrealists, opens up ontological quandaries around truth and the nature of reality. It is this promise of direct contact along with the idea of watery depths and a return “Home” in the film’s title that gives some sign that the highly processed and layered landscapes belong to the unconscious.6 These elements of the unconscious are at work in Logue’s Enlightened Nonsense (Canada, 1997–2000, 22 minutes), an anthology of ten short, thematically interconnected films7 that were also made at the Film Farm over a period of three years. The short films depict a landscape sculpted by a vicious death drive intent on imposing disasters of all kinds on Logue’s body. I begin my discussion of Logue’s work with the image of Logue at rest in Reeves’s film because it stands in stark contrast to her own masochistic and humorous performances in Enlightened Nonsense.

Recipes for Disaster = Nonsense The word “disaster” dates, according to the Oxford Dictionary, from the late sixteenth century: “from Italian disastro ‘ill-starred event,’ from dis- (expressing negation) + astro ‘star’ (from Latin astrum).” Although often conflated, disasters are different from mere accidents because they are more substantial. They represent a disruption and an intervention into larger forces – environmental, economic, and, in the case of Logue’s films, psychic. Logue’s disaster aesthetics are tied

357

Janine Marchessault

358

not only to the formalist methods of handmade films, but to her own queer and feminist subjectivity. In all these films, Logue subjects herself to some form of confinement, breathless immersion, or punishment. In half of the films, she stands in the Ontario landscape yet is not part of it as the horizon cuts the image in half and she is subjected to forces seemingly beyond her control. The films are about compulsions to repeat acts that are nonsensical. Logue inflicts things on herself – she holds a small patch resembling a scar, seen in negative, to different parts of her face in Patch (2000). She dunks her head over and over again in a bucket of water, and when seen in reverse the water becomes surreal, the movement almost unintelligible – we simply see her gasping for breath and shaking her head as water streams down her face in H2Oh Oh (2000). In Moohead (1999), she stands face to the camera on a dirt road while a basketball is thrown from off-screen numerous times at her head. This is intercut with a 1980s commercial for Jell-O featuring gleeful children eating colourful wiggly substances called Moo (a mix of Jell-O and milk). In Roadtrip (2000), Logue crawls on a dirt road on her hands and knees and slowly and erotically licks the surface of the road. In Sleep Study (2000), we see Logue with her head hooked up to a tangle of wires and monitors. This scene is intercut with home videos of a young child coming out of school and dancing for the camera. The child is clearly Logue, and we cut to adult Logue forcefully playing basketball and then back to her hooked up to the sleep monitor. In Milk and Cream (2000), Logue lies on the cement pad outside the barn at the Farm and subjects herself to whipped cream and milk sprayed and poured directly into her mouth in a continuous flow, overflowing out of and into her mouth. The film is hand-painted yellow and brown. Fall (1997) and Scratch (1998) convey the filmmaker’s physical insertion into nature in a powerful encounter. In Fall, Logue falls (faints?) over and over again from different angles and in different fields to become one – in a humorous and bruised way – with the land. In Scratch, she is more explicit about the nature of her images as we read the intertitles: “My path is deliberately difficult. My reasons endlessly repetitious. But it’s through this that I know myself.” Facing the camera, she puts burdock down her pants and pulls it out again. The sounds of breaking glass and the crackle of film splices are almost the only sounds heard in this mostly silent film. Intercut are found-footage images from an instructional film. We see a bed being automatically made and unmade. Glass breaking and plates smashed. Scratch is sharp and agonizing. Logue, beautifully butch in her appearance, is displaced in the elements of nature she is self-inflicting. It is clear that she is pulling out the nonsensical in the nature of sexuality. Her body is treated like a piece of emulsion – processed, manipulated, scratched, strangled, taped, drawn upon, and cut to fit those heteronormative strictures.

25.3 Top Frame enlargement from Deirdre Logue’s H2Oh Oh (2000).

25.4 Bottom Frame enlargement from Deirdre Logue’s Moohead (1999).

Janine Marchessault

360

Across the ten films, Logue performs a non-essential queer subjectivity in ways described by Judith Butler. In The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, Butler follows Foucault in situating subject formation at the intersection of subjection and submission: “‘subjection’ signifies the process of becoming subordinated by power as well as the process of becoming a subject” (1997, 2). The two are inseparable. In this way, subjection “does not simply reflect or represent broader relations of social power even as it remains importantly tied to them … it is the means by which a subject becomes an object for itself, reflecting on itself, establishing itself as reflective and reflexive” (22). There is no outside power subjecting Logue to these manoeuvres – in her scenarios, she is both the dominant and the dominated. These positions break down the binary oppositions to create agency through a diy approach to consciousness, through the hand-processing aesthetics of uncontrolled process cinema, which she turns on herself in ways at once comical and troubling. We see this succinctly illustrated in Always a Bridesmaid ... Never a Bride of Frankenstein (2000) when Logue draws scars across her body with a black marker as the scratch animation anticipates the body marking, and in Tape (2000) when Logue wraps her head in clear plastic tape in a loop that moves backwards and forwards to completely obliterate her features and suffocate her. As Butler puts it: In each case, power that at first appears as external, pressed upon the subject, pressing the subject into subordination, assumes a psychic form that constitutes the subject’s self-identity. The form this power takes is relentlessly marked by a figure of turning, a turning back upon oneself or even a turning on oneself. This figure operates as part of the explanation of how a subject is produced, and so there is no subject, strictly speaking, who makes this turn. On the contrary, the turn appears to function as … a founding moment whose ontological status remains permanently uncertain. (3–4; emphasis added)

Enlightened Nonsense takes its power from the contiguity of hand-processing aesthetics and nonsensical forms of subjection. Fundamentally, the different films locate agency in these “permanently uncertain” recipes for disaster. These are more than the “mere putting forward of inconguities and absurdities” – rather, they unearth social contradictions that belong to commonsense and are “a true work of the imagination” (Strachey 1888). This approach is the “cure” Logue reveals to us: I am the primary performer, director and technician. I arrive at the events through fantasy, impulse and intuition. I perform the actions with a repetition that I have come to know so well in myself. I am most often there alone so that I can see myself without your reflection.

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill The films demonstrate that I am permeable. When I am there, I feel relaxed with this idea, even though it frightens me. I have found a place where I can drown out my sorrows, doze off, fall down, lick the ground, bite off more than I can chew, chop off my head, watch it split open, patch it up and tape it back on. All those empty fields make it possible for me to hide in the tall grass and sneak up on myself when I least expect it. I can pretend I am the surveillance camera’s well-hidden lens, the physician looking for a diagnosis, the patient looking for the cure. I am the site. I am the specific. I am the moving target, the illness, the antigen and the antidote. (Hoolboom 2006, 5)

In this suite of films, and in many other works,8 Logue creates a space for the expression of a queer feminist imaginary. Her work as an artist is inseparable from her cultural activism, which is tied to the creation of spaces of affinity and counterpublic spheres. Here are some examples of her activities: her tireless physical, creative, and intellectual labour in supporting Film Farm (for over twenty years); her co-founding of the Media City Festival in Windsor, Ontario (a festival for alternative film and media); her directorship of Images Festival (another alternative film and video festival in Toronto); her ongoing position as development director for Vtape, an artist video distribution centre; her co-creation of the Feminist Art Gallery (fag) with artist Allyson Mitchell.9 These activities are all part of the larger scope of recipes for disaster, which are no doubt “a survival guide for the 21st century” as Helen Hill’s Madame Winger put it.

Combustible Helen Hill’s book, Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet, is a fanzine10 that links the aesthetics and practices of handcrafted films to disasters as creative methods based on non-industrial engagements with local processes, materials, and situations. The book is mostly the result of a cross-Canada “Combustible Tour” in 1999–2000 where she interviewed dozens of experimental filmmakers about their handcrafted film recipes, which appear in the ’zine along with blueprints, ideas, and technical information for processed and cameraless films. The publication was produced for the 2001 Splice This! Festival. Madame Winger Makes a Film: A Survival Guide for the 21st Century (usa, 2001) is the animated instructional movie companion to the book, which is offered to spectators free of charge in the last images of the film. The character of Madame Winger, an ageless southern belle, is narrated by Hill’s godmother with a husky southern drawl: “What will you do if there’s a nuclear war or gigantic terrorist attack? When your film lab is reduced to rubble … how are you going to keep making films?” The film’s playful animation has all the signature Hill humour – a combination of live

361

Janine Marchessault

362

action, home movies, and found footage, while cel, cut out 2d and 3d puppets illustrate diy film labs and processes as well as teach about film stocks, gauges, and cameras. It is a must-see for film and media students. Madame Winger also shows us a film lab that doubles as a bomb shelter. Peace activist and animal lover (Hill and husband Paul Gailiunas helped to establish the vegan and anti-war chapter of Food Not Bombs in Halifax), Hill also has Madame Winger comment on the fact that film contains gelatin made from animal bones – she looks forward to the first “vegetarian film!” The hand-processed film that Hill produced at Film Farm, Your New Pig Is Down the Road (usa, 1999), was a birthday present for Gailiunas. The playful short film combined pixillation, tinting and toning (orange and blue), a countdown with images of farm animals, friends dancing like marionettes, vast fields of daisies, a statue of St Francis (patron saint to animals), and two piglets. The film closes with a film canister and the title.11 This would begin the couple’s long relationship with pigs and several films such as Film for Rosie (usa, 2000) and convivial neighbourhood tea parties and community events with their pig Rosie. Like Recipes and Madame Winger, the film is a kind of gift that is not just an object, although the materiality of the film is pivotal to her practice as an animator and filmmaker. The film, and film in general, is also about relationships – it is the process around which communities and affectivities are formed. We can see this in the multilayered and complex nature of her animations. Mouseholes (usa, 1999) is one of her most accomplished works. An experimental animation about Hill’s grandfather, “Pop,” the film takes inspiration from his final delirious hours in the hospital before his death at ninety-one. It is a touching portrait, outwardly simple and child-like but surprising and complex in the ways it weaves documentary and fantasy. The film’s heterogeneous layers and temporal shifts reflect upon death and memory, both her own memory and her grandfather’s delirious recollections of working on the train delivering mail to seven states. The film moves from the hospital room, where her grandfather is shrinking away, to his funeral and then back to the hospital as she remembers how she wanted to get her grandfather to come back to life. She remembers that while in the hospital she had planned to bring him back to life by entering into his delirium. Hill metamorphoses her grandfather into a mouse – sometimes real, sometimes a two-dimensional animation, and sometimes a puppet through which he may travel into his past and reconnect with the fabric of his everyday. The brilliance of this animation lies in the way Hill intercuts documentary sound and image – we hear her brother’s eulogy at the funeral and home movies of Pop with Helen and her brother as children. We also hear Pop’s delirium in the hospital. Hill, who narrates, asks him “Where are you now?” to which Pop responds “anywhere” – and this might in

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill

fact be the utopia, her Grandfather in heaven, that Hill “cannot imagine.” The combination of painting and drawing, home movies and live action, animals, puppets, children’s toys, and stop-motion animation consolidates a temporal structure for the film that is simultaneously sculptural, dislocated, and shaped like a spiral into which she draws us.

25.5 Paper ’zine by Helen Hill, previewing the artist’s animation Mouseholes (1999).

363

Janine Marchessault

364

Hill was famous in Halifax for having established “film bees” – gatherings for making movies, workshops, festivals, screenings, and salons.12 She taught film and animation workshops at both the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (afcoop) and the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, and through film she created affinity groups geared towards sociality and social justice working against homelessness and war, as well as for animal rights. For Hill, making films is a cure for social ills – it is the means to break down social and class barriers and to create community. This is no doubt why she wanted to return to New Orleans and to the American south where she was from originally, South Carolina. Hill and Gailiunas moved to New Orleans from Halifax, and while they left briefly because of Hurricane Katrina, they returned to the city to participate in its rebuilding. Gailiunas, a medical doctor, ran a clinic for the poor and uninsured, and Hill worked with different arts groups, namely the New Orleans Film Collective and other community organizations to develop low-cost film productions, screenings, and animation workshops. Tragically, Hill was murdered by a home intruder in January 2007. Gailiunas, who was also shot, returned to Canada with their only child, Francis. Hill’s death has had a large impact on the cultural communities in New Orleans and received a great deal of media attention. As Dan Streible has pointed out, this tragedy “inadvertently illuminated a small but significant New Orleans community of independent media artists working devotedly in old and new media forms” (2010). A “shining emblem” of this “nearly-off-the-grid creative culture” (Streible 2010), leaves us with three important insights. First, the “unassuming” web of media artists has an impact beyond the arts precisely because of its activist commitment and connection to diverse cultural and social networks. While locally focused, it is also cosmopolitan and international. Second, because of this community’s commitment to media and film materiality, it has forged a vibrant relationship to a new generation of like-minded moving-image archivists. Indeed, the second edition of Hill’s Recipes for Disaster, post-Katrina, was explicitly connected to the damage wrought to films and media by the floods, putrefaction, and mould. As she wrote in the foreword dated 16 November 2005, “many of my films were terribly messed up, gone to pinks and reds with edges eaten away. I am an experimental filmmaker and I often work with old and decayed films. So even though Katrina caused so much damage, I hope to include some of these flooded images in my future films” (Hill 2005) – and indeed she did, in her last, posthumously completed film The Florestine Collection (2011). Hill asked many archivists for advice on how to salvage and preserve films under these disastrous conditions.13 Finally, the third insight that Streible wishes us to consider is something that neither media studies nor cultural theory “have

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill

365

25.6 Poster for The Florestine Collection (2011).

adequately accounted for: the utopian cinema of which Helen was an exemplar” (Streible 2010, 149–50). The utopian sociality was so clearly tied to Hill’s practice and, as noted earlier, to Deirdre Logue’s collective- and community-based approach to making as socially generative. The Florestine Collection, completed posthumously by Gailiunas and others, is one of Hill’s most stunning works, and I will conclude with a discussion of this extraordinary film. The film is a mix of animation and documentary about a New Orleans seamstress, Florestine Kinchen. Hill happened upon some of Kinchen’s beautiful hand-sewn dresses that were being thrown out in a pile of trash on the morning of Mardi Gras in 2001. She took the dresses – which she saw as works of art akin to her handmade films – and rescued them. As Gailiunas recalls in the film, “she said it was like finding treasure in a trash pile.” Hill later found out who had sewn the dresses and proceeded to make a documentary about the seamstress who had recently passed away in her nineties. The film would become a portrait of Kinchen and Hill, but also of New Orleans – the city that fed their imaginations with “its dense social networks that were in turn defined by deep attachments to a particular place” (Hartnell 2017, 103). If Mouseholes, Hill’s acclaimed animated documentary

Janine Marchessault

366

about her grandfather discussed above, was able to represent the “anywhere” as a fantasmatic escape and reverie, The Florestine Collection is profoundly placebound – historical, material, and temporal. From the first to the last images, Florestine is filled with water-damaged footage, sometimes obscuring the images beneath and enacting the traumatic moments of the storm floods that took over so many homes and people. Indeed, the damaged images carry a deep ontology, the traces of the forces, as Gailiunis put it in the film’s voice-over, “beyond our control.” This is the tension that is never resolved in the film – between making and unmaking, vision and obstruction, creativity and loss that guides our path forward from pre- to post-Katrina. Also woven into the film are Super-8 documentary images of New Orleans pre- and post-Katrina – images that are never transparent but which stutter every few seconds like the blink of an eye. As the film unfolds, the images of the flood are incorporated into a slide show, called “flooded films,” to become artifactual by incorporating them into booklets, drawings, and animations that invoke an embodied tactility often including a hand in the frame-arranging materials. The sometimes painterly, sometimes just plain mouldy and scratched, film emulsion foregrounds the film’s deep sensuality and its connection to place: to New Orleans and to diverse meanings of what many have called “Katrina Time.” As Anna Hartnell has explained it, this is an expression that grew out of the legal context of pre-charge detainees in New Orleans prisons in the aftermath of the storm who were simply stuck in prisons waiting to find out their fate (2017, 49). In a larger sense, it was an expression that came to reference the experience of New Orleans after the storm when the processes of inequity were accelerated by the storm to create a profound social collapse experienced most acutely by the most vulnerable people in the low-income African American neighbourhoods. Yet, the narrative of Katrina, Hartness argues, is “so often articulated in the terms of US identified narratives of progress, as well as a mythology of regress problematically associated with New Orleans” (107). The Florestine Collection presents an experimental documentary that in many ways resists “Katrina Time” and places Gailiunas’s and Hill’s lives alongside so many other lives – the neighbourhood kids and their mothers, the New Orleans film collective, Florestine Kinchin’s life through her dresses, and Kinchin’s fellow parishioners. The diversity is also located in the number of filmmakers and animators who have worked with Gailiunas to complete the film. This multiplicity is a characteristic of “posthumous cinema,” which is always generative and expansive, as Monika Kin Gagnon has suggested. The unfinished film invites “a dialogue between the living editor and the dead filmmaker,” and introduces a “third hand,” which “is the haunting spectral subject of that negotiation.” This interface includes not only the editing but

Recipes for Disaster in the Films of Logue and Hill

also the spectatorship, which always involves us in “the negotiation between the finished film and its archive,” which becomes “an extra layer of the aesthetics and ethics of posthumous cinema” (Gagnon 2014, 152). The last of the flooded images is a short sequence of scratched footage of Hill’s child Francis, barely visible beneath the black and white decay. Gailunus tells us: “it was over in an instant.” The traumatic footage tells us nothing of her violent death, which is relayed through Gailuanus’s short voice-over. The film ends with Kinchen’s dresses – shimmering and shining on a clothesline in the sunlight – “flooded fragments that remain of the Florestine Collection, stitched together with love for you and for her.”

Notes 1 The core team is made up of Logue, Philip Hoffman, Scott Miller Berry, Rob Butterworth, Christine Harrison, and Terra Jean Long. 2 For a larger survey of works, see Marchessault 2000. 3 For a complete list of the films produced at the Film Farm see http://philiphoffman. ca/film-farm/completed-films-1994-2010/. 4 See Takahashi in this volume. 5 See Longfellow in this volume. 6 Ibid. 7 List of works in order of appearance: Patch, 2000, 0:40 H2Oh Oh, 2000, 2:00 Moohead, 1999, 1:00 Road Trip, 2000, 1:00 Always a Bridesmaid … Never a Bride of Frankenstein, 2000, 2:00 Tape, 2000, 5:00 Scratch, 1998, 3:00 Sleep Study, 2000, 2:00 Milk and Cream, 2000, 2:00 Fall, 1997, 2:00. 8 For an overview of Logue’s works, see http://deirdrelogue.com/about.html. 9 The Feminist Art Gallery is “a response, a process, a site, a protest, an outcry, an exhibition, a performance, an economy, a conceptual framework, a place and an opportunity. We host we fund we advocate we support we claim. The Feminist Art Gallery (fag) is our geographical footprint located in Toronto, Canada, and run by Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue.” See www.fag.ca.

367

Janine Marchessault 10 See http://www.filmlabs.org/docs/recipes_for_disaster_hill.pdf. 11 I had a chance to see this film in the barn at Film Farm with Helen Hill and her husband. I remember him saying to her, “Did you get me a pig, Helen?” And in fact, she did.

368

12 In her Recipes for Disaster, there is an invitation for “chemically driven handcrafters” to attend a “film bee”: “the idea is to finish the film by manipulating it rather than editing it. There will be inks, markers, scratching tools and bleach for everyone to share” (92). 13 See Howard Besser’s presentation notes, “Preserving New Orleans: The Fate of Media Collections in the Wake of Katrina,” at the nyu Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program: http://www.nyu.edu/tisch/preservation/research/disaster/ 06ala-talks/talk_besser.shtml. Hill’s works are now at the Harvard Film Archive, and thanks to Dan Streible and others ten of her works are back in distribution.

References Butler, Judith. 1997. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford, ca: Stanford University Press. Ex-Workers’ Collective. 2004. Recipes for Disaster: an anarchist cookbook. Olympia, wa: CrimethInc. Gagnon, Monika. 2014. “Unfinished Films and Posthumous Cinema: Charles Gagnon’s R69 and Joyce Wieland’s Wendy and Joyce.” In Cinephemera: Archives, Ephemeral Cinema, and New Screen Histories in Canada, ed. Gerda Cammaer and Zoë Druick, 137–58. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. Logue, Deirdre. 2016. Personal interview. Mount Forest, on, 1 July. Hartnell, Anna. 2017. After Katrina: Race, Neoliberalism and the End of the American Century. Albany: State University of New York Press. Hill, Helen. 2005. Recipes for Disaster: A Handcrafted Film Cookbooklet. Hoolboom, Mike, ed. 2006. Enlightened Nonsense: A Deirdre Logue Monograph. Marchessault, Janine. 2000. “Women, Nature, and Chemistry: Hand-Processed Films from Film Farm.” In Lux: A Decade of Artist Film and Video, ed. Steve Reinke and Tom Taylor, 135–42. Toronto: yyz Books. Strachey, Edward. 1888. “Nonsense as a Fine Art.” Quarterly Review 167. Streible, Dan. 2010. “Media Artists, Local Activists, and Outside Archivists: The Case of Helen Hill.” In Old and New Media After Katrina, edited by Diane Negra, 149– 74. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Chapter 26 The Immediate Sensuous: The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves Brenda Longfellow Jennifer Reeves’s first film, Elations in Negative, was shot in 1990 when she was a student at Bard College, and it cuts to the quick. A short (4.5 minutes), silent black and white film that appears in negative, Elations opens with two crudely drawn title cards. The first asks the question: “What are these Elations I have?” The second undercuts the pomposity of the faintly Victorian notion of “elations” with the prosaic stanza of the second title card: “At my own underwear.” The text is from a William Carlos Williams poem, “The Descent of Winter” (1928), a high mark of American literary modernism. The stanzas are often read as a commentary on the radical split between the perceiving subject and his own body, rendered as object by the gaze. The poem concludes with an observation on tactility that is also rendered “strange”: “I touch it and it is strange upon a strange thigh.” Reeves performs a transgressive appropriation of the poem, queering the subject and moving the meditation on the alienation of consciousness back to the materiality of the body. Although we never see her face or head, Reeves performs the body in the film, swaggering into the frame in a mini skirt, fish-net stockings, garters, and stiletto boots. There is a punk aesthetic at work here, coded by the attire and by the provocation of the performance. In the next sequence, she injects a hypodermic needle into her thigh, pulls it out, and sprays the blood on a paper or blackboard, writing “I Touched It.” There is a cut and then we see a close-up of the top of her thigh shorn in fish net stockings and a razor held in her hands. There is a moment of time when the action is suspended, and we will her not to do it. Yet, implacably, inevitably, the razor slices through the fishnets and cuts the thigh, drawing dark pools of blood. These are obviously not gestures that are simulated, and the puncture of needle into thigh and the cut of the razor into skin induce a visceral reaction in the spectator as we imagine the pain that must have ensued. Here the “I Touch It” is not infused with a philosophical mediation on the alienated subject as it is in the Williams poem, but is rather immediate and brutal. The modernist trope of alienation is appropriated and subjected to a feminist/

Brenda Longfellow

370

punk détournement where action replaces meditation, and the separation of self and body is enacted by an intentional subject on her own body as an act of selfmutilation. Despite the experimental film strategies that make the gesture almost illegible (the negative image, the fixed frame, the absence of sound), the cut into flesh produces “a shock of the real” (Sobchack 2004, 274) – an embodied response on the part of a spectator who recognizes the vulnerability of the other’s body, a body that is not fictional but obdurately material and “real.” The “shock of the real,” I would argue, is a persistent quality in all of Reeves’s subsequent films and mediates what is a complex feminist, queer, and ecological politics. Reeves was born in Columbo, Ceylon, in 1971 and grew up in the United States. She graduated in film and gender studies from Bard College in 1993 and has an mfa from the University of California, San Diego. A New York City– based filmmaker, she works primarily on 16mm and was named one of the Best 50 Filmmakers under 50 by Cinema Scope in 2012. Her films have been shown all over the world – at moma, the Flaherty Seminar, and Sundance among many other venues – and she has had retrospectives of her work at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, Kino Arsenal in Berlin, and the San Francisco Cinematheque. For the past twenty-five years, she has been producing a body of extraordinary work that ranges from punk-infused shorts to “new” narrative to abstract and gorgeously rendered experimental films, all of which are distinguished by their exquisite technique and by their sharp and witty provocations around gender, sexual violence, and sexual orientation. In 2001, Reeves was invited to write an article for the Chicago Review as part of a celebratory issue on the work of Stan Brakhage. Reeves’s contribution, “Argument for the Immediate Sensuous: Notes on Stately Mansions Did Decree and Coupling,” begins with the assertion: “Brakhage’s films delight and incite with a restless, unadulterated visual magnificence. Expanding the language of light, color, and visual rhythm, he takes film far beyond its usual bondage to representation and storytelling” (Reeves 2001, 193). Reeves likens her own response to Brakhage’s films, particularly the film Coupling, to an erotic encounter: “I’m in love with this film … So much occurs and disappears instantaneously [that] one should surrender to the pleasure and beauty of the film’s unfolding, as with a lover” (Reeves 2001, 197–8). For her, the “immediate sensuous” in his films offers a unique cinematic experience based on the alluring invitation to “surrender” to a continuously mutating visual stream of breathtaking painterly moments that suspend the spectator in a kind of ecstatic present. Reeves discloses that her short, Fear of Blushing (2001) – with its 7,200 painted frames “flying by at an average of 12 per second” (Reeves 2001) – was directly inspired by Brakhage’s work. However, let me suggest that there are also

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

key differences between the two artists. While Brakhage’s films aspire to a modernist ideal of purity by shedding language, narrative, and representational impulses, Reeve’s work is impure, littered with snippets of detritus drawn from anachronistic mediascapes, and corrupted by humour. Fear of Blushing, for example (her most overt homage to Brakhage), juxtaposes a phenomenal visual display of colour, texture, and continuous motility of the image with a complex audioscape of “looped voices, distorted instrumentals, samples and rhythm” (Reeves, “Fear”). Out of the audio cacophony, however, we hear a man’s and a woman’s voice repeat distinct phrases. Ripped from some forgotten Hollywood film, the man repeats “don’t touch it little lamb” several times – a deeply ironic imperative given that the fingerprints of the artist are all over the film, scratching, painting, and manipulating the image, rendering it as a supremely tactile surface. The woman’s voice, as if in direct retort, sighs “men!,” an exasperated (and familiar) exhortation that is repeated six times. These two voices are deeply marked by the conventional constitution of gendered positions within the audio and visual repertoire of popular culture. Fragmentary and decontextualized, they nonetheless reference a larger discursive mediascape beyond the frame of the film itself to pull attention beyond the sensory immediacy of the visual, with its disembodied pleasures, to a place of gentle but ironic critique. I argue that this witty interruption, in the form of an appropriated relic of gender ideology, is absolutely consistent with concerns that run through all of Reeves’s work – namely, the toxicity of gender binaries and the violence that is inherent, though masked, in their reproduction. It is impossible to do justice to all of Reeves’s twenty-five films and projections. So, in the interest of space, I have organized my reflections around three central categories: queer shorts, new narrative, and abstract films. Obviously, these categories overlap – the queer films use narrative elements and the primary techniques of her abstract films (optical printing and hand-painting are found in all of her films) but, however crude, the categorizations allow us to focus on key thematics and the larger implications of Reeves’s oeuvre in relation to the evolution and history of both feminist and experimental film.

Queer Shorts Girls Dream of Hollywood (1992), Reeves’s second short (4.5 minutes), is a montage film filled with the threat of imminent and past sexual violence. A nightmarish flurry of appropriated clips from Hollywood films, frat boy disclosures, fragmented documentary voices, and snippets of enacted memory, the film circles persistently and obsessively around the theme of rape and sexual abuse.

371

Brenda Longfellow

372

The address is specific: it is “girls” who are located as the subject and addressee of the film. The term is complex: it is both disparaging and familiar, an umbrella term that encompasses adult women, children, and female adolescents. In the film these distinctions disappear, and the collective female subject is held in a position of arrested maturity and extreme vulnerability. She may dream, but the dreaming is far from benign. From the breathy opening audio clips where a female voice intones, “I dream about Hollywood and becoming a movie star,” the film establishes its other – “Hollywood” – as a pernicious snare. The most persistent foil here is the “Lolita” fantasy Baby Doll, produced in 1956 and starring Carroll Baker as the breathy girl/woman “Baby Doll,” who is married off to an older man who has to promise not to consummate the marriage until she turns twenty. The reference is funny and campy and could very well have been a part of the “archive apocalypse” that Catherine Russell writes about in Experimental Ethnography/The Work of Film in the Age of Video – the experimental tradition where appropriation of Hollywood and educational films from the 1950s becomes a cheeky abbreviation of ideology and an “easy” send-up. However, Reeves does not rest with the pleasurable and instantly readable irony of camp, and Baby Doll is only one recurring citation in a multiplicity of references that circulate around the figure of the vulnerable woman. While some of these references are drawn from Hollywood films such as The Goddess (1958), or independent films such as Blue Velvet (1986), other appropriations have a chilling documentary authenticity. In one instance, colloquial male voices at a fraternity party recount various sexual exploits in which the woman always figures as a “slut” deserving of sexual violence. Each story is deeply disturbing in its quotidian and palpable misogyny: “I basically raped her,” one distorted male voice announces to a chorus of hysterical giggling on the part of the male audience.1 Girls Dream of Hollywood is obviously a film filtered through feminist film theory of the 1970s and 1980s and, indeed, the rapid-fire Vertov-style montage at the beginning of the film that intercuts a close-up of an eye “looking” announces the film’s affinity with theorizations of the violent implications of the male gaze. Reeves’s film works to undermine the naturalization of the gaze through two key strategies: an intentional manipulation and undermining of the indexical property of the image itself, and a relentless percussive montage that juxtaposes and weaves radically heterogeneous elements into a fragmented, subjective landscape. Images are worked over, shot off a television monitor in high contrast black and white film stock, and distorted through slow motion and optical printing. The result is that the image of the woman’s body, whether appropriated from a Hollywood “B” movie or filmed in a stylized enactment, is always

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

and already inscribed in the film as a second-order signifier embedded in a reflexive discourse around the gendered implications of representation itself. While the indexicality of the appropriated footage and enactments is continuously undermined, there are very pointed documentary elements in the film that punctuate the film in powerful ways. In addition to the frat boy disclosures, other documentary elements include voices culled from interviews that Reeves had conducted with her friends that recount histories of sexual violence relayed through an intertitle, which reads “It Pains Me,” or an audio clip, which includes the disclosure, “When I was five I was sexually abused. I felt like it was my fault.” Whether these are a stand-in for an autobiographical revelation, we do not know – the confessional subject is dispersed among many different voices and graphic intertitles. However, these voices have a very particular semiotic status. They are mediated, to be sure, and inserted into a heterogeneous flow of cinematic elements, but they carry, as I have been arguing, a jolt of recognition on the part of the spectator, who acknowledges that actuality footage is of a different existential and ethical order than fictional representations. Off-screen and disconnected from any visual representation of a body, these audio and text utterances gesture towards a space beyond the frame, towards the historical space of lived experience and embodied subjectivity where women’s bodies are vulnerable to sexual violence. This pull towards an embodied social context distinguishes Reeves’s work from Brakhage’s and, indeed, from much of the work of Brakhage’s generation of male avant-garde filmmakers, but situates Reeves in the direct lineage of feminist and queer experimental filmmakers such as Peggy Ahwesh, Yvonne Rainer, Sadie Benning, Leslie Thornton, and Su Friedrich (whose work in the 1980s forged new problematics for both feminist/queer and avant-garde filmmaking). Reeves took production courses with Peggy Ahwesh while she was a student at Bard College (Elations had been a class exercise) and Ahwesh (who is frequently thanked in Reeves’s credits) had a deep and abiding influence on Reeves’s introduction to experimental cinema.2 The New York experimental film community obviously nurtures Reeves’s work and she, in fact, collaborated with pioneering queer filmmaker MM Serra on Darling International in 1999, a gorgeous lesbian S&M fantasy set in noir New York where Reeves plays a femme inducted into the thrills of dress-up and naughty sex. Like her predecessors, Reeves’s practice is hybrid and incorporates multiple strategies of performance, appropriation, improvisation, and enactment. Such a move privileges the fragment over the whole, ambiguity and the polyvocal over the unitary subject. Like Reeves’s forerunners, particularly Su Friedrich and Sadie Benning, her work incorporates autobiographical elements in highly mediated form.

373

Brenda Longfellow

374

In fact, Reeves’s fourth film, Monsters in the Closet (1993), can be seen as part of a subgenre of queer feminist experimental film that explores sexual orientation and female desire through the world of the girl. As with Peggy Ahwesh’s Martina’s Playhouse (1989), Sadie Benning’s Me and Rubyfruit (1989), Su Friedrich’s Hide and Seek (1996), or even Jane Campion’s first short, A Girl’s Own Story (1984), Monsters maps the complex personal history and psychic territory of female girlhood and adolescence as a time of polymorphous perversity, bisexuality, and sexual becoming that comes up against toxic social norms of “proper” gendered behaviour and adolescent homophobia. A fourteen-minute, freewheeling, joyous extravaganza of appropriated music – including a scat performance, home movies, phone messages, improvisations, animations, documentary recollections, and voices – Monsters announces its polymorphous perversity in the opening series of cut-out intertitles which read: “I knew a girl who had wet dreams about insects / One night I woke up with her hand in my underwear.” The reference to insects is echoed by step-printed footage of water beetles scooting across a pond that is superimposed over single-frame animation of Reeves’s face looking directly into the camera. However, the relationship between the “I” of the intertitle and the visual imprint of the director in the next sequence is never substantiated. The “auto” of autobiography is, rather, dispersed across multiple voices and the bodies of other women. A case in point is the Super-8 home movie sequence at the beginning of the film. An angelic blonde toddler crouches in a flower-filled meadow and then toddles right up to the camera. The footage is a home movie of Reeves filmed by her father, but the individual and particular history of the Super-8 film is merged into a meditation on the social programming of little girls through the musical accompaniment of Peggy Lee’s eerie Kurt Weill-inspired “The Case of M.J.” While the full song tracks Mary Jane’s descent into madness and aberrant behaviour, Reeves includes only the first verse: “Mary Jane’s been a good girl today / She ate all her peas / She said thank you and please / And she didn’t mess up her pretty white dress.” The social norms espoused by these stanzas of propriety and cleanliness as ideals of female behaviour are undercut by the dissonance of the music, the ironic tone of Lee’s voice, and by the step-printing of the footage itself. Just as Mary Jane turns naughty, messes up her dress, and refuses to eat her peas, Monsters turns to the subversive undertow of girls’ fantasies and polymorphous sexual explorations as an alternative script of female becoming. The sequence “Girl Scout Camp and Sleepovers” begins with the cut-out intertitle: “tying up girls was an obsession of hers as a young girl, if she wasn’t doing this, she was fantasizing about doing it.” As we see contemporary images of two adult women kissing and making out on a bed (one of them Reeves), various

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

voices are intercut as they narrate, in episodic fragments, childhood sexual adventures including tying each other up, strip shows in a mother’s sexy underwear, and playing tag in the nude. One young female voice remembers her obsession with masturbation and her confusion over the growth of fleshy lobes out of her vagina when she started puberty as the visuals feature an animated sequence of little blocks of insects encased in plastic moving over a woman’s partially naked body. These multiple revelations are immediately followed by the intertitle “Jenny’s Gang” and a hilarious sequence where a young female narrator (her voice sped up and altered) recounts the increasingly fantastical adventures of “Jenny’s gang” – stealing chocolate bars, lying to parents, breaking into other girls’ sleepovers, stealing and fencing jewellery, and shooting a policeman – while two grown women, sporting kerchiefs over their face and wielding plastic guns, kiss passionately and chase each other around an apartment all to the syncopated rhythm of silent movie music. The persistence of unruly female behaviour binds the past and the present, the voice-over narration of girlhood fantasy, and the onscreen performances where adult women loosely enact the fantasy with cheap props and spontaneous improvisation. Of course, the difference between voice and image, past and present, is that while the girlhood fantasy is sexually sublimated, the adult performances remove the veil of sublimation and insert explicit sexual activity – kissing and touching – into the fantasy itself. Here, however, adult sexuality remains in continuity with the polymorphous perversity of childhood, ordered by fantasy and by labile flows that are resistant to the regimentation of identity by heteronormative categories. There are multiple ways in which one could begin to theorize this quality of Reeves’s films but, for the moment, let me suggest that Bateson’s (2006) notion of “play” might provide a rich conceptual frame. Play, according to Bateson, is not necessarily goal oriented – it has intrinsic rather than extrinsic value and it is profoundly outside of any attribution of use-value. “Play,” much more than the concept of performance, is radically non-representational and incorporates the liberating potential to continuously adopt and discard acts and identities without consequence. Play thrives on invention and imagination, a becoming other without in any way marking that projection and transubstantiation as ontological or permanent. One important distinction, however, between Reeves’s staging and Bateson’s theorization is that while “histrionic play, bluff, playful threat [and] teasing” make up a normal part of the childhood continuum of play (318), adult play, according to Bateson, bears a tendency to the pathological in the form of gambling and extreme risk taking. For Reeves, on the contrary, adult play remains a source of non-consequential pleasure and a crucial site for resisting the reductions and

375

Brenda Longfellow

376

constraints of normative subject positioning. In point of fact, all of her films (from her early shorts, to the experimental narratives, to her more abstract painterly films) are infused with a kind of ludic exuberance, which is as much an aesthetic philosophy as it is a political statement around the repressive forces of molar identities. The resistance to identity in Reeves’s films, whether defined in relation to the “auto” of autobiography or to a binary order of sexual orientation (straight or lesbian), is what makes her early shorts provocatively “queer.” Despite the mention of the “closet” in the title of her film, revelations are not ordered around the narrative of coming out where the subject arrives at a definitive declaration of identity. In Monsters in the Closet, the term “lesbian” is inscribed in autobiographical stories as a reductive insult and adolescent slur used by girls and queerbashing adolescents to shame and bully. While the performances feature explicit sexual exchanges between women, Reeves is at pains to refuse the constraint of exclusive or proprietary desire. Near the end of the film, a series of intertitles appear: “She could love men and did so too / Whereas once she was attacked for her desires for women, later she was criticized for her attractions to men.” The narrator then launches into a story about a girlfriend who bemoaned her bisexual ways. Hoping to convince the narrator that she was really a lesbian, the friend points out her higher orgasm rate with women. The narrator responds with a droll retort: “I felt like telling her my highest ratio was with my friendly faucet … so should I stop seeing people altogether?” While the film ends with a faux Super-8 home movie of two women kissing in a park to the tune of the 1943 Judy Garland and Gene Kelly hit “For Me and My Gal,” sexuality and object choice (including faucets) remain in flux, fluid, and non-denominational – an exuberant riposte to any normative position.

Chronic (1996) and The Time We Killed (2004) While all of Reeves’s queer shorts began to process mediated autobiographical elements, both Chronic and The Time We Killed expand this preoccupation into narrative territory. Given the synergy and formal resonance between the two, it makes sense to talk about both as a single continuum of practice. Both films focus on stories about mental health with protagonists who are experiencing psychic fallout and splitting as a result of trauma. Both films use hi-con black and white stock, video transferred to black and white, and complex and visually immersive montage sequences that act as condensed memories and fantasies. While both films are composed from a dense weave of heterogeneous elements, they are both struc-

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

377

26.1 Frame from Jennifer Reeves’s Strawberries in the Summertime (2013) produced at Film Farm.

tured through writerly narration and performances with narrative focalization on a single character. In Chronic, Reeves plays “Gretchen,” a teenager who is gang-raped, bullied at school, and who eventually ends up in a mental health facility after a failed suicide attempt. In this thirty-eight-minute film, Gretchen’s story is largely conveyed through a voice-over narrator who speaks from a multiplicity of subject positions (“I,” “We,” and “her”). In The Time We Killed, the central character and narrator, “Robyn,” is a social phobic who, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, lives as a recluse inside her New York apartment. In the film, Robyn is played by Reeves’s friend, poet Lisa Jarnot, who wrote a series of impressionistic, dream-like poems for the film that are included in the narration. Before discussing the role of language and narrative in these films, however, I would like to situate Reeves’s practice in relation to the central thematic of this anthology – namely, process cinema. As with other directors who work in this category, Reeves never begins a film with a script. She has outlines, shot lists, and notations of ideas to try out, but the final form of the film – and this is particularly true of the narrative pieces – is only ever arrived at through a long durational period of shooting, editing, gathering images and sounds, working the material through optical and audio processing, writing, and rewriting. Although she had

Brenda Longfellow

378

been working this way through both her queer shorts and Chronic, Reeves attributes her participation in Philip Hoffman’s Independent Imaging Retreat in Mount Forest, Ontario (Film Farm), in 1998 as a pivotal experience. The Time We Killed actually began as a montage film, and for three years Reeves shot and edited various sequences drawn from home movies and hi-con footage she had filmed while visiting friends and lovers in New Zealand, California, and New York – places and sequences that would eventually form Robyn’s internal narrative, her fantasy, and memory projections. However, in many ways, the process had begun even earlier, in the practice that Reeves developed of gathering and recording sounds (like the sounds of neighbours arguing and the police discovery of the murder/suicide in the apartment next door to hers), collecting vintage lps, and using her Bolex camera to respond to “animals, landscapes, people and water” (Kite 2004, 34). As she noted, “[it was] like I was creating a home movie for a fictional character” (34). In my 2015 interview with her, Reeves spoke about how she had been very influenced by free association. As she put it, “I did a psychoanalysis when I was younger and so the notion of associating thoughts, images, fantasies, [and] dreams altogether – and seeing where they lead in a very free way – seemed very powerful to me. Shooting hi-con out in the world, I could connect New Zealand to upstate New York to Michigan to California. Connecting experience and place, you just kind of float into them and it puts the viewer in a different space.” Reeves’s statement of her personal poetics resonates in an uncanny way with Deleuze’s (1989) concept of the time-image. The alternative logics of intensities and flux, and time-image’s allocation of spaces – the “any-space-whatever” – are irrational, disconnected, aberrant, and schizophrenic. As Deleuze points out, it is not that narrative is entirely jettisoned in time-image cinema, but rather that its logic as a supervening force that subjugates all minor and molecular components into a singular, linear story, is superseded by a form of narrative that is episodic, fragmented, and laconic. Within time-image cinema, the distinction between past and present is obscured. Sequences, images, and sounds are vested with a measure of autonomy that cannot be absolutely tethered to narrative, and their provenance as actual, virtual, or fantasy remains unclear. Deleuze argues that this cinema generates “a new breed of signs, opssigns and sonsigns … these new signs refer to very varied images – sometimes everyday banality, sometimes exceptional or limitcircumstances – but, above all, subjective images, memories of childhood, sound and visual dreams or fantasies, where the character does not act without seeing himself [or herself] acting” (Deleuze 1989, 6; emphasis in original). One would be hard put to find a better articulation of the signifying registers in Reeves’s films Chronic and The Time We Killed than Deleuze’s rich and evocative summary.

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

379

26.2 Frame from Jennifer Reeves’s Strawberries in the Summertime (2013).

Chronic opens with a strange and disturbing sequence. Shot in hi-con black and white, the image is unstable and verges on the illegible. A naked woman (Reeves) sits in a bathtub, reaches for a razor, and then cuts her wrist. However, because of the high saturation levels of the hi-con, we cannot be sure – the water is black and the potential affect associated with the gesture is undercut by the cheerful music playing from a vintage, scratched-up lp. The sequence is followed by a more conventional beginning – appropriated footage of a birth while the narration begins: “Gretchen was born in 1975, the day before Thanksgiving. We grew up in rural Ohio.” The shift in this short passage of narration from third person to first person plural presages a slide of enunciation that continues throughout the film. The psychic splitting implicit in that slide is mirrored in a series of disjunctions that order the film between image and sound, the retroactive time of the narration, and the present time of the images, enactments, and appropriations. The other key disjunction, of course, is that between author and fictional character. While Reeves plays the teenaged Gretchen in the performative sequences and reads the voiceover narration, the film never proposes Gretchen as a purely autobiographical surrogate. As Reeves noted in an interview, “I could relate to the character on an emotional level, but she wasn’t me. I was never gang-raped but I was assaulted and

Brenda Longfellow

380

I’d had comparable experiences” (Reeves 2015). In her cinema, autobiographical experiences inspire the fiction through affective intensities. However, these are amplified and exaggerated by performances that are coded reflexively or, as Deleuze put it, “[she] does not act without seeing [herself] acting” (1989, 6). Gretchen’s trauma is introduced by a title in lower case: “Gretchen started off high school on the wrong foot.” The film then cuts to an image of a young woman lying on a lawn. Shot in hi-con black and white, the image is obscure and the details are hard to decipher. The image transforms into negative as the narrator observes that “When Gretchen was fourteen, she really wanted to be liked. And she heard fraternity parties were the thing to do.” From that point, the images become increasingly abstract as we hear a disturbing audio montage of male voices from a fraternity party boasting about raping women (the same voices that had been used in Girls Dream of Hollywood). Images of shadowy and obscure male figures loom into the frame, as if seen from the point of view of the woman on the lawn, as the narrator continues: “The next morning when she woke on the lawn she was in horrible pain, which told her she was no longer a virgin.” Dissociation, of course, is one of the primary psychic defences against trauma, and the film enacts this through the use of the third person in the narration and through the highly fragmented fictional sequences. The affective intensity associated with the trauma, however, is also displaced and condensed in a series of complex and almost hallucinogenic montage sequences. After the gang rape, the narration moves into the territory of fantasy and hyperbole: “I realized getting parental permission for an abortion would be confrontational so I concocted a poison for her.” The black and white enactment footage cedes to microscopic images of cells moving and dividing while appropriated film music (whose minor key recalls the Bernard Herrmann score for Psycho [1960]) imbues the sequence with dread and horror. As in Psycho, the bathtub becomes a pre-eminent schizoid space – a site where intimacy and extreme vulnerability are transgressed by violence directed at the body. In the case of Chronic, this happens through selfmutilation. Blood stains the surface of the tub and literally bleeds through the superimposed macro image of a needle puncturing the skin. There is a haptic quality to this particular set of images, layered over each other through the optical printer to the point where the celluloid surface seems multi-dermal, tactile, and as fragile as the thin epidermis of the body. Only the sound of Gretchen’s “father” knocking at the bathroom door, pulling the film back into the fictional space of the narrative, breaks this short, dense “hallucination.” A feature-length film (ninety-three minutes), The Time We Killed premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the fipresci for best feature prize and went on to garner multiple accolades as a highly innovative experimental narrative.

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

Like Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), The Time We Killed explores a fractured female subjectivity where the scene of dissolution, dream, and reverie takes place inside a claustrophobic domestic space. Here, however, the space is not the mythopoeic architecture of the California bungalow that Maureem Turim has so brilliantly deciphered (2007), but the prosaic space of a tiny, vaguely rundown apartment on the Lower East side, whose brick walls, single-paned windows, dripping radiator, and thin walls mark it far more as a resolutely particular marginal urban enclave. While windows in both films mark the passage between the bounded space of the interior and the unmarked territory of the “outside,” the “outside” in Reeves’s film remains equally mired in a banal everyday with its views of tenements, fire escapes, pigeons, hydro wires, and an acoustic polyphony of sirens, children wailing, and neighbours yelling. New York City represents a far more ambiguous site than it did in Chronic, where the city, its anonymity, and possibilities, had been viewed by its central character, Gretchen, as a space of liberation. In The Time We Killed, with its double-entendre title referencing wasting time and wasting others, New York is a site invaded by post-traumatic anxiety and aggression as the war on terror heats up and the invasion of Iraq begins. While the film anchors its narrative in a distinctive post-9/11 epoch (the opening diary entry begins in November 2002 and the final one ends in April 2003), the relationship between the national trauma and Robyn’s personal trauma is never causal or even explicitly allegorical. As Robyn wryly puts it in her voiceover narration: “terrorism brought me out of the house … but the war on terror drove me back in.” Her social phobia is as much a defence against political hypocrisy, xenophobia, and warmongering as anything else. However, unlike her co-nationals whom she accuses of amnesia, Robyn is determined to remember and the project of the film is, in fact, to immerse us in her protracted, disembodied, and fragmented flights of memory. As noted, Reeves originally designed the film as a series of montage sequences before coming to the conclusion that she needed a present-tense narrative to anchor the subjective flights of the character. Even so, the narrative is about as far from movement-image cinema as one might get. Robyn mainly sits in her apartment and tries to make some kind of sense of her life and, in particular, to recover the childhood memories she had lost following a suicide attempt at age seventeen. She attempts to write a fantasy romance novel entitled “The Handsomest Man,” watches George Bush announce the invasion of Iraq on the news, masturbates (using two voices to moan so her neighbours will think she is with someone), and fiddles with her radiator. Her attempts at self-analysis are, more often than not, quixotic. While Robyn muses that she may have been sexually abused, she is more irritated by her analyst’s methods than prepared to accept a singular cause as the

381

Brenda Longfellow

382

trigger for her agoraphobia. Her sense of loss seems more bound up with a missed love affair with Valeska, a woman she obsesses about but who precipitously dies of cancer. Lisa Jarnot’s performance as Robyn is extraordinarily laconic and often mordantly funny. The sequences with Jarnot are shot inside Reeves’s apartment on a pd150 camera with Reeves often standing in for Jarnot for close-up shots of hands on the typewriter or other body parts. Jarnot wrote five poems in character that are inscribed in the film in what Brent Kite has beautifully observed as “a montage of circulating resonances” (2004, 33). The poems are quirky, surreal, and nonsensical. The spoken words and images may loosely share a set of motifs, but they are never locked in any kind of illustrative manner as in the last sequences of the film where we hear the Borgo Pass poem: “In 1382 two dogs went out for a walk into the dark forest of the Borgo Pass, without their leashes, without a note, since the typist suicided after a spider bite” and we see the image of Robyn, having finally left her apartment, walking a single dog down the streets of New York City. According to Reeves, approximately 80 per cent of The Time We Killed is composed of “memory” sequences and image reveries. Made up of home movies, appropriated footage, dense acoustic landscapes, and hi-con footage, these sequences, like the palimpsests and superimpositions in Chronic, have singular intensities and are immersive, haptic, and beyond narrative logic. Fragmented shots of bodies, people staring into the camera, a child toddling up a walkway, travelling shots from trains and cars, and pixillated movements through graveyards come up against shots of horses, swish pans of tropical vegetation, and animals in a zoo. Some of these sequences are accompanied by voice-over narration, some by music or abstract soundscapes. Some still are simply plays of light on dark or reflections on an inky body of water rendered impenetrably black by the use of the hi-con film stock. These image fragments are never narrativized and they are bound to the narration only in the most random and haphazard fashion. In their opacity, they remain insistent as markers of desire and loss and, as such, embody a singularly Deleuzian concept of memory as “an assemblage of singular sensations, bodily encounters of connections, actions and reactions” (Boljkovac 2013, 265). Memory, in other words, does not resolve into the substantiation of the bounded individual but rather operates as productive assemblage of distinctive intensities and becomings. By the end of the film, Robyn’s memory work does not provide her with a cure to the social and personal traumas that led her to her self-imposed incarceration in her apartment. Yet she is able to, as she puts it, “leave the cave.”

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

Tethered to a dog, she moves onto the street with caution and probity towards an uncertain future.

A Deleuzian Cinema: Abstraction and the Skin of the Film 383 The final category of films that I would like to discuss includes Reeves’s more abstract films, which range from shorts such as The Girl’s Nervy (1995, 5 minutes), Lightwork 1 (2006, 8 minutes), Landfill 16 (2011, 9 minutes), Trains Are for Dreaming (2009, 7 minutes), and Color Neutral (2014, 3 minutes), to the featurelength dual-projection film, When It Was Blue (2008). All of these films employ techniques of 16mm optical printing, hand-painting, tinting, toning, bi-packing, and single-frame animation. The films are dense, a glorious rush of constantly mutating colour, shape, and form subtended by the staccato rhythms of Reeves’s editing and her complexly layered and designed soundscapes. Reeves is a virtuoso of the optical printer and of what can only be called symphonic montage, where new images flicker into being every second and pulse with extraordinary musicality. For reasons of space, I will discuss only When It Was Blue in any length, although Landfill 16 – an offshoot of When It Was Blue – and Strawberries in the Summertime (2013) also make an appearance. When It was Blue, a US/ Icelandic co-production and collaboration between Reeves and Icelandic musician Skúli Sverrisson, was originally launched as a live dual projection screening at the Wavelengths Program during the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008. Working with both appropriated footage and footage gathered by Reeves in travels to Iceland, Costa Rica, the Berkshires, Vancouver, and upstate New York, When It Was Blue is again structured as a hallucinogenic flow of free association that is nearly cosmic in its breadth. A restless kaleidoscope of sky, ocean, birds, snakes, spiders, running lemurs, flowers blooming, tropical and deciduous forests, hot springs and volcanoes, airplanes and boats, the moon and the sun, the film limns the organic world in motion. According to Reeves, her abstract films are “reprieves” produced between narrative works, which have tended to be “emotionally risky” and, for her, were far more demanding in relation to writing narration and dialogue. Even as reprieves from narrative and narration, however, the line between her abstract films and the more narrative ones is neither hard nor fast and might be seen more in relation to the broad but thematically coherent spectrum of her practice. Although it is nonverbal, When It Was Blue employs techniques drawn from her narrative work. “I’ve made a lot of abstract films,” Reeves recounts, “but I’m taking what I

Brenda Longfellow

384

learned about the pacing of a feature film from The Time We Killed.” When It Was Blue does not rely on narrative in the most literal sense of the term, but it does embody “an emotional journey.” There are movements, shifts in pace, crescendos, and dénouements that are conveyed through both music and montage. Moreover, while there is an explicit feminist and queer radical politic to her short and narrative works, When It Was Blue, Landfill 16, and Lightwork 1 are also, and in their own way, deeply political – but in a form that is mediated through complex visual and acoustic strategies. In an insightful review of Reeves’s When It Was Blue, critic Michael Sicinski reads the most abstract sequences in the film as an explicit homage to Stan Brakhage. “Reeves,” he writes “once again summon[s] the late Brakhage, almost like a farewell benediction” (Sicinski 2008). Whether Reeves is really asking for the benediction of the “father” is a moot point,3 but Sicinski is clearly right to point to the similarities between the two artists. On the most surface level, this relates to their shared techniques of hand-painting, tinting, scratching, and percussive montage, but, more importantly, it is their shared orientation towards the world as a site of wonder that marks a resonance between their work. Like Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (usa, 1961–64), When it Was Blue plays with repetitive antimonies: between forest and civilization; animal and human; black and white and colour; cosmic time and human time; and the still and moving image. In each film there is an explicit counter to the objectifying and imperial or phallic pretensions of the gaze as it has been traditionally inscribed, which is substituted for a palpable erotics of the glance embodied in a relentless flux of perpetually mutating images pulsing with colour, affect, and intensity. For both artists, it is not a question of owning or knowing the world in a proprietary or epistemological rendering, as the artist meets the world in a position of surrender to this flow. As Reeves has confessed in her essay on Brakhage, it was above all the quality of “surrender” that had so drawn her to Brakhage’s work, and When It Was Blue invites the viewer to that hypnotic mobile place with every gorgeous handpainted frame. However, as I have been arguing, there are key and crucial differences between Reeves’s work and Brakhage’s. On the most obvious level, Brakhage’s oeuvre is almost entirely silent – a form of discipline to concentrate attention on the visual. Reeves’s films, by contrast, are profoundly shaped by the complex acoustic landscapes she creates. When It Was Blue, in particular, is rich with the cacophony of the organic world – the cawing of seagulls, the rustle and squeal of animals, the chirp of crickets, the slow whistle of wind through leaves, and the nearly omnipresent sound of moving water crashing as waves and splashing on shore. Sometimes these sounds are synchronized with an image but, more often than not, they

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves

are autonomous to the visual track and reference an off-screen world – an infinitely rich organic world populated by living, breathing, and sentient matter. Outside the field of visual perception, the detailed “acoustic envelope” of the film consistently demonstrates the limitation of the visual field and its insufficiency to capture the fully immersive quality of “nature” or experience. The murmur of the organic world, inscribed into the film through both on- and off-screen sounds, is also beautifully integrated with Sverrisson’s haunting minimalist score. Perhaps the music, more than any other element, is crucial to the constitution of the “emotional journey” of When It Was Blue as it moves through different registers from thin guitar strums to dissonant harmonies, building (and simultaneously so) a sense of joyous celebration and portending doom. Let me suggest that the second – and by far the more radical – distinction between Brakhage and Reeves has to do with a quite deliberate move beyond the phenomenological impulse of Brakhage’s adventure in perception to a complex and mediated social commentary. According to Reeves, When It Was Blue was born of “a conscious eco-impulse” (Mayer 2009). The title refers to the well-worn environmental discourse around the “blue planet” – the fact that Earth, as much as any sentient life form, is primarily made up of water. Indeed, When It Was Blue is largely composed of repeated aqueous imagery – seas, ponds, rivers, and lakes. The film was made at the height of environmental consciousness in the US, three years after Hurricane Katrina, and fleeting images of the destruction of Katrina and the most iconic image of climate change – hunks of ice crashing into the sea – make a brief appearance in the film, an acknowledgment of the repercussions of humans’ impact on the environment. While Brakhage’s works are characterized by a movement towards abstraction (the distillation of the image into pure form or colour), representational images are fundamental to Reeves’s project in When It Was Blue. On one level, while the collage of multiple images of diverse flora and fauna might function, as Sophie Mayer observes, as “the cinematic equivalent of the Svalbard International Seed Fault” (Mayer 2009) – a celebration of diversity and a lament for its imperilled state – Reeves’s film could never be construed as a simple environmental treatise. When It Was Blue might also recall the epic monumentalism of Koyanisqaatsi (1982) with its technologically mediated “eye of God,” but the film, like all of Reeves’s works, is radically polyvalent and resistant to any kind of totalizing monumentalism. In many ways, the representational image functions “under erasure” in the film as both index and symptom of the deathly logic of the Western gaze as a “tool for colonizing space, a machine for scientific inscription and visual mastery” (Sicinski 2008). Reeves, it seems to me, is perfectly aware of the paradox that encountering

385

Brenda Longfellow

386

the world as picture, to use Heidegger’s term (1977), may be one of the only modes of knowing available to us but it implicates us in a gesture that produces the world as object and other, a splitting that denies subjectivity to all non-human sentient matter and permits the use and abuse of the world as merely a resource. As such, Reeves’s eco-meditation is not articulated in language as a didactic or rhetorical argument, but through a reflexive inscription of the profound limits of the gaze. Each image fragment may index a molecular part of the organic world, but each is subsumed into the relentlessness of a perpetual image flow, conjoined to disjunctive spaces and times through superimposition and montage, and rendered oblique through hand-painting, scratching, and tinting. According to Michael Sicinski, Reeves’s dispersal of the gaze is at the core of her feminist politics. In When It Was Blue, he notes, Reeves “turns the screen into a space of invagination … the image will not stand apart at a distance but welcomes, enfolds the viewer’s eye in a haptic mobile glance” (Sicinski 2008). This is clearly quite different from a “metaphysics of vision” (Heidegger, 1977) or even the interiorized “hypnogogic vision” (Brakhage 1963) that critics have read into the work of Brakhage where, in essence, the primacy of a disembodied subject (whether dreaming or looking) is reaffirmed as the projective source of the object world. Reeves’s work, by contrast, pulls us into an immersive, tactile, and virtual world, and it is precisely for this reason that we could identify her work as Deleuzian. For Deleuze (1989), intensities – vibratory or rhythmic forces – are the primary constituents of experience. These are pre-predictive, outside of language but coursing through matter as a kind of cosmic energy. The experience of the environment as a depth of intensive forces, for Deleuze, “is affective”: we are touched, jostled, repulsed, and attracted by these encounters, and the force of affect moves through us and shapes us. The strict demarcation between subject and object – the primary architectural strut of the notion of the world picture – is replaced by a concept of being as becoming and of the subject as a virtual and unstable association between inner and material world. Reeves’s Deleuzian cinema privileges the glance over the gaze, sensory immersion over perception, and the haptic over the imperium of the disembodied seeing eye. In this cinema, the skin of the film itself – scratched, painted, doubled, and tripled – remands us to the materiality of the medium itself and to the work of time on matter and bodies. In Landfill 16, Reeves actually performs “materiality” in a literal way by recycling unused footage and outtakes from When It Was Blue, burying these in a compost to decompose the emulsion. She then exhumed and hand-painted each frame, layering over the grains of dirt and emulsion. As projected, each frame is a testament to the brushstroke and to the work of enzymes and fungi on the chemical skin of the film. The emulsion courses and mutates as

26.3 Top Frame from Jennifer Reeves’s Strawberries in the Summertime (2013).

26.4 Bottom Frame from Jennifer Reeves’s The TIme We Killed (2004).

Brenda Longfellow

388

each frame pulses with a burst of abstract expressionism, a figural tribute to inevitable change and decay. Reeves’s eco-impulse is also a palpable part of Reeves’s recent and perhaps most personal film, Strawberries in the Summertime. Shot at Philip Hoffman’s Film Farm, the film features Reeves’s two-and-a-half-year-old son, Teo, gently guided and attended to by his father. With her return to Film Farm fifteen years after her first residency, now with a child and husband, there is a gentle lyricism and quiet intimacy to the film, which celebrates and follows Teo’s discovery of the natural environment. Alternating extended moments of naturalistic documentation of Teo’s perambulations with richly toned and tinted images of leaves rustling in the wind, flowers, and fields, the film is a gift to Teo and to us, her viewers – an invitation to surrender to the shimmering wonder of the world.

Notes 1 The provenance of the voices is documentary. Reeves was given a vhs tape from a former boyfriend who had taped an end-of-year fraternity party at his college in the late 1980s. As Reeves said when I asked her, “I could never imagine that dialogue.” 2 Ahwesh, in fact, was one of the authors and signatories of an Open Letter released during the Toronto Experimental Film Congress in 1989 that began with the call to “unwrite the Institutional Canon of Masterworks of the Avant-Garde.” Ahwesh and the other signatories were particularly indignant about what they perceived as the bias of the Congress towards foregrounding the work of the established male avantgarde, and so the Congress organizers were taken to task for their alleged opposition to feminist film theory. William C. Wees (2000) has defined this generational demarcation in relation to a set of values that distinguished modernism from its postmodern successors, a distinction that largely settled around the defence or opposition to the notion of the “Autonomy of Art” but that was formally manifested in the far greater incorporation of language – in performance or text, in voice-over, and in the appropriation of narrative and mass media and popular culture artifacts. 3 Sophie Mayer (2009) suggests that the film is far more influenced by Maria Menken or Margaret Tait.

References Bateson, Gregory. 2006. “A Theory of Play and Fantasy.” In The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology, ed. Katie Salen Tekinbas and Eric Zimmerman, 314–29. Cambridge, ma: mit Press.

The Process Cinema of Jennifer Reeves Boljkovac, Nadine. 2013. Untimely Affects: Gilles Deleuze and an Ethics of Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Brakhage, Stan. 1963. Metaphors on Vision, Film Culture 30. Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema II: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomilson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Heidegger, Martin. 1977. “The Age of World Picture.” In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt, 115–54. New York: Harper and Row. Kite, Brent. 2004. “Homeland Insecurity: Jennifer Reeves on The Time We Killed.” Cinema Scope 20: 32-7. Mayer, Sophie. 2009. “The Skin, the Aging, the Imperfection, the Colour, the Beauty.” Vertigo Magazine 4, no. 2. https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/ volume-4-issue-2-winter-spring-20091/the-skin-the-aging-the-imperfection-the-colourthe-beauty/. Reeves, Jennifer. 2001. “Argument for the Immediate Sensuous: Notes on Stately Mansions Did Decree and Coupling.” Chicago Review 47, no. 4 (Winter): 193–9. – 2015. Interview with author, 29 July. Russell, Catherine. 1999. Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Durham, nc, and London: Duke University Press. Sicinski, Michael. 2008. “When It Was Blue (Jennifer Reeves, US).” cinema scope. http: cinema-scope.com/spotlight/spotlight-when-it-was-blue-jennifer-reeves-us/. Sobchack, Vivian. 2004. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Turim, Maureen. 2007. “The Interiority of Space: Desire and Maya Deren.” In AvantGarde Film, ed. Alexander Graf and Dietrich Scheunemann, 155–64. Amsterdam: Brill. Wees. William C. 2000. “Let’s Set the Record Straight”: The International Experimental Film Congress, Toronto 1989.” Revue Canadienne d’Études cinématographiques/ Canadian Journal of Film Studies 9, no.1: 101–16.

389

Chapter 27 Tearing Up the Screen: Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes Scott MacKenzie and Anna Westerstahl Stenport One of the best-attended public screenings of Greenlandic multimedia artist and theorist Pia Arke’s (1958–2007) major video work Arctic Hysteria (Greenland/ Denmark, 1996) occurred nearly twenty years after its completion. The video was screened as part of the special exhibition Arktis/Arctic (lmma 2013) at Denmark’s internationally renowned museum of modern art, Louisiana. Despite Louisiana’s strong reputation for self-reflexive and critically astute exhibits, the curation of Arktis affirmed a stereotypical and spectacularizing view of “The Arctic” as an otherworldly, desolate, and white expanse inviting outsider exploration, interpretation, and subjugation. In this exhibition, Arke’s Arctic Hysteria stood out, looped on a small video display screen in close proximity to the large-scale projection of Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, usa, 1922). This was one of few pieces that addressed an “Arctic” imaginary and the political and cultural baggage that such a term implies in the context of Denmark as a (post-) colonial Arctic power. Louisiana’s selection of Arctic Hysteria signals that Arke, six years after her death from cancer at the age of forty-eight, had become recognized as an important artist in the Danish context. Moreover, the vast majority of works included in Arktis were made by canonical, male, and Western artists – Arctic Hysteria was the only piece that affirmed an Indigenous, woman-bodied subject position and set of experiences. This chapter foregrounds Arke’s interest in process, especially her custombuilt, mobile, and life-size pinhole camera. The photographs generated by the pinhole camera are integrated into two of her video works: Arctic Hysteria and Tupilakosaurus: An Interesting Study about the Triassic Myth of Kap Stosch (1999). Here, we examine the material manipulation of exposure times in these photos, which offers an unexamined instance of analog process practices in video art through the inter-positioning of Arke’s body. Arke’s videos incorporate “process cinema” techniques through her use of analog, process-based practices that use “obsolete” technologies to reconfigure ways in which Greenland, and her corporeal body, have been understood and portrayed by colonial powers. These

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

include self-reflexive attention to manipulation of the image (in particular building what is in essence a mobile film lab through her construction of a pinhole camera in Denmark and transporting it to Greenland), inscribing her body as a material part of her practice as a means to control exposure times, and inserting her work into pre-existing exhibitions, such as ethnographic displays on Greenlandic “Eskimo” cultures in Danish museums. These practices also demonstrate an interest in process and a profound engagement with the nature of photographic reproduction. Yet, these practices use the manipulation of images as a way to question and subvert the dominant, “normalized,” and patriarchal underpinning of realist representation – especially what realism includes and occludes under the guise of objectivity and transparency. Arke’s Arctic and Greenlandic works examine the process of othering through images, what these images allowed male Arctic explorers and their eager audiences – men as well as women – to see, and how such visual constructions resonate in the contemporary moment. Therefore, Arke’s work does not simply offer an ideological critique of colonialism but also postulates new, varied, and contradictory ways of interpreting a complex history of visual ethnography through repurposing, on analog, processbased visual technologies. Arke’s process-based practice generated a large and diverse body of works, made up of videos, photographs, paintings, installations, and critical writings. This includes the ground-breaking Ethno-Aesthetics ([1995] 2010), the first postcolonial theoretical text in Danish. Arke is unique in the Danish-Greenlandic context because of her sophisticated art practice that challenges dominant Danish interpretive prerogatives about pre- and post-Greenlandic self-governance, which occurred in 2008. As recent scholarship demonstrates (Thisted 2012; Mondrup 2012; Sandbye 2012; and Jonsson 2013), Arke is one of the few visual artists to investigate the relationship between Denmark and Greenland in a (post-) colonial context of critical inquiry. In addition, Arke self-described as a “mongrel” – she had a Greenlandic mother and a Danish father, lived in three different locations in East, North, and West Greenland as a child, and spoke Danish rather than one of the three main Greenlandic dialects. As a teenager, she settled in Copenhagen and trained there as an artist and scholar. She travelled extensively, and often returned to Greenland. Arke’s stature and status in the contemporary Danish and Greenlandic experimental art world became evident through a 2010 exhibit at the National Museum in Copenhagen, as well as by the major publication and archival efforts of the collective Kuratorisk Aktion (Curatorial Action). This collective has documented, curated, exhibited, and republished Arke’s large number of written and visual

391

MacKenzie and Stenport

392

works in collaboration with scholars, colleagues, and the artist’s family. Tupilakosaurus: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research (2012; book and dvd) is a major outcome of this project, as is a trilingual new edition of Arke and Stefan Jonsson’s Stories from Scoresbysund: Photographs, Colonisation, and Mapping ([2003] 2010). Like German artist Hito Steyerl, Arke’s works in multimedia platforms engage in critical/auto/biographical writing and operate in the interface between representation, marginalized histories, and image manipulation. In the first comprehensive study of her oeuvre, it is described as “Incomplet(able)” (Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 8), foregrounding its generative nature and desire for dialogue and resistance toward closure.

Reclaiming “Old Technology” Scottish scientist David Brewster first photographed through a pinhole camera in 1850. The effect of this lenseless photography (with the pinhole replacing the lens) was revolutionary. Shooting through a pinhole camera allowed for infinite depth of field and was a perfect medium for large-scale landscape photography, a process he described in his book The Stereoscope, published in 1856. The “pictorial” properties of pinhole photography allowed for a shift from realism to a style of photography that foregrounded interiority and subjective aspects of perception. Moreover, because of long exposure times, pinhole photography compressed temporal space into the moment (Renner 2009). Various painters and writers subsequently experimented with the technology, including Swedish dramatist August Strindberg, who took a series of life-size pinhole photographs through his Wunderkamera in 1892, some of which have survived (Rugg 1997; Szalczer, Stenport, and Schroeder 2018). In terms of popularity, “pin hole” technology hit its peak in the late nineteenth century, falling out of use with both the quest for realism and the mass marketing of both moving and still cameras at the beginning of the twentieth century. Why, then, did an artist like Pia Arke turn to this “obsolete,” “primitive technology” in the late twentieth century? Like the role now played by 16mm film in artisanal film production, the pinhole camera foregrounds the way in which analog photographic technologies materially transform pro-filmic reality by turning natural light into photographic light colour and then into black and white. Moreover, given its history as a tool for documenting landscapes and the pastoral, Arke’s work hearkens back to the way in which Arctic landscapes have been constructed and interpolated through photographic representation since the nineteenth century. Robert G. David, for example, outlines the numerous ways in which polar expedition photography and monochrome reproduction of Arctic

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

land- and seascape paintings in the popular press helped produce an image of the Arctic as bleak, forbidding, and alien during the nineteenth century (2000; see also Potter 2007; Belanger and Stenport 2017). The predominant visual register of Arctic photography by the late nineteenth-century also fell into two distinct categories that inform Arke’s use of the pinhole camera. In the first, the ethnographic and scientific approach of documenting Arctic native peoples (especially Inuit and Sámi) as representative of primitive Indigeneity dominated, while the second largely removed human interactions with the environment. In this dominant landscape tradition, human presence – including the very practice of capturing images – was obfuscated. Arke constructed her life-size pinhole camera in a studio in Copenhagen and then transported it to Northern Zealand near Elsinore for an art exhibit in 1996. From there, she took it to Nuugaarsuuk near Ittoqqortoormiit (formerly Scoresbysund), one of the remote locations in East Greenland where she lived as a child. Through this displacement process of a photographic apparatus, Arke challenged the Arctic pictorial tradition in several ways. First, the use of the pinhole camera as a documentary device brings the Danish and Greenlandic environments closer to each other, which blurs the demarcation between Danish visual representational traditions and those ascribed to Greenland or “the Arctic.” Moreover, by positioning this “monster” of a square box, its appearance similar to that of a hunting blind in supposedly pristine wilderness, she also affirmed the constructed nature of such a concept and the assumptions of “realistic” photography that have gone with capturing such vistas throughout the history of photography. Arke made sure to document her presence with the camera in the landscape (as figure 27.1 shows), making its presence quotidian and relatable. The exact location where Arke placed her pinhole camera at Nuugaarsuuk Point is where her childhood house once stood. The camera, then, becomes a domestic edifice, a new structure in the landscape that functions as a shelter. The play on words here, where the root of camera means “room,” is renegotiated by traces of past dwelling spaces that are metaphorically reconstituted through the photographic process. Arke also took care to have herself documented in relation to the pinhole camera in a photograph of her standing next to a bike, which further reinscribes the quotidian potential of not only inhabiting the photographic apparatus but emphasizing the complexity of images generated from it. Arke reversed the gaze of the historical interpellation of the ethnographic subject (which in this context is the artist) by inserting herself into the pinhole camera as an actively perceiving and creating agent. The camera was large enough for Arke to sleep in, and the light the camera captured could be manipulated by Arke’s body to render the image once she was inside the camera. As Inge Kleivan notes:

393

MacKenzie and Stenport

394

27.1 Pia Arke with pinhole camera and bike at Nuugarsuuk point.

“When she sat inside the box, she could watch the image forming, and it was also possible for her to shadow it with her body, so that the film was exposed to less light in certain areas” (Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 251). Here, Arke used her own body as a matte, altering exposure times in a process-oriented practice that inscribed her body onto the images through the absence of light and placing her ethereal body within the image through the reduction of light. As Søren Bro Pold notes, in this and other of her works, such as Scandinavian Panorama (1988), Arke’s manipulation of the materiality of photography is explicitly processoriented: “Arke often reflected critically on photography’s technology and image formation processes in ways whereby she could open up the technology and simultaneously confront the photographic gaze with new subjects” (Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 269). Here, her use of her own body suggests that through process photography, her absent, Indigenous, female body is reinscribed into the tradition

395

27.2 Self-Portrait (1992).

of landscape photography whose ethnographic gaze so often elided the subjectivity of the land’s inhabitants. The best-known outcomes of Arke’s pinhole camera are large prints of the Greenlandic landscape at Nuugaarsuuk Point, which she used as background for a number of different artworks. The photographs were captured on six asa black and white Lithfilm, 50 cm by 60 cm in diameter, with exposure times of over fifteen minutes. She then used these photographs in a wide variety of contexts, reproducing some at the size of the film itself while blowing up others as very large

27.3 Above The Three Graces (1993). One photo out of four in a sequence.

27.4 Opposite Untitled (Put your kamik on your head, so everyone can see where you come from) (1993).

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

397

photostats and using them as key aspects of her videos through both reproduction and re-projection – including Arctic Hysteria and Tupilakousaurus. She also reproduced this landscape in still-life artworks such as the series The Three Graces (1993), where Arke is photographed against a large photo of Nuugaarsuuk Point with two childhood friends from Ittoqqortoormiit. The photograph is also part of Untitled (Put your kamik on your head, so everyone can see where you come from) (1993) – a composition in which Arke is seated with her back against the spectator and a traditional Greenlandic women’s boot over her head – and SelfPortrait (1992), where she double-exposes her naked body, arms defiantly crossed, and then superimposes this image onto the pinhole backdrop. Here, we see Arke’s artistic practice as one of process: there is no stable image – sizes and reproductive means vary – and the images themselves are intervened with in a variety of ways depending on context of exhibition and media (installation, video, performance, and combinations of all three).

MacKenzie and Stenport

398

The term “Arctic hysteria” is not new. It was first coined in 1892 and popularized by Robert Peary during his multiple stays in Northern Greenland. The pseudo-scientific term refers to the Inuit, women in particular, who would scream, lose self-control, at times engage in “dangerous” acts, and then suffer from amnesia – according to white Western explorers, doctors, ethnographers, and scientists. The Inuit themselves do not recognize “Arctic hysteria” as a “disease” and many have written about how the condition came to be described through colonialist anthropology (see, for instance, Dick 1995). In her own response to this colonialist anthropology, Arke integrates and deconstructs the concept in numerous artworks, including a photo montage called Arctic Hysteria IV (1997; original lost, reproduction by Kuratorisk Aktion in 2010. See Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 386–7), which juxtaposes photographs of three naked Greenlandic women with four photographs of Western explorers, fully clothed in fur skins, culled from Peary’s Northward over the “Great Ice” (1898). In her video Arctic Hysteria, Arke imposes her naked body on the pinhole camera’s photograph of the Greenlandic landscape as she crawls on, rolls over, and caresses the photostat enlargement while making guttural noises and sniffing gestures. At the end of the video, Arke has torn the entire picture to pieces and moves out of the screen, like an animal, on all fours. Remaining within the frame are shards of paper. As in her Self Portrait – in which she appears as an apparition, seen through and not at one with the space – Arke cannot merge with the landscape in Arctic Hysteria, nor does she seem to seek her place, symbolically, within the topography. Arctic Hysteria can also be understood as a contribution to a long history of feminist film and video making that explores embodiment and representations of the female body. For example, Lisa Steele’s Birthday Suit with Scars and Defects (Canada, 1974) maps out the scars on her “birthday suit” and reappropriates the image of her own naked body as a tapestry of her history. As well, Ngozi Omwurah’s The Body Beautiful (UK, 1990) maps a biracial history and the implicit colonial relationships between the UK and Africa – as scars of its past after the Nigerian civil war – onto her mother’s own scarred body after undergoing a mastectomy. In both works, like those of Arke, the female body becomes a vehicle through which the filmmakers tell personal histories – as in Steele’s video – but also signal how women’s bodies extend beyond one’s narrative and experiential history into a commentary on aesthetic practices and socio-historical contexts. Arke’s work can also be understood in relation to international and Danish video art. For instance, Bill Viola’s immersive videos explore the relationship between modes of consciousness and embodiment in works such as The Reflecting Pool (usa, 1979), Chott el-Djerid (A Portrait in Light and Heat) (usa, 1979), and

399

27.5 Photo montage of screen grabs from Arctic Hysteria (1996).

The Passing (usa, 1992). It is also worth noting that Danish video art of the 1990s was split between political and art factions, the two meeting through feminist video art, to which Arke can be seen as an unacknowledged contributor in the Danish context (for more on Danish video art, see Movin and Bang 1992). Moreover, Arke made her art videos well before there was anything remotely like an independent film industry in Greenland (though with collectives like film.gl, a nascent industry is now developing; see MacKenzie and Stenport 2017), a Greenlandic video art movement, or a Danish context that was interested in interrogating Danish/Greenlandic post-colonialism. Thus, the attention to photographic process and apparatus is evident in all of Arke’s art that relates to the pinhole camera. The rendition of Nuugaarsuk Point

MacKenzie and Stenport

400

carries through Arctic Hysteria on multiple levels, including her interest in documenting the recycling, and even destruction, of her own “finished” artwork on video – in this case, the photostat blow-up of the Greenlandic landscape image. Documenting this process of continuous renewal or, alternately, the ways in which art can be displaced and reconstituted in multiple contexts and through varied formal strategies, affirms Arke’s deep commitment to a process-driven practice as well as to self-reflexive attention to her own production as an artist. Indeed, the strong performative element in Arctic Hysteria – by which Arke impersonates a wild and inarticulate animal tearing up celluloid as if one could feed on it – signals self-awareness of, and interest in, how her own art negotiates a range of subject positions. For example, when Arctic Hysteria was screened next to Nanook of the North at Louisiana’s Arktis in 2013, the effect of this particular exhibition space on the work was that it continued the video’s constitutive processbased political, self-reflexive aesthetic and critical analysis. This ties into Arke’s meta-critique of ethnography and visual display practices in works such as EthnoAesthetics – her practice and process make evident that “ethnography” is neither stable nor impartial, and her work questions the imperial and ontological status of the museological and historical artifact as well as other renditions of Greenland and the Arctic.

The Process of Feminist Arctic Museology Arke’s work has been used as an intervention into still-dominant modes of ethnographic museological and curatorial practices, including in explicitly traditional and colonial settings. For instance, in 2010, her pinhole photographs were placed in the display cases of the National Museum in Copenhagen, which still holds most of the objects accumulated from what in hindsight can be best described as the obsessive hoarding undertaken by Knud Rasmussen during his Arctic expeditions to Greenland and Canada (especially the objects derived from the 1921–24 Fifth Thule Expedition, though some artifacts have been repatriated to the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk). Placing Arke’s process-conscious art inside the display cases foregrounds the constructed nature of the “naturalized” Rasmussen collection. In the Danish National Museum, artifacts brought from Greenland are artificially sorted into categories and displayed in glass cases based on their material characteristics rather than on their function as part of a dynamic set of cultural practices. The massive glass case displays reinforce a conventional museological approach of “Othering,” as such object displays signal stagnation and disassociation from political and cultural complexity or embodied experiences. Arke remarks on the problematic nature

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

of such traditional European museology in Ethno-Aesthetics: “We, the ethnic in various shapes, on the contrary, have a clear interest in folding the curatorial framing back into the ethnographical display. We have an interest in unveiling the connections leading back to Europe, in the same way as the aesthete has an interest in occupying him- or herself with art. Here you will find no fear of polluting authentic values” (Arke 2010, 12). For Arke, challenging the ethnographic museology process connects in significant ways to process cinema, including the use of handprocessing. The nature of the images themselves displayed at the National Museum involve mobilizing “obsolete” technology to document a landscape caught through the camera as an isolated moment in time. These images are subsequently juxtaposed with the “timeless” artifacts of Rasmussen displayed in the glass cases. The technological, chemical, and mutable nature of the photographic process shows truth to the lie that the artifacts are anything other than a construct that is on display and related in no way to the lived experiences of the bodies that once inhabited the clothes mounted behind glass. Arke’s interest in the connections between process-based photography and ethnographic, curatorial, and museological practices provide the structuring principle for the video work Tupilakosaurus. Shot in black and white, this nine-minute video juxtaposes two visual realms and two voice tracks. In the first, geologist Svend-Erik Bendix-Almgreen is seated facing away from the camera at a small work table at the Danish Geological Museum. The table’s surface is covered by geological specimens and fossils in small cardboard boxes. Filmed from behind and above, with the camera holding still about a metre above and slightly behind his left shoulder, Dr Bendix-Almgreen tells the story of the prehistoric creature the Tupilakosaurus and how remains of it came to be integrated into the museum’s collections. He refers to Danish paleontologist Eigil Nielsen’s fieldwork near Ittoqqortoormiit, close to one of Arke’s childhood homes, and Nuugaarsuk Point, where most of Arke’s Greenlandic landscape photos were made from the pinhole camera. Nielsen’s findings in that region of Greenland were presented as a scientific treatise entitled Tupilakosaurus Heilmani: An Interesting Batrachomorph from the Triassic of East Greenland (1954). His legacy lives on as one of many Danish scientists who helped lay the foundation for the extraordinarily rich collections in the Danish Geological Museums, which are derived extensively from centuries of expeditions to Greenland and other parts of the Danish Empire. At its largest, the Danish Empire extended across the North Atlantic to the West Indies and the West Coast of Africa. Arke is not present onscreen in these shots, nor do we hear her posing her interview questions. As the video unfolds, Bendix-Almgreen seems more and more uncomfortable onscreen, seeking eye contact with the camera lens and, presumably, Arke, or even the lens of the camera on its stand, but he appears

401

MacKenzie and Stenport

402

27.6 Frame grab from Tupilakosaurus: An Interesting Study about the Triassic Myth of Kap Stosch (1999).

unable to return the gaze. To some extent, his discomfort, though not explicit, clearly replicates the discomfort of many of the Greenlandic women photographed in the historical ethnographic photos Arke integrates as part of her artistic practice. Arke’s use of mythology to uncover the constructed nature of Greenland both excavates this history and ties into the rearticulation of mythology in other feminist works, such as the invocation of the Sphinx in Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s Riddles of the Sphinx (UK, 1977). Indeed, like Mulvey and Wollen, Arke works in long takes to juxtapose the paleontologist with Arke moving texts with one of her pinhole images projected over her. Tupilakousarus and Riddles of the Sphinx share the image of the female author/director recycling and challenging the role played by texts as a means of defining and describing the world through an unquestioned rationality. Indeed, through the invocation of the “Tupilak” myth, Tupilakousarus also raises issues about how the supposedly “pure” and “untouched” Greenland is, in actuality, a Frankenstein monster built from spare parts. The name “Tupilakousarus” itself is a mash-up. As Arke notes, Tupilak “belongs to the time before the Christianization of the Greenlanders, and to their mythical world … Saurus [comes] from a more scientific point of view [and] has to do with the history of the creation of the planet” (Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 272). Mirjam Joensen and Kuratorisk Akton follow this line of thought and argue that “the Tupilak myth, which, briefly related [in the video], has to do with a

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

shaman, who makes a tupilak from various animal and human bones (and other more vital parts), after which he gives it life so that it acquires supernatural powers. The parallel to the … construction of Greenland is striking” (Kuratorisk Aktion 2012, 272). Thus, Greenland and Arke are both mongrel constructions. The second set of shots in Tupilakosaurus, consistently interspersed with the footage of Bendix-Almgreen, features Arke standing behind a desk with her body partly obscuring the projection of a Nuugaarsuk Point pinhole camera landscape on the white wall behind her. The point of view of the camera is close to the projector’s beam, which conflates projection and recording into the same perspective. When Arke moves across the backdrop, she obscures different parts of the projected landscape just as her black shirt absorbs the light from the beam. As a result, no part of the Greenlandic landscape is ever clearly outlined on her body as her body blocks light in the making of the photograph. Arke’s actions in these shots is limited to the moving of a large stack of office paper from one side of the table to another. She slowly and meticulously moves sections of the stack, presumably a print-out of different pages of Nielsen’s dissertation, and lets the beam intermittently project part of the landscape image against a piece of paper as it is being moved. Arke’s voice-over consists of her reading, in Danish, from a script describing the Tupilak myth. This sophisticated video comments, like the better-known Arctic Hysteria, on centuries of ethnographic and scientific practice of Danes and other Westerners in Greenland. It is also an artwork explicitly interested in investigating the process of visual imagery constitutive of Arctic mythologies and how the artist herself uses her body to physically intervene in the continued production and projection of those images. As she obscures and allows for the projection of the Greenlandic landscape in varying and alternating patterns on the white wall behind her and on the white sheets of paper with limited print and images on them, she also challenges and questions the visual representation of Greenland and of the constitutive parts of the Greenlandic environment such as the scenery of mountains and ocean from Nuugaarsuk Point – scenery that she herself has helped produce with her body through the pinhole camera. One aspect that becomes especially clear in this video is Arke’s continual interest in display, projection, and screening practices as well as her explicit interest in the continued centrality of museums in these endeavours. Arke’s work also interfaces with and destabilizes the materiality of other discourses of power. For instance, though not an explicit aim of Tupilakousaurus or Arctic Hysteria, these artworks productively help challenge and resituate two of the best-known male Danish representational registers of Greenland during the late twentieth century. The first of these is Per Kirkeby, a renowned contemporary

403

MacKenzie and Stenport

404

Danish pictorial artist. A high modernist, Kirkeby’s films, paintings, sketches, and sculptural work all foreground his training and interest in geology. Kirkeby visited Greenland and documented fieldwork in films such as Da myndighederne sagde stop (Denmark, 1971) and Ekspeditionen (Denmark, 1988), as well as in a number of pictorial works, such as those collected in a 2012 curated special exhibit at Ordrupgaard called Per Kirkeby and Greenland: The Secret Reservoir. The continuous connection between Greenlandic scientists and geologists, and the representation of the Greenlandic landscape in art influenced by scientific observation, thus holds a strong pull in the Danish context. Arke’s work represents the striated and complicated perspectives that any lived experience of unequal power relations constitutes. Arke demonstrates a keen interest in making art that challenges a facile acceptance of the status quo but without the least interest in tendentiousness or in mobilizing art for conventional political means. She thereby ought to be understood as an artist as committed to process as she is to product, and as someone for whom aesthetic and personal reflection, creativity, and articulation is always the driving force behind her practice.

Conclusion: Arke after Arke and Kuratorisk Aktion Kuratorisk Aktion was a collective founded in 2005 to allow curators to engage critically with questions of race, class, gender, and sexuality. As their website states, they merge “feminist, queer, and activist informed approaches … to raise consciousness on the politics of representation and translate this consciousness into practice. We attempt to achieve this through a 65/35 percent representation of minoritarian and majoritarian subjectivities respectively in all our productions, at the same time as we open this procedure up to critique as part of the curatorial methodology.” A key outcome of their project was the first retrospective of Arke’s work and to the publication of Tupilakosaurus: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research in 2012. The structure and ethos of the “survey” are striking. Like Arke’s work itself, the book is generative, does not close down her body of work to a series of readings, and almost forces the reader to jump around, make her own connections, and to map one’s own trajectory. To this end, the book itself is about process. Much like the way Arke made her way through the detritus of Greenlandic representation, and attempted to find her own place within it, the book creates a space of dialogue with the reader by acknowledging that one’s own journey is as much a part of the creative process as that of the artist’s. An “Incomplete(able) Survey” postulates that the process of making one’s way through the work creates its own meanings and maps, and that like Arke’s pinhole photographs (which she could endlessly recycle in her works), Arke’s own body

Pia Arke’s Post-Colonial Processes

of work functions in the same manner. Combining the characteristics of a catalogue, an academic tome, a survey of her works, and her own writings, Kuratorisk Aktion’s project places Arke’s body of work as a set of works in process to be reconfigured through various modes of discourse, context, and interpretation. 405 References Arke, Pia. [1995] 2010. Ethno-Aesthetics/Ethnoæstetik. Copenhagen: Kunsttidsskriftet ark/Pia Arke Selskabet/Kuratorisk Aktion. Arke, Pia, and Stefan Jonsson. 2010. Stories from Scoresbysund: Photographs, Colonisation, and Mapping. Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Auktion. Belanger, Noelle, and Anna Westerståhl Stenport. 2017. “The Global Politics of Color in the Arctic Landscape: Blackness at the Centre of Frederic Edwin Church’s Aurora Borealis (1865) and the Legacy of 19th-Century Limits of Representation.” ARTMargins 6, no. 2: 6–26. David, Robert G. 2000. The Arctic in the British Imagination, 1818–1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Jonsson, Stefan. 2013. “Disclosing the World Order: Decolonial Gestures in the Artistic Work of Pia Arke.” Third Text 27, no. 2: 242–59. Kuratorisk Aktion. 2012. Tupilakosaurus: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research. Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Aktion. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. 2013. Arctic. Humlebæk: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. MacKenzie, Scott, and Anna Westerstahl Stenport. 2017. “Sumé, Grønland og den sosialhistoriske rockumentaren.” Z filmtidsskrift 138: 28–39. Mondrup, Iben. 2012. “The Eyes That See: The Postcolonial Body in Pia Arke’s Works.” In Kuratorisk Aktion, Tupilakosaurus: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research, 293–8. Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Aktion. Movin, Lars, and Hans V. Bang. 1992. Danish Video: An Essay. Copenhagen: Danske filminstitut. Nielsen, Eigil. 1954. Tupilakosaurus Heilmani: An Interesting Batrachomorph from the Triassic of East Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland udgivne af Kommissionen for Videnskabelige Undersøgelser i Grønland. Vol. 72. Copenhagen: Reitzel. Potter, Russell. 2007. Arctic Spectacles, Seattle: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818–1875. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Renner, Eric. 2009. Pinhole Photography: From Historic Technique to Digital Application. Oxford: Elsevier. Rugg, Linda Haverty. 1997. Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MacKenzie and Stenport Sandbye, Mette. 2012. “Making Pictures Talk: The Re-Opening of a ‘Dead City’ through Vernacular Photography as a Catalyst for the Performance of Memories.” In Kuratorisk Aktion, Tupilakosaurus: An Incomplete(able) Survey of Pia Arke’s Artistic Work and Research, 299–308. Copenhagen: Kuratorisk Aktion.

406

Szalczer, Eszter, Anna Westerstahl Stenport, and Jonathan Schroeder. 2018. “Introduction: Visual Culture, August Strindberg, and the Double Image of Modernity.” In August Strindberg and Visual Culture: The Emergence of Optical Modernity in Image, Text, and Theatre, 1–17. London: Bloomsbury. Thisted, Kirsten. 2012. “De-Framing the Indigenous Body: Ethnography, Landscape and Cultural Belonging in the Art of Pia Arke.” Nordlit 29: 279–98.

Chapter 28 Projection as Performance: Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema Dan Browne In this chapter, I will argue for the existence of a current renaissance in forms of expanded and performance-based cinema among Canadian filmmakers who employ a range of analog and handmade formats. The works I will be focusing on deal primarily with themes of landscape and mediation – topics of a perennial nature in Canadian art and culture – and are united in their uses of material decay to develop generative aesthetic forms that resist dominant modes of disembodied, high-definition visual culture. It is my contention that such expanded forms, initially forged amid the countercultural movements of the 1960s and often in direct analogies to utopian notions of expanded consciousness or reality (e.g. Youngblood 1970; Export 2011), have become increasingly appealing to the current generation of film artists as a means to resist the proprietary and disposable nature of digital media. By engaging with these practices, these artists are actively redefining the aesthetic codes of analog film to adhere more closely to the hybrid, dynamic nature of the performing arts (such as music and dance) rather than the static and commodified forms of mainstream cinema. Just as Marshall McLuhan saw art as a means of engaging the most pressing of contemporary issues, and the artist as a vanguard who helps audiences adapt to new conditions by equipping them with new perceptual experiences through the use of radical forms, the retrieval of analog film in the era of its obsolescence points towards a renewed emphasis on embodied, handmade aesthetics to counter the immateriality of perfected digital imagery. Considered together, these diffuse but like-minded makers represent a movement that seeks to dissolve common assumptions that limit the potential of cinema as a technological, artistic, and social act. By necessitating forms of embodied engagement on behalf of both viewer and maker, these works subvert many of the norms that have become standard for assimilating artworks into consumer culture through engagements that are ephemeral and unique. Expanded cinema forms experienced a period of relative contraction following the explosion of experimental approaches adopted by artists in the 1960s and

Dan Browne

408

1970s.1 One reason for this contraction was an increasing shift towards gallerybased work, a direction that was aided by an increased use of video formats. However, another potential reason for this period of disinterest is that it did not take long for mainstream impulses to assimilate the oppositional status implied by the nature of such performances. The diffuse field of media we live in today can rightly be characterized as an expanded one. Walk into any sports bar and you will find an extensive multimedia display – interactive installations that project light and sound reside comfortably in nearly everyone’s pockets. The impacts of such environments have become so commonplace that they have achieved a status of banality, with their presence and effects receding into the background. These advances have also led to an erosion of the cinema as a site of cultural privilege. We no longer go to the theatre as we used to, and its paradigmatic status now appears to be somewhat consigned to the twentieth century, its contained light diffused by the illumination of smartphones. This displacement is linked to the eclipse of film by digital technologies with their own fluid codes and potentials, which has yielded an identity crisis for “film” as cinema and as a discrete medium. One aspect of this technical crisis can be found in attempts to define, or redefine, its essential properties – an agenda initially pursued by early film theorists out of a need to legitimize cinema as a unique discipline of production and study. Today, comparable anxieties have been renewed amid the diffusion of cinematic practices within a broader media landscape. However, another aspect of this instability comes from the character of film itself as a dynamic and composite medium of temporal flux. It is a form that straddles both mechanical and electrical paradigms and whose deployment in artistic and industrial contexts provides it with surplus identities. As Andrew V. Uroskie has noted, artists have sought to question the limitations of media through expanded forms as a response to the cinema’s dynamic nature, for “the very idea of ‘medium’ was being transformed by the essentially hybrid and diffuse nature of the moving image” (2014, 12). The interest in analog expanded cinematic forms among artists today is an indication of similar attempts to renegotiate their potential significance in the digital era. Recent aesthetic debates in the era of the digital/analog split and “post-medium condition” have been extensive, yet largely inconclusive. Noël Carroll’s injunction to “forget the medium” (2003) is persuasive in that he demonstrates that all media are composite and hybrid (e.g., painting makes use of various types of paint, surfaces, brushes, and more). Moreover, film, for Carroll, is not the product of a single apparatus but rather a complex mixture of codes and materials, most of which have been imported from other media. Yet, while the argument that the cinema is little more than a fallacy of misplaced concreteness (to employ a term from Whitehead) has many suggestive insights, Carroll’s position contains several contradic-

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

tions. As D.N. Rodowick notes, Carroll risks “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” (2007, 41) by limiting the potential for understanding methods of production or presentation through such a restrictive approach. Rodowick counters with two provocations. One is a dialectical method that embraces the dynamic plurality of media, drawing upon Stanley Cavell’s concept of automatisms, which suggests that artworks are not merely artifacts within a given format; they also intervene as “a new medium within it” (1979, 103). The second is the related insight from Paolo Cherchi Usai that cinema is fundamentally “an original and unrepeatable entity” (2001, 46). While Rodowick agrees with Cavell that “a medium, if it is a living one, is continually in a state of self-transformation” (42), he also contends that “film is no longer a modern medium; it is completely historical” (93).2 As I will demonstrate, the renewed contemporary emphasis on expanded forms suggests otherwise. In fact, such works provide evidence of greater transformations in the medium within the past decade than perhaps any other since the 1960s. To disregard expanded forms as somehow exterior to the medium due to their hybrid nature not only conflicts with Carroll’s point regarding the composite nature of media, as well as Cavell’s insight concerning creative intervention, but also reinforces epistemological boundaries that marginalize the status of handmade cinema, which leads to a detrimental understanding of why analog formats maintain an enduring presence today. In the present era, Walter Benjamin’s assessment of film as a mass medium without “aura” has become inverted in the contemporary moment through its obsolescence. That is, not only do film prints now hold a discrete, bounded, and often singular object status (a fact that was always true of certain types of production, such as reversal formats), but their presentation has become recontextualized as an event that is necessarily embodied and performative due to the material labour it requires. Film today has experienced a McLuhan-esque reversal into an anti-environment, returning it to a model closer to Tom Gunning’s notion of the “cinema of attractions” (1986) than to that of a mass commodity. While Benjamin’s claims are prescient in anticipating digital aesthetics, aura has become inscribed into the medium of film through scarcity, leading to a shift from an industrial to artisanal mode.3 This shift in the aesthetic dimension of film towards the performative and handmade reveals a new dimension of the cinematic arts, one that diverges from the path of the digital technologies that have supplanted (while also continuing to erode) the traditional cinematic model. This path embraces a variety of divergent tactics in terms of presentation, yet many such instances remain grounded within the viewing experience of the black box of the cinema. I demonstrate how this happens through a selection of recent works.

409

Dan Browne

Alex MacKenzie

410

Alex MacKenzie is a Vancouver-based filmmaker whose works explore film as an artisanal medium, often hand-processing and printing his own films independent of labs, even going so far as to produce his own emulsions and hand-cranked projection equipment in works such as The Wooden Lightbox: A Secret Art of Seeing (2007–12). As he states, “the elimination of the film lab, standard projection practices, and a conventional relationship to the audience in my practice has all been in the service of rendering my films more intimate, more humble and more personal” (2012). MacKenzie uses performance as a means of engaging in a relationship of coexistence with his works, his presence and process as author becoming a necessary contextual requirement that opposes the alienation that filmmakers often experience when their works screen in their absence. By eschewing the production of fixed artifacts, MacKenzie uses performance as a means for escaping the imposition of an overly constrictive sense of “commodity-think” (Hoolboom

28.1 Above Alex MacKenzie performing Apparitions (2016).

28.2 Opposite Still from Alex MacKenzie’s Apparitions (2016).

411

2005) through an approach informed by an anarcho-primitivist sensibility (Cacciotti 2010). In MacKenzie’s works, improvisation plays an important role, and variations in a venue’s size, shape, positioning of equipment, and audience seating all provide cues for his reinterpretation. The ephemerality of these contextual relations foreground the fragile nature of film stock, a theme that finds further resonance in his subjects, such as the marine ecosystems of Intertidal (2012–14) and the early imaging technologies explored in Apparitions (2016). Apparitions uses two 16mm projectors and an assortment of gels and refraction materials to reimagine an alternative historical trajectory for the medium. Working in response to current fascinations with 3d cinema, MacKenzie explores strategies of depth perception and binocular vision through a defamiliarized approach to consider film a nascent and porous form whose codes are not clearly defined. A loose history of the medium is thus developed within an episodic structure, from an initial invocation of pure, coloured light (using leds), to explorations in movement and depth perception that relate to early cinematic tropes. Double projections of the same image with reversed movement generate contradictory spatial momentums and expressive interventions such as gel masking, projector movement, and lens interferences (e.g., gradual shifts in focus) and create dramatic tension outside the realm of narrative. Through these interventions, MacKenzie reconstructs the medium’s potential beyond the dominant cultural trajectories that shape our understanding of what

Dan Browne

412

cinema is and can be. In doing so, he positions his work against the influence of capital, implied as a corrosive and limiting force that has infected the natural environment, which in turn leads to its decline through the culture industry’s amnesiac sensibility. By its conclusion, Apparitions revels in forms of decay, as an appropriated, water-damaged educational film about the dangers of smog signifies a corrupt relation between technology and nature that foreshadows apocalyptic scenarios of global warming. MacKenzie sees the narratives of media construction as key to facilitating this interrelation between technology, culture, and nature when he cites a passage from Jonathan Crary’s Techniques of the Observer in the work’s description: “Where one locates ruptures or denies them is a political choice that determines the construction of the present” (1990, 7). This choice in locating ruptures and continuities poses significant questions for the politics of scholars working in cinema studies: to what extent do we unconsciously proliferate assumptions about the history of our medium in the service of commodification? At what price are we willing to retrieve our insights if, in the end, our work ultimately reifies somnambulism in an era that is running out of time?

Lindsay McIntyre Lindsay McIntyre is a film artist based in Edmonton who identifies in her biography as someone who “generally does things the hard way.” Her work explores handmade film practices and uses strategies similar to those of MacKenzie, including the production of her own emulsions. Her film performance A Northern Portrait (2011–16) was shot in Baker Lake, Nunavut, the geographical centre of Canada and site of her maternal ancestral heritage. It was produced over the course of an extended visit during which she gathered material for five other short films that explore aspects of her family’s history. A Northern Portrait is performed with 16mm film loops on nine projectors. Four of these projectors create a single, palimpsest-like modulating image while the other five deploy optical sound loops to produce a variable soundtrack. After completing where she stood in the first place (2010), a film about the experience of her grandmother Kumatnaq, McIntyre felt she had not adequately conveyed her perception of the Arctic landscape. A Northern Portrait is, therefore, a portrait not only of its site but also of the filmmaker’s own subjective engagement with it. McIntyre describes her relation to the work as having a cathartic function, as if the performance itself were a “living” document. In every iteration, she navigates a collection of 150–200 loops, shifting between 60–80 over the

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

413

28.3 Still from Lindsay McIntyre’s A Northern Portrait (2011–16).

course of twenty-eight to thirty-six minutes. McIntyre’s use of this format also provides her with a means of escaping the linearity of the traditional editing process. When presenting the work, she responds intuitively to the material in the present moment. As a result, passages are extended or alternated in an organic process that has evolved over a dozen different presentations. The optical sound loops drawn from field recordings provide McIntyre a further responsive layer – their analog pops and hisses build additional textures that enhance the density of the sound in a balancing act between representation and noise. During the performance, loops can break or burn (intentionally or otherwise), and these events are folded into the experience of the work just as the image and soundscapes continually overwrite one another. The images in A Northern Portrait are mostly black and white and have been reprinted onto high-contrast stocks that accentuate their graphic qualities. This processing transforms the space of the landscapes into compositions that alternate between flat planes in which images pile up on top of each other to moments where a void of representation provides a sensation of endless depth. This treatment of landscape evokes Northrop Frye’s notion of the “garrison mentality” (1971, 225) as a foundational aspect of the experience of Canadian colonial settlers – the sensation of an inhospitably vast landscape, perceived from within the

Dan Browne

414

confines of a sheltered communal space. Noting the strong links in Canadian art to a source of anxiety concerning this aspect of landscape, Frye assesses such forms as among the “front line of imaginative efforts to humanize a non-human world, to fight back, in a sparsely settled country, against a silent otherness that refuses to assimilate to anything human” (1982, 60).4 This theme – further developed in critical writings by Margaret Atwood (1972), Gaile McGregor (1986), R. Bruce Elder (1989), and Bart Testa (1989), and evinced in the films of Jack Chambers, David Rimmer, and Joyce Wieland, among others – is present in McIntyre’s Portrait. People are largely absent and spatial depth is broken and contested by superimpositions and hand-processed textures. The beauty of the images is thus undercut by a sense of isolation and unknowability – the performance operates as a shelter within which the audience huddles with McIntyre as their guide. However, this Fryegian reading of the work is complicated by McIntyre’s identity as part-Inuk, an aspect of her family repressed through the pressures of colonization, as her grandmother and great-grandmother were removed from the North in 1936 under conditions that remain unclear.5 Through this additional lens, the ambivalent treatment of landscape in A Northern Portrait signals an added complexity – a relationship that mediates and resonates with the struggles of Inuk people and their culture. In this sense, the processes used by McIntyre represent her attempt to engage with and find a point of re-entry to her ancestral home and culture, their hybrid perspective serving as a potential meeting point between colonial and Indigenous visions, opening up a space for decolonization.

Aaron Zeghers In Holland, Man. (2015), Winnipeg filmmaker Aaron Zeghers crafts a similarly fractured landscape through a multiplicity of media that include Super-8, 16mm, and digital formats, and are presented with three 16mm projectors, one Super-8 projector, and one digital projector. Zeghers operates all of these mechanics while he performs live on violin and banjo. Holland, Man. documents the closure of the multi-generational family farm run by his father, Don Zeghers, an event that is framed as a microcosm for larger issues: shifts in industrial production and their impact on local economies, the erasure of rural communities and their associated lifestyles, and broader changes in climate. At the outset of the work, we hear Don conversing with Aaron, seeking to understand what his son is up to by asking, “what kind of film is this going to be anyways? … Is it going to be something everybody can understand?” We are immediately thrust into a sense of a generational gap between father and son who have chosen different paths in life. However, it soon becomes clear that this dynamic is part of a larger trend – no members

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

of the Zeghers clan are farming any longer. Don is the last of a family that was formerly composed exclusively of people who worked the land. Zeghers’s use of multiple perspectives in image and sound splits the subjectivity of the piece as he channels his parents’ stories, which relate a sense of the land through a diverse assemblage of mediated fragments. Maps and family snapshots are superimposed onto the landscape via an overhead projector, their translucent forms adjusted by the interventions of silhouetted hands. Also, one hundred pinhole cameras are deployed across the farm landscape to be exposed over a period of months, their distorted registrations forming a climactic funeral dirge for the space of the farm. Zeghers also compresses temporalities and distances through the use of pixillated sequences and dilations through a fisheye lens. He also creatively shoots materials on film and leaves the camera flares intact, while the onscreen presence of sprocket holes produces a further resonant analogy between the obsolete technologies of analog farming and analog filmmaking. As with A Northern Portrait, the representational qualities of images in Holland, Man. are challenged by moments of abstraction as shots flare to white and landscapes are compressed through rapid movements and juxtapositions. Multiple layers overwrite each other through superimpositions – the central image spills into the other components and the outer edges of the film projections transgress beyond the limits of the screen surface. However, this constant effacing of representation is anchored by the clear presences of people, spaces, and events, as memories and artifacts preserved in the family’s archive coexist with their present-tense context, a counterpoint that is often bridged through audio interviews. While these present-tense images and sounds have also become relegated to history, they simultaneously and paradoxically re-enter the present through their reactivation as performance. By presenting the work live, Zeghers actively relives the trauma of loss, a cathartic dimension that relates Holland, Man. closely to A Northern Portrait. Similarly, many film components of Holland, Man. were made with 16mm reversal, a stock without a negative that is a wholly individual object and will inevitably become increasingly distressed and damaged through the act of projection. Using such stocks (commonly referred to as “camera originals”) is on one level a cost-cutting measure, but their unique nature is also among the clearest instances of analog film maintaining an auratic status despite its potential reproducibility. This uniqueness has an aesthetic dimension, for camera originals can offer a greater sharpness and clarity than stocks that have been generationally reprinted. The fact that such stocks are no longer manufactured makes these objects doubly precious – the inscriptions of lost space and time in their content become mirrored through their materiality, which adds yet another layer of resonant meaning to their use in performance.

415

Dan Browne

416

However, Zeghers’s compositional strategy of fractured, multiple frames in Holland, Man. is not merely an aesthetic designed to accommodate a hybrid use of formats. In the film’s only purely digital section – a passage in which Don visits the ruins of the original family house where he was born – the image is again split into two disparate channels. With one frame nested inside the other, the layers create a dynamic tension that blocks clear access and foregrounds their mediation. Here we are fully within the present, yet even this moment is fractured and multiple, its unity shattered in response to impending loss, as the filmmaker seemingly grasps at every possible moment and memory that remains. In Holland, Man. the traumatic response to the taming of an inhospitable landscape is encountered not through the struggle of colonial experience but instead through its retreat amid the economic and social pressures of the era of post-globalization. As the Zeghers clan moves to the city, they leave behind familiar pieces of themselves and their history in the land itself: the ruins of the house in which they were raised, the fields in which they ate dinner, and the earth with which they merged through the sweat of manual labour. The new frontier they will confront will not be vast fields but rather the urban landscape and its mediated forms.

Zephyr: Sylvain Chaussée and Adrian Gordon Cook Sylvain Chaussée and Adrian Gordon Cook have been performing together under the name of Zephyr since 2013. Zephyr does not signify a specific, discrete work. Rather, it establishes a process and set of parameters for Chaussée and Cook’s collaborative explorations, which are always context- and site-specific. Their performances are unique to each presentation and are established through a period of improvised rehearsals and in-the-moment synchronicities developed out of a dialogue between their respective media of image and sound. Chaussée performs with 16mm loops on a range of projectors (usually between five and eight) and Cook provides an accompanying soundtrack using a range of modular analog synths. The fundamental relation between the two artists and their tools is an iterative, looping format in which images repeat and are drawn into increasing complexity through gradual modifications within an episodic structure. Projections are sometimes multiplied into quadrants, each with an identical or related set, but are also sometimes layered with multiple projections that rewrite each other’s forms through superimposition. Passages find alternation and progression in a manner similar to how a dj mixes between disparate elements to create a cohesive unity. Chaussée’s images are often evocative depictions of landscapes that conjure a spirit of travelogue juxtaposed with sensuous elemental forms and found footage

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

417

28.4 Still from Aaron Zeghers’s Holland, Man. (2015).

that suggest a realm beyond human vision, situated between interactions of the physical world and technology, and mediated by dynamic, embodied performances with complex arrangements of composition and timing. Chaussée and Cook act as conduits for these forms, applying generative processes such as incremental repetition and the embrace of abrasions and decay to embed and reinforce meaning. A native to France residing in Toronto, Chaussée works as the head technician at Niagara Custom Lab – the last remaining source for positive colour 16mm prints in Canada. Here he builds up a density of textures in his images through generational interventions that include the use of reprinting, tinting, solarization, and bi-packing to shift their colour or form, with a single sequence often presented as a varying range of tonalities through its printing. As with the other artists described in this essay, Chaussée’s loops are singular and unique objects, and he modifies his techniques each time he produces material for a new performance. Part of what gives such emotional resonance to Zephyr’s shows is that some of these loops will be intentionally destroyed during each event, limiting the beauty of their images to the eyes of the audience in the room. This destructive component underscores the processual and performative nature of Chaussée’s relationship to the medium as his interventions repurpose film strips and projectors into instruments to be played. By holding the film so that it burns in the gate against the heat of the projector’s lamp, individual frames melt

28.5 Sylvain Chaussée and Adrian Gordon Cook performing live as Zephyr in 2014 at Niagara Custom Lab, Toronto.

until the entire loop begins to fall apart. In combining multiple film strips through a single projector, sprockets become visible onscreen and image registration varies. Through his touch, Chaussée intervenes in the projection on a kinetic and haptic level, which reveals an embodied interactivity that offers a stark physical contrast to the relative impossibility of reaching out and touching a stream of digital information. Repetition is a key element of Zephyr’s performances as they conjure a meditational space in which each loop is a generative iteration. Every time the film returns to the gate of the projector, it is newly remade through the interplay of multiple elements. While Zephyr’s shows are always different experiences that share commonalities in this structural approach of building and dissolving, they retain certain episodes that have become hallmarks. As when a band plays their hits, repeat audiences can recognize certain familiar sequences or techniques, although these are often recontextualized or remixed with images or processes that merge in new ways. This dynamism continues to yield new developments in technique and scope over multiple years of collaboration, with Chaussée and Cook offering audiences continually new and surprising experiences that resonate with

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

the radical perceptual encounters and utopianism of Stan VanDerBeek’s MovieDrome (1963–65), and the themes of expanded consciousness that were a significant guiding principle for formal innovations in the 1960s.

Amanda Dawn Christie Amanda Dawn Christie is an east coast interdisciplinary artist whose practices span film, video, performance, installation, and electro-acoustic sound design. Christie developed her photographic practices from her mutual interests in dance and science, blending concerns of optics and chemistry with movement, rhythm, and choreography. Expanded cinema has provided a way for Christie to reinscribe herself into the work as a performer, with her early pieces involving her body in a primary context as a dancer and/or musician. This relationship has led her towards an increasing exploration of embodiment in the context of sensory engagement with technology (Christie 2010). In her more recent performances, she has shifted toward the role of projectionist with an awareness of this position as integrated within the overall visual schema. To this extent, Christie often wears costumes (e.g., a scientific lab coat, an embroidered name tag akin to a mechanic’s attire, or the goggles of a stunt-car driver) that foreground the performative character of her interventions. This performative approach was developed through a number of performances as part of IRiSs Laboratories, a collective whose works deployed multiple projectors and sound technologies within improvisational surround environments, often with the aim of inducing meditative, trance-like states.6 In IRiSs’s Mined Machine Dreams (2010), the visual field explodes into a multisensory array to evoke the science and cultural implications of the Dreamachine, a stroboscopic device designed by Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville meant to be viewed with eyes closed to produce internal hallucinations. Mirrors and refraction devices displace the images that are projected in many directions (including the ceiling) during the performance. Over the course of three movements, audience members are guided to use the Dreamachine while IRiSs member Jason Jones places a tuning fork on the back of their skull to increase sensations. Just as the Dreamachine foregrounds the physical impact of projected rhythmic light, in Mined Machine Dreams the sensory isolation of the cinema is repurposed as a space with the potential to impart haptic experiences in equal measure to its visual components. Christie’s solo performances using refraction-based projection techniques include Transmissions (2009), Lovesong for Lost Endings (2012), and Where Ocean Meets Air (2016). Where Ocean Meets Air uses two projectors, one of which is an analytic model designed to provide slow motion and instant replay.

419

Dan Browne

420

While a twenty-minute reel plays in the standard cinematic metre of twenty-four frames per second on the first projector, the second analytic projector extends a three-minute roll to match the same duration, slowly running forward one frame at a time, and then in reverse. These projections are sculpturally foregrounded through the use of fog, which draws forth the spatial qualities of the image beam by extending it from light visible only a flat surface to a conical shape that finds its point of origin in the projector’s lens (an intervention pioneered by Anthony McCall in Line Describing a Cone, 1973). During the performance, Christie further distorts the primary projection beam through the intervention of two prisms and a glass of water, elements that split the image into fragments and whose positions are subtly manipulated by Christie’s hand. These interruptions change relations of distance and perspective by extending the horizon of the frame into three horizontally refracted images and also into a diagonal array that recontextualizes the simple landscape of the piece into a dynamic mosaic. These tactics underlie the subject of Where Ocean Meets Air: the blurring of the ocean’s horizon through the porous, interchanging boundary between liquid

28.6 Amanda Dawn Christie performing Where Ocean Meets Air (2016) at Festival International du Cinéma Francophone en Acadie (FICFA).

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema

and vapour. The work’s images appear to present the same marine landscape but are in fact shot in a variety of locations in Prince Edward Island, with each composition framed identically. Christie subsequently hand-processed each roll of film in water from the ocean where it was shot. The soundtrack of the work applies a similar methodology by utilizing audio recordings of waves from each coastal location. Sound and image are thus linked through site-specific documents, yet the work’s presentation challenges their referential nature. Through diffusion and distortion, perceptual relations of figure and ground become unfixed and the image becomes a liminal spectre that simultaneously possesses depth and flatness – a spatial extension that operates both within the screen and beyond it.

Conclusion In my analysis I have sought to demonstrate how these works relate closely to concerns of embodiment and mediation and how artists use performance-based formats to strengthen the impact of their works as cinema. I have offered only a brief glimpse of the practices of these makers, and so it is important to note that such concerns are shared by an even broader spectrum of analog filmmakers in Canada, including Kyle Whitehead, Scott Fitzpatrick, Colby Richardson, Alexandra Gelis, Karl Lemieux, Malena Szlam, Guillame Vallée, Sonya Stefan, CharlesAndré Coderre, Phillipe Leonard, and Chris Spencer-Lowe, in addition to the video mixing practices of Peter Mettler and Le Révélateur (Sabrina Ratté and Roger Tellier-Craig).7 I must also emphasize that these activities are far from limited to Canada, and my claim for the current renaissance of such forms is made in acknowledgment of the substantial efforts of parallel communities worldwide.8 What has led me to link these specific works in this chapter are their embodied interpretations of landscape wherein supposed neutralities of vision and space are challenged by explicit processes of material interventions that create dynamic forms, that erode, displace, and defamiliarize the image. These interventions call into question the commonly held passive model of cinematic spectatorship and recontextualize it as an embodied, processual event that is always situated and hybrid. These works promote critical media practices through nonconventional approaches, yet each can rightly be called a work of cinema – an experience contained within the ideal viewing space of the black box – as opposed to an artwork that operates within the white cube of the gallery or the diffuse space of a multimedia array (contexts that engage viewers in an entirely different form of corporeal address). Multiple themes unite the dynamic approaches represented in these works. First, the makers reconstitute the cinema as an embodied event that requires the

421

Dan Browne

422

presence of the author. Through performance, the filmmakers are alienated neither from their work as commodity nor from the audience as an anonymous mass. The ability to tour offers makers many opportunities for artisanal exchange and rejuvenation that are augmented by an evolving network of global artist-run film labs and local collectives in dialogue. Second, projection is recontextualized as performance, meaning the apparatus and projectionist are present and visible within the space. Their actions are available as part of the total visual field through which audiences can derive additional insight. Crucially, these works propose a situation where artist and audience are reflexively seeing and being seen, which creates a responsive situation where improvised decisions can resonate within a situated context. This paradigm also frees the audience’s gaze to shift from screen and performer, sometimes even allowing for the freedom to move around the space and experience the work from different vantage points. Third, linear spatiality and temporality are subverted through multiple forms and the intervention of materials that displace and overwrite. Through the use of loops, improvisation, and the interplay of quasi-autonomous elements, artists also resist the model of deterministic temporal causality through which cinema is commonly understood. Fourth, the use of hybrid forms provides a defamiliarization that critiques the cinema’s illusionism and enacts a form of applied media archaeology that reconsiders strategies and materials that are peripheral, and sometimes even antagonistic, to cinema (e.g., moving projectors, interventions in the beam of light, and destruction of material as a creative act). Finally, the ephemeral and site-specific nature of these works provides a reason for the audience to venture out into the world to attend a screening as someone would attend a concert or play. There is no option to wait for a Blu-Ray or vod release – the works exist in the moment alone and must be encountered on such terms. By insisting on the context of the cinema for their presentations, these makers reinvigorate a site that has come to seem superfluous to many in the context of the vast array of home theatre options available to the contemporary audience. As analog film passes into obsolescence, it encounters a new beginning, returning to the model of the cinema of attractions as revitalized, performative, complex, and heterogeneous.

Notes 1 Among such instances in Canada were the multi-screen exhibitions of Expo 67 and John Hofsess’s dual-screen feature The Palace of Pleasure (1966–67). For recent reassessments of these histories, see Gagnon and Marchessault (2014) and Broomer (2016).

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema 2 The prescriptive, rather than descriptive, basis of some of Rodowick’s claims leads him to questionable contentions that limit his appreciation for contemporary hybrid forms. Among these are his assertions that works made without a camera, such as Mothlight (1963), are not classifiable as films but are instead “motion sculpture animated by the projection apparatus” (59) and that a digital camera is “not a photographic apparatus” due to its inscription process as symbolic rather than indexical (120–1). For an alternate perspective on the relation between photographs, symbols, and indexes, see Gunning (2008). 3 This shift to an artisanal paradigm has also been addressed by Gregory Zinman (2012), Kim Knowles (2013), Kelly Egan (2013), Erika Balsom (2014), Pip Chodorov (2014), and Jihoon Kim (2016). 4 Here Frye refers specifically to Canadian painting, which he notes to be a tradition continually fascinated with landscape. This theme’s continued presence within the works considered in this chapter (as well as many other instances in Canadian cinema too numerous to recount here) demonstrates that the cinema, with its inherent themes of documentary and mediation, has come to play an equally significant cultural role. 5 McIntyre attempts to reconstruct this history in her silent life. (2011, 31 minutes), which incorporates footage from the same period as where she stood in the first place and A Northern Portrait. 6 IRiSs is an acronym for “Integrated Ruptures in Sensory spaces.” The group operated from 2008 to 2011 in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Its core members were Amanda Dawn Christie, Chris Spencer-Lowe, Lukas Pearse, Rob Tough, and Herb Theriault, with fluctuating members Jason Jones, E. Hearte, Tim Crofts, Evan Rensch, W.L. Altman, and Linda Dorman. 7 I have unfortunately had to omit the frequent and well-known collaborations between Montreal-based film artists and musicians (especially with bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Jerusalem in My Heart) in my attempt to summarize in a limited space a continent’s worth of activity. Their work necessitates its own unique analysis. For more on other Canadian artists, see Kashmere and Suparak (2008). For more on Mettler, see Spinrad (2005). 8 A partial list of global contemporaries would include: Ken Jacobs, Bruce McClure, Bradley Eros, Luis Recorder and Sandra Gibson, Paul Clipson, Roger Beebe, Kerry Laitala, Kristin Reeves, Michael A. Morris, arc, and the non-profit organization Mono No Aware in the United States; Claudio Caldini in Argentina; Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, Nicky Hamlyn, Sally Golding, Greg Pope, Mary Stark and David Chatton Barker in the United Kingdom; Nominoë (Alexis Constantin, Nicolas Berthelot, Stéphane Courcy di Rosa, Emmanuel Lefrant) and Metamkine (Christophe Auger, Xavier Quérel, Jérôme Noetinger) in France; ojoboca

423

Dan Browne (Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy) and Jürgen Reble in Germany; filmkoop wien (Stefanie Weberhofer, Stefanie Zingl and Stefan Voglsiner) in Austria; Takashi Makino in Japan; Hangjun Lee in South Korea; and Dirk de Bruyn, Richard Tuohy, and Diana Barrie in Australia.

424 References Atwood, Margaret. 1972. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. Balsom, Erika. 2014. “Live and Direct: Cinema as a Performing Art.” Artforum, September, 328–33. Benjamin, Walter. 2008. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version.” In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, and others, 19–55. Cambridge, ma: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Broomer, Stephen. 2016. Hamilton Babylon: A History of the McMaster Film Board. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Cacciotti, Claudio. 2010. “Toward an Ecology of Film: An Interview with Alex MacKenzie.” https://www.alexmackenzie.ca/claudio_interview.pdf. Carroll, Noël. 2003. Engaging the Moving Image. New Haven, ct: Yale University Press. Cavell, Stanley. 1979. The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press. Cherchi Usai, Paolo. 2001. The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age. London: British Film Institute. Chodorov, Pip. 2014. “The Artist-Run Film Labs.” Millennium Film Journal no. 60 (Fall): 28–36. Christie, Amanda Dawn. 2010. “A Meditation on Improvised Narrative.” http:// www.amandadawnchristie.ca/meditation-on-improvised-narrative/. Crary, Jonathan. 1990. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, ma: mit Press. Egan, Kelly. 2013. “The Projector’s Noises: A Media Archaeology of Cinema through the Film Projector.” PhD diss., York and Ryerson Universities. Elder, R. Bruce. 1989. Image and Identity: Reflections on Canadian Film and Culture. Waterloo, on: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Export, Valie. 2011. “Expanded Cinema: Expanded Reality.” In Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film, ed. A.L. Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball, and David Curtis, 288–98. London: Tate Publishing.

Recent Directions in Canadian Expanded Cinema Frye, Northrop. 1971. “Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada.” In The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, 213–52. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1971. – 1982. “Sharing the Continent.” In Divisions on a Ground, ed. James Polk, 57–70. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. Gagnon, Monika Kim, and Janine Marchessault, eds. 2014. Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Gunning, Tom. 1986. “Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the AvantGarde.” Wide Angle 8, nos. 3–4 (Fall): 63–70. – 2008. “What’s the Point of an Index? Or, Faking Photographs.” In Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography, ed. Karen Beckman and Jean Ma, 23–40. Durham, nc, and London: Duke University Press, 2008. Hoolboom, Mike. 2005. “Live and Letting: Alex MacKenzie Talks about Pictures.” https://www.alexmackenzie.ca/interview_with_mike_hoolboom.pdf. Kashmere, Brett, and Astria Suparak. 2008. “In Pursuit of Northern Lights: Tracking Canada’s Living Cinema.” http://www.brettkashmere.com/in-pursuit-of-northern-lights/. Kim, Jihoon. 2016. Between Film, Video, and the Digital: Hybrid Moving Images in the Post-Media Age. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Knowles, Kim. 2013. “Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Inscriptions in Contemporary Experimental Film.” NECSUS : European Journal of Media Studies 4 (Autumn). https://necsus-ejms.org/blood-sweat-and-tears-bodily-inscriptions-in-contemporaryexperimental-film/. MacKenzie, Alex. 2012. “Précis on Intertidal.” https://www.alexmackenzie.ca/Intertidal _precis_alex_mackenzie.pdf. McGregor, Gaile. 1985. The Wacousta Syndrome: Explorations in the Canadian Landscape. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Rees, A.L. 2011. “Expanded Cinema and Narrative: A Troubled History.” In Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film, ed. A.L. Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball, and David Curtis, 12–21. London: Tate Publishing. Rodowick, D.N. 2007. The Virtual Life of Film. Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press. Spinrad, Paul. 2005. The VJ Book: Inspirations and Practical Advice for Live Visual Performance. Port Townsend, wa: Feral House. Testa, Bart. 1989. Spirit in the Landscape. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario. Uroskie, Andrew V. 2014. Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Youngblood, Gene. 1970. Expanded Cinema. New York: Dutton. Zinman, Gregory. 2012. “Handmade: The Moving Image in the Artisanal Mode.” PhD diss., New York University.

425

Part Six

Digital Interfaces

Chapter 29 Practice, Interface, and Outcome: Two Interviews in Helsinki Sami van Ingen Critical art practices that use moving images as a medium and that are selfreflective emerged relatively late in the art scene in Finland. The post–Second World War relationship between the Soviet Union and Western Europe instigated a weariness towards the avant-garde, and the mainly leftist-minded intelligentsia were skeptical about “experimentality” and considered it a bourgeois activity (Rastas 2007, 192). Media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo has described the slow arrival of outside artistic influences in the field of experimental audio-visual arts in Cold War Finland as a “belated arising” (Huhtamo 1991, 10). In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the influence of conceptual art brought interdisciplinary and process-led approaches to the film-based arts in Finland. One of the pioneers was Eino Ruutsalo and his hands-on films. By applying methods of his painting practice to his moving-image works, Ruutsalo ploughed a road for the Finnish video and media arts (Home 2013). For Ruutsalo,1 as for many of his peers, the foundational event that inspired awareness of experimental film occurred in 1968, when Adam P. Sitney stopped over in Finland on his European tour and presented his New American Cinema program as part of the Dipoli Art Happening. The dozens of new films by artists such as Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, and others, screened over five days, blew the audiences’ minds away. It was the first time such experimental films had ever been seen in Finland, and with Sitney’s enthusiastic introductions these works had a long-lasting impact on nearly everyone who attended the events. Elina Katainen wrote to the Kino-magazine about how “the audience sat as though they were seeing a film for the first time – feeling the same kind of joy as surely the last century’s viewers experienced when they saw the Lumières’s train” (Katainen 1968). In the fields of experimental music and early electronic arts, things had been developing years before the Dipoli event – and it is safe to say that work by artists like Erkki Kureniemi had a great impact on Finnish visual arts of the time. Later, in the early 1970s, artist and critic Jan-Olof Mallander followed Nam June Paik’s artistic practice and was also in contact with Paik (Katainen 1968). In his 1970

Sami van Ingen

430

article for Iiris magazine, Mallander calls Paik the Che Guevara of art: “He has started at least a thousand guerrilla wars inside art. Follow him!” (87). However, the media arts scene in Finland was limited to a few singular artists until the late 1980s, when the emergence of cheaper analog video technology offered various possibilities to produce and exhibit through newly founded artist collectives and organizations such as the distribution centre AV-arkki, the artists’ association Muu, the Helsinki Film Workshop, and the annual Muu Media Festival.2 All these groups were interlinked by some of the same artists and were formed to fill different gaps left by the established artist unions, art museums, and filmmakers’ organizations – namely, to provide platforms for the emerging new art forms such as video art, media art, experimental film, and performance. By this time, many if not most artists interested in new forms of art had been overseas themselves and brought back with them a huge array of ideas and energy for developing the Finnish art scene. These artist-run organizations become the outlets for this new energy. The Muu Media Festival also had a great influence by enabling a multitude of international artworks to be seen and by bringing international artists to Finland who would often show their work, give talks, do workshops, and teach. At the same time, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (Yle) started to screen some video art and make advanced purchases of experimental Finnish media art, contributing to the general awareness of the field as well as directing resources to the production of this kind of art form. Thus, over the years, the production values of some experimental media arts projects have been relatively high thanks to the funding bodies of national cultural foundations, governmental and copyright funding, and the role of the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation as an active partner in funding and airing experimental movingimage works. One can only speculate how the “belated arising” of the Finnish media art scene has encouraged vital and unique practices and artworks. Much of the art practice in the Finnish media arts appeared over a short time out of a vacuum of tradition and outside influences. The unique Finnish language and culture might have something to do with it, as well as the relatively secure and consistent funding. This emergence has created a string of exceptional artists, starting with pioneers like Eino Ruutsalo and Erkki Kureniemi to contemporaries like Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Mika Taanila, and Erkka Nissinen, whose influences can be felt both nationally and internationally. In the following, I offer a short discussion with two Finnish artists, Jani Purhonen and Mika Taanila, about their recent practices of very different kinds from the point of view of process and intention.

Practice, Interface, and Outcome

Reversal Process: Paper Film Experiments of Jani Purhonen A loop of delicate Japanese style Kozo paper whirls through a massive 35mm Bauer projector with ever increasing instability … the strong Xenon light penetrates the paper and casts a flurry of butterfly winglike images on the screen … before long the beautiful textures of the papers, super magnified fibres and the animated figures (that are really a series of holes in the material) are overcome by fatigue – the sprocket holes in the paper are wasted by the merciless pounding of the German machined steel parts of the projector. The paper loop breaks and we have only bright light beaming on the screen. – van Ingen 2015

Artist Jani Purhonen’s3 experimental film processes and exhibited works fuse together into a practice in which some of his works seem to be in development while on display – the audience is encountering a process rather than a completed, final artwork. The interfaces of analog and digital film are particularly interesting in his paper film experiments. In this instance, the digital acts as a method for charting or aligning the physical material at hand and for making cut-out animations in the material as well – or, in more practical terms, it acts as a way to precisely shape and cut the handmade paper to fit the projector. Purhonen noticed that he could use animation software to create cut-out animation outlines and combine these with the shapes of the film format itself – and use the result as templates for a digital paper cutter. He would then use this to make his paper “film” strips. Thus, making the film shape and creating the animation happen in a single workflow.4 jani purhonen: The animation that is solely made out of just reducing paper (cut-outs) has a texture in itself and can be accomplished quite delicately and precisely. But what intrigues me is how the material is present in this process, and it is in a different level than if the shapes themselves would be the subject. This animation is really (a series of) simple holes, a couple of shapes that move in space. They are like holes burned by the light. Later I made a version that had stripes or lines that were in motion – these fused into each other and formed shapes. For this I devised a projector of my own that runs the paper film with the intention that the film would not have to break but that it could run in it for hours. But that is already another story.

In his practice, Purhonen sieves from the histories of the film medium but intentionally formulates his works as hybrids between the traditional film technologies and the digital with an aim that this collision has “a point.” In Purhonen’s prac-

431

432

29.1 Frame enlargement from a Kozo paper film experiment by Jani Purhoinen.

tice, the experimental process and exhibited works fuse together. In a way, his audience is encountering a process – or different versions of it. jp: This does not really have to be defined. When you present something it becomes like a circle in which for some it appears as a ready artwork; for others a work can be part of a process – part of a longer progression. It is useless to define what is what. Things get defined afterwards. The situation can be the shape of the artwork – never to be repeated as such, but then the material that has been used can also be a kind of a work in itself.

The Multidisciplinary Rift Mannerlaatta is a lettrist film that is based on a specifically compiled text and on text-like elements, such as lists, punctuation marks and pauses. Traditionally the reader is in control of at what pace they choose to read. This time the pace is pre-set by someone else. Text “happens” to the reader. – Mika Taanila, project proposal 5

In filmmaker and visual artist Mika Taanila’s new feature-length narrative project Mannerlaatta (Tectonic Plate),6 we encounter an extraordinary concoction of chance-encountered image creation and conceptualism in a tightly woven package

Practice, Interface, and Outcome

of clear-headed thinking and poetry. Taanila is one of the most prominent artists of the Finnish art scene, but also a renowned filmmaker and curator. His previous film, Return of the Atom (2015),7 had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival a week before I had a chance to talk8 with him about his upcoming film in the cafeteria of his local gas station – one of his favourite meeting places. sami van ingen: Could you tell me about your starting points for Mannerlaatta, your upcoming project, and how it has started to develop towards this kind of