Archive for 2007

Mary Ellen Bute

Tarantella (1940)



As with many pioneer animators, Mary Ellen Bute is hardly known today, primarily because her films are not easily available in good prints. This was not always true. During a 25-year period, from 1934 until about 1959, the 11 abstract films she made played in regular movie theaters around the country, usually as the short with a first-run prestige feature, such as Mary of Scotland, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, or Hans Christian Andersen--which means that millions saw her work, many more than most other experimental animators.....Tarantella seems Mary Ellen's best film. Using an eccentric modern composition by Edwin Gershefski, Mary Ellen herself animated most of the imagery, using jagged lines to choreograph dissonant scales.
--William Moritz

Gordon Matta-Clark

Fresh Kill (1972)

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Fresh Kill revolves around the destruction of Matta-Clark's truck at the eponymous landfill, and was shown as part of Documenta 5.

Ernie Gehr

Serene Velocity (1970)





Ernie Gehr's structuralist masterpiece SERENE VELOCITY is a hypnotic film which is nothing more than a rapidly edited, rhythmic piece consisting of two shots of an office hallway (one long shot, one zoomed-in close up). Our persistence of vision makes us believe that this film is a perpetual zooming in and out from one end of a hallway to another. Rather, it is a carefully edited and timed film, which consistently cuts back and forth between these two shots. The result is a mesmerizing piece which, as it progresses, treats the eyes to much profundity out of something so simple. We begin to notice the perfect geometry of the composition as the lines of the hallway converge to the center. The film becomes some kind of cosmic heartbeat, as this meticulously timed work of art becomes visual music. There is no beginning, middle or end."---IMDB

Les Blank

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980)



An episode in Herzog's history of mock-heroic self-sacrifice [jumping into a cactus bush, walking from Munich to Paris in a blizzard], "Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe" is a documentary short in which the German director fullfils his promise to Errol Morris that he would eat his shoe if Morris ever completed his first film (Gates of Heaven.)

The film features Herzog boiling his shoes (the ones he claims to have worn when he made the bet) in garlic and herbs for 5 hours. He eventually eats one of them before an audience at the premier of the film.

Blank went on to direct Burden of Dreams (1982), a feature-length documentary about the making of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

George Kuchar

I, An Actress (1977)



George Kuchar, in typical form, outcamps and outacts [in his appropriately bad sense] his titular actress Barbara Lapsley in this low-fi, plotless and nearly themeless film 'about' directing.

John Zorn

Cobra [1992]



John Zorn's improvisational game meets musical composition, Cobra is based on a loosely structured set of rules controlled by Zorn as 'prompter'. Working with a set of cues [as notations] on cards, and sets of basic rules corresponding to those cues, Zorn sets off an indeterminate play of instrumentation and improvisation. The basic form of the Cobra games works as follows:

Players raise hands to get the prompter's attention.
The prompter selects a player.
The selected player indicates the desired card by pointing to a body part that indicates the type of cue, and holds up the number of fingers indicating the specific cue to be given.
The prompter then shows the corresponding cue card to the ensemble---thus putting it into 'play'.
The ensemble performs according to the rule that is represented by the cue card.
This is repeated from until an ending cue is given.

Alexandr Hackenschmied

Bezucelna prochazka (1930)



Bezucelna prochazka (Aimless Walk) in many ways inaugurated the avant-garde film movement in Czecholovakia, while also proposing early ideas of 'psychogeography' later developed by the Situationist movement. Alexandr Hackenschmied's first film, it made him a leading avant-garde photographer and filmmaker until he emigrated to the US in the late 1930s, marrying Maya Deren in 1942. The majority of the Hackenschmied archive was lost in World War II.

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet

En rachâchant (1982)



Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet have created some of the most intellectually demanding, formally austere, and yet politicized films in the history of postwar cinema. Prior to working with Huillet, his late wife and co-director, the French born Straub was an assistant to Abel Gance, Jean Renoir, and Robert Bresson. Their meeting in 1954 eventually resulted in a body of work of uncompromising rigour, defining not only New German Cinema in its attack on the conventions of film language and naturalistic acting, but the intellectual and formal potential of film art in general.

En rachâchant is based on Marguerite Duras’ story Ah! Ernesto, about a young boy who refuses to go to school because they teach him things he doesn't know.

Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen

Helsinki Complaints Choir (2006)



Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen collect the grievances and pleas of people in cities like Helsinki and turn them into affecting choral works in their ongoing "Complaints Choir" project.

Robert Breer

69 (1968)



Robert Breer's career as an artist and animator spans over four decades, from his stop motion studies using an old Bolex 16mm camera, to his seminal animated films and large, site-specific installations. Since the 1950s, Breer's work has often focused on the mechanics of cinema---sometimes adapting the structure of flipbooks to film--- and has featured hand drawn 4x6 index cards that are composed into formalist, repetitive studies, such as '69'.

A Man and His Dog Out For Air (1957)

Joris Ivens (w/Mannus Franken)

Regen (1929)



Joris Ivens captures Amsterdam in the rain with poetic simplicity. "Tough Ivens kept his camera within reach to film whenever it would rain, it rained so little that the film took much more time than anticipated"---Beeld en Geluid.

Iannis Xenakis

Metastasis (1953-1954)



Metastasis is Iannis Xenakis' first major orchestral work, inspired by Einstein's conception of time, the composers own personal experience of war, and the mathematical ideas of Le Corbusier [whom Xenakis worked with as an architect]. The work calls for an orchestra of 65 players: 12 winds, 7 percussionists, and 46 strings, though no two performers play identical parts. The sound mass that defines the piece is thus created by each player performing a glissandi at different pitch levels, durations, and points, with the resulting score, followed in this video sequence, supposedly serving as the basis for the hyperbolic paraboloids of the Philips Pavilion.

Gaeudjiparl

Mechanical Bird



Gaeudjiparl, aka Goodiepal [nee Kristian Vester] is a musician/performer who was born in a small town in the north of Denmark. Educated in Anthroposophy schools and reportedly a former pig farmer, he now lives in the Faroe Islands and performs with various small objects built by himself, such as miniature models of planets, and this sublime mechanical bird.

Bill Viola

The Reflecting Pool (1977-1979)



"Movement and change in an otherwise still scene are limited to the reflections and ripples on the surface of a pond in the woods. Special video techniques form disparate layers of time into a final composite image, evoking a kind of baptism -- the emergence of the individual into the natural world." --original WGBH press release

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Das Kleine Chaos (1967)



Rainer Werner Fassbinder's second 16mm short--made while still a theatre director in Munich---shows the young filmmaker clearly under the influence of the French nouvelle vague [complete with a poster of Juliette Greco], yet already hinting at the recurring themes of his mature work. Theo (played by Christoph Roser, who financed the film in return for a staring role), Marite (Marite Greiselis), and Franz (played by Fassbinder) turn their love of American noir into a crime spree, even if one reflecting on the moral nature of violence and crime, and in typically Fassbinder fashion, the chaos of postwar culture [after breaking into a woman's house to rob her and putting a Wagner record on the phonograph, Fassbinder's character asks his hostage: "Do you love the Fuhrer?"]. Fassbinder himself appears under his frequent character alias of 'Franz'---inspired by his love of Alfred Doblin's novel 'Berlin Alexanderplatz.'

Paul Glabicki

Five Improvisations (1979)


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An intricate series of hand-drawn animations--taking in a myriad of cinematic and cultural references---are arranged into five variations improvised during the act of shooting in Glabicki's film. An example of his diagrammatic style, it captures the filmmaker's emphasis on temporal and rhythmic play, as well as the generative focus of his drawings.

Gilbert & George

Ten Commandments for Gilbert & George (1995)

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Thou shalt fight conformism
Thou shalt be the messenger of freedoms
Thou shalt make use of sex
Thou shalt reinvent life
Thou shalt grab the soul
Thou shalt give thy love
Thou shalt create artificial art
Thou shalt have a sense of purpose
Thou shalt not know exactly what thou dost, but thou shalt do it
Thou shalt give something back

Xander Marro and Matt Brinkman

0106 (2006)
Selected by Lisa Oppenheim



To write "this film shows every object in the Dirt Palace, an art collective in Providence, Rhode Island," does not
even begin to describe Xander Marro and Matt Brinkman’s maniacal and anatomized document. This building is filled with stuff, found and made and pulled out of various dumpsters. To catalogue all the doll’s legs, mugs without handles, long ago ‘zines and letters, scraps of cloth, would be impossible. So instead they filmed each object for 1/24 of a second in this little film exploring a very domestic kind of psychedilia.

Martha Colburn

Wrong Time Capsule (2006)
Selected by Lisa Oppenheim



Recently, Martha Colburn has amped up the political content of her stylistically raw and frenetic animations. Wrong Time Capsule, a not-so-MTV-friendly video she produced for the Bay Area band Deerhof, is a subversive and playful indictment of the commidification of a not-so-underground culture, as if to say, rock’n roll produces commodities and rebellion is one of the most valuable.

Kenneth Anger

Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965)
Selected by Lisa Oppenheim



Pretty bikes, pretty boys and a girl group soundtrack to make you ache all over, this little film is usually thought of as a companion piece to Anger’s better-known Scorpio Rising. But the dark side here is more thoroughly sublimated, through the candy colored backdrops and shiny pomaded dos, and you get this aching feeling that all the buffing in the world will not make those bikes clean.

Owen Land

Remedial Reading Comprehension (1970)
Selected by Lisa Oppenheim



In this seminal piece of structuralist film, Owen Land (nee George Landow) demythologizes the privileged position of dreams, shadows and the auteur in cinema, both experimental and “mainstream.” Dreams are only interesting if the audience is interested, shadows are always connected to bodies, not just displacements of light and, as Land tells us, “This film is about you, not the maker.”

John Akomfrah (and Black Audio Film Collective)

Handsworth Songs (1986)
Selected by Lisa Oppenheim



More an experimental cinematic essay than a documentary, John Akomfrah and the Black Audio Collective’s Handsworth Songs (1986) is an erudite examination of race and class in grim Thatcherite Britain. Music becomes both a structuring framework of the film and a site of resistance. A 1988 quote from Michael O’Pray found in the program notes of a recent screening at Tate Britain seems to provide a particularly appropriate introduction to the film: 'The song, is a cultural form which can dig as deep as any analysis ... The poetry of song ... is a potent weapon…”
---Lisa Oppenheim

Claude Lelouch

C'était un rendez-vous (1976)



French filmmaker Claude Lelouch (best known for his 1966 film A Man and a Woman) made C'était un rendez-vous by fixing a gyro-stabilised camera mount--which he was using for another film---to the front bumper of a car. The resulting eight-minute 140-mph drive through Paris at 5:30 AM is a single take with no editing, the length of the film limited by the camera reel.

The course starts in a tunnel of the Paris Périphérique, then past landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Opéra Garnier, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysées, and the winding streets of Montmartre. The reckless speed is exacerbated by ignored red lights, one-way streets and center lines. Lelouch was arrested after the film was shown publicly, on the charge that his Ferrari 275 GTB, reportedly driven by a F-1 driver, was illegally driven at excessive speed and with no official permit.

Walter Ruttmann

Lichtspiel Opus I (1921)



Like Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling, Walter Ruttmann was an early pioneer of experimental film in Germany. After studying architecture and having worked as a graphic designer, he began working in film in the early 1920s. "Opus I" was his first abstract short film. Ruttmann would often play the cello at screenings of his films, and pioneered several animation techniques, including the use of wax plates. Ruttman later went on to work with Leni Riefenstahl, editing "Olympiad" in 1936, and was killed during World War II while making a newsreel.

Mara Mattuschka

Kaiser Schnitt (1987)



Sofia born, Vienna based filmmaker Mara Mattuschka has made her body both a medium and a site in her tenebrous and theatrical short films since the early 80s. Through her alter-ego Mimi Minus, she has herself shaved, wrapped in fabric, deformed via manipulated effects, or as in the case of Kaiser Schnitt, operated on.

Abbas Kiarostami

Two Solutions for One Problem (1975)



Two Solutions for One Problem is one of the acclaimed Iranian director's first shorts, made after his work as a director of TV commercials and produced by a state organisation called the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, or Kanun. A moralistic, pedagogical tale of two schoolboys who get into a fight after one of them, Dara, returns a borrowed book with a torn cover, the film was made two years before Kiarostami's debut feature The Report [1977].

Peter Greenaway

Windows (1974)



In a small English country parish in 1973, several people have died as a result of falling from windows in Greenaway's short film. Greenaway had learned of stories from apartheid South Africa involving political prisoners dying in suspicious cases of 'defenestration'. His satirical faux documentary about window washers and aeronautics students--keeping with Greenaway's highly dense but false historical narratives--was made partly in his own country home and features the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau as its soundtrack.

Germaine Dulac

The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928)





Along with being a central figure in the French avant-garde of the 1920s, Germaine Dulac was its only female director and the first decidedly feminist filmmaker, her debut film Mort du soleil (Death of the Sun, 1921) centered around a young female doctor torn between her career and the demands of family life.

Dulac had been a photographer and writer for feminist journals at the turn of the century, and founded her own production company, focused mostly on melodramas, in the mid-1910s. She was also active as a critic and theorist, writing early formative texts on avant-garde film.

The first surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman was based on a scenario by Antonin Artaud, and made a year before Un Chien Andalou by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.

Part II



Part III

Peter Tscherkassky

Manufraktur (1985)



Manufraktur was Tscherkassky's first 35mm film, made from found-footage manipulated on an optical printer as well as sequences of still film.

Sergei Eisenstein

Dnevik Glumova (1923)



Eisenstein's first film, made at the dawn of Soviet cinema, Dnevik Glumova is comprised of a series of short filmed sketches--part Futurist, part comic fantasy--that were inserted into his stage production of Alexander Ostrovsky's Tartuffe-like 19th century play "Even A Wise Man Stumbles."

René Laloux

Les Temps Mort (1964)
with Roland Topor



A satirical if disturbing meditation on death and humanity, the late René Laloux's Les Temps Mort features the cross-hatched, macabre drawings of illustrator and writer Roland Topor, whose novel The Tenant was adapted by Roman Polanski in 1976. The duo is best known for their classic film, "Fantastic Planet."