In Rebirth of a Nation, creator DJ Spooky remixes the original film The Birth of a Nation (1915) by D.W Griffith. The original film is highly controversial. The original film was set during and after the American Civil War and dealt with an unfortunate positive form of white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan. By remixing the film’s music and using different film techniques, it allows the original film to be criticized in a moral standpoint by creating parallels of the socio-political and economical conflicts in the United States in the original film’s era. It combines contemporary film, music, and art.
Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, Johan Grimonprez shows the history of airplane hijackings portrayed on mainstream television. The film is filled with archival footage, such as reports, clips from science fiction movies, found footage, and home video. This film was made before the September 11 terrorist attacks. The media coverage of the terrorist attacks within the film produce a shock within society. The terrorist attacks in the 1960s-1970s differed from the 1990s because the earlier ones were perceived by the media as revolutionaries but in the 1990s, they only showed bombs not the actual terrorists. By the end of the film, the more hijacks were shown on television, the deadlier the hijacks became. The media gives the terrorists a political platform when they commit the hijacks and they are recorded on television.
In “Structural Film” Sitney explained how people who watch experimental films can get confused with simple and conceptual art. He states that films are extensive than compressed and static than rhythmic. Sitney also states that the newest stage of cinema is now the structural film. In “On ‘Structural Film'” George Maciunas stated how Sitney’s definition for structural film is wrong because it is defined through the ideas of art, philosophy, concept art, and structural art. He was the founding member and central coordinator of FLUXUS and viewed it as a non art reality. In “America Post-War”, Malcolm Le Grice wrote how the American abstract film movement began before World War II started. He explains that in that time period, there were many artists who expressed their work in metaphysical art. In “Around 1966”, Le Grice states how avant-garde became mainstream in the 1960s. It apparently was as popular as mainstream film of that era. In “Yoko Ono: #4 (Bottoms)”, Scott MacDonald explained how Yoko Ono began to make American avant-garde films and before she became a filmmaker, she studied poetry and music. Ono explored the ideas of conceptual and performance art.
Leighton Pierce’s 50 Feet of String (1995) is an example of simply using what is around you and creating a different perception than what is normal. It teaches the viewer to look differently through the eyes of a child instead of an adult. It concentrates on the childhood time and motion. The film uses stop-motion and slow motion and moves into another space. by changing the ordinary. The film focuses on listening to background noises, such as the lawn mower, truck passing in the back, and people having conversations. Sometimes images would be blurred in the background to accentuate other images, such as the boy cutting grass with scissors. This is done to show the importance of the boy’s childhood. The adult perspective is not important because he was blurred out when he was cutting the grass with a lawn mower. Sometimes the film would show film techniques of horror films, such as suspenseful scenes with the boy and a semi-truck and the audience believes the boy would get hit by the truck. Even though the boy never interacted with the truck and was fine, the audience is programmed to believe that he can become injured since the film is set up in that certain way.
In “The Western Edge: Oil of LA and the Machined Image”, Paul Arthur explains how Los Angeles’s culture is dominated by the entertainment industry, including experimental film, even though it would hid in the shadows of major mainstream film, television, and other forms of art. Arthur further explains how experimental films from the past such as Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and how “it was under-acknowledged role in the evolution of avant-garde psychodramas in the forties” (pg. 94). In the mid-seventies, film became a important part of academia in Southern California in USC, UCLA, and CalArts. LA experimental film differs from the film technique such as the narrative fluidity. “O’Neill’s work stems in part from the complexity of individual images, but it is also a consequence of their laconic, transient organization, re-presenting familiar objects as prone to mysterious incursions” (pg. 105). Pat O’Neill’s films have the possibility to contradict the natural world and how things are perceived in relation to light, shape, and color. His films effect the natural orders of how things are perceived in normal films.
In “Out of the Blue (Ex Nihilo)”, Akira Mizuta-Lippit writes about Derek Jarman’s last film “Blue”. Throughout the film, the color blue is used, from the beginning to the end. Mizuta-Lippit asks the question if blue is always blue and states how color can cause a “unique problem for the image, for painted images as well for photographic and digital images.” She also asks what can distinguish a color from its image, for instance “blue from the image of blue.” Throughout the article, Mizuta-Lippit asks if blue can be an image and if so, how. Blue and other colors have the ability to be symbolic. The image of blue can not “only be visual, but sensual and celestial, aural and auratic.” This article explains how the color blue is symbolic.
In “Dark and Lovely Too: Black Gay Men in Experimental Cinema”, Kobena Mercer states how there is a creative upsurge in black queer cultural politics. In the films, Tongues Untied and Looking for Langston, a discussion of different identities in the many struggles around race, gender and sexuality. Mercer states how the literary works of writers Audre Lorde, Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill, Cheryl Clarke, and Assoto Saint have been helpful in finding a voice and creating a community for black lesbian and gay men. “Black queer cultural politics has not expressed an essential identity that was always already there waiting to be discovered, but has actively invented a multitude of identities through a variety of activities and practices, whether organizing workshops and fundraising parties, lobbying and mobilizing around official policies, writing poems, publishing magazines, taking photographs, or making films”(Pg. 327) This can help bring the black queer community together and unite as one. In Looking for Langston and Tongues United, the films attempt to address the idea of black homosexuality. In Tongues United, black gay men speak about their experiences in an autobiographical form. In Looking for Langston, Langston Hughes is used as a model of the black gay experience in the 1920s.
In Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, Catherine Lupton stated how Chris Marker created his “new realm of image-making, with a sixteen-minute, two-screen video installation entitled Quand le suede a pris formes (When the Century Took Shape). Chris Marker started working with film in the late 1940s as a poet, novelist, and critic for the French journal Esprit through the 1990s. In his film La Joli mai, the work “consistently establishes a certain distance between dire tor and subject, maintain a formal line of questioning and keep interviewer and interviewee physically detached from each other (the interviewer may occasionally be heard, but he never appears in shot)”(pg 86). Marker has a unique way of recording interviews. He does not like the conventional method of recording interviews. Marker tends to be aloof. In his other film, La Jetee, Marker “distills the technical and experimental essence of cinema into a form and a story that unveil its mechanism and its power, but without in any sense depriving the spectator of their conventional pleasures in story-telling, fantasy, and the projected fulfillment of desire.” (pg.94)
In, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Catherine Russell writes about Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil. She states that the film is a ” film that recapitulates so many of the themes of experimental ethnography.. and is distinctly silent about the identity of its maker, who hides himself withing an intricate pattern of first-person pronouns.” (pg. 301). She also states that Marker’s invisibility, omniscience, ubiquity, and mobility make him similar to “belated traveler.” (pg. 301) San Soleil is a film that can mesmerize the viewer but can fail to understand that using ethnography imagery with electronic music can be disjointing to the viewer.
This week I decided to watch the films Re-assemblage: From the Firelight to the Screen by Trinh T. Minh-ha and Wavelength by Michael Snow because we did not have class on Tuesday and Thursday of last week to be able to watch these films. The topics of these films consisted of the post-colonial gaze, especially in African countries and the ideas of Structuralism and the Materialist film. Re-assamblage is a documentary about Post- Colonial Senegal in 1981. It mostly focuses on women and children in a rural part of Senegal. Minh-ha asks questions throughout the film. She states that this ethnography film can play with the imagination and clichés about how the Western World views African countries.
The film Wavelength by Michael Snow is considered to be one of the greatest underground, art house, and form of avant-garde cinema created. The film consisted of no action. In the first scene, a woman in a fur coat tells men where to place a bookshelf and they leave. Later, she returns with a female friend and listen to the Beatles on the radio. After they leave, a man enters the room and collapses on the floor. The woman in the fur coat returns and makes a phone call, explaining how she has never seen the dead man in her room before. Police sirens can be heard and the tone shifts in frequency, similar to a wavelength, as the camera shows the emptiness of the random apartment. The color changes constantly from a blue, to a purple, and other colors, while focusing slowly across the room for forty-five minutes. At the end, the camera stops and focuses on the photograph on the wall. This was a very minimal film, but did have the characteristics of a structuralist film, one that is authentic and underground.
In “Structural Film”, Sitney’s chapter wrote about many filmmakers who made structural films in the early 60s. He also stated that structural film approaches the idea of meditation but can also create a state of consciousness without it. He also argued that Andy Warhol was the major precursor of the structural film. Andy Warhol became a filmmaker unlike any other filmmaker of his time. He entered the film industry at the height of his painting career in order to create a new artistic medium. When he accomplished this, he quickly became a major filmmaker within the first several years. Andy Warhol created more major films in a small period of time than most filmmakers will ever do in their life. But,after Chelsea Girls (1966) premiered, which is considered to be his most important film, he lost his status of being an important filmmaker. Chelsea Girls is an experimental underground film that was shot at Hotel Chelsea in New York City. It was presented in a split screen and alternated between black and white and color photography. The film followed the lives of young women who lived there and Warhol’s superstars. It did not have a moral or narrative inflection and also did not have a normal plot. In Brakhage’s Dog Star Man, the introduction was filled with interesting graphics, but made it hard to connect to the film because the graphics seemed like they could cause seizures. There was not a plot to the film and made it difficult to connect with. But there were interesting images.
In “Recovered Innocence”, Sitney explains how the disillusionment and innocence portrayed in Ken Jacob’s work. Sitney states that Jacobs wanted to achieved disorder throughout all of his films. In “Notes on Camp”, Susan Sontag explains how there is not a simple definition for camp. She states that “Camp, in particular, has never been discussed. It is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such. Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric — something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.” (Sontag 1) The idea of camp is confusing but can still be defined as something unnatural or exaggeration. Sontag quoted from Oscar Wilde stating how “Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.” Camp is defined as a certain style, extravagance, and love for human nature.
In “The Perfect Queer Appositeness of Jack Smith”, Jerry Tartaglia writes about some of Jack Smith’s films and states how he wanted to be different than his other filmmaker peer, but wanted to “mimic the Hollywood cinema of his childhood, whether his colleagues wanted to work in opposition to the aesthetics of Hollywood.” (pg. 164) Jack Smith was one of the most accomplished and influential underground artists in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
In “George Kuchar”, Scott MacDonald states how the life of George Kuchar with his twin brother and his work with experimental film. MacDonald implies that Kuchar wanted to humanize film and not let film simply entertain the audience. He also used sexploitation and authenticity.
“Pull My Daisy” (1959) is an adaptation of a poem by Jack Kerouac from his play “Beat Generation.” He also provided the narration that was improvised throughout the film. The narration was also juxtaposed with certain shots to make comments of issues in the United States at the time. It has many Beat filmmakers and artists such as Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Alice Neel, and other inspirational artists. The film tells the story of a railway brakeman whose wife invites a bishop over for dinner. The brakeman’s friends ,who are of the underground Beat generation, come over to their home and crash the party. They question the bishop on why certain things are holy and become disruptive. “Pull My Daisy” showed the Beat philosophy to the audience.
“Flaming Creatures” (1963) is an experimental film by Jack Smith. The film has a large amount of graphic sexuality that deemed to inappropriate to show in the original theaters, and was determined to be obscene in 1963. The film consists of transvestites, hermaphrodites, drag shows, a vampire, a drug orgy, and a rapist. It was a very strange film to watch and did not have a simple narrative, like many experimental films.
Juan Suarez states how Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising “has been regarded as the most representative film of the 1960s American underground cinema” (pg. 115). The film is said to be “deeply ambiguous, since it both glamorizes the marginal group’s rebelliousness and seemingly condemns its self-destructive behavior” (pg. 115). The film can be a representation of the closeness of homosexuality and Nazism, particularly the high officials of the Nazi Party.
In “Major Mythopia”, Sitney states that ‘Dog Star Man’ and ‘The Art of Vision’ were made at the height of the mythopoetic phase of the American avant-garde and lyrical cinema. Sitney also states in “The Magus”, how Kenneth Anger as more than any other avant-garde filmmaker and that “In Anger’s films his image of himself, of the self, is as a Magus, never as a film-maker” (pg.133). Carolee Schneeman argues in “Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising” that Scorpio Rising it is impossible to establish the physical actions of making the film because it is so complicated. Scott MacDonald also talks about Kenneth Anger’s film Firework as Queer cinema.