Visions in Meditation #1

Uniquely wonderful experience watching this with Marvin Pontiac’s Asylum Tapes in the headphones, though it’s more of a vocal album than I was expecting and probably distracted from the visuals at times. Regular handheld and sometimes extreme-jitter, mostly nature, snow and slushy river, mountain valley at different times of year. SB seems to be able to walk around outside and capture images in ways nobody else does. Aperture keeps opening all the way, washing everything in white. I suppose it’s meditative – earth and mist and water, finally fire in the last few seconds.


Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde)

Tourist film of mountainside stone ruins with accompanying travel footage shot through windows, but it gets bleary and bendy, and brings in cameos by deer, geese and a nude man in a field. I played along with Chesley/Albini/Midyett’s “Irish” which lent a dirge-metal atmosphere well-suited to the ruins.


Visions in Meditation #3 (Plate’s Cave)

Sometimes there is plinky space-music in the caverns. Other things combined and juxtaposed with caverns: a carnival, a snowy road. More tourist-film car-window stuff, but the last section is focused on a whirlwind in a field, and if there’s anyone I want to see filming a whirlwind it’s our Stan. Ends on black with electro-chirp music by Rick Corrigan (who is still recording, and has stuff on bandcamp).


Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence)

The most distorted of the four, swirling earth and skies. A few glimpses of humanity: a reflection, a backlit figure, a closeup on toes. Silent, so I accompanied it with three songs from the new Low album… I couldn’t help myself, the bandcamp page said Rick Corrigan is RIYL John Zorn, and Zorn’s playing Big Ears with Low, and I’m obsessed with Low’s new record. Anyway Camper just texted to say it’s okay, that the Low/Brakhage combo is frisson-inducing.

Watching the Detectives (2017, Chris Kennedy)

Silent and over a half hour long, so I played Zero Kama’s The Secret Eye of L.A.Y.L.A.H., as the director undoubtedly would’ve intended if he could’ve afforded the rights. The day or so after the Boston Marathon bombing, represented mostly through screenshots from reddit: marked-up surveillance photos and a long-distance attempt at forensic investigation by the chatmob. At least I liked that the text was against a gentle wash of dark static instead of plain digital black. Last ten minutes is just reporting news with no new redditting.


Once Upon a Screen: Explosive Paradox (2020, Kevin Lee)

Lee’s always in my feed championing essay film, so checking out one of his… it’s short and lo-fi. He parks outside the liquor store that used to be the movie theater where he saw Platoon as a kid, recalling that experience while shooting parking lots and brick walls. The credits shout out the director of The Viewing Booth, which I watched last night.


Green Ash (2019, Pablo Mazzolo)

A landscape turned into blobby light, like peering through fluttering almost-closed eyelids. Ordinary shot of a bush, but the foreground and background bushes jitter and blur independently. Light starts going crazy across grassy fields, a tricky version of Nishikawa’s Tokyo-Ebisu effect, making it feel like this is lo-fi natural footage, but simultaneously taking place in a glitching holodeck. The lush green Argentinian fields with the hand-drawn map at the end gave me La Flor flashbacks. I played Yazz Ahmed’s “Barbara” since the timing matched, very nice.


I Am Micro (2010, Shumona Goel & Shai Heredia)

Narration by a film artist who dreamed of being Godard or Pasolini before everything went commercial and became “scattered,” the camera roving the grounds of an abandoned studio.


Five by Tomonari Nishikawa – all quotes are by the director, from his website.


Tokyo-Ebisu (2010)

Scenes of a noisy train station, frames within the frames showing different actions, sometimes like a shot has been divided into a semi-grid and each segment is playing a different moment in time. Shot on film, which seems excessively difficult, since he says they’re “in-camera visual effects,” so what, mirrors? Exposing partial sections of the film then running it back?


45 7 Broadway (2013)

Times Square, and this time it’s the full frame overlapping with a time-shifted version of itself, but each source has been processed as red, green or blue, appearing to be a 3D effect gone horribly wrong, or a broken RGB projector during an earthquake, quite wonderful.


Manhattan One Two Three Four (2014)

Quick swish pans up, down, and across city buildings, rapidly cut together (“all edited in-camera”), no sound.


Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (2015)

Crackling hum, and a very scratched mothlighting blue-dyed image, the sprocket holes often visible. This one is political, the film image resulting from being buried in radioactive soil the government said was safe.


Amusement Ride (2019)

Tracking across the metal skeleton of a Japanese ferris wheel, never looking out at the typical views, the camera panning up a bit at a time, “which resembles the movement of a film at the gate of a film projector or camera.”

A swordsman attacks a doll hanging from a string… the motion freezes, stutters and repeats, and the music begins doing the same. A hand-less balding man seated at a table surrounded by inky blackness – his pitcher falls to the floor in a time-locked Brain Candy loop, then appears in a Muybridge time-lapse still, with dark, severe string music. I think we’re inside one of the houses from The Endless.

Librarian and his eagle:

There’s a silly bathtime romp, a scene shot in reverse, a busy library in which all the all the old men are wearing the same old-man mask, the masks and their clockwork motion giving the thing a sense of animation. Naked woman in a wasteland gets trapped in a box. After these unrelated(?) vignettes (DVD description says they’re “all connected by a central staircase”), the last 15 minutes bring something new – all angles and bright lights, TV-static-beings tearing through the screen, revealing perhaps l’titular ange.

Light:

Rotterdam says it “lies on the edge between optical and plastic art, in a gap of constant reinvention.” Bokanowski had another hourlong light-vs-darkness film a few years ago which almost nobody has seen, though those few said it’s great, and he’s been producing shorts regularly since the 70’s.

Bathed Man:

More Light:

Visions of an Island (2016)

Portrait of an Aleutian island, interview of a local man with attention to language and landscape and animal life. Doubling and overlaps, adding and removing sounds, manipulating the colors (with a cool moment where you see the before and after). A town in the sky, the sea in the sky. Seals and jellyfish… this has got everything.


Space Without Path or Boundary / Anti-Objects (2017)

Rough/archival sound recordings, and rough audio editing to go with it. Wilderness and city, with some of the most abstract color-field, motion-smear and hand-marked imagery I’ve seen yet from Hopinka. Focused less around descriptive text like the last one, more conceptual.


Fainting Spells (2018)

A whole different sort of thing. Letters written to a friend (who sometimes passes out) scroll from right to left, while the imagery ranges from vertical landscapes seen through an eyeball lens to invisible hooded persons against abstract backdrops to roads along burned-up hills to all sorts of landscapes.


Lore (2019)

At band practice playing a Bo Diddley song, but more usually, on an overhead projector shuffling through colored films, a poetic correspondence spoken throughout.

Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (2009)

Time-lapse impressions of trees, or the light through and around trees, gives way to flicker impressions, colored like abstract stained glass, gives way to fast smeary movement, the trees now only occasionally recognizable as trees. Set to a manic violin drone by Malcolm Goldstein.


Engram of Returning (2016)

More black than image in this one, the picture coming through in snatches… maybe a snowy hillside, or a body of water, the camera shutter pulsing with the tide. Halfway through we get superimposed landscapes, then things break down very colorfully towards the end. I like that his movies shift from one kind of indescribable thing at their beginnings into completely different kinds of things. Buzzing insect of a soundtrack by Jason Sharp (that was a saxophone??).

The description calls it a “metaphysical travelogue,” fair enough. Saito cofounded a Canadian film collective with a pretty good manifesto. I also re-read Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope piece, which is too complex to excerpt here.

I read a couple good write-ups of this festival, then realized the whole thing was freely viewable online for a limited time. I skipped around, but these are all selections from their second program.


Demoiselle (Eeva Siivonen)

The camera is in a garden, getting very close to leaves and flowers, so close that I don’t know how it can focus clearly, surely none of my cameras could. I was not expecting Alain Resnais to pop up and start questioning the filmmaker, who is creating a tribute to Claude Monet, and requesting alongside his all-male crew that she step aside.


Dusty Wave (Eeva Siivonen)

This time a dead forest at night, lit by flashlight, the subtitles a story told by a moth.


Camera Sick (Jeremy Moss)

Jeremy takes a camera (a film camera! avant-gardists love the texture) into the desert and spins around until he falls over. Some good stutter effects when it spins faster than the framerate can keep up. You can’t just use the “Tammy’s in love” song in a movie, it’s already been reclaimed by Terence Davies.


Noonwraith Blues (Kamila Kuc)

Field and scythe, a smear of mud, and much mothlighting in between.


Fire Fly EYE (Kerry Laitala)

Forest fire embers, electric ghosts and starling murmurations entwine over a locked-groove ambient track. Output from a “dual projection expanded cinema work,” which had me very suspicious, but my recent obsessions over fires and birds and electricity all come alive here to thrilling effect.


Fragment (1988, Laura J. Padgett)

More patterns and close-up objects over murmured conversation

A superb effect, mountains and fields of crinkled foil surrounding us in 3D, rapidly rotating and expanding, but never getting anywhere, the constant strobing of color inversions masking the loop point where the motion repeats so it looks like continuous motion that never progresses.

Icy blue and warm gold flicker, with blunt text sections (censorship of the Poltergeist DVD is used as an example of America’s shame). The visuals set up predictable patterns only to break them and reset. Watching right after She Dies Tomorrow, the colors flashing on my face, I felt like I was fulfulling some dark omen, or going crazy.

From movie music with vinyl surface noise to mad science lab electro-noises, flies buzzing in stereo, later an argument with the tape sped up. It’s no wonder I enjoyed the music – it was JG Thirlwell.

Jacobs called it “a reversion to my mid-twenties and that sense of horror that drove the making of Star Spangled to Death.”

David Phelps in Mubi:

Sort of reversing the structuralist impulse to let the movie’s internal system arrange the order, movement, and duration of its materials, Jacobs plays his movies like 1st person interrogations of his footage, the artist constantly adopting and discarding new approaches toward his material … Jacobs’ movies can operate like works in progress; abstract expressionism’s emphasis on process seems to carry not only through Jacobs’ compositions, successions of half-completed movements, but his own approach over the duration of the movie.

In between short films, we watch couple-minute Mitchell & Webb segments about a post-apocalyptic game show. Unknown Male 282 doesn’t survive, and we are urged to remain indoors. Also, a stir-crazy, homebound Madonna sings a parody of her own song into a hairbrush, but this was on instagram so the endless scroll of horribly rude user comments next to the image is unavoidable.


It Is Here Where We Are (2018, Andrew Busti)

A 14-second flicker film loop of planets and circles and HERE.
I watched it a bunch of times, sometimes chanting along with the HERE voice.
I have Busti’s vimeo bookmarked to watch more shorts for a different but related thing, so more on him later. Busti teaches in Boulder, wonder if he knew Brakhage.


Apt. 309 (2014, Rosario Sotelo)

“Remain indoors.” Quarantine cinema, shot inside an apartment with a Timecode split-screen, unusual way to make art out of the everyday.


Victory Over the Sun (2007, Michael Robinson)

Real standard-def macroblocky quality to the trees. Some serious chanting/recitation in this. Futuristic architecture covered by weeds and trees gives a post-apocalyptic feel, then we go into flicker-film hyperspace and back again.

Apparently last time I watched this moments before seeing The Wizard of Speed and Time for the first time, which pretty much erased it from my memory (and that music that sounded “very familiar” is November Rain, duh), but this is good – apparently I like Robinson now, and can move past the Full House thing.


Life is an Opinion, Fire a Fact (2012, Karen Yasinsky)

Death scene on VHS, paused and blown up so each pixel is visible.
Hand-drawn man on fire.
Rotoscoping and filming a TV, both techniques to borrow someone else’s motion (and the latter reminds me of Paul Schrader’s Dark).
Reading material is provided for most of the films, and the Yasinsky interview is the best thing so far.

The older I get, the less I believe in just about everything involving institutions and ideology. But I believe in art, I have faith in the artistic impulse, and I believe in artists, not in some master / genius kind way but in the simple fact that our works, our gestures, are expressions of altruism in the face of the utter venality of our time.


Barneys New York (2020, Sara Cwynar)

Visiting the final sales inside a high-end store, the slashed discount prices still unreasonably high. Completely silent – I filled the audio in my head with memories of the Sabres of Paradise / Red Snapper song from that late-90’s Warp comp. Could be multiple camerapeople, but I think Sara came back on different days, once with ink all over her left hand, and once without. More Cwynar another day, but remember to come back to this one, because I want that camera mount she’s using.


37/78 Tree Again (1978, Kurt Kren)

Another one I’ve seen, another silent, and another movie where the trees are too low-res, sorry ubuweb. Last time I watched this I excerpted Huber’s article about this being the greatest movie ever made. My opinion of it has risen, watching in this program, rather than alongside Kren’s actionist crapola.


Strange Space (1993, Leslie Thornton)

Rainer Maria and hospital tests on dying Ron Vawter, grid graphics and pictures-in-picture by Thornton, mixing in what looks like moon rover images. The second intriguing short I’ve watched by Thornton.


Rehearsals for Retirement (2007, Phil Solomon)

As I said last time, “Argh, machinima.” I think it’s Grand Theft Auto, not Second Life, and reading about Solomon, I realize that Untitled (for David Gatten) is in fact the short I watched as Crossroad, and both of these were written up in Cinema Scope 30, if I could find my copy. Anyway, a single chord drone, and moody, foggy textures (weird thing about watching avant-machinima on youtube is you don’t know if the low-res texture is part of the original or not) with a dark figure looming in the foreground, airplanes in the distance. Weirdly, it’s really good.


Lachrymae (2000, Bryan Frye)

Fireflies in a cemetery. In the side reading, Frye writes about found footage and copyright law, but fireflies in a cemetery brings to mind childhood summers in Virginia, and I’m going on my own journey here and have little interest in the reading.


All My Life (1966, Bruce Baillie)

It’s perfect that the program ends with the fourth (at least) film to display low-res flora via poor digital transfers, accompanied by a Manohla Dargis article saying: “You can watch All My Life and other Baillie films online, but don’t.” This loops back to Sicinski’s intro statement: “We did not count on toxicity or being under house arrest. We didn’t count on everything suddenly becoming television.” He could’ve picked 1080p HD Jodie Mack shorts with nice bitrates and perfect color on vimeo, so all these blurry TV trees were chosen for a reason. Anyway this was fun, and there are at least six more Ultra Dogme programs to check out as we remain indoors.

Along with Talking About Trees, we’re catching up with movies we meant to watch at this year’s True/False. We had tickets to see this (plus two shorts) at 10:15pm on Saturday after four other screenings, but ran out of energy. It’s a mid-length movie combining three different kinds of things:

1. Modern news footage of police violence mixed with classic Black Panther film mixed with colorful HD shots of the director herself, posing and walking through the titular garden. This is sometimes set to music by Nelson Bandela (Random Acts of Flyness), and is overlaid with thin strips or entire areas of Mothlight flicker.

2. Concert film of Nina Simone in 1976, playing a rambling but wonderful song called “Feelings.” Incidentally, it seems like her entire persona was copped by Cat Power.

3. Street interviews, the director stopping women in Harlem to ask if they feel safe. The rest of the movie worked beautifully for me – I’d watch those sections all day long – but the interviews weren’t as enlightening. Of the True/False movies we’ve seen in the last 15 months that involve asking New Yorkers about their anxiety, I preferred Hottest August.

And since this was supposed to run at True/False with a couple of shorts, here’s something: a SXSW 2020 selection which moved onto vimeo instead. SXSW was the first fest to be canceled, and it happened while we were at True/False, the last fest to not be canceled. T/F got a last-minute premiere from SXSW on its final night, and I assumed everything else would move online and I’d hold a Quarantine Film Festival, but it turns out, after working hard for years to make your feature film and then getting accepted into fests, nobody wants to premiere on vimeo instead. Amazon’s doing a SXSW thing with only seven features, Mailchimp got all the shorts, and I watched this one then decided to focus on catching up with older films.

Blackheads (2020, Emily Ann Hoffman)

Stop-motion with 2D animation on top is pretty much my favorite thing… relationship-talk with zit closeups is about my least-favorite, so this short is gonna have to meet in the middle. Pretty fun example of displaying your influences – where Gaspar just stacked up his favorite books and movies for the opening scenes of Climax, Hoffman made miniature models of Persepolis and a Miranda July book for her character’s nightstand.