Four by Mary Helena Clark

I’ve hoarding my unwatched Brakhage blu-ray shorts, saving them for when I need them most, and it’s hard to find Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow work that I haven’t already covered… discovering Jodie Mack was a big deal, but really I don’t know many current experimental filmmakers whose work I connect with, and should search for more. So, among the recent best-of-decade lists, Michael Sicinski’s roundup of experimental features and shorts caught my eye, and I’ve resolved to check out some of these, adding in his commercial list and lists by Blake Williams and Jordan Cronk, to explore films outside of the awards/consensus track.


Delphi Falls (2017)

Opens on disturbed cows, then there appear to be characters – a boy and girl in the woods and an abandoned house – but the stars of the film are still the focus pulls and exposure shifts. Insane image of fire on a mirrored lake, then the climax is a woman doing face stretches on a laptop screen in an empty room. Clark seems to be a master of the strangely defamiliarizing image or motion… also, if you showed me stills from this and told me it was a Blair Witch sequel, I’d believe you.

She wanted to “make a film that explores the separation of body and thought and dispersed sentience.” All that her own website will admit is that she lives in Queens, so I found a great long interview with Dan Browne, which is where any otherwise-credited quotes are from.


Orpheus (Outtakes) (2012)

Film clips, reprocessed, and subtitles, out of context. We go inside a black circle, and stare for a while at eyes staring at us through ghost-holes in a black sheet. Noise loops on the soundtrack, then voices from a celebrity guessing game over the eyes (it’s Buster Keaton’s episode of What’s My Line, with Keaton’s voice removed), ending on a twirling chain of light.

I’m not sure I buy that these were Orpheus outtakes. Clark says she wanted “to make a false artifact” and that the film is “about exploiting the smallest marks to create figuration and feeling.”

Sicinski says the “film originates with optically printed footage from Cocteau’s classic, taking it in a far more materialist direction … Clark continues to foreground other concrete details of the cinematic process, like subtitles (in odd, poetic blurts) and the diagonal lines of a ‘rain storm.’ … Clark locates Surrealism’s very unconscious: the film’s desperate desire to look back.” He writes about the other three films on Letterboxd, from coverage of three different festivals, very helpful.


The Dragon Is The Frame (2014)

I stopped to read some of the interviews before continuing, so I thought her San Francisco film would be more Vertigoey, but there is plenty of nature, sequins, youtubes, in addition to the explicit Vertigo references.

Clark:

I try to produce slightly incongruous rhymes with sound and image that suggest a traditional sync sound relationship, but aren’t simply causal. In The Dragon is the Frame, there is a flagpole recorded by contact microphone, and that sound resonated with me in such a specific way that I knew I wanted it in the film. The flagpole sound is paired with foggy shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, then a hand-processed image of a rope harness. The sound creates an emotional landscape and echoes the pulsing texture of the hand-processed film … How do you film a place that’s photographically exhausted but still conjure the experience of being there? The sound of the traffic moving over the rumble strips became surprisingly central to me — I wanted the sound to pull more weight than the image, a way of recasting the cliché, the dead image.

Images against the flagpole sound:

Erika Balsom in Frieze, on The Glass Note, which I’d watched previously:
We encounter the same noise paired with multiple images, with its meaning shifting dramatically with the cut, to the point that the noise seems to resonate differently, even though only the image has changed. These disjunctions denaturalize the technique of synchronization – usually thought to be ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’, even though it is nothing of the sort – and reveal how much our apprehension of the picture conditions our reception of sound and vice-versa. Cinema turns out to be a synaesthetic art, even far beyond bounds of the visual music tradition.

Palms (2015)

“A largely abstract film in four parts”

1. Slowly wriggling hands against white, with the sound of a tennis match. At the end, the film speed changes, making the hands look like stop-motion.

2. Headlights in inky blackness come forward then retreat, looking like the Orpheus eyes, the sound of a solo vocal rehearsal

3. Haha now we get film of a tennis court, the camera zoomed in and panning rapidly back and forth as if to track an in-game ball, sound of a metronome or other click track.

4. The vocals are back, and a black circular flag rippling against a white void is my favorite Clark image since The Glass Note.

Rotterdam, where most of her shorts have played: “She aims to make trance-like, transparent films.”