Marie Menken seems to have started it all. She inspired Jonas Mekas to make his own films (“she represents the lyrical aspect in cinema that sings the invisible”) and organized Brakhage’s first show (he says he owes her for his career). Kenneth Anger doesn’t credit her with his whole career, just Scorpio Rising. She appears, screaming, in a section of Chelsea Girls. And unfortunately, her relationship with her husband inspired Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
The doc shows some of her films, in full and partially, with new music by John Zorn (and sometimes just with mechanical sounds, leaving the viewer yearning for Zorn). It sets her up as a character and an artist pretty well, but plays a couple of cruel tricks. Firstly, they keep telling us about her amazing voice, then after 90 minutes of interviewees, we only get to hear it in the final minute or two. And most cruelly, the second half is handed over to Warhol groupies.
I watched some Menken shorts afterwards to recover from all the Warhol.
Menken and Warhol:
Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945)
All editing and movement. Looks like she was set loose in a sculpture gallery, and ran up to each piece (not too sharply in focus), tracing their shapes and lines with her camera. The music by Lucille Dlugoszewski is a noise piece, sounds like someone ran a TV broadcast through too many filters.
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961)
Many years later… her editing/movement style is unchanged, but she’s got color film stock and a pleasant Teiji Ito guitar and percussion score. This time she’s been set loose among ancient Islamic/Spanish architecture, paying attention to the flowing water and the light coming through the ceilings and walls, in addition to all the lovely tile patterns.
Eye Music in Red Major (1961)
Lights, mostly red, in a dark room, the camera whirling. My favorite was when she turned the camera sideways and whirled, so on film the lights appear to fall like rain. Of all these, this one would make the most sense to see on film in a dark theater, not on my laptop screen over the reflection of my NEBREWSKI t-shirt. Briefly the moon, then a light kaleidoscope effect over the last couple minutes. Silent, I played Zorn’s Canto II from The Ninth Circle.
Opens with ducks, always a good move, then rain on the lake and plants. The camera is barely even whirling, many static shots. Aha, it’s a notebook of different scenes, so after the rain comes a greek festival at night, then experiments with filming the moon, a rush of McLaren-ish lines, paper cut-out animation, swirling lights at a distance, jumping on a rooftop. Ends without warning. This was my favorite, assisted by a couple of Bagatelles tracks feat. the John Medeski Trio.
Marie goes to town on some decorative Christmas lights. I picked a good music track in Bagatelle #54 with Kris Davis Quartet, because when Marie goes into overdrive, slowing down the shutter speed and jiggling the camera to turn the dots into squiggles, Mary Halvorson hits a pedal turning her guitar notes into squiggles.