New York Film Festival 97: Avant Garde Visions, Part II
by Stephen Kent Jusick
In the New York Film Festival's expanded Avant Garde Visions showcase,
films of note in the program entitled "The World Happens Twice" included
Julie Murray's "If You Stand With Your Back To The Slowing Speed Of Light In Water" where images of water serve as a central metaphor or jumping off
point, a new Stan Brakhage piece called "Yggdrasill Whose Roots Are Stars In
The Human Mind" which combines hand painting and photography in the
inimitable Brakhage tradition, and Leslie Thornton's brief, 5 minute ". .
. Or Lost" employing a video-to-film transfer of a man demonstrating one of
Edison's tinfoil cylinder recorders, a precursor of the vinyl record.
But EliSabeth Subrin pushes the edges of found footage, and proves that the
world does happen twice. In the first work presented on video at the NYFF,
Elisabeth Subrin's "Shulie" is an impressive recreation of the 1967
documentary of the same name. Viewers may be unaware as they watch that
this is not the original documentary itself. Subrin meticulously mimics the
shots and dialogue from the original, while leaving some parts out, and
making this very much her own work. The choices Subrin makes emphasize her
shared point of view with Shulie about learning to live in the world as an
artist. Within the piece, Subrin believes that there are references to time
and history that stand out, that force viewers to go back and forth between
1967 and 1997.
This may have been the most confounding work for some audience members. At
questions post-screening, one woman just couldn't understand why Subrin
would make this re-creation, rather than restoring the fragile original
(although Subrin hopes to do that as well). Another inquired about the
maker's relationship to commercial cinema. Subrin gave the most succinct
reply saying she feels no pressure to conform to commercial conventions.
European-based, American filmmaker Robert Beavers had his first public
screening in the U.S. in many years with an all too brief program dedicated
to three of his works "Efpsychie", "Wingseed", and "The Stoas", all evoking
beautiful images, stringent compositions, and the structural architecture
of the filmmaking process.
"Efpsychie" was structured around shots of a street in Athens, intercut with
brief moments of a young man's face. Beavers states that he was concerned
with showing a certain perspective with these two elements, cutting from
one side of the street to a corresponding side of the man's face. The man
speaks a single Greek word, meaning "the last one," which refers not only
to the lottery tickets that are sold in the byways of Athens, but also acts
as a sort of elegy. Each repetition of the word has a different meaning,
based on the images that around it.
"Wingseed" features a naked young man in a natural setting, intercut with
shots of goats and landscapes. The guiding formal principle here is an
exploration of space created in the movement between two fixed points.
Hence the camera is moving back and forth at a rapid clip, guiding the
viewer, but also calling attention to the unusual movement. The soundtrack
of goat bells, which clang when the animals move, echo the camera
movements, which grow more intense as the film concludes.
Finally, "The Stoas" are spaces that you can enter from both sides, front and
back. These are intercut with shots of a pair of hands, about to clap, but
which never complete the act, outlining a space or emptiness. There is a
long sequence of a roiling spring-fed river, that joins a more placid body
at its terminus, before the film ends with shots of grapes.
Beavers also introduced the Gregory Markopoulos (1928-1992) program, which
consisted of a re-edited, silent version of "Twice a Man". Beavers explained
the intention of the "Eniaios" series, the project of outdoor screenings that
Markopoulos undertook in a rural section of Greece. Never completely
realized, the Temenos includes the preservation of Markopoulos's films, and
the presentation of the 22-cycle "Eniaios" screenings, more than 100 films of
mythological inspiration and personal portrait. As Beavers explained, "the
final form of all of the [films] was that the image was to reach the
spectator in a way having nothing to do with thought."
The original "Twice a Man" (1963) was a re-working of the Hippolytus myth, in
which the son of Theseus is the object of an attempted seduction by his
step-mother Phaedra. When Hippolytus rebuffs her, she turns her failed ploy
into an accusation against the son, who suffers the wrath of his father,
ultimately leading to his death. The re-edited version, at approximately 90
minutes, is still this, although perhaps more obliquely. The complex
relations between sound and image, and between memory and "reality" are
more obscure. Beavers contends that the sound, which was delivered in
clipped, sharp phrases so that even a whole word or sentence fragment was
greedily received, has been replaced by a rhythmic pattern of black leader
that breaks up the images.
For those who missed them, or are intrigued, Lewis Klahr's "Pony Glass" and
Matthius Muller's "Pensao Globo" will be showing, along with a cornucopia of
other experimental work, at the MIX Festival in November.
[Stephen Kent Jusick is a curator, administrator, and filmmaker. Currently
he is co-producing "Madame Sata", a feature about a Brazilian cross-dresser
in the 1940s, and "Home", a documentary about Algerian immigrants in the
suburbs of Paris, both directed by Karim Ainouz. Jusick has also begun
exhibiting installation work, most recently at the Downtown Arts Festival.]