All you need for cinema to happen: A room with an audience, all facing the same direction, a source of light projecting above their heads, and darkness.
-Christopher May, director, TIE
There is a pause, space of black and silence, purposefully left between the short films. I describe to Jennie the need for a moment to clear the mind, come to the next piece fresh — “like ginger & sushi,” she retorts.
What follows are my notes and reactions to many of the films screened.
Necrology (Standish Lawder, 12 min, USA, 16mm, 1969-1970)
The only older piece of work in Program One of the show, Standish Lawder’s motionless camera films people on an escalator, then projects this motion in reverse. The effect, of a flat mass of people ascending ad infinitum, brings to mind the Auffahrt (Ascension) — countless souls in their own performative little worlds fleeting upwards on screen. At the end of the film, we are treated to a cast list full of imagined lives and ones constructed from what we see — the secretary, menstruating, the man picking his nose, the Yalie, black. In this list of assignations, we are reminded of the projections we make onto others, strangers.
Dipping Sause (Luther Price, 10 min, USA, 16mm, 2005)
A series of Rube Goldberg devices propel the film toward varying torturous, fetishized conclusions.
Film for Invisible Ink, Case No. 142: Abbreviation for Dead Winter [Diminished by 1,794] (David Gatten, 13 min, USA, 16mm, 2007)
The screen is white. There are flecks, small variations in color, and the dust on the film is both evident and repetitive. Hair is focus-pulled. I ask Jennie if this is what winter in Nebraska is for her. She says it is, and like a kaleidoscope, only so much better.
July Fix (Jason Livingston, 3 min, USA 16mm, 2006)
How brilliant it is to take just small snippets of a pop song with appropriate pauses of silence — we know to fill in the blank space, we do it automatically as the song is immediately in our head.
Nothing is over Nothing (Jonathan Schwartz, 16 min, USA/Israel, 16mm, 2008)
Toward the end, we see the eponymous shot, a stenciled bit of graffiti of Ahmadinejad sporting playboy bunny ears & bowtie with the words NOTHING IS OVER NOTHING just below. An Israeli solider stands next to the electrical box on which this is scrawled, posing for the camera. Schwartz’s travelogue of Israel is full of blue — from the opening shot of a blue door detailed with a Star of David in the foreground as a Hasid stands in the right half of the screen, slightly back to the mother in a blue denim dress holding a Russian Blue cat to the bathroom encrusted in blue tile, blue window panes to a man and a woman covered in mud at a spa to another stencil, this of an upside-down machine gun, done in a pale blue spray paint — and this produces the effect of nearly convincing us the film has been tinted. Apparently, his camera was broken; he did not realize he was shooting in more than 24 frames per second. The effect of the all-encompassing slow motion is deeply profound, and it was quite striking to see it at this precise historical moment.
Sacred Space (David Chaim Cohen, 14 min, USA, 35mm, 2007)
Stan Brackhage revisited, not through technique but in effect, and ramped up on tactile, seemingly three-dimensional steroids. And to think this was a student film from CalArts, made on 35mm. Amazing, mesmerizing, and I never wanted it to end.
Dollar Portrait (Matthew Perino, 4:44 min, USA, 16mm, 2008, Silent)
In the positive and negative optical printing, parts of money begin to resemble sprocket holes.
Whirl (Scott Banning, 7:35 min, USA, 16mm, 2007)
Lights on an amusement park ride look so blue, they’ve never looked so blue or purple all at once before. Sometimes, in their close-ups, they begin to look like anglerfish, deep underwater. This was originally black & white film that was then transferred and edited digitally, then projected and the projection filmed. The tint emerges in the digital space between film stocks.
Wot the Ancient Sod (Diane Kitchen, 17 min, USA, 16mm, 2001, Silent)
This portrait of leaves is a reminder of the incredible possibilities of a shallow depth of field, something only film can achieve.
To Be Regained (Zach Iannazzi, 10 min, USA, 16mm, 2008)
One of a few films done by young, devoted filmmakers, this one a graduate of Amherst. It’s impressive to see documentary work — a medium that traditionally requires a much higher ratio of footage to finished length — done all on film. Iannazzi does plenty of hand processing, adding lovely grit to the footage of his own he cuts together with stock footage of salmon being…de-egged?
Trauma Victim (Robert Todd, 17 min, USA, 16mm, 2002)
This collection of shots and scenes seems to come deep from within the psyche. As waterfalls are projected, I find it impossible to keep my eyes from tracking downward with the water. Like its waterfalls, it is a pouring out of brain space.
Errata (Alexander Stewart, 7 min, USA, 16mm, 2005, Silent)
Nothing so beautiful has ever been done with a photocopier. Ink soaks like blood through the projected image sequences.
Metaphysical Education (Thad Povey, 4 min, USA, 16mm, 2003)
Made with a homemade optical printer, frames seem to slide horizontally, revealing their soundtracks in the otherwise hidden margins, bright and beautiful.