Himself as Herself

In 1966 Gregory J. Markopoulos became one of the first avant-garde filmmakers to take up teaching when he founded the filmmaking department at the School of the Art Institute. But after he moved to Europe the next year his films became nearly impossible to see in North America, and while New York, Toronto, and Berkeley have hosted Markopoulos retrospectives since his death in 1992, there’s been little interest in opening one here. This rare screening of his 1967 film Himself as Herself (from a print owned by SAIC) is a singular opportunity to see Markopoulos’s great and extraordinarily original cinema. Loosely based on Balzac’s novel Seraphita but merging its male and female protagonists, the film is at once melancholy and transcendent, laden with the gloom of what Markopoulos termed the character’s denial of self but also alive with the possibility of transformation. Clad in formal attire, the young hero seems the essence of maleness, yet he’s troubled by vaguely feminine objects–a fluttering fan, a gold-colored foot standing on fur. Soon his masculine and feminine selves are intercut, the latter signaled not by drag but by a simple sari, as each of his identities appears to look and gesture at the other. The images are tinged with a powerful if partially suppressed eroticism, yet the plush interiors (this is a rich young man) trap us in a deadened world of opulence, the thick colors embedding the character in the decor. Most important, Markopoulos’s radical editing intercuts two or three scenes, sometimes in a single-frame flicker, which undermines the stability of any one locale or person, each image poised to escape its immediate moment. On the same program, Chris Chong’s three-minute Minus (1999). School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan, room 1311, Wednesday, February 23, 4:30, 312-345-3588.

–Fred Camper