Tomorrow night at 8 PM venerated artist Saul Levine, who’s been making experimental films since the mid-1960s, will be at the Nightingale Cinema to present a career-spanning program of his work. Many of the pieces will screen from Super-8 film, a format that Levine considered his preferred medium for many years. “When Kodak stopped making Super 8-millimeter sound film, it was like having my tongue ripped out,” he wrote a few years ago, emphasizing the intensely personal nature of his imagery. In much of Levine’s work, “film’s light rhythms and shape-shifting” evoke the elusive nature of consciousness, as the filmmaker assembles impressionistic short takes into complex portraits of the people and places in his life. The short Nearsight (1977-78) uses this strategy to madly romantic effect, trading in close-ups of poet Nancy Frumkin that become increasingly intimate over the short run time—few films convey so directly the rush of first falling in love.
Levine has written that he regards film as a tool to “understand the world around me directly,” and that he uses editing to “make relationships between what I [am] seeing in front of the camera and what [is] going on in my mind.” This dialectic between immediate experience and poetic reflection makes for a fascinating tension in the films. In A Few Tunes Going Out: Groove to Groove (1978-82), Levine pushes this tension to its breaking point, cutting frenetically between footage of himself in the editing room, his elderly father telling Yiddish jokes, and a blues band jamming on stage. Despite the onslaught of sounds and images, the film’s meaning is entirely clear—Levine recognizes among these various forms of art-making and play a universal human impulse to create.
Material World, a program of recent video shorts by Molly Hewitt and Kaycee Conaway—which Chicago Filmmakers will present tomorrow at 8 PM at their Andersonville location and on Wednesday at 6:30 PM at Columbia College’s Hokin Hall—also explores the overlap between art-making and goofing around. Both artists have a predilection for donning garish disguises, and their deliberately abrasive use of outmoded video effects recalls the postmodern comedy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. And like Heidecker and Wareheim, Conaway and Hewitt often seem to be daring viewers to spend time with their characters, who tend to be socially maladroit, if not downright freakish. Hewitt even describes her works as deliberate failures—the results, perhaps, of child’s play gone terribly wrong.
Whereas Hewitt favors jarring montage strategies, Conaway tends to work in long takes, making her videos feel like documents of performance art pieces. This strategy (which engenders an uneasy intimacy with her subjects) was inspired by her experience of visiting working-class relatives in Pittsburgh as a kid. “I grew up in the suburbs,” she recently explained, “and though they were my family, I never felt like I was fully part of their world. But they were so good at entertaining each other.” Watch a preview of Hewitt and Conaway’s work below: