Associations

The experimental film distributor Canyon Cinema celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, and this retrospective 16-millimeter screening, the second of four touring programs to arrive in Chicago, spans the decades. Only about half the shorts were available for preview, but all of those were urgent and original; the most ingenious of them is Associations (1975, 6 min.) by British filmmaker John Smith. The film opens on a black screen as a narrator reads from a scholarly work on word-association games and how they relate to the linguistic process; gradually images begin to flicker, keyed to particular words and clustering together to illustrate the word groups we string into sentences. Some of the word pairings are decidedly tongue-in-cheek—a cigarette in an ashtray for but, a donkey for stimulus—and some are completely off-the-wall, similar to the “clang response” by which players in a fast-moving word-association game may simply blurt out rhymes. Among the other filmmakers are Robert Breer, Barbara Hammer, Abigail Child, Richard Myers, and Stephanie Barber.