Geographies of Light: Recent Films From the Avant-Garde

The seven films on this unusually strong program, all of them made in the past five years, engage a central paradox of filmmaking: how using film to transform imagery into an artist’s personal expression to some extent subverts film’s earlier goal of recording the visible world. At one extreme, Stan Brakhage’s three-minute Sexual Saga is a spectacularly beautiful abstraction; at times its diaphanous layers of mottled colors seem to fuse, a metaphor for skin surfaces merging. Mark LaPore’s A Depression in the Bay of Bengal, by contrast, combines long takes photographed in Sri Lanka with a fragment of an early, patronizingly exotic documentary of India: while trying to depict scenes of rural life as clearly as he can, LaPore acknowledges his inevitable distance. Similarly, in Back in the Saddle Again Scott Stark presents both positive and negative copies of a found amateur movie of a family singing together, the negative image suggesting our inability to comprehend this seemingly absurd scene. Henry Hills’s Goa Lawah is an almost surreal view of a “famous holy bat cave” in eastern Bali, and Bruce Conner’s remake of his 1959 Looking for Mushrooms retains the trippiness of the original, now slowed down by step printing that presents individual frames as brief stills and emphasizes the graphic qualities of each image. Luther Price’s Run explores the expressive potential of the actual film strip: pigeons atop telephone wires are paralleled with splice bars and abrasions on the film’s surface. David Gatten’s What the Water Said combines several of these approaches: he places unexposed film in an undersea crab cage, and the resulting scratches on the unprocessed film represent the “organic logic of the ocean’s authorship.” Their randomness and repetitiveness suggest such phenomena as wave movement while also referring to the nature of film projection, effectively combining film’s powers of abstraction with an “objective” recording of nature’s actions. Kino-Eye Cinema at Xoinx Tea Room, 2933 N. Lincoln, Friday, September 19, 7:00, 773-384-5533.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): A Depression of the Bay of Bengal film still.