Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Two Eyes Of Mark Wilson

If you didn't attend some wonderful repertory/revival film screenings in 2012, you missed out. As nobody could see them all, I've recruited Frisco Bay filmgoers to recall some of their own favorites of the year. An index of participants is found here.  
The following list comes from Mark Wilson, an artist/filmmaker whose work will be included in Gallery Bergen's upcoming exhibition proto-cinematic investigations.

In 2012, it became positively clear that there are now suddenly far fewer opportunities to see 35mm prints, especially from the catalogs of major studios.  This impending scarcity of projected prints influenced many of my film going decisions this year, as one could no longer be assured that that certain films would come around again, to be presented in the medium they were made to be viewed.  I'm not anti-digital, but I feel that works made as film should be shown as film. Digital shouldn't try to imitate and look like film and to that end, it has a long way to go before growing into its own as a medium. I feel digital translations of films are a useful tool for preservation and study, but not a satisfactory cinema experience. There is another essential quality of cinema that needs to be preserved as well, since it's one we truly cannot afford to lose... the experience of community around cinema, going out to see films with friends, sitting among strangers, and often afterwards discussing the works face to face.  Many of the epiphanies that I've had around a film, how the medium makes its meaning, why a director has made an unusual decision, have often been sparked by an observational fragments spoken by others in conversation, which resonate alongside other fragments I've observed, leading to a fuller understanding of the work.  Many of the programs I've attended last year were presentations by organizations such as the Pacific Film Archives (PFA), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco Film SocietyArtists' Television Access (ATA), and San Francisco Cinematheque.  These organizations often not only bring us together as a community to view works, but regularly put us in the same room and in dialogue with the artists who have created the films we view.  Artists' Television Access and San Francisco Cinematheque have been doing this as part of their  mission for decades. If you're unfamiliar with either, they have been around, waiting for you to discover the community they offer.  Both organizations are quite small and in need of the support of open-minded cinema enthusiasts, if they're to continue their mission and to grow in a rapidly-changing San Francisco.


Everything you may have read or heard about the greatness of the Silent Film Festival's presentation of Napoleon, is to be believed.  I'm sorry if you missed it, because its way at the top of my list of Bay Area film experiences in 2012, and not exclusively for the film, and the accompanying live orchestral score, but also largely in part for way in which the event fully awakened the Paramount Theater itself... an art deco jewel of a film palace brought to life in the name of Cinema.  Napoleon was a complete experience, a film that took you back in time, to the French Revolution,  presented in a vessel powered by the anticipation, excitement, and energy of those in attendance, transporting us back to an age when Cinema was monumental.

Time, or the questioning of our perception of it anyway, was the theme of several films that make my list for 2012.  Chirs Marker's La Jetee at SFMOMA (as well as his Sans Soleil at PFA), prompted another sitting with Vertigo, when the Castro presented it in 70mm.  There was also a Sunday afternoon at ATA when the Right Window Gallery celebrated the 20th anniversary of Anne McGuire's video Strain Andromeda, The a shot-by-shot, end to beginning, re-sequencing of The Andromeda Strain.  This wasn't exactly a screening of the piece, rather a re-presentation of its themes through Ed Halter reading his new essay about the work, and an exhibition of recent watercolors by McGuire, the Square Spiral Series... applications of small squares of color arranged in patterning reminiscent of the spiral of time seen in Vertigo's opening credits.  The first fifteen minutes of the video was also shown (or the last fifteen minutes of the original, if you prefer...)


In 2012, I had the opportunity to thoroughly immerse in retrospectives of filmmakers whose works I make it a point to see every single time they show (simply because it isn't often enough.) Robert Bresson, Nathaniel Dorsky, and Hayao Miyazaki.  Each of these directors create works one can see many times over and still make new, sometimes startling discoveries within.

The Bresson series ran at the PFA, I'd seen all of the works, even the rare prints, more than once, and most many times...  the surprise film for me this time around was the The Devil Probably, not one of my favorites of his prior, but with Bresson sometimes deeper understanding of the work registers more forcefully after a few viewings (later in the year i saw this film twice again in the final days of the San Francisco Film Society's operation of the New People Cinema in Japantown.)

The Pacific Film Archives also presented Afterimage: Three Nights with Nathaniel Dorsky... as three consecutive Sunday evening programs in June, a time of year when a 7:30 start time in Berkeley feels like the late afternoon, a perfect setting for the contemplation of ten films by Dorsky, all made in the past ten years, (programmed in reverse chronological order I should add.)  Compline is the title I'll single out here, Dorsky's last kodachrome film of several decades of work with the stock, in full command of the color palette, contrasts, density, and everything magical that Kodachrome had to offer.

The Studio Ghibli festival featuring most all of Miyazaki's feature length animation work was a summer event that sort of slipped under the radar, yet provided film goers opportunities to see all the works presented in 35mm.  Those screenings were my last visits to the now closed Bridge Theater in San Francisco.  The series repeated the following week at the California Theater in Berkeley.  Porco Rosso has been the favorite of all these works ever since I first saw it on 35mm.  Seeing this film projected on a big screen is essential to appreciating what Miyazaki is doing in animating the crimson red seaplane, its form rendered from all angles as it twists and turns, gliding to and fro against backgrounds of clouds and blue sky, shown from a vantage point which itself is continuously in motion to the degree to which it all nearly becomes abstraction.


There were notable in-person visits to the San Francisco Bay Area by experimental filmmakers that were the subject of two- or three-program surveys of work.  David Gatten from Colorado/North Carolina accompanied a touring mid-career retrospective of his films curated by the Wexner Center for the Arts.  In person, Gatten is an excellent storyteller... in particular, a ghost story that he shared, served to illuminate his work, Secret History of the Dividing Line.   PFA and San Francisco Cinematheque at YBCA co-hosted surveys of works by Rose Lowder from France, and by Gunvor Nelson from Sweden.   After her screening at YBCA, Lowder shared images of hand drawn charts, which represented field notes of her intricate film making processes, providing insight to the single frame, multiple pass, in-camera, checkerboard technique used to create film images, such as those of sailboats weaving through a field of red poppies, seen in Voiliers et Coquelicots. Nelson's visit was a return, as she had taught influentially at the San Francisco Art Institute for several decades.  Her work is often built around dense layers of personal language, ensuring there'll always be new things to discover in subsequent viewings.  Nelson's clear, delicate, and mischievous sound work, exemplified in Red Shift, has few peers in the realm of independent filmmaking.  


Barbara Loden's Wanda, screened at SFMOMA as part of their Cindy Sherman Selects series, was shot on 16mm reversal, intended for 35mm release, giving the film a gritty, yet vibrant look, perfectly befitting the narrative.   The print was recently restored directly from the original 16mm reversal materials.  Ernie Gehr's Side/Walk/Shuttle is my favorite film of all time, and I got a good look at it again this past year at the PFA in a new 35mm preservation print (it was originally filmed and presented in 16mm.)  Nineteen-nineties San Francisco has never looked sharper... gravitationally, precariously, clinging to the earth.  Without the technologies of digital, we wouldn't have a hand-colored version of Georges Melies' Trip to the Moon, to look at, so it seems appropriate to cite the Silent Film Festival's digital presentation at the Castro Theatre.  The projection's sharpness of image and richness of coloring seemed perhaps hyper-accentuated, yet properly serving as a reminder of what material we were actually looking at. This translation took little away from Melies' masterpiece (sadly I missed a subsequent presentation of a 35mm print of the restoration at the same theater.)  This year, for the I Only Have Two Eyes project, Brian also invited us to write about one new film wherein some aspect around the presentation worked with the film to create an enhanced cinema experience.  For me it was Jerome Hiler's Words of Mercury, screened in the San Francisco International Film Festival's experimental shorts program Blink of an Eye.  At the PFA, the camera original reversal film was projected, meaning that the very same material that was exposed in the camera was projected to the screen.   From reflected light through camera lens to film crystals, then electric light through film and projector lens to screen...  immediate, and revealing of a stunning spectrum of colors that could be recorded through the layering of exposures on film emulsion.  Inconceivably, that very Ektachrome stock used to make this work, would be discontinued at the year's end.


This year I get to write about one of the highlights of my Bay Area film-going experiences of 2011, Mission Eye & Ear.  A series that was organized by Lisa Mezzacappa with Fara Akrami and presented at Artists Television Access, three programs of newly commissioned works, pairing Bay Area composer/musicians with their experimental filmmaker counterparts.  The programs in 2011 were spread throughout the year and because the works were new then, I couldn't list them in last year's contribution to Two Eyes, however, for 2012 I can list this past November's all-day reprisal of the series at YBCA, part of Chamber Music Day events.  All the efforts were amazing, but I felt the highlights were Konrad Stiener's The Evening Red with music by Matt Ingalls, and Kathleen Quillian's Fin de Siècle scored by Ava Mendoza (who also deserves mention for her 2012 colloaboration with Merrill Garbus and tUnE-yArDs, in scoring a program of Buster Keaton shorts for SFIFF.)  I mentioned community at the beginning of this post, and for me this series exactly represents the best of what that means here in the Bay Area.  I've attended and followed performances and work by most of these composers and musicians of the local experimental improv scene for over a decade, and for more than two decades have attended experimental film programs in the Bay Area.  It was incredibly satisfying to experience these new works arising from a collaborative meeting of these two communities of artists.

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