|Screen shot from digital transfer of Facets VHS release.|
WHAT: Conner didn't bother with warning shots. His first film was a torpedo fired directly at moving image culture as it was in the late 1950s, and honestly as it still is today. Though it wasn't the first film to have been constructed completely out of pre-existing film material (Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart beat it by 32 years, and Soviet filmmakers like Dziga Vertov and Esfir Shub had preceded Cornell) it was probably the first to do so with such exuberantly rapid editing and biting humor, in tribute to a memorable moment from the final reel of Leo McCarey's Duck Soup. Today Conner's aesthetic feels familiar and perhaps even stale on a single viewing, at least to those of us raised on music videos and popular compilations that "normalize" Conner's then-radical strategies. But multiple viewings reveal more about the film. Kevin Hatch has written:
With each encounter, the rhythm of the editing appears more natural and the shot selection less arbitrary, until the film's logic becomes intuitively evident. With each viewing of the film, we become accustomed to the abrupt breaks between shots and more comfortable allowing them to reveal unexpected formal relationships and trigger involuntary mnemonic associations. What at first appears chaotic comes to seem, with repeated viewing, compulsively ordered.Hatch spends quite a bit of time going into more detail on A Movie in his book Looking For Bruce Conner, but one thing he neglects to mention are the dissolves that appear in the last few minutes of the film; previously all edits were of the simple cut-and-splice variety that reconcile with Conner's recollections of having used only the most rudimentary tools of "a little splicer and a rewind and a viewer" to make his earliest films. But in 1958 it was possible to instruct a film lab to insert a dissolve into a print when processing it, for a small fee, so it seems likely that Conner exploited this option to create images like the above crossfade from a smoldering volcano to a ecclesiastical coronation.
WHERE/WHEN: A Movie screens tonight at 7:00 at the Pacific Film Archive.
WHY: Though it's hard to find many bright spots in yesterday's election results, I did enjoy a reminder, through a glance at the facebook page of the proprietor of the Black Hole Cinematheque in Oakland, that Bruce Conner in 1967 ran a losing campaign for Supervisor that garnered more votes than some recent winners of Supervisor races have (though at the time elections were citywide rather than district-by-district, and therefore unfair to compare). As I wrote in a 2006 blog on Conner, his campaign speech was nothing more than a list of sweets.
I can think of no better cinematic post-election hangover cure than to see a Bruce Conner movie and a Craig Baldwin movie on the same bill. Baldwin's Tribulation 99 screens after A Movie tonight at the PFA, making a near-complete piecemeal retrospective of the living legend of San Francisco underground curation and filmmaking in the last few months, after terrific screenings of Mock Up On Mu, Sonic Outlaws and more at Artists' Television Access back in September. Tribulation 99 is probably Baldwin's most quintessential and essential film, and he'll be at the theatre to discuss it with anyone who dares to attend.
Tonight's program is part of the PFA's Alternative Visions series of experimental films, which winds down this month with shows devoted to Polish artist Pawel Wojtasik and to recent experimental films made by filmmakers who I'm guessing would probably acknowledge a debt to Conner in their own work. Many of them would likely acknowledge a debt to Baldwin as well, but probably none as vociferously as Linda Scobie, whose playful collage Craig's Cutting Room Floor is a 16mm film-assemblage of just what it describes: the material found beneath Baldwin's feet as he works in the editing room.
These may be the last three strictly experimental film programs at the PFA for a while, as recent tradition has held that the Alternative Visions series has been a Fall-only program with Spring devoted to cutting-edge documentary. With the PFA closing after July 2015, to re-open in a new, more BART-friendly, location in 2016, if the pattern holds it may be a couple years before we get a shot at seeing this kind of material in Berkeley again. Although there are some who would consider Jean-Luc Godard's films (especially his more recent ones) to be experimental films as well, and the PFA promises to continue with their retrospective of his work next Spring (presumably to culminate in his newest Goodbye To Language 3D, which in the meantime premieres locally next week in San Rafael). The current installment of this Godard retro covers his 1982-1994 work, and starts with his masterpiece Passion this Saturday. I'm pleased that a greater proportion of this segment of the Godard series is screening via 35mm prints than did in the last segment focusing on the 1970s. In fact the lion's share of the PFA's November-December calendar is 35mm, including everything in the Hou Hsiao-Hsien series, nearly everything in the Georgian film series that will also continue into 2015, and more than you might expect in the political documentary series entitled I’m Weiwei: Activism, Free Expression, Human Rights.
Of course the PFA is not the only place to show experimental films in the Bay Area; far from it in fact, when there's an organization like SF Cinematheque entering into a particularly busy month including tomorrow's Castro Theatre(!) screening of Andy Warhol's dual-projection epic Chelsea Girls and Friday's YBCA showing of Warhol's Hedy, both with fascinating and eloquent Factory star Mary Woronov in person, its annual art (and film) auction and benefit November 15th, and much more.
HOW: A Movie and Tribulation 99 both screen from 16mm prints in the PFA's own collection.