Friday, April 5, 2013

Audition (2012)

WHO: Karen Yasinsky is the artist who made this piece of animation. Her work often contains contains cinephilic content, for instance her series of drawings inspired by the films of Robert AltmanRobert Bresson and Jean Vigo.

WHAT: When Audition screened at last year's Views From The Avant-Garde sidebar of the New York Film Festival, Genevieve Yu wrote about it for Reverse Shot. Let me excerpt:
Yasinsky works over a few frames from John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, animating and repeating, in an intricate pattern that mimics dot-matrix commercial printing, the image of a woman prancing across a strip club stage, her skirt swirling Loie Fuller-like around her. Sit too close to the screen, and the image becomes illegible; it loses coherence the more closely it’s examined. The second half of the film features a book of early Japanese photographs whose pages are flipped before the camera.
The bridge between these two segments becomes the audio track: the music from the Cassavetes scene,  a beautiful piece called "Rainy Fields of Frost and Magic" by Neil Young sound-alike singer-songwriter Bo Harwood, whose demo-esque "scratch track" recordings used in this and other Cassavetes films retain a raw quality that fits the famous director's style as a maker of films that, in the words of Roger Ebert (R.I.P.): "gloriously celebrated the untidiness of life, at a time when everybody else was making neat, slick formula pictures".

Yasinsky has repurposed images from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie in which a strip-club owner (played by Ben Gazzara) consoles himself after his gambling losses by auditioning a waitress (played by Trisha Pelham) alone one morning. There's a rather queasy sense of seduction in the original scene, violently interrupted when his girlfriend appears, but Yasinsky confines her animation to earlier moments of motion where the audition seems more innocent. This abstracted ambiguity when contrasted with the clarity of the yakuza-style tattoos on some of the subjects in the photo book provides grist for consideration of the human stories lying behind stereotypical underworld imagery, as Cassavetes' film does within the confines of the gangster narrative.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens tonight only at 9:15 at the Victoria Theatre on the corner of 16th Street and Capp in the Mission District of San Francisco.

WHY: Audition opens the second of eight programs in SF Cinematheque's fourth annual film festival devoted to personal, artist-created film and video, Crossroads. Last year, my favorite program was a selection of cosmically-considered works that all happened to be made by female directors (with one male co-director). Yasinksy's piece kicks of this year's only all-woman-made program, leading beautifully into The Room Called Heaven by Basque filmmaker Laida Lertxundi (who had a full program of her own at last year's Crossroads), and other works before the program finale, the world premiere of a sure crowd-pleaser by Jodie Mack, Dusty Stacks of Mom. The latter is one of the festival works highlighted by Cheryl Eddy in her fine SF Bay Guardian preview.

I was able to sample a few of the weekend's screenings in advance myself, and I selected Audition to highlight today because it's a good reminder of the place of personal, truly-independent filmmaking in larger cinephile culture. Not just as something to be looked at, but as an expression of its makers' own engagement with the moving images that move us to become movie lovers. When we think of the economics of Hollywood production we often forget it, but filmmakers, at least those not chasing after big box-office receipts, are usually cinephiles themselves, expressing their cinephilia in ways no less (and arguably more) valid than writing reviews or making lists or collecting DVDs, or obsessively going to the movies. I have a feeling that many of the filmmakers in attendance for Crossroads will trying to find ways of squeezing in trips to the two other major cinephile events happening in town this weekend: namely, the opening of Christian Marclay's The Clock at SFMOMA and the 35mm Roman Polanski retrospective at the Roxie.

Also note that Yasinsky's Life Is An Opinion, Fire Is A Fact will screen twice at the San Francisco International Film Festival, in its annual program co-presented with SF Cinematheque.

HOW: Audition screens as a digital video projection, but there are 16mm works on this program as well. Other Crossroads programs involve 35mm, 16mm, Super-8 and video projection.

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