Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Speechless (2008)

WHO: Scott Stark made this film. As Brian L Frye writes in Radical Light, "Stark imported the wry wit of seventies performance art to his films, which are best described as works that play games with how movies work." Sounds right to me.

WHAT:  I'm not up to the task of writing a full review or analysis of the thirteen-minute Speechless, especially when eloquent considerations of the film are available at just a click or two away. But I would like to encourage any open-minded reader to see it. Speechless is part of a cycle of Stark films that draws particular attention to the individual frame as the building block of the moving image. Motion in the film is created by juxtaposing still images together, creating graphic matches and mismatches between, in this case, photographs of female genitals from a medical textbook, and images of (mostly) natural landscapes shot by Stark himself. A great many of these landscape images were gathered right here in San Francisco, at the former military installation West of Lake Merced known as Fort Funston. (Others were taken in Oakland or New Hampshire.) A simple, calm electronic drone soundtrack consisting primarily of two alternating notes and overtones provides a suitable sonic backdrop for audience contemplation of the connections between human and earth-borne forms, of how the Bay Area in particular has been a site for expressions of female sexuality (though I suspect few find these particular images of vaginas erotic), and I'm sure many other subjects particular to each viewer's experience. It's a strange and lovely film.

WHERE/WHEN: This free public screening, with Stark present for a post-screening discussion, happens 7:30 PM tonight, only at the lecture hall on the San Francisco Art Institute, Stark's alma mater. But come early for a 7:00 artist reception and to take in some of the best views of Frisco Bay from this beautiful Russian Hill location.

WHY: Depending on when you read this post, the program for the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 25-May 9) may or may not be publicly available; the press conference announcing all programs happens this morning. Michael Hawley has done a stellar job running down all of the pre-conference announcements (and making guesses as to what else might screen) but shorts are not usually in his areas of interest. However, word is already out that Stark's eerie 2012 piece Bloom is also expected to screen as part of the SFIFF. Festgoers who see it will never hear the sound of music in quite the same way again.

But before that, two full programs of Stark's work show in local venues. Speechless screens tonight as part of a set of film and video works investigating the human body, each made between 1996 and 2008. (I listed the other films in the program here).  Then, this Sunday, three of his more recent video works screen as part of the Crossroads festival hosted by SF Cinematheque at the historic Victoria Theatre on 16th Street between Misson and Capp. On the program are a dual-projector screening of Compressive/Percussive, Stark's study of light and shadow upon an Austin, TX freeway, and Longhorn Tremolo, another Texas work that made my 2011 list of favorite films in the "yet to screen in a Bay Area cinema" subcategory. This screening marks its local debut, and also the world premiere of Stark's elegant, monstrous The Realist, which was shot partially in San Francisco and is sure to go down as one of 2013's most important releases into the experimental film & video world. Seeing tonight's program, and Speechless in particular, will be good preparation for appreciation of this brilliant new work.

HOW: Speechless will screen as a 16mm projection.

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