Sunday, July 14, 2013

Suspension (2008)

WHO: Vanessa O'Neill made this film, and makes up one half of the duo Beige, which will be presenting the film as a live performance

WHAT: Suspension was one of the highlights of the Crossroads festival presented by SF Cinematheque this past Spring. As the program note for the screening/performance said, Suspension "layers a toned and black-and-white reel creating subtle shifts of hue and tone of abstracted seascape."

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at 8:00 at the Temescal Art Center in North Oakland.

WHY: Though many moviemakers and watchers have given up on the future of physical film as a production and exhibition medium, I think that "death of film" epitaphs are short-sighted. Ideally, I can imagine film professionals realizing that some of the essential virtues of the motion picture artform are being lost in the current global conversion to digital cinema, and a concerted effort being made to turn back the tide of transformation. In a worst-case-scenario I can picture the death of physical film as a mass production and distribution medium, but a core of committed artists and technicians continuing to keep the reel and projector alive through more artisanal means.

There is already a growing network of film proponents who have taken on the task of developing means of producing and exhibiting film with ever-decreasing reliance on industry. I think the core of this potential infrastructure are the practicioners of "expanded cinema" or "projector performance". People who create or appropriate film works to screen in performance settings, often involving multiple projectors, multiple projectionists, extra-celluloidal interventions, and live musicians and/or sound artists as part of each exhibition, which involves enough improvisation or other performance elements that it's comparable as a one-of-a-kind an event to a music concert.

I was only dimly aware of this piece of the film world as little as three years ago, when I began to explore the scene thanks to venues and performers such as the Pacific Film Archive, SF Cinematheque, Other Cinema and its founder Craig Baldwin, Stephen Parr, Paul Clipson, etc. Last summer saw the opening of a dedicated series devoted to presenting these kinds of performance works to the public- and for free, no less. Shapeshifters Cinema launched with an orgy of projectors screening all kinds of collected films, some as well known as Norman McLaren and Denys Colomb Daunant but most as obscure as they were beautiful. It was a performance by the Cinepimps (Alfonso Alvarez and Keith Arnold, the latter of whom is better known as programmer for the Castro Theatre.) In the past year, Shapeshifters Cinema has brought a wide variety of film peformance practicioners (as well as a few video-based performers) to Oakland for unique monthly shows. Right now they reserve the second Sunday of each month for these events. Tonight it's Kent Long and Vanessa O'Neill performing under the name Beige; Along with O'Neill's Suspension, the duo will perform with Long's lovely 2003 work The Waves, and a pair of completely collaborative pieces: Which Ceaselessly Float Up (which was performed at the New York Film Festival's Views From the Avant-Garde last autumn) and The Pass. Next month Shapeshifters Cinema will screen video work with live musical performance by Kadet Kuhne, who is fresh from a dual-retrospective showcase with Texas Tomboy at Frameline last month, which was my first exposure to her exuberant, clever work.

Another performative video piece, this one involving live narration from its maker, is Love Letter to the Fog, by Sam Green (whom you may have seen perform The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller or Utopia in Four Movements). It's had recent screenings on the East Coast including New York City and Waterville, Maine, but had its genesis in Green's Artist-in-Residency at San Francisco's Exploratorium, which just re-opened a few months ago. The museum's Cinema Arts program is up-and-running with regular screenings on certain Wednesdays and Saturdays (including this Wednesday and Saturday), but look further on its web calendar and you can see an October 2nd date for something called Fog City, which I suspect is another name for Love Letter To the Fog or an iteration thereof.

HOW: Suspension will screen with three other works as a multi-projector performance with live sound.

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