Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Autumn Spectrum (1957)

WHO: Hy Hirsh made this short film. Hirsch was a friend and contemporary of Harry Smith and Jordan Belson, and would perhaps be as well known as these compatriot animators if his life had not been cut short by a 1961 automobile accident in Paris.

WHAT: "Sensuous reflections in Amsterdam canals". There is very little written about Autum Spectrum in the literature I've been able to come across. Amos Vogel's five-word program note for a March 1959 showing along with films by Robert Breer, Stan Brakhage, etc, is perhaps the most useful I've found, although others have also noted its use of the Modern Jazz Quartet's performance of "Autumn in New York", and its similarity to Dimitri Kirsanoff's 1929 film Autumn Fire. I have not seen the film yet myself, but I've enjoyed the handful of Hirsh films I've seen thus far very much.

WHERE/WHEN: 8:30 tonight at the Exploratorium.

WHY: When the Exploratorium moved to its new Pier 15 site in April after three months of closure following a 44-year stint at its original Palace of Fine Arts location, there was great optimism about the possibilities offered by a brand new space. Many filmmakers and film lovers had great affection for the old McBean Theatre, a geodesic dome constructed within the cavernous old site, and a venue for afternoon and (occasionally) evening screenings of films that "nurture [audience] curiosity about the world around them", in line with the museum's mission statement. Just last December I said "good-bye" to the McBean at a screening of several short experimental films including one of my favorite "old film" discoveries of last year, Barry Spinello's Sonata For Pen, Brush and Ruler. But the promise of a brand-new, ahead-of-the-state-of-the-art screening space with more comfortable seats, better sight lines, and a highly innovative multi-channel sound set-up, even though it was not expected to open until Fall of 2013, made the future of Cinema Arts at the beloved institution seem bright.

This space, the Kanbar Forum, has begun being used ahead of schedule, with little fanfare amongst local cinephiles. Earlier this summer I attended an outdoor screening of rarely-shown films and videos by Charles & Ray Eames, Rock Ross, Thorstein Fleisch, Jessica Oreck, and others on the terrace of the museum, a lovely spot to watch solar-themed shorts on the eve of the summer solstice. Two more outdoor screenings were to follow in July and August, but tonight's showing has, according to the Exploratorium website, been moved to the Kanbar. If so, I'm hoping to check out that space for the first time, and hope it will be the first of many visits to the space. Another screening (a space-themed one) occurs there three times this Saturday, while on September 28th the venue hosts a tantalizing collection of fog-centric films including Gary Beydler's Hand Held Day, which I've been desperate to see since reading Max Goldberg write on it a few years ago. More upcoming Kanbar screenings including local premieres of Exploratorium-commissioned works by Sam Green and Paul Clipson.

With last week's Chronicle article on financial woes at the unique museum resulting in large-scale layoffs, I hope that the Cinema Arts department isn't sunk before it's been given a chance to make much of an impact in its new space.  A comment appearing to be made by an employee on the article leads me to wonder if lower-than-projected attendance figures are the only major reason for the layoffs of longstanding staff, so I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. But I think the Frisco Bay cinephile community would like to do its part to support the venue no matter what the behind-the-curtain problems may be going on, especially when rare and important films like this one are among those being shown there.

HOW: Autumn Spectrum screens as a 16mm projection, on a program of other "films that reflect on the changes in our landscapes—and psyches—as the seasons shift."


  1. Brian: It's odd that the Kirsanoff short you reference is known as Autumn Fire since its original title in French is BRUMES D'AUTOMNE.
    "Brume" in French is fog or mist, something we get a lot of in Frisco.

  2. Yes, indeed! A most apropos theme for an Exploratorium film screening. I haven't seen Brumes D'Automne in years, but I see it most frequently referred to as Autumn Fire in English.

  3. And it also occurred to me that Carne's Quai Des Brumes is known in English as Port Of Shadows,
    another mistranslation.