Monday, January 30, 2017

Ten Great Expanded Cinema Performances of 2016

The first month of the New Year has almost ended. Between travel, a new worksite, trying to make sense of a new Presidential administration (an impossible task given that its architect Steve Bannon seems to prize sowing chaos and confusion more highly than any other political aim), protesting against it, and attending local screenings, I've been remiss in posting my year-end round-ups of 2016 to this blog. Soon I'll begin unveiling the 2016 "I Only Have Two Eyes" project, presenting the favorite repertory and revival screenings of more than a dozen local cinephiles, including my own selections. But today I'm focusing on another corner of cinema. 

I originally wrote this list in the hopes it would be included in my submission to the Senses of Cinema World Poll of over 200 thoughtful cinema watchers from around the globe published earlier this month. I'm honored that the site decided to include my lists of top ten commercially-released films, top five undistributed feature films, and top twenty (numbered as nineteen but #6 includes two works by one artist) "short" or otherwise less-than-feature-length works I first had a chance to see last year. I'm not quite sure why they decided not to publish the following list of expanded cinema performances as well but at least I have this blog site to provide a place for them. Here's what I submitted (with a few minor alterations):

Screen capture from vimeo file of Michael Morris's Second Hermeneutic

These ephemeral events have become increasingly integral to my moving-image-watching; I’m lucky to live in a region which supports a very healthy scene devoted to artists who employ film (and occasionally video) projectors in ways never intended: projecting multiple images on a single screen, employing multiple screens, and intervening live with the image in a myriad of other ways, never quite the same way twice.

I’m recusing from this list the multiple performances I saw (and in some cases assisted with) by my partner, filmmaker Kerry Laitala; she’s in good company though, as an arbitrary cut-off of ten excludes fine performances by Bruce McClure, Sally Golding, John Davis, Greg Pope, Lori Varga, Jeremy Rourke, Hangjun Lee, Jeanne Liotta, Keith Evans, Greta Snider, Beige, arc, Elia Vargas & Andy Puls, Simon Liu, Robert Fox, Bill Thibault, and others.

10. Philippe Leonard’s projections for a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, particularly his final piece of the evening. I saw it prior to watching Blake Williams’ stereoscopic single-channel video Red Capriccio at the Crossroads festival in April, but they seem very much thematically akin. This was the first time I'd ever seen film projections at this historic former movie palace (which opened in 1928 with a now-lost Howard Hawks film called The Air Circus.)

9. Michael Morris’s Hermeneutics, performed opening weekend of SF Cinematheque’s Perpetual Motion expanded cinema series at the Gray Area (former Grand Theater) on Mission Street, demonstrates his finely-honed skill at precisely and powerfully merging video and 16mm film projections onto a single screen. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone merge film and video formats so adeptly.

8. Kat Schuster’s multi-projector presentation at San Francisco’s Oddball Films in early July, mixing nostalgic and chilling scenes from San Francisco history, including images of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, was a masterclass in juxtaposition. It feels even more precious now that it appears Oddball has at least temporarily suspended its twice-weekly 16mm screenings in favor of more occasional events.

Screen capture from vimeo file of Civil Projections
7. The only one of these performances I saw outside of my home region of the San Francisco Bay Area was Avida Jackson’s Civil Projections, a rapid-fire dual-projector montage of unsettling archival unearthings shown at my favorite out-of-town film festival: Albuquerque, New Mexico’s annual Experiments In Cinema. The full piece is available to watch on vimeo but was truly something to behold with the prints unspooling in the wonderful Guild Cinema.

6. Kathleen Quillian’s stately The Speed of Disembodiment, at Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema space in San Francisco, which incorporated 35mm slides & animation in an exploration of Eadweard Muybridge’s legacy. Quillian and her partner Gilbert Guerrero run the Shapeshifters Cinema media-performance series in Oakland; their next show on February 12th is a curated selection of responses to our current political moment.

5. Karl Lemieux, with a sonic assist from BJ Nilsen, presented two multi-projector works in the Perpetual Motion series; the literal show-shopper was the world premiere of Yujiapu, a quadruple-16mm piece using images shot in a giant, uninhabited city, its geometric lines creating a disorienting, almost 3-D effect when intervened on with red filters.

4. Suki O’Kane’s Sweeping, Swept, Out of My Head employed a small army of mobile camera feeds (operated by Jeremy Rourke, Wayne Grim, Alfonso Alvarez, etc.) on the ends of brooms booming across the Shapeshifiters Cinema home at Oakland’s Temescal Art Center, incorporating touchstone footage from classic films into a cathartic video ablution.

3. Trinchera Ensemble filled the back wall of the Gray Area space hosting the Perpetual Motion series for its jubilant sensory overload performance Lux-Ex-Machina, abstractions layered upon abstractions in constant motion that Harry Smith would surely have approved of. Sound contributions led by violinist Eric Ostrowsky, as I noted on twitter, "recalled the soundtrack to McLaren's Fiddle-De-Dee, reprocessed through a Masonna filter".

Screen capture from vimeo excerpt from Towards the Death of Cinema
2. Malic Amalya’s images of Bay Area ruins and landmarks, collected on a tiny strip of 16mm film burnt in the projector gate frame-by-frame to Nathan Hill’s industrial sounds made Towards the Death of Cinema a truly “end times cinema” (to quote Perpetual Motion organizer Steve Polta’s program booklet) experience while watching it. Thinking back on it after the Oakland warehouse fire that occurred a mere week and a half later, it feels like a chilling act of unintended augery in retrospect.

1. Jürgen Reble’s Alchemie set the Perpetual Motion series bar very high on its first night as Reble ran a 16mm loop through a positively Cronenbergian projector, chemically transforming the fragmentary images with each pass-through into ever-more otherworldly (literal and figurative) whiffs of a time long gone.

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