Monday, June 27, 2005

In the mood to be adventurous, I attended the Onion City Experimental Film Festival opening night program a couple weeks ago. There were several shorts by major experimental filmmakers, only some of whom I'd ever seen something by before. Some short takes:

  • "Mouse Heaven" (2004, 10 mins. video) by Kenneth Anger - Disappointingly amateurish effort from the queer giant of experimental cinema. A playful assembly of Mickey memorabilia with a likeable oldies soundtrack. Though it had some mild subversive winks, and I guess it's brave to take on the sacred mouse, I used to see shorts like this on the Disney channel as a kid.

  • "Precarious Garden" (2004, 14 mins., 16mm) by Ernie Gehr - Excellent splitscreen film shot mostly in the garden off someone's porch, playing with light and form in simple, elegant ways. Beautiful. I seemed to like this more than some in the audience.

  • "SSHTOORRTY" (aka SHORT STORY, 2005, 20 mins., video, Canada) by Michael Snow - Despicable. A couple of overlapped pans that show a simple (and clumsily acted and directed) three character scene involving an affair and a painting. What makes it horrible is that it's repeated beyond the point of torture, with barely any perceptible changes. Clearly annoying, though the director probably congratulated himself for being anti-bourgeois or something. Avoid like the plague.

  • "Williamsburg, Brooklyn" (2003, 15 mins., 16mm) by Jonas Mekas - Excellent footage of Brooklyn from around 1950 and then 1972. Simple footage of people, neighborhood characters, surprisingly delightful. Almost but not quite naive. Reminded me a bit of some of Cornell's shorts.

  • "Poetry and Truth" ("Dichtung und Wahrheit," 2003, 13 mins., 35mm, Austria) by Peter Kubelka - Highly entertaining collection of raw footage shot for old commercials. Several of them are repeated takes shot to achieve some perfect effect - a smile, or a sexy woman taking a moutherwatering bite. Had the audience laughing very hard. Some segments more effective than others.

  • "Mountaineer Spinning" (2004, 24 mins., video) by Ken Jacobs (image above) - The undeniable gem of the collection, this brilliant short was so nightmarish and torturous it might be used in some awful war of the future. The soundtrack is strange modern music that perfectly matches the film. How to describe the film? I'm not sure how the film even works, but the main effect is that it denies your eyes the abiity to ever quite pin down and identify the image. You feel like you're zooming towards and away from some kind of mountaineer figure, back and forth and around the image, in some kind of 3D effect, never stopping, never getting enough light to see but always tantalized by the little you can make out. Preceded by a warning about its strobe effect and causing many walkouts, this film could reduce a grown man to tears (a young woman next to me became hysterical, though with tears or laughter I couldn't tell). It could make you insane. Or enraged. Or terrified. Amazing.

  • "Michelangelo Eye to Eye" ("Lo Sguardo di Michelangelo," 2004, 17 mins., 35mm, Italy) by Michelangelo Antonioni - Michelangelo visits Michelangelo's Moses in a profound short that will no doubt be considered a major event of the year. Wordlessly the film evokes the theme of mortality in a powerful way, as Michelangelo Antonioni (or an actor playing him?), now old and wheelchair bound, approaches the other Michelangelo's work and thoughtfully, appreciatively caresses it. It made me think about the relative permanence of that stone, of that human body carved in stone, and the impermanence of Antonioni's body, our bodies, and of cinema.

Song: "She Really Wants You" by Aimee Mann



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