(I'm taking the day off, and Joel Schlemowitz has provided a beautiful cinema document on the "Jewels and Gems," program of 1 minute films that he curated for the Film-makers' Cooperative! Let's celebrate ephemeral cinema! :)
12/1/07 -- Joel Schlemowitz:
So I'm here guest blogging on Jennifer MacMillan's Invisible Cinema to write about the 1 minute films screening that was part of "Jewels and Gems from the Film-Makers' Coop" at the Collective:Unconscious on Monday, November 26, 2007.
We ought to start with the curatorial agenda, which was to use the Coop's 5,000 film and video collection as a place of discovery, to curate the unknown and undiscovered as well as the films that are known and screened more frequently. But how does one go about discovering? The Coop Catalogue is now a database that can be used to look up films by the title, or year, or words used in the filmmaker's description. But looking at the Coop Catalogue as "data" that can be filtered in different ways also opens up the possibility of combining work in more "experimental" combinations. In this case, a common running time: 1 minute.
(It's not the first time that the Coop's collection has been utilized for this sort of experimental curating. Back in 1993 Films Charas did a summer season of "The Film-Makers' Coop from A to Z" which came as close as possible to showing one short film by every filmmaker in the Coop.)
The cold and rainy November night make me a little concerned about turnout for our of the 1 minute film program, but a good crowd started to appear there at the C:U. Soon the house was full. What was of interest to me was the potential for discoveries. Films that we uncovered through the show did not disappoint in that respect. Here are some haphazard highlights:
- Caroline Avery's "Mr. Speaker" (1986) came first. A fragmented sampling -- clipping bits and piece, camera on, camera off, in little snatches and cut-up phrases -- of the congressional proceedings when Newt was speaker, shot off a TV. The cut-up techniques sharply brought out the bumptious nuances of the proceedings.
- Bruce Baillie's "Show Leader" (1966), a salute to the audience, intended as prologue to a screening of films, was as it is described: the filmmaker standing in a stream in a revealing moment.
- Tom Bessoir's "Microfilm" (1979) a film-object, a film shaped as a roll of microfilm of a newspaper, zipping through the projector at 24 frames per second. Interesting to see the illusion of movement created by these rapidly changing pages, the color "funnies" jumping actively from page to page like old-school Max Fleisher and the classified section -- all small print in narrow columns -- producing subtle vibrations and movements, the advisements popping by as single percussive interruptions in the flowing movements, twenty four times per second, of gray columns of text.
- Bessoir's "Linear I" (1982) also quite memorable. A single white line stalking back and forth on this field of gray, performing whip-like turns, sometimes evoking a dancer, sometimes an animal pacing in its cage, sometimes feeling like the old-school arcade game Pong. The white-on-gray of negative film used in the projector had that ghostly quality that a projected negative often has, with the dark gray center bleeding to a lighter gray at the edges, looking much like it was made contemporaneously with Hans Richter's Rhythmus 21.
- Frank Biesendorfer's "Hot Dog Party" (2001. A montage of seemingly vintage black and white footage, artfully assembled to maximize the non sequitur pile-up of golfing footage that feels like it's out of an old instructional film, home movies, and a little homemade stag footage. A memorable film.
- Robert Breer's "A Miracle" (1954) got a giggle from the audience as an animated cutout photo of the pope juggled a red ball, in vibrant Kodachrome.
- Don Duga's "Man" (1967), a short mind-expanding film of the late sixties held a circle in the center of the square frame of the screen in which a series of Buddhas morphed and dissolved together with other images. Remarkable to think this sort of matte and dissolve work was done all through the manual printing and optical work in totally analogue fashion and yet seems so much like the purely digital effects of contemporary video mixing. With its 60s sensibility, the film might easily have seemed dated, but the sheer beauty of the filmmaking caused the audience -- many of whom had not been born when the film was made -- to signal their appreciation with applause after this film.
- James Fotopoulos's "Two Cats" (1999), gave us a film-portrait of two cats, sitting by the window, in handheld single frame, its fragmented high-speed shooting style contrasting with the relaxed moments of leisure and contemplation of the cats, but in giving just little glimpses to catch, the film forced us to heighten our attention to the details of the hard crisp sunlight through the window, the close-ups of the texture of the fur of the two cats, the nuances of expression on their faces. Someone needs to curate the next all-cat film festival! (I say "next" on account of Pola Chapelle's Intercat '69 ...hey Jennifer, I see your next curatorial venture calling you.)
- Victor Grauer's "Portrait 2" (1977), a bearded face and dark glasses in black and white, with moments of black imageless film, and moments of a clear white screen. An interesting formal juxtaposition.
- George Griffin's "L'Age Door" (1975) brought a giggle from the audience as the title appeared with its pun on the Bunuel film. The film itself took advantage of the flatness of the screen. We see a rectangle and it could either be a doorway that leads in, or door that swings open. A slightly indiscernible grayish person swings the rectangle open, and it folds out into two rectangles, like the opening of a book. But which is the door and which is the doorway? The ambiguity comes into play, and the rectangle that was the door is now the doorway and the man walks through. This trompe l'oeil repeats and repeats in a series of variations, reminiscent of Emile Cohl's "Fantasmagorie" in its intense one minute cycle of succeeding transformations.
- "Home" (1988) by Cyndi Haas repeats the word "Home" in sighing fashion on the soundtrack, while an accompanying black and white photograph of home flashes on screen.
- Lee Krugman's "3 Views" (1978) was on regular 8mm, and we set up an 8mm projector for it, and had to plunk it down precariously at the edge of the booth to project when its time came in the program. A lovely work of poetic dailiness, in little details of New York, often intentionally obscure in their framing.
- Dave Lee's Lumina's "Gaze" (1974), in black and white, a dark screen. A circle of light flitters on it, moving to different spots, appearing and disappearing. What is it? A will-o'-the-wisp? The moon? A flashlight? A beautiful and cosmic film.
- Saul Levine's "Later Later Dutch Master Later", had Saul in front of the camera, looking himself like a Dutch master, with an empty Dutch Master's cigar box, shot in single frames so that the box flickers and rotates in his hands.
- Jeff Scher's "Ann Arbor Festival Trailer 97" (1997). A lovely work of rotoscope animation.
- As the reel turned on the projector and Dave Stone's "In Springtime" (1970) began, Seth, who built the reels for the show, whispered to me "this one is just clear leader". As it should be! How could we not show the 1 minute film that is just 1 minute of clear leader? It's even better that when we look him up on Hugh McCarney's Film and Video Art site it appears that this 1 minute of clear leader is his only film. All the better!
- Greg Yaskot's "Cows" (1972) a work by a filmmaker who knew we would like black and white silent film with cows, and that we would especially like a film with cows that was shot in time lapse. At first it was had to realize we were seeing time lapse. The cows were just there eating the grass. But then suddenly they would move quickly and we would know that we were seeing time lapse because a cow doesn't normally scuttle like a cockroach startled by the lights. The audience giggled in appreciation.
- Heiko Kalmbach's "Final Curtain" (1995) was on video and came last for logistical reasons, but also was a fitting end for the show, a minute of unreadable end crawl credits superimposed over a man reacting to applause.
So as the lights came up the question was what was the 1 minute film? Sometime a fragment. Sometimes a short poetic work of the scale of a haiku. Sometimes the punch line of a joke. Sometimes a tiny world into itself. A cosmos in miniature. Dr. Seuss's Whoville. Sometimes all it needed to be. Sometimes a bauble. Sometimes a bon mot. Sometimes filling that minute up to the brim with as much as possible, a minute long filmic roller coaster ride. Sometimes a restful minute's moment of contemplation, too short to become boring.
The minute long film gives us the chance to open up and try to see the merits of something not in keeping with our predisposed tastes. It was gladdening to see films one wouldn't normally be disposed to, like, or appreciate; and to see these films having a chance to get a chance - actually opening up one's tastes to a broader range of films. Of course, failing this, at the back of our minds we can always say, "Well, it's only going to be a minute of this!"