Avant-Garde, Experimental & Non-narrative Films

A subforum to discuss film culture and criticism both old and new, as well as memorializing public figures we've lost.
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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#251 Post by Gregory » Wed Feb 06, 2008 9:11 pm

zedz wrote:I think one of the important aspects of McLaren's career that sets him apart from so many acknowledged 'experimental' filmmakers - and this is something that has nothing to do with the nature of his work - is the institutional support he received. It's so unusual to see an experimental filmmaker nurtured in the way that McLaren was, and by his government, no less, that his career narrative and body of work doesn't really resemble most other experimental filmmakers, with their continual struggle for resources and oppositional positioning within their local film culture.
Very true. I might take this a tiny bit further and wonder aloud whether some perceived him as some kind of industrial filmmaker for much of his career. After all, he did "New York Lightboard," to help build Canada's tourism industry, twenty years into his tenure at the National Film Board.
While I do stand by what I said earlier about the exceptional level of creative freedom he enjoyed at the NFB, I think there was an exception to this: the World War II era. Many of his early films there, as great as they are, were used as war effort PSAs, notably as advertisements for war bonds, whereas McLaren was a pacifist. He made them in his own way, certainly -- "Hen Hop" is, in form, about the farthest thing from a propaganda film I can imagine. But maybe just looking at the form misses an important part of the point. But I wonder if some might have seen his position at the NFB as artistic compromise, either because they misunderstood it or even out of envy.

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MichaelB
Joined: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:20 pm
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#252 Post by MichaelB » Thu Feb 07, 2008 3:37 am

Gregory wrote:Very true. I might take this a tiny bit further and wonder aloud whether some perceived him as some kind of industrial filmmaker for much of his career. After all, he did "New York Lightboard," to help build Canada's tourism industry, twenty years into his tenure at the National Film Board.
Then again, Walerian Borowczyk made pasta commercials - and he wasn't a filmmaker normally given to compromise. But he also had to put food on the table, so...
But I wonder if some might have seen his position at the NFB as artistic compromise, either because they misunderstood it or even out of envy.
I'm sure envy played a huge part!

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zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

#253 Post by zedz » Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:32 pm

There is a glorious tradition of 'artistic compromise' for avant garde filmmakers, particularly for those like McLaren who got their start before anything like a codified underground filmmaking community developed. Fischinger & Disney, Lye & the GPO, the Soviet silent avant-garde, Vorkapich and so on. These guys needed to eat, after all. But the NFB really did seem to leave McLaren to his own devices while providing all the technical support he required. My vote's for envy as well.

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Kinsayder
Joined: Mon Oct 10, 2005 6:22 pm
Location: UK

#254 Post by Kinsayder » Fri Feb 08, 2008 12:35 pm

I don't think Perec and Queysanne's Un homme qui dort (1974) has been mentioned yet.

I've been watching this in the gorgeous new French edition from the 1999 Arte restoration. There are no subs but then there's no dialogue either. The voiceover, from Perec's book, is offered in French (Ludmila Mikaël), English (Shelley Duvall), German or Spanish. I wasn't sure what to expect from this film (about a student's descent into alienation and schizophrenia). In fact it's mesmerisingly beautiful, with strong echoes of Resnais (Paris filmed like Marienbad), startling images and a rich, complex soundtrack.

This is one of two French Perec-themed DVD releases. The other, which I haven't seen, has Ellis Island Tales and Les Lieux d'une fugue.

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#255 Post by Gregory » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:24 pm

As a follow-up to the earlier Harry Partch DVD (see page 4 of this thread) Innova has released Enclosure 8, which includes the Madeline Tourtelot films and a few performances. Full details here. The Enclosure 7 DVD looked to me like a VHS port, but the Innova page says the films here have been "extensively restored, resynched and digitally remastered from the extant original prints" and that this release "offers not only a chance to see higher quality versions of previously-available material."

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vertovfan
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:46 pm

#256 Post by vertovfan » Fri Feb 29, 2008 12:25 am

Coming from Facets on May 28 - 4 DVD set - The Lawrence Jordan Album

From Facets' website:
An extensive collection of works from acclaimed American animator and experimental filmmaker Larry Jordan. Spanning five decades, the range of films included here show Jordan to be an influential director of live-action shorts, as well as a master of cut-out animation. He meticulously combines 19th-century engravings, modern imagery, and common symbols to construct unmistakable, dream-like narratives. Disc One features "The Short Animations" (Duo Concertantes, Gymnopedies, Our Lady of the Sphere, Orb, Once Upon a Time, Moonlight Sonata, Carabosse, and Masquerade), followed by the animated retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1977, 42 mins.)--narrated by Orson Welles--and Enid's Idyll (17 mins.). Disc Two houses "The H.D. Trilogy" (1994, 115 mins.), a loving portrait of poet and novelist Hilda Doolittle told in three parts: The Black Oud, The Grove, and Star of Day. Disc Three consists of Sophie's Place (1986, 86 mins.), The Visible Compendium (1990, 17 mins.), and Blue Skies Beyond the Looking Glass (17 mins.). Disc Four comprises The Sacred Art of Tibet (1972, 28 mins.), "The Short Live Films" (Visions of a City, Adagio, In a Summer Garden, Winter Light, and Cornell, 1965), and "Odyssey" (Water Light, Tapestry, and Postcard from San Miguel).

I've only seen a few of these, and I'm very excited to check out the rest!

ptmd
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:12 pm

#257 Post by ptmd » Fri Feb 29, 2008 12:52 am

Wow, that's amazing news. Sophie's Place is one of the great avant-garde films of the 1980s and the others aren't far behind. If this is the same quality as their Broughton set, I will be very pleased.

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#258 Post by Gregory » Fri Feb 29, 2008 3:41 pm

Fantastic, provided they do at least as good a job as with the Broughton set.
Anyone who loves "Un Chien Andalou," "Blood of a Poet," and work of Harry Smith and Joseph Cornell (not just the films) should seek this out once it's released.

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Ovader
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:56 am
Location: Canada

R. Bruce Elder

#259 Post by Ovader » Thu Mar 13, 2008 9:35 pm

I have the opportunity to attend a lecture by R. Bruce Elder called "Cosmological Themes and New Media Technologies: The Body and The Celestial Dance." The Work and Processes of Bruce Elder. I have never seen any of his films and I could not see any mention of his past works in this thread. What are your opinions of his work and possible comparisons with other filmmakers? If I do attend this lecture what questions would you ask of him?

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foggy eyes
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:58 am
Location: UK

#260 Post by foggy eyes » Thu May 29, 2008 10:06 am

vertovfan wrote:Coming from Facets on May 28 - 4 DVD set - The Lawrence Jordan Album
It's out - can anyone report on quality yet?

Mestes
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 8:39 pm

#261 Post by Mestes » Sun Jun 01, 2008 10:01 pm

foggy eyes wrote:
vertovfan wrote:Coming from Facets on May 28 - 4 DVD set - The Lawrence Jordan Album
It's out - can anyone report on quality yet?
Haven't watched all 21 films yet, but the shorts I saw were adequate, and appeared to be from good source prints. Plently of small, transient blemishes, but they didn't distract me. I am pleased with the package, and feel Facets did as good a job on this as they did on "The Films Of James Broughton", a filmmaker I like a good deal less than Larry Jordan.

osmin
Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 10:47 am

Larry Jordan

#262 Post by osmin » Sun Jun 15, 2008 11:35 am

I just watched the first DVD of the Lawrence Jordan Album and liked it but I have the impression the picture is slightly cropped at the left side of the frame. What I wanted to say is that I am from Germany and a few weeks ago I saw the restored version of the Brasilian film "Limite" (1931) by Mario Peixoto who was strongly influenced by the French avantgarde of his time, not so much by Bunuel or Cocteau but by the French impressionists like Delluc, Gance, L'Herbier or Epstein. A strangely poetic film. It was shown by the French-German television channel ARTE and maybe absolutmedien.de will publish it on DVD on their arte edition series (like the 3 Films by Germaine Dulac). It is not mentioned in their list of coming attractions but they announce a DVD edition of the history of German animation. The first DVD will contain avantgarde animation of the 20s and 30s.
Now I want to ask if anyone of you knows whether the first two volumes of the Film Works of Robert Frank (Steidlville.com) is out. And has anyone bought the 2 DVD Fluxbox from re:voir for 100 €? Does it contain the same shorts as the Fluxfilm Anthology?

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

Re: Larry Jordan

#263 Post by Gregory » Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:43 pm

osmin wrote:I just watched the first DVD of the Lawrence Jordan Album and liked it but I have the impression the picture is slightly cropped at the left side of the frame.
Welcome, osmin.
May I ask what makes you think the picture is cropped? This interests me because I also recently got this set and I was watching disc one and looking at the illustrations in a book I have that shows what I assume are stills from some of the same 1960s and '70s films. Comparing them, the DVD transfer appears to be significantly cropped on 3-4 sides. I emphasize "appears to be" because I think there are some fishy things going on with the images in this book I have. Many of them do not correspond exactly to what are in these films, and I'm not just talking about framing. Some of them are collages that simply don't appear in the films as they're presented on the Facets set, so I wonder if they are indeed stills from the finished films or what they are. Anyway, I fear that they may indeed be cropped, although it is a little hard to tell with compositions like these. But if you look at the image in Orb where there is a large sun in the middle of a town square: the bottom of the image cuts through the middle of the people and the horse-drawn carriage, so that definitely doesn't seem right.

osmin
Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 10:47 am

Larry Jordan

#264 Post by osmin » Sat Jun 21, 2008 9:27 am

Thanks for the welcome. No, I think it is the usual cropping of films in the 4:3 aspect ratio. In the old classics you have the original title credits with this black frame around them to make sure that no letter gets cropped and when the movie begins they zoom into the picture. So practically every time there is a loss of information on all four sides of the frame. Normally it isn't that much distracting but in some cases it really is annoying. One such case in my opinion is the US Kino disc of Bunuel's "L'age d'or" where they cut off lots of heads. I bought the british BFI disc and I think they did it better though not perfect. Besides there is a much better looking "Chien andalou" on second disc. You surely know the Norman McLaren Master's Edition. There they deliberately made the picture smaller to make sure that no information of the original films get lost.

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#265 Post by Gregory » Sat Jun 21, 2008 7:41 pm

It sounds like you're saying the problem is overscan and that Facets should have windowboxed it. What I'm noticing here is actual cropping by Facets, i.e. information on the sides of the image that just isn't there. I double-checked the overscan setting on my projector just to be sure that this was not the culprit.
After my last post I compared Cornell 1965 on the Facets set to the one on Magical Worlds of Joseph Cornell and the framing looked identical to me, but I still think there might be some serious cropping to the some of the animated works like Orb and Our Lady. I'll try to do a little more investigating and report back.

Regarding your earlier question about the new Robert Frank releases, volumes 1-3 are available now. I won't be buying them, but fortunately I have a library nearby that has them available. I plan to watch them sometime this summer.

osmin
Joined: Sat Jun 14, 2008 10:47 am

Larry Jordan

#266 Post by osmin » Sun Jun 22, 2008 12:11 pm

The cropping ist obvious when you look at the intertitles of "Duo concertantes". But I think it is just the overscan. I am very glad Facets is publishing the works of experimental filmmakers from the US and hope they will continue. Would like to have Harry Smith or John and James Whitney or Robert Breer. Speaking of Larry Jordan I would like to recommend some other DVDs which contain the works of experimental animators. The style of Larry Jordan reminds me of the films of Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk. There is a very very good - and quite inexpensive - double disc from Poland called "Antologia polskiej animacji (Anthology of Polish Animated Film)". You can get it from merlin.pl. If you order don't forget the Anthology of Polish Childrens Animation (3 DVD for the same price) which contains quite some experimental animation, too. Not so cheap are the french discs with the films of Piotr Kamler and Raoul Servais but they are worth it. I also recommend the Japanese Yoji Kuri disc from Geneon but it costs $41 at yesasia (guess this is the best price and it was cheaper there some time ago) but it is not for everyone's taste. I very much like the Australian DVD "Experimental Works of Osamu Tezuka" (yes, the one with Astroboy). A disc I recently watched and liked very much is Johanna Vaude's "Hybride" from lowave (has it been mentioned before on this forum?).


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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#268 Post by Gregory » Tue Jul 08, 2008 1:46 pm

Very sad. Coincidentally, I had been watching his A Movie just the day before. This year is the film's 50th anniversary, by the way, and it would be a nice tribute if it saw some kind of special release following this news.
I've found his films not only insightful and inspired but consistently captivating and a joy to watch. He was a gleaner of the highest order.

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Cash Flagg
Joined: Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:15 pm

#269 Post by Cash Flagg » Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:00 pm

Are any of Bruce Conner's films available on DVD? I've only come across the (rather pricey) Crossroads/ Looking for Mushrooms set.

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#270 Post by Gregory » Tue Jul 08, 2008 6:40 pm

Cash Flagg wrote:Are any of Bruce Conner's films available on DVD? I've only come across the (rather pricey) Crossroads/ Looking for Mushrooms set.
While I can't promise anything, I believe there is a very good chance that some of his work will appear on the next Treasures From America's Films Archives set coming next year. America is Waiting, Cosmic Ray, Mea Culpa, Report, and Ten Second Film would be the contenders.
I heard that Conner withdrew the actual films from circulation a few years back or so but I'm not sure why. Nor do I know whether his death will end up helping or hurting any chance there is of his films -- the ones I named above, or others -- to be released on DVD. There is also a chance that whoever now hold the rights to the films will eventually plan further releases through the Michael Kohn gallery, which handled his work, but it's probably way too soon for us to start thinking about that.

ptmd
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:12 pm

#271 Post by ptmd » Tue Jul 08, 2008 8:14 pm

Are any of Bruce Conner's films available on DVD? I've only come across the (rather pricey) Crossroads/ Looking for Mushrooms set.
The reasons Conner withdrew his films from circulation at co-ops like Canyon Cinema remain a bit mysterious but I think it was a combination of rights issues surrounding the music and an attempt to do some sort of re-release through the gallery. I have no idea what the status of all of that is now, but I know that, at the moment, his films still cannot be rented through the usual channels (a couple venues have tried to organize Conner retros without success). You can, however, see many of them regularly as part of Anthology Film Archives' Essential Cinema series and if anyone is likely to mount a memorial screening event, it's Anthology. It's also possible that there will be some kind of Conner-related screening at Views from the Avant-Garde this October (part of the New York Film Festival).

As far as DVDs go, eight of Conner's very best films including his masterpiece Report (1965), were released on a DVD called 2002 BC via the Michael Kohn Gallery. This was later followed up by the Crossroads/Looking for Mushrooms disc. The 2002 BC disc is long out-of-print, but you should be able to get a copy via interlibrary loan through your local library.

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#272 Post by Gregory » Tue Jul 08, 2008 10:25 pm

...you should be able to get a copy via interlibrary loan through your local library.
I believe only a few libraries in the country have this DVD, and in my experience most libraries will not loan out video materials (especially those that cannot be replaced), but it could be worth a try.
I was fortunate to have bought a copy of 2002 B.C. while it was on offer, but I procrastinated with Looking For Mushrooms/Crossroads and have been kicking myself ever since -- both amazing films.

planetjake

#273 Post by planetjake » Thu Jul 24, 2008 3:09 am

This is my 100th post (about time!).

It's funny to read what I've written in the past. I disagree with myself so strongly. The last two years of my life have been truly transformative. When I first registered at this forum I claimed The Empire Strikes Back was the greatest piece of film art ever made. Now I find the very idea of such ranking absurd (though Brakhage's Arabic Series and/or Snow's Central Region would be considered).

I am an 'Avant-Gardian'. I am concerned that our collective thread dedicated to an entire MODE of filmmaking is composed of less pages than this thread about a single film. Now, I understand perfectly the reason(s) for this and other such tendencies. However, I refuse to accept that these tendencies cannot be altered to equally consider the Avant-Garde.

I think what might be a fun way to try and jump-start this thread is by getting a head start on chronicling our favorite avant-garde films of the last decade. This serves a dual purpose as I intend to do actually do a best-of-decade Avant-Garde program all through 2010. Might as well get cracking now, right?

Right.

I'll start:

Stan Brakhage:
Lovesong
Persian Series
Chinese Series

Ken Jacobs:
Two Wrenching Departures
Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy, bye Molly
Capitalism: Child Labor
The Surging Sea of Humanity

Zack Stiglicz:
Bent

This is what's immediately come to mind...

owheeler
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 11:06 am

#274 Post by owheeler » Fri Jul 25, 2008 11:11 am

Jennifer Reeves:
Light. Work. Mood. Disorder.

ptmd
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:12 pm

#275 Post by ptmd » Fri Jul 25, 2008 1:43 pm

Those are all good films, but, limiting myself to one film per filmmaker, the best avant-garde films of the decade from my point of view are:

The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (2000, Stan Brakhage)
Pitcher of Colored Light (2007, Robert Beavers)
The Visitation (2002, Nathaniel Dorsky)
As I Was Moving Along Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000, Jonas Mekas)

Dorsky's newest film, Winter (2008), which I've only seen a rough-cut of is even better than The Visitation and if I could count Robert Beavers' complete 7-hour cycle My Hand Outstretched From the Winged Distance to the Sightless Measure (completed 2002) as a single work, it would top this list. Brakhage has at least a half-dozen post-2000 masterpieces, but none of them top or even match The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him, one of his most sublime and profound photographic works. As much as I love Brakhage's late hand-painted work, it's the photographic work that demonstrates his extraordinary visual intelligence most acutely (the 1989-1990 Visions in Meditation series is my favorite Brakhage work, and since I love almost everything, that's saying quite a bit).

Of course, the avant-garde work that towers over everything right now is Markopoulos' Eniaios (the 80-hour reworking of his entire corpus) and the two Temenos screenings in 2004 and 2008 are the cinematic events of the decade for me.

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