BAM/PFA’s Radical Light -- book, film/video series, and gallery exhibition -- places the San Francisco Bay Area as the unrivaled epicenter of an explosion of avant-garde film and video in the second half of the twentieth century. With its undulating topography, diverse population, legacy of technical innovation, and reputation for providing safe harbor for liberal attitudes toward political, religious, and sexual orientations, the San Francisco Bay Area is both a haven and an inspiration for a variety of artists, perhaps none more so than those experimenting with alternative film and video. In fact, since the mid-1940s, when Surrealist-influenced films were created in some of the country’s earliest filmmaking classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Bay Area has been a global center for an extraordinary constellation of artists who use film and video not for entertainment or documentation, but as an apparatus for the untethered pursuit of personal expression. This vital but often overlooked artistic and regional history finally receives its critical due with the decade-in-the making Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000, a 352-page richly illustrated book published by the University of California Press and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. BAM/PFA is celebrating the publication of Radical Light with an accompanying film series, gallery exhibition, and related L@TE: Friday Nights @ BAM/PFA events. Edited, curated, and programmed by BAM/PFA Film and Video Curators Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid, and CalArts Dean of the School of Film/Video Steve Anker, Radical Light offers audiences the first comprehensive overview of this sweeping endeavor to reinvent the moving image.
Though the book traces the history of alternative film and video in the Bay Area back to 1878 in Palo Alto, when Eadweard Muybridge began his pioneering experiments with the photographic image, Radical Light highlights the mid- 1940s as the tipping point for the local development of a community of avantgarde filmmakers such as Sidney Peterson, Harry Smith, Frank Stauffacher, and James Broughton, who made the first Bay Area experimental films. During the 1950s, Jordan Belson, Patricia Marx, and Christopher Maclaine made their first films, and by the 1960s artists such as Bruce Conner, Bruce Baillie, and Chick Strand changed the shape of filmmaking by intertwining film and activism. Radical Light traces the arrival in the 1970s of the first openly gay film artists Barbara Hammer and Michael Wallin and the first generation of video artists, including Paul Kos, Terry Fox, and Howard Fried. The next wave of mediamakers, including Peter d'Agostino, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and Doug Hall, investigated gesture, language, and text as it is reproduced through the image, while artists such as Lynn Hershman, Max Almy, and Chris Robbins constantly tested the relationship of technology to culture. Meanwhile, longtime Bay Area filmmakers such as Nathaniel Dorsky, Ernie Gehr, and Scott Stark explored the formal properties of the film medium; George Kuchar reinvented melodrama; and Craig Baldwin and Trinh T. Minh-ha subverted documentary. Radical Light culminates with the generation that rose in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Marlon Riggs, Greta Snider, Lynne Sachs, Steve Fagin, Anne McGuire, and Tony Discenza, which made its mark working across all media in a style as eclectic as the evolving image-scape.
With attention to contributions from nearly every corner of this disparate community of local alternative film and video artists, Radical Light and its accompanying film series, gallery exhibition, and L@TE events brings this neglected history into the light for audiences to rediscover.