Re: steal this message

From: Fred Camper (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Feb 08 2006 - 00:06:17 PST

David, Thanks so much for reminding why I have almost entirely stopped
reading FrameWorks. In fact I did not read whatever previous post of
yours you thought my "Podunk U" remark was a dig at. I have been mostly
avoiding your posts, and opened this one because I saw that it generated
a bunch of responses.

No, you didn't say "Fred is a fascist," and Bush didn't say Saddam did
9/11 either, but you certainly associated my name with "fetishzing the
artist's intent" and associated that with fascism. You know what? In my
opinion it is your posts, at least those of them that I did read a while
ago and also this current "rant," and those of some of your film
professor colleagues, that shit all over the individual lives and
passions of artists that sacrificed so much and took so many risks for
their art in favor of your collectivizing notion that individual artists
don't matter. It seems to me that you devalue the whole idea of artist
as individual, of artist as creator, in favor of the postmodern meat
grinder in which "open text" means that the artist and the artist's
intent are irrelevant, and art is whatever we want to make of it and
whatever use we want to put it to and however we want to see it. You act
as if the way artists lived their lives and the way they thought about
their work is irrelevant. That approach may work pretty well with
broadcast TV, or much of it, but it saddens me, to say the least, to see
it applied to art made out of a whole different set of values.

I respect, for example, the "ethos" behind the works of Tony Conrad,
which ask a series of quetsions about art and the viewing of it, and
which don't seem to configure their author as a uniquely individual
creator. I don't look to a Conrad film to discover the uniqueness of the
artist's nervous system, or the artist's emotions. I get something
different from them. And I'm in favor of all possible models for art
making. It is you, and others like you, who seen to me to want all art
to be seen through the same set of filters, filters which are in fact
useful for some works but which also blind you to others. Is that
"fascism"? No. Unlike you, I try not to use that word lightly. Fascism
killed people, and we should respect the millions that it killed. But
your position does seem to me to be a bit, er, totalitarian. Or perhaps
I should just say "totalizing."

The men and women who created North American avant-garde film in the
1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s by making a series of form-giving
masterpieces did so out of personal passion. Many of them believed in
the "soul" and thought they were getting a bit closer to it in their
work. And they were most often marginal outsiders, ignored or even
ridiculed by the establishment of which you are so much a part. Indeed,
the things they said, in film and in words, were so far out of the
mainstream that when I first came on the scene in 1963, I observed that
most people had no idea what to make of them. The things you write, by
contrast, can be heard in almost any college film program today -- and
could have been heard there 20 or more years ago too.

Brakhage once said something like, "The first time I read Freud I
realized, 'Here is a man trying to save his own life.'" I liked his
non-totalizing approach to Freud, seeing him as essentially an
autobiographer. Much later I asked Brakhage if he wasn't also saying
that about himself and his own filmmaking. Of course he was. He, and
others, such as Markopoulos and Anger, were, I believe, making films to
try to figure out whether, and under what conditions, they could go on
living. The same might be said of Christopher Maclaine. Except in the
case of Brakhage, I am inferring this from the films, not from knowing
the filmmakers, though I did meet Markopoulos and Anger a few times.

I'm not fetishizing anything here. Whatever fetishes I may or may not
have will not be revealed to members of this list, but celluloid and the
look of film are not among them. (As I wrote to someone who attacked me
in another film discussion group as being "very, very neurotic in a way"
for championing films like Jack Chambers's "The Hart of London" that few
will see, "Neurotic isn't even my correct diagnosis.") Lewis Klahr made
some super-8 films that I liked very much, in part for their sensuous
colors and compositions, and then he started showing them on video,
saying not that he couldn't afford prints or that super-8 was hard to
exhibit but that he liked the video copies as much, and when I saw them
on video I agreed with him. Some films transfer fine; others don't. (And
for the person who asked, my essay on what is lost viewing film on video
is at -- though it really
applies to films seen on a cathode ray tube more than more recent video
modes. )

You are apparently responding in part to a post I made responding to
the question of seeing films on video that began as a Kubelka question.
It is my position that Kubelka's films will not translate well to video
and that they shouldn't be viewed that way, especially since the
filmmaker himself has never authorized such a transfer. Am I going to
call the police on someone who has a Kubelka DVD? Of course not. A while
ago someone posted a horrible version of "Unsere Afrikareise" on the
'Net. I didn't report that either. (When checked later, though, the
whole site had come down.) I'm advocating not by force but out of
respect for the unique world view and view of media behind the making of
every film -- and video -- I love. Films that, like Kubelka's, were made
with the unique properties of their medium in mind should be respected
for that, and the particular world view behind them should be understood
-- not treated as an "open text."

Without knowing the specifics of your situation, I don't like the
economic argument. I know that if I ever took a full time film teaching
job at a place where there was no rental money, I would only accept it
if I thought the salary was enough to let me rent at least some films on
film out of my own pocket. But I'm not teaching. I've taught exactly two
college courses in the last two decades. In each, I showed films only on

I didn't choose film, David. Film chose me. I saw a film at 15 that
lifted me out of my seat, turned me upside down, shook the change out of
my pants, and dropped me with a thud on the floor. It, and some others
that followed, cleaned out my sensorioum and changed the whole way I see
the world. They brought me to the same kind of rapturous ecstasy, and
seemed to convey the same kind of powerful "meanings," that I was just
starting to find in Beethoven and Bach. As I explored more, I found that
each filmmaker I loved defined cinema differently, and that part of the
pleasure and meaning of film for me was discovering a huge variety of
ways of seeing that are different from my own. These discoveries took me
out of the narrowness of my self, and expanded my sense of what was
possible in seeing and in thought. My loves include many filmmakers that
Brakhage disliked, such as John Ford and Howard Hawks and Douglas Sirk;
they include Kenji Mizoguchi and Roberto Rossellini; they include Susie
K. Benally (maker of "A Navaho Weaver"), and the very medium-specific,
and very great, video art of Ernie Kovacs.

I might then ask you, and also Kevin Hamilton, what do you love? If
there's a post of yours I missed that answers this, kindly direct me to
it. I find myself wondering, why are you involved in film? Are there any
films that have deeply affected you? What do you think is the point of
seeing, and studying, film? Do you see it primarily as a vehicle for
investigating postmodern theory? Or doing sociology or philosophy? Or?

Fred Camper

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.