From: David Woods (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Apr 24 2006 - 02:41:25 PDT
Wavelength (1966-7) The opening pink a foreshadowing of the fragility of
colour, or a bad print?
(The latter Michael tells us after.) A sign of the times.
I'd forgotten just how much of the sound track is the slowly shifting buzz.
I ponder that the sound track is rigidly conventional, in that it projects
continuity, cf. the picture which departs from convention with its light
flares, overacting, time jump-cuts, while all the while the buzz track rises
in pitch inexorably. The resolute alienation of the camerawork and / with
the real world outside - the trucks passing, tropes of commerce - still
pleases. I didn't remember the focus shift at the end.
The poor acting was a weakness still. I still consider that good acting
would have been a subtler contribution to the film's intent. Of course
Michael is not a narrative filmmaker (as he roundly denies - it's such a
pity that minorities pick upon each other for a fight ).
Revisiting old friends can be tiresome, and a challenge; and one can come
Q & A session. In Toronto, Michael's first job was under Geo. Dunning,
His first wife was Joyce Weiland whose RAT, LIFE and DIET in NORTH AMERICA,
a rare socialist tract arguably, and visual. I argued for it when viewing
applications for the cinema 16 / Grove Press library. He had been to
Ontario College of Art, proved lousy at advertising agency chores,
hitch-hiked round Europe for 18 months doing a lot of drawing and an
exhibition of this work back in Ontario led to Dunning hiring him. Michael's
first film (which I've not seen, called A - Z) was drawn. He moved to NYC,
saw a lot of Brakhage (films) and loved them. The walking woman (in
NYE&EC) whose extremities are cut off by the rectangular frame which is
implied. It acts as a "stand-in", and is less needed when the film is more
"peopled" as it progresses.
Asked about whether he is a structural filmmaker, Michael reminded the
audience that P. Adams erected the structural term; and I'm left uncertain
as to Michael's self-image here; but I suspect he cares little for handles
unless they open into interesting spaces.
Joyce and he lived on Chambers Street. Round the corner from us. Jonas
Mekas organized screenings of works by Ken Jacobs, Hollis Frampton. Ken
Jacobs would have screenings at his place and had found Billy Bitzer (the
great cameraman's) TOM TOM the Piper's Son (1906) which he later re-worked.
(This was all before SOHO was colonized by the uptown lot in the late '60's).
Rameau's Nephew (270 min.) referred to. Also Wavelengh re-edited for those
who don't have the time.
Referring to the end of Back and Forth Michael reminds us that a number of
his films have a coda wherein he returns to review the elements used in the
central construction. The end of Wavelength is a still of the sea, an
ironic image of randomness and apparent calm perhaps.
Back and forth is all about action and reaction; the bulk is sculptured,
percussive, hard. An urgent female audience member pushed her reading of
violence to little avail.
Speaking of the installation piece, Solar Breath, (Northern Carytid) 60 min
video loop, Michael reminds us that art is the transformational process - it's
not a window that the curtain flaps against.
Saturday Michael Snow (part 2)
Au Revoir 1990 18mins 16mm - apparently shot on high speed digital. A
perfect film, a single shot, pristine, priceless. The perfectly motivated
pan, the off-screen thunder, screaming its something else, nevertheless
motivates the man to put on his raincoat and proceed left, saying goodbye to
his secretary, of course female, and out the door. He / we pass a
mysterious mirror reflecting a grid then something like a room partition or
blinds which read as a vertical digital image. As it inevitably passes
off-screen right it becomes the invisible optical soundtrack (a nod to
Franju's opening of LE SANG DES BETES). The exit door has this red screen
proportioned rectangle. A cut to MS on the opening and the man exits behind
this screen. A heavy-duty brush to screen left. Light crawls up the long
handle / both handles and then the slow fade, unsurprisingly and
appropriately slow in this 200fps masterpiece. How many films demand an
immediate re-run. I said au revoir to it with ironic sadness, a lover's
anguish, the hopeless impotence of my status as viewer rubbed-in. I also
felt like the first viewers of late 19th C cinema, a world of single, simple
shots, and the miraculous.
The living Room 2000 Of no redeeming value
SSHTOORRTY 2005 (the title being an expanded contraction, of sorts, of short
story) A dreaded narrative - holy moley, how radical can we be - legitimized
by being folded-in upon itself so that the banalities glow with interest
smeared one upon the other. It repeats and repeats and it was only on the
8th iteration that I "got" the story. Long before this however, I had
recognized the highly precise set design, the "good" acting, a first for
Michael, and the way the film seemed to collapse his life's work from
Wavelength , back and forth, to Au Revoir into an oldnew form, simple,
accessible and difficult all at the same time. (In a way loosely like the
effect of the two competing marching bands in that Copeland piece from 90
years ago, or so,) I suspect I could have watched it for much longer but
it ended at the perfect length, the oscillations of belief and expectation
Holy moley, Michael was born on Dec 10th and I on Dec 8th. Sagit rules OK.
And lo and behold the guy chooses to sit next to me for Guy Sherwin's show
(see below), as did Bugs Bunny's creator, (along with Bob, Tex, Robert and
Fritz) Chuck Jones, at Annecy once, to further polish my self-esteem.
Triage 2004 two screen 16mm. Can't read my notes from the dark, apart
from . "sd. tk. - waves of violent anguish screams" LHS screen
experimental film / RHS screen ecology.
Can't remember anything - sorry.
Discussion: Nicky Hamlyn, Pip Choderof, Michael Snow
NH asks about the gap between the filming and the intention.
MS separates "intention cf. intended results". "My things are mostly
planned but not so exhaustively". Re rose Lowder's uncertainty with the
"Experimental Film" epithet (in france) Michael reminded us that the films
were generally NOT tests, or experiments into the inknown.
PC referred to the French term "detournament2 (sp?) which referrs to using
equipment in "neew " ways, and the problem question: "Are we professionals
or amateurs, are we artists making art or amateur players?
NH used the fact that the Quantel Paintbox, originally designed for "Top of
the Pops", a graphic design tool, but then used to do things not originally
intended, and that students use Adobe Premiere in different ways. (I think
of military camera gear sold on Canal street and re-used by Underground
filmmakers - I still have that 200fps modified B & H with wacky panoramic
PC reported on the optimistic development of hand processing in independent
labs. across Europe and the apparent fact that technologies are
reappropriated regardless of the terminal condition of the big players.
"People find the ways to still use film". Pip is as impressive a speaker
as his writing belies.
MS re. music improvisation. He was delighted that one can make it in one's
own time and it is an instant expression, cf. film which is in part a
documentation of past decisions / actions.
PC There were thousands of years of history of art before it achieved
abstraction, cf. film which took only 25 years .eh? Wavelength "a radical
simplification". Experimental film never achieved Hollywood status or music
status. Stan Brakhage's work was shown all over the world yet he was
forced to teach to live and continue his work. (I think of the Soviet
State supporting the great animator of Tale of Tales, Yuri Norstein . who
shared a taxi with me in Bristol. Yuri, Chuck and Mike, whoever next?) Now
Art Galleries comodify films in other forms.
Pip's interest / project (Revoir) is to find a way that film can be
preserved and shown as it originally was intended to be seen. (A modest but
radical intent I think, considering that television puts on Cimino's 70mm
whatsit, Kubric's 2001, colorized BW stuff, interjects commercials every so
often to fragment the viewer's concentration, dislocates and makes
unreadable the credits with stuff about the thing coming up next, and cannot
bring itself to "play" experimental films, has to mediate original
Friese-Green colour material with an uncle presenter, and so on.; in a word
MS talked about the (pre-1960's NYC) Uptown / downtown split with (rich) art
galleries uptown and (poor) experimental film in the Village. (I wonder
what might have happened if the underground film artists had been more
agit-prop oriented, radical in political terms, . but they were'nt primarily
concerned with changing society.)
Guy Sherwin Saturday 19.30
Paper Landscape 1975 / 2006 Super 8mm projector in front of the audience; a
smallish screen, a few feet away, constructed from a skin of polythene held
in a rectangular frame, and a conventional large screen beyond. The film
projects of the polythene and becomes visible as Guy begins to paint the
rear surface of the polythene with white paint. The film image is of a
white sheet of paper being progressively torn away to reveal landscape
beyond, a blackthorn encrusted old industrial site perhaps. And its Guy in
the film doing the exposing of the landscape (and its an older Guy making it
possible for us to witness his original film again.) The Guy in the film
runs into the distance and the Guy in the Art Gallery in Leeds right now
begins to cut the polythene screen, gently shredding it to free the frame
through which he climbs, re-enacting what he finally did in the original.
He tells us that "re-enactment" is the theme for this group of films. Paper
Landscape - another perfect film. I describe it to my family later and
they see it immediately, and love it.
Cycles #3 1972 / 2003 letraset dots applied to the image frame and the track
area (26 frames ahead ) to produce a graphic synchrony of dots on two
screens, left and right. One being a dupe of the other so that when the two
projectionists have a conversation of sorts by starting and stopping the
projectors in sequence, and swinging the projectors in space the screen
becomes animated in real time from minimal original data. One of the
lowest cost films ever made? Made me think of cue marks / (cue Marx?) as
image system ushering in an iterative "change over" film. I photographed
the tail cue marks on Turnip (1970) in red on a black field, but I can't say
many projectionists have been seen honouring them.
Newsprint #2 1972 / 2006 again two projectors / screens - perhaps this was
the one with the conversation between the two projectionists? - high con
news print on the image and track again, freezing on occasion to allow us to
read a bit of text through the grey heat shield.
I used to "employ" Guy as a visiting lecturer because he embodied for me the
most eloquent exponent of low cost filmmaking. Re-voir is publishing his
wonderful 100' Bolex BW series (which I regard as perhaps the finest British
film work, in the elite company of some Powell and Pressburger, Hector
Hoppin, Vertigo, (or had Alfred become an American by then?), Berlin Horse
possibly, and Baby Home of course. Free Radicals does not qualify, as it's a
New Zealander's film, but would reside in my desert Island collection)., and
Mickey One, and L'Annee Derniere ., and La Jetee, and. Distracted is often
a term indicating an unhappy and unapproachable condition, while I can't but
admit the pleasures of occasional distraction as such list-making indicates.
No doubt very questionable in some quarters. So back to Guy.
Vowels & Consonants 2005 with 6 (was it 6?)16mm projectors and live sax
performance by Alan Wilkinson and the original opt. tk in which Alan can be
heard practicing in his flat below Guy's London flat. Perhaps less
interesting (to me) time exposures of the sun's shafts playing across
various windows and views, despite its ntimate, gentle, humane, documentary
glimpses with an elegantly mixed track, but less provocative that I expect
of Guy; but his inspired idea of re-running the film with a live track
interacting / responding to the original, lifted the film into yet another
memorable Sherwin experience. He just keeps doing!
Writing to Guy about this work, I said: "I was bowled-over, by the synthesis
of live performance by your colleague and your re-projected earlier work.
I've been hearing about people putting music to existing films for a couple
of years now, and after an original suspicion as to "appropriateness" (I had
heard of folks slapping pop music over Brakhage films) I arrived at the
obvious that anything is possible if it going to expand the pleasures of the
text / condition of the viewer. And the witnessing of the film working on
another's consciousness and immediate (musical) expression reified what is
normally kept secret as we sit in the cinema and absorb the work. And so
the tangible interraction added a huge dimension to already provocative and
exciting work. Like the touching proximity of your super 8mm image in the
from some time ago and you older self representing the film in another
performance, so the sound of the musician practicing in the distance of
space and time holding hands with the man himself and his conjuring
presence, produced a catalysed expanded cinema.
More anon, but not before a modest expression of how good it was to bump
into you. Because I have long held you up in my private list of important
workers with film as one of the "best". So my thanks again for enlarging my
And my scribbled notes in the dark include: "live performance makes the
screen come alive in a way that is fresh" and "Now the film is a document
AND a performance, preformed and performed."
Then there are the interesting thoughts that Guy's "re-use" of old material
provoke. It raises the question whether the conventional destinies of
films, viz. you make 'em and screen 'em and screen ' em and screen 'em
(hopefully) but that's it, apart from changing the screening contexts /
order perhaps. Now he remakes the film watching experience and adds value to
his original work, reforming by performing a preformed . form. He does it
in Man with Mirror (1976 / 2006) in which the pastoral imagery of the
original are stressed by my Jewish mother genes as I worry about the g/Guy
holding the mirror without gloves, twisting and shifting the mirror and
hence the placement of the screen, reflecting aspects of the original and
adding an urgency. What I remember most is the expression on the face of
the man, the operator which seemed (i.e. to me) a steely and possibly
quizzical concentration, actively suppressing the sadness perhaps which
would be appropriate for the condition / position he has chosen, as he
performed preordained moves with a fresh resignation, enacting / embodying
the determinacy that is film while knowing that the pleasures he generates
are forever removed from him, known only to the audience which selfishly
reifies his desire and gives back, too late, only applause.
So what happens when I watch a Guy Sherwin film? I know its something
special: a feeling of identification, celebration, elegance, minimalism,
refinement, poise, focus, each time like a get together with an old friend,
engendering security but not complacence, respect but not reverence, joy
This re-creation, finding fresh phoenix from cool ashes, refusing to allow
the past to claim sole ownership of one's work, daring to refurbish a used
item with fresh packaging, celebrating the successes of the past with modest
performance, bringing the past to life even. A neat trick if it works; and
it works. And the result is the discovery that what once worked works just
as well today, that the values in the work, the ideas and their
visualization, were not time-constrained, because they were safely located
(away from transient fashion of surface isms) within the deeps of human
questioning. Perhaps it is the likelihood that we unconsciously recognize
that we all plough the same furrow that makes us, or at least me,
enthusiastically welcome the reworked work.
For it opens a further way forward for some, a discovery that one need not
necessarily constantly search for new tools to fashion new forms. (I heard
an implied grumble from someone about there being nothing much new. What
had they been seeing?)
Dr. David Woods M.B.K.S.
16 John Street
Hull HU2 8DH
tel. 44 (0)1482 323421
cel (0781) 259 1772
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.