Re: long live ubuweb!

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Mon Jun 09 2008 - 08:26:11 PDT

I agree with Tony Conrad's remarks. I'd like to add something, from
the perspective of a teacher.

One of the biggest problems I've faced as a teacher of experimental
films (history and criticism, and sometimes production--and also
experimental video), is that the coop rental system is essentially
based around a single screening of a single film. But in teaching
experimental films, which are almost always dense and complex, there
is a genuine limit to how well students can understand and experience
such films with a single screening. Ideally, they should be able to
see work again and again.

I first was able to overcome this problem by showing (back in the
70s) the few prints that my department owned several times. For
example, Meshes of the Afternoon was shown once in historical context
along with the students reading Sitney's analysis in Visionary Film.
I usually showed it silent (its original format), and told the
students to just experience it the first time, and then had a
discussion. Then I would show it again, with the soundtrack. Later
in the quarter I would show it again, sometimes a fourth time.

It was a great relief when videos appeared of some of Brakhage's
films, and the collected Deren films. They weren't perfect, they
weren't films, but they were pretty good representations, and they
could be put on reserve at the library so students could see them
again, study them, in order to write papers.

Even better was the appearance of the carefully crafted Brakhage DVD
which finally allowed me to make it a required class text, available
at the university bookstore, and put on reserve at the university
library. I could not only show some of the work as films in class,
but know that students could then go and review the films on DVD, and
make a comparison of the difference between a projected 16mm film and
(in class) a projected DVD of the same film, and finally a TV or
computer screen presentation of the work on DVD. Carolee Schneeman's
Fuses and much of Kenneth Anger was also available early on. The
Unseen Cinema DVD collection was another great resource.

The last time I taught the course, I included a handout on UbuWeb
(and other online materials) for the students. I was not aware of
this current controversy at the time, and took the statement on the
UbuWeb site at the time as true (which implied that permission had
been given).

Here are some parts of that handout:

> RTF 323-1
> Online experimental
> There is today a fairly generous amount of experimental work
> available online in vastly uneven formats. On the one hand amateur
> enthusiasts place some materials up in streaming formats which
> disappear quickly because of copyright or content problems (often
> sexual censorship). These are often the most likely to be
> exceptionally poor versions of the original: blurry, out of focus,
> partial, etc. Some examples: a version of Michael Snow’s famous
> Wavelength, that starts at about the halfway point of the 45 min
> film, and which is badly out of focus, can’t give you any good feel
> for the original. However, if you’ve never seen it as a print
> (Snow does not allow video copies of his films), it might be useful
> as a kind of “note” to get some sense of what critics are talking
> about. Similarly, Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity is available in a
> truncated version which is atrociously bad. The effect of the
> original depends on seeing it as a high resolution image.
> On the other hand, some artists have chosen to put their work up in
> some form online, and one of the best sites is UbuWeb, which
> respects the intentions of the artists and makes available the best
> possible versions in online form (which they admit is a
> deteriorated quality).
> In contrast, YouTube and similar outfits, often have posted items
> which are partial, mislabelled, fragmentary, and erroneously
> attributed. So, beware and try to check the authenticity of what
> you find there.
> What to do? First, try to ascertain if what you are seeing is
> actually close to the original artist’s intentions for the work,
> and what limits the online format has for viewing. As much as we
> might be moving to a time when many people see no difference
> between a 70mm theatrical presentation of the original Star Wars,
> say, and having a scene on their iPhone, the original makers
> certainly did think that the aesthetic and material characteristics
> of film were essential to what effect the final work would have in
> screening. Second, don’t make any definitive statements,
> judgments, or evaluations, about the work you’ve seen online until
> you can see the original (or at least a quality DVD version of it).
> UbuWeb: The YouTube of the Avant-Garde, UbuWeb has converted all of
> its rare and out-of-print film & video holdings to on-demand
> streaming formats à la YouTube, which means that you can view
> everything right in your browser without platform-specific software
> or insanely huge downloads. We offer over 300 films & videos from
> artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Vito Acconci, Pipilotti Rist, Jean
> Genet, The Cinema of Transgression, Richard Foreman, Terayama
> Shuji, Paul McCarthy Jack Smith, Carolee Schneeman, John Lennon and
> hundreds more -- of course all free of charge. Presented in
> conjunction with our partners at Greylodge.
> A Short (and remarkably lopsided to the U.K.) history of
> experimental film:

[there followed a list keyed to works or makers shown or discussed in
the class. In addition to UbuWeb, I noted some other sources. Here
are a few of those.}

> John Whitney,
> Catalog 1961
> Youtube
> Arabesques, 1975
> The Whitneys and Jordan Belson pioneered early (analog) computer
> graphic animation. Very little of their work is available online.
> Harry Smith,
> Early Abstractions
> +smith&total=1173&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=1
> also--related videos in the series
> Smith showed these works with different (non-synch) soundtracks,
> including to “Meet the Beatles”. The latter was withdrawn due to
> copyright, but you could always watch the film while playing the
> album.
> Robert Frank
> Photos: Google image search
> On Youtube: Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Friends in NY
> On Youtube--various excerpts from his Rolling Stones film,
> “Cocksucker Blues”
>> Jonas Mekas
>> the filmmaker’s gallery-sponsored website
>> short free previews of 40 films; downloads available ($)
>> 365 project--daily short films by Mekas ($ 4 for ipod; $7 for DVD
>> quality)
>> Guest filmmakers (includes Jacobs, Jarmush)
>> Check out the silver iPod with 40 of his films on it for only
>> $5000 (signed by JM)

> Carolee Schneeman
> Fuses
> (in 10 min parts) YouTube
> Ernie Gehr
> Shift
> Serene Velocity (awful short version--beware, this is NOT the
> experience of the film)
> Chris Marker
> siberie_shortfilms
> a famous short section of his film Letter From Siberia in which
> different voice overs and music give completely different
> interpretations of the same footage.

> Various works by Kenneth Anger can be found with a Google or Yahoo
> Video search. If you’re really hardy, you can try a download at
> Santiago Alverez
> Now
> Cuba’s major documentary maker in one of his most famous
> experimental pieces, a reflection on race in the US.
> Hanoi, Martes 13
> 22santiago+alvarez%
> 22&total=39&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=3
> Visually poetic film celebrating the North Vietnam side of the
> Indochina war.
> Gene Youngblood’s classic book, Expanded Cinema (400+ pages!)

Northwestern U

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