Re: Research question

From: Mark Toscano (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Jan 20 2010 - 18:59:42 PST

Jonathan -

I totally understood your approach, no worries. Just wasn't sure if you were interested in examples of the converse situation.

I've been working on (and extremely excited about) the films of Chris Langdon for a couple of years now, and I think her work is incredibly appropriate to this side of things, i.e. artists who embrace or even play with the 'limitations' of the medium. In fact, I've even had to rethink a lot of the usual preservation tactics I might normally employ in order to more appropriately engage with and restore/preserve the films.

Her films were made in Los Angeles from 1972 to 1976 or so, with the largest concentration from 1973-74. She made about 40 films in less than five years (!) Some films of hers which I think would be relevant to this topic are 999 BOY (formerly called Express Implication), Picasso, The Last Interview With P. Passolini, The Surf Caster's Story, Interview With an Artist, and two films she made in 1973 with Fred Worden: Venusville and Now, You Can Do Anything. In fact, Venusville has a really funny sequence in which the film gets loaded with hairs and dirt, all of it getting caught in the projector gate, while the filmmakers (on the soundtrack) groan and laugh and the mess they made. Anyway, don't want to go on and on about it here, but am happy to talk with you on the phone or via email if you want more info. I think her work is absolutely unique and vital and thrilling and hilarious, and am really hoping it starts getting out there.

Mike Henderson made a film called Pitchfork in the Devil (1979) as a challenge to himself to make a film as professionally as he could. Basically, all his films are super raw and rough, made as simply and cheaply as possible - A-roll only, all reversal, tape splices, mag track with no optical track, the title often spoken on the soundtrack in the leader instead of shooting titlecards, making electroprinted reversal prints, usually just one of each film, and so on. But for Pitchfork, he wanted to see if he could "follow the rules" and use lights, sync sound, really "pro" filmmaking equipment and stocks and whatnot, even A/B rolling and mixing sound, all things he never even came close to doing in his other films. He told me he'd never do it again, that it was painful as hell, but he was glad he tried it out. Robert Nelson told me a similar thing specifically about the opening section of his Suite California Part 1 (1976), a 12-minute sync sound
 sequence that was shot as professionally as he could manage, with crew, script, lights, and everything (including Fred Worden and Chris Langdon, by the way) - same deal, he was challenging himself to do something like a normal movie might be done.

And yeah, somebody else mentioned James Benning, and all the problems he's been experiencing lately with his 16mm films, and how a lot of that specifically led him to investigate (and subsequently embrace) HD. (His recent HD feature, Ruhr, is pretty incredible, and he's made a nice transition, actually.)

There are also of course some artists like Benning who've structure their films around the physical limitations of the length of 16mm film that you can shoot in one take - I'm thinking particularly of Bruce Nauman and Morgan Fisher, both of whom made several 400ft./11min. long films, based on the max length of a camera roll they could manage with the camera available to them.

Jeez, on this side of things, there are so many artists interested in these flaws, so to speak... I could go on and on.

I have a favorite story about Brakhage that I tell most archiving students I talk to, to give them a sense of how the things that most people think of as flaws/problems/anomalies with film can actually be integral parts of the work, and we therefore must not make assumptions, however obvious they seem, when approaching the restoration of (particularly experimental) films. I was working at Canyon Cinema in about 2001, and had been arranging with Stan Brakhage to get new prints of many of his films for which our prints had faded over the years. With so many new prints of older works coming in, Steve Anker (then at SF Cinematheque) wanted to revisit some older Brakhage films. (Steve, I'm sorry, I'm not picking on you.) One of the films I projected for Steve was Flight, from 1974, a film (in his total defense) Steve didn't really remember well. Throughout the film, we saw this hair or something sticking into the image from the edge. It honestly looked
 like it could've been some weird lab problem, or something no good built into the internegative. So Steve asked me to call Stan and tell him about it, so he could replace it. I called Stan and told him what Steve said, and Stan sort of sighed, slightly irritated, then said in a bit more exasperated and loud voice, "You tell Steve Anker that that hair is the axis around which the entire film revolves!"


p.s. (Sorry, a little plug: I put together a show of the Chris Langdon films at Redcat here in L.A., this Monday Jan 25 at 8:30pm. Come one, come all - I'm hoping folks trust the positive word-of-mouth, because her name is basically totally unknown now and it'd be great to get a nice audience. )


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