Re: [Frameworks] science film query

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Dec 29 2010 - 15:14:43 PST

> I wonder if anyone has done work on any kind of cross-breeding between sci/research/edu film and experimental film (or even arthouse film).

To point out the obvious (and it may be irrelevant to your project) science and education films have long been a source for experimental work -- 'found footage' work, deconstructive and otherwise. Craig Baldwin's films, Bruce Conner (esp. Mea Culpa), Hollis Frampton....


Your query inspires this reminisence:

Circa 1978-79, the Wisconsin Student Association, under the leadership of the "Pail and Shovel Party" created a number of neo-dada/situationist stunts.
(Most famously

These were gags, to be sure, but they had art underpinnings, as P+S V.P. Leon Varjian had a serious interest in Dada, and WSA sponsored a screening of classic Dada Films under the title "Anemic Cinema".

Science films entered the picture with "The Atrocious Film Festival". At the time the University's Bureau of AV Instruction had an extensive archive of scientific and educational 16mm films, all available for checkout. The P+S gang checked out a huge volume of these, and set up a row of 16mm in the back of the Union Ballroom - so they could easily go from one film to the next. This was an "audience participation" event modeled somewhat on The Gong Show. As each film would play, the audience was encouraged to express it's displeasure in an attempt to persuade one of three judges to cross the stage and strike a makeshift gong, at which point the projectionists would stop that film and start the one threaded up on the next projector. Of course, if one of the judges crossed the stage to move toward the gong, those who wanted the current film to continue were encouraged to voice their desires as well.

As the evening went on, documentation films of Taylorist time-motion studies studies came to be shown. These were a series of relatively tight shots of hands doing various abstract tasks - like moving balls from one tray to another - all shot from the same camera position. The actions seemed simple and pointless, and to just go on and on, so the crowd began booing and the film was gonged. But for the only time during the show, the projectionists refused to change the film. WSA President Jim Mallon shouted, "No! Wait! It gets REALLY good!"

And it did. As the experiment being documented advanced, the movements became more complex, and soon we were watching an absurdist ballet of magically flying hands and balls that was really quite amazing. I didn't really know anything about Taylorism at the time, but it came up in the readings for my grad work, so I often thought back to how these artifacts of what was really a heinous techno-fascist imperative had been transformed into something that was simultaneously scabrous college humor and beautiful avant-garde art.

The 'Atrocious Film Festival' was held twice. I can't remember if the Taylorist stuff came up the first year or the second. One of them (again, I'm not sure which) ended when, after several hours, the projectionists became bored and began running several films at once, moving the projectors around to move the images to various spots on the wall. The ballroom was a kind of split level space, with a promenade along the back and a wide row of steps leading down several feet to the main floor. The projector table was at the edge of the top level, and as the projectionists were creating their improvised performance, the whole thing - table, projectors, and two or three operators - went over the edge and crashed down into the audience. No one was hurt, and I couldn't help thinking how Tzara, Ray or Duchamp would have appreciated the unplanned chaotic and climactic folly.

... My point being, I guess, a sort of Derridean observation that the discourses of science contain their own deconstruction just under their surface -- every 'scientific' film holds it's inverse within itself, an avant garde film waiting to be unleashed. I think this is how Frampton saw science -- as always already art, always magical and expressive etc., and one of the reasons people don't 'get' Frampton is that we're mostly taught that there's an inviolable boundary between the two...

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