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Fonda memories
... in a Scott Stark retrospective.

By Johnny Ray Huston

EARLIER THIS YEAR May 7 to be precise, a few days after she grimaced through a game of verbal ping-pong with Barbara Walters on TV the Film Society of Lincoln Center paid tribute to Jane Fonda. An adoring cover story in Film Comment (the Lincoln Center's publication) glossed over Fonda's activist period, reducing it to one of the less notable junctures of her career who cares, the magazine seemed to ask, with so many glam Barbarella stills to choose from? But J. Hoberman of the Village Voice cared, enough to write an article about Fonda's "four-year walk on the wild side as the most politically outspoken star in Hollywood history." Hoberman's article focused on the Jane who worked with (and was artistically attacked by) Godard, the Jane who called Nixon a "war criminal," the Jane who put on The F.T.A. Show (as in "Fuck the Army") for disgruntled G.I.s in Vietnam. Lincoln Center (and Jane herself) may not want you to, but you know the Jane I'm talking about: Hanoi Jane.

Scott Stark's new short "More Than Meets the Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda" links Lincoln Center's stargazing and Hoberman's direct reportage. Amid a variety of settings, some practical (living room, study, apartment deck), some not (mall parking lot, construction site, cliff), Stark obediently aerobicizes to the 1983 best-selling videotape Jane Fonda's Workout. "Can you feel it? Whoo! Feel it in the groin!" an offscreen Jane queries and commands, sounding as if she's flicked a switch in order to be energetic and optimistic. "More Than" has more than its share of audio (sub-Flashdance hi-NRG keyboard stabs, exercise instructions that double as porno speak) and visual (Stark, in red-and-gray sweats, imitated and ignored by passersby) comedy. But Stark's video truly comes to life when Jane's ends: within each established setting, exterior and interior, his camera ultimately lands on a symbolically charged detail. A Malcolm X book, for example. Or an Apple billboard featuring John and Yoko.

Over the past two decades, Stark who also oversees Flicker (www.hi-beam.net), an expansive film and video site has demonstrated a talent for zeroing in on telltale details. A certain fearlessness (or, at least, prankish disobedience) regarding public and private space, as in the Fonda video, is one motif of Stark's work. "Unauthorized Access" (1993) finds him setting off alarms in high-rise corporate domains, then redesigning, through framing and edits, the resulting melee. "11/9/85/Las Vegas/NV" (completed in 1987) is a series of breathless video invasions of casino interiors, each sequence halted by a brush with authority usually a man saying, "Whatever you're doing, you can't do it here."

Stark's approach to found footage is similarly idiosyncratic; he's a transformative scavenger, fond of animating still imagery. In 1988's "Satrapy" (one section of the four-part Chromesthetic Response Series), women on nudie playing cards gradually spill out from their plastic, rectangular confines, dominating the screen. (Another segment, the same year's "The Sound of His Face," is a "filmed biography" of Kirk Douglas literally, a book on Douglas transformed into a 16mm film.) "I'll Walk with God" (1994) juxtaposes weirdly beatific airline safety illustrations to Mario Lanza's bellowing to highlight the desperation of spirituality. Stark's best-known experiment in plundered optics is probably 1998's "NOEMA," which creates a richly ambivalent dance from snippets of porn actors changing positions. "NOEMA" also has a Doris Wishman-like tendency to linger on tragic pretensions of interior decoration. And Ron Jeremy makes a brief appearance, unsurprisingly.

While all of the above titles lend themselves to (overly simple) summary, they share some traits with Stark's more abstract Framptonesque (as in Holland, not Peter) shorts: almost all of his movies set the endless blue of sky or sea against the confines of construction the architecture in the movie and of the movie. Early works such as "Crazy" (1987) and "Under a Blanket of Blue" (1996) are a cappella love songs sung by the director to unresponsive yet visibly troubled terrain. Newer shorts, such as the vibrant, quivering "Angel Beach" (2001) and the kaleidoscopic "Slow" (2001), utilize technical effects to conjure worlds within worlds, then wipe them away. Endlessly panning downward or to the right, "in.side.out" (1999) compresses two years of banal urban change into a diary of one urban life. It's understated. And it's stark.

S.F. Cinematheque presents 'Don't Even Think: A Scott Stark Retrospective.' Through Dec. 7. See Rep Clock for program information.