"Sidebar?" Guess it all depends on how you approach the bench. It's the


2009 New York Film Festival 's VIEWS FROM THE AVANT-GARDE

All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

([v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)


[If I find I have an intro essay somewhere within me, I'll post it here. Otherwise, it's just the films. Also, I forgot at first, but as per custom, no ratings on this page. Interested parties can find them elsewhere in the site.]


NOTE: Due to a lack of travel funds, I will not be able to attend this year's Views. I'll keep this page up, just for reference's sake.


seen prior to the festival



The Diamond (Descartes' Daughter) (Emily Wardill, U.K.) [s]

Images 09. See review here.


Holy Woods (Cécile Fontaine, France) [s]

Feb 2009. See review here.


-In Comparison (Harun Farocki, Germany / Austria) [m]

TIFF 09. See review here.


A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand / Germany / U.K.) [v/s]

TIFF 09. See review here.


-Lumphini 2552 (Tomonari Nishikawa, U.S. / Thailand / Japan) [s]

TIFF 09. See review here.


O'er the Land (Deborah Stratman) [m]

Images 09. See review here.


-Trypps #6 (Malobi) (Ben Russell, U.S. / Suriname) [s]

Discussed in Cinema Scope article. Link TK.



previewed prior to the festival



-Quartet (Nicky Hamlyn, U.K.) [s]
It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to write something about Quartet, despite the fact that I've seen it four times (although, so far, only on a video screener). While this certainly speaks to the limitations of my puny brain, I think it also speaks very directly to the type of film Quartet is, and why it is a truly wonderful film, one whose pleasures magnify with every subsequent viewing. Hamlyn's film consists of four "trips" around a single room. Each iteration is composed of a series of static shots, and each shot leads to the next through a rather direct form of spatial mapping. In fact, Hamlyn's use of space, focus, camera placement and framing work to produce an odd visual analogue to the "sound bleed" so common in the editing of commercial films. One shot leads to the next with a baton-relay logic -- we start at a diagonally-pitched open window, then to the space directly adjacent to it, then up to the ceiling to examine a lonely lightbulb, with an edge of wall in the frame, which leads to spare, rectangular white cabinet doors and wire hangers, all the way back to the start. Hamlyn makes of this rather unspectacular environment a set of interlocking still lives, flattened against the outer walls of the shallow space of what looks to be an 8x8 rental property. (The only thing that makes the space uniquely suited to this aesthetic endeavor is the white, manager's-special latex paint. In the first go-round, we're zeroed in on the space as this tightly woven Mondrian world, with certain shadowed moments but an overall even finish, much like the unobtrusively matte walls themselves. By the second and third times, Hamlyn has not only shifted his focus slightly, but has decided to shoot the room under different atmospheric conditions. As the overcast haze (Britain? Canada?) cloaks the room in shadowy film grain, we soon notice something rather shocking. Hamlyn is shooting in time lapse. All of these brief, well-composed shots throughout the space, which imply a kind of etched permanence, are rendered as Hamlyn trains his camera on a "still life" over significant spans of time, the variations in light producing general ambiance rather than rapid shifts. If we didn't see Hamlyn and his camera wiggling in the lightbulb's reflection, we might never even notice the time lapse work. As the Quartet reaches its fourth and final movement, we are past looking at the well-composed elements of the room. Instead, we're gazing out at the clouds and raindrops further out from the window, the distant planes in the room that produce an indescribably different mood -- we could maybe call it a movement from figure to ground, or positive to negative space -- than when we started. I've mainly put off writing about Quartet because no amount of ekphrasis or procedural outline can communicate the way the film elicits a highly pleasurable, underutilized faculty in our vision. It isn't a puzzle, nor is it an unfolding structure. Rather, Hamlyn shows a space undergoing the controlled adjustment of attention, systematic but highly intuitive. The verbal part of us switches off in front of Quartet, and we're moved along by the progression of abstract forms. The musical title is apposite in a very fundamental way.


-Wound Footage (Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [v/s]*
Digital intercourse: The argument could be made (and I don't think it would be entirely offbase) that just about everything Thorsten Fleisch does in Wound Footage "has been done before." It's a film primarily focused on the physical decay of a filmstrip, on the subsequent interplay (and in this case interpenetration) of the photographic image and its support, of surface and depth. What
's more, Fleisch translates this celluloid event into the digital realm, where an entirely new set of artifacts begin to appear -- rendering errors, broken scan lines, the halting Cubification of the moving image into a flat, staccato, rectilinear paintbox.
But I think a separate but equally important argument needs to be made, one that not only places Fleisch's effort within the tradition of which he's clearly cognizant, but that clarifies Wound Footage's significant difference from that which has come before. More than most any other film / video hybrid work I'm aware of, Wound Footage seems to represent the two media losing themselves in a molten, violent fuck. An early structural classic like Owen Land's Fleming Faloon shows increasing decay through looping, the eventual burning of the celluloid against the projector lamp happening over and over, in total silence, achieving a holy Nirvana of bubbling abstraction. Many other films in the intervening years have been "about" the fragility of film, but of course the age of digital imagemaking changes the terms of that materialist mien irrevocably. Lynn Marie Kirby's light-exposures register celluloid's sensitivity to the environment, and then she uses the film as grist for a kind of digital color-field improvisation. In her work, video transforms film like a kind of Hegelian sublation. David Gatten's submerged films "destroy" celluloid in order to generate deft dances of its own fragility, in the face of the entire world's larger finitude.


But these artists are miles away from Fleisch. Wound Footage (one presumes the pronunciation "woond," but "wownd" is suggestive in other ways) feeds semi-random passages of film to the projector like workers to Fritz Lang's Moloch, sent to a fiery death, to the propulsive screech of an industrial found-sound composition. An upside down pan across a Florida manor home is cancelled with a yellow and green vertical stripe. Wavering scratches on the film outstrip the digital raster's ability to solidify them. The film jumps the sprockets. A slow, viscous crevice opens in the filmstrip, turning black and yellow, forming a pair of diseased lungs, eventually crusting out into a kind of spasmodic light-vagina. Soon after, the sheer tactility of the information on Fleisch's film overwhelms the digital, which freezes, burps and hiccups, producing geometrical, "rational" tears which jab at the more organic, "illogical" forms of film decay. Flicker becomes "interference." The bobbing horizon line mirror's the DV's attempts to stabilize a disintegrating film-object. Fleisch's music compounds this rough dialectic, the electronic aspect belying a sinister, guttural ferocity. (The unbalanced washing machine as Black Mass.) The only work I can think of that comes close to Wound Footage's way of engaging with its materials would be the films of Luther Price, who is similarly fascinated with the physical compromise of the filmstrip's integrity (sometimes through puncturing or intra-celluloid collage, other times just through violently off-rhythm editing). But Price works in film alone, using celluloid to destroy itself. That's why Price's incomparable corpus produces its own specific horrors and pleasures. Fleisch's film is, in some sense, about the mutual fascination and ravenous mutual consumptive power that film and video, taken seriously as mature media in a material image-world, reveal in one another. If "film is dead," it's taking digital down with it, and amidst the high noise ratio we'll just have to listen out for signals from the flames. [Wound Footage can be viewed on Vimeo and Fleisch's website.]