Transparent Things: Mary Helena Clark’s films & influences

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Transparent Things: Mary Helena Clark’s films & influences
Monday 25 March 2013, 20:30h
OFFoff Cinema
Lange Violettestraat 237  9000 Gent, Belgium

I want to make cinema that is both trance-like and transparent: that operates on dream logic until disrupted by a moment of self-reflexivity, like tripping on an extension cord.

What are we seeing when watching images flickering on the screen? One could say that the cinematic experience always involves an unique play of imaginary presence (perceptual experiences, fantasies, illusions) and real absence (what is represented but not really there). The act of perception may be real, but the perceived is merely a shade, a phantom, “a hallucination that is also a fact”. It is this fundamental tension between presence and absence, actual and perceptual, the visible and the spectre of the hidden, that is at the heart of Mary Helena Clark’s work. Taking cues from the fantasy and illusion of early cinema as well as the material and formal exercises of the avant-garde, her hypnotic pieces explore cinema’s primitive magic, hurtling us down the secretive rabbit holes of the moving image. After having screened several of Mary Helena’s films in previous years, Courtisane will once again showcase her work during the coming Courtisane festival (17-21 April 2013), with the screening of her latest short film, Orpheus (outtakes). As a prologue to this year’s festival, Courtisane will present at OFFoff six films by Mary Helena Clark together with a selection of works by other filmmakers that have inspired her practice.


- Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, Germany, 1921, 16mm, b&w, silent, 3’30)
“I conceive of film as a modern art form particularly interesting to the sense of sight. Painting has its own peculiar problems and specific sensations, and so has film. But there are also problems in which the dividing line is obliterated, or where the two infringe upon each other. More especially, cinema can fulfill certain promises made by the ancient arts, in the realization of which painting and film become close neighbors and work together.”

- By foot-candle light (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2011, digital video, color, sound, 9’)
“A walk through the proscenium wings. You close your eyes and suddenly it is dark.”

- I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong (Anne McGuire, USA, 1997, video, b&w, sound, 11’)
A wonderful witty work about nostalgia and desperation. Ann McGuire portrays a Kennedy-era singer performing in a space where theatre meets television. McGuire’s Garlandesque gestures provide both a sense of tragedy and humour. I am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong weaves narrative, performance, memory and history into a ironic and haunting work of unique proportions.

- Leading Light (John Smith, GB, 1975, 16mm, color, sound, 11’)
“Leading Light uses the camera-eye to reveal the irregular beauty of a familiar space. When we inhabit a room we are only unevenly aware of the space held in it and the possible forms of vision which reside there. The camera-eye documents and returns our apprehension. Vertov imagined a ’single room’ made up of a montage of many different rooms. Smith reverses this aspect of ‘creative geography’ by showing how many rooms the camera can create from just one.” (A.L. Rees)

- And The Sun Flowers (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2008, digital video, color, sound, 5’)
“Based on the true story of the wallpaper in my bedroom.”

- After Writing (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2008, 16mm, color, optical sound, 4’)
“Scraps of text gathered from molding filmstrips and peeling chalkboards are photographed and intercut with pinhole shots from a schoolhouse. “

- Untitled (Ernie Gehr, USA, 1977, 16mm, color, silent, 5’)
“… a delicious slow pulling of focus over four minutes in which snowflakes, streaming like intercepted chalk marks, fall in front of what seems to be a field, then a pond, and finally is recognized as a brick wall.” (P. Adams Sitney)

- Orpheus (outtakes) (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2012, 16mm, b&w, optical sound, 6’)
“An impossible film project: Buster Keaton stars in the outtakes from Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, made by me for the cutting room floor.”

- Going To Work (Anne Charlotte Robertson, USA, 1981, Super8 to video, color, sound, 7’)
“Anne took the written diary form and extended it to include documentary, experimental and animated filmmaking techniques. She did not shy away from exposing any parts of her physical situation or emotional life. She became a pioneer of personal documentary and bravely shared experiences and observations on being a vegetarian, her cats, organic gardening, food, and her struggles with weight, her smoking and alcohol addictions, and depression (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Romance (or lack thereof) and obsession are long-running themes in her films, as is the cycle of life.” (Harvard Film Archive)

- The Plant (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 8’)
“A film filled with clues and stray transmissions built on the bad geometry of point-of-view shots.”

- Sound Over Water (Mary Helena Clark, USA, 2009, 16mm, color, optical sound, 5’)
“Blue water and blue sky meet on emulsion. My friend Nathan gave me photos from the first roll of 35mm film he ever shot. It was his birthday and his family took him whale watching.”

- Dream Story (Saul Levine, USA, 2001, digital video, color, sound, 5’)
“Dream Story is about a dream I had of Marjorie Keller.”