Stan Brakhage, central figure in US avant-garde cinema, lived from the early sixties in Rollinsville, Colorado, with his wife and children, isolated in the mountains. There, he developed a highly personal and lyrical cinema, centred on his family: a series of autobiographical films that he entitled The Book of the Family. Tortured Dust was the end of this cycle. Filmed throughout three years in the eighties, at the heart of a household in crisis, it is his longest and most moving home movie. Using a hand-held camera, a rhythmic, intricate editing process and touches of psychodrama, the film portrays with insight and distance their everyday life. Through windows, mirrors, flashes of colour and chiaroscuro, Brakhage records his children leaving home, the lack of communication and the breakdown of his marriage.
Jonas Mekas described R. Bruce Elder, Canadian filmmaker and writer, as “the most important US filmmaker of the eighties”. His films centre on the relations between philosophy, science and poetry. Lamentations: A Monument to the Dead World. The Dream of the Last Historian is the first part of an epic monumental film that reflects on the despair of human consciousness in the postmodern world. It represents the paranoiac, transcendental mind of the poet (Elder), imagining himself as the last thinker of history. The film has a complex polyphonic structure: made up of thousands of shots, superpositions of images and texts, readings, narrations, photographs, dialogues and electronic music, it also applies poetic resources and an associative logic that seeks to change rational thought.
In Riddles of the Sphinx, a key work of the British cinema of the seventies, Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen use a new formal structure to analyse the way women were represented in the cinema. Based on the critical articles and research of the two filmmakers, the film returns constantly to women and the place of maternity in society, not as a visual image but as a theme for investigation. This content cannot be addressed by the aesthetic parameters established by traditional cinematographic practice, instead involving formal research in which, using multiple voices, Mulvey and Wollen seek to construct a different relation between the spectator and the female subject.
Robert Beavers personally controls every screening of his films, which are always an exception: in this session we present his latest film in a dialogue with Still Light and Sotiros, both of which are extraordinary to see. Beavers was 16 when he met Gregory Markopoulos, who was then, at 37, a prestigious filmmaker, who encouraged Beavers to leave school and start making films. Shortly after, they went together toEurope, where Beavers put together his research into the “philosophical majesty of the image”: “the spectator's power of perception, liberated by this order of the senses and not by dramatic empathy, begins to learn what composes film and its harmonies...” Beavers’s work is a prodigious meditation of extreme meticulousness, subtlety and emotion, on the processes and materials of film (cutting, light, emulsion, sound): the artisan and manual gestures (of gardening or music) harmonize with the gestures of editing, and extend and poetize the visibility of the smallest things.
The films of Anne Charlotte Robertson (1949-2012), mostly filmed in super-8, document the effects of her bipolar disorder, nervous breakdowns and internment in psychiatric centres. As she films her feelings and experiences with an intimate, direct, raw approach that is not without humour, the different layers of sound—particularly the filmmaker’s voice—generate an emotive, introspective and essayistic reflection on her life, narrated in Five Years Diary (1981-1997). After seeing her films, Jonas Mekas wrote her a letter: “I was so overwhelmed with what I saw. I don’t think it’s me who is a film diarist: it’s you! It’s you! I was very very moved and I couldn’t sleep thinking about it.” The session is complemented by a film by Carole Schneemann, one of her great influences, and the final ode that Saul Levine, her tutor at the Massachusetts College of Arts, made after her funeral.
US filmmaker, aviator and musician, Robert E. Fulton (1939-2002) died in a crash involving his own plane in Pennsylvania. He was an artist of unwonted complexity and depth. He worked as an aerial cameraman and director of photography on various documentaries, including those of his friend Robert Gardner. His enigmatic, labyrinthine films are full of a defiant poetics that gives rise to a metaphysical prose. Fulton was an acrobat and an agitator, mixing images and ideas to create unusual superpositions that convey a highly personal sense of lyricism. His cinema is that of the adventurer, revealing to us the dazzling landscape of a new world.
Programme: - Vineyard IV, 3 min - Swimming Stone, 14 min - Starlight, 1970, 5 min - Path of Cessation, 1974, 15 min - Aleph, 1982, silent, 17 min - Wilderness: A Country in the Mind, 1984, 20 min.
Paul Sharits developed a materialist, stroboscopic cinema based on the technique of flickering images and colours, denying the illusion of film and stressing the subjective perception of the spectator. Carl E. Brown, conversely, has explored the expressive nature of cinematographic material by reinventing procedures and tools. This session brings together two of their films that address the experience of various individuals with mental illnesses and the electroshock therapy they receive. Alternating monochrome stills and images of patients with epileptic attacks taken from a medical study of the activity of brain waves during convulsions, in Epileptic Seizure Comparison Paul Sharits presents the spectator with the experience of the electric shock of these disorders. Inspired by the book The Myth of Mental Illness by psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, in Full Moon Darkness Carl E. Brown juxtaposes expressionist views with Szasz’s accusation of his profession of abuse of power, and interviews with patients who “survived” his treatment.
Programme: - Epileptic Seizure Comparison (Paul Sharits, 1976, 30 min) - Full Moon Darkness (Carl E. Brown, 1985, 90 min)
A central figure on Berlin’s film scene, Ute Aurand makes her films in the tradition of the diary and the filmed portrait, strongly influenced by Margaret Tait,Marie Menken and Jonas Mekas. Films that explore the private lives of her friends, the beauty and sensibility of light and the textures of spaces, meticulously edited and structured “that evoke the specific rhythms and the personality of people and places captured by the camera”. This programme centres primarily on the recent filmed portraits of Aurand, whose work has just started to become known internationally in the last few years. It is brought together with that of Tait and Menken, with the presentation of a little-known film made on a trip to Spain with Kenneth Anger and left unfinished. Ute Aurand will be present at the screening.
Andrew Noren’s The Adventures of the Exquisite Corpse film series has an autobiographical dimension and is both a testimony to his private life and a tribute to love. Part four, Charmed Particles, is one of the best examples of the abstract, transforming qualities of black and white film. It explores textures and forms, combining high-contrast photography, detail shots and pixilation to create visual music of a delicate yet powerful kinesis that reveals the simple beauty of the domestic and the phantasmal nature of appearances. A luminous world in which light becomes real and illusion, flesh.
The figure of Arthur Lipsett occupies one of the most original and exciting fringes of editing and film collage. His work, which fascinated filmmakers as varied as Kubrick, Brakhage and George Lucas, was interrupted by Lipsett’s mental problems (he suffered from bipolar disorder) and the torment that led to his suicide, at the age of 46. He started out making sound collages, which he then transferred to his brilliant, enigmatic pieces produced by Canada’s NFB: combinations of images and sounds, in films of recycling and deconstruction, ironic and sarcastic visual essays about consumerism or critiques of the mass media, with jazzy or syncopated rhythms that illuminated a sense of cinema and a unique way of thinking.
Programme: - Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett,1961, video, 6 min) - 21-87 (Arthur Lipsett,1964, 16 mm, 9 min) - Perceptual Learning (Arthur Lipsett,1965, video, 11 min) - Free Fall (Arthur Lipsett,1964, video, 9 min) - A Trip Down Memory Lane (Arthur Lipsett, 1965, video, 12 min) - Fluxes (Arthur Lipsett,1968, 16 mm, 23 min) - Lipsett Diaries (Theodore Ushev, 2010, 35 mm, 14 min.)