Writings on Avant-Garde and Artists' Cinema
Over the last decade, I have been writing about the creative process of often underrepresented avant-garde artists/filmmakers. In these essays, questions and reflections are raised to hopefully foment critical thinking. These are not definitive thoughts—they are meant to grow and evolve over time...
- THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Rhayne Vermette. MUBI, March 2019—
- DISOBEDIENCE IS A GIVEN. KOSCHKE, Berlin Critics' Week, February 2019—
- THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Karimah Ashadu. MUBI, January 2018—
- THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Carole Roussopoulos. MUBI, November 2017—
- VESUVIUS IN YOUR MIND: On Joan Jonas's Early Films. BOMB Magazine, September 2017—
- FOUND SOUNDS: A Retrospective of Barbara Meter's Avant-Garde Films. Museum of the Moving Image, April 2017—
- THEATER OF THE WORLD: A Conversation with Salomé Lamas. Mousse Publishing, UnionDocs, April 2016—
- A MATTER OF VISIBILITY. Museum of the Moving Image, January 2016—
- WHAT'S (NOT) CINEMA (YET) BECOMING. La Furia Umana, paper #8, May 2015—
- THE VARIANT CHANTS OF JOSEPH BERNARD. Prismatic Music, Blu-ray set of Joseph Bernard's Super 8mm films, April 2015—
- EPISODES FROM THE SECRET LIFE: A Selection of Films by Barry Gerson. La Furia Umana, February 2015—
- LETTER TO JACK CHAMBERS. La Furia Umana, paper #7, December 2014—
- JÚLIO BRESSANE AND HIS SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION. La Furia Umana, paper #6, September 2014—
- ADJECTIVES IN THE HALTING SPEECH: 16mm Films by Jonathan Schwartz. UnionDocs, April 2014; Walden Magazine, December 2018; Lumière Magazine, March 2019—
- IN THE FOREST OF ESTRANGEMENT. [New York Film Festival / Views from the Avant-Garde (Part I)]. Lumière, November 2013—
- THE ART OF EFFECTIVE DREAMING. [New York Film Festival / Views from the Avant-Garde (Part II)]. Lumière, November 2013—
- ON NEGATION: Bill Brand's Susie's Ghost and Leandro Listorti's Dead Youth. UnionDocs, October 2013—
- SHOCK OPERA: The First North American Film Retrospective of Werner Schroeter. The Brooklyn Rail, May 2012—
- SPINNING TOP: The Legacy of Dziga Vertov Keeps Moving. The Brooklyn Rail, May 2011—
MUBI, March 2019—
THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Rhayne Vermette
"Punchers, burins, blade knives, and guillotine splicers invade Rhayne Vermette’s working space. Born in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba, and residing in Winnipeg, for this self-taught artist, collage, photography, and film are the tools that demolish the house of rhetoric. Inspired by architects who infused a reinterpretation of building with wood, glass, and stone, Vermette questions methodological foundations and surroundings—in her case, to make the towers fall. What once was defined as path and pillar do not govern the artist or her work. [...] Her schemes and patterns are not affixed or in service to a system. Instead, she shows what is beneath the logic of make-sense enunciations, and their own relational dynamics. By deconstructing edifices of rules, meaning takes its power back. Scratches, flares, glue, and tape are the weapons of the artist’s anti-language".
KOSCHKE, February 2019—
DISOBEDIENCE IS A GIVEN
"For many years, artists and audiences have demanded a revision and expansion of the history of experimental cinema in the United States. Slowly, but steadily, silence has been broken along with the lineage of white male filmmakers who took over the means of production, exhibition, distribution, and academia starting in the 1960s".
MUBI, January 2018—
THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Karimah Ashadu
"Springing from her personal life experiences as a young artist, Karimah Ashadu’s works bridge with the far-reaching legacies of experimental film and video-making by black women from the 1970s to the 1990s. Now in preparation of her first feature film, Salt Mine, her near 20 short-length videos, made since 2011, have developed the idiosyncratic dualities of her British-Nigerian identity. Self-determined, purposeful, and free despite small budgets, her videos and installations derive from a training in painting, art history, architecture, and spatial design. In her work, Ashadu steps into the everyday and the ordinary while fighting against expectations of trauma, endurance, and spectacle associated to race and gender".
MUBI, November 2017—
THE VERY EYE OF NIGHT: Carole Roussopoulos
"Jean-Luc Godard wrote a letter to Carole Roussopoulos in 1979 for Cahiers du cinéma in which he reflected on the motivations behind making films, and inquired: 'Sometimes I wonder what has happened to all you have filmed in the four corners of France and the world… And I wonder why people in cinema want to film others with so much frenzy.' As Nicole Brenez recalls, the Swiss filmmaker responded to him: 'to privilege the approach of those without a voice'".
BOMB Magazine, September 2017—
VESUVIUS IN YOUR MIND: On Joan Jonas's Early Films
"Like a modern character from Crete's ancient Minoan culture, trailblazer artist Joan Jonas weaves symbols and media to transfigure feminist and psychological themes. Her work juxtaposes sculpture, painting, film, video, and performance as forms not to escape, but to scale. Surfaces become screens from where to measure slim chances, and transform poetic structures into cinematic phrasings. This month, Anthology Film Archives and Electronic Arts Intermix present a screening of her 16mm films, including two collaborations with Richard Serra, followed by a selection of her videos. Jonas will attend and introduce both shows".
Museum of the Moving Image, April 2017—
"In the early 1970s, in need of a critical response to the commercialization of film production and programming, Barbara Meter (Netherlands, b. 1939) co-founded the Electric Cinema. Run by members of the Amsterdamse Film Coop, and STOFF (the Studio for the Development of Film and Film Manifestations), the theater became the epicenter of Dutch independent and avant-garde filmmaking. At the Electric Cinema, Meter curated international avant-garde and expanded cinema programs. After that, she co-created POLKIN (Political Kinema) and made documentaries as part of activist and feminist movements. In her avant-garde films, she pushes the cinematic medium forward with her unique way of repurposing documents and audio recordings, utilizing an innovative, masterful application of optical printing techniques. Meter manipulates images and reworks found sounds to create a personal expressive mode. Her essay 'Looked for and Found: On Archival and Found Footage Film', was written in 1995 for the London School of Printing, and continues to be of radical importance".
UnionDocs, April 2016—
THEATER OF THE WORLD
"Tell me what you want to me to be, how you want me to be. I can be that. I can be anything! You tell me,” cries Gena Rowland’s character to Peter Falk in A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974). Filmmaker Salomé Lamas admits to be governed by such an authority when her mother video-recorded her as a little girl. Twenty years later, Lamas’ work is shown at galleries and festivals around the world. It subtly but Fiercely rebels against conventions of duration, rhythm, supposed clarity, structure, visual convictions, assumed roles, and rules. She exposes the cinematic language as a tool not only for transgression, but also for confusion. Her three-channel installation Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (2013, 26 minutes), and her videos Encounters with Landscape (3x) (2012, 29 minutes), VHS – Video Home System (2010 – 2012, 39 minutes), and Fall II (2011, 1 minute) are exemplars of artistic defiance. In this conversation, we will get to know more about her, and the literary, philosophical, and filmic references that articulate her work".
Museum of the Moving Image, January 2016—
A MATTER OF VISIBILITY
"This program presents new experimental films and videos not yet shown in New York, in conversation with rarely seen works by avant-garde masters such as Lis Rhodes and Chantal Akerman. These artistic views have the ability to enhance our perception through symbolism, transformation, and a keen sense of creative freedom. By shifting cinematic, private, gendered, financial, and geographical priorities, what is usually absent becomes present. These works are meditations on the act of looking, visual poems in which imposed narratives get rejected or argued against. Words, forms, and depictions of any kind are broken apart to explore and expose the language of cinema. For these artists, making films is like 'writing on burning paper' (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Heretical Empiricism, 1967). Their creations formulate alternative questions about ends and beginnings, and passionately vindicate visibility with a do-it-yourself approach to film and life—because making is moving, and moving is breathing, and breathing is light".
La Furia Umana, paper #8, May 2015—
WHAT'S (NOT) CINEMA (YET) BECOMING
"...Ironically, avant-garde filmmaking seems to be related to the archaic, to what is near vanishing—we thrill on the verge of unexpected discoveries and memories, on the psychological dimension of celluloid decay that questions origins and meanings, the sensuality and braveness of all things ephemeral...".
Prismatic Music, Blu-ray set of Joseph Bernard's Super 8mm films, April 2015—
THE VARIANT CHANTS OF JOSEPH BERNARD
"...Half archaeologist, half philosopher, Joseph Bernard calls for the unconscious, abandoned, and forgotten, while recalling the purposes and pleasures of making a film. His Variant Chants aids to rhythmically breathe in and out actuality, creating a sort of chord of varied forces, lures and lulls, debits and credits. With undefiled liveliness, in this film the sensations, shapes, textures, and colors remain, while words languish like mirrors of a jagged reality...".
La Furia Umana, February 2015—
EPISODES FROM THE SECRET LIFE: A Selection of Films by Barry Gerson.
"...For Barry Gerson, the world is just an appearance; instead, dreams disclose reality, a hidden world of enigmas and long forgotten memories that are gradually and magically revealed through movement, visual obstacles, and filtered light. Reminiscent of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu’s poetic practices, Gerson restricts vision to allow in depth visibility...".
La Furia Umana, paper #7, December 2014—
LETTER TO JACK CHAMBERS
"...You said once that you are like the dog in your paintings, looking dissatisfied—possibly with the state of living and of the arts. I guess it could be something in between the dog of Francisco de Goya’s paint- ings—overwhelmed by the vastness around it—and the dignity of the canines of Diego Velázquez—domestic, but not domesticated...".
La Furia Umana, paper #6, September 2014—
JÚLIO BRESSANE AND HIS SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION
"Brazilian writer and filmmaker Júlio Bressane assembles films aware of their form. By exposing the gears and fuel of the moving machinery, the filmmaker re-eval- uates his primary passion —the making of cinema. Perhaps disillusioned by a film history that has depended on the eagerness and effort of individuals without rigorous financial support (a chronicle of censorship, favoritisms, and exile), Bressane ponders films’ aesthetics and their philosophical fundamentals. He searches for the intellectual episteme that defines the linkage between sensibility and survival: what it is that we call beautiful, what is the inner engine that keeps both mortals and celluloid in orbit, what are the literary roots that have attempted to make sense of the world since the beginning of time".
UnionDocs, April 2014; Walden Magazine, December 2018; Lumière Magazine, March 2019—
ADJECTIVES IN THE HALTING SPEECH: 16mm Films by Jonathan Schwartz
"...Schwartz’s films are open-ended poems in which an overarching story can be interpreted. They are like unfinished symphonies, unresolved experiences, non-leading questions. A new film poem may continue the previous thought or change it or just remember it...".
Lumière, November 2013—
IN THE FOREST OF ESTRANGEMENT
[New York Film Festival / Views from the Avant-Garde (Part I): Jennifer Reeves' Strawberries in the Summertime; Florian Zeyfang's Splicefilm; Phil Solomon's Valley of the Shadow; Saul Levine's Falling Notes Unleaving; Stephanie Barber's Daredevils]
"...As put by avant-garde poet Susan Howe in her homage, Sorting Facts; or Nineteen Ways of Looking at [Chris] Marker, '…Her impressions of her father may have been shaken if there ever was a way to translate the feeling of image-juxtaposition in these words moving from left to right across this sheet of paper'...".
Lumière, November 2013—
THE ART OF EFFECTIVE DREAMING
[New York Film Festival / Views from the Avant-Garde (Part II): Raul Ruiz's Mémoire des Apparences. La Vie est un Songe; Mike Stolz's With Pluses and Minuses; Marika Borgeson's The Starry Messenger; Richard Tuohy's Screen Tone, Etienne’s Hand; Scott Stark's The Realist; Barry Gerson's Late Summer; Anne Charlotte Robertson's Five Year Diary, Magazine Mouth, Subways, Apologies; Henry Hills' Radio Adios; Peter Hutton's Three Landscapes; Nathaniel Dorky's Song, Spring, Ariel, Kodachrome Dailies from the Time of Song and Solitude; Robert Beavers' Listening to the Space in my Room]
"...Inspired by Francis Yates’ book The Art of Memory (The University of Chicago Press, 1966), expatriate Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz directed Mémoire des Apparences. La Vie est un Songe (1986), as a multileveled labyrinth that conflates reality with fabulation. The film exemplifies artificial uses of memory by mixing surrealism with political thriller, and incorporating scenes from Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s drama Life is a Dream (1635), previously staged by Ruiz for the Avignon Theater Festival. A man’s voice over begins, 'In early April 1974 a literature teacher, Ignacio Vega, had to learn the names of 15,000 anti-junta resisters. It took him only a week.' To do this, he learned the Spanish play La vida es sueño by heart. 'He had found a mnemonic. Each line had a militant’s name, each metaphor an address, each stanza an armed operation.' Returning ten years later to the police state of Chile, under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Vega tried to remember...".
UnionDocs, October 2013—
ON NEGATION: Bill Brand's Susie's Ghost and Leandro Listorti's Dead Youth
"...When Brand shoots, he is aware of the fact that whatever is hidden beyond the faces and façades is frequently overlooked. Only a few, like photographer Walker Evans, are interested in the truth behind slanted expressions, in working to document the disappearing vernacular architecture around us, and in showing human bodies not only as part of the landscape, but as landscapes in themselves...".
The Brooklyn Rail, May 2012—
SHOCK OPERA: The First North American Film Retrospective of Werner Schroeter
"...Dressed in solemn black, his face hidden beneath the hat of a solitary man, big rings shaping the languid movement of both his hands, a constant cigarette enhancing the romantic aura of an artist destined to be born and to die in April, 'the cruellest month' (1945 – 2010), Werner Schroeter is one of the most unclassifiable, striking, and sophisticated European film directors of our time. He emerged in the late ’60s at the same time as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, and Werner Herzog, and lit up the screen for 40 years with a strange and sumptuous flame...".
The Brooklyn Rail, May 2011—
SPINNING TOP: The Legacy of Dziga Vertov Keeps Moving
"...Notably, most of the workers in Vertov’s films are women, and women like his second wife and longtime collaborator, Elizaveta Svilova, were also a key part of his 'film laboratory.' Scholar John MacKay, in his book Dziga Vertov: Life and Work (Indiana University Press), describes filmmaker Esfir Shub as Vertov’s friend and rival...".