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January 7 - 18, 2006

Immaterial Monuments

By its very nature, independent cinema allows a means of individual self-expression unburdened by audience demands or expectations, by conventional limits of duration, subject, or form. Drawing on some of the key figures of the North American postwar avant-garde, this series presents films that are unusually ambitious in scope; guided only by the artist's inspiration, they are cinematic experiences that encompass totalities of vision. Speaking of Magellan, Hollis Frampton compared it to Vladimir Tatlin's unrealized Monument to the Third International, explaining that "there are other ways to build monuments. The ways to build them are to build them immaterially, in the mind." These films, then, are mental landscapes and circumnavigations writ large. They are filmic equivalents of individuals carving out a space in time-epic reflections on the world, the history and form of cinema, the experience of perception, and the relationships between music and image, space and time, man, technology, and nature. In them we find mythic reverberations of the belief that "each thing implies the universe, whose most obvious trait is its complexity (HF)."


January 7 (Saturday) 6 pm

Carriage Trade

Directed by Warren Sonbert
US, 1971, color, 61 min.

Warren Sonbert (1947-1995) called Carriage Trade his magnum opus, a visual journey encapsulating his travels over four continents in six years. Only in his twenties, Sonbert had already traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America with a film camera. Carriage Trade weaves that footage together with shots Sonbert removed from a number of his earlier films, offering the viewer multi-faceted readings of the connections between shots, including the "changing relations of the movement of objects, the gestures of figures, familiar worldwide icons, rituals and reactions, rhythm, spacing and density of images" (WS). Ultimately, Carriage Trade is a meditation whose elegance and humor celebrate the world Sonbert encountered, transforming diaristic footage into a thrilling visual symphony.
Photo courtesy of Ascension Serrano, Estate of Warren Sonbert.

Short Fuse

Directed by Warren Sonbert
US, 1992, color, 37 min.

Sonbert was also a recognized opera critic. In 1986, he published excerpts from his feature-film screenplay adaptation of Strauss' Capriccio, his favorite opera. Short Fuse, completed six years later, underscores a question raised by Capriccio: whether in opera the music or the libretto takes priority. In Short Fuse the soundtrack competes with the film's images, prompting the viewer to consider a similar dilemma. Made after Sonbert learned he was HIV-positive, the rapid, stark images reflect themes from Capriccio as well as Sonbert's increasingly intense understanding of beauty and transience. Print courtesy of Canyon Cinema.
Photo courtesy of Ascension Serrano, Estate of Warren Sonbert.

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January 7 (Saturday) 8:30 pm

Mahagonny

Directed by Harry Smith
US, 1970-1980, color, 141 min.

Experimental filmmaker, anthropologist, painter, and musicologist Harry Smith (1923-1991) worked on Mahagonny, his final film, for over ten years. Obsessed with Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Smith would play it over and over in his room at the Chelsea Hotel. Mahagonny transforms the caustically satirical opera into an allegory of contemporary life, inter-cutting portraits of important avant-garde figures (including Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, and Jonas Mekas), New York City landmarks, and Smith's visionary animation. Shot from 1970 to 1972 and edited for the next eight years, the film also translates the Weill opera into a numerological and symbolic system derived from a mathematical analysis of Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass. Infinitely complex and equally rewarding, Mahagonny is a virtuosic assemblage and a work of true originality.

Film still courtesy of Harry Smith Archives & Anthology Film Archives. Program notes adapted from the Getty Research Institute's 2002 symposium on the film, organized by Rani Singh. This 35mm print is a composite of the original four-projector film work, the product of an ambitious preservation project by the Harry Smith Archives with the assistance of Anthology Film Archives.

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January 9 (Monday) 7 pm

La Région Centrale

Directed by Michael Snow
US, 1971, color, 180 min.

On top of a deserted mountain in Northern Quebec, multimedia artist Michael Snow set up a special camera apparatus with multiple axes that could circle in all directions, and whose alignment and speed were all determined by Snow's pre-programmed settings. He proceeded to record images of the environment that utterly transform the landscape and our perception of it. As the horizon line, and our orientation, is literally turned upside down and every which way, the film's three-hour length takes on epic implications. Described as a heroic reflection on the solar system, La Région Centrale shows us no trace of human life, instead representing an interaction between nature and machine that illustrates the cosmic relationships of space and time.

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January 11 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

Star Spangled to Death (Parts 1 & 2)

Directed by Ken Jacobs
US, 1957, color, 200 min.
With Jack Smith, Jerry Sims, Gib Taylor, Bill Carpenter, Cecilia Swan, Ken Jacobs

Assembled and reworked over the course of thirty years, in which independent filmmaker Ken Jacobs was constantly responding to the current socio-political climate, Star Spangled to Death is an extravaganza of improvisation and reflection on American trends and history. Legendary underground performers Jack Smith and Jerry Sims embody contradicting representations of America; footage from Richard Nixon's 1952 Checkers speech makes an appearance, as do excerpts from Oscar Micheaux's 1932 film Ten Minutes To Live and the 1934 musical Kid Millions. These elements and countless others, filmed and found, contribute to a six-hour collage that is at once playful and grim. Engaging politics, war, science, and a history of what Jacobs calls racial and religious insanity, SSTD is a "social critique picturing a stolen and dangerously sold out America, allowing examples of popular culture to self-indict (KJ)."
There will be a ten-minute intermission between Parts 1 & 2.

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January 13 (Friday) 6:30 pm

Star Spangled to Death (Parts 3 & 4)

Directed by Ken Jacobs
US, 1957, color, 200 min.
With Jack Smith, Jerry Sims, Gib Taylor, Bill Carpenter, Cecilia Swan, Ken Jacobs

PLEASE NOTE: Parts 3 & 4 of Star Spangled to Death do not require that the viewer has seen Parts 1 & 2.
There will be a ten-minute intermission between Parts 3 & 4.

 

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January 15 (Sunday) 6 pm

Art of Vision

Directed by Stan Brakhage
US, 1961-1965, color, 250 min.

Among the most influential (and, having produced nearly 400 films, arguably the most prolific) figures in the history of the American avant-garde, Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) created, early in his career, a monumental work aptly titled Art of Vision. Within it one finds the complete Dog Star Man (1963), a five part "cosmological epic" that tells the story of a woodsman's journey through the seasons and up a mountain, where he will plant, tear down, and then chop a white tree. A systematic investigation of form and structure that synthesizes the earlier film's multiple layers (themselves cinematic explorations marked by splices, hand-painted film, negative footage, scratches, and other techniques), Brakhage considered Art of Vision a full extension of Dog Star Man's singular themes. The resultant visual symphony, composed of overlapping and enmeshing suites, is an experience described by poet Robert Kelly as "a new continent of the eye's sway. Mind at the mercy of the eye at last."
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Stan Brakhage and Fred Camper.

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January 16 (Monday) 6:30 pm - Introduction by Gerald O'Grady

Magellan- Program 1

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1969-1980, color, 106 min

Magellan, Hollis Frampton's (1936-1984) most ambitious and complex film project, is generally less recognized than his other work, and its invisibility is understandable. The spectator who approaches the unfinished Magellan confronts only fragments; the completed Magellan films comprise only about 8 out of the 36 hours planned. Moreover, Frampton intended Magellan to be a calendrical cycle, with specific films to be shown on each day of the year-properly viewed it would be 369 days long. Metaphorically modeled on Ferdinand Magellan's exploratory circumnavigation of the world, the project aspired to remarkable aesthetic, historiographic, and conceptual challenges to cinema and perception. Structurally complex, the films in the cycle are divided at the first level into three groups (Birth of Magellan, The Straits of Magellan, and Death of Magellan), forming a "a series of shaped observations that include portraits, cadaver footage, re-stagings of Lumière films, visits to slaughterhouses, double exposures, a field of peaceful dairy cattle, allusions to Muybridge, electronic imagery, industrial pictures, a state fair-- a kind of capsule version of the twentieth century that might have been placed on the Voyager spacecraft as it soared out of the solar system to worlds unknown" (Robert Haller).
Adapted from Michael Zryd's program notes for the Anthology Film Archive's 2003 presentation of the complete (extant) Magellan cycle and from Robert Haller's catalog text for a retrospective screening at Korea's EXIS Film Festival. Titles in brackets refer to the Magellan Calendar.

Cadenza I and XIV [Birth of Magellan]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1977-80, color, silent, 11 min.

A prelude to Magellan's universe, rife with allusions to creation and Duchampian sexual puns: "the film about the bride in which two gentlemen, who we may presume to be bachelors, strip more or less bare a putative bride of some sort" (HF).

Mindfall I and VII [Birth of Magellan]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1977-80, 36 min.

Emerges out of HF's experiments with sound and Eisenstein's "vertical montage": "if you start responding to every stimulus, then you end up as a nerve gas case, quite literally. All the neurons fire at once"(HF).

Matrix [First Dream]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1977-79, silent, 28 min.

A film of multiple superimpositions, utilizing the images of solanumcigelam (see below) and the hexagonal images that recur throughout Magellan.

Noctiluca [Magellan's toys #1]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1974, color, silent, 4 min.

"Designed to be shown on the second day of the Magellan cycle. The title (nox/luceo) means something that shines at night, i.e., the moon [...] The second day of the cycle seems to be an inventory of the knowledge, machines, and arms that Magellan-and latter-day voyagers like HF-had at the outset of his journey."

Straits of Magellan: Drafts & Fragments [Panopticons] (excerpt)

Directed by Hollis Frampton
1974, US, color silent, 25 min.

Directly inspired by the Lumiére brothers' actualities, these one-minute films (49 collected in Drafts and Fragments) are arranged around the circumference of the Magellan Calendar. Named Panopticons they allude to Jeremy Bentham's famous plan for a prison, and point to the dark ironies of Magellan's Enlightenment project.



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January 16 (Monday) 9 pm - Introduction by Gerald O'Grady

Magellan- Program 2

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1969-1980, color, 110 min.

Straits of Magellan: Drafts & Fragments [Panopticons] (excerpt)

Directed by Hollis Frampton
1974, US, color, silent, 27 min.

Directly inspired by the Lumiére brothers' actualities, these one-minute films (49 collected in Drafts and Fragments) are arranged around the circumference of the Magellan Calendar. Named Panopticons they allude to Jeremy Bentham's famous plan for a prison, and point to the dark ironies of Magellan's Enlightenment project.

Apparatus Sum [Studies For Magellan #1]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1972, b&w, silent, 3 min.

"A brief lyric film of death, which brings to equilibrium a single reactive image from a room of cadavers"(HF).

Winter Solstice [Solariumagelani]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1974, color, silent, 33 min.

Shot in a steel mill, "a pre-textual locus dearly beloved by our Soviet predecessors" (HF), this film's rhythmic and compositional textures pay tribute not only to Eisenstein and Vertov, but also to Abstract Expressionists like Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.

Otherwise Unexplained Fires [Memoranda Magelani]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1976, color, silent, 14 min.

"Filmed in large pan during HF's lecture-screening tour of the [San Francisco] Bay area: visit(s) to the Museé Mechanique, Land's end, the Cliff House […] A visit to the Brakhage Colorado residence provided images of chickens/roosters" (Gail Camhi).

For Georgia O'Keefe [Pares Magelani]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1976, silent, 3.5 min.

An exquisite homage to O'Keefe's "Radiator Building, Night."

Not The First Time [Tempera Magelani]

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1976, silent, 5 min.

"The viewer is engaged in a process of double vision that returns him to the image and subject in a manner more complex, more self-aware, and more temporal than the way most of us view photographs" (Fred Camper).

Tiger Balm (Memoranda Magelani #1)

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1972, color, silent, 10 min.

"After two years of massive didacticism in black-and-white [Hapax Legomena (1971-72)], I am surprised by Tiger Balm, lyrical, in color, a celebration of generative humors and principles, in homage to the green of England, the light of my dooryard… and consecutive matters" (HF).

Gloria!

Directed by Hollis Frampton
US, 1979, color, 9.5 min.

The last film of HF's oeuvre and the last completed of Magellan, this film encapsulates the meta-history of cinema (bridging early cinema and video) and distills Magellan's themes: the tension between image and language, Frampton's "sentimental science", tradition and memory, and the persistence of death.

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January 18 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Walden

Directed by Jonas Mekas
US, 1969, color, 180 min.
With Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Carl Th. Dreyer, Timothy Leary, Gregory Markopoulos, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Velvet Underground, Ken Jacobs, Shirley Clarke, Michael Snow, Richard Foreman, John Lennon, Yoko On

Acknowledged as the father of American avant-garde film, Jonas Mekas's contribution to its history extends beyond his filmmaking; born in Lithuania in 1922 and brought to America by the United Nations Refugee Organization in 1949, he soon after founded Film Culture magazine, the Filmmakers' Cooperative, and the Anthology sFilm Archives-without any of these institutions, the series presented here (and the community and recognition that has developed around experimental cinema in the last 55 years) would not have been possible. In Walden, Jonas Mekas's first completed diary film, we get an epic portrait of the New York avant-garde art scene of the 1960s. Material shot between 1964 and 1968, edited in camera and assembled in chronological order, anthologizes personal moments with colleagues and friends Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, Andy Warhol, and others. Moreover, the film is an expression of a philosophy about filmmaking that is simple, generous, and deeply personal: "I'm only celebrating what I see. I make home movies-therefore I live-therefore I make home movies (JM)."

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