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March 28, 2016

New Works by Ernie Gehr

Ernie Gehr (b. 1941) returns to the Harvard Film Archive with three new works that reaffirm his status as one of the great masters of the postwar American experimental cinema. Although still best known for his iconic Structuralist film Serene Velocity, the larger arc of Gehr’s long career as a profound innovator and, moreover, as an important thinker about film form and history is at last being recognized. For, equally important to the formalist rigor of Gehr’s cinema is its long engagement with the deeper and still largely uncharted technological, philosophical and sociocultural histories underlying the moving image in all of its complexities. While Eureka (1974) was Gehr’s first work to openly turn to early cinema with its bold reanimation of a 1906 travelogue film, in truth, all of his films—including his first work, Morning (1968)—can be seen as critical reinventions of earlier modes of the moving image. After shifting from 16mm film to digital video, Gehr began increasingly to explore the world of the moving image before and beyond cinema, in works such Glider (2001), shot entirely within a camera obscura. Just as Gehr and fellow Structuralist filmmakers—such as Ken Jacobs and scholar-filmmaker Noël Burch—clearly anticipated the discovery of early and so-called “primitive” cinema by film scholars, so too can Gehr’s work since the turn of millennium be seen as an anticipation of the recently emergent field of Media Archaeology. Rather than simply returning to a “pre-cinema” locked into an assumed and false teleology with today’s cinematic practices, Gehr’s digital work suggests a different history and possible future for cinema.

The three recent works gathered for this program thus turn to the worlds of the magic lantern, amateur photography and the train as alternate sites for a rich and wholly different kind of moving image production. In New York Lantern and Photographic Phantoms, a new narrative lyricism and political outspokenness enters Gehr’s cinema, haunted now by ghosts, from long-ago travels and struggles, that are gifted with an uncanny voice and presence. The invisible train heard insistently throughout Photographic Phantoms becomes a form of camera in the marvelous A Commuter’s Life (What a Life!), which gives sculptural dimension and kaleidoscopic novelty to footage shot by Gehr during his commutes from his native New York to Harvard, where he was teaching a seminar on the history of phantasmagoria, of cinema before cinema. – Haden Guest

Special Event Tickets $12
Ernie Gehr in person

Monday March 28 at 7pm

New York Lantern

Directed by Ernie Gehr
US 2008, digital video, color & b/w, 15 min


Photographic Phantoms

Directed by Ernie Gehr
US 2014, digital video, color & b/w, 26 min


A Commuter’s Life (What a Life!)

Directed by Ernie Gehr
US 2015, digital video, color & b/w, 19 min


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