Ghost Algebra: Gorgeously Unsettling Animated Film by Janie Geiser

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This is a brilliant animation from Janie Geiser who is a renowned theater and film artist specializing in the use of inanimate objects and toys to create unsettling and evocative films and performances. Her work has been screened worldwide, including at the Whitney, Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The film investigates the origins of the word ‘algebra,’ which turn out to be somewhat interesting. Frankly, I had never once even considered the word before watching this film.

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It’s a subtle film. A beautiful but difficult film. Let’s think about this experimental film, shall we? What do we see in this film? Holes. Lots of them. Holes for looking through. There’s a little plastic doll who looks very 1940s, some birds, numerals, trees, and lots of grass. Blades of grass. When I see a little plastic girl doll looking into holes I see a filmmaker looking into a camera to investigate the world, or rather the mind, or perhaps the unconscious. This doll approaches an odd stone bunker on a hill and she peers into a small opening into darkness. It looks a bit like an old Nazi gun bunker. Carl Jung would approve! All experimental films should dig into the unconscious mind, I think. People throw ‘dreamlike’ around quite often these days when talking about films. There are very few dreamlike films. What most people mean by dreamlike is simply blurry. Anyway, our plastic doll sees things in storybook fashion that suggest nature and Nazis. There’s warfare going on. The precision of battle maps. The doll’s vision puts conflicting images of tamed nature description together with extreme violence. Nothing is attached properly to anything. Ideas do not lead to logical conclusions. Instead, they lead to odd constructions, more like what is required by the creative mind.

Geiser’s ‘algebra’ theme seems to peek through at times in images of severed limbs or broken bones, teeth, spilled blood, and of course the various number machines that pop up. The word algebra apparently used to have a meaning related to restoration or reunion, sometimes applying to the setting of broken bones which was often done in medieval times by a dentist who also performed bloodlettings. Interesting. But this film is not really about mathematics. At least not the usual kind. It’s about piecing together a vision of the world. Immersion.

 

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Joseph Cornell – Worlds in a Box: 1991 Documentary

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This is a 1991 documentary film about the legendary artist and filmmaker, Joseph Cornell, who made those magnificent and strange collage boxes. He was also one of our great experimental filmmakers and once apparently made Salvador Dali extremely jealous at a screening of his masterpiece, Rose Hobart.

In this film we get to hear people like Susan Sontag, Stan Brakhage, and Tony Curtis talk about their friendships with the artist. It turns out that Curtis was quite a collector and he seemed to have a very deep understanding of what Cornell was doing in his work.

 

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1964 Bell Labs Film About How to Make Films with a Computer

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This fascinating film was produced at AT&T’s Bell Labs in 1964. It was made by Ken Knowlton to describe the use of computers to make animated films. The film itself was created entirely on a computer. This is a glimpse into the groundbreaking work that led to the computer graphics we all enjoy so frequently today. Knowlton was both an artist and a computer graphics programmer who developed several programming languages for producing bitmap animations.

Interestingly, Ken Knowlton worked closely with pioneering experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek at the Bell Labs on many early computer animations. Vanderbeek is the subject of my prior post about his short film, ‘Science Friction.’

 

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Science Friction: 1959 Experimental Film by Stan Vanderbeek

Vanderbeek

This is an amazing and beautiful film by pioneering American experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek. His work encompassed collage animations, live events, and early experiments with computer graphics.

The technological explosion of this last half-century, and the implied future are overwhelming, man is running the machines of his own invention… while the machine that is man… runs the risk of running wild. Technological research, development, and involvement of the world community has almost completely out-distanced the emotional-sociological (socio-”logical”) comprehension of this technology. The “technique-power” and “culture-over-reach” that is just beginning to explode in many parts of the earth, is happening so quickly that it has put the logical fulcrum of man’s intelligence so far outside himself that he cannot judge or estimate the results of his acts before he commits them…

Stan Vanderbeek

 

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Seeing the Digital Future: 1961 AT&T Corporate Film

SeeingTheDigitalFuture

Here’s a 1961 corporate film from AT&T that tries to predict the wonderful digital world of the future, including online shopping!

 

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Jeff Keen’s Dreams of the Archduke Sketchbook

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This is a short film made for a gallery showing of works by the late great British artist and filmmaker, Jeff Keen. It’s a soundless page turn through a series of brilliant and inspiring pages in a sketchbook. If you are at all familiar with his amazing film work, you will see how directly connected to that work these pages really are.

 

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If you are unfamiliar with Keen’s incredible and very influential film work, here is a treat for you. It’s his ‘Marvo Movie’ from 1967.

 

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