Imagine yourself sitting in a finished basement room with wood panel walls, a nice thick shag carpet, and a long low console television. In the 70s, I remember running from house to house to see everyone’s color screens because I had a black & white at home. An episode of Star Trek in full color glory was a rare form of Nirvana for me. I wasn’t really as uncool as that sounds. Don’t let it fool you. Pretty soon our current infatuation with HD will seem just as naive.
While I was running through the Getty Center’s flagship portion of the massive citywide ‘Pacific Standard Time‘ art exhibit, I was struck by just how great this Wallace Berman fellow really was. Known primarily as the ‘father’ of assemblage art, he was also a member of the Beat Movement. He made a single film which occupied much of his time through the 1960s and 70s. It’s less than eight minutes long and it’s a drop dead gorgeous thing to see. He’s one of those film artists interested in what I like to call the messy image. The film seems to have been dragged through ink and dirt. It’s been scratched, wrinkled, folded, cut, slashed and stained. Letters flash by like subliminal messages. Pop culture crashes into modern art. He films magazines, papers, radios, faces, hands, rock stars, body parts, buildings, streets and apparently just about everything he had lying around in his studio. This film is a quiet little reminder that crystal clear HD and super sharp focus are not anywhere near the concerns of some artists.
And here is California assemblage artist George Herms talking about Berman recently as part of the Pacific Standard Time series of exhibits:
Pacific Standard Time is a massive overview of Los Angeles art from 1945 to 1980. At least sixty galleries and museums are taking part over the next few months. I have already been to the largest exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Getty Center. The whole thing is a lot of fun and I have discovered artists I never knew about before. There are magnificent things on display and the curators have also published big books to go along with each exhibit. I seriously recommend that you always get the books because they have far more information in them than the exhibits themselves. I view it as my own effort to compile a record of this unique regional art show.
You can find almost everything you need at the Pacific Standard Time web site.
This film was put together for the Getty Center’s flagship exhibit, Crosscurrents, which covers 1950 to 1970. It’s a very nice little documentary about some of the major art developments in Los Angeles.
I did not know this filmmaker, Paolo Gioli, existed until yesterday. And that really bothers me because I feel a very strong kinship with this filmmaker just on the basis of having seen two of his pieces. What can a filmmaker do with his own backyard? That is the question that comes to my mind as I watch his films. Can a filmmaker take his camera out back and make something astounding? Of course. In fact, that skill is central to being a creative filmmaker. It is the feeling I get from Gioli. He makes films that have a guiding concern but he is not afraid to slip a little off of the main track and let you see him experimenting. One can observe his enthusiasm for a new mechanical technique and he allows his film to wander into the territory of the new machine or splicing method for a while. And then he comes back to the main thing. He never lets this get out of control and it is a miracle to watch. One can learn how to experiment by watching a brilliant experimentalist. It’s that simple.
There are many filmmakers I wish I could meet and perhaps work with. Gioli is one of them. In fact, this brings to mind again my thought that things like YouTube are the greatest cinematic development of the past half century. The reason has nothing to do with screen format or size or image quality. It has to do with intimacy. The feeling of connection one can get by watching a filmmaker’s work on the computer is far more intimate than could be achieved in a theater. It is this quality that is the most important contribution of online film to world cinema. Intimate connection to the artist. It has a powerful effect on artists and communicates ideas and inspiration from generation to generation far more effectively than any prior cinematic display technology.
Here is an article by David Bordwell on how Gioli’s hand-made cameras influence his ‘vertical cinema’ technique.
It’s all very confused and mysterious. In 1972, the Rolling Stones hired photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank to make a film about their American tour. He made something wonderful called ‘Cocksucker Blues,’ which immediately angered the Stones because it actually showed them to be the ultra coolest and baddest band in the world. They sued him to keep the film out of circulation. Go figure. Why would you sue a guy for making the one absolute piece of evidence that you are what you say you are: ‘The greatest rock & roll band in the world?’ Well I don’t know the answer. Drugs and addled minds perhaps. This short film is actual footage taken by Frank on Super 8 cameras. It’s been edited by someone called Videodrumz on YouTube and put together with ‘Rocks Off’ from the ‘Exile on Main Street’ album. It’s good. It works. The footage is absolutely recognizable as Frank’s.
Here’s an extremely rare underground Halloween treat for anyone who loves film. Ah, but only the very fewest of you will actually watch this all the way through! Give it a try. Not only is this film underground… it’s underhanded. Pere Portabella made ‘Cuadecuc, Vampir’ in 1970 by filming on the set of a Christopher Lee film called ‘Count Dracula’ that was being directed by Jesus Franco. Portabella’s underground classic is on its surface a silent horror film. But it’s also a documentary about the making of the Dracula film. It tells its story by stealing scenes from the feature being shot around it, almost as if the film were a mashup of existing footage! The high-contrast black and white photography evokes such cinema greats as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’ and F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu.’ We see typical horror scenes like a stagecoach racing through the wilderness, or a dusty crypt, interrupted by the arm of a prop person using a fan to blow fake spiderwebs or a cameraman shooting from behind furniture. These slippages from horror into documentary actually produce a weird terror when you realize that the film was being shot under the watchful eyes of Spain’s dictator, General Francisco Franco. What the film really is underneath all the fantastic and disturbing imagery is a vicious attack on Franco and the false media manipulation that keeps all dictators in power. The portrait it paints of Franco himself is one of a sad, disturbed and largely ineffective vampire who lives inside a mental construction based on the past. The other characters in the film seem to be wandering through this psychotic realm, trying to find a way out.
The soundtrack incorporates jet engines, muzak, electronic music, opera singing, jackhammers, stuck records and various other electronic sounds. Don’t let this throw you because the soundtrack is one of the most eerie and unsettling that you will ever hear.
And I’m thinking that Criterion needs to jump on this and make a nice blu-ray release out of it.
Pere Portabella has a web site.
Now, just for kicks, here is a scene from the actual color film of Dracula being shot while Pere Portabella stole his own film right under Christopher Lee’s nose! You decide which film seems scarier.