Swoon is a Belgian poet filmmaker who makes films that try to blur the boundary between written poem and moving image. He mixes his own footage with found footage and sometimes mixes his own words with others. I like the quiet easy tone of his work. I like his manipulation of imagery. His work is a very difficult kind of work because it tries to make something new from two different things. Poetry is a perfect form all by itself. But film is never satisfied. It’s always looking for something to include within it. So it’s natural for film to go looking for poetry and try to bring it in. But poetry resists all alliances. Poetry seems content and willing to wait for centuries. It requires nothing. It doesn’t care what film wants. It will sit on a dry page in some crowded shelf somewhere waiting six hundred years for just a single pair of eyes to come along in boredom, open to the page, glance in, read half-way down and then slap the book shut for another six hundred years until someone decides to finish reading the goddamn thing. That’s patience. Film doesn’t have that. Film must be seen now or it withers. It begins to rot. Even if it’s digital. Digital films become confused and get lost in the forest of other digits. They may never find their way out again. So working with the two things and trying to get them together is very difficult but may actually make perfect sense.
This is a film poem triptych that is Swoon’s first work to include his own words. There’s a site for the film with more information.
‘The Living Want Me Dead‘ is a short independent horror film that’s won a bunch of awards at festivals because it deserves to. I enjoyed every minute of this wild ride along with a desperate slacker as he realizes that he’s been contaminated with a substance that causes everyone within sniffing distance to want to disembowel, devour, decapitate and dismember him. He’s hounded by vomiting, mouth-foaming lunatics who simply won’t rest until he’s dead. It’s a clever commentary on the overdone zombie genre that manages somehow to be frightening and hilarious at the same time. The film was written and directed by Bill Palmer who employes techniques typically seen in independent feature films. Vimeo is full of filmmakers who want to strut their pro-quality stuff, but very few of them make anything I can watch for more than several seconds. I’m sure that director of photography Jeremy Hayward had a lot to do with this because the camera work is fluid and clear, even when following intense action and movement.
Director Palmer handles his equipment, crew and actors without letting the job overwhelm his natural instinct for telling a ripping good story and making us want to know what’s going to happen next. In fact, he made much of his own equipment, including a simple rig for filming underwater! He used water guns to shoot fake blood. I love that kind of filmmaking. And I love that he did it all without ridiculous shooting permits. He just hit the side streets with his little crew and turned the whole neighborhood into what I imagine was a hell of fun time. He has created a tight little view into a California suburb at Christmas time by littering the landscape with decorations that lend a sort of lunatic and false joy to the dark comedy and spurting blood.
So the main character, played to intense and despairing perfection by Adam Conger, tries to get away from his attackers by lying low at a friend’s house. Conger really hits his role on the money. He’s perfect as the overwhelmed slacker-type dude who’s actually fairly driven and maniacal in survival mode. But he just can’t seem to find a good way to explain the desperate situation to his friend who is played with great comic ability by Tony Nunes. I believe that during the violent proceedings in his backyard, this friend is primarily engaged with heating up a HotPocket. Needless to say, the hero’s plan for lying low does not work out very well!
Germaine Dulac was one of the original French film ‘auteurs.’ She was also a film theorist and feminist. She had a relatively short career as an avant-garde filmmaker, making such works as ‘The Smiling Madam Beaudet (1923) and ‘The Seashell and the Clergyman’ (1928) which is often credited as being the first Surrealist film.
In this film, the title translated as ‘Those Who Make Themselves,’ we follow a destitute drunk woman who appears to yearn for the life of a prostitute or to engage in some sort of tryst. It is also possible that she is simply despondent over rejection by a lover. She appears to fail at everything she tries and eventually walks down a staircase into the Seine river. It’s a very simple film that manages to convey a deep sense of loneliness.
Dulac insisted on being credited as the author of her films, not accepting the standard partnership between a screenwriter and director.
Here’s a 1923 quote from Dulac:
I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.
Patrick O’Neill is one of the Los Angeles artists currently featured in the huge citywide exhibit known as ‘Pacific Standard Time.‘ He has made many experimental films using techniques perfected with an optical printer. This film incorporates footage of oil derricks in Venice, California and nude models filmed in the artist’s studio. Its synthesizer score is by Joseph Byrd. I don’t know much about optical printers, but I do know that they allow images or films to be projected and rephotographed by a movie camera. So my guess is that one could set up multiple layers of screens and projections to film them and blend them into a single image. Optical printers were used to create special effects in Hollywood films. I think perhaps the most famous use of the printer was in the creation of the light show sequence near the end of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’
O’Neill is one of the people who form the incredible fabric of the Los Angeles art scene post World War II. I did not know of him until I found his work through the Pacific Standard Time exhibit which is really something remarkable and I think that its effects will be felt in the art world for quite some time. Its broad scope, grouping and explanation of the Los Angeles art history and its significance cannot help but influence artists here in the city and far beyond. It’s essentially saying, ‘Look, here’s a great and fascinating body of work inspired by a city for the second half of the twentieth century. Here’s how it all happened, who the people were and what they were trying to do.’ It’s a very strong impression to make on a city. It must be a very great honor for an artist to be included in it.
I finished my first film in 1962. Then I started doing abstract or composite films. I began to use the camera as a sort of gathering device to provide elements for manipulation through re-photography. This led to 7362 which was finished in 1967. I didn’t have much knowledge about the history of the medium at that time. I’d had maybe three film classes at UCLA and beyond that the midnight screenings at the Coronet and the Cinema Theater were my education. That series at the Cinema Theater was going on from the early sixties.
Here’s a 1966 short crime film by a young and learning Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The great and too-soon-departed German filmmaker actually plays one of the three young criminals who decide to invade a woman’s home to terrorize and rob her. The film is relentlessly cool and begins at around the 3 minute mark to really show how deeply Fassbinder was mining the work of Jean Luc Godard. Those shots in the apartment with Fassbinder reading the novel out loud in front of a wall of pinned art prints is straight up Godard stuff. But it’s just fine to imitate other filmmakers as long as your real intention is to destroy them from the inside. Fassbinder was just that kind of filmmaker.
This is a short film made in 2000 for the Toronto International Film Festival by David Cronenberg. ‘Videodrome’ actor Les Carson talks about how afraid he is of the movie camera while children bring one into the house and set up to shoot their own movie with professional equipment. The actor’s fear and doubt contrast sharply with the enthusiasm of the kids. But of course they are interested in him as subject matter because they know that he is real. This is an excellent and moving study of time, creativity and how all art is an unfathomable mixture of enthusiasm and terror.