Imagine an insane alien astronaut who tunes into earth’s radiating television signals originating in the analog days of the twentieth century. The alien receives our entire TV culture in seconds, processing the sounds and images instantly, watching them all simultaneously… and the alien is crazy enough to find a message within.
This is an experimental film that is for all intents and purposes a continuation of my previous film, “The Magical Dead Sunstroke Valley,” which has been screening for the past year at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA).
Surrealist art great, Man Ray, made this film in 1929. It follows a pair of indecisive travelers who base all their action on chance. They head out to a fabulous chateau in the hills and wander around inside and out. They run into four odd persons who enjoy swimming and running about as if the place is their private gym. But what is Man Ray doing here? Why all these shots of windows, lamps, sculptures? He is finding the abnormal in the normal. Wherever he happens to be with a camera he can make the surreal. He’s functioning as an artist, looking for odd angles, shadows, contrasts. He is also diving into the great current of his culture. The house is a castle filled with fine objects and great art. Man Ray is expressing his enthusiasm. This is an extremely childish film. I mean that as a compliment, though I really see nothing exceptional in works for children. But for an artist to function as a child for a certain amount of time is extraordinary and beneficial I think. But that kind of thinking must end and lead to its own destruction. In other words, I do not think any children’s author or illustrator should ever continue to work in that way for more than a few years. Then it is time to think about serious things and to make things that upset people. Perhaps that is my main criticism for most of the things I have seen by Man Ray. He seems a little bit too pleasant. I might be wrong about that. I have to look a little more.
First, here’s a nice review and interview about the film at Dangerous Minds. Want to follow a secret identity artist through a dangerous Los Angeles as he escapes and hits like a criminal? Hang on and watch carefully. You may need to watch it 14 times to catch the drift. But you’ve probably got that kind of time anyway. This is a Los Angeles crime film. But it’s as if several films on celluloid fused together and what you end up with is an art film that gets overwhelmed by urban documentary and then collapses into a narrative thriller. It’s filled with hints, clues, evidence and misdirection. Images, ideas and sounds bounce off each other, mirror each other. There are secrets in this film. You have to watch carefully, through layers to catch things. I’ve tried to make a film that moves like disjointed thoughts toward the preordained ending. Continue reading …
The film seems almost out of time. It could have been filmed fifty years ago. The gently swaying palms of Los Angeles fit between buildings easily but seem to have a romantic life in this film. The music, a piece for theremin and string quartet by Herbert A. Deutsch, fits the imagery in Jennifer Sharpe’s film to perfection. This kind of filmmaking, done with a small camera and then edited and colored in a relatively simple digital editor, is very close to the simplicity of the poet working in a notepad or the artist sketching from her window. Sharpe’s films are deeply felt poetic expressions that seem to exist in the only possible form that they could have. She turns her video images into something close to painting, extending time and finding mystery in simple movements. She has a very gentle approach but with strength in her observation and emotional ability, sort of like a butterfly with steel wings.
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.