“Super 8 Girl Games,” a DVD on the Index label, offers an invaluable opportunity to see the works of Ursula Pürrer and Angela Hans Scheirl, dyke structuralist Super 8 animator/filmmakers extraordinaire. This amazing collection of work is rarely seen, and Index has rendered film lovers a wonderful service by making these films available. The DVD is a “must have” for those interested in quality experimental film. Here are some highlights:
“Black Heart” is a strange, astounding film which is very difficult to describe. An “animation” made of abstracted live action shots and a kind of geometric puppetry, the film shows images of ordinary objects seen in an artists’ studio, such as wooden tables and chairs, but composed into shots so that they could be seen as gorgeous geometric abstractions, which might have come from a painting by Malevich or Mondrian. There are shots of a hand moving a black fabric triangle along a white page, of a black staircase festooned with criss cross white lines, and dramatic shots of the camera moving low between two tables. There is a kind of art school awareness in every shot of the film. The compositions refer constantly to abstract geometric art. Shots of nude women holding plantlike cutouts remind one of Matisse, while the women’s abstract, geometric face masks might come from Picasso.
Yet the entire film is made with an extremely rough, home-made aesthetic, imbued with the DIY spirit of early punk. Every geometric form is roughly hand cut with scissors and sloppily painted. The shots are beautifully and expertly composed, but badly lit and shot with hand-held Super 8 cameras. The soundtrack consists of eerie and powerful sound textures which also sound like they are primitively recorded and manipulated from ordinary sounds, but these sounds are transformed into pounding, screaming, breathing and scratching sound environments which are carefully matched with the images to bring the film to vibrant, organic life.
I distinctly felt as if very particular ideas and feelings led to the abstractions in the film. For one thing, repeated images of a black vase spewing liquid seem to have a special meaning for the artists. Yet I viewed the film as an entirely abstract construction of sound and visual textures, playing with the spatial ambiguity of photography, which can always be read as either flat or as having spatial depth. Nevertheless, the underlying passion of the artists also survives as a texture in the work, giving the film a sense of urgency. “Black Heart” bubbles over with inventiveness. The artists use the simplest of means to create complex, abstract compositions and a mental landscape suffused with appealing physicality of a great athletic or erotic adventure.
“Body building” uses nudity, a variety of strange costume elements, and athletic movement, to create an overtly erotic collage which celebrates and explores ways to “build” different identities and playfully sensual disguises onto a woman’s body.
In “zigzagged rivulet,” sculptural elements, painting, makeup and prosthetics, and women’s bodies (occasionally with fluid pouring out of their vaginas) are used to make highly stylized tableaux expressing female erotic energy. Again, oddly, the filmmakers seem to think like painters, making primarily still tableaux. Yet these still compositions are imbued with very simple elements of movement and they mostly use live action photography, creating a bizarre and highly appealing art form in which intense physical sensations are turned into very abstract pictures, which nevertheless flow with a tactile physicality.
In films such as “a rubber dinghy and oysters,” the filmmakers casually include children who are obviously enjoying the fun of joining the adults for “let’s dress up and make a movie.” Their inclusion emphasizes the essentially playful nature of the impulse behind these films, without diminishing their extreme visual sophistication.
“Originally Colored” is a wonderful abstract animation, whose diagram-like images recall either Navajo rugs or Pac Man era computer graphics. The rhythmic techno score (also referencing the sounds of computer games) brings these moving grids and stripes to life. The film is astoundingly inventive, given that the technology to make such a film did not really exist in the 1980s, forcing the filmmakers to invent and improvise by, for example, using plastic strings to move pictorial elements across the screen, simulating a graphic interface. Titles, such as “move sideways” on a square which enters the screen sideways, recall the use of text in the paintings of Stuart Davis. Actual film projectors, throwing images onto other surfaces, small models of film projectors, and diagrams of projector setups proliferate throughout the film. The extremely high level of artistic skill and inventiveness in the combination of images and music keep this film riveting throughout its 16 minutes.
Similarly juicy and exciting is “The Drift of Juicy,” Pürrer’s solo effort, in which both music and imagery reference industrial machinery. The screen is often divided into irregular rectangles, some of which have flat, abstract machine-like images, and some of which have moving footage of, for example, a truck driving on a dusty road. The music seems largely constructed from samples recorded on the floors of factories and machine shops. Explicit images of lesbian sex are rendered as if performed by computer game figures, and inserted into industrial landscapes, making the erotic appeal of machinery visible. As in all of these works, there is a lively ambiguity of images which can be read as either flat or 3D, animated or photographed. Much of the imagery concerns gears or machine teeth: machine parts which mate.
In “1/2 Frogs Fuck Fast,” some extremely butch women box at a gym. A woman with a shaved head masturbates with a bicycle seat. We hear fast techno music. Later the woman is fucked by a woman with a strap-on and a dog collar. The film is an orgiastic lesbian punk sex celebration, and a rebellion against the Political Correctness of 60s era Lesbian Feminists. An unaroused man in drag is jerked off by a dyke. This is truly a “Flaming Creatures” for the 80s.
Ursula Pürrer and Angela Hans Scheirl are examples of truly great filmmakers you may well have never heard of.