TOP 10 AVANT-GARDE FILMS OF 1998 Image

Below are 10 (or so) avant-garde films and videos that mattered to me in 1998, in no particular order. There were others that I liked also, and of course many more that I wasn’t able to see, but this is hopefully a good overview of an interesting year in avant garde cinema. ^ [ FIELD STUDIES ] ^ by silt (8mm & 16mm film) ^ I think of these “silt” guys as organic film farmers. Partly it’s the nature of their material, as in a recent outdoor performance projecting 8mm and 16mm film onto a large screen mounted by an ocean cliff: images of leaves, insects, earth, water, all matter of natural matter. But more than the content, it’s the way they cultivate their imagery: patiently, organically, pushing light and emulsion through a variety of natural processes to achieve unexpected results. A nourishing harvest awaits those willing to reap it. ^
[ HOURS OF THE IDOLATE ] and [ OUT US WE BONE ONE SO NAKED ] ^ by Anie S8 Stanley (8mm film with audio tape, 16 mins. & 10 mins.) ^ Bad grrrl Anie Stanley’s sloppy and indulgent super-8 fetish fantasies belie a cunning wit and audacious post-feminist artistry. While on the surface they appear just plain wrong — several hand-wringing feminists in the audience found them indistinguishable from male-centered porno — they are in fact quite right. The women pose and play in defiant affirmations of female sexuality, and perform not for male pleasure or for commercial exploitation but for their own unabashed enjoyment. As Anie herself says, “These women have stopped ‘gazing,’ and have put on the welding goggles.” Of particular note are “Hours of the Idolate,” where scantily-clad women do politically-incorrect things with western paraphernalia, and “Our Us We Bone One So Naked,” where an unseen male trapped in a parked car — represented by the voyeuristic camera — is threatened and taunted by provocatively-clad women. ^
[ SHE IS ASLEEP ] ^ by Konrad Steiner (16mm film with separate audio, 11 mins.) ^ Konrad Steiner uses a simple film technique we all thought had been done to death — the multiple exposure — and finds in it a new grace and vitality. Using images culled from his personal life and travels, he builds layers of visual richness that interweave, overwhelm and subside like tidal rhythms, revealing the passions and other miracles that normally lay hidden below film’s surface. In an era of visual gluttony where special effects are hailed for their virtuosity, Steiner’s film re-affirms the difference between technique for its own sake and true artistry. ^
[ BOB COBBING/MOVIE TRIVIA/HYPNOPEDAGOGY ] ^ by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE (16mm sound film, color/sound, 28 mins.) ^ Artist and provocateur tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE takes footage of a 60s-era high school counselor — blandly discussing teenage sexuality and reworks it into a mantra-like intonation of distressed surfaces, severed frames and stuttering loops. Bob Cobbing is a relentless, rigorous work, obsessively punctuated and deftly executed with a complex hashwork of visual and aural cues. tENT infuses the banality of his film’s core with depth and wit. ^
[ PASANG NAIK ] ^ by Amie Siegel (3/4″ video, color/sound, 16 mins.) ^ Amie Siegel’s “travelogue” video shot in Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand subtly affirms the distinction between “looking” — gathering visual information — and “seeing” — applying meaning to that information. Each scene is a single shot, 20 or 30 seconds long, focusing on something that caught Siegel’s eye: light refracting through a window, a ring dangling from the ear of a dancer, the shadow of a tree as it wavers across a noisy street. Locations are never revealed, and actions are never explained, making it impossible to exoticize, iconize or inform the imagery with any cultural bias. Instead an indisputable essence of truth emerges: This happened here. Like so. Here is proof. ^
[ THE MARCH ] ^ by Abraham Ravett (video from film and video, color/sound, 20+ mins., work-in-progress) ^ In “The March,” the Abraham Ravett documents his mother’s recollections of the 1945 “Death March” from Auschwitz, using loose interviews conducted over a thirteen year period beginning in the mid-1980s. As his mother’s health deteriorates and her willingness to discuss that terrible time diminishes, the video becomes less about a historic event and more about a child’s need to preserve and understand his parents’ — and his culture’s — past. Ravett’s simple portrait is loving, respectful and deeply moving. ^
[ GLASS: MEMORIES OF WATER ] ^ by J. Leighton Pierce (16mm sound film, 7 mins.) ^ Leighton Pierce seems content to pursue his unique and idiosyncratic visions, far from the maddening trends of his more urban counterparts. His latest, “Glass,” is a contemplative document of subtle movements in his semi-rural environs, photographed through several light-refracting water vessels and slowed to a sensuous and studious pace. ^
[ VARIATIONS ] ^ by Nathaniel Dorsky (16mm film, color/silent, 30 mins.) ^ The simple street scenes and cross-sections of natural and urban phenomena that inhabit “Variations” become not studies of ‘what is happening’ but revelations of ‘what *else* is happening.’ Dorsky allows each shot to have its own life, giving it a length and breadth that seems utterly correct by some non-verbal system of logic, and the layering of elements within the frame gives respectful space for the eye to wander and wonder. The more one looks, the more that is revealed, and journeying through its 30 silent minutes becomes a process of learning how to see. ^
[ SHULIE ] ^ by Elisabeth Subrin (8mm film on video) ^ Elisabeth Subrin’s shot-by-shot reconstruction of a little-known 1967 documentary about Shulie Firestone, an awkward art student who would later achieve notoriety with her 1970 manifesto “The Dialectic of Sex,” begs the question: Why? There’s no simple answer, but the question itself is intriguing and the results are fascinating. The film resonates with the history that followed its time and in the way our thinking has been shaped in the intervening years.
[ CONCORD ] ^ by Gary Adelstein (8mm film on video); ^ [ CHANCE HAND ] by Jerry Orr (video) ^ Jerry Orr and Gary Adelstein toured in ’98 with their videotapes designed for large screen projection. Given the resulting diminished resolution, it’s perhaps not surprising that two of the most interesting pieces exploit the nuances of moving water. “Concord” is shot over- and underwater in a colorfully-lit swimming pool; in “Chance Hand,” a bathing figure moves slowly through digitized fields of sensuous patterns. ^

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