Avant-Garde, Experimental & Non-narrative Films

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Gregory
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 4:07 pm

#26 Post by Gregory » Thu Apr 06, 2006 11:23 am

Thanks. Sorry my information on Belson and Iota was out of date.
I think Epilogue premiered not long after my last post on Belson but I was unfortunately unable to attend. It looks like I'll be moving to San Diego this year, so it will be much easier to catch future screenings at the Center For Visual Music. By the way, the above link to the CVM site is faulty due to a comma inside the url tag.
Last edited by Gregory on Thu Apr 06, 2006 1:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

acquarello
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#27 Post by acquarello » Thu Apr 06, 2006 12:50 pm

Oh, cool! I see that CVM has officially announced the Oskar Fischinger DVD release for next month. They sent an email last month to all past CVM customers about it and requested not to spread the word until it's announced. The films are:

Spirals
Study no. 6
Study no. 7
Kreise
Allegretto
Radio Dynamics
Motion Painting No. 1
Wax Experiments
Spiritual Constructions
Walking from Munich to Berlin

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Jean-Luc Garbo
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#28 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Fri Apr 07, 2006 1:34 pm

How is CVM's Maya Deren video? Oh, is it video or DVD? Anyway, is the quality of the image good?

acquarello
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#29 Post by acquarello » Fri Apr 07, 2006 6:12 pm

The one that CVM is selling is the Re-voir VHS, which is Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, and Ritual in Transfigured Time, all of which are in the Mystic Fire DVD so I didn't pick it up. The ones I picked up from CVM were the Michael Snow tapes and Jonas Mekas: Walden (Diaries, Notes and Sketches).

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HerrSchreck
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#30 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Apr 08, 2006 10:25 am

montgomery wrote:I think Unseen Cinema is absolutely essential, but I can't imagine it sold very well because of the aforementioned loose application of the term "Avant Garde," which is bound to seem misleading for avant-garde enthusiasts, and off-putting to others. I myself don't mind that the term isn't used appropriately (for lack of a better word), but "avant-garde" is almost too broad a term for what they were trying to accomplish with this box set. And if people are complaining, I think it's justified because many, if not most, of the films were not intended as "avant-garde" films, but instead came out of a period of greater experimentation in cinema before the artform became so homogenized.

The one major complaint I have about the set is the musical accompaniment. Besides the fact that many of the scores are unpleasant, synthesized and anachronistic (and just plain bad in most cases), they often go too far in recontextualizing the films as "avant-garde" by being avant-garde themselves (in the most benign, cliched way possible. And do we really need to see the website address for each composer after every film? Very tacky, although that might just be the Kino set, can't remember--both sets have terrible music). At worst, it's a problem of semantics (or marketing, possibly bad marketing) to use the term "avant-garde" to describe some of these films, but it's another thing to actually make them more avant-garde by way of the musical score. I guess it wouldn't bother me quite so much if the scores weren't so terrible (the use of vintage recordings on some of the older films works much better).

The only other complaint I have about this set is that the DVDs could better designed and easier to navigate (the Film Archives set is much better in this regard).

But why am I being so negative? If you don't have this set, you're missing out. Cinema was far more exciting and innovative, and far less self-conscious back then, and there will never be films like this again. This set is what DVDs are made for.
This discussion should probably be in the Silent Film Music thread, but what this guy is talking about in this set is a problem which extends across the market of silent film presentation.

This set's 'original compositions' are nothing but throwaway noodling. Donald Sosin's work in the synthesizer medium, and his ongoing commissions for discs requiring something beyond classical piano, just confounds me. (and some of Larry Marrotta's work for Kino-- ever hear his accompaniment for their 40 minute compression of Veine's GENUINE? on CALIGARI?... the fucking mindless wheedling of a 7 year old who knows three notes and plays 'chords' just by bridging an index finger across a fretboard in normal tuning)

Sosin's failure on this disc is as complete as his failure on Caligari, NOSFERATU (with his wife chirping "OH!", "Hutteeerrrr"-- fucking silent film, no?) and FLOATING WEEDS. Speaking of FLOATING WEEDS-- and the poster above's laughing at the placement of every 'composer's (very generous appellation) email address-- did we really need this fucking full paragraph beneath the ABOUT THE TRANSFER stuff explaining in mindless detail (which would snooze a librarian into a coma) the instrument used, the recording equipment used, the process of recording step by step as though this nonentity were freaking Stravinsky? It's piano-Xanax awready, stop fetishizing something folks are already totally disappointed in. Not to mention the freaking CHURCH he turned KING OF KINGS into, talk about editorializing the content.

His work on the UNSEEN CINEMA AVANT GARDE discs pop the pieces right out of the context of the age they were created in and splats them straight into the modern DVD age, where few people outside of Timothy Brock & Rodney Sauer (and the BFI/Milestone, who get it right with the highest batting average I've seen... CHESS PLAYER, HINDLE WAKES, Evgeni BAUER, etc) know how to support a vintage film with authentic atmosphere. I'm serious... rather than recreate the cinematic experience, or help transport me to the psychological world of the avant, Sosin's work on these discs nail me to my couch and scream in my ear YOURE IN YOUR ROOM WATCHING A DISC IN A WORLD WERE ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE PASSIONS, SILENT FILMS, IS HANDLED SO POORLY ON VIDEO THAT YOU NEARLY NEED TO PLUG YOUR EARS. Sosin, who I've heard accompany films in person many times, is, in the world of electronic music, like a special ed kid loosed in the MIT engineering dept. He doesn't have a clue how to voice a synth (his selection of analog voices are even worse than Eric Behiems blatantly analog orchestra). That same silly faux string voice he used in the CALAGARI track, breathing worthless airy viola sounds in meaningless improv-- it's about as far as real psychological avant garde (notwithstanding the debatable a-v nature of the films themselves) as one can come. His work is no less uninspiring for German expressionist flicks, which, in comprarison to the rest of the mass market of features being produced in the late-teens/early 20's, were undeniably avant)

It amazes me that these guys are selected for work time and time again. How can people with such excellent cinematic tastes-- Donald Krim, Pete Becker, Dave Shepard-- have such abysmal taste in music? How can the prized world these films obviously create in their enthusiastic minds find pleasurable intercourse with this slop? Just because guys plunked cue sheets, and noodled classic figures from well-known symphonies (when no score or cues were available) from the 80's forward in the Forum and the MoMa, doesn't make them excellent composers to be hired to the exclusion of all others. There are so many hungry young composers eager for a break (WB young composers contest did justice to the Chaneys), the repeated use of these failures just confounds me. I stuns me, but I find Eric Beheim's work on the UNSEEN CINEMA discs to be more enjoyable than Sosin's. Behiems scores and sounds have a bell-ringing, carousel-like, vaudevillian music hall quality which is at least vaguely reminiscent of the low-rent dancehall atmosphere of the times out of which these films of the avant garde evolved, seedy, stale, smelling of cheap beer, etc. Put Sosin out to pasture already.

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david hare
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#31 Post by david hare » Sat Apr 08, 2006 7:12 pm

I agree Soisin's score's are infantile and inappropriate, but you can always turn off the sound. As Schreck says silent scoring tracks are a game of chance across the board (I don't even like the Schumann/Brahms compendium piano track for Michael.)

The only other disappointing aspect of the Unseen box is the tedious "Amateurs" disc which seems to be entirely composed of home movies by talentless families, or lesbians from Santa Fe whose descendants have insisted on an inclusion disc to guarantee the financing of the project. Small price to pay for the remaining six discs I think.

David Ehrenstein
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#32 Post by David Ehrenstein » Sun Apr 09, 2006 12:32 pm

Star-Spangled to Death, Ken Jacobs 50-years-in-the-making MORE than magnum opus is coming out on 5 DVD. Ken is taking advance orders for it on his website.

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Gregory
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#33 Post by Gregory » Sun Apr 09, 2006 1:34 pm

It's a 4-DVD set, according to the order page. It's $70 plus $8 for shipping -- a bargain for such an important work. Reviews, gallery, etc. here. I'll probably buy it because I didn't get a chance to see it when it opened a couple of years ago, let alone any of the unfinished versions that were screened.

montgomery
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#34 Post by montgomery » Sun Apr 09, 2006 7:07 pm

I agree with everything HerrShreck said in response to my post. I didn't mean to single out Unseen Cinema for poor scoring, since 99% of my silent film DVDs have outrageously terrible scores. It's just so disappointing that such a lavish labor-of-love set is so lacking in this area. And of course I do turn the sound off and sure, that solves the problem. But it is annoying that the included scores aren't just to my taste, they really do border on incompetent.

Soothsayer
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#35 Post by Soothsayer » Tue May 02, 2006 12:47 pm

Hello to everyone, as this is my first post on this board, I would also like to suggest the films of Peter Tscherkassky to those who appreciate avant-garde cinema and haven't seen his films. His film "Outer Space" is one of the most physically affecting films I've ever seen.

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gubbelsj
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#36 Post by gubbelsj » Tue May 02, 2006 6:52 pm

Tscherkassky is truly original. He seems equally confident whether jaggedly mutilating his own prints, layering images atop one another, or incorporating found footage into the larger whole. "Outer Space" is definitely one of his best. Index DVD has recently put out a small collection of his works, including "OuterSpace" and five others - "La Arrivee", "Dream Work", "Get Ready" - all more recent offerings - and two mid-80s pieces, "Motion Picture", and "Manufraktur". It's a must-buy for any fan of contemporary avant-garde film.

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Gregory
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#37 Post by Gregory » Tue May 02, 2006 9:12 pm

Tscherkassky devotees will want to have the Index DVD, but it sure is expensive. Facets has the gall to charge $70. Anyone who can justify that much money for a DVD roughly 30 minutes in length probably has more spare income than I. I know it's available for a bit less elsewhere, but still nowhere in the neighborhood of inexpensive.
Those curious about his work can see Outer Space on Other Cinema's Experiments in Terror DVD. I remember reading comments to the effect that Outer Space is the only worthwhile thing on the compilation, but I really cannot understand this. With the exception of The Virgin Sacrifice and Dawn of an Evil Millenium, I'll be returning to the shorts on this disc again and again.

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gubbelsj
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#38 Post by gubbelsj » Wed May 03, 2006 1:04 am

Gregory wrote:Tscherkassky devotees will want to have the Index DVD, but it sure is expensive. Facets has the gall to charge $70.
You're quite right, and I had forgotten about the outrageous asking price. I was lucky enough to have a good friend with plenty of spare income pick up a copy for me. He may have found it on eBay. That Experiments in Terror disc may be the better deal, though....

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Gregory
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#39 Post by Gregory » Wed May 03, 2006 3:47 am

That's a good idea. I'll have to look out for Index DVDs on eBay. By the way, I hope my words didn't come across badly. I didn't mean to say anything judgmental toward anyone who would decide to buy Index DVDs. Rather, I meant that one ought to be careful with prices on some of these out-of-the-ordinary sources. For example, all the DVDs I noticed on the New Museum Store (another one of the U.S. sites listed by Index to access their DVDs) are significantly more than full retail price.

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neuro
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#40 Post by neuro » Thu May 25, 2006 7:19 pm

DVDBeaver has a review of ARTPIX's new disc, William Wegman: Video Works 1970-1999. It's a two-disc set with over 150 (!) of Wegman's video works; need I say more?

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david hare
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#41 Post by david hare » Thu May 25, 2006 7:32 pm

Yes I spotted this, and have been a fan of Wegman's photographic family of Weimaranas for years. But the video quality looks like video-8 sub VHS!!

As a dog lover I'm sorely tempted, but would love to hear a review/imipression from fellow posters. Beav's review doesn't say much apart from having them rolling on the floor.

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zedz
Joined: Sun Nov 07, 2004 7:24 pm

#42 Post by zedz » Sun May 28, 2006 10:37 pm

I have no idea whether they're on the disc, but Wegman created a series of hilarious black-out sketches featuring Faye the Dog for Sesame Street. Impassive, put-upon Faye undergoes a series of comic indignities with Keatonian stoicism.

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david hare
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#43 Post by david hare » Sun May 28, 2006 10:50 pm

An old workmate who shares my Francophilia years ago gave me a Wegman Address book which depicts toute la famille Ray in various costumes and unlikely situations - evening gowns and cigarette holders etc. Sublime. Weimaranas are the canine Keatons to the Dachsies Harold Lloyds.

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sevenarts
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#44 Post by sevenarts » Sat Jun 17, 2006 4:54 pm

This seems as good a place as any for discussion of Kino's Avant-Garde set, which I've been delving in to. There's some very interesting stuff here, although not every film in the set is particularly great (or even particularly avant-garde). I've been most impressed, unsurprisingly, by the four Man Ray films, especially L'etoile de Mer and Emak-Bakia. These two films in particular are just about perfect, the kind of film where the sheer inventiveness and quickness of the mind at work propel the film in the absence of narrative cohesion. There's some kind of loose narrative in L'etoile of course, but to me these are primarily films of the mind; images, ideas, and associations flowing free-associatively from one to the next. Gorgeous stuff.

The only other film I've watched so far that has had as strong an effect on me is Dimitri Kirsanoff's Menilmontant, which curiously enough is hardly an avant-garde film at all. Other than the absence of intertitles (was that really unheard of in 20s narrative silents? I know very little about silent film) this seems like a fairly straightforward, simple narrative, and it impressed me anyway because of the beauty of its images and the way it expressed emotions without language.

Only slightly less amazing was Ralph Steiner's H2O, which reminds me a great deal of Brakhage's painted films -- I'd be very surprised if Brakhage wasn't aware of this film, especially considering Brakhage's own continual concern with water and the play of light in his non-painted films. This is abstraction at its best, even though it starts with some clear figurative images before diving into closeups on the light patterns.

The rest of the set didn't have anything else that hit me as hard as those films, but I also really enjoyed Ivens' Regen, the humor and technical tricks of Even -- As You And I, the poetic surrealism of Ballet Mecanique, and a few others. But I have to say there's also some dross, and I really couldn't get into the bland Romance Sentimentale, Manhatta, or Autumn Fire, while stuff like Anemic Cinema, Rhythmus 21, and Symphonie Diagonale was just really un-cinematic -- too minimal to be really interesting on film.

I also thought the vast majority of the soundtracks ranged from bland to absolutely unbearable (the Rhythmus 21 soundtrack being the worst of a bad lot), though I did like the ones on the Man Ray films.

Anyway, curious to hear some more discussion of these films as I continue watching some more of the ones I haven't seen yet.

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Cold Bishop
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#45 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Jun 18, 2006 1:47 am

I only saw the first disc but I remember other than Menilmontant (which was my favorite on the disc), rather liking The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra in all it's Caligari inspired glory.

How is the second disc compared to the first?

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HerrSchreck
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#46 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Jun 18, 2006 2:00 am

UBERFALL, the two Epsteins, REGEN, over and above everything else, make the second disc every bit as worthy as the first. A very nice set but with some shit prints (you'll find better prints of selected items like the Welles, the Weinberg, and the presentation of ANEMIC CINEMA in the equally indispensable UNSEEN CINEMA box from Image-- do. not. miss.... Ignore at your own peril!). O and SEASHELL & THE CLERGYMAN is acid trip heaven. What a mood!

And yes definitely, the music-- aside from the machine gun-speed PRELUDE...FAWN for Autumn Fire, and the scores MANHATTA, MENILMONTANT, the Ray's, Epstein's GLACE, and maybe 1 or 2 more-- is a disaster. Larry Marrotta should be kidnapped and waterboarded in Abu Ghraib, and his fingers anvil-pounded until they're transparent like the cat in THE CUCKOO CLOCK by Avery so he never approaches a guitar/soundtrack again. Who picks these people?

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Tommaso
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#47 Post by Tommaso » Sun Jun 18, 2006 6:21 am

An absolutely essential set, and I too was blown away with "Menilmontant" and that other film by Kirsanoff. Almost transcedent in its beauty. I particularly liked the 'abstract' Germans here, but could not tune in that much to some of the American stuff like "Manhatta" on the other hand. But whatever your preferences are: all of it is essential viewing, and some of it ranges among the most exciting stuff I ever came across.

What annoys me is that some (or all?) of the films are heavily cropped on the left hand side. In "Vormittagsspuk" this results in a total disfigurement of the central perspective that is so essential in the composition of it. And I agree with Schreck: the music is plain horrible for the most part. Switch off the audio and enjoy them in complete silence, or put on some Satie or Brian Eno cd instead....

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vertovfan
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 7:46 pm

#48 Post by vertovfan » Fri Jun 30, 2006 11:31 am

A few interesting DVDs I've found in the past several months:

Screening Room with Standish Lawder & Stanley Cavell: A bit pricey (private consumer pricing was around $50 as I recall) but it includes the entire Necrology, Color Film and Corridor. This is actually a DVD-R. There are several other Screening Room DVDs as well.

Dan McLaughlin 11 Films: Very fun set of films, and a great price. Includes God Is Dog Spelled Backwards which consists of a dizzyingly fast procession of the world's "greatest art" set to the world's "greatest music" (Beethoven's 5th Symphony). Another DVD-R.

Yoji Kuri Film Works: Sometime humorous, sometimes disturbing collection. Includes the animated classic Aos.

milkcan
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#49 Post by milkcan » Fri Jun 30, 2006 11:57 am

Only slightly less amazing was Ralph Steiner's H2O, which reminds me a great deal of Brakhage's painted films -- I'd be very surprised if Brakhage wasn't aware of this film, especially considering Brakhage's own continual concern with water and the play of light in his non-painted films. This is abstraction at its best, even though it starts with some clear figurative images before diving into closeups on the light patterns.
Steiner's film is one of my favorites, and I, too, was reminded of Brakhage's films (for some reason). A great piece of filmmaking; the abstraction was a delight on the eyes.

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HerrSchreck
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#50 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Jun 30, 2006 12:44 pm

Tommaso wrote:What annoys me is that some (or all?) of the films are heavily cropped on the left hand side. In "Vormittagsspuk" this results in a total disfigurement of the central perspective that is so essential in the composition of it.
That's the great/best-taste-on-earth-yet-superannoying Raymond Rohauer (oblivious to the integrity of silents, worse even that Langlois who snipped out the intertitles from VAPIRES & chucked em into the trash.. the TRASH! not even a fucking desk drawer by the radiator), attaching soundtracks onto silent films, creating an optical track intrusion running down the edge. Like the PRELUDE/FAWN running 90 mph on AUTUMN FIRE. And it's certainly not on ALL the films. You can see the aperture marks in all four corners on many, even.

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