It seems fitting that this occurred in Brunswick's venerable Mechanics Institute. I'm sure the night's events weren't quite amongst the goings-on its 1868 founders had anticipated would grace its premises but I can't help but feel they'd have appreciated the hands-on, bespoke approach to the AV mayhem that filled the Institute's performance space.
Cast upon, and across, a large grainy white canvas, multiple projections, thrown this way and then that, rectilinear as a rule but circular and elliptical as well, subdivided the canvas into frames (within frames, within frames), jockeying for position on a busy, collision-filled screen, ever toying with the chance/risk of generating some sort of transitory meaning or narrativity, never less so than when the projections thrown were less of an abstract nature and contained recognisable imagery, whether for split-seconds or for sustained periods.
When I say "recognisable", I mean by dint of containing shapes that conform at least roughly to forms assumed by human beings, animals, objects and environments (why, I'm sure at one stage I was seeing, even though its source footage was heavily solarised, a man in military garb grappling with a sealion. I do, however, concede that I might have been mistaken!) They might also have been recognisable by virtue of, on occasion, clearly originating from a familiar source. Amongst all the furious flickering, and the interference/complementarity of rapid-fire barrages of superimposed imagery and visual noise, I'm sure I recognised images/sequences from The French Connection and Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, along with generic Western footage and many other things besides!
|Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages|
Another pleasure: those moments when the whirr of 16mm projectors occasioned to be heard above the noise, or heard amidst it, providing the loud, but not quite too loud, noisescape with some faltering, underpinning rhythms, as well as conveying a strong sense of those projectors', and their projected materials', very materiality, the latter reinforced by moments when the film was evidently being spooled through a little skew-wif, as when sprocket holes started creeping their merry way across the screen.
And, for a little corporeality to add to all of this wonderful, frantic fusing of analog and digital projected materials: some playful, polymorphous shadow-puppetry penetrated the frame late in the piece from stage-right.
Extraneous to the performance per se, but expanding upon it in a pleasing historiographical sense, it was a pleasure to see eminent, old guard members of Melbourne's film avant-garde in attendance: here a Cantrill or three, there a Dirk de Bruyn. (Note to one and all: be sure to get along to "Grain of the Voice: 50 Years of Sound and Image by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill" at ACMI between October 10 and 31, curated by my former Senses of Cinema colleague and current day Age critic, the estimable Jake Wilson.)
Enjoying some after-show drinks with a good friend and various of the folks to have earlier provided such splendid (and free!) entertainment, down the road at the Brunswick Green on a busy AFL Grand Final Day night, I concluded I'd had myself a lovely evening, and that I've successfully stoked in myself quite the interest in attending more expanded, performative cinema events. I've been remiss in seeing all too few in times gone by, even despite – or perhaps because of – having been a party to amateurish perpetrations of such a couple of times in the past myself.
|Jan Švankmajer in Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)|
My appetite could scarcely be any whetter... but lest yours need further whetting, here are a few stills from Surviving Life, which has just premiered at Venice and which opens in the Czech Republic November 4.
|Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)|
I think it important, as a critic, to remember that one is still also a cinéphile, and hence prone to possibly slightly unprofessional adoration of certain film world figures whose work one can never engage with on quite the same level of detached objectivity as with the great morass of others.
And hence, this outburst of fannishness.
That said, perhaps it all evens out; no doubt the risk of disappointment is higher when more is invested in the work of someone whose work one loves and is forever championing. But then, perhaps we also can't help but be a little too forgiving on occasions, bringing more to a reading than is necessarily there to be read of what might, sometimes, really truly be a lesser work, the better to elevate and enshrine it in our hearts and minds and keep at bay any suggestion that our precious emotional investment could ever be compromised... Ah, 'tis the stuff of a Freudian field day, to be sure! And most aptly so, for so too looks Surviving Life!
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