Sunday, September 26, 2010

Superstream, or: Many projectors make light work. PLUS!: Švankmajer

Superflux, a long-established live cinema quartet hailing from Grenoble, France, and presently touring Australia and New Zealand, hooked up last night with Melbourne AV collective Stream for a night of improvised, albeit to some indeterminable extent, rehearsed, “live cinema”. Kitted out between them with two prepared 16mm projectors; two digital projectors running video feedback and processing; prepared saxophone; bass guitar, and “noise toys”, Superstream let rip with a seriously cacophonous, multi-pronged flickerfest free-for-all of the likes not often seen around staid little Melbourne town.

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
Aside from all of the in-the-moment image manipulations generated in the act of projection (as was also a large part of the spasmodically, illusorily rhythmic but mostly chaotic soundscape, via the manipulation of optical soundtracks), there was a great deal of play with emulsive chemical processes, not in-camera (presumably... surely that would be very dangerous!) but rather, prepared earlier, leading to some extremely eerie visuals, as faces, bodies and environments just melted away and decayed in a fashion no CGI will ever, ever better. (Be sure to see, sometime, Bill Morrison's stunning and exemplary Decasia!) These images, often digested subliminally, in concert and/or in antagonism with the greater bombardment of audiovisual (non-)information, are the ones from the evening I took home to bed with me...

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)
Along a more narrative-minded, but equally alchemical vein of image-smithing, I will take pause to announce how great a sense of anticipation I can't help but have towards the new Jan Švankmajer film, Přežít svůj život (teorie a praxe) (Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)), which may even (gulp) be his last.

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)
Funnily, extremely excited though I am, I can't bring myself to look at Surviving Life's trailer (viewable at Bonton Film). The stills, in all their Max Ernst collage-novel-esque glory, are more than enough to sustain me for now, whereas I feel to watch the trailer would be to spoil the joy I anticipate on ultimately seeing these images move. On, need it be said, as BIG a screen as possible.

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!

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice)
Navel-gazing be damned. Old Švankypants has never disappointed me and I simply cannot wait to see Surviving Life!

No comments:

Post a Comment